JFP 1/11: Taliban Engage in "Vaccination Diplomacy"

Just Foreign Policy News
January 11, 2010

Linda Milazzo: Waxman Attacks Winograd on Israel
Seeking to help Rep. Jane Harman's re-election bid, Rep. Henry Waxman calls her challenger Marcy Winograd's support for Palestinian rights "repugnant in the extreme."
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/linda-milazzo/waxman-attacks-winograd-o_b_417941.html

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) Mullah Omar's Afghan Taliban are cooperating with the Afghan government and UN agencies to eradicate polio in Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reports. Government vaccination workers in Taliban-controlled areas carry a letter from Mullah Omar urging people to cooperate. The letter was obtained by the Red Cross following a request from the UN; Taliban endorsment has enabled vaccinators to reach previously out of reach areas and remain in areas of heavy fighting. Convervative Muslim opposition to anti-polio campaings are a key reason the disease persists in India, Pakistan, and Nigeria, the Journal notes. Eliminating polio in the remaining four endemic countries - a top U.N. priority - would eventually render it unnecessary to vaccinate hundreds of millions of children elsewhere every year.

2) Many Afghans say their country's situation is at its bleakest since the US invaded, AP reports. The war - once mostly limited to Pakistan border - has spread to nearly ever corner of the country. About 80 percent of the country is without electricity and unemployment is 60 percent, according to an Afghan parliamentarian. Many families can only afford to eat once a day.

3) The suicide bomber who killed eight people at a CIA outpost in Afghanistan was shown in a video saying the attack was carried out in revenge for the 2009 killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud by the US, the New York Times reports. The bomber's family's has said he became a changed man after he was detained a year ago by the Jordanian authorities during the Israeli offensive in Gaza.

4) Senior White House advisers say they are frustrated by the Pentagon's slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, the New York Times reports. An administration official said the White House believed Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his aides say they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic. Last fall, military officials repeatedly said that it would take as long as a year to 18 months for all the troops to be in place.

Afghanistan
5) Afghan officials signed an agreement that will allow the US military to begin the process of transferring responsibility for the notorious prison at Bagram to Afghan control, the New York Times reports. A new prison was opened two months ago, "improving conditions," but detainees there still have no right to a lawyer and can be held indefinitely without charge.

Yemen
6) The US has tripled its foreign assistance to Yemen from 2008 levels and plans to spend up to $63 million on Yemen this year - roughly the same amount the US sends to Serbia, the New York Times reports, suggesting that the war in Afghanistan is impairing the ability of the US to respond to the situation in Yemen. The administration has yet to develop a coherent plan for dealing with Yemen's pervasive poverty and corruption, according to former diplomats and outside experts. Those ills, they say, are at the root of Yemen's lure for terrorists. A former US ambassador to Yemen says US aid is skewed towards military support, much of it covert.

Iran
7) Israeli General Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam, who was once in charge of Israel's nuclear weapons, says Iran is a "very, very, very long way from building a nuclear capability," the Times of London reports. Eilam believes it will probably take Iran seven years to make nuclear weapons. Eilam calls his country's official view hysterical. He suggested that the "defence establishment is sending out false alarms in order to grab a bigger budget" while some politicians have used Iran to divert attention away from problems at home. "Those who say that Iran will obtain a bomb within a year's time, on what basis did they say so?" he asked. "Where is the evidence?"

8) Iran has returned a formal counter offer to swap low enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel cells produced in the West, Laura Rozen reports for Politico. Like the IAEA proposal, Iran's counter-offer proposes sending the 1,200 kg of LEU abroad - probably to Turkey - but in batches, starting with a first shipment of 400 kg. The offer seems to establish Iran's willingness to export the LEU out of the country, which would satisfy a key Western condition.

Japan
9) Okinawa's governor says Okinawa residents insist that U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma be relocated outside Okinawa, Kyodo News reports.

Lebanon/Syria
10) The "pro-US" Lebanese government is working to repair relations with Syria - in part because Western powers are seeking engagement with Syria and Iran rather than confrontation, the Washington Post reports. The Post notes that the US has still not returned its ambassador to Syria.

Contents:
U.S./Top News
1) Risky Ally In War On Polio: The Taliban
Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2010
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB126298998237022117.html

Mehtar Lam, Afghanistan - Knocking on door after door, thousands of volunteers fan out every month across southern and eastern Afghanistan, vaccinating children against polio, a disease eradicated almost everywhere else in the world.

Usually, the volunteers - sent by the government and sponsored by United Nations agencies - bring a single-page letter requesting people to cooperate, "for the benefit of our next generations." The letter's signatory: Mullah Mohammad Omar, the one-eyed supreme leader of the Taliban. "We always carry a copy," says Dr. Attar Wafa, the chief of polio vaccinations in the insurgent-infested province of Laghman, much of which is a no-go area for government workers and foreigners.

The antipolio campaign brings together the Taliban, President Hamid Karzai's central government, Unicef and the World Health Organization in an uneasy but functioning partnership - one that recognizes the reality of the insurgents' stranglehold over large chunks of the country.
[...]
"There used to be a ping-pong diplomacy, and now we have a vaccination diplomacy," says Afghan parliament member Daud Sultanzoi, referring to the sports contacts between China and the U.S. in the 1970s that paved the way for talks between the two nations.
[...]
Taliban-led insurgents either control or exert strong influence in about one-third of the country, mostly in the south and east - areas where the bulk of the polio cases are located. As the insurgents' power grew in recent years, polio teams increasingly faced problems with access to Taliban-dominated districts, according to Dr. Tahir Mir, the WHO's chief of the polio-eradication program in Afghanistan.

Since Mullah Omar's first letter was issued, in August 2007, vaccinators gained entry to dozens of previously out-of-bounds villages, WHO officials say. More importantly, the Taliban endorsement allowed many vaccination teams that considered pulling out because of safety concerns to continue operating in other districts, even as fighting intensified.

Mullah Omar's cooperation with Afghanistan's polio drive contrasts with the ban on polio vaccinations imposed by leaders of the separate, but affiliated, Taliban movement in neighboring Pakistan. The relative access enjoyed by vaccination teams in Afghanistan amid an escalating war also shows the degree of control that the Afghan Taliban's central leadership, mostly based in the Pakistani city of Quetta and headed by Mullah Omar, exercises over Afghanistan's many insurgent groups.

Antipolio campaigns have long been opposed by conservative clerics across South Asia as an American-led conspiracy to sterilize or poison Muslim children. This is a key reason why the disease persists in India and Pakistan. Nigeria is the only other country with endemic polio, also largely due to opposition by Islamic preachers.

Eliminating polio in the remaining four endemic countries - a top U.N. priority - would eventually render it unnecessary to vaccinate hundreds of millions of children elsewhere every year. Last year, Afghanistan had 31 diagnosed cases of polio, the vast majority in the insurgency-wracked Kandahar and Helmand provinces, up from four known cases in 2004. The polio virus can cause irreversible paralysis in about one out of 200 infected children.

In the U.S., children usually receive four injections of a vaccine made from the dead polio virus. By contrast, kids in southern and eastern Afghanistan ingest oral doses of the weakened, live virus almost monthly. The reason: The live vaccine is eventually excreted by the children and enters the typically unhygienic local water supply - providing a secondary dose to unvaccinated neighbors.

But unlike the dead virus used in the West, an oral vaccine carries a risk, albeit very small, of actually infecting a healthy child with polio. That possibility helps fuel the anti-vaccination conspiracy theories. For instance, in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, Maulana Fazlullah, a Taliban-affiliated warlord, outlawed polio vaccinations until that area was retaken by government forces last summer.

Afghanistan's Mullah Omar adopted the opposite approach. His letter, viewed by The Wall Street Journal and issued on behalf of the movement's parallel government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, urges all jihadi fighters and Taliban sympathizers to work with Unicef, WHO and the polio teams. It instructs villagers to take children to a specially designated area where they can receive their dose.
[...]
The Taliban have little love for the U.N., which they view as an instrument of American occupation because the Security Council authorized the presence of some 110,000 U.S.-led foreign troops here. In October, Taliban-affiliated insurgents attacked a U.N. guest house in Kabul, killing several UN electoral workers. [This attack was attributed by the Afghan government to a different Taliban faction than Mullah Omar's, see "Qaeda Had Role in Attack on U.N. Staff, Official Says," http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/world/asia/01kabul.html - JFP.]

Yet on the issue of vaccinations, the Taliban seem to have suspended this enmity, constrained by Afghan public opinion and, just like the foreign troops, eager to win hearts and minds. "When the Taliban were in power, they supported our program, and now that they are in opposition, we expected them to do the same, and we have received a positive response," says Dr. Mir of the WHO.
[...]
The WHO and Unicef aren't dealing with Quetta and Mullah Omar directly: U.N. agencies have been banned from contacting the Taliban, which the world body blacklisted as terrorists, since the attacks on America of Sept. 11, 2001.

Instead, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the only international organization that maintains regular communications with the Taliban command, acts as an intermediary every time a new letter of support is issued. That happened 10 times in 2009, each time a new vaccination campaign was launched.

Dr. Mir of the WHO says he decided to ask the International Committee of the Red Cross, or ICRC, for assistance after watching how that organization facilitated talks between the South Korean government and the Taliban that led to the freeing of 23 Korean hostages kidnapped by the insurgents in July 2007. "It struck us, if they can help with this, they can certainly help the children of Afghanistan," says Dr. Mir.

Afghan insurgents generally respect the ICRC's neutrality, unlike their counterparts in Iraq, who blew up the organization's Baghdad headquarters in October 2003. The ICRC maintains first-aid posts in some Taliban-held parts of the country and runs special taxi-ambulance services that evacuate wounded Taliban fighters from the battlefield as well as Afghan civilians caught in the crossfire.
[...]
Red Cross workers coordinate with the Taliban almost daily their movement through insurgent-dominated areas. And the organization has established channels of communication that allow it to receive responses on requests sent to the Taliban's senior leadership within hours, Mr. Fillion says.
[...]
In the insurgent-dominated areas, it's the Taliban who select the local vaccination teams and their supervisors. These Taliban-appointed vaccinators then receive the vaccine and the documentation from government health offices, and report back the results once the round is over. "The insurgents know these locals," says Dr. Mohammad Ishaq, who oversees the polio program in the Kunar province. "They trust them and cooperate with them."

2) Afghans Losing Hope After 8 Years Of War
Todd Pitman, Associated Press, Sunday, January 10, 2010; 6:13 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/10/AR2010011000731.html

Kabul -
[...]
In Kabul, even a traffic jam can provoke a comment on this Islamic nation's dismal state, which most people here believe is at its bleakest since the U.S. invaded to topple the Taliban in 2001. It's a striking sentiment when you consider it comes after eight years of international intervention, $60 billion in foreign aid and the lives of thousands of foreign troops and Afghan civilians.

The Obama administration is hoping to reverse that trend as an additional 30,000 American and 7,000 NATO troops pour into the conflict in coming months. But "the more soldiers they send here, the worse it gets," said 19-year-old carpet seller Hamid Hashimi.

In the year after the Taliban fell, international forces numbered a modest 12,000 or so. Today that figure has swollen to well over 100,000 and will approach 140,000 with the latest troop commitments. There are also 100,000 Defense Department contractors supporting the military effort, according to U.S. lawmakers.

The insurgency has mushroomed in equal measure.

The war - once mostly limited to Pakistan border - has spread to nearly ever corner of the country. It has also penetrated the frontier-like capital, where car bombings or other spectacular attacks like the October storming of a guest house filled with U.N. staff make news every couple of weeks.
[...]
"It's a disaster," said Ramazan Bashardost, a lawmaker who came in a distant third in the country's botched August election, which was marred by fraud so widespread a third of Karzai's ballots were thrown out. "The situation is getting worse every day for ordinary Afghans."

According to Bashardost, about 80 percent of the country is without electricity and unemployment is 60 percent. Many families can only afford to eat once a day and corruption is so rampant, "it's practically legal," he said. "People ask, 'What has democracy brought?'" he said. Besides helping keep warlords accused of war crimes in power, Bashardost added, "the answer is: insecurity."
[...]
The U.S. Congressional Research Service said in a recent report that foreign assistance pledged to Afghanistan since 2001 has topped $58 billion, about $38 billion of it from the U.S. alone. But "what happened to all this money?" said Bashardost. "Has garbage been cleaned up? Have all the streets been paved?"

Many think some of those funds have been diverted to places like the city's Shirpoor neighborhood, where the powerful clique Washington brought to power eight years ago bulldozed dozens of crumbling mud-brick homes occupied by squatters and divvied the land among cronies.
[...]

3) Video Links Taliban In Pakistan To Attack On C.I.A.
Stephen Farrell, New York Times, January 10, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/world/middleeast/10balawi.html

Amman, Jordan - Humam Khalil Abu Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian suicide bomber who killed eight people at a Central Intelligence Agency outpost in Afghanistan last month, was shown in a video on Saturday saying that the attack was carried out in revenge for the 2009 killing of the Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Mr. Balawi, wearing green camouflage fatigues and carrying a weapon in his lap, appeared in a video on Al Jazeera satellite television denouncing his "enemies," Jordan and America. Mr. Balawi's father, Khalil, confirmed that the man in the video was his son.

He was shown sitting beside another man, whom a Pakistani news report identified as Hakimullah Mehsud, the aggressive young militant who took the reins of the Pakistani Taliban after Baitullah Mehsud's death and has spearheaded an intense string of terrorist attacks.
[...]
Shortly after the video appeared on Al Jazeera, Mr. Balawi's father came to the door of his home in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and amid sighs and some tears, confirmed that it showed his son. "My heart is tearing apart," he said. "Who is the one who destroyed the one that I brought up? Who is the one who turned him from a human doctor to someone who carries out such a thing?"

Still, he said, he was not astonished by what his son had done. "We are not surprised," he said. "Fighting the arrogant, unjust, haughty and tyrant American who kills civilians and innocent people makes the whole Islamic world hate America." He continued: "They say that Jesus gave his life to people. I say that Humam sacrificed his body and soul for the oppressed."

One theme that has been consistent in the family's comments since Mr. Balawi's identity emerged was that he became a changed man after he was detained a year ago by the Jordanian authorities during the Israeli offensive in Gaza and was questioned over his jihadi Web site writings. Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featured those Internet writings, said a Jordanian analyst.
[...]
Al Jazeera's Web site said that the video was released to the news organization on Saturday. It bears the date Dec. 20 - 10 days before the bombing.

In it, Mr. Balawi said: "This is a message to the enemies of the nation: to the Jordanian intelligence and the American Central Intelligence Agency."

The same theme was taken up by Mr. Balawi's father, who said: "Had he killed innocent civilians I would have denounced him. He dealt with the worst people of wickedness and he killed them, and they killed him. This is a war of intelligence agencies. There is winning and there is losing. Thank God Almighty."

4) White House Aides Said To Chafe At Slow Pace Of Afghan Surge
Elisabeth Bumiller and Helene Cooper, New York Times, January 9, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/world/09military.html

Washington - Senior White House advisers are frustrated by what they say is the Pentagon's slow pace in deploying 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and its inability to live up to an initial promise to have all of the forces in the country by next summer, senior administration officials said Friday.

Tensions over the deployment schedule have been growing in recent weeks between senior White House officials - among them Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, and Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff - and top commanders, including Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan.

A rapid deployment is central to President Obama's strategy, to have a jolt of American forces pound the Taliban enough for Afghan security forces to take over the fight. Administration officials said that part of the White House frustration stemmed from the view that the longer the American military presence in Afghanistan continued, the more of a political liability it would become for Mr. Obama. But beyond the politics, the speeded up deployment - which Mr. Obama paired with a promise to begin troop withdrawals by July 2011 - is part of Mr. Obama's so-called "bell curve" Afghanistan strategy, whereby American troops would increase their force in Afghanistan and step up attacks meant to quickly take out insurgents.

One administration official said that the White House believed that top Pentagon and military officials misled them by promising to deploy the 30,000 additional troops by the summer. General McChrystal and some of his top aides have privately expressed anger at that accusation, saying that they are being held responsible for a pace of deployments they never thought was realistic, the official said.
[...]
On Dec. 1, when President Obama announced the deployment of the 30,000 additional troops, a senior administration official told reporters that the forces were part of a short-term, high-intensity effort to regain the initiative from the Taliban and that they would all be in place by May. Within days, White House and Pentagon officials had amended that to say that the bulk of the forces would be in place by the summer, but that it would take a few months after that to get all the troops in place.

Last month in Kabul, Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, the deputy commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, did not back away from that schedule, but he told reporters of the difficulties he faced even in getting all the forces in by fall. He said that bad weather, limited capacity to send supplies by air and attacks on ground convoys carrying equipment for troops from Pakistan and other countries presented substantial hurdles.
[...]
But military officials acknowledged that they were taken aback by the president's initial insistence that the troops be in place within six months. Last fall, military officials repeatedly said that it would take as long as a year to 18 months for all the troops to be in place.

Afghanistan
5) New Afghan Cabinet Picks Still Generate Resistance
Alissa J. Rubin and Sangar Rahimi, New York Times, January 10, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/10/world/asia/10afghan.html

Kabul, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai made a second effort to fill his cabinet on Saturday, nominating 16 new ministers a week after Parliament had rejected most of his first choices.

But several Parliament members said they were as unimpressed by the new slate, which included many political unknowns, as they were with the first one. Their displeasure could prolong the stalemate that has left Afghanistan without a fully functional government since the widely criticized presidential election last summer.

Also on Saturday, Afghan officials signed an agreement that will allow the American military to begin the process of transferring responsibility for the notorious prison at Bagram Air Base to Afghan control.

When Parliament rejected 17 of Mr. Karzai's first batch of 24 nominees, the move was hailed by some analysts as a sign of the legislature's newfound independence. The legislators asked that Mr. Karzai choose more technocrats who had expertise in the work of the ministries they were nominated to lead.

The new slate includes a number of highly educated nominees and three women, an increase over the first list and a point praised by several Parliament members. But they said the new list still depended too heavily on political ties to Mr. Karzai and not enough on competence.
[...]
The agreement on Bagram, signed by the Afghan ministries of Defense and Justice, clears the way for the American military to begin a program of training and preparation for the Afghans to take charge of the prison, which houses more than 700 detainees captured by the American military.

Initially, the Defense Ministry will run the center, but it will eventually be handed over to the Justice Ministry, which oversees jails and prisons, said Col. Stephen Clutter, the spokesman for American detainee operations in Afghanistan.

The prison was notorious for its conditions in the early years of the war, with hundreds of detainees held in cages and subjected to abuse and harsh conditions. A new prison was opened two months ago, improving conditions, although detainees there still have no right to a lawyer and can be held indefinitely without charge.

Yemen
6) U.S. Has Few Resources To Face Threats In Yemen
Mark Landler, New York Times, January 9, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/09/world/middleeast/09diplo.html

Washington - As the Obama administration confronts the latest terrorism threat in Yemen, its diplomatic and development efforts are being constrained by a shortage of resources, a lack of in-house expertise and a fraught history with a Yemeni leader deeply ambivalent about American help.

Administration officials said they focused on Yemen as a hothouse for Islamic terrorism from the day President Obama took office. The United States has tripled its foreign assistance to the country from 2008 levels and plans to spend up to $63 million on Yemen this year.

But by all accounts, that is a modest amount for a country that is suddenly a central threat on the foreign policy landscape; it is roughly the same amount the United States sends to Serbia. It illustrates how much the United States is stretched on the foreign policy front, and how hard it is to extend its resources beyond the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Beyond providing military and intelligence help - showcased in recent airstrikes on training sites for Al Qaeda - the administration has yet to develop a coherent plan for dealing with Yemen's pervasive poverty and corruption, according to former diplomats and outside experts. Those ills, they say, are at the root of Yemen's lure for terrorists.
[...]
The State Department said it had decided to step up its engagement with Yemen even before the botched Dec. 25 attack on the jetliner. In September, the United States signed an agreement with the Yemeni government for a three-year $120 million "stabilization program," devised to create jobs and improve health and other public services on an accelerated timetable. "We wanted to put together a package of quick-impact projects that would give people a sense that their lives are improving," said Janet A. Sanderson, a deputy assistant secretary of state who oversees Yemen.

After the Navy destroyer Cole was bombed in Yemen in 2000, the United States embarked on a similar effort. In addition to focusing on counterterrorism operations, the State Department helped finance projects like a health clinic on the rugged highway between the capital, Sana, and Marib, a town in a remote region where Qaeda forces are known to cluster.

Improving health care is one way to make Yemenis less receptive to Al Qaeda and other extremists, Mr. Hull said. The United States had previously tended to focus its economic aid on politically influential places like Sana and Aden, the port city where the Cole was attacked. From 2002 to 2004, officials said, Qaeda elements in Yemen were on the defensive.

But Washington's relations with Yemen soured after several Qaeda suspects escaped from a prison in Sana in 2006. After the release of a high-profile Qaeda operative in 2007, the United States suspended aid that Yemen was supposed to get through the Millennium Challenge program.
[...]
By 2008, nonmilitary aid to Yemen had dwindled to less than $20 million. Afghanistan is expected to receive $2.7 billion a year in nonmilitary aid, Pakistan $1.5 billion and Iraq $500 million. The administration doubled Yemen's economic aid last year, but as Barbara K. Bodine, another former ambassador, pointed out, the amount "works out to $1.60 per Yemeni."
[...]
Ms. Bodine, who was posted to Yemen at the time of the Cole bombing, said that even with the increased commitment, American aid was still overly skewed toward military support, much of it covert. Over time, she said, that could undermine Yemen's struggling democracy. "If they see David Petraeus more than Kathleen Sebelius, then we have a problem," Ms. Bodine said, referring to the military commander and the secretary of health and human services, respectively.
[...]

Iran
7) Israeli General Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam Denies Iran Is Nuclear Threat
Uzi Mahnaimi, Times of London, January 10, 2010
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6982447.ece

Tel Aviv - A general who was once in charge of Israel's nuclear weapons has claimed that Iran is a "very, very, very long way from building a nuclear capability". Brigadier-General Uzi Eilam, 75, a war hero and pillar of the defence establishment, believes it will probably take Iran seven years to make nuclear weapons.

The views expressed by the former director-general of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission contradict the assessment of Israel's defence establishment and put him at odds with political leaders. Major-General Amos Yadlin, head of military intelligence, recently told the defence committee of the Knesset that Iran will probably be able to build a single nuclear device this year.
[...]
Eilam, who is thought to be updated by former colleagues on developments in Iran, calls his country's official view hysterical. "The intelligence community are spreading frightening voices about Iran," he said.

He suggested that the "defence establishment is sending out false alarms in order to grab a bigger budget" while some politicians have used Iran to divert attention away from problems at home. "Those who say that Iran will obtain a bomb within a year's time, on what basis did they say so?" he asked. "Where is the evidence?"
[...]
According to well-placed defence sources, Israel is speeding up preparations for a possible attack on Iran's nuclear sites. Last week its defence forces released footage that showed training to refuel F-15 jet fighters in mid-air. "This was a warning not to Iran but to the Americans that we're serious," said an Israeli defence source.

But Eilam argues "such an attack [against Iran] would be counter-productive".

"One strike is not practical. In order to delay the Iranian programme for three to four years, one needs an armada of aircraft, which only a super-power can provide. Only America can do it."

8) Iran offers nuke fuel deal
Laura Rozen, Politico, January 10, 2010 07:57 PM EST
http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0110/31334.html

There are signs that negotiations with Iran over a nuclear fuel swap have resumed despite the expiration of the end-of-year deadline for a deal set by President Barack Obama.

While the Obama administration has stepped up talk of expanding sanctions on the regime's Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iranian news reports and U.S. official sources say that Iran has recently returned a formal counter offer to swap low enriched uranium, or LEU, in exchange for nuclear fuel cells produced in the West.

The proposal comes as Iranian news reports say that the Iranian foreign ministry has announced that it is giving the international community two months to consider its fuel swap proposal before undertaking the higher enrichment for its nuclear medical program itself.

A U.S. nonproliferation hand confirmed Sunday that Iran had offered a formal response in late December or early January. While the Iranian fuel-swap response was said to have been conveyed by the highest levels of the Iranian government, U.S. officials contacted Sunday gave no public indication that they have any interest in the counter-offer.

"The Iranians have been saying different things for weeks, but what matters is whether they will accept the IAEA's proposed TRR deal, which they agreed to in principle on October 1 but then walked away from," an administration official said. "They know what they need to do to satisfy the international communities concerns and to date they have not done so."

The Tehran Research Reactor proposal, or TRR, calls on Iran to immediately send 1,200 kg of its LEU to Russia, and France would in return supply Iran with nuclear fuel cells for medical use. The plan would have left Iran without enough fissile material to enrich for use in a nuclear weapon, putting time back on the clock for international negotiations on the nation's nuclear program.

Iran's counter-offer also proposes sending the 1,200 kg abroad - probably to Turkey - but in batches, starting with a first shipment of 400 kg. The offer seems to establish Iran's willingness to export the LEU out of the country, which would satisfy a key Western condition. "My understanding is that they [U.S. officials] have not given up on the TRR deal," one Washington Iran hand said on condition of anonymity Sunday. "They need it. So if there was a chance of salvaging something …. They still want to get a deal."

"As long as under no situation over the next year there is enough LEU to produce a bomb, whether Iran ships out the fuel in one, two or three batches, is just a logistical issue," he said.
[...]

Japan
9) Locals Don't Want Futenma: Nakaima
Kyodo News, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2010
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20100110a2.html

Naha, Okinawa Pref. - Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima told Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano on Saturday that prefectural residents are insistent that U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma be relocated outside Okinawa. "Prefectural residents hope to see the air station moved outside of the prefecture. Please answer" their call, Nakaima told Hirano during their meeting at the Okinawa Prefectural Government office, officials accompanying the top government spokesman said.


After the meeting, Nakaima told reporters that he would not consider using Shimoji or Ie islands in the prefecture as a possible relocation site, as has been suggested. Hirano, who chairs a new government panel on the issue, flew to the prefecture Friday to hear the opinions of the local government and prefectural residents on the matter
[...]
Nakaima also reiterated the prefecture's call for reviewing the 1960 Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and for taking tentative measures such as moving some training programs at the U.S. air station to other sites before the eventual relocation.
[...]

Lebanon/Syria
10) Hariri's struggles in Lebanon show limits of U.S. influence
Howard Schneider, Washington Post, Monday, January 11, 2010; A08
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/10/AR2010011002516.html

Beirut - The victory by a pro-U.S. faction in last June's parliamentary election has given way to a situation in which Hezbollah will keep its large arms stockpile and a veto over major government decisions, while efforts are underway to repair relations with neighboring Syria.

The compromises made by new Prime Minister Saad Hariri as he assembled a governing coalition are seen by supporters as unavoidable in a country in which complex internal politics and the influence of outside powers can make governing difficult. But they also show the practical limits of the Obama administration's overture to the Islamic world.

The June election victory by Hariri's coalition came just after Obama delivered a major speech from Cairo and just before violent street demonstrations rattled the government in Iran, considered an important influence in Lebanon because of its support for Hezbollah. Some Obama advisers went so far as to attribute Hariri's success to the mood of reform the president had brought to the region.

But victory at the polls did not translate so smoothly on the ground. Hariri spent six months trying to form a government, and could do so only after accepting key Hezbollah demands and giving up on a main aim of his coalition: to curb the Islamist group's influence.

He also agreed to visit Damascus and meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad, a difficult symbolic step because of Syria's suspected involvement in the 2005 assassination of Hariri's father, former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. A United Nations tribunal is still investigating the killing. It is one of a number of political assassinations that led to a U.N. resolution and other outside pressure, prompting Syria to end its longstanding military presence in Lebanon.

"We won the election, but it looks like we lost," said Marwan Hamadeh, a member of parliament and supporter of the "Cedar Revolution," which has aimed to curb the influence of both Syria and Iran in the country at a time when other power brokers, especially the United States, want to talk with both nations. "There has been a lot of realism and a lot of frustration. The Cedar Revolution forces were convinced: Why look for a fight when everyone is trying to negotiate with Iran and Syria?"
[...]
Hariri's visit to Damascus, according to his supporters and others, was brokered by Saudi Arabia, which has been taking its own steps to repair relations with Assad. What's less clear - and under debate here - is whether the Saudis were hoping to weaken Syria's long-standing alliance with Iran by making amends or were hedging against the possibility that Obama will fail in his efforts to keep Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons technology.

The White House has its own policy of engagement with Syria, though progress has been fitful. The expected return of a U.S. ambassador to Damascus has not occurred, and there is still U.S. dissatisfaction with Syrian efforts to control its border and halt the flow of insurgents into Iraq.

Hariri's meeting with Assad did produce some concessions, including an expectation that the countries will work more closely on defining borders and other issues that are considered a source of instability inside Lebanon and between Lebanon and Israel. Diplomats and analysts also regarded Assad's willingness over the past year to exchange ambassadors with Lebanon as an important acknowledgment of Lebanon's sovereignty.
[...]

-
Robert Naiman
Just Foreign Policy
www.justforeignpolicy.org

Just Foreign Policy is a membership organization devoted to reforming US foreign policy so it reflects the values and interests of the majority of Americans.


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