JFP News 10/15: In Defense of Rachel Corrie
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October 15, 2009
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In Defense of Rachel Corrie
When a local theatre company does a production of the play "My Name is Rachel Corrie," based on the writings of the slain American peace activist, controversy is sure to follow. But here are a few things strident critics of the play don't want you to know.
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1) As Obama ponders a request for as many as 80,000 more troops for Afghanistan, Democrats in Congress are deeply divided over whether the strategy can succeed and at what cost, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Senator Feinstein supports a troop increase. But House Appropriations Committee Chair Obey warned that a counterinsurgency effort could take 10 years and cost $1 trillion. "What will that policy cost and how will we pay for it?" Obey said. He compared inattention to the cost of the war to the obsession with the cost of health care legislation that four congressional committees are "twisting themselves into knots" to fit into Obama's $900 billion, 10-year limit. The Congressional Budget Office "is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing health care plan," Obey said. "Shouldn't it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan?" House liberals said opposition to a troop increase is building. Speaker Pelosi has said many times that passing Obama's request for more troops last spring was the most difficult effort of her speakership. "Nothing to compare to it," she said in an interview last month, adding that Obey's warning "is one that should be heeded."
2) Officials at the Pentagon and National Security Council have begun developing "middle path" strategies that would require fewer troops than their ground commander is seeking, the Los Angeles Times reports. Measures under consideration include closer cooperation with local tribal chiefs and regional warlords, using CIA agents as intermediaries and cash payments as incentives. Other steps would concentrate U.S. and allied troops in cities, pulling out of Afghanistan's widely dispersed rural areas. "We already have ceded control in parts of the country to warlords," said Thomas Hammes, a retired U.S. Marine colonel now at the National Defense University. "People say it is a horrible thing to do. Well, we are doing it."
3) A veteran Army officer who served in Afghanistan warns that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. Lt. Col. Daniel Davis says he believes many military officers with field experience in Afghanistan share his views. Davis says it would be irresponsible to increase the size of Afghan security forces to 400,000, as McChrystal wants, since Afghanistan can't sustain the expenditure and if foreign funding stops those trained would suddenly become unemployed people with guns and training. Davis says it would be better to focus on reducing abuses by security personnel, since that creates more insurgents.
4) Far from being at a critical juncture, the war in Afghanistan is at a long-term stalemate, argues former DIA officer A.J. Rossmiller in the New Republic. An increase of tens of thousands of troops will not change that fact, nor will subtle tactical changes. Power sharing is the natural outgrowth of a political/military impasse. Some kind of political compromise is unavoidable no matter what the US does, but, if we acknowledge that, we can influence how it is forged. This is the very lesson of Iraq-not, as many claim, that a troop increase will turn the tides. Rather than destroying the Iraqi insurgency, we split the nationalists from the (very small number of) international terrorists by engaging the former group politically and focusing military efforts against the latter.
5) The more Western troops we have sent to Afghanistan, the more the local residents have viewed themselves as under foreign occupation, leading to a rise in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks, writes Robert Pape, in the New York Times.
6) A negotiator for de facto Honduran leader Micheletti said no deal was reached between the two opposed sides Wednesday, contradicting other officials, CNN reports. Ninety percent of an agreement to end the country's ongoing political crisis has been reached, Micheletti negotiator Vilma Morales said at a news conference Wednesday, but some key points remained to be worked out.
7) Streams of civilians fled South Waziristan as the government pounded the area with airstrikes ahead of an expected ground offensive against the Taliban, AP reports.
8) Israeli authorities have demolished two Palestinian buildings in East Jerusalem, in defiance of international calls to stop such actions, the BBC reports. Palestinian reports say a family of five was forcibly evicted from their home in the Beit Hanina district before the building was demolished. UN officials say such demolitions violate international law. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem says the authorities have demolished about 420 Palestinian-owned houses in East Jerusalem since 2004.
9) Hamas leaders said Thursday the group will not sign an Egyptian-mediated proposal to reconcile with rival Fatah unless it is amended to say Palestinians have the right to keep fighting Israel, AP reports. Under the proposal, the Palestinians would hold presidential and legislative elections on June 28. In the meantime, Hamas would allow some 3,000 Fatah loyalists to return to duty in the security forces in Gaza. Monitoring committees would work toward establishing a unified Palestinian security force for Gaza and the West Bank, while the rival sides would form a separate committee to work together to prepare for the elections.
10) A federal judge in Miami approved a lighter sentence Tuesday for one of five Cubans convicted of spying on anti-Castro Cuban exiles, the New York Times reports. Judge Lenard replaced the life sentence for Antonio Guerrero with a sentence of 262 months, or almost 22 years, which means he will be out of prison in about seven years, counting time served and time off for good behavior. Prosecutors had asked for the sentence to be reduced to 240 months. "It was odd," said Leonard Weinglass, Guerrero's lawyer. "You have a man who was on a military base but who didn't take a single classified document and no one testified that he injured U.S. national security, but the judge still rejects the prosecutors' request to lighten the sentence." "Holding a trial for five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as fair as a trial for an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran," said Robert Pastor, President Carter's national security adviser for Latin America, "You'd need a lot more than a good lawyer to be taken seriously."
1) Obama Hears Conflicting Views From Democrats
Carolyn Lochhead, San Francisco Chronicle, Thursday, October 15, 2009
Washington - As President Obama ponders a request from U.S. commanders for as many as 80,000 more troops for Afghanistan, Democrats in Congress are deeply divided over whether the strategy can succeed and at what cost.
In recent weeks, congressional leaders have issued wildly conflicting advice, from California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's support for a troop increase to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey's warning that a counterinsurgency effort could take 10 years and cost $1 trillion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, has refrained from promising passage of a war funding bill.
Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, raised pointed questions last week about the feasibility of the strategy recommended by the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, to use the military to protect the population while rebuilding civil society.
"What will that policy cost and how will we pay for it?" Obey said. He compared inattention to the cost of the war to the obsession with the cost of health care legislation that four congressional committees are "twisting themselves into knots" to fit into Obama's $900 billion, 10-year limit.
The Congressional Budget Office "is earnestly measuring the cost of each competing health care plan," Obey said, asking: "Shouldn't it be asked to do the same thing with respect to Afghanistan?"
He insisted that any commitment to rebuilding a nation with a high illiteracy rate must be measured against other challenges for the United States: joblessness at home, weaning the nation off oil imports, controlling the federal deficit and putting Social Security and Medicare on a sound financial footing.
House liberals said opposition to a troop increase is building. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, has introduced legislation prohibiting funding, while Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, wants to reverse the ratio of military to civilian aid.
"We have plenty of Republicans that will vote for whatever escalation comes about, and we probably have a moderate number of Democrats who will vote for it," said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, co-chairwoman of the House Progressive Caucus. "But we have more Democrats than ever that may not vote for anything."
Pelosi has said many times that passing Obama's request for more troops last spring was the most difficult effort of her speakership. "Nothing to compare to it," she said in an interview last month, adding that Obey's warning "is one that should be heeded."
Other leading Democrats, however, are publicly urging Obama to follow the recommendations of his generals.
Feinstein, who met with Obama last week, said Sunday, "I don't know how you put somebody in who was as crackerjack as Gen. McChrystal, who gives the president very solid recommendations, and not take those recommendations if you're not going to pull out." Feinstein said Obama ruled out a withdrawal. "If you're going to stay, you have to have a way of winning," Feinstein said.
2) Officials Look At Scenarios For Afghan 'Middle Path'
The strategies under consideration would require fewer additional troops than requested by Gen. McChrystal.
Julian E. Barnes and Christi Parsons, Los Angeles Times, October 15, 2009
Washington - As the Obama administration debates whether to shift its aims in Afghanistan, officials at the Pentagon and National Security Council have begun developing "middle path" strategies that would require fewer troops than their ground commander is seeking.
Measures under consideration include closer cooperation with local tribal chiefs and regional warlords, using CIA agents as intermediaries and cash payments as incentives, said current and former officials who described the strategies on condition of anonymity.
Other steps would concentrate U.S. and allied troops in cities, pulling out of Afghanistan's widely dispersed rural areas. At the same time, the allied forces would push ahead with plans to intensify training of Afghan troops, officials said.
None of the strategies envision troop reductions, but officials said they would not require the 40,000-troop increase preferred by Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the U.S. and allied commander. A number of White House officials favor sending fewer than 20,000 additional troops.
Anticipating a possible shift in administration strategy, Republicans have criticized options providing fewer than 40,000 troops as risky half-measures. "It's a big gamble," Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said recently. "Which half of the war do you want to fight?"
With the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan already 8 years old, advocates of a middle approach question whether the American public will support a long-term effort. "There is a growing view, a minority opinion, within the military that worries about the sustainability on the domestic front of what McChrystal is proposing," said an administration official. "A year and a half from now we could find there is not the will to sustain this McChrystal approach."
One approach would be to take McChrystal's plan and "pare it down," moving troops away from less important objectives, said a former official who served in both the Bush and Obama administrations.
The middle path strategies would not try to establish strict limits on U.S. efforts, such as focusing on attacking Al Qaeda, a posture once favored by Vice President Joe Biden. However, the measures are less ambitious than the in-depth counterinsurgency strategy advocated by McChrystal and other military leaders.
The administration official said that in addition to protecting the largest population centers and training Afghan security forces, the U.S. should take more aggressive action against poppy farming, which provides a substantial part of the Taliban's income; continue to strike Al Qaeda targets; and work to improve Afghan government services, at least in the largest cities. "We should help the Afghans hold these major urban areas. Hold all the major cities, then there is a perception of security, commerce starts," the official said. "But forget about the wastelands."
During the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to oust the Taliban for harboring Al Qaeda, the Bush administration routinely made deals with tribal leaders and warlords to pacify parts of the country.
Over the years, some of those alliances faded and others were superseded by political deals made by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Nonetheless, the U.S. has continually worked with tribal elders and influential regional leaders, motivated in part by discomfort over Karzai's political alliances and, more recently, allegations of fraud in the country's August presidential election.
Many of the warlords are dogged by allegations of corruption and brutality, but allied forces also have allowed them to exercise a measure of control over their home regions. "We already have ceded control in parts of the country to warlords," said Thomas X. Hammes, a retired U.S. Marine colonel now at the National Defense University. "People say it is a horrible thing to do. Well, we are doing it."
In Wednesday's White House strategy meeting, officials debated whether the U.S. can do more to win over Pashtun tribes and break their alliance with the Taliban leadership.
U.S. forces have pilot programs to help train tribal militias, and officials said they have shown promise. That policy could be expanded in an effort to professionalize forces of regional warlords, to the extent possible, according to current and former officials.
3) U.S.: Veteran Army Officer Urges Afghan Troop Drawdown
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Oct 15
Washington - A veteran Army officer who has served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars warns in an analysis now circulating in Washington that the counterinsurgency strategy urged by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is likely to strengthen the Afghan insurgency, and calls for withdrawal of the bulk of U.S. combat forces from the country over 18 months.
In a 63-page paper representing his personal views, but reflecting conversations with other officers who have served in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis argues that it is already too late for U.S. forces to defeat the insurgency. "Many experts in and from Afghanistan warn that our presence over the past eight years has already hardened a meaningful percentage of the population into viewing the United States as an army of occupation which should be opposed and resisted," writes Davis.
Providing the additional 40,000 troops that Gen. McChrystal has reportedly requested "is almost certain to further exacerbate" that problem, he warns.
Davis was a liaison officer between the Combined Forces Command - Afghanistan (CFC-A) and the Central Command in 2005, just as the Afghan insurgency was becoming a significant problem for the U.S. military. In that assignment he both consulted with the top U.S. officers and staff of the CFC-A and traveled widely throughout Afghanistan visiting U.S. and NATO combat units. He also commanded a U.S. military transition team on the Iraqi border with Iran in 2008-09.
In the paper, Davis suggests what he calls a "Go Deep" strategy as an alternative to the recommendation from McChrystal for a larger counterinsurgency effort, which he calls "Go Big." The "Go Deep" strategy proposed by Davis would establish an 18-month time frame during which the bulk of U.S. and NATO combat forces would be withdrawn from the country. It would leave U.S. Special Forces and their supporting units, and enough conventional forces in Kabul to train Afghan troops and police and provide protection for U.S. personnel.
The forces that continue to operate in insurgent-dominated areas would wage "an aggressive counterterrorism effort" aimed in part at identifying Taliban and al Qaeda operatives. The strategy would also provide support for improved Afghan governance and training for security forces.
Davis argues that a large and growing U.S. military presence would make it more difficult to achieve this counterterrorism objective. By withdrawing conventional forces from the countryside, he suggests, U.S. strategy would deprive the insurgents of "easily identifiable and lucrative targets against which to launch attacks". Typically insurgents attack U.S. positions not for any tactical military objective, Davis writes, but to gain a propaganda victory.
The "Go Deep" strategy outlined in the paper appears to parallel the shift in strategy from counterinsurgency to counterterrorism being proposed by some officials in discussions in the White House in recent weeks. After reading Davis's paper, Col. Patrick Lang, formerly the defence intelligence officer for the Middle East, told IPS he regards the "Go Deep" strategy as "a fair representation of the alternative to the one option in General McChrystal's assessment".
Lang said he doubts that those advising Obama to shift to a counterterrorism strategy are calling specifically for the withdrawal of most combat troops, but he believes such a withdrawal "is certainly implicit in the argument".
Davis told IPS he was surprised to hear from one official in a high position in Washington whose reaction to his paper was that what he is proposing in place of the "Go Big" option is still "too big".
Davis said his views on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan have been shaped both by his personal experiences traveling throughout Afghanistan during his 2005 tour of duty and by conversations with U.S. military officers who have recently returned from Afghanistan. "Mostly it was guys who've been out there in the field," said Davis. "They have a different view from those who work in the headquarters."
"I think there's a whole lot of folks out there who agree with this," he said.
In the paper, Davis argues that the counterinsurgency strategy recommended by McChrystal would actually require a far larger U.S. force than is now being proposed. Citing figures given by Marine Corps Col. Julian Dale Alford at a conference last month, Davis writes that training 400,000 Afghan army and police alone would take 18 brigades of U.S. troops - as many as 100,000 U.S. troops when the necessary support troops are added.
The objective of expanding the Afghan security forces to 400,000, as declared in McChrystal's "initial assessment", poses other major problems as well, according to Davis.
He observes that the costs of such an expansion have been estimated at three to four times more than Afghanistan's entire Gross Domestic Product. Davis asks what would happen if the economies of the states which have pledged to support those Afghan personnel come under severe pressures and do not continue the support indefinitely.
"It would be irresponsible to increase the size of the military to that level," he writes, "convincing hundreds of thousands of additional Afghan men to join, giving them field training and weapons, and then at some point suddenly cease funding, throwing tens of thousands out of work." The result, he suggests, would be similar to what followed the U.S. failure to reassemble the Iraqi Army after the invasion of March 2003.
Davis also cites "growing anecdotal evidence" that popular anger at the abuses of power by the Afghan National Police has increased support for the insurgency.
He calls for scaling back the increase in Afghan security forces to the original targets of 134,000 Army troops and 80,000 national police. The crucial factor in determining the future of the country, he argues, is not the numbers of security personnel but whether they continue to abuse the population.
If that pattern of behavior were to change dramatically, Davis says, "the number of Taliban fighters will dwindle to manageable numbers as those presently filling their ranks will no longer be motivated to fight".
Why a real counter-insurgency strategy is not possible in Afghanistan-and why politics may be the answer.
A.J. Rossmiller, New Republic, October 13, 2009 | 12:00 am
[Rossmiller is at the National Security Network; former intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency.]
The situation in Afghanistan increasingly looks like Iraq did not too long ago. Not the actual political or military circumstances, of course, but the analysis and commentary. Phrases like "We're entering a decisive period" and "It's now or never" are being tossed around ominously as the debate over troop increases rages. One can hardly read an op-ed without being told that the situation is dire and that this is a critical time, perhaps even our Last Chance to Get It Right. Most notably, the report produced by General Stanley McChrystal announced that "the short-term fight will be decisive."
There is not a single Afghanistan myth more prevalent or more specious than this one. To be at a "critical juncture" implies that one side or the other is poised to decisively gain the upper hand and therefore to win. But the situation in Afghanistan is almost the exact opposite of that. I will likely have my pundit card revoked for saying so-nothing diverts attention like saying that a situation isn't at a critical turning point-but it's true. After eight years of fighting, two things seem clear: First, the insurgency does not have the capability to defeat U.S. forces or depose Afghanistan's central government; and, second, U.S. forces do not have the ability to vanquish the insurgency. It's true that the Taliban has gained ground in recent months, but, absent a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops, it cannot retake sovereign control. This is not to say that Afghanistan isn't unstable; it clearly is. That has been the case for eight years, however, and, in the absence of some shocking, unforeseen development, it could be true for another eight or 18 or 80 years. An increase of tens of thousands of troops will not change that fact, nor will subtle tactical changes. Rather than teetering on the edge of some imagined precipice, the situation in Afghanistan is at a virtual stalemate. Only by appropriately characterizing the current situation in Afghanistan can we begin to determine the best way to achieve our stated goals there.
Often when a crisis is invoked, it is to push a particular course of action, to make people believe that a recommended remedy must be undertaken immediately. In other words, warning of an impending crossroads can be a useful bullying mechanism, and that is what is happening now, as proponents of a broad-based counter-insurgency strategy confront those who favor a more focused counter-terrorism mission.
If the situation is a virtual stalemate-that is, if it is not possible or realistic to send enough troops to ensure military victory, and similarly unlikely that the anti-government forces are capable of taking sovereign control-then two potential courses of action emerge. First, the status quo could be maintained. The United States could sustain its force levels, keeping enough troops to preserve the Karzai government and prevent terrorist havens but not enough to eliminate the insurgency; and the insurgency could keep fighting, never taking over the country but maintaining control of some localities. This is not necessarily a terrible option, but it would eventually become politically untenable for the United States, aside from the legitimate question of whether such a sustained effort would be the most effective use of resources for counterterrorism. The second possible outcome is political compromise.
Power sharing is the natural outgrowth of a political/military impasse. It is essentially already occurring at the local level, with the Taliban wielding substantial governing authority in at least a third of Afghanistan's districts. Rather than trying to evict the Taliban from the territory of the largely supportive Pashtun population, the United States and the Afghanistan central government should acknowledge that renegade Pashtuns-not groups of international terrorists, but nationalist insurgents-have earned the right to participate in government in some capacity. (Karzai, notably, is himself an ethnic Pashtun, but has long feuded with the Taliban, and the post-2001 governmental structure has strongly favored former warlords and his close allies.) In some areas, the Taliban has acted as a local government-keeping order, providing services, mediating disputes, etc.-and, in others, it is confined to anti-government propaganda and violence. But, through participation in government, its actions can be evaluated by the people and observed by the global community. The Taliban should not, of course, be allowed to take over-but a group with a constituency should be allowed to at least try, under a representative system, to participate in governance subject to the expressed will of the people. Whether that simply means greater opportunities for engagement or formalization of political powers for certain demographics-as there is in Iraq, for example-should be up for debate and negotiation, but political process must be the focus, rather than pure military goals. Like most Americans, I have nothing but enmity for anyone even tangentially involved in the terrorist attacks against the United States, but achieving our strategic goals often requires dealing with people we find repellent.
Some kind of political compromise is unavoidable no matter what the United States does, but, if we acknowledge that, we can influence how it is forged. This is the very lesson of Iraq-not, as many claim, that a troop increase will turn the tides. Rather than destroying the Iraqi insurgency, we split the nationalists from the (very small number of) international terrorists by engaging the former group politically and focusing military efforts against the latter. We offered disaffected Sunnis a voice in government, encouraged them to take part in the political process, and insisted upon enforcement of an Iraqi constitution that protects their rights-all despite Saddam's Sunni-dominated murderous reign. We also gave money and arms to Sunnis in exchange for their efforts against foreign fighters, and we ultimately established a withdrawal timetable that demonstrated to each side that political compromise was necessary immediately. Whether these approaches will be vindicated in the coming years is an open question, but it helped begin to shift the method of conflict from violence to politics.
5) To Beat The Taliban, Fight From Afar
Robert A. Pape, New York Times, October 15, 2009
[Pape, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, is author of "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism."]
In 2001, the United States toppled the Taliban and kicked Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan with just a few thousand of its own troops, primarily through the combination of American air power and local ground forces from the Northern Alliance. Then, for the next several years, the United States and NATO modestly increased their footprint to about 20,000 troops, mainly limiting the mission to guarding Kabul, the capital. Up until 2004, there was little terrorism in Afghanistan and little sense that things were deteriorating.
Then, in 2005, the United States and NATO began to systematically extend their military presence across Afghanistan. The goals were to defeat the tiny insurgency that did exist at the time, eradicate poppy crops and encourage local support for the central government. Western forces were deployed in all major regions, including the Pashtun areas in the south and east, and today have ballooned to more than 100,000 troops.
As Western occupation grew, the use of the two most worrisome forms of terrorism in Afghanistan - suicide attacks and homemade bombs - escalated in parallel. There were no recorded suicide attacks in Afghanistan before 2001. According to data I have collected, in the immediate aftermath of America's conquest, the nation experienced only a small number: none in 2002, two in 2003, five in 2004 and nine in 2005.
But in 2006, suicide attacks began to increase by an order of magnitude - with 97 in 2006, 142 in 2007, 148 in 2008 and more than 60 in the first half of 2009. Moreover, the overwhelming percentage of the suicide attacks (80 percent) has been against United States and allied troops or their bases rather than Afghan civilians, and nearly all (95 percent) carried out by Afghans.
The pattern for other terrorist attacks is almost the same. The most deadly involve roadside bombs that detonate on contact or are set off by remote control. Although these weapons were a relatively minor nuisance in the early years of the occupation, with 782 attacks in 2005, their use has shot up since - to 1,739 in 2006, nearly 2,000 in 2007 and more than 3,200 last year. Again, these attacks have for the most part been carried out against Western combat forces, not Afghan targets.
The picture is clear: the more Western troops we have sent to Afghanistan, the more the local residents have viewed themselves as under foreign occupation, leading to a rise in suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. (We see this pattern pretty much any time an "outside" armed force has tried to pacify a region, from the West Bank to Kashmir to Sri Lanka.)
So as General McChrystal looks to change course in Afghanistan, the priority should be not to send more soldiers but to end the sense of the United States and its allies as foreign occupiers.
6) End to Honduras crisis? Not so fast, negotiator says
Negotiator for de facto President Roberto Micheletti: No deal reached
Negotiator said most issues worked out, but some key points yet unresolved
Earlier, government official said consensus reach with Jose Manuel Zelaya
Zelaya was ousted as president of Honduras, seeks to return to power
CNN, October 15, 2009 http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/10/14/honduras.political.turmoil/
Tegucigalpa - A negotiator for de facto Honduran President Roberto Micheletti said that no deal was reached between the two opposed sides Wednesday, as other government officials had reported. Ninety percent of an agreement to end the country's ongoing political crisis has been reached, Micheletti negotiator Vilma Morales said at a news conference Wednesday, but some key points remained to be worked out.
Earlier Wednesday, Honduran Undersecretary for Security Mario Eduardo Perdomo told CNN en Español that negotiators for both sides had reached a consensus that could bring resolution to the political crisis. Micheletti and ousted President Jose Manuel Zelaya would have to agree to any proposed resolution.
His statement followed remarks by Zelaya negotiator Victor Meza, who said an agreement had been reached on the point of Zelaya's demand to be restored to the presidency, according to local reports.
Morales rejected that the talks had found consensus on Zelaya's fate. "At this moment, there is nothing definitive regarding that point," Morales said.
Meanwhile, a close advisor to Zelaya insisted that a draft agreement was approved by both sides and was being presented to the respective leaders. "There is 100 percent consensus over this text," Rasel Tome told CNN en Español Wednesday night.
The reason behind the two sides' contradictory claims was not immediately clear.
7) Pakistan: Civilians Flee Militant Base
Associated Press, October 15, 2009
Streams of civilians jammed into cars and trucks Wednesday to flee the militant stronghold of South Waziristan as the government pounded the area with airstrikes ahead of an expected ground offensive against the Taliban. Bombing runs over suspected militant hide-outs have sharply increased in recent days after a string of bloody attacks on military and civilian targets killed scores of people across Pakistan. The army has given no timeframe for the offensive.
8) Israelis flatten Palestinian home
BBC, Monday, 12 October 2009 16:06 UK
Israeli authorities have demolished two Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, in defiance of international calls to stop such actions.
Palestinian reports say a family of five was forcibly evicted from their home in the Beit Hanina district before the building was demolished. Israeli bulldozers then destroyed the foundations of another building nearby.
UN officials say such demolitions violate international law and raise serious humanitarian concerns. Israel says buildings subject to demolition orders have been built without permits.
Palestinians say it is virtually impossible to obtain the necessary approval from Israel's municipal authorities in Jerusalem.
The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem , says the authorities have demolished about 420 Palestinian-owned houses in East Jerusalem since 2004 saying they were built without permits. Israel occupied the territory in the 1967 war and annexed it soon afterwards in a move that has not been recognised internationally.
9) Hamas wants changes to Egypt's reconciliation plan
Albert Aji, Associated Press, Thursday, October 15, 2009 11:33 AM
Damascus, Syria - Syrian-based leaders of the Islamic militant Hamas said Thursday the group will not sign an Egyptian-mediated proposal to reconcile with rival Fatah unless it is amended to say Palestinians have the right to keep fighting Israel.
The joint statement by Hamas and seven other radical, Damascus-based Palestinian factions came in response to a pressing deadline by Egypt to respond to their proposal within days. "The wording submitted by Cairo to the factions makes no reference to the struggle (with Israel) and the aggression against our people," it said.
Western-backed Fatah said Wednesday it has accepted the Egyptian proposal to hold presidential and legislative elections next year as part of a broad package meant to end the bitter rivalry with Hamas, which has complicated U.S.-led efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Abbas said Thursday that if there is no reconciliation deal, he will unilaterally schedule parliamentary and presidential elections in January - a date he said is required by law. His comments, during a news conference with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, are likely intended to pressure Hamas to accept the Egyptian proposal.
Under the proposal, the Palestinians would hold presidential and legislative elections on June 28.
In the meantime, Hamas would allow some 3,000 Fatah loyalists to return to duty in the security forces in the coastal Gaza Strip. Monitoring committees would work toward establishing a unified Palestinian security force for Gaza and the West Bank, while the rival sides would form a separate committee to work together to prepare for the elections.
The Egyptian proposal has failed to address some key issues in the dispute - most importantly whether a unified Palestinian government would accept international demands to renounce violence and recognize Israel's right to exist.
10) Judge Reduces Sentence for One of Cuban Five
Ian Urbina, New York Times, October 14, 2009
A federal judge in Miami approved a lighter sentence Tuesday for one of five Cubans convicted in 2001 of spying on anti-Castro Cuban exiles. The case of the men, commonly known as the Cuban Five, has strained relations between the United States and Cuba for more than a decade.
An appeals court last year threw out sentences for three of them, finding the punishment too harsh because the government had never proved that they had traded in "top secret" intelligence.
In the late 1990s, the men infiltrated Cuban-American exile organizations that opposed the Castro government, including some of the more activist groups like Brothers to the Rescue, which regularly made unauthorized flights over Cuba to drop leaflets.
In Cuba, the five are considered political prisoners, and the Cuban government has lobbied for their release, arguing that they were not spying on the United States so much as trying to ferret out right-wing anti-Castro terrorists determined to hurt Cuba.
On Tuesday, Judge Joan A. Lenard of Federal District Court replaced the life sentence for one of the men, Antonio Guerrero, with a sentence of 262 months, or almost 22 years, which means he will be out of prison in about seven years, counting time served since his 1998 arrest and time off for good behavior. Prosecutors and Mr. Guerrero's lawyers had asked for the sentence to be reduced to 240 months.
"It was odd," said Leonard Weinglass, Mr. Guerrero's lawyer. "You have a man who was on a military base but who didn't take a single classified document and no one testified that he injured U.S. national security, but the judge still rejects the prosecutors' request to lighten the sentence." Mr. Guerrero, a United States citizen, was convicted of spying for Cuba while working at the Naval Air Station in Key West.
In May 2005, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights ruled that the men's trial fell below international standards for due process and that the United States should either retry or release them.
Robert A. Pastor, a professor of international relations at American University, said the case still raised concerns. "Holding a trial for five Cuban intelligence agents in Miami is about as fair as a trial for an Israeli intelligence agent in Tehran," said Dr. Pastor, who was President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser for Latin America. "You'd need a lot more than a good lawyer to be taken seriously."
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