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JFP 12/16: Bogus Afghan "Review" Shows Need for Journalism on Classified Information
Submitted by Robert Naiman on 16 December 2010 - 10:13pm
Just Foreign Policy News
December 16, 2010
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Bogus Afghan "Review" Shows Need for Journalism on Classified Information
The Obama Administration "review" of Afghanistan policy claims "progress." The assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies gives a very different picture. The intelligence agencies say Pakistan remains unwilling to stop providing support and sanctuary for members of the Afghan Taliban. Many experts inside and outside the U.S. government believe Pakistan's policy will be fatal to U.S. war plans; many experts inside and outside the U.S. government think there is no reason to expect Pakistan's policy will change, because it is based on Pakistani perception of core national security interests and opposition to what the Pakistanis see as a pro-India U.S. policy in Afghanistan, which the U.S. has no current plans to change. Therefore, the clear implication of the alternative assessment is that the current U.S. war policy is doomed to costly failure.
The reason that we know about this fundamental disagreement among U.S. officials on this critical point concerning the war policy is because news outlets like the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times report on classified information, and because of WikiLeaks. That's why the attacks on WikiLeaks are not only attacks on freedom of the press - as Human Rights Watch notes, #4 below, if the U.S. prosecuted Julian Assange for releasing classified State Department cables, "this would imperil media freedom everywhere" - but also attacks on the ability of the public to end the Afghanistan war and prevent new wars.
Rep. McDermott: Could WikiLeaks Have Prevented 9/11?
"… the information that's coming out is very important. I read an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, about the fact that had we had WikiLeaks in 2001, we may well not have had 9/11 occur." McDermott was referring to the op-ed by former FBI agent Coleen Rowley.
Afghanistan experts call for peace deal and exit strategy
Afghanistan experts with decades of experience in the country call on President Obama to change course and push for a peace settlement and exit strategy. Signers include: Scott Atran, Michael Cohen, Gilles Dorronsoro, Bernard Finel, Joshua Foust, Anatol Lieven, Ahmed Rashid, and Alex Strick van Linschoten.
1) House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers criticized calls to prosecute WikiLeaks, Salon reports. The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing this morning on WikiLeaks and the Espionage Act.
2) Julian Assange was released from jail in London on $315,000 bail, the New York Times reports. He vowed to continue to release classified documents. "I don't have too many fears about being extradited to Sweden," he said. "There are much bigger concerns about being extradited to the United States." His lawyers have suggested that the Swedish legal case is "nothing more than a holding charge" to make Assange available to the US, should prosecutors seek his indictment and extradition for the disclosure of US diplomatic and military cables.
3) The UN secretary-general plans to call for an independent commission to study whether U.N. troops caused a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,400 people in Haiti, AP reports. The UN had previously rejected allegations that UN troops were responsible.
4) The US should not prosecute Julian Assange for releasing US State Department cables as this would imperil media freedom everywhere, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder. "This is a signature moment for freedom of expression and information in both the US and abroad," said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing leaked documents would set a terrible precedent that will be eagerly grasped by other governments, particularly those with a record of trying to muzzle legitimate political reporting."
5) Skeptics in the administration have decided to hold their fire on Afghanistan policy until late next spring, when Obama must decide how many troops he intends to withdraw starting in July, the Washington Post reports. The postponement means the administration's internal divisions over the war's long-term strategy and cost will play out publicly again just 18 months before Americans decide whether to give Obama a second term. "The real debate will occur when we have to determine how big the July '11 drawdown will be," said a senior administration official. One U.S. official said the Afghanistan NIE warns it will be difficult for the US to prevail unless Pakistan roots out militant groups that take sanctuary within its borders. The Pakistan estimate concludes that it is unlikely the government in Islamabad will do so. "So you're left with the question: Is the conclusion that we're going to lose?" the official said. Sixty percent of Americans now say the war is not worth fighting, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
6) Police arrested more than a hundred protesters during an anti-war demonstration outside the White House, CNN reports. The event was part of a rally that also was in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. "This lynch mob mentality is America at its lowest," said Daniel Ellsberg. He said of the latest leaks, "I regard it as a very admirable act," and added he believes the person who supplied the information to WikiLeaks acted out of the same obligation "to inform the American people."
7) A New York Times report suggests federal investigators are seeking to charge Julian Assange as a co-conspirator in the leak, in order to get around the First Amendment issues and the failure to prosecute mainstream newspapers that published the cables, notes Glenn Greenwald in Salon. Greenwald notes that the distinction is absurd: mainstream journalists also encourage leaks. He also notes that government efforts to pressure Bradley Manning to implicate Julian Assange would explain - but by no means justify - the seven months of solitary confinement to which Manning has been subjected.
8) Representative Conyers said the Administration's review confirms that the war in Afghanistan remains open-ended and pledged to work with the members of the Congressional Out of Afghanistan Caucus to bring the war to a speedy end. Conyers called on President Obama to make General Petraeus available to testify early next year on the review.
9) Arab foreign ministers spoke out against any talks between Israel and the Palestinians unless the U.S. takes a firm stance on the future borders of a Palestinian state, AP reports. The Arab position is pushing the U.S. to endorse the original 1967 borders as the baseline for negotiations. "The negotiation track between the Palestinians and Israelis is futile," a final statement from the Arab ministers said. Qatar's Foreign Minister said the Arabs are skeptical the U.S. will be able to pressure Israel on core issues if it failed to force a settlement freeze.
10) President Obama strongly condemned an "outrageous terrorist attack" by a suicide bomber in Iran which killed at least 39 people, AFP reports. "I strongly condemn the outrageous terrorist attack on a mosque in Chabahar, Iran," Obama said. "The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offense, and those who carried it out must be held accountable. This is a disgraceful and cowardly act." Jundallah, the Sunni rebel group that claimed the bombing, was in November added to a US blacklist of "terrorist" groups.
11) Federal agents in charge of stopping gun trafficking to Mexico have advanced a plan to help stem the smuggling of high-powered AK-47s and AR-15s, the Washington Post reports. The proposal calls for requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to the ATF. But the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department, because of fear of the NRA, the Post says. In the past few days, the plan has gained traction at Justice.
12) In a 2007 cable titled, "A Southern Cone perspective on countering Chavez and reasserting US leadership," US Ambassador to Chile Craig Kelly said the US should make it very clear that if Venezuela is admitted to Mercosur, it will "torpedo US interest in even considering direct negotiations with the trading bloc," Venezuelanalysis reports. Venezuelan Archbishop Baltazar Porras asked the US government to step up its campaign against Venezuela to "contain the regional aspirations" of President Chavez, according to a January 2005 cable. Archbishop Porras offered to lead joint efforts by the US, the Catholic Church, and the private business sector in Venezuela to win over poor communities that benefit from the Venezuelan government's programs, according to the cable written by then US Ambassador William Brownfield.
1) Top Dem sticks up for WikiLeaks
Justin Elliott, Salon, Thursday, Dec 16, 2010 11:42 ET http://www.salon.com/news/wikileaks/?story=/politics/war_room/2010/12/16/conyers_on_wikileaks
The House Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing this morning on WikiLeaks and the Espionage Act, the law that has been touted as opening up a possible route to prosecute Julian Assange. But the most interesting part of the hearing has been listening to a prominent congressional Democrat, committee chairman John Conyers of Michigan, argue strongly against prosecuting WikiLeaks in haste - or at all.
"As an initial matter, there is no doubt that WikiLeaks is very unpopular right now. Many feel that the WikiLeaks publication was offensive. But being unpopular is not a crime, and publishing offensive information is not either. And the repeated calls from politicians, journalists, and other so-called experts crying out for criminal prosecutions or other extreme measures make me very uncomfortable," Conyers said, according to his prepared remarks.
"Indeed, when everyone in this town is joined together calling for someone's head, that is it a pretty strong sign we need to slow down and take a closer look," he continued.
That position is in marked contrast to the repeated calls from other members of Congress and Obama administration officials to prosecute (or kill) Assange immediately.
Here's how Conyers closed his opening remarks:
"To close, the desire to respond to a controversy like this with new legislation is very understandable. And as many panelists will testify, the Committee should take a close look at these issues and consider whether changes in law are needed."
"But let us not be hasty, and let us not legislate in a climate of fear or prejudice. For, in such an atmosphere, it is our constitutional freedoms and our cherished civil rights that are the first to be sacrificed in the false service of our national security."
2) WikiLeaks Founder Is Released on Bail
Ravi Somaiya, New York Times, December 16, 2010
London - Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, was released from jail on $315,000 bail on Thursday, and he vowed in a defiant speech to continue to release classified documents and to fight extradition to Sweden for questioning about accusations of sexual offenses.
After nine days in Wandsworth prison, Mr. Assange emerged holding a sheaf of court documents into an explosion of photographers' flashbulbs under the grand arch of the Royal Courts of Justice. "Well, it's great to feel the fresh air of London again," he told a cheering crowd. He closed his brief statement by saying, "I hope to continue my work and continue protesting my innocence in this matter."
Black-and-white photos of Mr. Assange, altered to resemble the famous image of the guerrilla fighter Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, are pasted across London. They also appear on placards waved by his supporters.
"Someone is finally fighting the governments," said Angel Spasov, 30, who was balanced precariously on a crowd-control barrier to catch a glimpse of Mr. Assange outside the courtroom. "He's exposing their secrets," he said of a series of releases of confidential American military and diplomatic documents by the Web site WikiLeaks this year. "He's the man."
"I don't have too many fears about being extradited to Sweden," he said Thursday. "There are much bigger concerns about being extradited to the United States."
His lawyers have suggested that the Swedish case is part of a political conspiracy to silence WikiLeaks. Mr. Stephens said earlier this week in a television interview that the sexual accusations were "nothing more than a holding charge" to make Mr. Assange available to the United States, should prosecutors seek his indictment and extradition for the public disclosure of confidential American diplomatic and military cables.
3) UN calls for probe into origin of Haiti cholera
Jonathan M. Katz, Associated Press, Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 8:49 PM
Port-au-Prince, Haiti - The United Nations secretary-general plans to call for an independent commission to study whether U.N. peacekeepers caused a cholera outbreak that has killed more than 2,400 people in Haiti, an official said Wednesday.
U.N. officials initially dismissed speculation about the involvement of peacekeepers. The announcement indicates that concern about the epidemic's origin has now reached the highest levels of the global organization.
"We are urging and we are calling for what we could call an international panel," U.N. peacekeeping chief Alain Le Roy said at a news conference at U.N. headquarters in New York. "We are in discussions with (the U.N. World Health Organization) to find the best experts to be in a panel to be completely independent."
Le Roy said details about the commission would be announced Friday by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. He said cholera experts and other scientists will have full access to U.N. data and the suspected military base. "They will make their report to make sure the truth will be known," Le Roy said.
Soon after the cholera outbreak became evident in October, Haitians began questioning whether it started at a U.N. base in Meille, outside the central plateau town of Mirebalais and upriver from where hundreds were falling ill. Speculation pointed to recently arrived peacekeepers from Nepal, a South Asia nation where cholera is endemic.
U.N. officials rejected any idea the base was involved, saying its sanitation was air-tight.
WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the time that it was unlikely the origin would ever be known, and that pinning it down was not a priority.
Then the Associated Press found not only sanitation problems at the base, but that the U.N. mission was quietly taking samples from behind the post to test for cholera.
When the CDC determined the strain in Haiti matched one in South Asia, cholera and global health experts said there was now enough circumstantial evidence implicating the likely unwitting Nepalese soldiers to warrant an aggressive investigation.
The experts have also said there are important scientific reasons to trace the origin of the outbreak, including learning how the disease spreads, how it can best be combated and what danger countries around Haiti could face in the coming months and years.
Many think the U.N. mission's reticence to seriously address the allegations in public helped fuel anti-peacekeeper riots that broke out across the country last month.
This outbreak, which experts estimate could affect more than 600,000 people in impoverished Haiti, involves the first confirmed cases of cholera in Haiti since WHO records began in the mid-20th century.
4) US: Don't Prosecute WikiLeaks Founder
Human Rights Watch, December 15, 2010
The US government should not prosecute WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange for releasing classified US State Department cables as this would imperil media freedom everywhere, Human Rights Watch said in a letter today to President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder. Human Rights Watch urged the US government to reject overbroad interpretations of national security that clash with the freedom of expression guarantees of the US Constitution and international law.
"This is a signature moment for freedom of expression and information in both the US and abroad," said Dinah PoKempner, general counsel at Human Rights Watch. "Prosecuting WikiLeaks for publishing leaked documents would set a terrible precedent that will be eagerly grasped by other governments, particularly those with a record of trying to muzzle legitimate political reporting."
In a related Q&A, Human Rights Watch said that it has expressed concern to WikiLeaks and other media organizations that information be redacted from the cables that could place human rights defenders at risk, but condemned suggestions that Assange be targeted as a "terrorist" for attack. Human Rights Watch criticized private companies that had denied services to WikiLeaks in the absence of any legal judgment against it.
5) Administration's next big Afghan battle: How many troops to withdraw
Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, Thursday, December 16, 2010; 12:06 AM
President Obama's national security team this week revisited the same vexing issues it worked through a year ago in devising the administration's troop escalation in Afghanistan. This time, one key element was missing: impassioned dissent.
While the group concluded that Obama's counterinsurgency strategy is showing signs of progress, divisions persist beneath the appearance of harmony. But skeptics in the administration have decided to hold their fire until late next spring, when Obama must decide how many troops he intends to withdraw starting in July to fulfill a pledge he made when he announced a troop increase last December.
The postponement means that the administration's internal divisions over the war's long-term strategy and cost will play out publicly again just 18 months before Americans go to the polls to decide whether to give Obama a second term.
"The real debate will occur when we have to determine how big the July '11 drawdown will be," said a senior administration official, who like others interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss internal deliberations.
Vice President Biden and others argued forcefully last year against the military's request for more forces to mount a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy. Voicing concern about incompetent government in Afghanistan, insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistan and plummeting public support in the United States, they sought to focus U.S. combat power on a narrower mission of targeting al-Qaeda members and their Taliban allies.
The skeptics chose not to revive the debate, the officials said, because this fall did not seem like the right time to argue for troop reductions.
This review, which began in October and was led by the National Security Council, was intended to be more diagnostic than prescriptive. An even more significant reason was that recent military operations around the city of Kandahar have progressed more quickly and successfully than expected. Efforts to train the Afghan army and police also are ahead of schedule.
Complicating matters for those who argued against a troop escalation last year is the seasonal ebb and flow of violence in Afghanistan. Insurgent attacks and U.S. casualties always drop in the fall and winter as many Taliban fighters go to sanctuaries in Pakistan, producing hopeful trends on the military's PowerPoint slides. "Winter is the season of eternal optimism in Afghanistan," said a civilian adviser to the NATO command in Kabul.
Although the skeptics question how much progress has been achieved and how sustainable it is, some of them now see an opportunity in the military's claims of success.
One tack they may take, some officials said, is to argue that those claims justify a significant reduction of U.S. forces starting in the summer and a greater reliance on counterterrorism elements of the strategy, including Special Forces operations, drone strikes and enhanced intelligence capabilities to keep al-Qaeda under pressure.
"We want to move, over time, to a more targeted approach and [to] counterterrorism more broadly," said another senior administration official involved in the Afghanistan policy debate. "There's no question that that's the direction we're moving."
For those who want to see a significant drawdown occur next year, pressing for that outcome on claims of success could be less politically dangerous for Obama than arguing that counterinsurgency backed by extra troops has not worked as promised. "It's always better to call it success as opposed to failure," the first official said.
The possibility that the skeptics may use the military's upbeat reports to push for an accelerated reduction has alarmed some in the Pentagon, who question whether Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top coalition commander in Afghanistan, has been too vocal in his claims of progress this fall. "Kabul has been focused on December when the real battle in Washington will be later on," a senior military official said.
The assertions of success are tempered by two National Intelligence Estimates - one on Afghanistan and one on Pakistan - that were delivered to the White House and Congress shortly before Thanksgiving.
One U.S. official who has read the documents said the Afghanistan estimate warns that it will be difficult for the United States and its allies to prevail unless Pakistan roots out militant groups that take sanctuary within its borders. The Pakistan estimate concludes that it is unlikely the government in Islamabad will do so. "So you're left with the question: Is the conclusion that we're going to lose?" the official said.
But the political dynamics, as well as those of the war, are different today as he heads into the second half of his term. Sixty percent of Americans now say the war is not worth fighting, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, a more than 20-point rise since Obama's election.
The shift in public opinion represents additional pressure, as well as political motivation, for Obama to accelerate the American withdrawal from Afghanistan as he heads into a difficult reelection season. For the first time, the poll found that more than half of Americans say the summer 2011 date is the "about right" time to begin pulling out U.S. forces, but about three in 10 want the withdrawal to start sooner.
Polls show that ending the war in Afghanistan is an issue that unites independents and core Democrats, offering Obama a political opportunity as he begins considering how quickly to draw down American forces there beginning next year. In the new Post-ABC News poll, 72 percent of Democrats and 63 percent of independents said the war is no longer worth fighting.
6) Police arrest 100-plus antiwar demonstrators at White House fence
The anti-war protest also was a rally in support of WikiLeaks
Daniel Ellsberg, of "Pentagon Papers" fame, was among those arrested
Ellsberg says he regards the latest leaks "as a very admirable act"
Paul Courson, CNN, December 16, 2010
Washington - Police arrested more than a hundred protesters during an anti-war demonstration outside the White House fence Thursday.
The event was part of a rally that also was in support of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whose website has revealed secret U.S. documents about Iraq, Afghanistan and other countries.
"This lynch mob mentality is America at its lowest," said Daniel Ellsberg, a former military analyst who, a generation ago, leaked the "Pentagon Papers" to The New York Times.
Ellsberg said there are parallels in the WikiLeaks case with what he went though in 1971 when he supplied The New York Times with details of a top-secret Pentagon study of U.S. decision-making during the Vietnam War.
He said of the latest leaks, "I regard it as a very admirable act," and added he believes the person who supplied the information to WikiLeaks acted out of the same obligation "to inform the American people."
And where the Nixon administration had The New York Times as a clear target for the Pentagon Papers, he said the "effort now is to distinguish WikiLeaks from the establishment press in order to prosecute." He called that effort "a fool's mission," since Assange is a digital publisher.
The right of The New York Times to publish the Pentagon Papers was eventually upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"When I revealed the Pentagon Papers, I thought at most there was a very small chance that it might have an effect on the war, just as sure Bradley Manning didn't have any guarantee what he's doing would have any effect, but he was ready to go to prison for life to have some small chance of doing it," Ellsberg said.
Manning, a U.S. Army private first class, is a suspect in the WikiLeaks disclosures. He is awaiting trial in a Virginia stockade in connection with earlier WikiLeaks revelations he is accused of involvement with. He has not admitted guilt in either incident, his supporters say.
7) Getting to Assange through Manning
Glenn Greenwald, Salon, Thursday, Dec 16, 2010 09:17 ET http://www.salon.com/news/wikileaks/index.html?story=/opinion/greenwald/2010/12/16/wikileaks
In The New York Times this morning, Charlie Savage describes the latest thinking from the DOJ about how to criminally prosecute WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. Federal investigators are "are looking for evidence of any collusion" between WikiLeaks and Bradley Manning - "trying to find out whether Mr. Assange encouraged or even helped" the Army Private leak the documents - and then "charge him as a conspirator in the leak, not just as a passive recipient of the documents who then published them." To achieve this, it is particularly important to "persuade Private Manning to testify against Mr. Assange." I want to make two points about this.
First, the Obama administration faces what it perceives to be a serious dilemma: it is - as Savage writes - "under intense pressure to make an example of [Assange] as a deterrent to further mass leaking," but nothing Assange or WikiLeaks has done actually violates the law. Moreover, as these Columbia Journalism School professors explain in opposing prosecutions, it is impossible to invent theories to indict them without simultaneously criminalizing much of investigative journalism. Thus, claiming that WikiLeaks does not merely receive and publish classified information, but rather actively seeks it and helps the leakers, is the DOJ's attempt to distinguish it from "traditional" journalism. As Savage writes, this theory would mean "the government would not have to confront awkward questions about why it is not also prosecuting traditional news organizations or investigative journalists who also disclose information the government says should be kept secret - including The New York Times."
But this distinction is totally illusory. Very rarely do investigative journalists merely act as passive recipients of classified information; secret government programs aren't typically reported because leaks just suddenly show up one day in the email box of a passive reporter. Journalists virtually always take affirmative steps to encourage its dissemination. They try to cajole leakers to turn over documents to verify their claims and consent to their publication. They call other sources to obtain confirmation and elaboration in the form of further leaks and documents. Jim Risen and Eric Lichtblau described how they granted anonymity to "nearly a dozen current and former officials" to induce them to reveal information about Bush's NSA eavesdropping program. Dana Priest contacted numerous "U.S. and foreign officials" to reveal the details of the CIA's "black site" program. Both stories won Pulitzer Prizes and entailed numerous, active steps to cajole sources to reveal classified information for publication.
In sum, investigative journalists routinely - really, by definition - do exactly that which the DOJ's new theory would seek to prove WikiLeaks did. To indict someone as a criminal "conspirator" in a leak on the ground that they took steps to encourage the disclosures would be to criminalize investigative journalism every bit as much as charging Assange with "espionage" for publishing classified information.
Second, Savage's story appears to shed substantial light on my story from yesterday about the repressive conditions under which Manning is being detained. The need to have Manning make incriminating statements against Assange - to get him to claim that Assange actively, in advance, helped Manning access and leak these documents - would be one obvious reason for subjecting Manning to such inhumane conditions: if you want to have better treatment, you must incriminate Assange.
Whatever else is true, the DOJ seems intent on pressuring Manning to incriminate Assange. It would be bizarre indeed to make a deal with the leaking government employee in order to incriminate the non-government-employee who merely published the classified information. But that may very well at least partially explain (though obviously not remotely justify) why the Government is holding Manning under such repressive conditions: in order to "induce" him to say what they need him to say in order to indict WikiLeaks and Assange.
8) Conyers: Afghanistan Review Does Not Reflect Facts on the Ground; Petraeus Should Testify Before Congress
Office of Rep. Conyers, Dec. 16, 2010
Washington, D.C.- Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) issued the following statement today responding to the release of the Obama Administration's Afghanistan and Pakistan Annual Review. Representative Conyers serves as the Chair of the Congressional Out of Afghanistan Caucus.
"The Administration's strategic review of our war effort confirmed what I and many of my fellow Americans know: the war in Afghanistan remains open-ended and our progress there is unclear at best," said Conyers. "As a result, it should not surprise anyone that a new ABC-News/Washington Post poll shows that a record 60 percent of Americans now think the war has "not been worth fighting."
This strategic review argues that the surge is succeeding in reducing Taliban influence and slowing its momentum. Yet, fighting in Afghanistan this year has resulted in more troop deaths, more civilian deaths, and an ever-expanding $2 billion a week financial commitment to a country that has an annual gross domestic product of $27 billion. It is difficult to argue that this constitutes "success."
I am heartened to hear that the Administration will intensify its regional diplomacy efforts in 2011. As the President knows, this war cannot be won with military might. It will end with a political agreement.
I pledge to work with the members of the Congressional Out of Afghanistan Caucus to bring this counterproductive war to a speedy end. I also call on President Obama to make General Petraeus available to testify early next year, so that the Congress can fulfill its constitutional duty to provide oversight over our war policy."
9) Arabs against peace talks without clear borders
Sarah El Deeb, Associated Press, Wednesday, December 15, 2010; 3:48 PM
Cairo - Arab foreign ministers spoke out Wednesday against any talks between Israel and the Palestinians, direct or indirect, unless the U.S. takes a firm stance on the future borders of a Palestinian state.
The Arab position, reflecting growing Palestinian frustration, is pushing the U.S. to endorse the original 1967 borders as the baseline for negotiations between the two parties.
While the Arabs are not backing a return to negotiations at this stage, they are not advocating any alternatives yet, such as a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.
The United States' peace efforts suffered a major setback after Washington abandoned efforts to coax Israel to freeze Jewish settlement in areas the Palestinians want for a future state.
Last week, American officials said they would keep talking to both sides and now plan to discuss the so-called core issues of the conflict, including the borders of a Palestinian state and security arrangements, separately with Israelis and Palestinians.
"The negotiation track between the Palestinians and Israelis is futile. There is no return to talks. Any resumption is conditioned on a serious offer that ensures the end to the Arab-Israeli conflict based on the peace process references," a final statement from the Arab ministers said.
The Palestinians say they want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War. They say they are willing to swap 1.9 percent of the land to enable Israel to keep some of the settlements.
The ministers said the failure of Washington to force Israel to stop settlement building on territories occupied in 1967 "demands that the American administration declares clearly the two states' borders be based on the 1967 borders."
Israel has not agreed to the idea of the 1967 as a baseline. Some parties in Israel's coalition government oppose any land concession, while others are ready to make them, but on a lesser scale than what the Palestinians would consider acceptable.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani said the Arabs are skeptical the U.S. will be able to pressure Israel on core issues if it failed to force a settlement freeze, saying during his opening statement that the Arabs "can't provide support for the return to talks, whether direct or indirect, under these circumstances."
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has relied on an Arab League endorsement to give himself political coverage before engaging first in indirect and then direct talks with the Israelis.
"The Israeli position is now becoming clear that it attempts to divert the negotiation track into what the Israeli government wants, and to render the peace everyone is talking about into a peace with an Israeli hue without any consideration for the Palestinian and Arab rights," said Sheik Hamad.
10) Obama condemns suicide bombing in Iran
AFP, December 15, 2010
Washington - US President Barack Obama on Wednesday strongly condemned an "outrageous terrorist attack" by a suicide bomber at a Shiite religious procession in Chabahar, Iran, which killed at least 39 people.
"I strongly condemn the outrageous terrorist attack on a mosque in Chabahar, Iran," Obama said in a written statement. "The murder of innocent civilians in their place of worship during Ashura is a despicable offense, and those who carried it out must be held accountable. This is a disgraceful and cowardly act."
Obama said such acts recognized no religious, political, or national boundaries, adding that the United States condemned terrorism wherever it occurs. "The United States stands with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured, and with the Iranian people, in the face of this injustice," he said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also condemned the attack and extended condolences to the families of the victims. "This is yet another example of terrorists using cowardly methods to inflict pain and fear on innocent civilians," she said, adding the perpetrators must must "be held to account" for what they did. "The United States condemns all forms of terrorism and sectarian-driven violence, wherever it occurs, and we stand with the victims of these abhorrent and reprehensible acts," the chief US diplomat said.
Jundallah, the shadowy Sunni rebel group that claimed the bombing, was in November added to a US blacklist of "terrorist" groups, a measure aimed at denying any financial or other support such a group has in the United States.
11) NRA-led gun lobby wields powerful influence over ATF, U.S. politics
Sari Horwitz and James V. Grimaldi, Washington Post, Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Behind the scenes, federal agents in charge of stopping gun trafficking to Mexico have quietly advanced a plan to help stem the smuggling of high-powered AK-47s and AR-15s to the bloody drug war south of the border.
The controversial proposal by officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calls for a measure strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association: requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to ATF.
The gun issue is so incendiary and fear of the NRA so great that the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department, according to some senior law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity but would not provide details.
The NRA got wind of the idea last month and warned its 4 million members in a "grassroots alert" that the administration might try to go around Congress to get such a plan enacted as an executive order or rule.
In the past few days, the plan has quietly gained traction at Justice. But sources told The Post they fear that if the plan becomes public, the NRA will marshal its forces to kill it.
12) US Proposed Multi-Faceted Campaign to Counter Venezuelan President, Wikileaks Cables Show
Venezuelanalysis.com, Dec 14th 2010
Caracas, December 14th 2010 - A secret US diplomatic cable posted 9 December 2010 on the whistleblower website Wikileaks revealed discussions of an intricate and detailed plan to use diplomatic, military, and economic power to counter Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's influence in Latin America.
In the 2007 cable titled, "A Southern Cone perspective on countering Chavez and reasserting US leadership," US Ambassador to Chile Craig Kelly advocates increased intelligence activity, funding to civil society groups, high-level diplomatic visits, and expanded military aid to countries in the region. The opening paragraph states that the cable is "part two" of a series of cables on the subject.
"It would be a mistake to dismiss Hugo Chavez as just a clown or old school caudillo," the cable says. "To effectively counter the threat he represents, we need to know better his objectives and how he intends to pursue them. This requires better intelligence in all of our countries," Ambassador Kelly writes in a section titled "know thy enemy."
In addition, the US should make it very clear that if Venezuela is admitted to the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR), it will "torpedo US interest in even considering direct negotiations with the trading bloc."
Similarly, Venezuelan Archbishop Baltazar Porras asked the US government to step up its campaign against Venezuela to "contain the regional aspirations" of President Chavez, according to a January 2005 cable that was posted by Wikileaks on Sunday.
Porras offered to lead joint efforts by the US, the Catholic Church, and the private business sector in Venezuela to win over poor communities that benefit from the Venezuelan government's programs, according to the cable written by then US Ambassador William Brownfield.
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