JFP News, 8/31: Feingold - The Road Home from Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy News
August 31, 2009
Senator Kennedy's Most Important Vote
As Senator Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was his most important vote in all his years in the Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Dean Baker notes that when the political and media establishments were in war fever, Senator Kennedy looked at the evidence, and found it wanting. Next month Congress will consider plans to "double down" the war in Afghanistan. Which Senators will emulate Senator Kennedy's "most important vote"?
State Department Recommends Aid Cutoff to Honduras Coup Regime
State Department staff have recommended that Secretary Clinton recognize the existence of a "military coup" in Honduras, which would cut off all non-humanitarian U.S. aid, as required by U.S. law. Call the Secretary Clinton at 202-647-5171 during business hours. Deliver this message: "Designate the regime in Honduras as a military coup and cut off all non-humanitarian aid to Honduras until President Zelaya is reinstated." If you don't get through right away, please try again later.
State Department Recommends Aid Cutoff to Honduras
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1) U.S. military operations in Afghanistan will not end al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan, and could contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan, argues Senator Russ Feingold in the Wall Street Journal. Announcing a flexible timetable for when our massive military presence will end would be one of the best things we could do to advance our national security interests in Afghanistan, Feingold writes.
2) South American leaders meeting Friday at a special summit in Argentina lashed out at the U.S. and Colombia over an agreement that gives the U.S. access to seven military bases in this country, the Washington Post reports. President Lula of Brazil said Obama should explain his administration's objectives, while the leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela warned that an expanded U.S. presence threatens their security. "You are not going to be able to control the Americans," said Ecuadoran President Correa to Colombian President Uribe. "This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America."
3) The IAEA reported Friday Iran had significantly increased its ability to produce nuclear fuel over the summer, while slowing the pace at which it was enriching uranium, the New York Times reports. The IAEA reported that Iran had reopened some crucial sites to inspectors after keeping them out for a year. But the agency said Iran still refused to turn over important documents linked to suspicions that its military was involved in the nuclear program. [The Times fails to note that these allegations concern past activities - they don't contradict the conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran abandoned weaponization research - JFP]
4) A Daily Telegraph poll showed 62 per cent of the British public opposed British troops staying in Afghanistan, while 26 per cent were in favor, the Telegraph reports.
5) The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources, the Washington Post reports. The list will be presented to Congress by Sept. 24. Congress set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding. Iraq's failure to achieve benchmarks set by Congress provided a target for war opponents and contributed to the loss of public support in the U.S., the Post says.
6) The opposition Democratic Party in Japan won a crushing election victory Sunday with pledges to revive the country's economy and to steer a foreign-policy course less dependent on the U.S., the Washington Post reports. The Democratic Party says it wants to rethink the agreement that keeps U.S. soldiers in Japan.
7) The U.S. has accused Pakistan of modifying US-made missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, in violation of the Arms Control Export Act, the New York Times reports. But Pakistan says it developed the missiles by itself, and some Western experts were skeptical of the U.S. claims.
8) OAS Secretary-General Insulza said there will be no agreement to end Honduras' crisis unless Zelaya returns to the presidency, AP reports. The State Department said new U.S. steps would be forthcoming. Officials in the coup government have expressed hope international pressure for Zelaya's return will soften after Nov. 29 presidential elections, but Insulza warned that would not likely happen. He said at least 22 OAS member countries would have to vote to lift Honduras' suspension from the bloc before recognizing the outcome of the elections.
9) Spain's Foreign Minister said the EU is considering new measures to pressure Honduras to allow the return to power of president Zelaya, DPA reports.
10) Most Iranian commentators do not think a Western gas embargo on Iran would be an effective form of pressure, since reducing dependence on gas imports is something Iran needs to do anyway and Western sanctions will provide a convenient excuse, Time Magazine reports.
11) Aide Nabil Shaath says Palestinian Authority head Abbas will reject any U.S. invitation to resume peace talks with Israel unless the U.S. persuades Israel to freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Reuters reports.
1) The Road Home From Afghanistan
Why a flexible timetable to withdraw U.S. troops will best advance our national security interests.
Russ Feingold, Wall Street Journal, August 28, 2009
President Barack Obama is rightly focusing on this critical part of the world. But I cannot support an open-ended commitment to an escalating war in Afghanistan when the al Qaeda operatives we sought have largely been captured or killed or crossed the border to Pakistan.
Ending al Qaeda's safe haven in Pakistan is a top national security priority. Yet our operations in Afghanistan will not do so, and they could actually contribute to further destabilization of Pakistan. Meanwhile, we've become embroiled in a nation-building experiment that may distract us from combating al Qaeda and its affiliates, not just in Pakistan, but in Yemen, the Horn of Africa and other terrorist sanctuaries.
We need to start discussing a flexible timetable to bring our brave troops out of Afghanistan. Proposing a timetable doesn't mean giving up our ability to go after al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Far from it: We should continue a more focused military mission that includes targeted strikes on Taliban and al Qaeda leaders, and we should step up our long-term civilian efforts to deal with the corruption in the Afghan government that has helped the Taliban to thrive. But we must recognize that our troop presence contributes to resentment in some quarters and hinders our ability to achieve our broader national security goals.
Some may argue that if we leave now, the Taliban will expand its control over parts of Afghanistan and provide a wider safe haven for al Qaeda. But dedicating a disproportionate amount of our resources to the military occupation of one country is not the most effective way to combat the terrorist threat we face. Even if we invest billions more dollars annually for the next 10 years and sacrifice hundreds more American lives, we are unlikely to get a credible government capable of governing all Afghan territory.
Instead, we should seek to deny al Qaeda a safe haven in Afghanistan in the long term with a civilian-led strategy discouraging any support for the Taliban by Pakistani security forces, and offer assistance to improve Afghanistan's economy while fighting corruption in its government. This should be coupled with targeted military operations and a diplomatic strategy that incorporates all the countries in the region. We will never relent in our pursuit of al Qaeda, nor will we "walk away" from Afghanistan. But our massive military presence there is driving our enemies together and may well be counterproductive.
There is a very real possibility that our military presence in Afghanistan will drive militant extremists south and east into Pakistan, al Qaeda's primary sanctuary. Pakistan is a nuclear power beset by poverty, sectarian conflict, ineffectual government, instability and an inconsistent record of fighting militancy. It is a witch's brew of threats to our national security that we cannot afford to further destabilize. Yet we may unwittingly do just that. Especially before Pakistan's government has demonstrated a firm commitment to denying sanctuary to Taliban leadership it has long harbored, further destabilization could undermine our own security.
I'm not alone in being troubled by the prospect of destabilizing Pakistan. During hearings in May at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, I asked the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, and Special Representative Richard Holbrooke, whether our troop increases might worsen instability in Pakistan. Adm. Mullen candidly said he shared that concern.
Holbrooke went even further. "You're absolutely correct," he said, "that an additional amount of American troops, and particularly if they're successful in Helmand and Kandahar, could end up creating a pressure in Pakistan which would add to the instability."
There were even more candid answers to questions about the length of the mission in Afghanistan and the metrics we should use to measure its success. Holbrooke was asked at the Center for American Progress on Aug. 13 how we will know we have succeeded in Afghanistan. "We'll know it when we see it," he replied. On the same day, Defense Secretary Robert Gates gave a similar answer at a Pentagon briefing when asked how long U.S. forces would be fighting in Afghanistan, likening it to a mystery with too many variables to predict. But we must have much more concrete measures, and a much clearer strategy, when we are committing so many American lives and dollars to this cause.
We also ignore the lessons of history by pursuing a drawn-out military mission in Afghanistan. The experiences of the Soviets and the British make it painfully clear just how elusive a military victory in Afghanistan can be. That alone should give us reason to rethink an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan.
In light of their country's history with great powers, it should come as no surprise that Afghans are increasingly skeptical of our military presence. A 2007 poll (conducted by ABC News, the BBC and ARD German TV) showed most Afghans in the Southwest no longer support the presence of foreign troops, and a poll this year (conducted ABC News and the BBC) found that nationwide a plurality of Afghans want troop levels reduced, not increased.
Announcing a flexible timetable for when our massive military presence will end would be one of the best things we could do to advance our national security interests in Afghanistan. By doing so, we would undercut the misperception of the U.S. as an occupying force that has propped up a weak, corrupt and unpopular government, while at the same time removing a tremendous strain on our troops and our economy.
While we have many important goals in Afghanistan, we must be realistic about our limited ability to quickly change the fundamental political realities on the ground. The recent presidential election shows there will be no easy solution to the sectarianism, corruption and warlordism that plague that country. We should seriously question putting so many American lives at risk to expand, through military force, the reach of a government that has failed to win the support of its own people.
Instead of increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, we should start talking about a flexible timetable to begin drawing those levels down. It is time to ask the hard questions - and accept the candid answers - about how our military presence in Afghanistan may be undermining our national security.
2) South American Leaders Assail U.S. Access To Colombian Military Bases
Juan Forero, Washington Post, Saturday, August 29, 2009
Bogota, Colombia - South American leaders meeting Friday at a special summit in Argentina lashed out at the United States and Colombia over an agreement that gives Washington access to seven military bases in this country.
The tension in the publicly televised meeting eased after the leaders unanimously agreed to a vague resolution that says no foreign military force should be allowed to threaten the sovereignty of a South American nation.
But the tone of the criticism and the apparent unease about U.S. American motives during the seven-hour meeting underscore the hurdles President Obama faces in trying to improve relations with countries that have distanced themselves from Washington in the past decade. Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president of regional power Brazil, said Obama should explain his administration's objectives, while the leaders of Ecuador and Venezuela warned that an expanded U.S. presence threatens their security.
"You are not going to be able to control the Americans," said Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa, locking eyes with Colombian President Álvaro Uribe. "This constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America."
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, said the agreement's scope and the secrecy of the negotiations between Washington and Bogota have generated controversy over what has always been a hot-button issue in Latin America: the deployment of U.S. troops.
"It's hurt the Obama administration's credibility in the region at a time when the administration was attempting to really set a different path in U.S.-Latin America relations that was multilateral, that involved working with allies," Arnson said, speaking from Washington by phone. U.S. relations with some countries in the region, particularly Venezuela, were in tatters by the end of President George W. Bush's term, she said.
"It's certainly the case that Chávez and his allies in the region have been the most vocal opponents," Arnson said, referring to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's hostility to the base access plan. "But it says a lot that countries like Brazil and Chile were also opposed to this."
3) Nuclear Agency Says Iran Has Bolstered Ability To Make Fuel But Slowed Its Output
William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, August 29, 2009
International nuclear inspectors reported on Friday that Iran had significantly increased its ability to produce nuclear fuel over the summer, even while slowing the pace at which it was enriching the uranium that the West fears could one day fuel nuclear weapons.
The slowdown puzzled the inspectors, and Iran offered no clues about whether technical problems or political considerations accounted for its action.
The inspectors, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, also reported that Iran had reopened some crucial sites to inspectors after keeping them out for a year. But the agency said that after years of requests, the country still refused to turn over important documents linked to suspicions that its military was involved in the nuclear program [the Times fails to note that these allegations concern past activities - they don't contradict the conclusions of the National Intelligence Estimate that Iran abandoned weaponization research - JFP], or to allow the agency to interview key personnel suspected of roles in weapons development.
On Wednesday, officials from the United States and Europe are to meet to debate proposals for far more severe sanctions against Iran than the United Nations Security Council has invoked, with no results, against Tehran for continuing to enrich uranium. One proposal on the table is a cutoff of refined gasoline exported to the country. In advance of the report, those governments were pressing for the monitoring agency to publish a pointed account of the evidence suggesting Iran had weapons ambitions for its nuclear program. But they met resistance from the agency, and the latest report offered no new evidence, beyond the standard measures of Iran's progress in enrichment.
Some American intelligence officials have suggested that Iran is trying to build up enough centrifuges so that it can "break out" of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at any moment and produce weapons-grade fuel. Other officials, however, say they doubt Iran would try to produce weapons-grade material from any centrifuges that the inspectors already know about.
Perhaps because of the renewed pressure on the agency, the report laid out many allegations that Iran had pursued a military program for the development of nuclear arms, apparently displaying the evidence at the request of Western governments. While some of the conclusions appeared more sharply drawn than in the past, agency officials insisted that the report was simply restating information that it had already made public.
"It's much longer and more explicit," a European diplomat familiar with the agency's work said of the report's weapons section. "But it's not new information."
4) 2 In 3 Want Afghan Pullout
Almost two-thirds of people oppose Britain's continued deployment of troops in Afghanistan, a new poll shows.
Andrew Porter, Telegraph (UK), 9:00AM BST 29 Aug 2009
The public's growing opposition to the conflict comes after the number of British deaths in Afghanistan rose above 200 earlier this month.
Yesterday, Gen Sir David Richards took over as Chief of the General Staff and vowed to get better equipment for troops and improved care for those injured fighting for Britain.
A Daily Telegraph/YouGov poll showed 62 per cent of people opposed British troops staying in Afghanistan, while 26 per cent were in favour.
Previous polls had shown that most people backed the conflict in Afghanistan, unlike the war in Iraq. They accepted the argument espoused by ministers and the opposition that it was part of the fight against terrorism that could be exported to British streets. But increasingly voters appear unwilling to accept that claim.
5) U.S. Sets Metrics To Assess War Success
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Sunday, August 30, 2009
The White House has assembled a list of about 50 measurements to gauge progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it tries to calm rising public and congressional anxiety about its war strategy.
Administration officials are conducting what one called a "test run" of the metrics, comparing current numbers in a range of categories - including newly trained Afghan army recruits, Pakistani counterinsurgency missions and on-time delivery of promised U.S. resources - with baselines set earlier in the year. The results will be used to fine-tune the list before it is presented to Congress by Sept. 24.
Lawmakers set that deadline in the spring as a condition for approving additional war funding, holding President Obama to his promise of "clear benchmarks" and no "blank check."
Since then, skepticism about the war in Afghanistan has intensified along with the rising U.S. and NATO casualty rates, now at the highest level of the eight-year-old conflict. An upcoming assessment by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the new military commander in Afghanistan, is expected to lay the groundwork for requests for additional U.S. troop deployments in 2010.
Although some Republican leaders in Congress have said that they would support adding troops to the 68,000 the United States will have in Afghanistan by the end of this year, many leading Democrats have questioned whether the administration's strategy of expanded economic and military support for both countries is working, and whether the likely increased toll in U.S. lives is justified.
Opposition to congressional efforts to legislate conditions on war funding and aid to Pakistan and Afghanistan is one area of agreement among the three governments. Iraq's failure to achieve benchmarks mandated by Congress provided an easy target for opponents of that war and contributed to the loss of public support in the United States.
Both the House and Senate versions of the pending 2010 defense spending bill include metrics and reporting requirements for the administration. Obama's strategy is "still a work in progress," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who co-sponsored an amendment in the legislation setting conditions on aid to Pakistan.
In the absence of strict guidelines from the administration, Menendez said in an interview, "we are definitely moving to a set of metrics that can give us benchmarks as to how we are proceeding" and whether Obama's strategy "is pursuing our national security interests."
The White House hopes to preempt Congress with its own metrics. The document currently being fine-tuned, called the Strategic Implementation Plan, will include separate "indicators" of progress under nine broad "objectives" to be measured quarterly, according to an administration official involved in the process. Some of the about 50 indicators will apply to U.S. performance, but most will measure Afghan and Pakistani efforts.
6) Ruling Party Is Routed In Japan
Lagging Economy Cited for Vote Ending 54 Years of Dominance
Blaine Harden, Washington Post, Monday, August 31, 2009
Tokyo, Aug. 31 - Breaking a half-century hammerlock of one-party rule in Japan, the opposition Democratic Party won a crushing election victory Sunday with pledges to revive the country's stalled economy and to steer a foreign-policy course less dependent on the United States.
The Democratic Party has also pushed for greater independence for Japan from the United States, which has about 50,000 military personnel stationed here and is treaty-bound to defend the country from attack. "Until now, Japan has acted to suit U.S. convenience," Hatoyama said in a TV appearance last week. "But rather than doing so, Japan-U.S. relations should be on an equal footing so that our side can strongly assert Japan's will."
Japan helps pay for the cost of stationing U.S. forces on its territory, a policy the Democratic Party has questioned. It says it wants to rethink the entire agreement that keeps U.S. soldiers here.
7) U.S. Says Pakistan Altered Missiles Sold For Defense
Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, August 30, 2009
Washington - The United States has accused Pakistan of illegally modifying American-made missiles to expand its capability to strike land targets, a potential threat to India, according to senior administration and Congressional officials.
The charge, which set off a new outbreak of tensions between the United States and Pakistan, was made in an unpublicized diplomatic protest in late June to Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other top Pakistani officials.
The accusation comes at a particularly delicate time, when the administration is asking Congress to approve $7.5 billion in aid to Pakistan over the next five years, and when Washington is pressing a reluctant Pakistani military to focus its attentions on fighting the Taliban, rather than expanding its nuclear and conventional forces aimed at India.
While American officials say that the weapon in the latest dispute is a conventional one - based on the Harpoon antiship missiles that were sold to Pakistan by the Reagan administration as a defensive weapon in the cold war - the subtext of the argument is growing concern about the speed with which Pakistan is developing new generations of both conventional and nuclear weapons.
At issue is the detection by American intelligence agencies of a suspicious missile test on April 23 - a test never announced by the Pakistanis - that appeared to give the country a new offensive weapon.
American military and intelligence officials say they suspect that Pakistan has modified the Harpoon antiship missiles that the United States sold the country in the 1980s, a move that would be a violation of the Arms Control Export Act. Pakistan has denied the charge, saying it developed the missile itself. The United States has also accused Pakistan of modifying American-made P-3C aircraft for land-attack missions, another violation of United States law that the Obama administration has protested.
A senior Pakistani official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity because the interchanges with Washington have been both delicate and highly classified, said the American accusation was "incorrect." The official said that the missile tested was developed by Pakistan, just as it had modified North Korean designs to build a range of land-based missiles that could strike India. He said that Pakistan had taken the unusual step of agreeing to allow American officials to inspect the country's Harpoon inventory to prove that it had not violated the law, a step that administration officials praised.
Some experts are also skeptical of the American claims. Robert Hewson, editor of Jane's Air-Launched Weapons, a yearbook and Web-based data service, said the Harpoon missile did not have the necessary range for a land-attack missile, which would lend credibility to Pakistani claims that they are developing their own new missile. Moreover, he said, Pakistan already has more modern land-attack missiles that it developed itself or acquired from China. "They're beyond the need to reverse-engineer old U.S. kit," Hewson said in a telephone interview. "They're more sophisticated than that."
8) OAS: Any Honduran deal must restore ousted leader
Juan Carlos Llorca, Associated Press, 2009-08-29
The head of the Organization of American States closed the door Friday on a compromise offered by Honduras' interim leader because it would not restore the president ousted in a coup. OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza warned there will be no agreement to end Honduras' crisis unless Manuel Zelaya returns to the presidency.
The interim government "has not ceded on one of the principal points, which is the return of President Zelaya. And we are also not going to cede on that issue," Insulza said in an interview with Chile's La Tercera newspaper. "Therefore, until there is a consensus on that, there will be no agreement. Zelaya must return as president of Honduras."
The U.S. State Department said Thursday it would soon announce new action to pressure the interim government to step down.
The United States - Honduras' No. 1 trade partner and source of foreign aid - has already suspended millions of dollars in development and military funds. Washington also said it will stop issuing most visas at its embassy in Honduras.
"Given the de facto regime's refusal this week to meet the demands of the OAS delegation, we'll make some judgments based on that, and we'll announce them very shortly," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters.
Micheletti has said he does not fear sanctions, and officials in his government have expressed hope that international pressure for Zelaya's return will soften after Nov. 29 presidential elections, which were scheduled before the coup.
Insulza warned that would not likely happen. He said at least 22 OAS member countries would have to vote to lift Honduras' suspension from the bloc before recognizing the outcome of the elections. "At this moment, I don't think quorum exists for that," he said.
9) EU considering new measures against Honduras, Spain says
Deutsche Presse Agentur, Aug 28, 2009, 13:20 GMT
Santander, Spain - The European Union is considering new measures to pressure Honduras to allow the return to power of ousted president Manuel Zelaya, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Friday. The EU's Latin America Group will discuss the measures in the coming week, Moratinos said.
The international community was seeking the return of Zelaya, who was ousted by the military on June 28, so that elections could be held in November and the country could return to 'the constitutional path,' Moratinos explained.
The EU wanted to send a 'signal' to the 'de facto' government headed by Roberto Micheletti that 'military coups are not acceptable in the 21st century,' the minister said. The EU has repeatedly called for the restoration of constitutional rule in Honduras. On July 21, the bloc agreed to suspend all non- humanitarian aid to the Central American state.
10) Pressuring Iran on Nukes: Would a Gas Embargo Help?
Time, Monday, Aug. 31, 2009
President Obama has declared that Iran has until September to show positive steps toward demonstrating to the U.N. Security Council that its nuclear program is solely for civilian use. On the last Friday of August, the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on Iran's nuclear-energy program, announcing that Iran has partly cooperated with the agency on allowing access to its nuclear facilities. However, the IAEA also reported that it "does not consider that Iran has adequately addressed the substance of the issues." U.S. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said in response to the report, "It seems clear that Iran continues to not cooperate fully and continues its enrichment activities."
The newest IAEA findings may push the U.S. to more seriously consider implementing sanctions against the selling of gasoline to Iran by foreign companies, as proposed by Senators Jon Kyl and Joe Lieberman. But would that threat force Tehran to sit down at the negotiating table?
Most Iranian commentators do not think so. Although House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Howard Berman called Kyl and Lieberman's Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act "a sword of Damocles" hanging over the Iranians, the view from Tehran is quite different. In Tehran's daily newspaper Mardom Salari, columnist Hamid Reza Shokouhi recently wrote, "It is possible to turn this sword of Damocles into an opportunity for gaining self-sufficiency."
While the Obama Administration may think that a gasoline embargo, even a partial one, would pressure the Iranian regime to suspend its nuclear activities, Tehran may be hoping for just that sanction to help it with one of its longtime goals: reducing gasoline consumption. Indeed, the Iranian government, which has been subsidizing pump prices for years and keeping them well below the international market price (at a huge burden to the national budget), would love the U.S. to take the political hit for helping to end the subsidies.
Former President Mohammad Khatami stated that his greatest economic failure during his tenure was not reducing the massive subsidies the Iranian government spends to keep gas prices low. Every year, his government had to draw millions of dollars from Iran's special "rainy day" oil revenue reserve fund in order to pay out the subsidies. By 2003, the leaders today associated with the ongoing Green Movement opposition - Khatami, Mehdi Karroubi and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - all supported rationing gasoline in order to reduce domestic consumption and government expenditure.
Because anyone could purchase unlimited amounts of gasoline for about 30 cents a gallon, the benefits of the gasoline subsidy, as well as subsidies for cooking gas and electricity, were overwhelmingly going to wealthier Iranians, simply because they spent more on consumption. In 2005, the World Bank estimated that 94% of Iran's energy subsidies in urban areas were benefiting the nonpoor. In other words, those who least needed their consumption subsidized were getting most of the benefits. In the run-up to the 2005 presidential elections, all the candidates across the political spectrum, including the subsequent winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, promised to implement a reform of the gasoline subsidy program. Yet, as in the U.S., unlimited cheap gas was popular in Iran, and politicians were hesitant to touch it.
Finally, under President Ahmadinejad, a rationing program began in the summer of 2007. Every Iranian with a registered motor vehicle received a smart card that could be used at any pumping station. Up to 100 liters (26 gallons) a month could be bought at a still subsidized price of about 38 cents a gallon. After the 100 liters is up, drivers can pay a fixed price of about $1.50 a gallon for any additional gasoline, known as the "open price." (For comparison, U.S. gasoline prices averaged $2.63 per gallon at the end of August.)
Many Iranians were not happy with the new limits and prices, naturally, and several gas stations were torched in the initial days of the program. Today, fewer complaints are heard, but Iranians still use more gas than they can refine inside the country. Iran's domestic production of gasoline over the past year averaged 45 million liters a day, yet consumption has averaged 67 million liters a day, even after the rationing program was implemented. New proposals are being discussed in Iran's parliament to further limit the rationed amount, and would gain extra heft if any serious moves by the U.S. on a gasoline embargo start to occur. Of course, if that happens, Iran's government can easily blame the U.S. for future price increases at the pump.
11) No talks without full settlement freeze: Abbas aide
Alastair Macdonald and Erika Solomon, Reuters, Mon Aug 31, 6:11 am ET
Ramallah - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will reject any U.S. invitation to resume peace talks with Israel unless Washington persuades Israel to freeze settlement activity, an aide said on Monday.
Nabil Shaath said only a full settlement freeze without exceptions or "loopholes" and an Israeli commitment to establishing a Palestinian state would be enough to bring Abbas back to the negotiating table.
Shaath told foreign correspondents in Ramallah the reaffirmed position of the central committee of Abbas's Fatah party was that a halt to Jewish settlement must be implemented throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem and not be limited by "artificial" timeframes.
He said the only time limit Palestinians would accept was that the freeze could be temporary but must last until a final peace settlement was agreed on.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been negotiating with U.S. President Barack Obama's envoy, George Mitchell, on how far Israel might be able to secure exemptions from the settlement freeze that Obama has demanded.
Political sources have said such exemptions might include building in East Jerusalem, completing projects already under way, or the "natural growth" of existing settlements.
Shaath, who was re-elected in August to Fatah's central committee and is a former Palestinian prime minister and foreign minister, dismissed suggestions that Abbas would have little choice but to accept a return to negotiations if Obama agreed on a compromise over settlements.
Asked what the Palestinian leadership would say if Obama asked them to negotiate on the basis of a limited settlement freeze, Shaath said: "I would say, Mr. Obama, we love you ... but I am sorry this is not enough to bring us to the peace process."
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