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September 11, 2009
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1) The State Department said Friday the U.S. and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, AP reports. Department spokesman Crowley said although Iran's proposal for talks was disappointing for sidestepping the nuclear issue, it represented a chance to begin a direct dialogue.
2) Senator Levin, chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he was against sending more U.S. combat troops to Afghanistan until the U.S. speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces, the New York Times reports. The White House has begun to indicate that it could be weeks or perhaps much longer before Obama decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan. A delay on deciding whether to increase troop levels would have the advantage of pushing down the road a split within Obama’s party while he is trying to build coalitions for overhauling the health care system. Levin said the administration needed to adopt a plan to separate low- and midlevel insurgents from hard-core Taliban fighters and commanders. He said the current U.S. efforts to do this had been tentative and halfhearted.
3) Rep. Woolsey said the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus is unified in wanting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. "The Progressive Caucus is pretty much together on what is going on in Afghanistan, in being against escalating and in favor of bringing the troops home," Woolsey said. "We will have to stand up to our own president."
4) Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov on Thursday all but ruled out imposing new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, the New York Times reports. [Of course this news predates the announcement of the agreement on talks - JFP.] Lavrov said he believed that a new set of proposals that Iran gave to European nations on Wednesday offered a viable basis for negotiations to end the dispute. Lavrov called proposals for gas sanctions "a step to a full-blown blockade," and said they would not be supported at the Security Council [where, of course, Russia has a veto - JFP.]
5) Barely mentioned in the breathless coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue generally is the fact that to create a bomb Iran would have to convert its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium into bomb-grade material, writes Robert Dreyfuss in the Nation. The world has plenty of time to work out a diplomatic solution to the impasse. Such a solution, of course, would almost definitely have to concede to Iran the right to enrich uranium, on its own soil and independently, in exchange for transparency and a strengthened regime of international inspections. It's long past time that President Obama - as Senator John Kerry has already done - forthrightly admits that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, Dreyfuss writes.
6) Afghan journalists blamed a kidnapped colleague's death on what they called a reckless rescue operation by British forces and said Thursday that foreign troops have a "double standard" for Western and Afghan lives, AP reports. The newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan - set up by Afghan reporters who work with international news outlets - condemned the Taliban. But the journalists also said they hold NATO-led forces responsible for launching a military operation without exhausting nonviolent channels. They also criticized British commandos for leaving Afghan journalist Sultan Munadi's body behind while retrieving their own slain comrade. "It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life," said Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News.
7) Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine’s financial aid from the IMF bore conditions that may have further hurt their economies, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, Bloomberg reports. The IMF programs included fiscal tightening and restrictive monetary policies, making a recovery more difficult, the study said. "In all of these countries, it would appear that there were more sensible responses to the crisis that would have reduced the loss of employment and output, cuts in social services, and political instability that have resulted from the downturn," the study said.
8) Afghanistan should resolve its political crisis by convening a new Loya Jirga or grand assembly, argue Ansar Rahel and Jon Krakauer in an op-ed in the New York Times. Such an assembly of tribal leaders would be widely respected and is recognized in the Afghan constitution. [In addition to resolving the political crisis in the wake of the disputed election, such a process could provide a framework for the broad national reconciliation - including tribes backing insurgents - that the UN's Kai Eide has called for - JFP.]
9) The Pentagon said Afghan security forces have found a cache of weapons manufactured in Iran but it remains unclear whether it indicates a renewed effort by Iran to aid insurgents, AFP reports. It was unclear when the weapons were ferried into Afghanistan and whether the Iranian government played a role in shipping the arms, a Pentagon spokesman said. It was the first discovery of a cache of Iranian-manufactured weapons in Afghanistan since 2007.
10) Colombia's Supreme Court Thursday slammed a proposal by coalition party De la U to disallow the court to prosecute congressmen, says Colombia Reports. The Court rejected the initiative and accused the coalition party of seeking impunity for colleagues who being investigated by the court for their alleged ties to paramilitary death squads.
1) US says 6 powers accept Iran's offer to talk
Robert Burns, Associated Press, Friday, September 11, 2009 3:55 PM
Washington - The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.
Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that although Iran's proposal for international talks - presented to the six powers on Wednesday - was disappointing for sidestepping the nuclear issue, it represented a chance to begin a direct dialogue.
"We are seeking a meeting now based on the Iranian paper to see what Iran is prepared to do," Crowley said. "And then, as the president has said, you know, if Iran responds to our interest in a meeting, we'll see when that can occur. We hope that will occur as soon as possible."
In its proposal, Iran ignored a demand by the six world powers - the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - for a freeze of its uranium enrichment, which is suspected of leading to production of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that its nuclear work is strictly for peaceful non-military purposes.
Iran pronounced itself ready to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations."
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over "global challenges."
Crowley said Iran's lack of interest in addressing its nuclear program is not a reason to refuse to talk. "If we have talks, we will plan to bring up the nuclear issue," he said.
"So we are seeking a meeting because ultimately the only way that we feel we're going to be able to resolve these issues is to have a meeting," Crowley added. "But it's not just a meeting for meeting's sake; it is a meeting to be able to see if Iran is willing to engage us seriously on these issues."
2) Obama Facing Doubts Within His Own Party On Afghanistan
Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 11, 2009
Washington - The leading Senate Democrat on military matters said Thursday that he was against sending more American combat troops to Afghanistan until the United States speeded up the training and equipping of more Afghan security forces.
The comments by the senator, Carl Levin, a Michigan Democrat who is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, illustrate the growing skepticism President Obama is facing in his own party as the White House decides whether to commit more deeply to a war that has begun losing public support, even as American commanders acknowledge that the situation on the ground has deteriorated.
Senator Levin’s comments, made in an interview and in the draft of a speech he will deliver Friday, are significant because his stature on military matters gives him the ability to sway fellow lawmakers, and his pivotal committee position provides a platform for vetting Obama’s major decisions on troops.
Underscoring the increasing unease, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said earlier on Thursday that the president would face opposition if he sought to fulfill an expected request from Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, for more American combat troops.
"I don’t think there is a great deal of support for sending more troops to Afghanistan in the country or in Congress," Ms. Pelosi told reporters, emphasizing that she was eager to see a report due from the White House in two weeks on benchmarks to measure the success of the administration’s six-month-old strategy.
The White House has begun to indicate that it could be weeks or perhaps much longer before Obama decides whether to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Administration officials say they want to do a complete review of the effectiveness of the last troop increase, which will put the American presence at 68,000 troops by year’s end, an all-time high. They are also digesting a strategic assessment of the Afghan mission that General McChrystal has submitted.
A delay on deciding whether to increase American troop levels would also have the political advantage of pushing down the road a split within Obama’s party while he is trying to build coalitions for overhauling the health care system.
In the telephone interview on Thursday, Levin said he was not ruling out sending more troops eventually, but rather insisted that the United States try again on a years-old project: finding a way to expand and accelerate the training of the Afghan security forces. "I just think we should hold off on a commitment to send more combat troops until these additional steps to strengthen the Afghan security forces are put in motion," he said.
Finally, Levin said the administration needed to adopt a plan to separate low- and midlevel insurgents from hard-core Taliban fighters and commanders. He said the current American efforts to do this had been tentative and halfhearted.
3) Pelosi Sees Support Ebbing For Afghan War
Congress's Reluctance to Increase Troops May Pit Majority Against White House
Yochi J. Dreazen and Naftali Bendavid, Wall Street Journal, September 11, 2009
Washington - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she sees little congressional support for boosting troop levels in Afghanistan, putting the Democratic majority in Congress on a possible collision course with the Obama administration over the future conduct of the war there.
The remarks Thursday by Ms. Pelosi (D., Calif.) make her the highest-ranking Democrat to signal opposition to the administration's handling of the Afghan war, a top national-security priority.
Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D., Calif.), co-chair of the 82-member Congressional Progressive Caucus, said her group is unified in wanting to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.
"The Progressive Caucus is pretty much together on what is going on in Afghanistan, in being against escalating and in favor of bringing the troops home," Ms. Woolsey said in a recent interview. "We will have to stand up to our own president."
4) Russia Says Sanctions Against Iran Are Unlikely
Clifford J. Levy, New York Times, September 11, 2009
Moscow - Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov on Thursday all but ruled out imposing new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, brushing aside growing Western concerns that Iran had made significant progress in recent months in a bid for nuclear weapons.
Lavrov said he believed that a new set of proposals that Iran gave to European nations on Wednesday offered a viable basis for negotiations to end the dispute. He said he did not believe that the United Nations Security Council would approve new sanctions against Iran, which could ban Iran from exporting oil or importing gasoline.
"Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers, my impression is there is something there to use," Lavrov said at a gathering of experts on Russia. "The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region."
"Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate," Lavrov said Thursday at a meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual meeting of Russia experts. "They are a step to a full-blown blockade, and I do not think they would be supported at the U.N. Security Council." Lavrov added, "Iran is a partner that has never harmed Russia in any way."
5) Door Open for Iran Talks
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, 09/10/2009
Way, way down in the Times story, and barely mentioned in the breathless coverage of the Iranian nuclear issue generally, is this important caveat:
"To create a bomb it would have to convert its existing stockpile of low-enriched uranium into bomb-grade material. International inspectors, who visit Natanz regularly, would presumably raise alarms. Iran would also have to produce or buy a working weapons design, complete with triggering devices, and make it small enough to fit in one of its missiles."
In all of the hubbub over Iran's nuclear program, there are several indisputable facts: (1) Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) is of no use at all for building a bomb; (2) in order to make a bomb, Iran would have to process all of its LEU into weapons-grade, high-enriched uranium, a not-so-easy thing to do; (3) even so, Iran only has enough LEU for a single bomb, even it could process it into HEU, and one bomb does not an arsenal make, especially since Iran would have to test its weapon, thereby using it all up; (4) any moves to produce HEU, as the Times correctly notes, would immediately be noticed by the IAEA inspectors, setting off alarms; (5) Iran probably doesn't have the know-how at present to construct a working nuclear weapon, even if it acquired enough HEU; and (6) Iran doesn't have a missile system capable of delivering a bomb. That doesn't mean that President Ahmadinejad and some of his cohorts in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps wouldn't dearly love to have a bomb, but it does mean that the world community, including the IAEA and the P5 + 1 group of negotiating countries has plenty of time to work out a diplomatic solution to the impasse.
Such a solution, of course, would almost definitely have to concede to Iran the right to enrich uranium, on its own soil and independently, in exchange for transparency and a strengthened regime of international inspections. In addition, I was told in Tehran by Iranian insiders in June, Iran might be willing to scale back its enrichment program, reducing the number of centrifuges it's spinning (perhaps from 4,000 to 1,000), voluntarily, in the context of a deal. So far, however, the United States has not, repeat not, acknowledged Iran's inherent right to an enrichment program, under appropriate safeguards. Yesterday, Iran put on the table its own position concerning the impasse. So far, the content of Iran's proposal isn't known, but it's widely assumed that Iran is making no concessions in advance. But neither is the United States. It's long past time that President Obama - as Senator John Kerry has already done - forthrightly admits that Iran has the right to enrich uranium. (So far, Obama has said that Iran has the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy, but he has been silent on enrichment.)
6) Afghan reporters blame NATO for colleague's death
Kay Johnson, Associated Press, Thursday, September 10, 2009 2:29 PM
Kabul - Afghan journalists blamed a kidnapped colleague's death on what they called a reckless rescue operation by British forces and said Thursday that foreign troops have a "double standard" for Western and Afghan lives.
The death of Afghan translator and reporter Sultan Munadi during a raid that freed a British-Irish journalist for The New York Times could further fuel anger among some Afghans over the conduct of foreign troops. That ire threatens to weaken support for the fight against a resurgent Taliban.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing as did his main challenger in the country's disputed presidential election, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.
The newly formed Media Club of Afghanistan - set up by Afghan reporters who work with international news outlets - condemned the Taliban, who grabbed the two. But the journalists also said in a statement they hold NATO-led forces responsible for launching a military operation without exhausting nonviolent channels. They also criticized British commandos for leaving Munadi's body behind while retrieving their own slain comrade.
"It shows a double standard between a foreign life and an Afghan life," said Fazul Rahim, an Afghan producer for CBS News.
7) Hungary, Latvia, Ukraine Stifled by IMF Conditions, Study Says
Sandrine Rastello, Bloomberg, Sept. 11
Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine’s financial aid from the International Monetary Fund bore conditions that may have further hurt their economies, according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
The programs the Washington-based lender negotiated with governments in exchange for standby credit arrangements included measures ranging from fiscal tightening to restrictive monetary policies, making a recovery more difficult, the study said.
"They don’t have as many conditions as they used to have 10 years ago, but the conditions they are using are still often harmful," said Mark Weisbrot, co-director at the Washington- based center, said in an interview yesterday.
The amount the IMF agreed to lend to the three countries last year accounts for about half the standby loan arrangements the IMF had committed as of the end of July, according to IMF figures.
"In all of these countries, it would appear that there were more sensible responses to the crisis that would have reduced the loss of employment and output, cuts in social services, and political instability that have resulted from the downturn," the study said.
8) To Save Afghanistan, Look To Its Past
Ansar Rahel and Jon Krakauer, New York Times, September 11, 2009
[Rahel, a lawyer, advised King Mohammad Zahir Shah’s loya jirga committee.]
No matter who is ultimately certified as the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election, the vote was plagued by so much fraud and violence, and had such low turnout, that it is inconceivable the Afghan people will regard the victor as a legitimate leader. And if a majority of Afghans do not consider the president and his government to be legitimate, the military campaign now being waged by the United States and its allies is doomed to fail, regardless of the number of troops deployed.
Current discussions about cobbling together mistrustful factions into a new power-sharing government will produce neither enduring democracy nor short-term peace. The slate must be wiped clean. Afghans need to start again from scratch and choose their leader by a fresh process that restores legitimacy to the national government.
Fortunately, such a process already exists - one that is both highly respected by the Afghan people and recognized in the Afghan Constitution: the convening of an emergency loya jirga, or grand assembly. The loya jirga has been called in times of national crisis in Afghanistan for centuries. In 1747, such an assembly in Kandahar selected Ahmad Shah Durrani as the first king of Afghanistan, uniting a patchwork of contentious tribal entities into the modern Afghan state. The loya jirga, moreover, is not only deeply rooted in Pashtun tradition, but is also consistent with notions of Western representative democracy.
Afghan society remains predominantly illiterate, agrarian and tribal. Indeed, the last king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir Shah, often referred to himself as the "chief of all tribes." Local disputes are routinely resolved by tribal elders seated on the ground in a circle, a gathering known as a jirga (or a shura in non-Pashtun regions). A loya jirga is, essentially, the same process on a much grander scale: an immense assembly of esteemed tribal leaders designated to debate issues of utmost national importance. Unlike presidential elections, which strike most Afghans as alien and fundamentally suspect, jirgas of all sizes are trusted and utterly familiar institutions.
According to the Constitution (which was itself ratified by a loya jirga in 2004), such a council can be convened "to decide on issues related to independence, national sovereignty, territorial integrity as well as supreme national interests." Doing so does not depend on the support of any particular individual or group, including the president. While historically it was the king who most often initiated the process, the House of People, one of the two houses of Parliament, can directly convene a loya jirga at any time.
Because it is a unifying, time-honored and uniquely Afghan mechanism, a loya jirga offers the best hope for hitting the reset button and rapidly transforming Afghanistan’s political landscape. This would give the Afghan people a badly needed dose of optimism about the future of their beautiful, ravaged country.
9) Iranian weapons cache found in Afghanistan: US
AFP, September 10, 2009
Washington - Afghan security forces have found a cache of weapons manufactured in Iran but it remains unclear whether it indicates a renewed effort by Tehran to aid insurgents, the Pentagon said Thursday.
The weapons seized last month in western Herat province included rockets, firing devices for bombs and powerful armor-piercing explosives known as explosively-formed penetrators (EFPs), the Defense Department said. "They arrested two individuals at the time affiliated with this particular weapons cache," spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters.
It was unclear when the weapons were ferried into Afghanistan and whether the Tehran government played a role in shipping the arms, Whitman said. It was the first discovery of a cache of Iranian-manufactured weapons in Afghanistan since 2007, the spokesman said.
10) Supreme Court says Uribe supporters seek impunity for parapoliticians
Adriaan Alsema, Colombia Reports, Thursday, 10 September 2009
Colombia's Supreme Court Thursday slammed a proposal by coalition party De la U to disallow the court to prosecute congressmen. The court says the Uribistas are seeking impunity.
The Partido de la U Wednesday proposed to form a special tribunal to prosecute lawmakers and magistrates. According to the coalition party, there is a conflict of competence now that the Supreme Court is allowed to investigate (former) lawmakers and Congress is allowed to prosecute (former) magistrate.
The Court rejects the initiative and accuses the coalition party of seeking impunity for colleagues who are currently being investigated by the court for their alleged ties to paramilitary death squads.
"What they are seeking is impunity. The court has complied and will comply with all its competences and has given all guarantees," Supreme Court magistrate Jaime Arrubla told radio station LA FM.
"What is unbelievable is that a sickness is detected in some of their members of Congress and they want to reform those who detected it," the magistrate added.
Arrubla warned the move would be received negatively by the international community and is an attack on the independence of the Supreme Court and Colombia's democracy.
The Supreme Court has clashed regularly with the Uribe administration and the government coalition in Congress on the investigation of dozens of lawmakers who are suspected to have used paramilitary support to be voted into Congress.
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