Just Foreign Policy News
August 4, 2009
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1) Costa Rican President Arias said an OAS mission will travel to Honduras in a new effort to pressure coup-installed leaders to restore ousted President Zelaya, AP reports. OAS secretary-general Insulza said the OAS would meet Wednesday to organize the diplomatic mission, which he said he hoped would include foreign ministers. Honduras’ Congress pledged to consider granting Zelaya amnesty if the two sides agree to it. the near-unanimous vote suggested Congress would not stand in the way of a compromise, AP says.
2) The US and Israel are discussing the feasibility of curbing Iran’s imports of gasoline, Reuters reports. An Israeli official said US policymakers were concerned Iran’s response could have implications for global oil markets. Iran has threatened to retaliate against a cutoff of its gasoline imports by stopping its crude oil exports to Western countries. Iran could also disrupt oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. Diplomats said Obama could have a hard time convincing Russia and China to go along with any fuel sanctions on Iran. Other diplomats noted that the EU is split on the idea of targeting Iran’s energy industry. Diplomats say Turkey would also have difficulty supporting such measures.
3) Jordan’s Foreign Minister Judeh joined Saudi Arabia in rebuffing US calls for Arab countries to take incremental steps in normalizing relations with Israel before Israel agrees to withdraw from occupied Arab territory, AP reports. He criticized Israel for its refusal to halt construction of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and said Israel should respond to a 2002 Arab peace offer. Judeh and Secretary of State Clinton both criticized Israel for its weekend eviction of Palestinian families from an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem.
4) Sarah Lazare, writing in Truthout, interviews two U.S. soldiers who successfully organized their unit to refuse to deploy to Iraq in April 2005.
5) The coup regime in Honduras is taking a hard-line approach to protests demanding the return of President Zelaya, Inter Press Service reports. High school teacher Roger Vallejo, who was shot in the head when the police broke up a roadblock on Thursday in the capital, died after two days in intensive care. Another teacher, Martin Florencio Rivera, was stabbed to death after leaving Vallejo’s wake Saturday. The head of the industrialists’ association claimed that U.S. and Canadian investors were contemplating a return to the country.
6) Three weeks before the presidential election, insecurity and fears of fraud are raising concerns about its credibility, the New York Times reports. If they cannot vote because of insecurity in the south, Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group and the one most closely associated with the Taliban, could become even more alienated from the government and the foreign forces backing it. In the south, election officials said they were expecting a turnout below 30 percent.
7) Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has redrawn Lebanon’s political map by withdrawing from the US-backed anti-Syria "March 14" alliance led by Saad al-Hariri, Reuters reports. Jumblatt said he would he would ally himself with President Suleiman, who was elected last year as a consensus candidate. The change in his position is seen linked to an end to Syria’s isolation by many Western governments and rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria, whose rivalry has been seen at the heart of Lebanon’s turmoil.
8) Israeli police recommended the indictment of Foreign Minister Lieberman on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, witness harassment and obstruction of justice, the Washington Post reports. If Lieberman is indicted, he will have to resign. Lieberman, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, has called for loyalty oaths for all Israelis, a move directed at Israel’s Palestinian citizens [who overwhelmingly opposed the Israeli military assaults on Gaza and Lebanon – JFP.]
1) OAS sending envoys to pressure Honduras coup gov’t
Marianela Jimenez, Associated Press, Tuesday, August 4, 2009 12:23 AM
San Jose, Costa Rica – A high-ranking diplomatic mission will travel to Honduras in a new effort to pressure coup-installed leaders to restore ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the chief mediator in the crisis said Monday.
Costa Rican President Oscar Arias said a group of top Latin American diplomats would seek to persuade the government of interim President Roberto Micheletti to accept all 12 points of a proposed compromise – "the most important one, of course, being the return of President Zelaya."
"I hope Micheletti leaves this door open," Arias said.
[…] Interim leaders have made clear they hope to resist international pressure until the Nov. 29 presidential election, which they hope will weaken resolve to return Zelaya to power.
Jose Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, said he hoped the conflict would be resolved before then. He said the OAS would meet Wednesday to organize the diplomatic mission, which he said he hoped would include foreign ministers.
Honduras’ Congress improved prospects for a negotiated solution slightly Monday, pledging to consider granting Zelaya amnesty from abuse of power and other charges if the two sides agree to it.
Amnesty for both Zelaya and the coup leaders is a key component of the compromise proposed by Arias nearly two weeks ago.
Congress stopped short of granting Zelaya amnesty outright, which would have signaled strong support for the Arias plan. It was even less committal on reinstating Zelaya, saying only that any agreement must respect Honduran laws.
Still, the near-unanimous vote Monday night suggested Congress would not stand in the way of a compromise. The 128-seat unicameral legislature, including most of Zelaya’s own party, voted overwhelmingly to remove him from office on June 28, hours after he had already been booted from the country.
2) Iran fuel imports possible target in nuclear standoff
– US, Israel discuss curbs on imports of gasoline to Iran
– Washington concerned about oil market implications
– Diplomats skeptical of idea
Adam Entous and Tom Doggett, Reuters, 03 Aug 2009 20:32:51 GMT
Washington – The United States and Israel are discussing the feasibility of curbing Iran’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products if Tehran refuses to enter negotiations over its nuclear program, an Israeli official said on Monday.
U.S. officials refused to say whether they were considering such a curb, which would represent a critical escalation of existing sanctions against the Islamic state and would hit the average Iranian hard in the pocket book.
But the Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said a possible gasoline import ban "has been discussed for a long time" between the allies, but that policymakers in Washington were concerned Tehran’s response could have implications for global oil markets.
Tehran has threatened to retaliate against a cutoff of its gasoline imports by stopping its crude oil exports to Western countries. Iran could also disrupt oil tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz. About 17 million barrels of oil a day pass through the strait.
[…] Obama said during the U.S. presidential campaign last year that his administration would tighten sanctions on Iran and restrict gasoline imports, if necessary. "If we can prevent them from importing the gasoline they need and the refined petroleum products, that starts changing their cost benefits analysis, that starts putting the squeeze on them," Obama said at a presidential debate last October.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the United States would consult with its allies in September. "But I don’t want to get into discussions amongst allies or hypotheticals as we get toward those dates," Gibbs told reporters on Monday.
Obama could use next month’s G20 summit of industrial nations in Pittsburgh to press for a united front against Iran, but diplomats said Obama could have a hard time convincing Russia and China to go along with any fuel sanctions on Iran.
"China and Russia have made clear to us that they will not accept new sanctions at the moment," said a senior diplomat from one of the six countries that has offered Iran economic and political incentives in exchange for a suspension of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.
"I don’t see that there is any realistic chance of getting another round of sanctions – especially measures that would hit Iran’s oil industry – through the Security Council anytime soon," the diplomat told Reuters.
[…] Other U.N. diplomats noted that the 27-nation European Union is split on the idea of targeting Iran’s energy industry, which would make it difficult for the five European members of the Security Council to come up with a unified position.
They said that one of the countries that has signaled opposition to such sanctions, Austria, joined the 15-nation Security Council in January and will have a seat until the end of 2010. Diplomats say that Turkey, which joined at the same time and shares a border with Iran, would also have difficulty supporting such measures.
The U.S. Congress is ready to have the U.S. act alone. The Senate last week passed legislation that would ban companies that sell gasoline and other refined oil products to Iran from receiving Energy Department contracts to deliver crude to the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Seifollah Jashnsaz, managing director of Iran’s national oil company, said over the weekend that Tehran was not worried about meeting domestic gasoline demand if fuel sanctions were imposed. He called the Senate bill "a meaningless measure."
The House of Representatives has approved a separate bill that would bar the U.S. Export-Import Bank from providing credit, insurance or loan repayment guarantees to foreign oil companies that supply fuel to Iran or help expand the country’s domestic refining capacity.
U.S. lawmakers would have to wait to finalize a sanctions bill on Iran until September when they get back from the summer recess.
Some energy experts have said fuel sanctions on Iran would not have much impact, because the country has porous borders and a history of smuggling petroleum products.
3) Jordan rejects US call to improve ties with Israel
Matthew Lee, Associated Press, Monday, August 3, 2009 10:09 PM
Washington – Jordan on Monday mirrored Saudi Arabia in publicly rejecting U.S. appeals to improve relations with Israel to help restart Middle East peace talks, throwing a damper on the Obama administration’s push for Arab support behind new negotiations.
After talks here with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh said confidence-building measures that the U.S. wants Arab states to take will not produce a resolution to the conflict.
Judeh and Clinton both criticized Israel for its weekend eviction of Palestinian families from an Arab neighborhood in east Jerusalem. But as Clinton looked on at a joint news conference at the State Department, Judeh rebuffed calls for Arabs to take incremental steps in normalizing relations with Israel before Israel agrees to withdraw from occupied Arab territory.
"In the Middle East, there has been in the past an overinvestment, perhaps, by the parties in pursuing confidence-building measures, conflict-management techniques, including transitional arrangements, and an overemphasis on gestures, perhaps at the expense of reaching the actual end game," he said.
Judeh said that "piecemeal approaches that never lead to peace and that have proven repeatedly to be confidence-eroding, rather than confidence-building" must be avoided.
And, he criticized Israel for its refusal to halt construction of Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory and said the Israelis should respond to a 2002 Arab peace offer. "Now, in 2009, many would say it is time for Israel to reciprocate," he said.
Judeh’s comments marked the second time in three days that an Arab foreign minister bluntly refused U.S. calls to improve ties with Israel with measures such as opening trade offices, allowing academic exchanges and permitting civilian Israeli aircraft to overfly their airspace as a way of demonstrating their commitment to peace.
[…] At the same time, [Clinton] criticized Israel for the eviction of the Palestinian families in east Jerusalem to enforce a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court that the houses belonged to Jews and that the Arab families had been living there illegally.
"I think these actions are deeply regrettable," Clinton said. "The eviction of families and demolition of homes in East Jerusalem is not in keeping with Israeli obligations and I urge the government of Israel and municipal officials to refrain from such provocative actions."
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said later that the top U.S. diplomat for the Middle East, Jeffrey Feltman, had spoken to Israel’s ambassador to the United States Michael Oren on Sunday to "express our concern about this step."
4) GI Resistance Under the Radar
Sarah Lazare, Truthout, Monday 03 August 2009
What do you do if you are a soldier being asked to fight a war you do not believe in? For two former soldiers whose unit was ordered to deploy to Iraq in April 2005, the answer came in the form of work slowdowns, letter-writing campaigns, and one-on-one organizing with fellow soldiers. The result: they helped prevent their unit from deploying to a war zone.
In this interview, Skippy and Robert, who did not give their full names for fear of military retaliation, share their stories, telling how they convinced several in their unit to deliberately fail physical training, called public attention to the insufficient training and gear they were being asked to fight with, and found creative ways to encourage soldiers to "drop the military before the military drops you." They tell how they dealt with the fear and intimidation of standing up to their command, and about friends and comrades who fell victim to "broken Joe" syndrome.
These stories give a glimpse into the world of GI resistance – the oft-hidden side of the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the military is not forthcoming with information about the number of troops refusing to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, statistics suggest military resistance overall is on the rise. Since 2002, the Army has court-martialed twice as many soldiers for desertion and other unauthorized absences per year than for each year between 1997 and 2001. AWOL rates in the Army are at their highest since 1980, with the desertion rate having jumped 80 percent since the start of the Iraq War, according to The Associated Press.
Skippy and Robert’s experience shows that while some GI resisters go public, much resistance happens silently, under the radar, in circles of trusted friends, in the small acts that fly in the face of military obedience and command. Their stories serve as a reminder that there are multiple ways to resist military control, and despite military efforts to quash dissent, these varied forms of resistance are as ongoing as the wars themselves.
5) Regime Says ‘Yes’ to Talks but Squelches Protests
Thelma Mejía, Inter Press Service, Aug 3
Tegucigalpa – While it publicly declares its willingness to continue to engage in dialogue, the de facto regime led by Roberto Micheletti in Honduras is taking a hard-line approach to protests demanding the return of ousted President Manuel Zelaya. So far [at least -JFP] three people have been killed, around 100 have been injured, and 150 have been arrested and held for several hours or days. [AFP today puts the toll at 5 deaths; at least 10 have been documented – JFP.]
In the 36 days since Zelaya was hauled out of bed by soldiers and put on a plane to Costa Rica, the authorities say 260 demonstrations, roadblocks and public sector strikes have been held around the country by the president’s supporters.
High school teacher Roger Vallejo, who was shot in the head when the police broke up a roadblock on Thursday in the capital, died after two days in intensive care. Another teacher, Martin Florencio Rivera, was stabbed to death after leaving Vallejo’s wake Saturday.
Both deaths are under investigation. The teachers’ union, which has been on strike, demanding Zelaya’s return, blamed the police for Vallejo’s death and urged the prosecutors to carry out a swift inquiry.
In the same police operation, activist Carlos Reyes’ arm was broken. Reyes plans to run as an independent presidential candidate in the general elections scheduled for Nov. 29.
Vallejo’s wake is being held at a high school, and the burial will take place on Tuesday, to give relatives from outside the capital time to arrive. The wake has drawn large numbers of teachers, students, social activists and members of the general public.
At the wake, the leaders of the Resistance Front against the Coup d’Etat announced a six-day march that will set out Wednesday from different parts of the country and converge on the two biggest cities: Tegucigalpa, and San Pedro Sula in the north. The plan is to form two large groups of demonstrators to demand the restoration of the constitutional government.
The first protester to be killed was 19-year-old Isis Obed Murillo, who was shot by the security forces at Tegucigalpa airport on Jul. 5 when Zelaya’s attempt to return to the country by plane was thwarted by the military.
A leader of the teachers’ union, Lina Pineda, told IPS that "we never imagined that the break-up of the roadblock (where Vallejo was killed) would be so violent. They surrounded the demonstrators and began to lob tear gas canisters at them and beat several leaders with their nightsticks, while others were taken to police posts, although they were released shortly after."
[…] "The more time that goes by, the stronger we become," deputy foreign minister of the de facto regime, Martha Lorena Alvarado, told a local TV station Sunday night. "But we are willing to engage in any dialogue that respects our constitution, and we believe that although the international pressure has been strong, we have the unity needed to withstand it, without abandoning the negotiations."
The regime boasts that it has survived the first month, despite the international pressure and isolation: no foreign government has recognised the de facto government, the EU and Latin American countries have withdrawn their ambassadors, and the U.S. and EU have suspended millions of dollars in aid.
According to the head of the industrialists’ association, Adolfo Facussé, "things are settling down here, and we have begun to make contact with foreign investors who were not interested in coming to the country before. "We are channeling investments of nearly 500 million dollars from Canadian and U.S. business interests, and I think Zelaya is waging a struggle that makes no sense," Facussé told IPS.
6) Fears Of Fraud Cast Pall Over Afghan Election
Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 4, 2009
Kabul – Little more than three weeks before the presidential election, problems that include insecurity and fears of fraud are raising concerns about the credibility of the race, which President Obama has called the most important event in Afghanistan this year.
With Taliban insurgents active in half the country, many Afghans remain doubtful that the Aug. 20 election will take place at all. The Taliban issued a statement last week calling for a boycott, a threat that could deter voters in much of the south, where the insurgency is strongest.
Election officials insist that the election will go ahead. But they concede that the insecurity will prevent as many as 600 polling centers, or roughly 10 percent, from opening. Western officials acknowledge that the election will be imperfect, but say they are aiming for enough credibility to satisfy both Afghans and international monitors.
Even that goal will be hard to meet. Though increasingly unpopular here and abroad, President Hamid Karzai is still the front-runner in a field of about 40 candidates, and only one, Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister for Karzai, has emerged as a serious challenger. Many Afghans are convinced that foreign powers will choose the winner and fix the result.
But no matter who prevails, the multitude of problems and what is expected to be a low turnout in conflict areas are likely to reduce the next president’s mandate.
Western officials and Afghans alike worry that the election could be so flawed that many Afghans might reject the balloting and its results, with potentially dangerous consequences.
If they cannot vote because of insecurity in the south, Pashtuns, the country’s largest ethnic group and the one most closely associated with the Taliban, could become even more alienated from the government and the foreign forces backing it, political analysts say.
[…] In the south, election officials said they were expecting a turnout below 30 percent, said Abdul Qader Nurzai, head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission office in Kandahar.
"The people are not that interested in the elections," said Abdul Hadi, the election commissioner in the adjoining province of Helmand, where thousands of Marines have been deployed to regain towns from the Taliban in time for the elections. "They voted before, and they did not see any result from that," Hadi said. "And they don’t want to put their lives in jeopardy for one vote."
[…] Afghan election officials in the capital, Kabul, insist that voters will turn out. About 4.5 million people registered for new voting cards this year, far exceeding expectations, said Azizullah Ludin, the election commission chief.
Yet irregularities are widespread. As many as 3 million duplicate voter registration cards may be circulating among the 17 million issued, according to one election observer, who asked not to be named because of the delicacy of the subject.
Twenty percent of the new cards went to under-age boys and another 20 percent were duplicates, an Afghan election observer organization, the Free and Fair Election Foundation of Afghanistan, found in the centers it was able to monitor.
[…] So far, the Taliban have generally refrained from specific attacks on the election process or on voters, and have even agreed to allow voting to take place in some areas.
Yet violence has increased, and in some places the Taliban are ordering communities not to take part. In a rambling statement issued Thursday through a spokesman, the Taliban leadership urged people to boycott and fighters to sabotage the process.
7) Lebanon’s Hariri takes time out after ally quits
Tom Perry, Reuters, Tuesday, August 4, 2009 10:03 AM
Beirut – Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri has taken a holiday to "think and reflect" after a once close ally quit his anti-Syria coalition in a move expected to delay the formation of a new government.
Druze leader Walid Jumblatt’s departure from Hariri’s "March 14" alliance this week has redrawn Lebanon’s political map and undermined the coalition’s June parliamentary election victory over rivals including the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Hariri, a Saudi- and U.S.-backed billionaire businessman, had been expected to conclude talks this week on the formation of a coalition government grouping his alliance with parties allied to Syria, including Hezbollah and the Amal movement.
[…] Hariri, 39, had reached agreement last week on the division of cabinet seats, splitting the portfolios between his alliance, the rival "March 8" alliance and a group of ministers to be named by President Michel Suleiman.
But Jumblatt has said the three ministers he is expected to be allocated in the 30-seat cabinet will be aligned with neither March 14 or March 8, the coalitions whose rivalry has defined Lebanese politics since the 2005 assassination of Hariri’s father, former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.
He told Lebanese television station MTV that he would ally himself with Suleiman, who was elected president last year as a consensus candidate.
The change in his position is seen linked to an end to Syria’s isolation by many Western governments and rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Syria, whose rivalry has been seen at the heart of Lebanon’s turmoil since the Hariri killing.
Jumblatt’s announcement has dealt a major blow to March 14, which won a parliamentary majority in a legislative election two months ago. Without his bloc of 11 MPs, March 14 no longer has an absolute majority in the 128-seat parliament.
[…] Jumblatt had been one of the most hawkish figures in the March 14 alliance, which coalesced after the Hariri killing with an agenda focused on ending Syrian influence in Lebanon.
8) Police Urge Indictment Of Israel’s Lieberman
Linda Gradstein, Washington Post, Monday, August 3, 2009
Jerusalem – Israeli police recommended Sunday that the state indict Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on charges of bribery, fraud, money laundering, witness harassment and obstruction of justice.
A spokesman for the Justice Ministry said the file now moves to the state prosecutor’s office and then to Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who would have to approve the recommendation before Lieberman could be formally indicted. That process could take weeks or even months. If the foreign minister is indicted, he will have to resign, according to Israeli law.
[…] The Haaretz newspaper reported that Lieberman made more than $600,000 as a salaried employee of his daughter’s company from 2004 to 2006, when he was not a parliament member or a minister. Haaretz reported that from 2004 to 2007, the firm headed by Lieberman’s daughter Michal received about $3 million from anonymous sources overseas for "business consulting."
Lieberman founded and leads the party Yisrael Beitenu, or Israel Is Our Home, which is a key member of the government coalition and has a strong appeal among Russian-speaking immigrants to Israel. That party won 15 seats in Israel’s recent elections and became the third-largest party in parliament.
Lieberman, who lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, is controversial here. He has called for loyalty oaths for all Israeli citizens, a move directed at Israel’s Arab citizens. He has also said some Arab-majority areas of Israel should be annexed to a future Palestinian state, in effect removing citizenship from tens of thousands of Israeli Arabs.
"Lieberman has been very ineffective as a foreign minister," said Aluf Benn, the editor-at-large of Haaretz. "The Arab foreign ministers have boycotted him, the Europeans were reluctant to talk to him, and even with the Americans there was a marked difference."
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