JFP 2/5: US Treasury Backs Debt Cancellation, Grants for Haiti
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February 5, 2010
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1) The US Treasury Department released a statement saying it is supporting the cancellation of Haiti's external debt, and financing of recovery through grants.
2) A group of ex-Taliban officials have prepared a "road map" to promote a political settlement between the Taliban and the Karzai government, Gareth Porter reports for Inter Press Service. The first step would be an agreement between Karzai and the Taliban about no killing of doctors and no damage to roads by the Taliban, in return for no night raids and detention by the United States. The mediators and other close observers of the Taliban position do not expect the al Qaeda issue to be difficult to resolve, Porter writes. Arsullah Rahmani, an elected member of Afghanistan's upper house, said the Taliban statement of Dec. 4 offering to negotiate "legal guarantees" against "meddling" beyond Afghanistan's borders was a signal that the Taliban leadership is prepared to renounce ties with al Qaeda under a peace agreement. The immediate concern of the mediating team is that the US will block political moves toward a settlement. [One of the ex-Taliban officials interviewed by Porter was former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who, at US urging, was just removed from the UN terrorist blacklist - JFP.]
3) Richard Barrett, the head of a U.N. group that monitors the threat posed by al-Qaida and the Taliban and among those who backed the decision to start removing Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist, said that "in areas that have been under Taliban control for some time - there aren't al-Qaida there," AP reports.
4) India has proposed high-level talks with Pakistan, the first of their kind since the attack on Mumbai by Pakistani militants in November 2008, the New York Times reports. Pakistan has said it is interested in resuming talks only if they cover a wide range of issues beyond terrorism. After months of inactivity, there have been signs in recent weeks of a new opening, the Times says.
5) China's opposition to a new UN sanctions resolution against Iran could delay the US on a range of fronts, the Washington Post reports. China's statement Thursday suggests that it may take months of haggling to achieve a new UN resolution. Some sort of U.N. resolution is necessary before France, Britain and Germany can win approval for what is hoped will be tougher EU sanctions. And EU sanctions must be in place before the US can try to persuade Japan and the UAE to join a coalition of countries willing to impose "crippling sanctions."
6) Thousands of Pakistanis shouted anti-American slogans and burned the US flag in protest of a US conviction of a Pakistani woman accused of trying to kill Americans while detained in Afghanistan, AP reports. The U.S. says Siddiqui shot at US security personnel who came to interrogate her after her arrest in Afghanistan. But many Pakistanis believe the U.S. has fabricated the charges.
7) Iraq's independent elections commission announced that the parliamentary elections campaign would be postponed for five days, to give officials time to determine which candidates are eligible to be on the ballots, following an appeals court decision that overturned a ban on hundreds of candidates, the New York Times reports. Some lawmakers suggested postponing the elections until the candidates' eligibility was resolved. The elections commission asked the Supreme Court to rule whether the appeals court decision was binding; a government spokesman declared the appeals court ruling "illegal and unconstitutional."
8) Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has agreed to evacuate a Jewish settlers' house built illegally in the Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan - but also plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian buildings erected without permission in the area, AP reports. Palestinians say they cannot obtain building permits from Israeli authorities, and argue the planned demolitions are meant to assert Israel's control over the city. "No peace process can survive and no negotiations can begin while people's homes in Jerusalem are being demolished," said an aide to Palestinian President Abbas.
9) Colombian union officials say 40 union members were murdered last year in Colombia as the country remained the world's most dangerous country for labor activists, EFE reports. "60 percent of the trade unionists killed worldwide are Colombians," said an official of the CUT labor federation. More than 2,700 labor activists have been murdered in Colombia since 1986, according to the CUT. The vast majority of those killings have gone unpunished.
1) Secretary Geithner Voices Support for International Debt Relief for Haiti, Financing of Recovery Through Grants
Press Release, US Treasury Department, February 5, 2010
Washington - The U.S. Department of the Treasury today announced the United States will work with its partners around the world to relieve all debts owed by Haiti to international institutions and to ensure grant financing to support Haiti's reconstruction and recovery from the devastating earthquake in January.
"The earthquake in Haiti was a catastrophic setback to the Haitian people who are now facing tremendous emergency humanitarian and reconstruction needs, and meeting Haiti's financing needs will require a massive multilateral effort," said Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner. "Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves - comprehensive multilateral debt relief."
Secretary Geithner also welcomed International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn's call to provide full relief for Haiti's outstanding IMF debt, including the $102 million emergency loan approved on January 27, 2010.
"We are committed to working quickly and closely with these institutions in a way that provides immediate grant assistance to help the Haitian people recover and rebuild," Secretary Geithner continued. "I very much welcome the initiative taken on this issue by leaders in Congress, the IMF, and the MDBs and look forward to working with them to provide the critical support Haiti needs for recovery as well as to discussing this issue with my G-7 colleagues this weekend."
Treasury announced that the U.S. intends to seek a commitment with other donors for the relief of Haiti's debt to the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the International Development Association (IDA) in a manner that provides direct and immediate grant support to Haiti.
2) Peace Talks May Follow Ex-Taliban Mediators' Plan
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Feb 5
Kabul - If peace talks do ultimately begin between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Taliban leadership, they may well follow a "road map" to a political settlement drawn up by a group of ex-Taliban officials who have been serving as intermediaries between the two sides.
The four Taliban mediators have been encouraging both Karzai and the Taliban leadership to begin with steps toward military de-escalation and confidence-building before proceeding to the central political-military issues that must be negotiated, a member of the mediation team, Arsullah Rahmani, told IPS in an interview at his home in Kabul.
The first step toward a settlement is "an agreement between Karzai and the Taliban about no killing of doctors and no damage to roads, etc [by the Taliban], in return for no night raids and detention [by the United States]," said Rahmani, formerly a Taliban commander and now an elected member of Afghanistan's upper house.
Rahmani said the mediation group's plan calls for the two sides to address the question of changing the constitution in the last stage of the negotiations, after they have reached agreement on the key international issues of withdrawal of all foreign troops and al Qaeda and the Taliban's renunciation of ties with al Qaeda.
The mediators, all four of whom occupied prominent positions in the Taliban regime until it was overthrown by the U.S. military intervention in 2001, have passed their proposal for peace negotiations to Karzai, Taliban leader Mullah Omar, and the United States and NATO, according to Rahmani.
Karzai personally asked the ex-Taliban officials to help get peace negotiations started, according to Rahmani. He also appeared to reflect the team's de-escalation proposal when he told al Jazeera in January that he would seek an end to nighttime raids on Afghan homes as well to as the arrest and detention of Afghans on suspicion of belonging to the Taliban.
The team also believes the Taliban is at least favourably inclined toward their "road map" to a settlement. Former Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, another member of the team, told IPS that the Taliban "are going to accept some of our suggestions."
The mediation team has the advantage of being led by Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, who is said to have been one of the founders of the Taliban movement. Zaeef helped organise Islamic courts during the Taliban regime, worked in the Taliban defence ministry and was the regime's last ambassador to Pakistan. He was subjected to degrading treatment at the Kandahar detention facility before spending two and a half years in the U.S. detention centre at Guantanamo Bay.
Suhail Shaheen, who was spokesman for the Taliban Embassy in Pakistan when Zaeef was ambassador there, and is now a journalist, has written that Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his inner circle "have chosen Zaeef as their point of contact for talks with the Americans and NATO."
The mediators and other close observers of the Taliban position do not expect the al Qaeda issue to be difficult to resolve. Rahmani said the Taliban statement of Dec. 4 offering to negotiate "legal guarantees" against "meddling" beyond Afghanistan's borders was a signal that the Taliban leadership is prepared to renounce ties with al Qaeda under a peace agreement.
The immediate concern of the mediating team is that the United States will block political moves toward a settlement. "I don't understand U.S. policy," Rahmani said. "Sometimes they say 'we will negotiate with the Taliban, and sometimes they say 'we must destroy them'."
The United States has refused in the past to provide assurances that Taliban officials would be given safe passage to participate in negotiations in Kabul. The mediation team is now suggesting that negotiations should take place outside Afghanistan. "The Taliban should have the ability to go to other countries, should have an office outside the country, in Turkey, for example," said Rahmani. "If we have offices of both sides in another country, they could reach agreement."
The existing constitution of Afghanistan is expected to be the real sticking point in the negotiations. The former Taliban officials have different interpretations of the Taliban's position on that issue.
3) Taliban: Terrorist or not? Not always easy to say
Lolita C. Baldor, Associated Press, Tuesday, February 2, 2010; 6:29 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/02/AR2010020200239.html
Washington - Once considered so entwined that they were twin targets of a U.S. invasion, al-Qaida and elements of Afghanistan's Taliban are now being surgically separated - one careful stitch at a time.
The move by the United Nations last week to remove five former Taliban members from its official sanctions list reflects a growing belief by U.S. and international officials that some less-active leaders of the Afghan Taliban are no longer tightly linked to the al-Qaida network they sheltered before the terror attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
The decision anchors an Obama administration policy shift that would transform the Afghanistan war from a broad international conflict into an internal political struggle largely handled by the Afghans themselves. Key to that change would be an effort to negotiate with and buy out midlevel Taliban figures willing to renounce violence and abandon their fight.
But in paring back some of the Taliban's connections to al-Qaida, the move risks running up against the American public's ingrained perception that the Afghan faction remains a national enemy and that there is no ideological daylight between the two groups.
A few other Taliban figures have been dropped from the target list in recent years, but the latest round signals a more comprehensive approach. Any large-scale tinkering with the U.N. target list would have a tangible impact on American counterterror moves: The U.S. typically has a strong behind-the-scenes role in the U.N.'s decision and the U.N. list is often used by the U.S. to identify its own targets for diplomatic and economic punishments.
The U.N. Security Council first imposed sanctions against the Taliban in November 1999 for refusing to send Osama bin Laden to stand trial on terrorism charges in connection with two 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa.
Those sanctions - a travel ban, arms embargo and assets freeze - were later extended to al-Qaida, and in January 2001, the U.N. assembled its first target list of 10 al-Qaida leaders and 74 top Taliban officials. The list has grown to 268 al-Qaida and 137 Taliban figures - and is largely replicated in a similar list used by the State and Treasury Departments to pinpoint terror targets.
The U.N. decision - approved by all 15 members of the Security Council - came last week after Russia dropped an objection.
Richard Barrett, the head of a U.N. group that monitors the threat posed by al-Qaida and the Taliban and among those who back the decision to start removing Taliban leaders from the list, said that "in areas that have been under Taliban control for some time - there aren't al-Qaida there."
Several of the Taliban members dropped from the list last week were senior leaders. Among them were Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil, a former foreign minister and Mullah Omar confidant who has recently been involved in helping negotiations, and Abdul Hakim Monib, a former deputy minister of frontier affairs who later renounced the Taliban and became a provincial governor.
4) India Offers to Resume Talks With Pakistan
Lydia Polgreen, New York Times, February 5, 2010
New Delhi - India has proposed high-level talks with Pakistan, the first of their kind since the attack on Mumbai by Pakistani militants in November 2008, but Pakistan has not yet accepted the invitation and is seeking clarification about what will be up for discussion. India invited Pakistan's foreign secretary, Salman Bashir, to meet with his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao, in New Delhi later this month, said Abdul Basit, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office.
He said Pakistan requested "a clarification about the content of these talks" several days ago and was waiting for the Indian response. Pakistan has said it is interested in resuming talks only if they cover a wide range of issues beyond terrorism.
Earlier attempts at resuming talks had stalled in the face of public resistance. When the prime ministers of the two countries met in Egypt last year on the sidelines of a summit meeting for the Nonaligned Movement, they issued a joint statement that caused an uproar in India because it seemed to give credence to Pakistani fears of Indian meddling in a messy internal conflict in the province of Baluchistan.
After months of inactivity, there have been signs in recent weeks of a new opening. Those included statements by Mr. Krishna saying that even the smallest movement from Pakistan toward prosecuting the planners of the Mumbai attacks would help ease tensions, and the decision of India's home minister, P. Chidambaram, to attend a regional security meeting in Pakistan.
5) China could block sanctions against Iran
Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, Friday, February 5, 2010; A07 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/04/AR2010020404792.html
China on Thursday threw a roadblock in the path of a U.S.-led push for sanctions against Iran, saying that it is important to continue negotiations as long as Iran appears willing to consider a deal to give up some of its enriched uranium. "To talk about sanctions at the moment will complicate the situation and might stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said at a conference in Paris.
After months of spurning the proposed deal, which would provide Iran with fuel for a medical reactor, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad showed a suddenly renewed interest in it this week just as France, a strong advocate of sanctions, assumed the rotating presidency of the U.N. Security Council. French Prime Minister François Fillon said Wednesday that he would ask the United Nations to adopt a resolution imposing "strong sanctions" against Iran because of its nuclear program.
U.S. officials had initially hoped they could push through a U.N. sanctions resolution this month or next, but China's statement Thursday suggests that it may take months of haggling to achieve that goal. That, in turn, would upend the delicate diplomatic process needed to fulfill the Obama administration's wish to see "crippling sanctions" in place early this year.
China holds a veto as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, so any U.N. sanctions resolution will be relatively weak. Indeed, one diplomat said, many of the ideas the Americans have floated, such as sanctioning Iran's central bank, are "on the conservative end of the spectrum" in order to win quick approval. But diplomats said the United States cannot leapfrog to the tougher sanctions now without losing China's support for a U.N. resolution.
Yet some sort of U.N. resolution is necessary before France, Britain and Germany can win approval for what is hoped will be even tougher European Union sanctions. And the European sanctions must be in place before the United States can try to persuade nations such as Japan and the United Arab Emirates to join a coalition of countries willing to impose the promised "crippling sanctions."
Russia, which had been skeptical of sanctions, has toughened its stance recently, frustrated by Iran's spurning of the reactor deal, which would have involved Russia. But now Ahmadinejad appears to have driven a wedge between China and the other players in the effort to restrain Iran's nuclear ambitions.
U.S. officials who have read Ahmadinejad's televised comments this week in full said they do not think he was trying to state a new position, and diplomats say Iran has not officially notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of any change in its stance on the deal. But subsequent news reports have given that impression, and China has seized on Ahmadinejad's remarks to dampen any enthusiasm for quick action.
6) Pakistanis protest US verdict in scientist's case
Nahal Toosi, Associated Press, Thursday, February 4, 2010; 9:10 AM
Islamabad - Pakistanis shouted anti-American slogans and burned the Stars and Stripes on Thursday in protest of a New York jury's conviction of a Pakistani woman accused of trying to kill Americans while detained in Afghanistan.
The protests drew thousands in at least four cities, demonstrating the widespread distrust, and even hatred, of the U.S. in this country whose cooperation Washington needs to stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
They also showed the fierce passions surrounding the bizarre tale of Aafia Siddiqui, a 37-year-old U.S.-educated scientist who disappeared along with her three children for five years until she was picked up by Afghan police in 2008.
The U.S. says Siddiqui shot at American security personnel who came to interrogate her after her arrest in Afghanistan's central Ghazni province. But many Pakistanis believe the U.S. has fabricated the charges. Some suspect the Americans had long held the thin neuroscience specialist in a secret prison - allegations the U.S. denies.
A Manhattan federal jury convicted Siddiqui on Wednesday of two counts of attempted murder, though it found the act was not premeditated. Siddiqui was also convicted of armed assault, using and carrying a firearm, and assault of U.S. officers and employees.
Pakistanis denounced the verdict against Siddiqui, a devout Muslim who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brandeis University before returning to Pakistan following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. "We hate America," "We hate U.S. judiciary," and "Down with the US," read some of the signs carried by burqa-clad women protesting in the southern city of Karachi, the hometown of Siddiqui's family.
In the western city of Quetta, Islamists burned a U.S. flag while denouncing several U.S.-related actions. "We are with her. She is not alone. We will keep up our struggle against the United States of America," said Maulana Abdul Qadir, a leader of a hardline Islamist party.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari issued a statement expressing concern about the verdict. In Washington, a Pakistani Embassy statement said diplomats were "dismayed" and would consult with Siddiqui's lawyers and family to determine the next step.
7) Election Panel Puts Off Start of Iraq Parliament Races
Nada Bakri, New York Times, February 5, 2010
Baghdad - Iraq's independent elections commission announced Thursday that the parliamentary elections campaign, scheduled to start Sunday, would be postponed for five days, as confusion reigned over an appeals court decision that overturned a ban on hundreds of candidates.
The campaign for the March 7 elections will now begin Feb. 12, said Qassim al-Obudi, a spokesman for the elections commission, to give officials time to try to determine which candidates are eligible to be on the ballots.
The decision appeared to deepen Iraq's political crisis, as the speaker of Parliament called an emergency session to debate the court ruling and election officials appealed to Iraq's Supreme Court for guidance.
Iraqi officials said some lawmakers had even begun discussing the possibility of postponing the elections until the candidates' eligibility was resolved. That may prove problematic; the election has long been viewed as a milestone in the United States' plans to withdraw combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.
Confusion over the appeals court's decision led Faraj al-Haidari, the head of the Independent High Electoral Commission, to question whether it was binding. "We sent the Supreme Court an urgent letter asking if we have to adhere to the appeals court decision," Mr. Haidari said in an interview. "The appeals court neither found them guilty nor declared them innocent, which puts it in contradiction with the electoral law."
Ali al-Dabbagh, a spokesman for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, declared the ruling "illegal and unconstitutional."
8) Settler house to be evacuated in Jerusalem
Amy Teibel, Associated Press, Thursday, February 4, 2010; 12:21 PM
Jerusalem - The Jerusalem mayor has agreed to evacuate a Jewish settlers' house built illegally in the heart of a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood - but also plans to demolish dozens of Palestinian buildings erected without permission in the area, his spokesman said Thursday.
Sovereignty over east Jerusalem and its Old City holy sites is one of the most explosive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Evacuations and demolitions on either side of the political divide have sparked violence in the past.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who opposes sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians in any final peace deal, had tried to buck an evacuation order against the seven-story structure, built in 2004 in east Jerusalem's Silwan neighborhood by an ultranationalist settler group. But the attorney general's office backed the order, and forced Barkat to drop his resistance.
Barkat announced in a statement released Thursday that he would evacuate the structure, named after the convicted U.S. spy Jonathan Pollard. The statement also said Barkat had been "forced to take action to carry out all the demolition orders in the Silwan neighborhood."
The municipality said not all of the 200 Palestinian structures set for demolition were homes but it did not have an accurate breakdown.
Palestinians say they cannot obtain building permits from Israeli authorities, and argue the planned demolitions are meant to assert Israel's control over the city. "This is a provocation that sabotages the peace process," said Rafiq Husseini, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. "No peace process can survive and no negotiations can begin while people's homes in Jerusalem are being demolished."
9) 40 Union Members Slain Last Year in Colombia
EFE, February 4, 2010
Bogota - Forty union members were murdered last year in Colombia as the Andean nation remained the world's most dangerous country for labor activists, union officials said Thursday in the northwestern city of Medellin. The figure signifies that "60 percent of the trade unionists killed worldwide are Colombians," the head of the Human Rights and Solidarity Department of the CUT labor federation, Alberto Vanegas, told Efe.
"This forms part of a systematic policy of violation of human rights, of violation of union rights," Vanegas said after speaking at the opening of a two-day conference in Medellin on anti-labor violence.
The gathering was organized by the CUT, the National Union School, the Center for Popular Research and Education and the Jose Alvear Restrepo Attorneys Collective.
Roughly half of the 150 attendees are relatives of slain union members, while the remainder includes representatives of human rights groups and U.N. agencies.
More than 2,700 labor activists have been murdered in Colombia since 1986, according to the CUT. The vast majority of those killings have gone unpunished.
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