Just Foreign Policy News
July 15, 2010
54% Want Afghan Exit, but Petraeus Could Nix Peace Talks with Terror Naming
The majority of Americans want the U.S. to establish a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, CBS News reports. But if General Petraeus has his way, the State Department will designate part of the Afghan Taliban as a terrorist organization. That would undermine peace moves in Afghanistan, the New York Times reports – peace moves that the Administration told Newsweek that it supports. Petraeus’ move would undermine not only a timetable for withdrawal, but the "serious drawdown" in July 2011 that Vice President Biden told Newsweek we can "bet on" and Speaker Pelosi told the Huffington Post she expects.
J Street Calls for Treasury Investigation Into Settlement Charities
J Street is calling on the U.S. Treasury Department to launch an investigation into whether American charities that fund Israeli settlement activity have broken the law. These tax-exempt organizations are working to undermine a two-state solution by deepening the occupation. Some even fund settlement outposts that the Israeli government considers illegal.
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1) Democratic and Republican senators questioned whether the Obama administration can begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan next summer and worrying that it lacks a plan for forging a political settlement, McClatchy reports. Sen. Kerry said he worries that despite the U.S. troop surge, the force won’t be sufficient to pacify Kandahar. "Absent a major realignment on the ground, it’s unrealistic to expect a significant downsizing of U.S. forces could occur without security consequences," said Sen. Lugar.
2) 58% of the respondents in a Bloomberg poll say the war in Afghanistan is "a lost cause." 60% say the best policy for US involvement is "Stick to the plan to start withdrawal of forces in July of next year, even if the country is still as unstable as it is today."
3) A U.S. military attack on Iran is "very much back on the table," writes Joe Klein in Time Magazine. Intelligence sources say Central Command has made real progress in planning targeted air strikes, Klein says. Israel has been brought into the planning process, Klein reports.
4) A new study by the Oxford Research Group says the consequences of Israeli military action against Iran "are so serious that they should not be encouraged in any shape or form," the Los Angeles Times reports. The report predicts such an attack would unite Iranians against a common enemy and strengthen the Iranian government, which would retaliate against Israeli and U.S. interests in the region. The report concludes that Israel is preparing to take out not only known Iranian nuclear facilities but also factories, research centers, and university laboratories with the intention of destroying Iran’s technical capabilities and killing its leading technocrats. Iran would likely respond by attacking Israel directly, withdrawing from negotiations over its nuclear program, supporting insurgent activity against Western interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, and facilitating attacks against Western oil facilities in the Persian Gulf. "An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would almost certainly be the beginning of a long-term process of regular Israeli airstrikes to further prevent the development of nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles," the report says. "Iranian responses would also be long-term, ushering in a lengthy war with global as well as regional implications."
5) In many West Bank settlements, building is proceeding apace, the New York Times reports. Building in Jewish settlements will have shown only a mild drop-off if construction begins again in September, as settlers hope. If, however, the freeze is extended, that would lead to the first genuine decline in settlement building in years.
6) The Obama administration’s 20-year plan for the U.S. nuclear arsenal would reduce the number of deployed and stored warheads from 5,000 to a range of 3,000 to 3,500 and significantly increase spending on the complex that maintains them, according to documents from the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Washington Post reports. Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said his analysis of NNSA’s stockpile plan showed spending of "a whopping $175 billion over the next 20 years for new nuclear weapons factories, testing and simulation facilities, and warhead modernizations." He described as "curious" that "it will cost more to maintain fewer weapons, even though NNSA has been able to maintain more weapons with less for a decade and a half."
7) Ecuador and Argentina and joined Mexico in filing legal complaints against Arizona’s new immigration law, Capitol Media Services reports. "Ecuador has a substantial and compelling interest to ensure that its citizens are accorded human and civil rights when present in the United States in accordance with federal immigration law," Ecuador’s ambassador wrote. "Ecuador is gravely concerned that SB 1070 will lead to racial profiling and disparate treatment of its nationals."
8) The sponsor of a Libyan ship that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza said the boat shifted course to Egypt because the Israeli government agreed to allow Libya to support building and reconstruction in Gaza, the New York Times reports. Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, said the Israelis "agreed to let Libya spend $50 million" for Gaza through the UN.
9) Israel’s parliament has punished an Arab lawmaker for participating in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May by revoking three of her parliamentary privileges, CNN reports. "I consider the decision a nondemocratic decision, a racist decision, a decision that makes other members of the Knesset think that they can pass laws and sentences to other members of the Knesset because they differ from their political views," Hanin Zoabi said.
10) Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said talks between Iran and world powers on a plan to supply fuel for a Tehran nuclear reactor should start around late September, Bloomberg reports. Mottaki said that the presence of Brazil and Turkey in the talks would ensure that the negotiations are "held in the proper way."
11) Union officials hailed the success of a strike with wide participation in the construction and education sectors, EFE reports. The strike was called in support of banana workers who were protesting a new law that would allow employers to fire or replace striking workers [as they are allowed to do in the U.S. – JFP.]
1) Lawmakers showing rising frustration with Afghan war
Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy Newspapers, Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010
Washington – Democratic and Republican senators voiced deep concern Wednesday over the direction of the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan, questioning whether the Obama administration can begin withdrawing U.S. troops next summer and worrying that it lacks a plan for forging a political settlement.
"We need a better definition of exactly what the definition of success is in Afghanistan," Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry, D-Mass, said in opening a hearing at which U.S. special envoy Richard Holbrooke was grilled on U.S. policy.
[…] The war’s growing human and fiscal costs, however, are adding to the political pressure on Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike, many facing re-election in November.
Kerry said he worries that despite the U.S. troop surge, the force won’t be sufficient to pacify the city of Kandahar, the Taliban’s spiritual capital, the next key goal of the U.S.-led counterinsurgency drive that began in the Helmand hamlet of Marjah in February.
Kerry said he was "unsure" of the U.S. strategy for Kandahar. He asked Holbrooke "if you can help us understand exactly where we’re heading in this regard?"
Holbrooke declined to answer, but he disclosed that the new commander of the U.S.-led international force, Army Gen. David Petraeus, is now conducting "his own strategic review," indicating that the scope and schedule for the operation – which has been slowed by fighting, weak local support and poor Afghan administrative abilities – could be changed.
Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the panel’s senior Republican, said there is "substantial concern" about the course of the war in part due to the "disruption" caused by President Barack Obama’s firing last month of Petraeus’ predecessor, Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, over a magazine interview.
Moreover, Lugar said, improvements in governance, aid programs, the training of Afghan security forces and "other areas have not occurred at a pace that boosts confidence in President Obama’s original timetable."
"Absent a major realignment on the ground, it’s unrealistic to expect a significant downsizing of U.S. forces could occur without security consequences," he continued, referring to Obama’s December announcement that U.S. forces would begin turning over areas deemed stable to the Afghan government in July 2011, and start returning home.
2) Bloomberg National Poll
Bloomberg, July 14
[…] Turning to the war in Afghanistan, do you think the U.S. can win the war or do you think it is a lost cause?
36 Can win the war
58 It is a lost cause
6 Not sure
Which of the following do you think is the best policy for US involvement in Afghanistan:
60 Stick to the plan to start withdrawal of forces in July of next year, even if the country is still as unstable as it is today
37 Be open to keeping current number of forces in Afghanistan – or even adding more – if the country is still unstable in July of next year
3 Not sure
3) An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table
Joe Klein, Time Magazine, Thursday, Jul. 15, 2010
In late 2006, George W. Bush met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon and asked if military action against Iran’s nuclear program was feasible. The unanimous answer was no. Air strikes could take out some of Iran’s nuclear facilities, but there was no way to eliminate all of them. Some of the nuclear labs were located in heavily populated areas; others were deep underground. And Iran’s ability to strike back by unconventional means, especially through its Hizballah terrorist network, was formidable. The military option was never officially taken off the table. At least, that’s what U.S. officials always said. But the emphasis was on the implausibility of a military strike. "Another war in the Middle East is the last thing we need," Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote in 2008. It would be "disastrous on a number of levels."
Gates is sounding more belligerent these days. "I don’t think we’re prepared to even talk about containing a nuclear Iran," he told Fox News on June 20. "We do not accept the idea of Iran having nuclear weapons." In fact, Gates was reflecting a new reality in the military and intelligence communities. Diplomacy and economic pressure remain the preferred means to force Iran to negotiate a nuclear deal, but there isn’t much hope that’s going to happen. "Will [sanctions] deter them from their ambitions with regards to nuclear capability?" CIA Director Leon Panetta told ABC News on June 27. "Probably not." So the military option is very much back on the table.
What has changed? "I started to rethink this last November," a recently retired U.S. official with extensive knowledge of the issue told me. "We offered the Iranians a really generous deal, which their negotiators accepted," he went on, referring to the offer to exchange Iran’s 1.2 tons of low-enriched uranium (3.5% pure) for higher-enriched (20%) uranium for medical research and use. "When the leadership shot that down, I began to think, Well, we made the good-faith effort to engage. What do we do now?"
Other intelligence sources say that the U.S. Army’s Central Command, which is in charge of organizing military operations in the Middle East, has made some real progress in planning targeted air strikes – aided, in large part, by the vastly improved human-intelligence operations in the region. "There really wasn’t a military option a year ago," an Israeli military source told me. "But they’ve gotten serious about the planning, and the option is real now." Israel has been brought into the planning process, I’m told, because U.S. officials are frightened by the possibility that the right-wing Netanyahu government might go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own.
[…] For the moment, the White House remains as skeptical as ever about a military strike. Most senior military leaders also believe Gates got it right the first time – even a targeted attack on Iran would be "disastrous on a number of levels." It would unify the Iranian people against the latest in a long series of foreign interventions. It would also unify much of the world – including countries like Russia and China that we’ve worked hard to cultivate – against a recowboyfied U.S. There would certainly be an Iranian reaction – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, by Lebanese Hizballah against Israel and by the Hizballah network against the U.S. and Saudi homelands. A catastrophic regional war is not impossible.
4) Threatened Israeli strike on Iran would lead to regional war, report says
Meris Lutz, Los Angeles Times, July 14, 2010
Beirut – The ultimate nightmare scenario could soon become a reality:
Israeli strike aircraft cross into Iranian airspace and hit the nuclear facilities at Natanz, Esfahan and Qom, as well as the laboratories of the University of Tehran, killing one of Iran’s leading nuclear scientists along with dozens of researchers and a janitor.
Iran retaliates by hitting Tel Aviv with long-range missiles and fanning the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, engulfing the Middle East in a protracted regional war and triggering a global economic crisis over oil prices.
This terrifying outcome is increasingly likely if Israel carries out a reportedly impending military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, according to a new study by the Oxford Research Group, a leading security think tank.
The paper, titled "Military Action Against Iran: Impact and Effects," was released Thursday following ominous statements by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Fox News channel in which he called Iran "the ultimate terrorist threat today."
[…] But according to the paper released Thursday, the consequences of such a military action against Iran "are so serious that they should not be encouraged in any shape or form."
The report predicts such an attack would have the exact opposite of the desired effect by uniting Iranians against a common enemy, thus bolstering Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s hard-line regime, which would retaliate against Israeli and U.S. interests in the region.
The report points to Israel’s recently improved strike capabilities and the bellicose rhetoric of its politicians and concludes that the Jewish state is preparing to take out not only known Iranian nuclear facilities but also factories, research centers, and university laboratories with the intention of destroying Iran’s technical capabilities and killing its leading technocrats.
Iran would likely respond by attacking Israel directly, withdrawing from negotiations over its nuclear program, supporting insurgent activity against Western interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, and facilitating attacks against Western oil facilities in the Persian Gulf.
"There would be many civilian casualties, both directly among people working on Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, but also their families as their living quarters were hit, and secretaries, cleaners, labourers and other staff in factories, research stations and university departments," says the report, which was authored by Paul Rogers of the University of Bradford.
"An Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would almost certainly be the beginning of a long-term process of regular Israeli airstrikes to further prevent the development of nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles," it continues. "Iranian responses would also be long-term, ushering in a lengthy war with global as well as regional implications."
5) Despite Settlement Freeze, Buildings Rise
Ethan Bronner, New York Times, July 14, 2010
Jerusalem – One of the most contentious issues facing the Middle East peace talks is whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will extend the 10-month-old building freeze in West Bank Jewish settlements, as the Palestinians and Americans want.
The Israeli construction freeze, which did not extend to East Jerusalem, was politically difficult for Mr. Netanyahu, with his right-wing coalition partners. He has called the stoppage "exceptional" and "extraordinary." But an examination of the freeze after more than seven months suggests that it amounts to something less significant, at least on the ground. In many West Bank settlements, building is proceeding apace. Dozens of construction sites with scores of Palestinian workers are active.
There are two reasons for this. First, as the Defense Ministry has charged, some cheating has occurred. In February, the ministry said that 29 settlements were in violation of the freeze and that it would increase demolition orders and other forms of enforcement.
Second, when the freeze was announced, it came with the assertion that some 3,000 units were grandfathered in and would proceed during the moratorium. David Ha’Ivri, spokesman for the Shomron Regional Council in the northern West Bank, said the leader of the council, Gershon Mesika, knew a freeze was coming and so approved more than 1,600 units in 2009, nearly 10 times the number that had been approved the previous year for his area.
Moreover, data from the Central Bureau of Statistics for 2006 through 2008 show that on average about 3,000 West Bank settlement units were built in each of those years. So the 10-month freeze offered no fundamental change of pace. In addition, the statistics show, in the last quarter of 2009, more than 750 housing units were approved for West Bank settlements. That was double the number of each of the three previous quarters. So in the first half of 2010, when no more units were permitted, the pace of building remained largely unchanged.
Data for the second quarter of 2010 will not be released until the end of August. Assuming that there are no new housing starts during that time as well, building in Jewish settlements will have shown only a mild drop-off if construction begins again in September, as settlers hope. If, however, the freeze is extended, that would lead to the first genuine decline in settlement building in years.
6) Obama plan outlines reductions in U.S. nuclear arsenal
Walter Pincus, Washington Post, Thursday, July 15, 2010; A02
The Obama administration’s 20-year plan for the U.S. nuclear arsenal would reduce the number of deployed and stored warheads from 5,000 to a range of 3,000 to 3,500 and significantly increase spending on the complex that maintains them, according to newly disclosed documents.
Unclassified sections of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s plan show that annual costs for the weapons complex would increase from about $7 billion in fiscal 2011 to $8.4 billion in 2017 and more than $9 billion by 2030.
The agency’s infrastructure will support "active, logistic spare and reserve warheads," according to the plan, but it will not be "designed to have the capacity to support a return to historical Cold War stockpiles, or rapidly respond to large production spikes."
The plan does not say how many of the 3,000 to 3,500 warheads would be active or deployed.
The documents, which were sent in May to key members of the House and Senate Armed Services and Appropriations committees, were made public this week by the Federation of American Scientists and the Union of Concerned Scientists, two nonpartisan groups specializing in nuclear weapons.
[…] Hans M. Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists said his analysis of NNSA’s stockpile plan showed spending of "a whopping $175 billion over the next 20 years for new nuclear weapons factories, testing and simulation facilities, and warhead modernizations."
He described as "curious" that "it will cost more to maintain fewer weapons, even though NNSA has been able to maintain more weapons with less for a decade and a half."
7) Ecuador, Argentina join Mexico in legal fight against SB 1070
Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services, Thu Jul 15, 2010
Two more Latin American countries added their own objections Tuesday to Arizona’s new immigration law.
In legal papers filed in federal court, Luis Gallegos, the ambassador to the United States from Ecuador, said his country wants to join Mexico in the fight to convince U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton to block the state from enforcing the law.
"Similar to Mexico, Ecuador has a substantial and compelling interest in ensuring that its bilateral diplomatic relations with the government of the United States of America are transparent, consistent and reliable, and not frustrated by the actions of individual U.S. states, in this case, Arizona," Gallegos wrote. He said SB 1070 "raises substantial challenges" to relations between the two countries.
Gallegos also echoed the fears expressed by Mexico that the Arizona law will affect its citizens. "Ecuador has a substantial and compelling interest to ensure that its citizens are accorded human and civil rights when present in the United States in accordance with federal immigration law," he wrote. "Ecuador is gravely concerned that SB 1070 will lead to racial profiling and disparate treatment of its nationals."
A virtually identical brief was filed Tuesday by Jose Perez Gabilondo, charge d’affairs in Washington for Argentina.
8) Ship Originally Bound for Gaza Docks in Egypt
Kareem Fahim and Mona El-Naggar, New York Times, July 15, 2010
Cairo – A Libyan ship that tried to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza docked in the Egyptian port of El Arish on Thursday afternoon, as the ship’s sponsor, a son of the Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi, said that the boat shifted course because the Israeli government agreed to allow Libya to support building and reconstruction in Gaza.
In an interview with an Arabic newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, the sponsor, Saif al-Islam el-Qaddafi, said that the Israelis "agreed to let Libya spend $50 million" for the fenced and blockaded Palestinian strip through the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. He called the pact "a big victory."
The Israeli prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, said he was unaware of the agreement, but that, in principle, the Libyan money would pose no problem as long as it was funneled through the United Nations agency.
During the three years of its blockade of Gaza, Israel allowed no construction materials through, but last month, after the deaths of nine Turks in a raid on another blockade-busting ship, it yielded to intensified international pressure and agreed to ease restrictions. Among the concessions was allowing in construction materials for civilian projects that are under international supervision.
The United Nations agency did not have a full account of the arrangement on Thursday. Chris Gunness, a spokesman, said, "It sounds interesting, but there’s much to find out and still questions to be answered."
9) Israel’s parliament strips Arab lawmaker of privileges
CNN, July 14, 2010
Israel’s parliament has punished an Arab lawmaker for participating in the Gaza-bound aid flotilla in May.
The Knesset, Israel’s parliament, voted 34-16 on Tuesday night to strip Hanin Zoabi of three privileges. They are revoking her diplomatic passport, rescinding her privilege to leave the country if she commits a felony and taking away the right to have the Knesset cover any legal fees if she faces a trial.
"I consider the decision a nondemocratic decision, a racist decision, a decision that makes other members of the Knesset think that they can pass laws and sentences to other members of the Knesset because they differ from their political views," she told CNN. She is a member of the Balad party.
Danny Danon, a member of the Likud party, said the decision was a symbolic message to Arab Knesset members who supported acts like Zoabi’s. "The decision was a symbolic message that this Knesset send to the Arab MKs who choose not to support terrorism vocally but actually to take cynical parts in a terrorist attack," he said.
[…] Zoabi was on board the Mavi Marmara, one of the boats that attempted to break the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. Eight Turks and one dual Turkish-U.S. citizen were killed when Israeli troops raided the flotilla on May 31.
10) Iran Says Nuclear-Fuel Talks Should Open in September
Ladane Nasseri, Bloomberg News, Thursday, July 15, 2010
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said that talks between his country and the world powers on a plan to supply fuel for a Tehran nuclear reactor should start around late September.
Iran has said it is ready for negotiations with the five veto-holding members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany on a deal brokered by Turkey and Brazil in May. It proposed supplying enriched uranium in a form usable in the medical-research reactor in exchange for part of Iran’s supply of the material that has yet to be transformed into fuel.
"Turkey and Brazil still adopt the same stance and we welcome their presence in talks," Mottaki said today at a Tehran news conference aired live by state-run Press TV. The two countries "will see that the negotiations be held in the proper way," he said.
11) Panamanian Unions Say General Strike a Success.
EFE. July 13, 2010
Panama City – Union officials and leaders of grassroots groups on Tuesday hailed the success of the first general strike in Panama during the rightist administration of President Ricardo Martinelli, while the business community said the impact of the protest was limited to the construction and education sectors.
The strike, called in protest against a law with anti-union provisions, included a demonstration in which about 1,000 people participated without incident on a square in Panama City, where shops and public transport was operating normally.
The general secretary of the Conusi labor federation, Gabriel Castillo, told Efe that the strike was a "success," with between 80 and 90 percent of the workers in the construction and education sectors adhering to it. "The impact of the strike was similar all over the country, although in the industry sectors, like manufacturing, its impact was less," he acknowledged.
The strike was called last Saturday in support of banana workers in the western city of Changuinola, who took to the streets to protest Law 30, which, among other things, eliminates obligatory payment of union dues, allows employers to fire or replace striking workers and authorizes the use of police to protect the property of firms involved in labor disputes.
[…] In a related matter, Deputy Attorney General Angel Calderon announced on Tuesday the suspension of the arrest warrants issued for 17 union leaders after the disturbances in Changuinola, which left two people dead.
The secretary general of the powerful Suntracs construction union, Genaro Lopez, said during the rally in the capital that the strikers believe in dialogue, but they are demanding that Law 30 be overturned because it violates union rights. He said that the decision announced by Calderon contributes to finding a solution and to dialogue.
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