foreign policy

GObama! US Agrees to Talks with Iran

To any naysayers who say President Obama has broken all his promises, I say, with all due respect: "na na na na na":

AP reports:

The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.

I realize that this may be cold comfort if you took Obama seriously when he said that he was going to renegotiate NAFTA. Okay, that promise was not for real, sorry.

But when he said he was going to talk to Iran, apparently he meant it. Who knew?

It could have gone the other way. The US could have said - we offered Iran talks on how Iran was going to stop enriching uranium, and Iran has clearly said that it has no intention of stopping the enrichment of uranium, therefore, Iran has not agreed to our offer of talks.

And therefore, we have no choice but to proceed with efforts to cut off Iran's access to gas imports.

As everyone knows, there are plenty of folks in Washington - and at least one other capital city - who would have applauded such a course.

But Obama decided to take the high road. We said we wanted talks, and Iran is saying that it wants talks, so let's talk. Why not?

Iran says it wants comprehensive talks. So? Who's against comprehensive talks? More US-Iran cooperation could help make the world a better place on a lot of fronts: Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel-Palestine, Lebanon.

Making progress in negotiations on Iran's "nuclear file" will not be trivial. But there is a feasible solution, and everyone knows it. As Robert Dreyfuss wrote recently in The Nation:

Amnesty: Honduras Photos and Protestor Testimonies Show Extent of Police Violence

There has been very little attention in the U.S. press to repression in Honduras under the coup regime. Hopefully, that will now change: Amnesty International issued a report today documenting "serious ill-treatment by police and military of peaceful protesters" in Honduras, warning that "beatings and mass arrests are being used as a way of punishing people for voicing their opposition" to the coup.

An Amnesty International delegation interviewed people who were detained after police and military broke up a peaceful demonstration July 30. Most detainees had injuries as a consequence of police beatings.

Esther Major, Central America researcher at Amnesty International, said:

"Detention and ill treatment of protestors are being employed as forms of punishment for those openly opposing the de facto government, and also as a deterrent for those contemplating taking to the streets to peacefully show their discontent with the political turmoil the country is experiencing."

U.S. media often rely heavily on international human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to report on human rights abuses. So it will be interesting to see how much U.S. press coverage the Amnesty report gets.

If the repression under the coup regime were more widely known, it would be much more difficult for representatives of that regime to peddle their story in Washington that their government is "democratic" and "respects the rule of law." How is the coup's hired gun Lanny Davis going to spin Amnesty's report on police repression of peaceful dissent against the coup?

In Honduras, Simon Says: "End Your Coup"

The relationship between the actions of the Obama Administration and the actions of the coup government in Honduras is starting to look like those children's games where you follow the order of the leader, but only if he says the special phrase. The Obama Administration says it wants to see President Zelaya restored. When the Administration appears to mean business, the coup regime appears to move towards compromise. When the Administration signals that its words are not to be heeded, the coup regime reasserts its intransigence.

Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the leader installed by the coup had told Costa Rican mediators he personally accepted a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return, but needed help in convincing the Honduran business elite to go along. This followed by one day the U.S. announcement that it had suspended the U.S. diplomatic visas of four leaders of the coup government. Initial press reports of the U.S. action indicated it was an escalation of U.S. pressure.

But subsequent statements by U.S. officials downplayed the idea that it was an escalation of U.S. pressure, asserting that it was just a continuation of the existing policy of not recognizing the coup government.

Predictably, then, the reports of movement in the coup government's position were followed by reassertions by the coup government that there was no change: President Zelaya could not return.

The State Department said it wants to restore democracy. But apparently the State Department didn't say "Simon Says."

When the mediation by Costa Rican President Arias was announced, there was much fanfare about what a clever diplomatic stroke it was by the State Department, taking the issue out of the hands of the South Americans.

Rep. Grijalva Urges U.S. Pressure on Coup Regime in Honduras

It's been a month since Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in a military coup. Negotiations on restoring democracy supported by the United States broke down when the coup regime refused to accept a compromise that would allow President Zelaya to return.

The Obama Administration still says it is working for President Zelaya's return, but so far it has not responded to the call from Hondurans for increased U.S. pressure on the coup regime.

Indeed, when President Zelaya tried to increase pressure on the coup regime by threatening to return to Honduras without an agreement, Secretary of State Clinton attacked President Zelaya as "reckless," instead of expressing any concern about repression by the coup regime against President Zelaya's supporters.

Now Rep. Raul Grijalva is leading a Congressional effort to urge the Obama Administration to increase U.S. pressure on the coup regime by canceling U.S. visas and freezing bank accounts of coup leaders. Representatives McGovern, Conyers, and Serrano have signed on to Rep. Grijalva's letter to President Obama.

This isn't just about one man. It's about whether the 60% of Hondurans who live in poverty have a path to reform and redress of their grievances. President Zelaya was exiled for seeking reform of Honduras' constitution - a longstanding demand of social movements in Honduras.

Honduran Coup Leader Coming to Miami Saturday?

It seems too awful or too good to be true, depending on how you look at it. But according to the web site of "MIGApartners," which I gather is some flavor of Christian organization, General Romeo Vasquez Velasquez, the military leader of the coup in Honduras, is going to be in Miami on Saturday morning July 25th, between 9:45am-10:45am, at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

I tried to confirm this by calling the numbers listed on the website but only got answering machines. The calendar of the Miami Beach Convention Center merely has "Christian Ministries" listed on its schedule for Saturday.

If it is true that General Vasquez is coming to Miami - is he already in the U.S.? - this raises a number of questions.

First: this guy is welcome in the United States? In an editorial on July 14, the Los Angeles Times called for the U.S. to consider canceling visas for coup leaders. Supporters of the democratically elected government in Honduras have made similar calls. If there is any coup leader who should be denied a visa to visit the United States, surely it is General Vasquez.

The Day They Arrested President Roosevelt

What a dark day for American democracy it was - February 5, 1937, the day they arrested President Roosevelt.

The pretext for this assault on democracy was President Roosevelt's proposal of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would have allowed President Roosevelt to appoint more members to the Supreme Court, which had blocked New Deal measures President Roosevelt had introduced to try to bring America out of the Great Depression. Supporters of the New Deal were particularly galled by the Supreme Court's decision the previous year throwing out New York's minimum wage law.

But some of President Roosevelt's opponents in Congress (including many conservative Democrats), the Supreme Court, and the military claimed the proposed bill was an assault on the Constitution - even though the Constitution doesn't say how many Supreme Court justices there should be, and Congress had changed the number of Supreme Court Justices many times in the past - and that Roosevelt's move was a dangerous power grab. So dangerous, in fact, that Roosevelt's proposal could not even be considered in Congress. Roosevelt's opponents claimed that he had violated the Constitution by even suggesting the idea, and had to be removed from office immediately; that Roosevelt and his supporters were such a threat to the established order that due process had to be dispensed with - if Roosevelt were put in prison, maybe there would be riots.

Therefore, on the morning of February 5, soldiers under the command of General Smedley Butler arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, still in his pajamas.

CSM, WSJ Respond to Criticism of Claim of Plurality for Honduran Coup

On Sunday, I wrote a piece here criticizing the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Reuters for inaccurately reporting a poll result to claim that a plurality of Hondurans supported the coup against President Zelaya.

The Wall Street Journal has now published a "Corrections & Amplifications" note attached to the original piece and the Christian Science Monitor has published a response to the criticism to which the original article is now linked. There has been no public response yet, as far as I am aware, from the Washington Post or Reuters.

Credit where credit is due: both the CSM and WSJ have now in some form publicly acknowledged the dispute and provided an explanation. (In hindsight, the inaccuracy of the original CSM and WSJ reports is arguably more clear-cut than that of the Post and Reuters reports - see below.)

But the responses leave some central questions unanswered: did these outlets rely on the Honduran newspaper La Prensa as a sole source? If so, why? Will they act differently in the future?

To recap: here are the original reports as they appeared in the four outlets.

LAT, Arias: US Must Pressure Honduran Coup Leaders

Some people may have hoped that the problem of the coup in Honduras would magically go away once talks began between President Zelaya and leaders of the coup regime under the mediation of Costa Rica's President Oscar Arias. But of course it wasn't so and it isn't so. For the mediation to succeed, a key ingredient is required: sustained and escalating US pressure on the coup regime, until it agrees to the restoration of President Zelaya.

As the Los Angeles Times explains in an editorial today:

The coup leaders

 

seem to believe that if they can shoulder the hardships until November elections, all will be forgiven. Not so. The Obama administration needs to make it clear now that elections held under those conditions will not be regarded as legitimate and that such a plan would only prolong Honduras' troubles. Meanwhile, the U.S. should consider imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.

Indeed, while everybody in the U.S. supposedly loves President Arias, a Nobel laureate with a track record of helping to resolve deep conflicts in the region under difficult conditions, few people in the U.S. (with perhaps the praiseworthy exception of the LAT editorial board) seem to be listening to what Arias is saying.

As the New York Times reported Sunday (perhaps you missed this in the 17th paragraph):

 

U.S. Press Falsely Claims Honduran Plurality for Coup

Did a CID-Gallup poll last week indicate that a plurality of Hondurans support the military coup against democratically elected President Zelaya? Yes, according to the Washington Post [July 9], the Wall Street Journal [July 10], the Christian Science Monitor [July 11], and Reuters [July 9], which all reported that the poll showed 41% in favor of the coup, with only 28% opposed.

But in fact the poll showed that 46% - a plurality - were *opposed* to the coup, according to the New York Times[July 10], the Associated Press [July 11] - and the president of CID-Gallup, in an interview with Voice of America on July 9.

As of this writing - Sunday evening, 5:30 pm Eastern time - none of the outlets which reported the poll incorrectly had corrected their earlier, inaccurate, reports. [UPDATE 7/15: The Journal and the Monitor have now responded to the criticism.]

Reuters, AP Legitimize Honduran Coup Regime as "Interim Government"

Words matter - particularly the words used by major media to describe contested political events, words that can bias perceptions towards the interests of the powerful. Are those wielding power in Honduras today a "de facto" government, or are they an "interim" or "caretaker" government?

On Sunday, the following instructive exchange took place between senior U.S. officials and reporters in a State Department briefing on the Organization of American States' response to the coup in Honduras:

 

QUESTION: Sir, just a follow-up. Can you confirm that the caretaker government has reached out to the OAS and asked to open new negotiations? Does this mean that they're going to consider letting President Zelaya finish out his term? And what of the reports that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I have seen no reports indicating that Venezuelan troops are moving towards Honduras. In regard to the second, we understand that the caretaker government has - I wouldn't call it a caretaker government, I would refer to it as the de facto regime -

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL TWO: De facto authorities.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: -- or authorities - has indicated to the OAS that it would like to begin a process of dialogue.

In today's press, I checked to see what characterization of the coup regime different outlets were using in their reporting.