JFP News 9/10: Pelosi - Congress Not Keen to Send More Troops
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September 10, 2009
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1) Speaker Pelosi says she doesn't think there is "a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress," AP reports. Rep. Murtha described himself as "very nervous" about sending more troops to Afghanistan and cited limited funds to do so. But Senate Majority Leader Reid urged Democrats to resist rushing to judgment.
2) The leaders of France, Britain and Germany have called for a high-level international conference on Afghanistan that would establish on "new benchmarks and timelines" for turning responsibility for the country over to Afghans, the Washington Post reports. The call coincides with growing European concern about the direction and objectives of the international enterprise in Afghanistan, the Post says. Antiwar sentiment is strongest in Britain.
3) A top Iranian official says Iran is not prepared to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program in response to Western demands but is proposing instead a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reports. Iran wants to establish a system that would force not only Iran but also countries that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, to be completely open about their nuclear intentions.
4) The Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense approved $6.6 billion to support Afghan security forces next year, a 20 percent increase over this fiscal year, the Washington Post reports. The subcommittee's bill would provide $636.3 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. $128.2 billion is for "overseas contingency operations," essentially meaning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
5) The U.S. on Wednesday formally cut off $11 million in aid to Honduras in response to the June 28 military coup, Reuters reports. The decision was taken by the board of the Millennium Challenge Corporation which is headed by Secretary of State Clinton.
6) The EU will warn the de facto government of Honduras next week that it could face further sanctions unless a peaceful solution is found to a crisis triggered by the coup, Reuters reports. A draft statement said the EU "will stand ready to take further restrictive measures, including targeting those members of the de facto government who are seen to be blocking progress on a negotiated solution."
7) The U.N.-funded elections watchdog in Afghanistan has begun to throw out fraudulent ballots from the country's presidential balloting, the Wall Street Journal reports. The ballots under scrutiny include enough votes that, if discarded, could force a run-off, the Journal says.
8) Many Afghan journalists expressed anger over the death of their colleague in a British rescue operation that was backed by the U.S., the Washington Post reports. The raid raised questions among Afghans and international diplomats about why a late-night rescue operation was launched, without the knowledge of Afghan authorities or New York Times officials, when negotiations had been underway with local Taliban leaders for several days and were apparently making progress.
1) Dems support for Afghan war waning
Lara Jakes, Associated Press, Sept. 10, 2009, 4:16PM
Washington - Democratic leaders in Congress urged the Obama administration Thursday to quickly produce a plan for winning the war in Afghanistan or risk widespread opposition within the president's own party to a new troop buildup.
Simmering congressional frustration could lead to tighter scrutiny and more limited resources, even if Capitol Hill ultimately does approve sending more U.S. troops to the war-torn nation, aides said. "I don't think there's a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in the Congress," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranking Democrat to signal that a push for more troops will get a skeptical look.
Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha, chair of the powerful House Appropriations panel that oversees military spending, described himself as "very nervous" about sending more troops to Afghanistan and cited limited funds to do so.
In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid urged Democrats to resist rushing to judgment. But he, too, said he wanted to see President Barack Obama's plans for the military mission before adding more soldiers, pilots and Marines to the mix. "Let's just take it easy," Reid, D-Nev., told reporters. "I don't think we need 100 secretaries of state. I think we should wait and give the president an opportunity to see what he recommends, and then we can dissect that any way we want."
The tepid support reflects growing impatience among lawmakers to see an on-the-ground assessment of the military situation in Afghanistan that was delivered last week to the White House.
Perhaps more importantly, lawmakers said they wanted to hear how the Obama administration will measure the mission's success or failure.
Pelosi said she did not expect to be briefed on the plans until next week at the earliest. Aides said they expected Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen to brief senators on Tuesday and House lawmakers Wednesday.
2) European Leaders Call For Conference To Assess Progress In Afghanistan
Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009
The leaders of France, Britain and Germany have called for a high-level international conference on Afghanistan, saying it is time to "take stock of progress . . . and to evaluate the challenges that lie ahead."
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the leaders said the conference, which they suggested take place outside Afghanistan under U.N. and Afghan sponsorship, would facilitate agreement on "new benchmarks and timelines" for gradually turning responsibility for the country over to Afghans.
The letter, dated Tuesday and released Wednesday by the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, coincides with growing European concern about the direction and objectives of the international enterprise in Afghanistan. It clearly suggested that decisions should not be left solely to the United States, which fields about two-thirds of the nearly 100,000 foreign troops there.
Antiwar sentiment is strongest in Britain, where Prime Minister Gordon Brown last week delivered a major speech designed "to take head-on the arguments that suggest our strategy in Afghanistan is wrong and to answer those who question whether we should be in Afghanistan at all." In addition to Brown and Sarkozy, the letter was signed by Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, where opposition has been fueled by an airstrike in northern Afghanistan last week that was initiated by German troops and that killed an unknown number of civilians.
3) Iran Won't Discuss Halting Uranium Enrichment Program
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009 5:10 PM
Tehran, Sept. 10 - Iran is not prepared to discuss halting its uranium enrichment program in response to Western demands but is proposing instead a worldwide control system aimed at eliminating nuclear weapons, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's top political aide said in an interview Thursday.
In a set of proposals handed to the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany on Wednesday, Iran also offered cooperation in solving problems in Afghanistan and fighting terrorism, as well as collaboration on oil and gas projects, said Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi. A longtime confidant of Ahmadinejad, Samareh Hashemi is considered the president's closest aide and is reportedly under consideration for appointment as first vice president, a key post in Ahmadinejad's new government.
As described by Samareh Hashemi, Iran's offer is similar to a call by President Obama in April to eliminate the world's nuclear weapons. At the upcoming United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month, Obama is scheduled to chair a special U.N. session aimed at seeking broad consensus on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons rather than on targeting individual nations such as Iran and North Korea. Ahmadinejad is also scheduled to attend the U.N. meeting and has said he is ready to debate Obama in front of the world media.
"It's not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran's nuclear program," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said of Tehran's package of proposals. "Iran reiterated its view that as far as it is concerned, its nuclear file is closed. . . . That is certainly not the case. There are many outstanding issues."
But Crowley did not shut the door completely. He said the United States was consulting with its other negotiating partners: Russia, China, Britain, France and G ermany. "We'll be looking to see how ready Iran is to actually engage, and we will be testing that willingness to engage in the next few weeks," he said.
France said Thursday it is studying the proposals along with the other P5-plus-one members. Russia said it hopes negotiations with Iran will resume in the near future.
Asked whether Iran's proposal contains any mention of suspending its uranium enrichment program, Samareh Hashemi said that "methods of preventing development of nuclear weapons and a widespread system for preventing . . . the proliferation of nuclear weapons are a part of the package."
He added: "Since nuclear weapons are an international threat, with the cooperation of all countries we can design an international framework that, basically, prevents research, production, multiplying and keeping nuclear weapons and also moves toward destruction of present nuclear weapons. Iran is ready in this path to offer any and every kind of cooperation and effort. No country must be exempt from this international framework against nuclear weapons. "
Iran maintains that its archenemy, Israel, possesses nuclear weapons, and it has often accused the West of having a double standard regarding Israel's nuclear arsenal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has no conclusive evidence that Iran is trying to militarize its nuclear program, which Iran says is meant solely to generate electricity. But on Wednesday the agency said it was in a "logjam" with Iran and that there were still outstanding questions over the nature of its atomic program.
With the new package it is proposing, Iran wants to remove those doubts by establishing a broad international system that would force not only Iran but countries that have not signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, such as Israel, India and Pakistan, to be completely open about their nuclear intentions, Samareh Hashemi explained.
Giving up uranium enrichment, a key demand by the P5-plus-one group, is not necessary for Iran, he said. He argued that Iran's nuclear activities are within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and abide by agreements and contracts made with the International Atomic Energy Agency. He said that signatories of the treaty, such as Iran, are entitled to enrich uranium. "It is very obvious that legal and lawful activities are the right of every nation," Samareh Hashemi said.
4) Bill Boosts Funds For Afghan Police, Army
Defense Layout Less Than Obama Sought
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009
A key Senate subcommittee on Wednesday trimmed $900 million from the amount requested by the Obama administration to support Afghan security forces next year, but the $6.6 billion approved would still be a 20 percent increase over this fiscal year.
In announcing details of the fiscal 2010 defense appropriations bill, Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense, said Wednesday: "While we strongly concur with the administration that increased funding is needed to train and equip our Afghan army and police forces, it makes no sense to provide more funding than can be spent when other shortfalls exist."
Overall, the subcommittee's bill, which would provide $636.3 billion for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, is $3.9 billion less than the amount requested by President Obama. Of the funds, $128.2 billion is for "overseas contingency operations," essentially meaning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Under the Bush administration, funds for the wars were approved in supplemental appropriations bills, a process that critics said obscured the full cost.
5) U.S. cuts off $11 million in aid to Honduras
JoAnne Allen, Reuters, Wednesday, September 9, 2009 10:20 PM
Washington - The United States on Wednesday formally cut off $11 million in aid to Honduras in response to the June 28 military coup that ousted the elected president of the poor Central American nation.
The decision was taken by the board of the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which aids countries with a track record of sound governance and economic policy and is headed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The State Department announced last week that it was terminating more than $30 million in non-humanitarian aid to Honduras, including the $11 million from the MCC, to pressure the de facto government to step down and reinstate exiled President Manuel Zelaya.
U.S. officials said the aid cut-off included funds for arms sales, military training and security assistance.
"Today's board meeting is a reminder that MCC funds are earned and not automatic," acting MCC chief Darius Mans said in a statement. "Our country partners propose projects that matter to them because they matter to their people, but there is an ongoing responsibility that rests with country leaders."
The MCC said it would also put on hold about $4 million of its contribution to a road project jointly funded with the Central American Bank for Economic Integration.
6) EU to warn Honduras of further sanctions over coup
Reuters, Thursday, September 10, 2009 9:58 AM
Brussels - The European Union will warn the de facto government of Honduras next week that it could face further sanctions unless a peaceful solution is found to a crisis triggered by the coup against President Manuel Zelaya.
A draft statement due to be approved by EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday said the 27-nation bloc would continue to restrict political contacts with the de facto government installed after the June 28 military takeover.
In July, the European Commission said it was suspending all budgetary support payments to Honduras after the failure of efforts to resolve a crisis. It has also suspended development assistance.
"Until a peaceful settlement is found, the EU will stand ready to take further restrictive measures, including targeting those members of the de facto government who are seen to be blocking progress on a negotiated solution," the statement, seen by Reuters, said.
The statement reaffirmed EU support for mediation by Costa Rican President Oscar Arias and the Organization of American States and urged all sides to work for a peaceful negotiated solution and the restoration of constitutional order ahead of November elections.
The statement also expressed deep concern about reported human rights violations, including threats to rights activists, arbitrary detentions and repression of peaceful demonstrators.
7) Afghan Election Watchdog Discards Tainted Votes
Anand Gopal, Wall Street Journal, September 10, 2009
Kabul - The U.N.-funded elections watchdog in Afghanistan has begun to throw out fraudulent ballots from the country's presidential balloting, a day after a tally including contested votes put President Hamid Karzai over the 50% he needs to avoid a second round.
The Electoral Complaints Commission, a United Nations-sponsored body responsible for investigating allegations of fraud and misconduct, has been looking into more than 600 serious accusations, Commissioner Grant Kippen said. The accusations include instances of ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. In some cases, the commission has disqualified results from entire polling stations.
Although Mr. Kippen declined to say how many votes have been thrown out so far, the commission has rendered verdicts on 25 to 30 cases, and expects to reach decisions on more in coming days. The cases that have been decided are from Afghanistan's southern provinces, where most votes went to Mr. Karzai, he said.
The decisions to disqualify votes put Mr. Kippen's commission in a politically delicate spot. The ballots under scrutiny include enough votes that, if discarded, could erode Mr. Karzai's lead and majority, obliging him to survive a second round of voting to be re-elected.
The commission's fraud investigation could extend into November or December, delaying the final count until then and throwing up in the air the timing of a runoff.
Since the Aug. 20 elections, Afghanistan has hung in political limbo as voting results trickle in from remote reaches of the country - often accompanied by allegations of fraud. The U.S. and its allies have pressed Afghanistan's government-appointed election commission to throw out suspect ballots, but they were included in the tally released Tuesday showing Mr. Karzai with 54.1% of the votes and his main challenger Abdullah Abdullah with 28.3%. More than 90% of the votes have been counted.
8) Afghans Angry Over Death of Interpreter In Raid That Freed N.Y. Times Reporter
Pamela Constable, Washington Post, Thursday, September 10, 2009
Kabul, Sept. 9 - The dramatic rescue of New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell, a British-born journalist who was plucked unharmed from a Taliban hideout in a pre-dawn raid Wednesday by British special forces, was greeted with relief by his colleagues and co-workers in Afghanistan.
But the relief was overshadowed by grief and anger among many Afghan journalists and others over the death of Farrell's Afghan interpreter, Sultan Munadi, who was shot dead in a firefight during the raid and whose body was left behind while the commandos whisked Farrell to safety.
The incident, which came only days after a NATO airstrike that was intended to destroy two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban but ended up incinerating Afghan civilians as well, seemed likely to intensify Afghan resentment and hostility toward international forces, whose stated mission is to fight the Taliban and protect Afghan civilians. A British paratrooper and an Afghan woman also were killed in the raid in Kunduz province.
British officials issued a statement expressing sorrow for Munadi's death, but it did little to diminish the anger and bitterness among Afghans, who said the incident reinforced their belief that international forces here care more about Western lives than Afghan ones. Throughout the day, Afghan television stations showed Munadi's body wrapped in a white shroud. He was married and had two small children.
Many Afghan commentators compared the incident to a controversial 2007 case in which an Italian journalist was kidnapped by the Taliban in Helmand province and then freed after negotiations and a release of Taliban prisoners, but his Afghan interpreter, Ajmal Naqshbandi, and their local driver were left behind. The two men were killed.
"We are all very disappointed. Why would the British forces rescue the British man and not his Afghan colleague? They were both running for help and shouting that they were journalists," said Rahimullah Samandar, director of the Afghan Independent Journalists' Association. "He was shot in the head, and his body was left lying. This is wrong behavior that makes people very upset."
The raid also raised questions among Afghans and international diplomats here about why a late-night rescue operation was launched, without the knowledge of Afghan authorities or New York Times officials, when negotiations had been underway with local Taliban leaders for several days and were apparently making progress.
During the next several days, Jamshid and other New York Times staffers here said, they received cellphone calls from Munadi and then from his Taliban captors, who were holding the two men in a mud-brick compound. In one call, Munadi said that the two were with "our brothers," meaning the insurgents, and that they were being treated well. Meanwhile, according to diplomats and sources close to the situation, there was continued communication with local Taliban leaders, including a Muslim cleric named Mullah Saleem. They said that tribal elders and relatives of Munadi were trying to negotiate the captives' release with help from the International Committee of the Red Cross and that they thought the two might be released within days.
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