Just Foreign Policy News
April 30, 2010
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Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Urge your representatives to support the Feingold-McGovern-Jones bill for a timetable for military withdrawal. (H.R.5015/ S.3197)
If we can get 100 co-sponsors in the House in the next few weeks, we may able to get on a vote on a withdrawal timetable when the House considers the supplemental.
New House co-sponsors: Twenty-five new House co-sponsors were listed today, including Donna Edwards and Keith Ellison, bringing the total to 63.
Be the Media: Raise the Profile of the Afghanistan Withdrawal Bill
Write a letter to your local newspaper, urging support for the McGovern bill and a timeline for U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Atrocities in Afghanistan: A Troubling Timetable
Kathy Kelly and Dan Pearson provide a list of events showing a pattern: U.S./NATO officials first distribute misleading information about victims of an attack and later acknowledge that the victims were unarmed civilians.
1) Nato’s most senior civilian official said US and NATO troops deployed in Afghanistan can expect to be engaged in a combat role for three or four more years, the Guardian reports. Thereafter, they could be expected to remain in Afghanistan, training and mentoring local forces, for a further 10 to 15 years. President Karzai is due to visit Washington on May 10.
2) The US has given assurances to encourage the Palestinians to join indirect peace talks, including an offer to consider allowing UN security council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity, the Guardian reports. It was understood that meant the US would abstain from voting on a resolution rather than use its veto. This last happened during the Clinton Administration in October 2000 when the US abstained in a vote over a resolution about the outbreak of the second intifada which strongly criticised Israeli "provocation."
3) A U.S. night raid that killed a relative of Afghan parliamentarian Safia Siddiqi was conducted without informing the local police, the Los Angeles Times reports.
4) The most significant revelation in the Pentagon’s Afghanistan report this week is that Gen. McChrystal and ISAF acknowledge officially that Taliban insurgents dominate a vast contiguous zone of heavily populated territory across southern Afghanistan that McChrystal regards as the most critical area in the country, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service. The report admits that the population in key districts across most southern provinces is sympathetic to or supportive of the insurgents.
5) The Pentagon’s report on the last six months in Afghanistan suggests the situation is little better over all than it was six months ago despite enormous expenditures of effort, money and lives by US and international forces, the New York Times reports. The report is mandated by Congress every six months.
6) Western diplomats said Turkey and Brazil are trying to revive a stalled atomic fuel deal with Iran to help Iran avoid new U.N. sanctions, Reuters reports. China and Russia are ready to give the Brazilians and Turks the time they need to broker a deal, U.N. diplomats said. Western diplomats made clear they were not happy about a development that will likely delay a U.N. sanctions vote.
7) The House approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico’s relationship with the US, including a transition to statehood or independence, the Washington Post reports. Eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the US, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction. If a majority are in favor of change, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote, and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the US. The bill must now must be considered by the Senate.
8) Colombia’s relations with the U.S. were a hot topic in a debate of presidential candidates this week, notes Colombia Reports. To kick off the debate, candidates were asked, if elected as president would they renegotiate Colombia’s controversial military bases agreement with the U.S., in order to resolve tensions with Venezuela. Partido de la U’s candidate Juan Manuel Santos replied "of course I wouldn’t renegotiate it, since it was I who negotiated it in the first place." Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus stressed that Colombia’s relationship with one nation should not influence its relations with another because "they are two separate relations."
9) The Mexican Senate passed a measure to make soldiers accountable to civilian courts for abuses involving civilians, and ensure the use of troops in actions like the offensive against drug cartels is temporary, AP reports. The legislation now goes to Congress’ lower house, the Chamber of Deputies. [Moving such cases to civilian courts has been a longstanding demand of human rights groups – JFP.]
1) Afghanistan Forces Face Four More Years Of Combat, Warns Nato Official
Nato’s top civilian official in Afghanistan warns of further deaths in ‘very tough year’ for British and other foreign troops
Richard Norton-Taylor, Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010 19.43 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/29/afghanistan-combat-nato-official
British and other foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan face a "very tough" time ahead and can expect to be engaged in a combat role for three or four more years, Nato’s most senior civilian official in the country said today. Mark Sedwill, a former UK ambassador to Afghanistan, warned of further troop deaths in the region, saying: "We cannot allow judgment of success to be the absence of casualties."
[…] There was a gap between public opinion, with polls reflecting growing sceptism about Nato-led operations in Afghanistan, and the political leadership in Nato countries, Sedwill said.
Casualties among British and other Nato troops have increased significantly over recent years. More than 100 UK troops were killed and over 150 seriously wounded in Afghanistan last year, more than double the numbers for 2008. Thirty-three have been killed so far this year. "Expect 2010 to be again a very tough year", Sedwill said.
British and other Nato troops could be expected to be engaged in combat roles for "another three or four years", he said. Thereafter, they could be expected to remain in Afghanistan, training and mentoring local forces, for a further 10 to 15 years.
[…] As Nato and Afghan forces prepare for their Kandahar operation, the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, is due to visit Washington on 10 May. Later that month he is due to preside over a peace jirga of tribal and community leaders, designed to boost a much-discussed reconciliation and reintegration process.
2) US gives Abbas private assurances over Israeli settlements
Americans consider withholding veto protecting Israel at UN if building goes ahead at Ramat Shlomo
Rory McCarthy, Guardian, Thursday 29 April 2010 19.24 BST http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/29/israel-settlement-building-peace-talks
Jerusalem – The US has given private assurances to encourage the Palestinians to join indirect Middle East peace talks, including an offer to consider allowing UN security council condemnation of any significant new Israeli settlement activity, the Guardian has learned.
The assurances were given verbally in a meeting a week ago between a senior US diplomat and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas. Since then – and after months of US diplomacy – it appears Israeli and Palestinian leaders are close to starting indirect "proximity" talks, which would be the first resumption of the Middle East peace process since Israel’s war in Gaza began in late 2008.
There was no official confirmation of the details of the meeting and Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, denied assurances were given. "It’s not true," he said. "We are still talking to the Americans."
But a Palestinian source, who was given a detailed account of the meeting, said David Hale, the deputy of the US special envoy, George Mitchell, told Abbas that Barack Obama wanted to see the peace process move forward with the starting of indirect talks. The diplomat said Washington understood there were obstacles and described Israeli settlement construction as "provocative".
He told Abbas the Americans had received assurances from the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, that one particular settlement project in East Jerusalem, at Ramat Shlomo, would not go ahead, at least for now. The site is important because last month an agreement on indirect talks collapsed within a day of being announced, after Israeli officials gave planning approval for 1,600 new homes in the settlement. The US vice-president, Joe Biden, who was in Jerusalem at the time, condemned the Israeli announcement in unusually strong language.
Hale then told Abbas that if there was significantly provocative settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, Washington may consider allowing the UN security council to censure Israel. It was understood that meant the US would abstain from voting on a resolution rather than use its veto.
Any US decision not to veto a resolution critical of Israel would be very unusual and a rare sign of American anger towards its long-time ally. However, it was not clear what may constitute significantly provocative activity. Palestinian officials asked in the meeting, but were not given an explicit definition, the source said.
In a New York Times opinion piece this week it was suggested that a letter was given to Abbas offering an unprecedented US commitment to the Palestinians and saying Washington would not stand in the way of a UN resolution condemning Israeli actions. But the Palestinian source told the Guardian that the assurances were only verbal and were not in letter form because the US wanted the details kept secret.
[…] For decades the US has vetoed UN security council resolutions that are critical of its ally Israel. However, occasionally the US either abstains from voting or votes in favour of sometimes strongly worded resolutions. This last happened in October 2000 when the US abstained in a vote over a resolution about the outbreak of the second intifada, the Palestinian uprising, which strongly criticised Israeli "provocation". The last time this happened regularly was between 1990 and 1992, when George Bush Sr was US president and when relations with Israel were particularly bad. His administration voted in favour of six resolutions critical of Israel.
3) Afghans protest after lawmaker’s relative is killed in raid
Shouting ‘Death to America!’ several hundred take to the streets after the brother-in-law of Safia Siddiqi dies in a confrontation with joint NATO and Afghan forces.
Aimal Yaqubi, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2010, 7:10 PM PDT,
Kabul, Afghanistan – Several hundred people hit the streets Thursday shouting "Death to America!" after NATO and Afghan forces raided a lawmaker’s home in eastern Afghanistan the night before and allegedly killed the woman’s brother-in-law.
[…] Safia Siddiqi, a member of the parliament, said witnesses told her that about 100 coalition troops stormed her house around midnight. She was not home at the time.
Siddiqi said the troops divided 15 members of her family into groups, faced several against the wall, handcuffed them, seized their cellphones and photographed and fingerprinted them. At some point, she said, the troops opened fire on her brother-in-law. "I don’t know why they did this," she said. "I’m a parliamentarian. Today it was my house, tomorrow somebody else’s. I will fight this as hard as I can, so they don’t keep doing this."
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said in a statement that a joint operation with Afghan forces Wednesday night killed "one armed individual while pursuing a Taliban facilitator." The person who was killed ignored hand signals and verbal commands through an Afghan interpreter to lower his weapon, NATO said, without identifying the person. When the individual raised his weapon and aimed it at the troops, NATO said, he was shot and killed.
Ghafor Khan, a police spokesman in Nangarhar province, said an angry crowd blocked a nearby highway for two hours after the shooting. He also said the raid was conducted without informing local police.
4) Pentagon Map Shows Wide Taliban Zone in the South
Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service, Apr 30
Washington – The Pentagon was still trying to spin its report on the war in Afghanistan issued this week as holding out hope because the instability had leveled off, even as some news outlets were noting that it documents the continued expansion of Taliban capabilities and operations.
The most significant revelation in the report, however, is that Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal and the U.S.-NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) joint command now acknowledge officially that the Taliban insurgents dominate a vast contiguous zone of heavily populated territory across southern Afghanistan that McChrystal regards as the most critical area in the country.
The report admits that the population in key districts across most southern provinces is sympathetic to or supportive of the insurgents.
The contiguous zone of Taliban political power stretches all the way across the 13 provinces from Farah province in the far west of the country through Helmand and Kandahar to Wardak, Logar, Paktia and Khost provinces west and south of Kabul.
The extent of Taliban political power in southern Afghanistan, which had not been acknowledged previously by ISAF, is documented in a map showing an "overall assessment of key districts" as of Mar. 18.
5) U.S. Report On Afghan War Finds Few Gains In 6 Months
Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 29, 2010
Kabul, Afghanistan – A Pentagon report on the last six months in Afghanistan portrays an Afghan government with limited credibility among its people, a still active if not growing insurgency and an enormous reliance on American troops to train, outfit and finance the country’s defense forces for the foreseeable future.
The report, released on Wednesday, is mandated by Congress every six months. It points to some improvements, including an increased optimism among Afghans about their government and the slowing of the insurgency in places where NATO troops have concentrated their efforts.
But an array of measures suggest that the situation is little better over all than it was six months ago despite enormous expenditures of effort, money and lives by the American and international forces.
"This is, I think, a very serious and sober report," a senior Pentagon official said at a news briefing on Thursday in Washington, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
"For the last several years we’ve seen this very steep increase in areas that the Taliban control, areas that feel threatened," the official said, according to a transcript provided by the Defense Department. "People’s perception of security was getting worse. That’s leveling off."
Still, according to some of the report’s diagrams, insurgent activity in the last six months has spread to several areas where it had not previously been a major factor.
6) Turkey, Brazil brokering Iran nuclear deal
Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, Friday, April 30, 2010; 3:21 PM
United Nations – Turkey and Brazil are trying to revive a stalled atomic fuel deal with Iran in an attempt to help the Islamic Republic avoid new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program, Western diplomats said on Friday.
China and Russia – which reluctantly joined the United States, Britain, France and Germany in negotiating a draft resolution that would impose a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Tehran – are ready to give the Brazilians and Turks the time they need to broker a deal, U.N. diplomats said.
Western diplomats made clear they were not happy about a development that will likely delay a U.N. sanctions vote in New York. Washington had hoped to have a final draft ready ahead of a May 3-28 meeting on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, but diplomats say negotiations could run into June at least.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the diplomats said that nonpermanent Security Council members Brazil and Turkey had helped broker an Iranian counteroffer to a U.N. proposal to enable Iran to refuel an aging research reactor in Tehran that makes isotopes for cancer treatment.
Under the original offer, Iran would have sent most of its enriched uranium stocks out of the country for up to year for further enrichment and processing in Russia and France. After agreeing in principle in October, Tehran balked at the offer.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki presented the Iranian counterproposal, which Western diplomats said was unlikely to be acceptable to them, during a meeting on Sunday with U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano.
Brazil and Turkey have already expressed their willingness to mediate in the standoff between Iran and the West over its nuclear program. It was not immediately clear how long Russia and China were willing to give the two countries to revive the nuclear fuel deal.
[…] U.N. ambassadors from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany have been meeting regularly in New York to reach a deal on a draft resolution for the full council. But diplomats say that the six powers are far from in agreement as Russia and China push to dilute the punitive measures in a U.S.-drafted sanctions proposal. Russian and Chinese diplomats are negotiating "line-by-line" and checking with their finance ministries on every detail, an envoy said.
7) House passes bill to let Puerto Rico weigh status
Jim Abrams, Washington Post, Friday, April 30, 2010; A03
The House on Thursday approved legislation that could set in motion changes in Puerto Rico’s 112-year relationship with the United States, including a transition to statehood or independence.
The House bill would give the 4 million residents of the island commonwealth a two-step path to expressing how they envision their political future. It passed 223 to 169 and now must be considered by the Senate.
Initially, eligible voters, including those born in Puerto Rico but residing in the United States, would vote on whether they wish to keep their current political status or opt for a different direction.
If a majority are in favor of changing the current situation, the Puerto Rican government would be authorized to conduct a second vote, and people would choose among four options: statehood, independence, the current commonwealth status or sovereignty in association with the United States. Congress would have to vote on whether Puerto Rico becomes a state.
8) Colombia’s international relations a presidential debate hot topic.
Kirsten Begg, Colombia Reports, Wednesday, 28 April 2010 07:43
Colombia’s relations with Venezuela, Ecuador and the U.S. was the hot topic in the three hour live debate held Tuesday night between the Andean nation’s aspiring presidential candidates.
To kick off the debate, organized by Citytv, El Tiempo and W Radio, candidates were asked, if elected as president would they renegotiate Colombia’s controversial military bases agreement with the U.S., in order to resolve tensions with Venezuela.
Partido de la U’s candidate Juan Manuel Santos replied "of course I wouldn’t renegotiate it, since it was I who negotiated it in the first place. As I said in a recent interview: this is a storm in a teacup. Anyone who reads the agreement will realize that the pact is a continuation of what was being done with Plan Colombia, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that could lead a country to think that it [the agreement] could be used to attack them."
Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus said, "It is not all prudent that potential presidents of Colombia comment on the matter at this time. Venezuela has not yet asked us [Colombia] to renegotiate the agreement with the U.S., President Uribe already made the agreement… There are many reasons to favor our relations with the U.S., but we shouldn’t take out to dance an issue that is already resolved."
Mockus also stressed that Colombia’s relationship with one nation should not influence its relations with another because "they are two separate relations."
Conservative Party candidate Noemi Sanin said that she thought signing the agreement was unnecessary and lacked diplomacy, but was important in the sense that it enabled Colombian access to the latest technology. Sanin said as president should would prioritize the normalization of Colombia’s relations with Ecuador and Venezuela.
Liberal Party candidate Rafael Pardo said that although he did not approve of the agreement, as president, he would not change a pact that had already been signed because to do so could be damaging to international relations.
Cambio Radical’s candidate German Vargas Lleras said he would not revise the agreement because it acts as an instrument to deter Venezuela from attacking Colombia.
Polo Democratico’s Gustavo Petro said he would renegotiate the agreement, because as it stands it "is not valid." According to Petro, the Colombian constitution requires the treaty to be approved by Colombia congress (which it was not), in order to be effective.
Colombia’s signing of the agreement, which grants the U.S. to seven military bases around Colombia, created discord in the region. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been particularly critical of the pact, saying that it threatens Venezuelan and regional soverignty. Colombia-Venezuela relations are currently frozen as a result.
9) Mexico Senate: Army Abuse Cases in Civilian Courts
Associated Press, April 27, 2010, 10:31 p.m. ET
Mexico City – The Mexican Senate passed a measure Tuesday to make soldiers accountable to civilian courts for abuses involving civilians, and ensure the use of troops in actions like the offensive against drug cartels is temporary. The legislation now goes to Congress’ lower house, the Chamber of Deputies, for consideration.
Mexico’s army has increasingly been used to perform policing duties in the drug war, and complaints have piled up about illegal detentions, searches and shootings by soldiers.
Under the current legal rules, soldiers who allegedly commit abuses while on duty are tried in military courts; abuses committed off duty go to civilian courts.
The bill passed by the Senate on a 105-1 vote would make it mandatory for soldiers accused of such offenses be tried in civilian courts.
It would also require time limits on the use of troops for domestic security assignments, Currently, their use is at the discretion of the president.
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