Just Foreign Policy News
May 5, 2010
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VIDEO: Urge Congress to End the War in Afghanistan
Just Foreign Policy has made a short video to help publicize the McGovern bill and the importance of a timetable for military withdrawal from Afghanistan. Watch; spread.
Current McGovern House co-sponsors: 64.
Ron Paul is on the bill. Tell all your Paulista friends. See the spreadsheet here, listing the co-sponsors.
Who are the Kucinich 21?
Peace groups are working to get 100 co-sponsors on the McGovern bill. Currently, there are 64. If you look at the spreadsheet on noescalation.org, you see that there are 21 Members who voted a month ago for the Kucinich resolution – "out in 30 days" – who have not yet co-sponsored the McGovern bill. Who are they? Chu, Clay, Cleaver, Doyle, Gutiérrez, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Larson, Markey, Miller, Neal, Obey, Polis, Quigley, Rangel, Sanchez, Sanchez, Speier, Tierney, Towns, Tsongas, Velázquez, Waters.
Jubilee USA: Urge Congress to Support the Jubilee Debt Cancellation Act
HR 4405. The Jubilee Act will expand eligibility for 100 percent debt cancellation to 65 impoverished countries in the Global South, and presses for that cancellation not to be conditioned on harmful IMF/World Bank economic policies.
1) Iran has agreed "in principle" to an offer by Brazil to mediate its stalled nuclear fuel swap deal with the West, CNN reports. Brazil has said it "will not bend" to U.S. pressure to seek new sanctions against Iran.
2) A drumbeat is starting to sound across Afghanistan in favor of talking to the Taliban, reports Jonathan Steele in the Guardian. The idea is coming to be seen as the only credible way to end an ever-widening war, Steele writes. The proposed agenda of negotiations is not a Taliban surrender, but an offer to share power in Kabul. Even among Afghanistan’s small but determined group of woman professionals, the notion of making a deal is no longer anathema. A desperate desire for peace is trumping concern over human rights. If Afghan women now overwhelmingly want talks with the Taliban, the same is true of many of the country’s male politicians, particularly the Pashtun. They want "a rebalancing of forces" in Afghan society. Diplomats say Obama has not even authorised the CIA to put out feelers to the Taliban leadership on a "deniable" basis, a common way of initiating contacts. Nor has he begun to prepare the American public for the notion that the Taliban may not be demons but necessary negotiating partners.
3) The recent tension between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over the stalled Middle East peace process has raised serious questions about whether the traditional leadership of the American Jewish world is fully supported by the mass of American Jews, Paul Vitello reports for the New York Times. In the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Obama, and surveys have suggested that most continue to back his policies. In a survey taken after the diplomatic skirmish of March, the American Jewish Committee found little change in the level of Jewish support for Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, said: "The majority of American Jews support the president, support the two-state solution and do not feel that they have been well represented by organizations that demand obedience to every wish of the Israeli government. If you had taken their word for it, Obama should have gotten 12 percent of the Jewish vote. But he got 80. That should say something."
4) The idea of establishing the Middle East as a zone free of nuclear weapons has emerged as a central issue at the NPT review conference, AP reports. The US has long endorsed the idea. But now Secretary of State Clinton says the US is "prepared to support practical measures for moving toward that objective." The U.S. and Israel are discussing what such "practical measures" might be, said a Western diplomatic source.
5) Western oil executives and Iranian analysts say Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is assuming a leading role in developing the country’s petroleum sector as a direct result of Western sanctions driving foreign companies out, Thomas Erdbrink reports for the Washington Post. "The Revolutionary Guards are smiling at the idea of new sanctions against Iran," said a Western executive who represents one of the world’s largest oil companies. "Sanctions against the industry or preventing foreign companies from selling gasoline to Iran will mean more money, power and influence for the Guards," he said.
6) An agreement to form an alliance between Iranian-backed Shiite blocs gives the final say on political disputes to Iraq’s top clerics, AP reports. Most of the provisions in the agreement appear designed to limit the power of the prime minister, AP says. The Sadrists want to scale back the powers al-Maliki has built up during his premiership.
7) The Israeli defense establishment has learned that settler extremists in the West Bank intend to vandalize mosques to protest the destruction of outposts and official measures taken against right-wing activists, Haaretz reports. Arson was suspected in a fire in a mosque near Nablus.
8) South American leaders threatened to pull out of a scheduled EU-Latin American summit in Spain if Honduras President Lobo attends, the BBC reports. An aide to Brazilian leader Lula da Silva said: "If Honduras attends, then at least 10 Latin American presidents will not go to Madrid, starting with the president of Brazil."
9) Honduras has set up a Truth and Reconciliation commission aimed at drawing a line under last year’s coup, AFP reports. Washington welcomed the move, but Honduran rights groups slammed the reconciliation commission for failing to include abuses committed around the June 28 coup. Honduran activist Bertha Oliva said rights groups were setting up an alternative truth commission in Honduras.
10) Backtracking on a prominent campaign pledge, Prime Minister Hatoyama told angry residents of Okinawa it was unrealistic to expect the US to move its entire Marine Corps air base off the island, the New York Times reports. While Hatoyama has tried to accommodate the competing desires of the U.S. government and local residents, he finally had to admit it could not be done.
11) Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan opened a criminal investigation into whether a son of the former president illegally profited from contracts supplying jet fuel to a US air base, the New York Times reports. Kyrgyz officials have accused the US of using the fuel distribution system to curry favor with the former president in order to hold on to the air base.
1) Report: Iran agrees to Brazilian nuclear talks offer
Report: Brazil offers to mediate in talks over nuclear fuel swap between Iran, West
CNN, May 5, 2010
Iran has agreed "in principle" to an offer by Brazil to mediate its stalled nuclear fuel swap, Iranian media reported Wednesday. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the announcement in a phone conversation with his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez, the semi-official Fars news agency said. The news agency said Iran and Brazil will now work out the technical details of the offer.
[…] The five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany offered Iran a deal last October: send the low-level uranium out of the country to be enriched elsewhere in exchange for fuel for its reactor. Tehran did not accept and instead made a counteroffer: make the swap a simultaneous one and carry it out on Iranian soil.
The U.S. State Department called the Iranian proposal a stalling tactic and said world powers would not "front" the fuel to Iran. A stalemate ensued. The United States is now seeking support for expanded sanctions, saying Iran is unlikely to negotiate unless sanctions are in place.
Brazil – which shares a table on the U.N. Security Council, where it holds a non-veto seat – has said it "will not bend" to U.S. pressure to seek sanctions. It has said it will try to help revive the stalled deal to help Iran avoid fresh sanctions.
2) Afghanistan: is it time to talk to the Taliban?
Until recently it seemed an absurd idea. But now, eight years after its overthrow, is negotiating with the Taliban the only realistic way forward?
Jonathan Steele, Guardian, Tuesday 4 May 2010 21.00 BST
Eight years after they were overthrown by US air power, a drumbeat is starting to sound across Afghanistan in favour of talking to the Taliban, the country’s once-hated former rulers. An idea that used to seem absurd, if not defeatist, is coming to be seen as the only credible way to end an ever-widening war. Moreover, the proposed agenda of negotiations is not a Taliban surrender, but an offer to share power in Kabul.
President Hamid Karzai and other senior Afghan politicians support the idea. So too do a growing number of foreign governments, including Britain’s – at least tentatively – now that British troops are being killed at twice the rate they were in early 2009.
Perhaps most surprisingly, even among Afghanistan’s small but determined group of woman professionals, the notion of making a deal with the ultra-conservative men who forced them into burkas and denied them the right to work outside the home is no longer anathema. A desperate desire for peace is trumping concern over human rights.
[…] I was one of the few journalists in Kabul as the Taliban swept up from Kandahar to take control of the Afghan capital in 1996, prompting the mujahideen warlords to abandon resistance and flee. The sudden shift left everyone stunned, but the crowds that came out to watch the Taliban’s pick-up trucks roaring around the streets were mainly supportive. The bearded young Islamists with their promise of social justice seemed to offer an end to the fighting between rival mujahideen leaders that had devastated large parts of the city and forced hundreds of thousands into refugee camps abroad.
[…] Young Taliban gunmen ran into hospitals, ordering male doctors to grow beards and female doctors to go home. Burkas, once worn only by poorer women in the bazaar, became compulsory for all women. Taliban thugs flayed the ankles of anyone who showed even an inch of bare skin below the regulation new hemlines. But even as repression grew women could still be heard saying that their family’s new-found safety from the civil war’s shells and rocket-fire made it worth it.
A similar calculus of security-versus-rights is re-emerging now. Three years ago, when I was last in Kabul and the Taliban were only just starting their comeback on the battlefield, defeating them was the watchword of the day. There has been a tectonic shift in Afghanistan’s public mood since then. It is prompted by a host of factors: growing disappointment with western governments and the ineffectiveness of billions of dollars in aid that seems to go nowhere except into the bank accounts of foreign consultants or local politicians; a sense that there can be no military solution to the new civil war and that outsiders are deliberately prolonging it; grief and despair over the mounting toll of civilian casualties, many caused by US airstrikes; rising nationalist anger and a feeling of humiliation; and a desire to return to an Afghan consensus in which Afghans create their own space and find their own solutions. Karzai’s recent outbursts against the Americans and other foreigners are no aberration. They reflect a widely held mood.
[…] Anders Fänge, the country director of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, a large aid agency, has spent around 20 years in the country, also working as a journalist and a UN official. The Taliban should never have been portrayed in the black-and-white terms that Bush and Blair used, he says. During their period in power they often turned a blind eye to the discreet "home schools" where teachers taught girls in people’s flats or family compounds. "In 1998 the Taliban governor of [the central Afghan city] Ghazni told me, ‘We know you have these girls’ schools, but just don’t tell me about them.’ A Taliban minister even approached me and said, ‘I have two daughters. Can you get them in?’" he recalls.
Similar attitudes exist today, he says. In Wardak, a province close to Kabul that is heavily contested by Taliban and Nato forces, "we don’t have much problem with the Taliban," says Fänge. "They accept girls’ schools and women doctors. They just ask for two hours of Islamic education in schools, that teachers grow beards and not spread propaganda against the Taliban."
The difficulty comes from foreign Taliban, the Pakistanis and Arabs, or Taliban from other provinces. "At the local level, it’s a patchwork, a mosaic of local commanders, who may recognise Mullah Omar as their spiritual leader but are not under his control," he adds.
Fänge’s points support the case, rarely mentioned by western politicians, that Taliban conservatism differs from the rest of the country in degree, not in kind. Afghanistan is a largely rural society where the oppression of women runs deep. Even in villages populated by Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, Afghan women are routinely banned by husbands or fathers from leaving the family compounds, and girls are kept out of school, according to Afghan women reporters.
[…] Arsalan Rahmani was deputy minister of higher education and later minister of Islamic affairs in the Taliban government. Four years ago Karzai invited him back to Kabul and made him a senator. He accepts the Taliban made a string of mistakes. "They didn’t have good management, they were young, they had no experts, doctors, and couldn’t run ministries. My boss was a boy of 25, who couldn’t even sign an official letter."
He describes reports of restrictions on girls’ education and women being denied the chance to work as false. "That wasn’t their idea, then or now. We didn’t let girls go to school because of lack of security. There was a war on. But now in Pakistan, Taliban girls go to school and university. My son is a doctor and I want him to marry a lady doctor. I’ve got three daughters. During the Taliban time they were in Pakistan and all studied there."
He goes on to tell an incredible story. "When I was deputy minister of higher education, people came to me and said they had girls who had finished school and wanted to study medicine. I consulted Mullah Omar and he authorised us to set up rooms in a central Kabul hospital, now called Daoud Khan hospital, where women could study to become doctors. Around 1,200 graduated, and if you track them down you’ll see my signature on their degree certificates," he says.
I have no time to follow his advice but I do locate Shukria Barakzai, an independent woman MP who stayed in Afghanistan throughout the Soviet occupation, the four-year rule by mujahideen warlords, and the Taliban period. She confirms the senator’s story.
Like many educated Kabulis, she criticises the warlords as strongly as the Taliban (during the warlords’ clashes she lost a son and daughter). She too favours talks with the Taliban. "I changed my view three years ago when I realised Afghanistan is on its own. It’s not that the international community doesn’t support us. They just don’t understand us. Everybody has been trying to kill the Taliban but they’re still there, stronger than ever. They are part of our population. They have different ideas but as democrats we have to accept that. Every war has to end with talks and negotiations. Afghans need peace like oxygen. People want to keep their villages free of violence and suicide bombers."
Her relaxed attitude to the Taliban stems, in part, from confidence that they cannot win again. "They no longer have the support and reputation they had back then. Taliban is an ideology. It’s no longer a united force," she says.
If Afghan women now overwhelmingly want talks with the Taliban, the same is true of many of the country’s male politicians, particularly the Pashtun. They want "a rebalancing of forces" in Afghan society, as a former minister who wanted to remain anonymous put it. The US invasion in 2001 put the warlords of the so-called Northern Alliance in power, but failed to produce stability. "In October 2001 the Taliban controlled 90% of Afghanistan, while the Northern Alliance had 10%. After December 2001 the Northern Alliance had 70% and the country’s majority group, the Pashtun, were marginalised. Now this needs to change. There’s an Afghan consensus on that," he says.
[…] The trouble, as diplomats see it, is that Obama has not even authorised the CIA to put out feelers to the Taliban leadership on a "deniable" basis, a common way of initiating contacts. Nor has he begun to prepare the American public for the notion that the Taliban may not be demons but necessary negotiating partners. It would be as massive a U-turn in US policy as it was for the British government to talk to the IRA.
3) On Israel, Jews and Leaders Often Disagree
Paul Vitello, New York Times, May 5, 2010
Farmington Hills, Mich. – Criticizing Israel has long been the equivalent of touching a third rail in many Jewish families and friendships, relegating disagreements to a conversational demilitarized zone where only the innocent and foolhardy go.
"You cannot really engage in that conversation," said Phillip Moore, a teacher in this Detroit suburb who has embraced strong opinions on many topics in his life – on politics, education, even religion – but avoids the subject of Israel at gatherings of his Jewish relatives. "You raise a question about the security forces or the settlements and you are suddenly being compared to a Holocaust denier," said Mr. Moore, 62. "It’s just not a rational discussion, so I keep quiet."
But the recent tension between the Obama administration and the Israeli government over the stalled Middle East peace process has put the questions underlying those long-avoided family discussions directly in the public spotlight. They have raised serious questions about whether the traditional leadership of the American Jewish world is fully supported by the mass of American Jews.
The issues arose last month when American officials openly rebuked Israel over the announcement of new housing plans in east Jerusalem, and are likely to grow as indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians, mediated by the Obama administration, resume this week. President Obama, working to ease those tensions, met on Tuesday with the Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who had criticized the administration in an advertisement last month.
Many other prominent Jews, representing the conservative organizational leadership that has been the dominant voice of the Jewish community for decades, have also recently criticized the Obama administration’s pressure on Israel. Some have even accused the White House of sabotaging the foundations of the Jewish state.
Former Mayor Edward I. Koch of New York spoke for many stalwart Israel backers last Sunday when he told an angry crowd of 500 gathered outside the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, in a videotaped statement, that President Obama’s demand for a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem was nothing less than an orchestrated effort "to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel."
But while those voices have been strong and their message unmistakable, a newly outspoken wing of Israel supporters has begun to challenge the old-school reflexive support of the country’s policies, suggesting that one does not have to be slavish to Israeli policies to love Israel.
"Most Jews have mixed feelings about Israel," said Rabbi Tamara Kolton of the Birmingham Temple, a secular humanistic congregation in Farmington Hills. "They support Israel, but it’s complicated. Until now, you never heard from those people. You heard only from the organized ones, the ones who are 100 percent certain, we’re right, they’re wrong."
In the 2008 election, 78 percent of Jewish voters supported Mr. Obama, and surveys have suggested that most continue to back his policies.
In a survey taken after the diplomatic skirmish of March, the American Jewish Committee – the heart of the traditional mainstream – found little change in the level of Jewish support for Mr. Obama’s handling of relations with Israel. The survey found that 55 percent approved of his handling of Israeli relations, compared with 54 percent last year. (His disapproval rating rose five points, to 37 percent.)
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder of a Washington lobby known as J Street, the latest of several organizations representing the voice of liberal Jews who support Israel but not all its policies, said many people have long felt ignored or silenced by the pro-Israel establishment in the United States.
"People are tired of being told that you are either with us or against us," he said. "The majority of American Jews support the president, support the two-state solution and do not feel that they have been well represented by organizations that demand obedience to every wish of the Israeli government. If you had taken their word for it, Obama should have gotten 12 percent of the Jewish vote. But he got 80. That should say something."
4) Nuke-Free Mideast Idea Rises on Global Agenda
Charles J. Hanley, Associated Press, Wednesday, May 5, 2010; 11:57 AM
United Nations – The Middle East, that timeless tinderbox at the core of so much in world affairs, looms as a battleground in the U.N.’s meeting halls this month, as 189 nations debate nuclear proliferation. The idea of establishing the region as a zone free of nuclear weapons, a notion on the back burner for 15 years, has emerged as a central issue at the twice-a-decade conference reviewing the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).
It is rising higher on the agenda because Iran’s ambitious nuclear program, which the West alleges is aimed at weapons-making, threatens to prompt other Mideast nations to develop their own programs. And an expected future shift toward nuclear power worldwide will put possibly sensitive technology in more hands.
But Israel, with its long-established but unannounced nuclear arsenal, remains a highly uncertain partner in any move toward a "nuke-free" Mideast.
Egypt has formally proposed that this 2010 NPT conference back a plan to start talks next year on such a Mideast nuclear ban. Algeria has also submitted a plan. "This conference represents a pivotal turning point in the history of the treaty, and an opportunity that may be the last and that must be seized," Egyptian U.N. Ambassador Maged A. Abdelaziz told delegates Wednesday.
The Middle East would join five other nuclear-free regions – Africa, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the South Pacific and Latin America – covering some 116 countries that have outlawed the presence of atomic arms in their areas.
The United States, Israel’s prime international backer, has long endorsed the idea of a Mideast zone, but has never pushed for action. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton caught the General Assembly Hall’s attention on Monday, however, by saying Washington is now "prepared to support practical measures for moving toward that objective."
The U.S. and Israel are discussing what such "practical measures" might be, said a Western diplomatic source, speaking on condition of anonymity about other countries’ contacts.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister, meanwhile, said Moscow is partnering with Washington on a draft plan. "In recent weeks, we have managed to develop a joint approach with the United States," Sergei A. Ryabkov told reporters. He didn’t elaborate, beyond saying they have focused on a compromise, "common denominator" plan in place of the Egyptian and Algerian proposals.
5) Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps expands role in sanctions-hit oil sector
Thomas Erdbrink, Washington Post, Wednesday, May 5, 2010; A12
Tehran – Taking advantage of the very sanctions directed against it, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is assuming a leading role in developing the country’s lucrative petroleum sector, Western oil executives and Iranian analysts say.
The Guard’s engineering companies, replacing European oil firms that have largely abandoned Iran, have been rewarded with huge no-bid contracts. Experts warn that U.S. efforts to prevent international investment in Iran’s oil industry are giving the Guard more clout. Iran is the second-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
"The Revolutionary Guards are smiling at the idea of new sanctions against Iran," said a Western executive who represents one of the world’s largest oil companies. "Sanctions against the industry or preventing foreign companies from selling gasoline to Iran will mean more money, power and influence for the Guards," he said.
6) AP Exclusive: Iraq deal gives clerics final say
Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Rebecca Santana, Associated Press, May 5, 2010; 4:23 PM
Baghdad – An agreement to form an alliance between Iranian-backed Shiite blocs gives the final say on political disputes to Iraq’s top clerics, solidifying a role for the Shiite religious leadership in the country’s likely new government.
The agreement, obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday, is likely to alienate Iraq’s other religious and ethnic sects from the potential new government – especially minority Sunnis already wary of the Shiite-dominated leadership. The U.S. has warned against excluding Sunnis for fear that sidelining the Sunni-backed election winner could enflame tensions.
Several high-ranking Shiite officials confirmed to the AP the contents of the agreement, which lays out a list of conditions making possible the alliance between Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition and the Iraqi National Alliance – until recently wary rivals for power.
But it is the referee role given to the nation’s Shiite clergy, which holds enormous weight with the Shiite majority, that is the most contentious clause to Iraq’s other political groups. "The marjaiyah has the final say in solving all the disputes between the two sides and its directives and guidance are binding," the agreement said, referring to the religious Shiite leadership based in the holy city of Najaf.
[…] In fact, most of the provisions in the agreement appear designed to limit the power of the prime minister. The largest group within the Iraqi National Alliance, followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, want to scale back the powers al-Maliki has built up during his premiership.
Those familiar with the meetings said many of the conditions came from the Sadrists, who were deeply unhappy with al-Maliki, who ordered a U.S.-Iraqi crackdown on Shiite militias in 2008. "We are trying to avoid the mistakes of the past that led to the collapse of the former coalition and that made some people make unilateral decisions regarding the country," explained Ameer Taher al-Kinani, a Sadrist official, in an apparent reference to al-Maliki.
The provisions require the prime minister to consult on all decisions with members of the alliance and prohibit him from trying to form his own electoral list. Policy issues are also to be determined by committees from each of the Shiite blocs, further limiting the premier’s role. By putting in writing the role of the marjaiyah, the agreement also sets up a higher authority to the prime minister.
7) Settlers intend to vandalize mosques, defense officials learn
Settlers to protest the destruction of outposts and official measures taken against fellow right-wing activists.
Chaim Levinson and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, 05.05.10
The Israeli defense establishment has learned that settler extremists in the West Bank intend to vandalize mosques to protest the destruction of outposts and official measures taken against fellow right-wing activists. The plans are part of the "price tag" policy, of exacting retribution for the arrest of certain settlers and the issuing of restraining orders against others.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority on Tuesday implicated settlers in the fire early Tuesday morning at a mosque in the Nablus-area village of Luban al-Sharqiya. Nablus Governor Jibril al-Bakri said that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had ordered the rebuilding of the mosque, which reportedly suffered considerable damage, as soon as possible.
Upon first seeing the mosque in flames, residents believed it had been caused by an electrical short-circuit. A number of high-ranking PA and Fatah officials arrived at the scene immediately after the incident to show their solidarity with residents. One senior figure called the incident "a crime, abetted by the Israeli government."
Efforts to determine the cause of the blaze continued throughout the day. Investigators at the scene did not find graffiti (the usual hallmark of settler attacks), but they did find evidence of a break-in that led them to suspect arson.
Investigators expressed doubt about the possibility that the fire was caused by an electrical short-circuit, as the part of the mosque where the fire broke out is undergoing renovations and its electricity had been disconnected.
Israeli defense officials are increasingly concerned over the series of mosque burnings in the past six months. In December a mosque in the West Bank village of Yasuf was set on fire.
8) Honduras row endangers EU summit
BBC, Wednesday, 5 May 2010 19:08 UK
South American leaders have threatened to pull out of a scheduled EU-Latin American summit in Spain if Honduras President Porfirio Lobo attends. Leaders of the 12-nation South American Unasur bloc, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Brazil’s Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, urged Spain to uninvite Mr Lobo.
The Honduran leader was voted into power last year, following a coup which was denounced across Latin America. Regional powers expressed their support for ousted President Manuel Zelaya.
Earlier this week the Spanish government, which currently holds the EU presidency, invited the Honduran leader to the EU-Latin America summit, scheduled to begin on 18 May.
"There is unease shared by most of us that will prevent a lot of Unasur countries attending the summit," said Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa, according to AFP news agency. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez added: "We don’t want to boycott the summit. We want Spain to come to its senses."
An aide to Brazilian leader Lula da Silva, Marco Aurelio Garcia, said: "If Honduras attends, then at least 10 Latin American presidents will not go to Madrid, starting with the president of Brazil."
9) Honduras sets up disputed coup truth commission
AFP, May 5, 2010
Tegucigalpa – Honduras has set up a Truth and Reconciliation commission aimed at drawing a line under last year’s coup, as Latin America remained deeply divided in its aftermath.
Washington welcomed the move as Honduras returned to the international arena after many Latin American nations vowed to boycott a joint summit with the European Union to protest the inclusion of Porfirio Lobo, whom they deem the illegitimate president of Honduras.
Honduran rights groups slammed the reconciliation commission for failing to include abuses committed around the June 28 coup that overthrew president Manuel Zelaya.
The commission was part of an agreement to end the political impasse between Zelaya – now in exile in the Dominican Republic – and interim leaders who backed his military ouster. It was also an electoral promise from Lobo, who took office in January after controversial elections and is still seeking to return investment to the impoverished nation.
The commission includes Guatemalan former vice president Eduardo Stein, Canadian diplomat Michael Kergin, and Julieta Castellanos, the head of the National Autonomous University of Honduras. It will deliver a report in six to eight months, Lobo said.
Riot police with shields pushed away protesters gathered outside the commission swearing-in ceremony to protest against Castellanos, who is in a labor dispute with university workers.
[…] But one international NGO said that the commission had been "born dead." Its mandate ignores the victims of rights abuses and fails to force authorities to cooperate, Alejandra Nuno, a regional director of the Center for International Justice and Law (CEJIL), told a news conference in Costa Rica. Honduran activist Bertha Oliva told the conference by telephone that rights groups were setting up an alternative truth commission in Honduras.
10) Japanese Leader Backtracks On Revising Base Agreement
Martin Fackler and Hiroko Tabuchi, New York Times, May 4, 2010
Tokyo – Backtracking on a prominent campaign pledge, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told angry residents of Okinawa on Tuesday that it was unrealistic to expect the United States to move its entire Marine Corps air base off the island.
Mr. Hatoyama’s government could hang in the balance. He has pledged to come up with a plan by the end of this month to relocate the Marine air base and resolve a stubborn problem that has created months of discord with Washington. His delays and apparent flip-flopping on the issue have fed a growing feeling of disappointment in the prime minister’s leadership, driving his approval ratings below 30 percent.
Visiting Okinawa for the first time since becoming prime minister, Mr. Hatoyama asked residents to entertain a compromise that would keep some of the functions of the base on the island while the government explored moving some facilities elsewhere. "Realistically speaking, it is impossible" to move the entire base, called Futenma, off the island, he said. "We’re facing a situation that is realistically difficult to move everything out of the prefecture. We must ask the people of Okinawa to share the burden."
But Okinawans seemed in no mood for burden-sharing, heckling him after he met with local officials. "Shame on you!" one man shouted.
During the campaign for last summer’s election, in which his Democratic Party dislodged the Liberal Democrats who had ruled Japan almost continuously for more than 50 years, Mr. Hatoyama called for adjusting a 2006 agreement with the United States, which stations about 50,000 troops in Japan. Under that plan, Futenma was to be moved to a less crowded part of Okinawa to address local concerns over noise, air pollution and safety.
But the Obama administration pushed back, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates apparently refusing to entertain any thought of reopening the agreement. The standoff threatened to open the first breach in the two countries’ post-World War II security alliance. Later, during a trip to Japan, President Obama smoothed things over, reluctantly agreeing to consider Mr. Hatoyama’s proposals.
While Mr. Hatoyama has tried to accommodate the competing desires of the Americans and local residents, he finally had to admit that it could not be done.
11) Kyrgyzstan Opens An Inquiry Into Fuel Sales To A U.S. Base
Andrew E. Kramer, New York Times, May 4, 2010
Moscow – Prosecutors in Kyrgyzstan have opened a criminal investigation into whether, for the second time in a decade, a son of a president of this small Central Asian country illegally profited from contracts supplying jet fuel to an American air base.
The investigation focuses on Maksim Bakiyev, the 32-year-old son of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was ousted in an uprising last month in which opposition to corruption was a rallying cry.
Prosecutors are examining whether the elder Mr. Bakiyev’s government broke the law in granting tax breaks to companies that eventually became affiliated with his son, the Interfax news agency reported.
Leaders of Kyrgyzstan’s interim government have said that Maksim Bakiyev’s companies skimmed as much as $8 million a month from fuel sales to the base. That charge and other corruption allegations contributed to the uprising that drove his father from office.
Kyrgyz officials have also accused the United States of using the fuel distribution system to curry favor with Kurmanbek Bakiyev in order to hold on to the air base, but the prosecutors have not alleged wrongdoing by the Pentagon, according to the Interfax report.
Petroleum purchased from refineries in Russia and Central Asia accounts for about half of all helicopter and jet fuel used in the war in Afghanistan, according to an American Congressional investigation into possible corruption among suppliers and resellers.
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