Just Foreign Policy News
February 9, 2010
Respect Democracy in Japan
Voters in Japan have spoken. They don’t want the US Futenma military base in Okinawa. Ask President Obama and Congress to respect the will of the majority in Japan.
If Michael Moore Would Run for President
If Michael Moore would run for President in 2012, it could be a game-changer in American political life. It would likely shorten the war in Afghanistan by at least six months, and the U.S. and Afghan lives that would be saved would alone justify the effort.
Juan Cole: More Nuclear Scaremongering about Iran
In case you missed this link in yesterday’s Just Foreign Policy News: Juan Cole demolishes the hype about Iran’s nuclear program.
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1) Relief efforts in Haiti are still falling short, the Washington Post reports. A fledgling food distribution network so far has largely managed to deliver only rice. Every day, tens of thousands of Haitians face a grueling quest to find any food. Overwhelmed doctors and nurses are facing converging streams of need, including untended wounds and illnesses born of poor sanitation. There are not enough crutches for amputees or people to teach them how to adjust. A U.S. physician described shortages of power, blood-pressure sleeves, and medicine.
2) Afghanistan and its neighbors face a pivotal moment, writes Ahmed Rashid in the New York Review of Books. At stake is whether the US and its allies are willing to talk to the Afghan Taliban, because there is no military victory in sight and no other way to end a war that has been going on for thirty years. According to current US strategy, the US military has to weaken the Taliban before negotiating with them. But Rashid argues that the best opportunity to open talks could be right now, before the Taliban conclude that they are better off waiting the US out. Rashid argues for a regional reconcilation strategy, removing Taliban leaders from the UN blacklist, guaranteeing security of Taliban who return to Afghanistan, providing the Taliban leadership a neutral venue where they can negotiate with the Afghan government and NATO, release of Afghan prisoners, and acceptance of the Taliban setting up a legal political party in Afghanistan.
3) NATO has told an estimated 100,000 civilians not to flee ahead of NATO’s "massive assault" on the "densely-populated district" of Marjah, which could produce "an unprecedented level of fighting," Reuters reports. Having advised civilians to stay, NATO forces bear extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians, said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch. "I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians. I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power," Adams said. "Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility…. They are going to be carrying the can if this goes badly."
4) Most Afghan National Army generals and colonels are veterans of the Soviet-built Afghan military, the Wall Street Journal reports. "Some of what the Russians did here was pretty good," said a NATO official.
5) The new Japanese government wants to expose "secret" treaties with the U.S. that obligated Japan to shoulder the costs of U.S. bases and allow nuclear-armed U.S. ships to sail into Japanese ports, as part of its efforts to make government more transparent, the New York Times reports. Those involved in the effort stressed that the treaties had already been disclosed in the U.S., and were too old to affect current relations.
6) Iran’s IAEA Ambassador Soltanieh said President Ahmadinejad’s announced readiness to send enriched uranium abroad signals a wish to cooperate for a deal with big powers to ease nuclear tension, Reuters reports. Ahmadinejad said Tuesday Iran was now prepared to send low-enriched uranium abroad before getting reactor fuel back. Before, Iran insisted on small swaps on its own soil.
7) USAID is currently funnelling millions of US taxpayer dollars of "aid to Haiti" into questionable organisations such as Chemonics, Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), and its own Office of Transition Initiatives, which has been involved in shady political activities in various countries where the US was opposing democratically elected governments, writes Mark Weisbrot in the Guardian. This is particularly troubling given that the U.S., in collaboration with Canada and France, destroyed the Haitian government and wrecked the economy by cutting off international aid from 2000-2004, in order to overthrow the elected government.
8) Another trade unionist has been murdered in Honduras, In These Times reports. Vanessa Yamileth Zepeda was a leader of the SITRAIHSS labor union (Workers Union for the Honduran Social Security Institute.). She had been abducted while leaving a union meeting.
9) The Israeli government has stepped in to save a house built illegally by Jewish settlers in Palestinian east Jerusalem, AP reports. In Ramallah, Israeli troops confiscated computers, cameras and documents in a raid Monday at the office of a group coordinating Palestinian protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists charged the army is trying to silence legitimate dissent.
10) Egypt arrested 3 top leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood opposition, part of an ongoing crackdown ahead of parliamentary elections in October, AP reports. Amnesty International said the men arrested are considered "prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their peaceful political activities," and called for their immediate and unconditional release.
1) Haiti Earthquake Relief Efforts Are Still Falling Short
Peter Slevin, Washington Post, Tuesday, February 9, 2010; A08 http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/08/AR2010020803429.html
Port-au-Prince, Haiti – Nearly one month after a powerful earthquake brought this country to a halt, Haiti is tumbling headlong through a crisis that has not begun to abate, with evidence everywhere that current relief efforts are falling short.
[…] Pressure will grow on a fledgling food distribution network backed by U.S. soldiers that so far has largely managed to deliver only rice. From surgery to shelter to sanitation to schooling, the needs are vast and the international commitment unproven.
"The need is so overwhelming. You can’t have an initial push, and then it stops. That just won’t be enough," Lane Hartill, an Africa-based Catholic Relief Services staff member, said as he walked toward a sweltering encampment of 30,000 people who have spent every hour outdoors since the Jan. 12 earthquake. In the distance, the dun-colored shapes of the makeshift shelters might have been an impressionist painter’s rendering of despair.
[…] Every day, tens of thousands of Haitians face a grueling quest to find food, any food. A nutritious diet is out of the question.
Shelter is a slender part of the equation because, for those who lost their homes, there is so little shelter to seek. Hundreds of people join lines before the early dawn in hopes of scoring a sack of white rice, but there is nowhere to line up for a tent, a shelter kit or a home any sturdier than a blanket hanging from a clothesline.
Hardly anyone is being paid. For the vast majority, a daily job is out of the question. Every school in the capital is closed, an estimated 75 percent of them destroyed. Many businesses and government offices simply no longer exist. There is no postal service – and if there were, much of the Port-au-Prince population would not be found at home.
The medical calamity has moved beyond the horrific early days of assembly line amputations. Overwhelmed doctors and nurses are now facing converging streams of need, from untended wounds and the illnesses born of poor sanitation to the ailments of a population that had inferior health care long before Jan. 12.
There are not enough crutches for amputees or people to teach them how to adjust to the physics of their new bodily dimensions. The demands for treatment of all kinds, including postoperative care and rehabilitation, are "massive," said Thomas Kirsch, a Johns Hopkins University physician and disaster expert working here with the International Medical Corps. "We’re seeing as many as 500 people a day in our dinky little health-care center," Kirsch said, after spending a 10-hour shift doing triage in the courtyard of the state university hospital. "We send paralyzed patients out with their families and say, ‘Good luck.’ "
[…] At times, U.S. officials have offered sunnier assessments considerably at odds with reality. A State Department spokesman, Gordon Duguid, said in Port-au-Prince on Day 14, "It’s a week now that there’s no problem for bread." The top USAID official in Haiti told reporters on Day 19 that "the Haitians are leading the process in all the areas that are necessary."
Lorraine Mangones has a less charitable view from her vantage point as executive director of FOKAL, a cultural foundation sponsored by the Open Society Institute. The business community was "already on its knees" before the earthquake, she said, while the state was "already weak and kept getting weaker and weaker." The future, she said, will be "hell."
"It’s not making big decisions," Mangones said of the government run by President René Préval and Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive. "It’s not making small decisions. It’s making occasional surreal decisions, like, ‘Let’s open the schools in Port-au-Prince right away.’ "She added, "Nobody’s listening, of course."
[…] U.S. Army Col. Rick Kaiser, who oversees the military’s infrastructure strategy, said the earthquake created enough rubble to fill New Orleans’s Superdome five times. It will be years before the rubble is gone and sufficient housing is built. In the meantime, beyond food, temporary shelter is looming as the next large-scale relief issue. "That is the issue we are focusing on right now and will need to focus on for the next three to five months," said Tim Callaghan, leader of the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team. "This is critical, and we’re working as hard as we can on it."
Over at the university hospital, where foreign doctors are living their own daily MASH experience, emergency room physician Gene Gincherman from Potomac has been coping with what he describes as "Civil War-era diagnostics." The electrical generator is not strong enough to power the X-ray machine consistently. There are not enough blood-pressure sleeves. There is no oxygen and often not enough medicine. Gincherman fears that Haiti’s national emergency could get worse as the crisis endures and the world’s attention span ebbs. He said, "We’re so afraid that once it gets unsexy, it will be forgotten."
2) A Deal with the Taliban?
Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books, February 25, 2010
[Introducing a review of: "My Life with the Taliban," by Abdul Salam Zaeef. Rashid is the author of "Descent into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" and "Taliban." – JFP] […] For thirty years Afghanistan has cast a long, dark shadow over world events, but it has also been marked by pivotal moments that could have brought peace and changed world history. One such moment occurred in February 1989, just as the last Soviet troops were leaving Afghanistan. Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze had flown into Islamabad – the first visit to Pakistan by a senior Soviet official. He came on a last-ditch mission to try to persuade Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the army, and the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) to agree to a temporary sharing of power between the Afghan Communist regime in Kabul and the Afghan Mujahideen. He hoped to prevent a civil war and lay the groundwork for a peaceful, final transfer of power to the Mujahideen.
By then the Soviets were in a state of panic. They ironically shared the CIA’s analysis that Afghan President Mohammad Najibullah would last only a few weeks after the Soviet troops had departed. The CIA got it wrong – Najibullah was to last three more years, until the eruption of civil war forced him to take refuge in the UN compound in April 1992. The ISI refused to oblige Shevardnadze. It wanted to get Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, one of the seven disparate Mujahideen leaders and its principal protégé, into power in Kabul. The CIA had also urged the ISI to stand firm against the Soviets. It wanted to avenge the US humiliation in Vietnam and celebrate a total Communist debacle in Kabul – no matter how many Afghan lives it would cost. A political compromise was not in the plans of the ISI and the CIA.
I was summoned to meet Shevardnadze late at night and remember a frustrated but visibly angry man, outraged by the shortsightedness of Pakistan and the US and the clear desire of both governments to humiliate Moscow. He went on to evoke an apocalyptic vision of the future of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region. His predictions of the violence to come turned out to be dead right.
At that pivotal moment, if Shevardnadze’s compromise had been accepted, the world might well have avoided the decade-long Afghan civil war, the destruction of Kabul, the rise of the Taliban, and the sanctuary they provided al-Qaeda. Perhaps we could have avoided September 11 itself – and much that has followed since, including the latest attempt by a Nigerian extremist to blow up a transatlantic airliner, the killing of seven CIA officers at an Afghan base, and the continuing heavy casualties among NATO troops and Afghan civilians in Afghanistan.
With Obama’s controversial and risk-laden plan to first build up and then, in eighteen months, start drawing down US troops in Afghanistan, every nation and political leader in the region now faces another pivotal moment. At stake is whether the US and its allies are willing to talk to the Afghan Taliban, because there is no military victory in sight and no other way to end a war that has been going on for thirty years.
When that moment comes – as it must – will the US and NATO be ready to talk with the Taliban or will they be internally divided, as they are now? Will President Hamid Karzai have the credibility to take part in such talks and deliver on an agreement that might be reached? Will the ISI demand that their own Taliban protégés return to power? Will the Taliban hard-liners, now scenting victory, even agree to talks and, as a consequence, be prepared to dump al-Qaeda? Or will they sit out the next eighteen months waiting for the Americans to begin to leave?
[…] The prevailing view in Washington is that many Taliban fighters in the field can eventually be won over, but that the present US troop surge has to roll them back first, reversing Taliban successes and gaining control over the population centers and major roads. According to the current American strategy, the US military has to weaken the Taliban before negotiating with them.
[…] There is another way of looking at the present crisis. Despite their successes, the Taliban are probably now near the height of their power. They do not control major population centers – nor can they, given NATO’s military strength and air power. There are no countrywide, populist insurrections against NATO forces as there were against the coalition forces in Iraq. The vast majority of Afghans do not want the return of a Taliban regime despite their anger at the Karzai government and the general international failure to deliver economic progress. Many Afghans believe that as long as Western troops remain, there is still the hope that security can return and their lives change for the better.
Thus the next few months could offer a critical opportunity to persuade the Taliban that this is the best time to negotiate a settlement, because they are at their strongest.
[…] The present US military strategy aims to peel away Taliban commanders and fighters and resettle them without making any major political concessions or changes to the Afghan constitution. But Washington remains deeply divided about talking to the Taliban leaders. The State and Defense Departments, the White House, and the CIA all have different views about it, and there are also divisions between the US and its allies.
[…] Meanwhile the Taliban have shown the first hint of flexibility, as suggested in a ten-page statement issued in November 2009 for the religious festival of Eid. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar, while urging his fighters to continue the jihad against "the arrogant [US] enemy," also pledged that a future Taliban regime would bring peace and noninterference from outside forces, and would pose no threat to neighboring countries – implying that al-Qaeda would not be returning to Afghanistan along with the Taliban. Sounding more like a diplomat than an extremist, Omar said, "The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan wants to take constructive measures together with all countries for mutual cooperation, economic development and good future on the basis of mutual respect."
A week later, the Taliban’s response to Obama’s West Point speech again suggested a changed attitude. There was not a single mention of jihad or imposing Islamic law. Instead the Taliban spoke of a nationalist and patriotic struggle for Afghanistan’s independence and said they were "ready to give legal guarantee if the foreign forces withdraw from Afghanistan." In a New Year’s message the Taliban, while condemning the US surge, even seemed to empathize with Obama, observing that the American president faces "a great many problems and opposition" at home.
The Taliban’s new tone can be traced to secret talks in the spring of 2009. Sponsored by Saudi Arabia at Karzai’s request, the talks included former (or now retired) Taliban, former Arab members of al-Qaeda, and Karzai’s representatives. No breakthrough took place, but the talks led to a series of visits to Saudi Arabia by important Taliban leaders during the rest of 2009. The US, British, and Saudi officials who were indirectly in contact with the Taliban there quickly encouraged them to renounce al-Qaeda and lay out their negotiating demands. In turn, the Taliban said that distancing themselves from al-Qaeda would require the other side to meet a principal demand of their own: that all foreign forces must announce a timetable to leave Afghanistan.
[…] Significantly the ISI, which has demanded a key part in the negotiations from its erstwhile Saudi allies, has so far been left out at the request of both the Taliban and the Afghan government – neither of whom trust it. That now may be about to change. The key to more formal negotiations with Taliban leaders lies with Pakistan and the ISI.
[…] In a major policy shift, senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials say they have offered to help broker talks between Taliban leaders, the Americans, and Karzai. "We want the talks to start now, not in eighteen months when they are leaving; but the Americans have to trust and depend on us," a senior military officer told me. There is a deep lack of trust between the CIA and the ISI, and other countries may also balk at Pakistan’s insistence that all negotiations should be channeled through the ISI. Pakistani officials suggest that if the ISI helps arrange talks, then independent contacts between Taliban leaders and the CIA, British intelligence (MI6), and Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) would have to stop. In return, Pakistani officials say only that they want to be sure "that Pakistan’s national interests in Afghanistan are looked after" – interests that have yet to be clearly spelled out to the Americans and Afghans.
[…] But the ISI has power and influence over the Taliban. Not only are the Taliban able to resupply their fighters from Pakistan, and seek medical treatment and other facilities, but the families of most Taliban leaders live in Pakistan where they own homes and run businesses and shops. Taliban leaders travel to Saudi Arabia on Pakistani passports. All this makes them vulnerable to ISI pressure.
[…] Here are some suggestions of steps that should be taken in advance of talking to the Taliban. Almost all these points have theoretically been accepted by the US and NATO but none have been acted upon:
– Convince Afghanistan’s neighbors and other countries in the region to sign on to a reconciliation strategy with the Taliban, to be led by the Afghan government. Creating a regional strategy and consensus on Afghanistan was one of the primary aims of the Obama administration; but little has been achieved. From Iran to India, regional tensions are worse now than a year ago.
– Allow Afghanistan to submit to the UN Security Council a request that the names of Taliban leaders be removed from a list of terrorists drawn up in 2001 – so long as those leaders renounce violence and ties to al-Qaeda. Russia has so far refused to entertain such a request; but Obama has not tried hard enough to extract this concession from Russian leaders.
– Pass a UN Security Council resolution giving the Afghan government a formal mandate to negotiate with the Taliban, and allow the US, NATO, and the UN to encourage that process. This would mean persuading reluctant countries like Russia and India to support such a resolution. (On January 27, a UN Security Council committee announced, with Russian agreement, that it has lifted sanctions against five former Taliban officials who are said to support the Karzai government.)
– Have NATO and Afghan forces take responsibility for the security of Taliban and their families who return to Afghanistan, enlisting the help of international agencies such as the UN High Commission for Refugees or the International Committee of the Red Cross to work with the Afghan government to assist these returning Taliban members, arranging for compensation, housing, job training, and other needs they may have in facing resettlement.
– Provide adequate funds, training, and staff for a reconciliation body, led by the Afghan government, that will work with Western forces and humanitarian agencies to provide a comprehensive and clearly spelled-out program for the security of the returning Taliban and for facilities to receive them.
– Encourage the Pakistani military to assist NATO and Afghan forces in providing security to returning Taliban and their families and allow necessary cross-border support from international humanitarian agencies. Encourage Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to help the Taliban set up a legal political party, as other Afghan militants – such as former members of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hizb-i-Islami party – have done. This would be a tremendous blow to al-Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban and it would give concrete form to Obama’s repeated pledge that he is ready to reach out to foes in the Muslim world.
– The Taliban leadership should be provided with a neutral venue such as Saudi Arabia or elsewhere, where it can hold talks with the Afghan government and NATO. The US should release the remaining Afghan prisoners held at Guantánamo and allow them to go to either Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia.
Unless such publicly announced policies are carried out, the Taliban may well conclude that it is better and safer to sit out the next eighteen months, wait for the Americans to start leaving, and then, when they judge Afghanistan to be vulnerable, go for the kill in Kabul – although that would only lead to a renewed civil war.
3) NATO to Afghan Assault Villagers: Keep Heads Down
Peter Graff, Reuters, Tue Feb 9
Kabul – Afghan villagers should stay inside and "keep their heads down" when thousands of U.S. Marines launch a massive assault on a densely-populated district in coming days, NATO’s civilian representative to Afghanistan said Tuesday. U.S.-led NATO forces are planning one of the 8-year-old war’s biggest offensives to seize Marjah, a patchwork of desert canals and opium fields that is now the last large Taliban-held bastion in Helmand, Afghanistan’s most violent province.
[…] Hundreds of civilians have fled, but most of the area’s population, estimated at up to 100,000, remain in their homes in the face of what could be an unprecedented level of fighting.
[…] NATO forces have decided to advise civilians in Marjah not to leave their homes, although they say they do not know whether the assault will lead to heavy fighting. "The message to the people of the area is of course, keep your heads down, stay inside when the operation is going ahead," [NATO representative] Sedwill said.
[…] Under international law, NATO forces are obliged to provide humanitarian assistance to anyone who chooses to flee the assault, said Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch.
Having advised civilians to stay instead – helping ensure the area remains heavily populated during the offensive – they bear an extra responsibility to control their fire and avoid tactics that endanger civilians.
"I suspect that they believe they have the ability to generally distinguish between combatants and civilians. I would call that into question, given their long history of mistakes, particularly when using air power," Adams said. "Whatever they do, they have an obligation to protect civilians and make adequate provision to alleviate any crisis that arises," he said. "It is very much their responsibility…. They are going to be carrying the can if this goes badly."
4) U.S. Enlists Ex-Foes For Afghan Army
Soviet-Era Brass Take Command Again In Alliance of Former Battlefield Rivals
Yaroslav Trofimov, Wall Street Journal, February 9, 2010
Kabul – The fledgling Afghan National Army has been created from scratch by the U.S. and its allies. But, at least in its senior ranks, it increasingly resembles an Afghan army of old – one the U.S. helped rout two decades ago.
The Afghan government is dominated by former mujahedeen guerrillas; both the minister of defense and the army chief of staff are former anti-Soviet insurgents. Most ANA generals and colonels appointed to serve just below them, however, are veterans of the Soviet-built Afghan military that hunted these insurgents through the 1980s.
Facing a dearth of professional officers, the U.S.-led coalition is bringing these former foes in from the cold, restoring their Soviet-era rank and giving them command positions. American officers say few other Afghans have the formal military training and know-how to run conventional divisions and brigades.
[…] Soviet-era veterans – many of them exiled or unemployed during the tumult of recent years – offer a ready reservoir of such leaders. "Former army officers are very experienced, and the more we expand our army, the more we need them," says Brig. Gen. Ali Ahmad Popal, commander of the Kabul Military Training Center, a sprawling facility that churns out thousands of new ANA soldiers every month. The deputy corps commander of Kandahar in Communist times, Gen. Popal himself lived in exile in India until joining the ANA in 2008.
[…] This reliance on Soviet-era officers was evident at a recent graduation ceremony from a senior ANA command course. Nineteen colonels and brigadiers in their 50s and 60s graduated after several months of study with American and French instructors. Among them, 16 had fought in the Communist Afghan army, and only three hailed from mujahedeen backgrounds.
These Afghan Army veterans – most of whom were educated in Russia – often espouse a top-down, bureaucratic approach that can clash with the American military culture, which gives more leeway to individual commanders and puts more authority in the hands of noncommissioned officers.
Yet coalition officers say they’ve come to appreciate that some of these Soviet-style methods suit a force like the ANA, which is three-quarters illiterate. "There are times when they’ll bring up an idea, and we’ll say, yes, it works," says Canadian Brig. Gen. Paul Wynnyk, who supervises the U.S.-led international coalition’s effort to develop Afghanistan’s army. "Some of what the Russians did here was pretty good."
American and allied officials speak with particular respect about two Soviet-era veterans with whom they deal daily while running the war against the Taliban insurgency. One is the first deputy minister of defense, Lt. Gen. Mohammad Akram, who headed the Communist army’s southern regional command in the early 1990s. The other is the ANA’s operations chief, Lt. Gen. Sher Karimi – a career officer who was educated at the Sandhurst military academy in England in the 1960s and speaks fluent English.
Like many other army veterans brought back into service, Gens. Karimi and Akram hail from ethnic-Pashtun southern and eastern Afghanistan, the heartland of the Taliban insurgency. Their presence in the senior ranks may defuse the perception among many Pashtuns that the ANA is dominated by the rival ethnic group, the Tajiks, whose militias overthrew the Taliban with American help in 2001, and who are still over-represented among the officer corps.
5) Japanese Split On Exposing Secret Pacts With U.S.
Martin Fackler, New York Times, February 9, 2010
Tokyo – They were Tokyo’s worst-kept diplomatic secrets: clandestine cold war era agreements with Washington that obligated Japan to shoulder the costs of United States bases and allow nuclear-armed American ships to sail into Japanese ports.
For decades, Japanese leaders have gone to great lengths to deny the pacts’ existence, despite mounting proof to the contrary from the testimony of former diplomats and declassified documents in the United States. The most sensational instance came in 1972, when a reporter who unearthed evidence of one of the treaties was arrested on charges of obtaining state secrets, reportedly by means of an adulterous affair.
Now, the so-called secret treaties are causing problems again, this time in how Japan is handling its suddenly rocky relationship with the United States.
The new administration in Tokyo, whose election last summer ended a half-century of nearly unbroken control by the Liberal Democrats, wants to expose the treaties as a showcase of its determination to sweep aside the nation’s secretive, bureaucrat-dominated postwar order. Last fall, the foreign minister appointed a team of scholars to scour Japanese diplomatic archives for evidence of the treaties. Its findings are due this month.
The problem is that the inquiry is coming at a delicate moment in Japan’s ties with its longtime patron, the United States. The administrations of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan and President Obama are already divided over the relocation of an American air base in Okinawa. By exposing some of the less savory aspects of Japan’s military reliance on the United States, the investigation has drawn criticism, particularly from conservatives in both nations, as an effort by the left-leaning Hatoyama government to pull away from Washington.
However, those involved in the investigation in Japan, both within and outside the government, insist that it is not about challenging the American alliance. In interviews, the current central figures in the case – including the foreign minister, Katsuya Okada; a retired Japanese diplomat who helped blow the whistle on the pacts’ existence; and the reporter who got the original scoop, Takichi Nishiyama, now 79 and still fighting to restore his reputation – described the investigation as an effort to expose agreements from the 1960s and early 1970s that were too old to have an impact on current diplomatic relations.
Mr. Okada and the others stressed that the existence of the treaties had already been made public in the United States. Some also said that the Japanese investigation was drawing attention only because it was so unusual for this nation to come clean about its past after years of obfuscation under the long-governing Liberal Democrats. They said the investigation was a highly symbolic gesture by the new government to make Japan’s stunted democracy more forthcoming and accountable to its own people. "The prime minister and I cannot just stand before Parliament and deny the secret treaties, as has been done until now," Mr. Okada said. "We are just doing what the United States has already done."
Diplomatic experts agree that exposing the treaties will have little or no direct effect on the alliance, partly because the United States announced in the early 1990s that it was no longer carrying nuclear weapons on most of its warships.
[…] Mr. Okada, the foreign minister, said he was aware of the criticism that the investigation was anti-American, which he called a misunderstanding. He said exposing the truth would actually strengthen the alliance by righting a past wrong that had led many Japanese to doubt the sincerity of their own government and the United States. "Telling the facts to the people is extremely important for democracy," he said, adding that the change in Japan’s government "is a great chance" to do so.
6) Ahmadinejad move signals wish for atom deal: envoy
Mark Heinrich, Reuters, Thursday, February 4, 2010; 1:59 PM
Vienna – The Iranian president’s announced readiness to send enriched uranium abroad signals a wish to cooperate for a deal with big powers to ease nuclear tension, Tehran’s envoy to the U.N. atomic agency said Thursday.
Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters he had not notified the International Atomic Energy Agency of any new Iranian position on the IAEA-brokered proposal, stalled for months by disputes over where and how to carry it out.
Russia, France and the United States, the other parties to the plan under which Iran would swap potential atom bomb material for fuel for nuclear medicine, want Tehran to inform the IAEA of Ahmadinejad’s gesture to prove he is serious.
Ahmadinejad said Tuesday Iran was now prepared to send low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad before getting reactor fuel back. Before, Tehran insisted on small swaps on its own soil. That would defeat the draft plan’s purpose of reducing Iran’s total LEU reserve below the quantity required to set off an atomic bomb, if it were refined to high purity.
7) Haiti Needs Sunlight and Accountability on Relief and Reconstruction Effort
Mark Weisbrot, Guardian, Monday 8 February 2010 21.01 GMT
[…] The Washington Post reported on 2 February that there are "hundreds of thousands of desperate people who apparently have not received food and shelter." The medical aid group Doctors Without Borders reports "increased cases of diarrhoea and skin rashes from the poor sanitary conditions of living outside" and warns that "rains could bring more serious diseases like typhoid, measles or dengue."
"Measles is the leading killer of children," says Unicef spokesman Kent Page. "In the conditions of these makeshift camps, if there was to be a measles outbreak it would spread like wildfire."
[…] Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that 33 cents of each US government dollar to Haiti goes to the military. There are already 6,000 US troops in Haiti, in addition to the 12,500 UN troops, and Washington has talked about deploying 20,000. This is clearly overkill. The AP reports just one cent of each US dollar is going to the Haitian government. This is also a serious problem. Haiti needs a government, and years of US and private efforts have destroyed most of it. Haitian government revenues, not including grants, are just 10% of GDP, more than 50% lower than most poorer countries in Africa, such as Rwanda, Mozambique, Niger and Burundi.
USAID is currently funnelling millions of US taxpayer dollars into questionable organisations such as Chemonics, Development Alternatives, Inc (DAI), and its own Office of Transition Initiatives, which has been involved in shady political activities in various countries where the US was opposing democratically elected governments.
It must be recalled that Washington, in collaboration with Canada and France, destroyed the Haitian government and wrecked the economy by cutting off international aid from 2000-2004, in order to overthrow the elected government. Thousands of supporters of that government were killed after the 2004 coup, and many imprisoned, including officials of the elected government. All this happened while UN forces were occupying the country. There was little outcry from Washington-based human rights organisations.
So human rights will also be an issue in the months and years ahead, as Haitians organise to have a voice in the reconstruction efforts and the future of their own country. This is especially true given that the country’s largest political party, Fanmi Lavalas, was excluded from the last national elections in April – leading to an 89% boycott according to the official count – and from the (now rescheduled) elections that were planned for this month. For all of these reasons, the US Congress and civil society will have to play a watchdog role.
8) ‘More Terror’ in Honduras, as Another Unionist Murdered
Kari Lydersen, In These Times, February 8
The body of 29-year-old Vanessa Yamileth Zepeda, still dressed in her nurse’s scrubs and killed by a bullet, turned up in the Loarque neighborhood of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on February 4. Zepeda had young children and was a leader of the SITRAIHSS labor union (Workers Union for the Honduran Social Security Institute). She had been abducted that afternoon while leaving a union meeting.
The administration of the newly inaugurated President Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo has called Zepeda’s murder and other recent attacks common crime. But the Honduran resistance movement – mobilized since the June 2009 coup against then-president Manuel Zelaya – see it as a clear message.
Trade unionists, especially public sector workers like Zepeda, are among the strongest and largest factions making up the resistance coalition. Opposition to powerful unions was apparently among the motivations for the coup in the first place, and all the country’s major union federations are part of the resistance front.
Unions are an impediment to neoliberal pushes to increase privatization, and foreign companies fear clashes with unions or unionizing efforts in Honduras’ maquila (factory) sector.
Since Lobo’s inauguration on January 27, there have been 10 to 15 assassinations of resistance members and leaders, according to Victoria Cervantes, a Chicago activist who recently returned from meeting with unionists and other groups in Honduras with the group La Voz de los de Abajo.
Since the coup, a number of people have been killed and thousands arrested and detained. Most of the previous deaths involved police and soldiers opening fire on crowds or attacking people in the midst of protests. Such open state violence has ebbed in recent weeks.
But the targeted kidnapping, torture and assassination of a handful of activists like Zepeda is more chilling and evokes hallmarks of the ruthless right-wing death squads of the 1980s in Central America and more recently in Colombia, according to human rights groups.
9) Netanyahu’s government tries to save settler house
Amy Teibel, Associated Press, Tuesday, February 9, 2010; 1:44 PM
Jerusalem – The Israeli government has stepped in to save a house built illegally by Jewish settlers in a volatile Palestinian neighborhood in east Jerusalem, complicating already troubled U.S. efforts to renew Mideast peacemaking. The move is meant to skirt a court order to evacuate and seal the house, thus easing settler anger over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to slow Jewish settlement construction. But it is likely to fuel new friction with the Palestinians, who hope to establish a future capital in that sector of the holy city.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israel’s latest attempts to entrench its presence in east Jerusalem only further discourages peace efforts. Israeli officials "know for sure that there will never be peace without east Jerusalem being the capital of Palestine," Erekat said Tuesday. "By undermining this, they’re undermining the peace process."
The latest controversy surrounds a seven-story building built by the ultranationalist settler group Ateret Cohanim in 2004 in the Silwan neighborhood. After years of legal battles, a court last July determined the structure was illegally built and ordered residents to leave.
Jerusalem’s Mayor Nir Barkat, who opposed the ruling, caved in last month and agreed to evacuate the building where eight families have been living under 24-hour government guard. But the evacuation orders were abruptly canceled Monday after Netanyahu’s interior minister reportedly decided to give the house – named for Jonathan Pollard, the American Jew convicted of spying in the U.S. for Israel – retroactive approval.
[…] In the West Bank city of Ramallah, Israeli troops confiscated computers, cameras and documents in a pre-dawn raid Monday at the office of a group coordinating Palestinian protests against Israel’s West Bank separation barrier, one of the group’s leaders, Jamal Jumaa, said Tuesday.
Israel’s military confirmed the raid on the office of the Stop The Wall group, claiming it is behind riots. Palestinians and Israeli human rights activists charged the army is trying to silence legitimate dissent. Protests against the barrier have intensified recently, along with an Israeli crackdown, including the arrests of Palestinian and foreign activists. Israel says the barrier is meant to keep Palestinian attackers out, while the Palestinians complain it juts into their territory.
10) Egypt arrests 3 top Muslim Brotherhood leaders
Paul Schemm, Associated Press, Monday, February 8, 2010; 3:32 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/08/AR2010020800670.html
Cairo – The No. 2 leader of Egypt’s opposition Muslim Brotherhood and two other top figures were arrested by police Monday in a dawn sweep targeting members of the nation’s most powerful opposition group. The arrests, part of an ongoing crackdown, come as the group recently chose a new leadership and ahead of parliamentary elections set for October.
Police arrested the new deputy leader, Mahmoud Ezzat, and two other members of the Guidance Council, Essam el-Erian and Abdul-Rahman el-Bir. A fourth member of the group’s top level decision making body was not home when police raided his house. At least 10 other members were also arrested in the provinces Monday.
"These arrests will not prevent the Brotherhood from the path it has chosen to achieve progress for the nation and it will continue its struggle through all available peaceful means to provide freedom and confront corruption and combat tyranny," the group said in a statement. The group suggested that the arrests were related to its support for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the upcoming parliamentary elections.
"This regime does not want a partner or a participant," in running the country, said spokesman Mohamed Morsi, describing the arrests as a continuation of the state’s "pressure and marginalization of the whole nation." Morsi said the arrests wouldn’t alter plans to participate in October’s parliamentary elections. Morsi said the men have not yet been charged and are awaiting interrogation. Police said they face charges of engaging in banned political activity – a standard government charge used against the group.
The London-based Amnesty International said the men arrested are considered "prisoners of conscience, detained solely for their peaceful political activities." The human rights watchdog called on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally release them.
It also urged the UN Human Rights Council, which is to scrutinize Egypt’s human rights record later this month, to give attention to the authorities’ continued misuse of emergency powers that allow for arbitrary and prolonged detentions to quash opposition at home. The emergency laws have been in place for nearly three decades.
The Brotherhood was banned in 1954 but is occasionally tolerated by the state. Its candidates are allowed to run for parliament as independents and in 2005 won 20 percent of the seats, making them Egypt’s largest opposition bloc.
[…] Within a year of the Brotherhood’s dramatic win of a fifth of the parliament seats in the 2005 election, the government launched a wide-ranging crackdown against the group, including the arrest of Khayrat el-Shater, the group’s third-ranking member, who works as the chief strategist and financier.
[…] In elections for municipal councils and parliament’s upper house following the 2005 vote, election officials disqualified Brotherhood candidates from running.
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