Just Foreign Policy News
March 1, 2010
Palestinians, Israelis, and Internationals Unite to Re-Open Shuhada Street
Since the 1994 massacre of 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, the IDF has instituted ever tightening restrictions on Palestinian movement throughout Hebron, and particularly on Shuhada Street where six settlement blocks were established. Today even Palestinian residents of Shuhada Street have to walk on complicated make-shift pathways on rooftops and climb over roadblocks to reach their home since walking or driving on the street is prohibited. On the anniversary of the massacre, Palestinians, Israelis, and internationals locked arms to try to re-open the street; video.
Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch: Debt Relief bill advances
The "Haiti Recovery Act" passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. The bill, introduced by Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) would eliminate Haiti’s outstanding debt to International Financial Institutions (IFI) and any debt incurred during relief efforts. Also, the bill would encourage IFIs to make available grants rather than loans "in order to end the debt-relief cycle."
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1) Japan’s Social Democratic Party, a junior partner in the governing coalition, will prioritize a plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture entirely out of the country, Kyodo News reports.
2) The UN General Assembly demanded credible Israeli and Palestinian investigations into U.N. allegations of war crimes in last year’s Gaza war, reflecting concerns that probes so far have fallen short, Reuters reports. There were 98 votes in favor, seven against and 31 abstentions. The US, Micronesia and Nauru joined Israel in voting no. No EU member voted against Friday’s resolution; some voted yes and some abstained. British Ambassador Grant said Israeli investigations so far were "not sufficient" and Palestinians also had not met their obligation to properly probe the allegations.
3) The Obama Administration has rejected proposals that the US declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, the New York Times reports. Some leading Democrats, led by Senator Feinstein, have asked Obama to declare that the "sole purpose" of the country’s nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack. "Any declaration that deterring a nuclear attack is a ‘primary purpose’ of our arsenal leaves open the possibility that there are other purposes, and it would not reflect any reduced reliance on nuclear weapons," said Daryl Kimball of the Arms Control Association. [It also would fail to bring the U.S. into compliance with the NPT, which forbids the nuclear weapons states from threatening non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons – JFP.]
4) Writing in Truthout, Ray McGovern suggests that the timing of Jundullah’s Oct. 18 terrorist attack in Iran helped derail US-Iran nuclear talks, raising the possibility that that outcome might have been a goal of the attack. McGovern notes longstanding allegations of U.S. ties to Jundullah, and the failure of the State Department to put Jundullah on its "terrorist list."
5) At least two of the suspects sought by Dubai police for the killing of a Hamas leader appear to have entered the U.S. shortly after his death, the Wall Street Journal reports. The U.A.E. government would seek the extradition of any suspects found in the U.S., said an Emirati official. Dubai police have identified two U.S. financial companies they believe issued and distributed several credit cards used by 14 of the suspects.
6) In a press release, the Washington Office on Latin America expressed concern about the escalation of severe human rights violations in Honduras. WOLA called for a thorough investigation of the abuses and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
7) The US has begun planning for a big offensive in Kandahar later this year, for which the assault on Majra is a "prelude," the Washington Post reports. Officials have said the Kandahar offensive probably will kick off in late spring or early summer.
8) Complaints by residents of Marjah about relatives killed and houses destroyed in the Marjah offensive highlight the challenge for NATO in making Marjah a model of counterinsurgency, AP reports.
9) Though he now endorses the exclusion of Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq from Iraq’s upcoming election for alleged Baathist sympathies, last fall Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki tried to recruit Mutlaq for Maliki’s electoral alliance, the New York Times reports.
10) When she meets with Latin American presidents, Secretary of State Clinton is expected to to face growing disappointment with the administration’s lack of resolve and initiative on climate change, trade, relations with Cuba and last year’s coup in Honduras, the New York Times reports. Few expect Clinton to persuade President Lula to vote for stiffer sanctions on Iran at the UN, the Times says. There has been heated speculation about why Argentina was left off Clinton’s itinerary, although she will meet President Fernández in Uruguay. Argentina is embroiled in a dispute with Britain over the Falklands; Britain has angered Argentina by authorizing British companies to begin exploratory drilling in nearby waters [and by failing to discuss the issue under UN auspices, as the UN has called for – JFP.] To Argentina’s chagrin, the US has taken no position on the dispute, the Times says.
11) A Constitutional Court ruling blocked a referendum on whether President Uribe should be allowed to seek a third consecutive term, AP reports. Uribe pledged to respect the ruling, which is not subject to appeal.
1) SDP To Push Overseas Relocation For Futenma
Kyodo News, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010
The Social Democratic Party will prioritize a plan to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa Prefecture entirely out of the country, such as to the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, party sources said. The plan is one of three options the SDP, one of the two junior partners in the governing coalition, is considering presenting to a government committee studying the relocation of the Futenma base.
But if the plan proves difficult to implement, the party will push two further proposals, which include accommodating drills and bases domestically. The SDP is likely to list about 10 domestic locations outside Okinawa as candidate sites, the sources said. But reservations about listing such sites remain within the party, as local governments that would be asked to accommodate drills and bases are likely to oppose the plans.
An existing relocation plan agreed between Japan and the United States stipulates that Futenma’s flight functions will be transferred to a new airfield to be built on the coastal area of the U.S. Marines Corps Camp Schwab in Nago, also in Okinawa. But Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s government is exploring the possibility of finding an alternative relocation site.
The SDP’s top option will call for relocating Futenma entirely to either Guam, Tinian in the Northern Mariana Islands, or Saipan. Under the party’s No. 2 option, the base would be moved to Guam, but drills would be accommodated domestically, while the third option calls for moving the base and drills elsewhere in Japan, the sources said.
Under the second and third proposals, the Futenma base would be closed down, but would still be used in emergencies. The use of domestic locations would also be limited for up to between five and 15 years, with the aim of moving all facilities out of the country eventually.
[…] The ruling coalition’s other junior partner, Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), is considering presenting two plans of its own to the panel, one of which would call for building a new airfield at Camp Schwab without resorting to sea reclamation.
2) U.N. assembly urges further Gaza war investigations
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, Friday, February 26, 2010; 1:29 PM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/26/AR2010022603345.html
United Nations – The General Assembly on Friday demanded credible Israeli and Palestinian investigations into U.N. allegations of war crimes in last year’s Gaza war, reflecting concerns that the probes so far have fallen short. The United Nations’ 192-nation assembly of member states approved the nonbinding Arab-drafted resolution with 98 votes in favor, seven against and 31 abstentions. Some 56 nations did not participate in the vote.
The Palestinian Authority’s permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, blamed a massive snowstorm that closed down schools and many businesses in New York for the poor attendance at the time of the vote. He added that the vote reflected "overwhelming" support for the Arab resolution.
The resolution calls for investigations that are "independent, credible and in conformity with international standards" into charges raised in a U.N. report last September by a panel headed by South African jurist Richard Goldstone. The Goldstone report said the Israeli army and Palestinian militants committed war crimes during the conflict from late December 2008 to mid-January 2009, but focused more on Israel.
Unlike an earlier resolution the assembly adopted in November 2009, Friday’s resolution set no deadline for the completion of the investigations. It did, however, request a report on Israeli and Palestinian compliance with the resolution from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon within five months, adding that "further action" by various U.N. bodies could follow.
[…] The United States and a few other countries like Micronesia and Nauru joined Israel in voting against Friday’s resolution.
The assembly’s November vote on the Goldstone Report divided the 27 European Union members into those that joined Israel and voted no, those that backed the Arabs and voted yes, and nations that abstained. No EU member voted against Friday’s resolution, though some voted yes and some abstained.
[…] The Israeli army has been conducting its own investigation of the allegations and the Palestinian Authority, which has no influence over the Gaza Strip, has promised to do so as well.
But Ban cast doubt on both sides’ investigations in a letter he sent to the General Assembly earlier this month, withholding judgment on whether their probes were credible.
[…] British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the Israeli investigations so far were "not sufficient, and there are still some concerns." He added that the Palestinians had also so far not met their obligation to properly probe the allegations.
3) White House Is Rethinking Nuclear Policy
David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, February 28, 2010
Washington – As President Obama begins making final decisions on a broad new nuclear strategy for the United States, senior aides say he will permanently reduce America’s arsenal by thousands of weapons. But the administration has rejected proposals that the United States declare it would never be the first to use nuclear weapons, aides said.
Mr. Obama’s new strategy – which would annul or reverse several initiatives by the Bush administration – will be contained in a nearly completed document called the Nuclear Posture Review, which all presidents undertake. Aides said Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates will present Mr. Obama with several options on Monday to address unresolved issues in that document, which have been hotly debated within the administration.
First among them is the question of whether, and how, to narrow the circumstances under which the United States will declare it might use nuclear weapons – a key element of nuclear deterrence since the cold war.
Mr. Obama’s decisions on nuclear weapons come as conflicting pressures in his defense policy are intensifying. His critics argue that his embrace of a new movement to eliminate nuclear weapons around the world is naïve and dangerous, especially at a time of new nuclear threats, particularly from Iran and North Korea. But many of his supporters fear that over the past year he has moved too cautiously, and worry that he will retain the existing American policy by leaving open the possibility that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a biological or chemical attack, perhaps against a nation that does not possess a nuclear arsenal.
[…] Other officials, not officially allowed to speak on the issue, say that in back-channel discussions with allies, the administration has also been quietly broaching the question of whether to withdraw American tactical nuclear weapons from Europe, where they provide more political reassurance than actual defense. Those weapons are now believed to be in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands.
[…] Some leading Democrats, led by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have asked Mr. Obama to declare that the "sole purpose" of the country’s nuclear arsenal is to deter nuclear attack. "We’re under considerable pressure on this one within our own party," one of Mr. Obama’s national security advisers said recently.
[…] Any compromise wording that leaves in place elements of the Bush-era pre-emption policy, or suggests the United States could use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear adversary, would disappoint many on the left wing of his party, and some arms control advocates.
"Any declaration that deterring a nuclear attack is a ‘primary purpose’ of our arsenal leaves open the possibility that there are other purposes, and it would not reflect any reduced reliance on nuclear weapons," said Daryl G. Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association. "It wouldn’t be consistent with what the president said in his speech in Prague" a year ago, when he laid out an ambitious vision for moving toward the elimination of nuclear weapons.
[…] While Mr. Obama ended financing last year for a new nuclear warhead sought by the Bush administration, the new strategy goes further. It commits Mr. Obama to developing no new nuclear weapons, including a low-yield, deeply-burrowing nuclear warhead that the Pentagon sought to strike buried targets, like the nuclear facilities in North Korea and Iran. Mr. Obama, officials said, has determined he could not stop other countries from seeking new weapons if the United States was doing the same.
Still, some of Mr. Obama’s critics in his own party say the change is symbolic because he is spending more to improve old weapons.
4) Iran Captures a "Good" Terrorist
Ray McGovern, Truthout, Saturday 27 February 2010
The Iranian government is celebrating the capture of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of a violent group called Jundallah (Arabic for Soldiers of God), which Tehran says is a terrorist organization supported by the United States, Great Britain and Israel. Jundallah is one of several groups that have been conducting bombings and other violent attacks against Iran’s Islamic regime with the aim of knocking it off balance.
In a July 7, 2008, article for The New Yorker magazine, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh quoted Robert Baer, a former CIA clandestine officer who worked in South Asia and the Middle East for nearly two decades, as saying that Jundallah was one of the militant groups in Iran benefiting from U.S. support. Hersh also reported that President George W. Bush signed an intelligence finding in late 2007 that allocated up to $400 million for covert operations intended to destabilize Iran’s government, in part, by supporting militant organizations.
Hersh identified another one of the militant groups with "long-standing ties" to the CIA and the U.S. Special Operations communities as the Mujahedin-e-Khalq, or MEK, which has been put on the State Department’s list of terrorist groups. But Jundallah has been spared that designation, a possible indication that the U.S. government views it as a valuable asset in the face-off against Iran, or in the parlance of the "war on terror," as one of the "good guys."
Gen. Mizra Aslam, Pakistan’s former Army chief, has charged that the U.S. has been supporting Jundallah with training and other assistance. But the U.S. government denies that it has aided Rigi or his group.
[…] Rigi’s capture represents an embarrassment for Western and Israeli intelligence, which have tried to stir up Iran’s minorities, comprising almost half of the population. Jundallah contends that it is protecting the rights of Sunnis in Shiite-dominated Iran. The unwelcome spotlight on Rigi and Jundallah threatens to bring out of the shadows a broader U.S. and Israeli strategy for regime change in Tehran, a goal that dates back at least to President Bush’s "axis of evil" speech in 2002.
According to this analysis, the fear about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon in a few years – if it decides to restart the weapons part of its nuclear development program – is largely a synthetic rationale for ratcheting up tensions, much as Bush’s claims about Iraq’s non-existent WMD were a pretext for regime change in Baghdad. Under such a scenario, "good guy" terrorists like Jundullah could be enlisted for purposes other than simple violence and disruption. For example, they could be used to sabotage any favorable Iranian response to President Barack Obama’s efforts toward engagement.
And this precisely is what Jundallah did last October, right after the Ahmadinejad government gave tangible proof that it was ready to engage on the nuclear issue in response to Obama’s call for negotiations.
On Oct. 1, 2009, Tehran shocked virtually everyone by agreeing to send most (as much as 75 percent) of its low-enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes. Even the New York Times acknowledged that this, "if it happens, would represent a major accomplishment for the West, reducing Iran’s ability to make a nuclear weapon quickly, and buying more time for negotiations to bear fruit."
Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, gave Tehran’s agreement "in principle," at a meeting in Geneva of representatives of members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, chaired by Javier Solana of the European Union. Reversing the Bush administration’s allergy to talking with "bad guys," Obama had sent Under Secretary of State William Burns to the Geneva meeting. A 45-minute tete-a-tete between Burns and Jalili marked the highest level U.S.-Iranian talks in three decades.
Jalili also expressed Iran’s agreement to open the newly revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qum to international inspection within two weeks, which Tehran did.
However, on Oct. 18, 2009, Jundullah detonated a car bomb at a meeting of top Iranian Revolutionary Guards commanders and tribal leaders in the province of Sistan-Baluchistan in southeastern Iran and mounted a roadside attack on a car full of Guards in the same area.
[…] The Oct. 18 attack – the bloodiest in Iran since the 1980-88 war with Iraq – came one day before talks were to resume at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to follow up on the Oct. 1 breakthrough. The killings surely raised Iran’s suspicions about U.S. sincerity regarding better relations.
It’s a safe bet that the Revolutionary Guards went directly to their patron, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, with evidence that the West cannot be trusted. Khamenei issued a statement on Oct. 19 condemning the terrorists, whom he charged "are supported by certain arrogant powers’ spy agencies."
The commander of the Guards’ ground forces, who lost his deputy in the attack, charged that the terrorists were "trained by America and Britain in some of the neighboring countries," and the commander-in-chief of the Revolutionary Guards threatened retaliation.
A lower-level Iranian technical delegation did go to Vienna for the meeting on Oct. 19, but Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away. The Iranians began to raise objections foreshadowing backsliding on their earlier commitment in principle to the export of most of their low-enriched uranium.
Still, since then, the Iranians have broached alternative proposals that seemed worth exploring – for example, sending for further enrichment smaller quantities of low-enriched uranium in stages.
However, the Obama administration has rejected these alternative proposals out of hand, reportedly at the instigation of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel and neocon regional emissary Dennis Ross, whose apparent priority is to avoid anything that might strengthen Ahmadinejad.
In other words, despite the rhetoric about the need to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, regime change appears to remain the transcendent goal of neocon-lite Democrats at the White House and in Hillary Clinton’s State Department.
5) Two Dubai Suspects Traveled to U.S.
Chip Cummins, Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2010
Dubai – At least two of the 26 suspects sought by Dubai police for the alleged killing of a top Hamas leader appear to have entered the U.S. shortly after his death, according to people familiar with the situation.
Records shared between international investigators show that one of the suspects entered the U.S. on Feb. 14, carrying a British passport, according to a person familiar with the situation. The other suspect, carrying an Irish passport, entered the U.S. on Jan. 21, according to this person. Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh’s body was found in a Dubai hotel room on Jan. 20.
There aren’t records of either man leaving the U.S., though investigators can’t be sure the two are still in the country, according to this person. Since the two were traveling with what investigators believe to be fraudulently issued passports, they may have traveled back out of the U.S. with different, bogus travel documents.
The suspected U.S. travel broadens to American shores the international manhunt triggered by Dubai’s investigation into the death of Mr. Mabhouh. Dubai police have already identified two U.S. financial companies they believe issued and distributed several credit cards used by 14 of the suspects in the alleged killing.
[…] The U.A.E. government would seek the extradition of any suspects found in the U.S., said an Emirati official.
[…] According to the person familiar with the matter, one of the suspects, traveling with a British passport identifying him as Roy Allan Cannon, entered the U.S. on Feb. 14. Another suspect, traveling as Irishman Evan Dennings, entered the country on Jan. 21, a day after Mr. Mabhouh’s body was discovered.
6) WOLA Deplores Escalation of Human Rights Violations in Honduras
Press Statement, Washington Office on Latin America, February 24, 2010
Washington, DC – The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) is deeply concerned about the escalation of severe human rights violations in Honduras. WOLA calls for an end to these attacks, for a thorough investigation of these criminal acts and for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Immediately following the inauguration of Porfirio Lobo on January 27, there has been a notable increase in attacks against people opposed to the June 28 coup d’état and their family members. They include:
– On February 24, Claudia Larissa Brizuela, a member of the opposition movement and mother of two, was murdered inside of her home by unidentified intruders. Her father, Pedro Brizuela, is a prominent opposition politician and journalist.
– On February 15, Julio Benitez, a member of the workers’ union (SANAA), was murdered outside of his home in a drive-by shooting in Colonia Brisas de Olancho.
– On February 12, Hermes Reyes, a member of an opposition group, was kidnapped and beaten by three paramilitaries. That same day, men who identified themselves as police looted the home of Porfirio Ponce, a union organizer and opposition activist.
– On February 10, a family of five in San Pedro Sula was abducted for five days. Two of the women were raped and all five were tortured. All are active members of the political opposition movement.
– In early February, two reporters were kidnapped by paramilitaries in Tegucigalpa. The paramilitaries physically abused the reporters and demanded that they divulge information about the opposition movement.
7) In Afghanistan, U.S. plans major push into Kandahar
Anne E. Kornblut and Greg Jaffe, Washington Post, Saturday, February 27, 2010; A08
Even as Marines in Afghanistan continued to fight for control of the Taliban stronghold of Marja, senior Obama administration officials said Friday that the United States has begun initial planning for a bigger, more complex offensive in Kandahar later this year.
The assault on Marja, the largest U.S.-NATO military operation since 2001, is a "prelude to larger, more comprehensive operations," senior Obama officials said Friday. Administration officials declined to say when the Kandahar offensive will begin, but military officials have said that it probably will kick off in late spring or early summer after additional U.S. forces have moved into the area.
"Bringing comprehensive population security to Kandahar City is really the centerpiece of operations this year, and, therefore, Marja is the prelude. It’s sort of a preparatory action," said one senior official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. U.S. officials telegraphed the Marja offensive for many weeks before it began, and they appear to be laying the same kind of groundwork before moving into Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city and the original base of Taliban leader Mohammad Omar.
8) Afghan complaints show obstacles ahead in war
Tini Tran, Associated Press, Monday, March 1, 2010; 3:15 PM
Marjah, Afghanistan – One by one, residents of Marjah stood up before Afghan officials Monday to voice complaints – their houses damaged, relatives killed during this month’s massive military offensive in southern Afghanistan.
The frank litany of problems – aired at a meeting called to affirm central government support – highlights the challenge in store for NATO and Afghan authorities as they seek to transform the former Taliban stronghold into a model for counterinsurgency.
Their visit occurred on a day when six NATO service members were killed in separate attacks around the country, showing that hard fighting lies ahead even if pacifying Marjah is successful. At least 10 Afghan civilians also died in a string of bombings in the south, officials said.
[…] But the townspeople appeared skeptical – and some were angry.
An elderly man, wearing a gray turban, stood up to say that his family members had been killed during the military operation, although he didn’t say by whom. After offering his condolences, Khalili reached out to embrace him and promised some money and assistance to his family.
Another elderly man, dressed in a white turban and blue tunic, complained that his house was destroyed during the offensive. "You promised not to use big weapons. Why was my house destroyed?" he asked.
9) Vote Seen As Pivotal Test For Both Iraq And Maliki
Steven Lee Myers, New York Times, February 28, 2010
Baghdad – A few months ago, building on genuine if not universal popularity, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki appeared poised to win a second term as Iraq’s prime minister. Now, as Iraqis prepare to vote in parliamentary elections on March 7, his path to another four years in office has become increasingly uncertain, his campaign erratic and, to some, deeply troubling.
[…] His strategy of building a grand political coalition representing all of Iraq’s sects and ethnicities was co-opted by most of his challengers – with better success, arguably, in the case of a coalition led by a former prime minister, Ayad Allawi, a Shiite who has assembled the strongest cadre of Sunni parties behind him.
Among those Mr. Maliki unsuccessfully lobbied to join his coalition last fall was the most prominent Sunni subsequently knocked off the ballot, Saleh al-Mutlaq.
[…] A Shiite-led vilification of the Baath Party, which resulted in the surprise disqualification of scores of candidates last month, prompted Mr. Maliki to intensify his own statements to rally the Shiite votes he needs, even as it alienated the Sunnis he had once hoped to win over by appealing to a national Iraqi identity.
When an appeals court initially reversed the disqualifications, Mr. Maliki denounced the ruling as illegal. Then two days later he reversed himself after meeting with the country’s top judge, in what was criticized as inappropriate interference.
"A naked power play with sectarian overtones in that its most prominent victims are Sunni Arabs," the International Crisis Group wrote of the disqualifications in a report released on Thursday, "it also reopened old wounds and cast a troubling light on Maliki, who only a year ago had won votes by eschewing sectarian rhetoric and has pledged to stitch together a broad nonsectarian electoral alliance."
Mr. Shabander, the lawmaker, said that Mr. Maliki sincerely believed in overcoming the country’s sectarian divide but that the politics of the de-Baathification forced him to cover his Shiite flank. "The prime minister was not strong," he said, "because he retreated easily."
10) Quake Overshadows Clinton Tour of Region
Ginger Thompson and Alexei Barrionuevo, New York Times, February 28, 2010
Washington – Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s five-nation Latin American tour, which begins Monday and is meant in part to address regional tensions, is instead likely to be overshadowed by the response to Chile’s earthquake and efforts to line up support for the American campaign to isolate Iran. Mrs. Clinton is expected to stop in Santiago, Chile, on Tuesday to meet with President Michelle Bachelet and President-elect Sebastián Piñera, the first conservative politician to rise to power there since the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
[…] Mrs. Clinton also plans stops in Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala to meet an array of newly elected leaders who embody the region’s diverse political currents. But whether meeting with presidents on the left or right, she is expected to face growing disappointment with what they see as the Obama administration’s lack of resolve and initiative on a variety of issues, including climate change, trade, relations with Cuba and last year’s coup in Honduras.
For the United States, one of the most critical meetings will be in Brazil, where Mrs. Clinton will press President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to vote for stiffer sanctions against Iran at the United Nations Security Council. The sanctions are meant to pressure Iran into ending its nuclear program, which the United States says it believes is intended to produce weapons.
Brazil, which holds a rotating seat on the Security Council, has said it opposes further sanctions. It recently moved to expand its ties with the Islamic government in Tehran and has been a vocal advocate for engagement over isolation.
[…] Few foreign policy experts expect Mrs. Clinton to persuade Mr. da Silva, who they said views Iran as a small but significant factor in Brazil’s rising prominence on the world stage, and for whom staring down the United States curries favor with his leftist base during an election year. "Brazil is striking out on its own with Iran," said Christopher Sabatini, senior director for policy at the Council of the Americas in New York. "It’s made clear it won’t do the bidding of the United States."
[…] There is little surprise that Mrs. Clinton will not make stops in Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, whose leaders have been strident opponents of the United States. But there has been heated speculation about why Argentina, South America’s second power, was left off the itinerary, although Mrs. Clinton will meet the president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, in Uruguay.
Argentina is currently embroiled in a dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands in the south Atlantic. The two countries fought a brief war over the islands in 1982, and now Britain, which won the war, has angered Argentina by authorizing British companies to begin exploratory drilling in nearby waters.
To Argentina’s chagrin, the United States has taken no position on the dispute.
11) Colombia election open as court blocks Uribe run
Libardo Cardona, Associated Press, Saturday, February 27, 2010; 3:36 AM http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/02/27/AR2010022700523.html
Bogota – Colombia’s presidential race is wide open after a Constitutional Court ruling that blocks a referendum on whether Alvaro Uribe should be allowed to seek a third consecutive term. The hugely popular Uribe, one of the strongest U.S. allies in South America, had not said he wanted to run again, and he went on national television to say he would respect Friday’s ruling.
[…] In a 7-2 decision that is not subject to appeal, the high court ruled that a law passed by Congress to set up the referendum was unconstitutional.
Now the jockeying will begin for the May 30 presidential election to succeed Uribe when his term ends Aug. 7. There are many viable candidates, including Juan Manuel Santos, Uribe’s defense minister during the spectacular July 2008 rescue of rebel hostages Ingrid Betancourt and three U.S military contractors. There is also Uribe’s main leftist nemesis, Sen. Gustavo Petro.
What Colombia lacks is a front-runner because Uribe has, even when there were doubts the Constitutional Court would endorse the re-election referendum, continued to be the single most dominating force in Colombian politics.
The conservative president is highly popular for seriously weakening leftist rebels, although he has also been criticized by human rights activists for allying with politicians who collaborated closely with far-right death squads. First elected in 2002, the 57-year-old Uribe won re-election four years later after allies in Congress pushed through a law amending the constitution so he could run again.
[…] In announcing the decision after seven hours of deliberations, the Constitutional Court’s president, Mauricio Gonzalez, said justices found a number of irregularities in the passage of the referendum law. He said that taken together, the anomalies amounted to "a grave violation of democratic principles like transparency and voter rights." The court objected to, among other things, the fact that the money spent to obtain the signatures required for the referendum law exceeded the legal maximum.
Influential Colombians from leading industrialists to the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno, had opposed a third term for Uribe – not because they were unhappy with his tenure, but because they said a third term would hurt democratic stability.
Even the U.S. government, a strong backer of Uribe in his fights with leftist rebels and cocaine traffickers, suggested it was time for him to relinquish power. During a visit by Uribe to the White House last year, U.S. President Barack Obama politely suggested in front of reporters that two terms was plenty, citing the example of the first president of his country, George Washington.
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