JFP 5/6: Will Obama Say Yes to Afghan Peace Talks?

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May 6, 2010

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Summary:
U.S./Top News
1) A new GAO report found the Taliban remain a resilient fighting force and suggested many factors remain in place that will allow the Taliban to survive U.S. efforts to eradicate them, McClatchy reports. The GAO, citing an official from U.S Central Command, said the Taliban are proving resilient as a result of several factors, including "the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the ineffective nature of governance and services in various parts of Afghanistan, assistance from militant groups out of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and continued financial support in the form of narcotics trafficking revenue and funds from outside of the region."

2) The US, Russia, Britain, France and China voiced support Wednesday for making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone, which would ultimately force Israel to scrap any atomic arms it has, Reuters reports. Arab states are pushing hard on the issue in exchange for their support in U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

3) Some Japanese lawmakers are going public with their criticism of the way the Obama administration has handled the issue of the Futenma base, The Cable reports. Kuniko Tanioka, a close advisor to Prime Minister Hatoyama, said the government of the US doesn't seem to be treating Prime Minister Hatoyama as an ally. "The very stubborn attitude of no compromise of the U.S. government on Futenma is clearly pushing Japan away toward China and that is something I'm very worried about."

4) The US is on the verge of permanently damaging its alliance with Japan in the dispute over Futenma, writes Chalmers Johnson in the Los Angeles Times. The U.S. has become obsessed with maintaining our empire of military bases, which we cannot afford and which an increasing number of so-called host countries no longer want.

5) The CIA received permission to attack suspected militants whose names are not known as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan, the Los Angeles Times reports. The expanded authority permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as "pattern of life" analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras. The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list. The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits. Some analysts said permitting the CIA to kill individuals whose names are unknown creates a serious risk of killing innocent people. Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information.

6) Imprisoned Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Baradar is giving US officials insight into the strategy the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Karzai, the New York Times reports. Senior Taliban officials have sought to discount the impact of Mullah Baradar's detention on their bargaining position. "The Taliban would be ready to negotiate but under our own conditions," a member of the Afghan Taliban's supreme command said.

Afghanistan
7) President Karzai has accused Washington of trying to undermine his efforts to negotiate with the Taliban, writes Robert Dreyfuss for The Nation. American policy is to shoot now and talk later. But Karzai is right, Dreyfuss says: it's time to talk to the Taliban now, not later.

Israel/Palestine
8) In the decade since Israelis and Palestinians came close to a peace deal in 2000, the complexion of Jerusalem has been altered, reports Janine Zacharia in the Washington Post. Israeli construction is blurring lines between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, making any future bid to share or divide the city even more difficult than in the past. "Left unattended, within two or three years, enough will happen in Jerusalem that a two-state solution will not be possible," said Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem who has provided informal guidance to U.S. mediators.

Honduras
9) The murders of seven journalists in Honduras will be investigated this month by a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Inter Press Service reports. The delegation will also look into reports of harassment and intimidation made by members of the National Popular Resistance Front, which headed up the protests against the overthrow of former president Zelaya.

Iran
10) The chief U.N. nuclear official said he is launching a new effort to resolve questions about alleged atomic weapons research by Iranian scientists, the Washington Post reports. Yukiya Amano said he is also pressing Iran for more robust monitoring of a nuclear facility that began producing a higher grade of enriched uranium this year. Amano said Iran has not yet agreed to IAEA requests for a special monitoring regime for its fuel enriched to 20 percent. Talks with Iranian officials in recent days have yielded "some good progress, but we have not had a resolution," Amano said. He said that the IAEA is monitoring the site but that "our arrangement is not proper as of today."

Colombia
11) Colombian radio reported that over 18,200 Colombians went missing during 2009, up from almost 15,700 in 2008, according to an annual report issued by Colombia's forensics agency, writes Colombia Reports.

12) An expert from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said forced displacement of Colombian citizens increases by 150,000 people a year, writes Colombia Reports. "94% of the displaced live below the poverty line," the expert said. "We have a huge amount of internally displaced people, there are 3.3 million, which is about 7% of the population," said Colombia's Director of National Planning.

Contents:
U.S./Top News

1) GAO report casts new doubt on Afghanistan policy
Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy Newspapers, Wed, May. 05, 2010
http://www.miamiherald.com/2010/05/05/v-print/1615349/gao-report-casts-new-doubt-on.html

An independent government report on Wednesday raises new questions about the likelihood of success for President Barack Obama's Afghanistan policy, which nearly doubles the number of U.S. troops there before a planned drawdown begins in July 2011.
The report, by the Government Accountability Office, found the Taliban remain a resilient fighting force, despite the boost in U.S. troops, and suggested many factors remain in place that will allow the Taliban to survive U.S. efforts to eradicate them.

The report noted that Taliban-initiated attacks in Afghanistan rose 75 percent between 2008 and 2009 and that civilian casualties rose 72 percent between last September and March, compared with the comparable period a year earlier.

The report, released just days before Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit Washington amid strained relations with the Obama administration, buttressed last week's downbeat Pentagon assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. That report found that overall levels of violence rose 87 percent between February 2009 and March 2010.

The GAO report said the rising levels of violence in Afghanistan had made it harder for U.S. and international aid agencies to build development projects there - a key aspect of the U.S. policy to undercut Taliban influence in the country. United Nations development teams have only limited ability to visit much of the country, the GAO reported.

The GAO also disputed Pentagon assertions violence is rising because the Taliban if fighting back against the surge of U.S. troops and because of U.S. offensives to push the Taliban from strongholds around Marjah in the southern opium-producing province of Helmand.

The GAO, citing an unnamed official from U.S Central Command, said the Taliban are proving resilient as a result of several factors, including "the porous nature of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, the ineffective nature of governance and services in various parts of Afghanistan, assistance from militant groups out of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and continued financial support in the form of narcotics trafficking revenue and funds from outside of the region."
[...]

2) U.S., other big powers back Mideast nuclear arms ban
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, May 6, 2010, 5:02 am
http://nz.news.yahoo.com/a/-/world/7181390/us-other-big-powers-back-mideast-nuclear-arms-ban/

United Nations - The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China voiced support on Wednesday for making the Middle East a nuclear-weapons-free zone, which would ultimately force Israel to scrap any atomic arms it has.

The move, in a joint statement, reflected U.S. concern to win Arab backing for sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program by offering a concession over its ally Israel, but Washington says the zone cannot be actually established yet. "We are committed to a full implementation of the 1995 NPT resolution on the Middle East and we support all ongoing efforts to this end," the five permanent U.N. Security Council members said in a statement issued at a conference taking stock of the 1970 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The 1995 resolution adopted by signatories of the landmark arms control treaty called for making the Middle East a zone without nuclear arms. The Jewish state has never confirmed or denied having nuclear arms. "We are ready to consider all relevant proposals in the course of the (NPT) Review Conference in order to come to an agreed decision aimed at taking concrete steps in this direction," said the statement, which was obtained by Reuters.

U.S. support for the idea of creating such a zone in the future could be unwelcome to Israel, which has said it can only consider it once there is Middle East peace.

But diplomats from the Jewish state's Western allies say Arab states are pushing hard on the issue in exchange for their support in U.S.-led efforts to curb Iran's nuclear program.

Egypt, which chairs the powerful 118-nation bloc of non-aligned developing nations, circulated a proposal to the 189 signatories of the treaty calling for a conference by next year on ridding the Middle East of nuclear arms in which all countries in the region would participate.

The United States and Russia, with the support of the other three countries allowed to keep nuclear weapons under the NPT, are negotiating with Egypt to come up with an acceptable compromise proposal, Western diplomats say.

Despite U.S. support for the principle of the proposed zone and for Egypt's call for discussion of it, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday the time was not yet ripe for creating the zone.

Without naming specific countries, the statement also urged those outside the NPT to join it. Israel, like nuclear-armed India and Pakistan, never signed the treaty but is presumed to have a sizable atomic arsenal. "We urge those states that are not parties to the treaty to accede as non-nuclear-weapon states and pending accession to the NPT, to adhere to its terms," the five powers said.

Israel has tried to fend off Egyptian-led scrutiny of its arsenal by urging Cairo to view Iran's atomic ambitions as the regional threat, an Israeli official has said. Egypt says both Israel and Iran are nuclear threats to the region and wants action on both countries.
[...]
The previous U.S. administration infuriated Arab and other non-aligned nations by refusing to reaffirm those pledges - and the call for a Middle East nuclear-arms-free zone - at the last NPT review conference in 2005. That conference was widely viewed as a failure.

3) Japanese lawmaker: Obama pushing us toward China
Josh Rogin, The Cable, Tuesday, May 4, 2010 - 9:18 PM
http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/05/05/japanese_lawmaker_obama_pushing_us_toward_china

When Barack Obama met briefly with Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama on the sidelines of last month's nuclear summit, he asked the Japanese leader to follow through on his promise to resolve the U.S.-Japan dispute over relocating the Marine Corps base on Okinawa.

But as Hatoyama's self-imposed May deadline approaches, it doesn't look like the prime minister is going to be able to deliver, and some Japanese lawmakers are now going public with their criticism of the way the Obama administration has handled the issue.

One of them is Kuniko Tanioka, a member of Japan's upper house of parliament and the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, and a close advisor to Hatoyama. During a visit to Washington Tuesday, Tanioka leveled some of the harshest criticism from a Japanese official to date of the Obama team's handling of the Futenma issue, which is still unresolved despite months of discussions.

"We are worried because the government of the United States doesn't seem to be treating Prime Minister Hatoyama as an ally," she told an audience at the East-West Center. "The very stubborn attitude of no compromise of the U.S. government on Futenma is clearly pushing Japan away toward China and that is something I'm very worried about."

Some Japan hands in Washington see Tanioka as marginal, a left-wing backbencher who just recently entered Japanese politics in 2007. But she is close to Hatoyama and serves as the "vice manager" for North America inside the DPJ's internal policy structure.

At issue is a 2006 agreement between the Bush administration and the former Japanese government run by the Liberal Democratic Party. That agreement would have moved the Futenma Air Station, which sits in the middle of a populated area of Okinawa, to a less obtrusive part of the island.

Hatoyama and the DPJ campaigned on the promise to alter the plan but ran into a wall when U.S. officials initially insisted the old agreement be honored, even though the old government had been thrown out.

Since then, Pentagon and State Department officials have been conducting quiet negotiations, but the administration is still waiting for the Japanese side to propose a detailed alternative to the current plan.

Meanwhile, huge protests in Okinawa have constrained Hatoyama's room for maneuver - and Tanioka said the United States was partly to blame. "It seems to us Japanese that Obama is saying 'You do it, you solve, it's your problem,'" she said, noting that public opinion polls in Japan show increasing dissatisfaction with the presence of U.S. military forces there.
[...]
Administration officials have also said repeatedly that they are willing to consider adjustments to the current Futenma relocation plan, but it has to be "operationally feasible," meaning it meets Marine Corps needs, and "politically feasible," meaning that the Japanese host communities can go along.

Therein lies the problem, according to Tanioka, because, she says, "There is no politically feasible plan." "Washington works under the assumption the original plan was feasible. It was not," she said.

4) Another battle of Okinawa
Despite protests, the U.S. insists on going ahead with plans for a new military base on the island.
Chalmers Johnson, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2010
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/commentary/la-oe-johnson-20100506,0,4706050.story

The United States is on the verge of permanently damaging its alliance with Japan in a dispute over a military base in Okinawa. This island prefecture hosts three-quarters of all U.S. military facilities in Japan. Washington wants to build one more base there, in an ecologically sensitive area. The Okinawans vehemently oppose it, and tens of thousands gathered last month to protest the base. Tokyo is caught in the middle, and it looks as if Japan's prime minister has just caved in to the U.S. demands.
[...]
In 1945, Japan was of course a defeated enemy and therefore given no say in where and how these bases would be distributed. On the main islands of Japan, we simply took over their military bases. But Okinawa was an independent kingdom until Japan annexed it in 1879, and the Japanese continue to regard it somewhat as the U.S. does Puerto Rico. The island was devastated in the last major battle in the Pacific, and the U.S. simply bulldozed the land it wanted, expropriated villagers or forcibly relocated them to Bolivia.
[...]
Since 1972, the Japanese government and the American military have colluded in denying Okinawans much say over their future, but this has been slowly changing. In 1995, for example, there were huge demonstrations against the bases after two Marines and a sailor were charged with abducting and raping a 12-year-old girl. In 1996, the U.S. agreed that it would be willing to give back Futenma, which is entirely surrounded by the town of Ginowan, but only if the Japanese would build another base to replace it elsewhere on the island.

So was born the Nago option in 1996 (not formalized until 2006, in a U.S.-Japan agreement). Nago is a small fishing village in the northeastern part of Okinawa's main island and the site of a coral reef that is home to the dugong, an endangered marine mammal similar to Florida's manatee. In order to build a large U.S. Marine base there, a runway would have to be constructed on either pilings or landfill, killing the coral reef. Environmentalists have been protesting ever since, and in early 2010, Nago elected a mayor who ran on a platform of resisting any American base in his town.

Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister who came to power in 2009, won partly on a platform that he would ask the United States to relinquish the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station and move its Marines entirely off the island. But on Tuesday, he visited Okinawa, bowed deeply and essentially asked its residents to suck it up.

I find Hatoyama's behavior craven and despicable, but I deplore even more the U.S. government's arrogance in forcing the Japanese to this deeply humiliating impasse. The U.S. has become obsessed with maintaining our empire of military bases, which we cannot afford and which an increasing number of so-called host countries no longer want. I would strongly suggest that the United States climb off its high horse, move the Futenma Marines back to a base in the United States (such as Camp Pendleton, near where I live) and thank the Okinawans for their 65 years of forbearance.

5) CIA Drones Have Broader List Of Targets
The agency since 2008 has been secretly allowed to kill unnamed suspects in Pakistan.
David S. Cloud, Los Angeles Times, May 5, 2010
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-drone-targets-20100506,0,57614.story

Washington - The CIA received secret permission to attack a wider range of targets, including suspected militants whose names are not known, as part of a dramatic expansion of its campaign of drone strikes in Pakistan's border region, according to current and former counter-terrorism officials.

The expanded authority, approved two years ago by the Bush administration and continued by President Obama, permits the agency to rely on what officials describe as "pattern of life" analysis, using evidence collected by surveillance cameras on the unmanned aircraft and from other sources about individuals and locations.

The information then is used to target suspected militants, even when their full identities are not known, the officials said. Previously, the CIA was restricted in most cases to killing only individuals whose names were on an approved list.

The new rules have transformed the program from a narrow effort aimed at killing top Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders into a large-scale campaign of airstrikes in which few militants are off-limits, as long as they are deemed to pose a threat to the U.S., the officials said.

Instead of just a few dozen attacks per year, CIA-operated unmanned aircraft now carry out multiple missile strikes each week against safe houses, training camps and other hiding places used by militants in the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.
[...]
But some analysts said that permitting the CIA to kill individuals whose names are unknown creates a serious risk of killing innocent people. Civilian deaths caused by Western arms is a source of deep anger in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There are a lot of ethical questions here about whether we know who the targets are," said Loch Johnson, an intelligence scholar at the University of Georgia and a former congressional aide. "The danger is that it could spawn new terrorists and increase resentment among the Pakistani public, in particular where these strikes are taking place."

U.S. officials say the strikes have caused fewer than 30 civilian casualties since the drone program was expanded in Pakistan, a claim that is impossible to verify since the remote and lawless tribal belt is usually off-limits to Western reporters. Some estimates of civilian casualties by outside analysts are in the hundreds.

Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information.
[...]
But some analysts said that permitting the CIA to kill individuals whose names are unknown creates a serious risk of killing innocent people. Civilian deaths caused by Western arms is a source of deep anger in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"There are a lot of ethical questions here about whether we know who the targets are," said Loch Johnson, an intelligence scholar at the University of Georgia and a former congressional aide. "The danger is that it could spawn new terrorists and increase resentment among the Pakistani public, in particular where these strikes are taking place."

U.S. officials say the strikes have caused fewer than 30 civilian casualties since the drone program was expanded in Pakistan, a claim that is impossible to verify since the remote and lawless tribal belt is usually off-limits to Western reporters. Some estimates of civilian casualties by outside analysts are in the hundreds.

Of more than 500 people who U.S. officials say have been killed since the pace of strikes intensified, the vast majority have been individuals whose names were unknown, or about whom the agency had only fragmentary information.

6) Captured Leader Offers Insight Into The Taliban
Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 5, 2010
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/06/world/asia/06baradar.html

Washington - Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the most senior Afghan Taliban leader in custody in Pakistan, is providing important information to American officials on the inner workings of the Taliban, pivotal insights as the United States looks ahead to negotiations to end the war in Afghanistan, according to senior American intelligence and military officials.

Mullah Baradar, the second-ranking Taliban leader, was arrested in January outside Karachi, Pakistan, in an operation by American and Pakistani intelligence agents. His Pakistani captors initially limited American interrogators' access to him, but American officials say they have had regular, direct contact with Mullah Baradar for several weeks.

For now, officials say, Mullah Baradar is not revealing details of Taliban combat operations, yielding little that American commanders would like to know as they prepare for a military operation around Kandahar, the Taliban's spiritual base and Afghanistan's second largest city.

But the officials said he had provided American interrogators with a much more nuanced understanding of the strategy that the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, who is visiting Washington next week.
[...]
Initially, some American military officials said that taking Mullah Baradar off the battlefield, and exploiting information he might provide, could deal a blow to Taliban military capacity.

But Mullah Omar has replaced Mullah Baradar, his top deputy, with Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir, a former detainee at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who is believed to be in his mid-30s and has a reputation as a tough fighter with few political skills. "In general, operations in the south, except perhaps for the more spectacular ones, don't need much outside directions," said Marvin Weinbaum, a former South Asia intelligence analyst for the State Department.

And senior Taliban officials have sought to discount the impact of Mullah Baradar's detention on their bargaining position. "The Taliban would be ready to negotiate but under our own conditions," a member of the Afghan Taliban's supreme command said in an interview. "To assume that they would hold the Taliban leadership hostage because of Mullah Baradar's arrest is not something that would cross our mind."

Afghanistan
7) Karzai Seeks Deal with Taliban
Robert Dreyfuss, The Nation, May 6, 2010
http://www.thenation.com/blog/karzai-seeks-deal-taliban

When President Karzai of Afghanistan arrives in Washington next Wednesday, will President Obama applaud Karzai's efforts to negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban, or will he tell the Afghanistan president to sit down, shut up, and remember that he's supposed to behave like a U.S.-installed puppet?

Lately, Karzai has been decidedly un-puppetlike. After meeting Obama at the end of March in Kabul, Karzai unleashed a series of angry, frustrated outbursts that included his only-partly-in-jest threat to join the Taliban. He also accused Washington of trying to undermine his efforts to negotiate with the Taliban. And he's scheduled a jirga, or council, for later this month to unite Afghan society - tribes, clerics, warlords - in support of a political approach to the Taliban leadership.

The United States is not amused. American policy is, as I wrote in an article for Rolling Stone, to shoot first and ask questions later, i.e., to deal the Taliban a series of punishing blows in the hope that Mullah Mohammed Omar, or at least some leaders of the Taliban, will come to the bargaining table. On this, I'm with Karzai: it's time to talk to the Taliban now, not later.

Usefully enough, in today's New York Times there's an important story that draws on leaks from the ongoing "interrogation" of Mullah Baradur, the Taliban's No. 2 official, who was seized by Pakistan's ISI and the CIA last January. (What the Times account leaves out is that Baradur was deeply involved in talks with Karzai and with United Nations officials about a peace deal, and he may have even planned to attend Karzai's jirga. By arresting him, Pakistan undermined that negotiation, and the ISI made it clear that if there is any deal to be had in Afghanistan, it - the ISI - wants to be in charge.)

According to the Times, Baradur is providing the United States with a "nuanced understanding of the strategy that the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, is developing for negotiations with the government of President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan."

Pakistan, adds the Times, has "tried to turn his arrest to their advantage and are poised to use him as a chip in bargaining between the Afghan government and the Taliban and, conceivably, even as a negotiator."

And this: "The Taliban would be ready to negotiate but under our own conditions," a member of the Afghan Taliban's supreme command said in an interview. "To assume that they would hold the Taliban leadership hostage because of Mullah Baradar's arrest is not something that would cross our mind."

On Monday, the Washington Post carried a story that said that Karzai's chief objective during his Washington visit is to get American support for talks [2]with the Taliban:

Karzai's advisers say one of his main goals for the May 12 meeting is winning President Obama's support for negotiating with insurgent leaders, and for a Kabul peace conference that has been delayed until after the visit. … After months of delay, Karzai's government has clarified its position, sketching out a two-track plan: pursuing political accommodation with insurgent leaders, while at the same time enticing foot soldiers with jobs and foreign-funded development projects.

What's important here is that the United States, so far at least, has expressed no interest in the first of Karzai's tracks, that is, "accommodation with insurgent leaders." In fact, top Obama administration officials have sharply criticized that idea. Instead they favor only the second track, making one-by-one deal with Taliban foot soldiers.
[...]
Of course, for the United States the problem is that the Taliban conditions its deal on the idea of a U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan. Some leaders of the Afghan insurgency have said explicitly that President Obama's July 2011 timetable for drawing down U.S. forces in Afghanistan can serve as a starting point for negotiations. That was the point made in March, when a delegation from Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's Islamic Party traveled to Kabul for peace talks with Karzai and the UN.
[...]

Israel/Palestine
8) Indirect Mideast peace talks made trickier by Jerusalem housing projects
Janine Zacharia, Washington Post, Thursday, May 6, 2010; 3:13 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/06/AR2010050604356.html

Jerusalem - When the Obama administration launches indirect peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians, as early as this weekend, it faces a much more complicated landscape than the Clinton or Bush administrations, especially in Jerusalem.

In the decade since Israelis and Palestinians came close to a peace deal in 2000, the complexion of Jerusalem, perhaps the most sensitive of all the sticking points, has been altered. Israeli construction is blurring lines between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods, making any future bid to share or divide the city even more difficult than in the past.

A battle for sovereignty and international legitimacy is playing out on every hilltop and valley here. And with tens of thousands of new apartments planned for Jews in East Jerusalem - well beyond the 1,600 announced in March during Vice President Biden's visit here - the potential for construction derailing the new peace negotiations is high.

"Left unattended, within two or three years, enough will happen in Jerusalem that a two-state solution will not be possible," said Daniel Seidemann, an expert on Jerusalem who has provided informal guidance to U.S. mediators and who heads a non-governmental organization that tracks how city planning affects peace prospects.

Former president Bill Clinton, at a two-week peace summit a decade ago, pitched his own ideas of how to share Jerusalem, including control of the sites holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. He left office recommending that Jerusalem be an undivided capital of two states, Israel and Palestine.

Now, following the recent flap with Israel over new housing in East Jerusalem, President Obama has started, perhaps inadvertently, with what Clinton found to be the toughest nut to crack.

The Israeli approval in March of construction in Ramat Shlomo, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, while routine in Israel's view, drew international reproach, scuttled American plans to announce peace talks, and led to weeks of intensive negotiations between the United States and Israel on a formula to try to avert provocative actions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly declared construction in Jerusalem would never be frozen. But he found a tactical way to appease American officials: The regional planning committee that approves major housing projects in Jerusalem didn't meet for two months after the Biden visit. It convened on Tuesday for the first time since, but nothing on the agenda involved construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem.

Even with that temporary gesture, Israel continues with plans to house increasing numbers of Jews in East Jerusalem, in line with Israeli policy since the 1967 Middle East war to populate as much as possible the part of the city it captured and later annexed in a move not recognized by the international community.

Today, more than 11,000 housing units intended for Jews in East Jerusalem have been given final approval. Another roughly 9,000 units - including the 1,600 in Ramat Shlomo - are in various stages of the approval process. Private and government developers are shaping plans for 30,000 more.
[...]
Shlomo Hasson, an Israeli professor of geography at Hebrew University, agrees that current demographic and building trends could mean the end of a two-state solution. "We have to separate," Hasson said. "Our interest is to have a Jewish and democratic city, and if we allow the situation as it is to continue, we are going to lose Jerusalem. We see the one-state solution before our eyes."

Honduras
9) Pressure Mounts on Honduras as Journalist Death Toll Rises
Thelma Mejía, Inter Press Service, Wednesday, 05 May 2010
http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/2478-pressure-mounts-on-honduras-as-journalist-death-toll-rises

Honduran President Porfirio Lobo plans to seek help from police forces in Colombia and the United States to try to solve the murders of seven journalists committed in the space of less than two months, which will also be investigated by a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights next month
[...]
A delegation from the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) will arrive in Honduras in the second week of May to investigate the killings.

The delegation will also look into reports of harassment and intimidation made by members of the National Popular Resistance Front, which headed up the protests against the Jun. 28, 2009 overthrow of former president Manuel Zelaya.

Added to these incidents are the death threats received by Father Ismael Moreno, a Jesuit priest, activist and radio station director, for his protection of a young woman reportedly raped by police in August 2009 in the midst of demonstrations against the coup.

Moreno, the director of Radio Progreso (based in the city of the same name) and an outspoken opponent of the coup, was spirited out of the country last weekend, his Jesuit colleagues informed IPS. The Jesuit community in Honduras works primarily in the northern part of the country.

Deputy Attorney General Ricardo Rodríguez told IPS that all of these incidents are being investigated, and that his office is working with other government agencies on a response to the latest annual report from the IACHR, which placed Honduras for the first time ever on the list of countries where the human rights situation "warranted special attention" in 2009, alongside Colombia, Cuba, Haiti and Venezuela.

The report details the human rights abuses committed in the aftermath of Zelaya's ouster, including the climate of threats and intimidation faced by the country's journalists.

"We have a month to respond to the report, but if this mission comes in May to investigate the killings of the journalists, that's even better - we will cooperate and we will not hide anything," said Rodríguez.
[...]
Catalina Botero, Organisation of American States Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, stated on Apr. 20 in San Salvador that Honduras is in a state of "red alert" and described it as one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist today

Iran
10) IAEA chief Yukiya Amano launches new push for answers from Iran
Joby Warrick, Washington Post, Thursday, May 6, 2010; A13 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/05/AR2010050505233.html

United Nations - The chief U.N. nuclear official said Wednesday he is launching a new effort to resolve questions about alleged atomic weapons research by Iranian scientists, hinting at a firmer stance by the U.N. watchdog agency in seeking answers from Iran about its nuclear intentions.

Yukiya Amano, who became director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency in December, said he is also pressing Iran for more robust monitoring of a nuclear facility that began producing a higher grade of enriched uranium this year. U.S. officials fear that the facility could shorten Iran's path to nuclear weapons if the country's leaders choose to make them.

In his first interview with a U.S. news outlet since taking office, Amano asserted that he is not sure whether Iran intends to acquire the bomb. But the Japanese diplomat repeatedly stressed the need for Iran to be transparent about its nuclear activities. That, he said, would include a full accounting of dozens of scientific papers and databases - most of them obtained by Western spy agencies in the past decade - that appear to show secret research on nuclear warheads.

"What we want to do is to sit down with our Iranian partners and jointly clarify these activities," said Amano, who is in New York to attend a nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. "If the concerns are removed, that will be very nice. If not, we need to ask for measures to remedy the situation."
[...]
Amano said in the interview that Iran has not yet agreed to IAEA requests for a special monitoring regime for its fuel enriched to 20 percent. The agency typically seeks to install cameras and other technical systems to ensure that a country is not cheating on its enrichment program or diverting uranium for possible use in weapons.

Talks with Iranian officials in recent days have yielded "some good progress, but we have not had a resolution," Amano said. "If this continues for a long time, we may have a problem," he said. He said that the IAEA is monitoring the site but that "our arrangement is not proper as of today."

Separately, during an NPT conference session on Wednesday, Amano asked for international input on how to persuade Israel to join the treaty, a move that could add to pressure on the Jewish state to disclose its unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. In a letter made available to the Associated Press, Amano asked foreign ministers of the IAEA's 151 member states to share views on how to implement a resolution demanding that Israel "accede to the" treaty and open its nuclear facilities to IAEA oversight.

The letter comes amid renewed Arab criticism of Israel during the New York conference. On Tuesday, Muslim nations made repeated calls for a nuclear-free Middle East, while criticizing Israel for not divulging its nuclear capabilities and refusing to sign the nonproliferation pact.

Colombia
11) 18,200 Colombians went missing in 2009
Brett Borkan, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 05 May 2010 08:33
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/9540-18000-colombians-went-missing-in-2009.html

Over 18,200 Colombians went missing during 2009, up from almost 15,700 in 2008, according to an annual report issued by Colombia's forensics agency, Medicina Legal, Radio Santa Fe reported Wednesday. The amount of people who went missing in 2009, 18,236, is a 14% increase on the 15,696 missing in 2008, and far higher than the 4,323 who went missing in 2007.

According to Medicina Legal's director, Janeth Forero, the victims of disappearances are similar to the victims of other violent crimes in Colombia; "young people and men, in the majority of the cases." The 2009 report highlighted that the Colombian department of Antioquia is the most affected region of the country, reporting 3,976 disappearances in 2009, compared to only 471 in 2008.

12) UN: Forced displacement in Colombia increases by 150,000 each year
Kirsten Begg, Colombia Reports,Tuesday, 04 May 2010 12:24
http://colombiareports.com/colombia-news/news/9521-un-forced-displacement-in-colombia-increases-by-150000-each-year.html

Forced displacement of Colombian citizens increases by 150,000 people a year, Ariranga Govindasamy Pillay, one of 18 experts from the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) said at a Geneva conference Tuesday. "94% of the displaced live below the poverty line and only 20% of the land stripped from them has been investigated. What about the other 80%? There seems to be impunity for the perpertrators," said Pillay.

"We have a huge amount of internally displaced people, there are 3.3 million, which is about 7% of the population," said Colombia's Director of National Planning Esteban Piedrahita. "We have confiscated 2 million hectares of land that criminal groups acquired illegally and now it's up to the justice system to decide to return it to its rightful owners," Piedrahita said.

Pillay also denounced the murder of eight displaced Colombians in the first two months of 2010.

"Half of those displaced in Colombia are women and there is no government policy for the protection of women's economic, social and cultural rights, particularly in respect to health, housing, working, education and food," said Maria Eugenia Ramirez, a representative of Colombian NGO CLADE in Geneva.
[...]

-
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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