Monthly Archives: August 2008

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The source said that the Saudis may prefer to stay away from the internal politics of Pakistan after the Sharif incident after which, for the first time in the country’s history, the media and civil society voiced concern over the Saudis’ role.

Saudi authorities, however, are sending a senior government official to gain a first hand view of the situation arising out of the impeachment move. 
Disappointed with his American friends, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, who faces impeachment by the ruling coalition, has sent an “SOS message” to the Saudi authorities, a source said on Monday.

“The message was sent through a senior Saudi diplomat based in Islamabad,” the source said, adding the President has received a response that is “not very positive”.

The source said Saudi authorities, however, are sending a senior government official to gain a first hand view of the situation arising out of the impeachment move.

The source, privy to the developments in Islamabad, said that Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan Ali Awadh Asseri would also be soon returning home after cutting short his private visit to his homeland.

Musharraf, when he seized power in October 1999 after overthrowing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, had sent him into exile in Saudi Arabia.

Later, when Sharif attempted to return to Pakistan last year, Musharraf persuaded the Saudi authorities to “take him back” and he was bundled off after spending over two hours at Islamabad airport. This invited criticism of Saudi authorities, which otherwise command respect among the majority of Pakistanis.

However, in November last year, Sharif with the help of Saudi Arabia returned to Pakistan to lead his party in the February general elections. Since then, he has been campaigning against Musharraf and was instrumental in convincing his allies in the ruling coalition to impeach the president.

The source said that the Saudis may prefer to stay away from the internal politics of Pakistan after the Sharif incident after which, for the first time in the country’s history, the media and civil society voiced concern over the Saudis’ role.

“What I know is that Musharraf may be offered permanent residence in Saudi Arabia if he resigns. The Saudis may manage amnesty for him, sparing him from further humiliation and high treason charges,” said the source.
Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Parliament opened a crucial session on Monday and is likely to take up an impeachment motion against beleaguered Musharraf, who has vowed not to quit under any circumstances.

Ahead of the convening of the 342-member National Assembly, lower house of Parliament, the lawmakers from the PPP-led ruling coalition held a meeting chaired by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to discuss how they would go about the procedure to impeach the President.

During the coalition’s meeting, it was decided that the Assembly session will continue till Musharraf’s impeachment. The 100-member Senate, the upper house, is already in session.

Chargesheet draft

A committee of PPP and PML-N leaders drafting a chargesheet against Musharraf also had its third meeting on Monday and decided to meet again today to finalise the document containing allegations of misconduct, violation of the Constitution and financial irregularities against the Musharraf.

‘Prez will not quit’

Presidential spokesman Major General Rashid Quresi has said Musharraf will not step down “in any situation.”
He said the ruling coalition has not even yet presented a formal chargesheet against Musharraf, who turned 65 on Monday.

Leaders of the ruling coalition have accused Musharraf of incompetence, pursuing economic policies that have brought Pakistan to the brink of an economic crisis, violating the Constitution and criminal acts.
After the four provincial assemblies pass separate resolutions asking Musharraf to seek a vote of confidence in Parliament, the PPP-led coalition will submit an impeachment motion and chargesheet against him in the National Assembly.

The impeachment motion needs to be passed by a two-thirds majority or 295 members during a joint sitting of Parliament.

IN CASE HE resigns…

US wants ‘honourable stay’ for Mush
Washington, pti: The US may not want to interfere in the impeachment process against Musharraf terming it as an internal affair, but is apparently willing to help ensure “full indemnity” and “honourable stay” in Pakistan should he agree to quit.

US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson has consulted White House and State Department officials on the PPP-led government’s decision to impeach Musharraf, the Dawn daily quoted diplomatic and US official sources as saying.

The Pakistani government wanted some senior US official or lawmaker to publicly persuade Musharraf to quit, an approach similar to the one adopted in case of Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986. The US wants to use its influence to arrange a secure and honourable stay for Musharraf in Pakistan, the sources were quoted as saying.

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Tensions between the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia erupted into full-scale war on 7 August, leaving thousands of civilians dead and turning dozens of thousands more into refugees.

Tensions between the former Soviet republic of Georgia and Russia erupted into full-scale war on 7 August, leaving thousands of civilians dead and turning dozens of thousands more into refugees.

The conflict in South Ossetia has great strategic importance because it involves one of the United States’ staunch allies and Russia, a re-emerging superpower with vast energy reserves that is showing growing eagerness to defend its interests on the international stage.

President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia said that his country was acting to restore peace in the Caucasus and protect its citizens and peacekeepers who had come under Georgian attack in South Ossetia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused Georgia of utilizing massive violence with the aim of making the Ossetian population flee.

“We are receiving reports that a policy of ethnic cleansing was being conducted in villages in South Ossetia, the number of refugees is climbing, the panic is growing, people are trying to save their lives,” said Lavrov.

Russian counteroffensive expelled Georgian forces from the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, after four days of heavy fighting. Georgia’s military defeat was already clear and sure at that time.

With Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Beijing for the Olympics opening ceremony and the world’s attention focused on China, Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili may have believed that it had an opportunity to quickly wrest control of South Ossetia.

South Ossetia and Abkhazia are two breakaway provinces that have declared their secession from Georgia. Their political orientation is pro-Russian and most of their inhabitants have Russian passports. South Ossetia longed to be incorporated into Russia, whose province of North Ossetia contains their ethnic brethren.

Tensions rose markedly this year after South Ossetia basked in Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia, calling it an international precedent that legitimized its own refusal to remain part of Georgia. During one meeting on Kosovo in Brussels this year, Sergei Lavrov warned US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and European diplomats that if they recognized Kosovo, they would be setting a precedent for South Ossetia and other breakaway provinces in the former Soviet Union.

In this way, “America and Europe’s actions on Kosovo, left Russia feeling threatened, encircled and more convinced that it had to take aggressive measures to restore its power, dignity and influence in a region it considers its strategic backyard”, foreign policy experts told The New York Times.

Actually, the conflict must be placed it squarely in the context of renewed cold war-style tensions and a struggle between Russia and the United States for regional influence. Georgia is currently the main ally of the US in the Caucasus region.

Washington backed the “Rose Revolution” that paved the way for Saakashvili’s rise to power. For his part, Saakashvili agreed on hosting the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which has been designed to transport energy resources from the Caspian Basin to the Mediterranean, while bypassing Russia.

“Russia cannot allow Georgia to solve the South Ossetia problem by military means,” Irina Zvigelskaya, an expert with the independent Center for Strategic and International Studies in Moscow, told the Christian Science Monitor.

“Of course the deaths of Russian peacekeepers and the destruction caused by the invading Georgians is an important reason why Medvedev has ordered Russian forces to intervene in the conflict. But there are bigger strategic reasons behind that. Moscow cannot let Saakashvili succeed in his gamble.”

Of course, Russia knows that a Georgian victory would be an American one. It would allow the US to control the Caucasus and the Caspian Basin and their enormous energy resources through the assertion of its military power in the region.

The United States and other NATO members have sent substantial aid to build up Georgia’s army. The American military has been training and equipping Georgian troops for years. At least 130 US soldiers, Marines and pilots are in Georgia to carry out a program, called Exercise Immediate Response 2008, on military cooperation.

Georgia returned the favor, by sending about 2,000 troops to participate in the occupation of Iraq, which made it the third-largest contributor to “coalition forces” after the US and Britain.

Georgia is also aggressively lobbying to join NATO and is supported by the United States in this goal. At the NATO summit in Bucharest in the spring, US President George W. Bush made one of the stronger speeches of his tenure, stating that the 26-member alliance should accept Georgia and Ukraine.

“We must make clear that NATO welcomes the membership aspirations of Georgia and Ukraine and offers them a clear path forward towards that goal. My country’s position is clear: NATO should welcome Georgia and Ukraine into the Membership Action Plans”, he said.

However, Germany and France argued against this. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, said that a new NATO expansion would annoy Russia too much. Bush tried hard to change the German and French position at the summit but he failed.

The meeting finally denied Georgia a “Membership Action Plan”, although it left the door open for future membership of Georgia and Ukraine. In July, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited to Tbilisi, provocatively criticizing Russia and once again reiterating American support for Georgia’s NATO membership.

Russia has laid much of the responsibility for the fighting on Washington. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s Special Envoy to NATO, linked Georgia’s attack against South Ossetia with NATO’s recent summit in Bucharest stressing that they dropped a hint to the Georgian President: Georgia will get NATO admission, and Mikhail Saakashvili understood he could launch the attack.

Rogozin added, “Though NATO does not want to show it truly sides with Saakashvili, at the latest summit the President got a permit to start a military operation.”

Russian officials also told the daily Pravda that it was the United States that had orchestrated the current conflict. Chairman of the State Duma Committee for Security Vladimir Vasilyev believes that the current conflict is South Ossetia is very reminiscent to the wars in Iraq and Kosovo.

“The things that were happening in Kosovo, the things that were happening in Iraq – we are now following the same path. The further the situation unfolds, the more the world will understand that Georgia would never be able to do all this without America. South Ossetian defense officials used to make statements about imminent aggression from Georgia, but the latter denied everything, whereas the US Department of State reloaded not comments on the matter. In essence, they have prepared the force, which destroys everything in South Ossetia, attacks civilians and hospitals. They are responsible for this. The world community will learn about it,” the official said.

US behavior in the United Nations Security Council, where Washington refused to support a Russian-backed resolution calling for an end to the fighting because of its opposition to a clause calling on all sides to “renounce the use of force”, has persuaded Russians that Washington is actually backing Georgia’s “right” to take military action.

Washington, in turn, blamed Russia for the conflict. Bush used tough language, demanding that Russia stop bombing. Condoleezza Rice issued a statement that effectively condemned Russia, while providing tacit justification for the Georgian intervention.

“We call on Russia to cease attacks on Georgia by aircraft and missiles, respect Georgia’s territorial integrity, and withdraw its ground combat forces from Georgian soil,” she said. “We underscore the international community’s support for Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.”

For his part, US President George W. Bush’s deputy national security adviser, James Jeffrey, warned that the war could have a negative impact on Washington and Moscow relations.

“We have made it clear to the Russians that if the disproportionate and dangerous escalation on the Russian side continues, that this will have a significant, long-term impact on US-Russian relations”.

However, the US government is unwilling to give military support to its ally. “There is no possibility of drawing NATO or the international community into this,” said a senior State Department official told the New York Times.

“For the Bush administration, the choice now becomes whether backing Georgia -which, more than any other former Soviet republic has allied with the United States- on the South Ossetia issue is worth alienating Russia at a time when getting Russia’s help to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions is at the top of the United States’ foreign policy agenda”, the Times report concluded.

In short, the Russian victory over Georgia means a severe blow to the United States, whose strategic position in the Caucasus region has become seriously weakened.

Former Soviet republics have also seen that the United States can do nothing to support them if they try to challenge increasingly strong Russian power. The result will be an expansion of Russian influence in the Caucasus and Central Asia and the reassertion of Russia as a world superpower.

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Georgia’s president says he has asked his country’s parliament to announce a state of war as fierce battles with Russia military over the breakaway region of South Ossetia entered their second day.

Georgia’s president says he has asked his country’s parliament to announce a state of war as fierce battles with Russia military over the breakaway region of South Ossetia entered their second day.

Russia has launched a full-scale military invasion of Georgia, President Mikhail Saakashvili said during a brief news conference Saturday afternoon.

 “We are dealing with absolutely criminal and crazy acts of irresponsible and reckless decision makers, which is on the ground producing dramatic and tragic consequences,” Saakashvili said.

Saakashvili compared the Russian invasion, which he called unprovoked, to the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Russian paratroopers entered the capital of South Ossetia on Saturday as part of a military operation that Russia said was intended to force the Georgian side to cease fire.

Separatist-backed South Ossetian sources reported about 1,600 people have died and 90 have been wounded in the capital of Tskhinvali after two days of fighting, but Georgian officials said the figure was inflated. The Georgians said they didn’t have their own death toll, but it would likely be closer to 100.

Inna Gagloyeva, the spokeswoman for the South Ossetian Information and Press Committee, told the Interfax news agency the capital was being “massively shelled” with artillery guns.

It was also unclear which side was in control of Tskhinvali on Saturday, with the Georgian side saying fighting still raged but the Russians saying they have “liberated” the city.

“Battalion task forces have fully liberated Tskhinvali of Georgian armed forces and started pushing Georgian units out of the area of responsibility of the peacekeeping forces,” said General Vladimir Boldyrev, commander of the Russian Ground Forces, in an interview with Interfax.

Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, a spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, told a news conference that the paratroopers will “implement the operation of enforcing peace” on both sides.

Nogovitsyn also confirmed that Georgians had shot down two Russian aircraft.

Russia said the troops were also reinforcing the Russian peacekeepers already in South Ossetia.

“Our peacekeepers, along with reinforcement units, are currently conducting an operation to force the Georgian side to accept peace,” Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said at the Kremlin, according to the RIA-Novosti news agency. “They are also responsible for protecting the population.”

Interfax said 15 peacekeepers were killed in the Friday attack by Georgian troops. Russia has opened a criminal probe into their deaths, Interfax reported.

Georgia, a former Soviet Republic, is a pro-Western ally of the United States intent on asserting its authority over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which both have strong Russian-backed separatist movements.

Russia moved troops into South Ossetia early Friday after Georgia launched an operation in the breakaway region when its unilateral cease-fire was met with what it said was artillery fire from separatists that killed 10 people, including peacekeepers and civilians.

Russia charged that Georgia had targeted its peacekeepers stationed in the region.

Medvedev said Saturday that Georgia must be held responsible for the situation in South Ossetia.

“The people responsible for this humanitarian disaster need to be held liable for what they have done,” Medvedev said. He said the humanitarian problems were caused by “the aggression launched by the Georgian side against the South Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers.”

Russian officials said more than 30,000 refugees have left South Ossetia and crossed into Russia over the past two days, since fighting began, Interfax reported.

A Red Cross official in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi was unable to provide refugee or casualty figures Saturday morning because she said aid workers were still gathering information and visiting hospitals in South Ossetia and western Georgia, where she said two towns suffered damage overnight.

Maia Kardava, a spokeswoman for the Red Cross delegation in Tbilisi, said Russian forces bombarded military and civilian targets the port town of Poti, on Georgia’s Black Sea coast. Georgian officials said eight Georgians were killed in the port town.

In the town of Senaki, just inland from Poti, Russian forces damaged a railway line, a military base, and a center housing civilians who fled from nearby Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region.

The Georgian town of Gori, about 35 miles northwest of Tbilisi, came under attack from Russian aircraft, Georgian officials said.

Inside South Ossetia, civilians have been without water, electricity, and basic services for more than a day, Kardava said. She said the Red Cross was unable to reach colleagues based in Tskhinvali because their phones had lost power and they were huddled in bomb shelters.

Also saturday, the commander of Georgian troops stationed in Iraq said the 2,000 soldiers currently there will be withdrawn from Iraq “very soon.”

Colonel Bondo Maisuradze said the United States would provide the transport to get them out of Iraq. He said he had no timeframe for the move.

Source: Agencies

Kavkaz Center

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Palestinian and Israeli officials are rushing to arrive at some sort of procedural agreement in their negotiations in an effort to show at least minimal positive signs of progress to U.S. President George W. Bush when he visits the region this week.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei (left)
and Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, in Washington
D.C. last November. (Ron Sachs / CNP via Newscom)
Palestinian and Israeli officials are rushing to arrive at some sort of procedural agreement in their negotiations in an effort to show at least minimal positive signs of progress to U.S. President George W. Bush when he visits the region this week.

A scheduled meeting between both delegations in a West Jerusalem hotel Monday got off to a bad start when the head of the Palestinian delegation, Ahmad Qurei, was held up at an Israeli checkpoint for a security search.

Palestinians alleged that the border hindrance, which set the meeting back several hours, was a deliberate act of provocation.

Qurei’s office said in a statement the Israeli authorities at the Allenby Bridge — the border post between Jordan and the West Bank — forced the man to undergo a thorough search and held him up for more than an hour, in what his aides described as a “humiliation.”

Qurei was returning from Amman to the West Bank, and then to Jerusalem, for his meeting with an Israeli delegation led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

A Palestinian official privately told the Middle East Times that this was the second time the chief Palestinian negotiator was held up for a search at an Israeli checkpoint since Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tasked him with leading the peace negotiations, which resumed formally in late November at a U.S.-sponsored Middle East conference in the United States.

He said the Israelis were deliberately pressuring Qurei, a former prime minister, for his “refusal to make concessions” in a series of talks with the Israelis before and after the November Annapolis conference.

The official added that the killing of one of his aides during an Israeli raid in Ramallah last month was part of a “systematic campaign” on Qurei in particular and his negotiating team in general, to “punish them for sticking to the Palestinian demands.”

Monday’s incident, however, did not prevent the Palestinians from meeting their Israeli counterparts later in the day, which was to focus on forming a joint committee and activating sub-committees related to final status issues — Jerusalem, borders and Palestinian refugees.

Other than agreeing to continue their talks in an apparent bid to avoid blame for failure in the peace process, the two sides have so far disagreed on every issue they’ve discussed since starting their meetings in the summer, including a failure to draft a joint document they hoped to present at Annapolis.

Forming and activating joint committees would be the first sign of any headway, albeit procedural, to present to Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert when they meet Tuesday, and the only progress they are likely to show Bush.

“I hope that we’ll be able to announce before Bush’s arrival an agreement on the structural aspect of the negotiations, such as who will discuss what,” an Israeli official told AFP news agency.

Palestinians close to the negotiations said Monday’s meeting, as well as Tuesday’s Abbas-Olmert talks, will also focus on improving the atmosphere that has been marred in recent weeks following Israel’s daily military assault on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which has killed dozens of Palestinians; as well as its military operations in the West Bank, controlled by Abbas’ Palestinian Authority.

Abbas insisted the Israeli raids in the West Bank were “unjustified” and an Israeli attempt to falsely portray the PA security services as not living up to their duty of maintaining law and order, and to shift attention from Israel’s settlement activities.

The PA says it has done its part in meeting the first phase of the international peace Quartet’s road map in reining in militants, and that Israel has yet to fulfill its obligations by halting Jewish settlement activities in the West Bank.

Ahead of Bush’s visit to the region, the first by a U.S. president in nine years, the Israeli government is seeking a court ban on the publication of a key report on its settlement activities since capturing the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, regarded as illegal by the international community.

Palestinian leaders have consistently said the continued settlement expansion, including ones announced after Annapolis, were a recipe for failed negotiations, which Abbas and Olmert vowed to complete before Bush’s term expires in January 2009.

While Washington has criticized the settlement activities as obstacles to peacemaking, Arab analysts don’t expect Bush to put pressure on Israel to halt them, and therefore, the U.S. president will not assume a practical role during his visit or forge any breakthroughs between the Palestinians and Israelis.

The analysts argue that Bush has made no secret of his devout support for Israel and they expect him to accept only an expected Israeli announcement that it would start removing more than 100 “illegal outposts” set up after the Quartet’s 2003 road map. Last week, Bush called on Israel to dismantle these outposts.

The analysts say that while the U.S. president would like to score “peace points” during his visit that starts Wednesday, he has already set the priority of his agenda by focusing his efforts on reiterating his administration’s unwavering support of Israel through seeking Arab backing to pressure Iran.

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What impact does this have on U.S.-Iran relations? With this simple decision, Washington has taken the first step in reversing its course with Iran, taking the initiative to break the vicious cycle of escalation.

U.S. undersecretary for political affairs, William Burns, attended a recent meeting in Geneva between EU Secretary General Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. This decision was the first direct and official contact between the United States and Iran after nearly three decades of troubled relations. The decision to send Burns to the talks was a wise and courageous one, despite his nominal role as an observer.

What impact does this have on U.S.-Iran relations? With this simple decision, Washington has taken the first step in reversing its course with Iran, taking the initiative to break the vicious cycle of escalation.

Burns is a high ranking U.S. official, holding the third highest position in the Department of State. The undersecretary serves as the day-to-day manager of overall regional and bilateral policy issues, and oversees the geographic bureaus. Consequently, the U.S. government’s decision to participate in this meeting, by sending someone of this level, sent a clear and serious message.

And Iran responded positively. Manouchehr Muttaki, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs, suggested they get to know one another in order to reach a better understanding of the origins of the conflict. He also repeated a call for more direct air flights between Tehran and the United States. And Ali Akbar Wilayati, foreign affairs adviser to the Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, noted the great importance of Washington’s decision. Even Iranian Vice President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei stated that the people of Iran are friends of the American people.

Sending Burns to the negotiating table was a good move. But by itself it is not enough. Further steps are required to show that America is committed to a track of diplomatic engagement.

Continuing upon this path could prevent the United States from entering into an open-ended, potentially deadly conflict with Iran and its allies in the Middle East. It would save the lives of U.S. soldiers and help safeguard America’s interests in the region.

It would also assist Iran’s regime in its quest for stability and recognition. Furthering its political interests would require sitting down at the same table with U.S. officials and being recognized by the United States as a friend rather than one of the “rogue regimes” in the “axis of evil.”

Iran is also aiming to put an end to U.S. and U.N. sanctions that are proving harmful to the Iranian economy and standard of living. It needs to begin selling its natural gas (Iran sits on the world’s second largest proven gas reserves after Russia) to the United States and developing its oil and gas fields.

Shortly after meeting with political and senior military officials in Israel, America’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, warned against pursuing a military strike against Iran. He said that the Iranian nuclear issue should be dealt with only though diplomatic channels, and that war with Iran is not in the United States’ best interest. Launching air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “extremely stressful,” Mullen added, which is military speak for catastrophic.

Likewise, a war with America would also wreak havoc for Iranians, who are already suffering from a huge economic crisis, despite the recent hike in oil prices. Many Iranian political experts are already expressing their fear of an American attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, army and economy.

Through the Burns visit, the seed of diplomacy has been planted and it must be nurtured.

The United States can count on help from civil society to continue to build positive relations with Iran’s civil society. For example, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, D.C., John Bryson Chane, recently traveled to Iran on two occasions at the invitation of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami. He exchanged viewpoints with numerous religious leaders and scholars in Tehran and Qom in the hopes of giving “theological diplomacy” a chance.

In addition, the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., has worked for several years building bridges between the United States and Iran, organizing conferences along the theme of “dialogue of civilizations” with Iranian partners, and arranging exchange visits for Iranian university professors and clerics. Such initiatives should continue.

In addition, the U.S. plan to establish a diplomatic presence in Tehran could be constructive for both sides. For America, it could serve as a window of understanding into the relatively unknown government of Iran. Along with direct contact with Iranian officials, it would encourage public diplomacy with the Iranian people vis-à-vis culture, education, women’s rights, and other mutual interests.

For Iran, it provides an opportunity to improve its reputation, through contact with American diplomats. It is a good starting point that may lead to broader recognition for the Iranian regime and the emergence of diplomatic ties.

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The looming Iran-Israel confrontation has a seemingly deterministic quality to it. Listening to the politicians, one gets a sense that powers beyond our control are pulling us toward a 21st-century disaster. Yet a great deal of the force propelling us into confrontation is fuelled by ignorance and dehumanization. Israel is demonized as "Little Satan," while Iranians are portrayed as irrational Muslim extremists.

WASHINGTON, D.C./BARCELONA, Spain – The looming Iran-Israel confrontation has a seemingly deterministic quality to it. Listening to the politicians, one gets a sense that powers beyond our control are pulling us toward a 21st-century disaster. Yet a great deal of the force propelling us into confrontation is fuelled by ignorance and dehumanization. Israel is demonized as “Little Satan,” while Iranians are portrayed as irrational Muslim extremists.

Indeed, mutual ignorance of our respective societies plays into the hands of the hardline leaders who are calling for blood and destruction. They manipulate and distort; above all, they do everything to prevent us from recognizing that the enemy has a face.

Not that either of us is naive enough to believe that mere knowledge of one another will offer a miraculous solution. We do believe, however, that mutual understanding will go a long way toward allowing us to feel empathy and compassion for each other, and to sound off at those calling for bloodshed and war.

Here are some essential things Iranians and Israelis should know about each other:

1. Israel is a vibrant yet incomplete democracy.

On his visit to the United States last fall, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad famously stated that there are no homosexuals in Iran. Well, in Israel there are plenty of homosexuals, and they are the only ones in the Middle East who have an annual gay pride parade in their capital city.

Democracy in Israel means that every citizen and group (Jewish or otherwise) has the right to express him/herself and assemble in public. Also, that every citizen is equal under the law, has voting rights, religious freedom, access to education, health care and economic opportunity.

Undoubtedly, Israel’s democracy is still a work in progress. The fusion of religion and state has limited people’s rights and freedoms (for example, Israelis of different faiths cannot legally marry one another in the country), and the de facto secondary status of Arab Israelis is an affront to the country’s democratic ideals. Fortunately, many people in Israel are assiduously working to change the system from within.

2. Iran is a vibrant quasi-democracy.

It is far from a full democracy, but neither is it a complete dictatorship. Its severe limitations notwithstanding, Iran has a lively civil society and possesses most of the building blocks for a successful democracy down the road. The Iranian people’s struggle for democracy dates back to the 1906 Constitutional Revolution. Since then, Iranians have learned two important lessons.

First, war and democratization don’t mix. As tensions between Iran and the outside world increase, the first to pay are Iran’s pro-democracy and human rights activists. For Iran to move toward a democratic system, it needs peace and tranquility; bombs and surgical strikes will achieve the opposite.

Second, when you carry out a revolution, you know against whom you are revolting, but not necessarily for whom you are waging the revolution. Iranians have little appetite for another revolution. As unpopular as their current government is, they prefer gradual and manageable change.

3. Streets are named for poets.

Just like Iran, Israel puts great value on the written word. In Israel, streets are named for poets – writers who have revived a people and its ancient language. It is the pen and imagination, more than the sword and muscle, that have been responsible for the creation of this nation. As in Iran, everyday conversations in Israel are as likely to be peppered with literary references as with practical concerns.

4. Iranians are lonely and distrustful.

Much like Israelis, Iranians feel painfully isolated in the Middle East. They are surrounded by people with whom they share neither language nor religion. Iran is majority Persian and Shiite; its neighbors are majority Arab and Sunni.

Nor does Iran have many friends beyond the Middle East. If anything, the international community has never treated them fairly, Iranians believe. In the last century alone, Iranians have contended with colonization and decades of foreign intervention, not to mention an eight-year war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, in which the entire world sided with Iraq.

5. Zionism is not a dirty word.

In a show of disrespect, many leaders in Iran refer to Israel as the “Zionist regime.” While being called a “regime” may not be flattering, for most Israelis, Zionism is not a dirty word.

From within, Zionism is a national liberation movement, whose aim it is to create a safe haven for Jewish people, culture and national identity. Zionism is the Jewish people’s answer to the centuries-old impulse to erase them from history. When Ahmadinejad and his ilk speak of Zionism’s imminent doom, they are in fact strengthening the very movement they seek to eliminate.

6. Sympathy with Palestinians, but no desire for conflict with Israel.

Ahmadinejad’s venomous rhetoric notwithstanding, Iranians don’t spend much time thinking about Israel. They are far more concerned about Iran’s crippled economy and rampant corruption. While the sympathies of most Iranians fall squarely with the Palestinians, this is not an issue they feel their country must be actively involved in.

Iranians will fiercely defend their independence and territory, yet they have no desire for conflict with Israel. Iranians remember Alexander’s sacking of Persia, the Arab conquest in the 7th century CE, the Mongol invasion, and the 1953 CIA coup against Iran’s democratically elected prime minister. But there is no recollection of any conflict with the Jewish people because there hasn’t been one. Most Iranians would like to keep it that way.

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Chinese authorities had promised to host the best Olympics ever, placing greater emphasis on presenting the world the changing face of a new China. Yet even before the opening ceremony the Games have already been tainted by what Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes as "a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom."


U.S. actress and human rights activist Mia Farrow (shown here) has been denied a visa to the Beijing Olympic Games, because of her outspoken comments on human rights violations in Sudan. (Sipa Press)
The 2008 Beijing Olympics will open Aug. 8, and China, the hosting country, is taking the lead in the rising number of human rights abuses directly linked to the preparations for the Games, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday.

Chinese authorities had promised to host the best Olympics ever, placing greater emphasis on presenting the world the changing face of a new China. Yet even before the opening ceremony the Games have already been tainted by what Human Rights Watch (HRW) describes as “a well-documented surge in violations of the rights of free expression and association, as well as media freedom.”

China has placed tremendous efforts to ensure that its athletes walk away with Olympic gold. One category where the Chinese are certain to excel will be in Beijing’s “failure to honor its Olympics-related human rights promises,” says Human Rights Watch.

The Chinese government is not alone in carrying the blame, as points out HRW, the International Olympic Committee shares the fault or its gross negligence to ensure that China meets the Olympic criteria.

“The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have had seven years to deliver on their pledges that these games would further human rights,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the Beijing Games have prompted a rollback in some of the most basic rights enshrined in China’s constitution and international law.”

Human Rights Watch pointed particularly to the following ongoing abuses and some of their most recent victims:

— Chinese citizens who expressed concerns over Olympics-related abuses face intimidation, imprisonment, and are subject to house arrest. Ye Guozhu, a 53-year-old housing rights activist, remains in prison despite having completed his four-year prison sentence in July 2008. After attempting to organize protests against forced evictions related to the Beijing Olympics, Ye was convicted on Dec. 18, 2004, on charges of “suspicion of disturbing social order.” Ye’s family has said they believe the government will hold him until after the games to prevent him from speaking freely.

— Still according to Human Rights Watch, hundreds of thousands of residents have been evicted and their homes demolished in the course of Beijing’s makeover. Ni Yulan, a 47-year-old lawyer who was disbarred and imprisoned for her work defending the rights of those forcibly evicted in Beijing and crippled by beatings she suffered in prison, is now awaiting trial on charges of “obstructing a public official” (Article 277 of the Criminal Law), which carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison. During the incident in question, Ni was resisting the demolition of her own home when she was hit on the head with a brick and dragged to the ground.

— Reneging on promises to the international media, the authorities in Beijing have refused to lift restrictions permitting the foreign media from reporting freely.

This is in violation of China’s Olympic pledge.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is responsible for the security of all foreign journalists in China, continues to refuse to investigate death threats made against foreign correspondents in the wake of a state media-driven vilification campaign of “Western media bias” following the recent violence in Tibet.

“The Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee have wasted a historic opportunity to use the Beijing Games to make real progress on human rights in China,” said Richardson. “That failure has damaged the prospects for a legacy of enhanced media freedom, greater tolerance for dissent, and respect for the rule of law.”

Instead, the Chinese government has concentrated its energies on smothering the voices of those who have spoken out publicly about the need for greater tolerance for and development of human rights.

Adding to the dark clouds hanging over the Olympic stadium in Beijing is China’s alliance with the Sudanese government which stands accused of committing genocide in the Darfur region. Beijing’s authorities are further denying visas to personalities – such as U.S. actress and rights activist Mia Farrow – wishing to speak out against the injustices committed by a close ally and an important trading partner in the Arab world.

Middle East  Times


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"Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow the country to commit suicide." Thus did President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declare a state of emergency and invoke martial law.

“Inaction at this moment is suicide for Pakistan, and I cannot allow the country to commit suicide.”

Thus did President Gen. Pervez Musharraf declare a state of emergency and invoke martial law.

The Supreme Court has been dismissed, the chief justice put under house arrest. A thousand lawyers and political opponents have been incarcerated. Human rights organizations have been shut down. Independent news media have been silenced.

Musharraf has effected a second coup, the first being his takeover in 1999. Doing so, he invoked Abraham Lincoln: “By general law life and limb must be protected; yet often a limb must be amputated to save a life.”

Indeed, Lincoln, too, impeded elections in Maryland, ordered Chief Justice Roger Taney arrested, shut newspapers, suspended habeas corpus, arrested thousands who sympathized with the South’s right to independence and ordered a blockade of Southern ports.

What has been the reaction of the great evangelist of Wilsonian democracy in the White House to its suspension in Pakistan?

Military aid to the regime and army will continue.


Welcome to the real world, where state interests always trump ideology. The “world democratic revolution” and the Second Bush Inaugural goal of “ending tyranny in our world” have been put on the shelf. For what is at issue is more critical than whether Musharraf is dictator or democrat.

Pakistan, a nation of 170 million with nuclear weapons, is up for grabs. And the major contenders are not democrats. On one side is Musharraf and loyal elements of the army, police and intelligence services. On the other are radicals with guns – disloyal soldiers, pro-Taliban militia, al-Qaida sympathizers and suicide bombers.

Such folks do not settle quarrels at ballot boxes.

The crisis in Pakistan brings home the reality the Bushites have ignored in their ideological crusades. For in the Pakistan crucible we see starkly who our real enemies are, whence the true dangers come and where our vital interests lie.

Musharraf is – as were Franco, Pinochet and the shah in the Cold War – a flawed friend and an enemy of our enemy. If he falls, any democratic successor, like Benazir Bhutto, would not likely long survive al-Qaida and the suicide bombers who already tried to kill her.

What is happening in Pakistan exposes, too, the limits of U.S. power and the failure of President Bush – because of the democratist ideology to which he converted after 9/11 – to see clearly the real dangers to his country. Our enemy was always al-Qaida. It was never Iraq. And it is not Iran, at whom the GOP candidates are all braying their bellicosity.

After 9/11, those who viewed the horror and asked, “Why do they hate us?” were hooted down as unpatriotic. We were told Muslim militants hate us because we are free, democratic and good, and they are evil.

Americans can no longer afford to indulge this ideological claptrap. We are hated not because of who we are, but because of what we do. Nowhere is that more true than in Pakistan.

A loyal ally in the Cold War, Pakistan served as a strategic base camp for the Mujahedeen, who used U.S. mortars and Stinger missiles to run the Red Army out of Afghanistan. Then we dumped Pakistan to court her adversary, India.

Millions of Muslims now no longer see America as the beacon of liberty, but as an arrogant superpower with a huge footprint in their world, dictating to their regimes. Instead of bringing our troops home after our Cold War and Gulf War victories, we moved permanently into Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf. Then we attacked a Muslim nation, Iraq, that had neither attacked us nor threatened us, to impose our system upon it.

Like the British, French and Russians before us, we are seen as imperialists, and shall be so seen and so hated until we get our troops out of their world. Finally, we are despised for our toxic culture and our uncritical support of the Israelis, who are viewed as the persecutors and robbers of the land and dignity of the Palestinian people.

Why cannot we see ourselves as others see us?

Pakistan reveals, too, the limits of military power. With an army of 500,000 “breaking” from Iraq and Afghanistan, we lack the forces to wage any more wars. And NATO is a paper army.

If Pakistan’s army cannot crush the Taliban and al-Qaida in its western provinces, and now in its cities, how can America do it, if Musharraf falls? How can the Afghan war ever be won, if the Taliban and al-Qaida enjoy a permanent privileged sanctuary from which to launch forays into Afghanistan?

With the end of the Cold War, America needed a strategist of the caliber of George Kennan. But we got George Bush, Condi and the neocons, with their messianic vision of global democracy brought about through an endless series of cakewalk wars.

Pakistan brings us back to Earth.

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Iran will not retreat "one iota" from its nuclear rights, the Islamic republic’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday, the day of an informal deadline set by Western officials in a row over Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcoming his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad in an official ceremony in Tehran on Saturday. (Reuters)

Iran will not retreat “one iota” from its nuclear rights, the Islamic republic’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Saturday, the day of an informal deadline set by Western officials in a row over Tehran’s atomic ambitions.

Ahmadinejad made the remark in a statement posted on the presidential website after talks in Tehran with Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“In whichever negotiation we take part … it is unequivocally with the view to the realization of Iran’s nuclear right, and the Iranian nation would not retreat one iota from its rights,” Ahmadinejad’s statement said.

According to the statement, Assad said that based on international agreements, every country, including Iran, has the right to engage in uranium enrichment and possess nuclear power stations.

The West accuses Iran of seeking to build nuclear warheads under cover of a civilian power program. Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, denies the charge.

Western powers gave Iran two weeks from July 19 to respond to their offer to hold off from imposing more United Nations sanctions on Iran if Tehran would agree to freeze any expansion of its nuclear work, to get preliminary talks started between the two sides.

That would suggest a deadline of Saturday but Iran, which has repeatedly ruled out curbing its nuclear program, dismissed the idea of having two weeks to reply.

Earlier Saturday, Assad arrived for talks in Tehran, a few weeks after he told French President Nicolas Sarkozy that he would use his good relations with Iran to help resolve the Islamic republic’s nuclear stand-off with the West.

Syria’s president met with Ahmadinejad and other senior officials.

While visiting Paris last month, Assad said that a military attack on Iran over its nuclear program would have grave consequences for the United States, Israel and the world.

Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution to the dispute but has not ruled out military action if that fails.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana – who leads nuclear talks with Iran for the six major powers – will not declare Iran has missed the deadline if it does not reply by Saturday, EU diplomats said, but the West wants a reply in the next week.

“One should not focus too much on Saturday,” one EU official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “If it’s not Saturday but next week, we’ll not make a big fuss about it. What matters is to get a clear answer quickly, in the very coming days.”

An EU diplomat said “we are continuing our double approach of dialogue and pressure. If dialogue does not work, we could continue with additional pressure … at the UN or EU level.”

The sources were not authorized to speak publicly about the delicate diplomacy.

Germany’s foreign minister urged Iran to stop playing for time and deliver a clear answer to the initiatives offered by six world powers, according to an interview released Saturday.

“I appeal again to the Iranian side no longer to play for time, but to give us a usable answer to our offers – stop dallying,” Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted as saying in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel.

The United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany in June offered Iran economic and other incentives to coax it into halting uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military uses.

The freeze idea is aimed at getting preliminary talks started, although formal negotiations on the incentives package will not start before Iran stops enriching uranium, which Tehran says is solely aimed at providing fuel for power plants.

Iran, whose refusal to halt the work has drawn three rounds of UN sanctions since 2006, has rejected suspension in the past and has given no indication that it is ready for a freeze.

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The ruling mullahs in Iran committed a fatal policy blunder in combing their desire to acquire nuclear technology with threats to Israel. The two simply do not mix.

The ruling mullahs in Iran committed a fatal policy blunder in combing their desire to acquire nuclear technology with threats to Israel. The two simply do not mix.

As explains Amatzia Baram, who heads the chair in Arab studies at Haifa University, in northern Israel: it could be acceptable for Iran to issue threats to Israel so long as the Islamic republic is not in possession of nuclear weapons. And, adds Baram, it could equally be acceptable for Iran to possess nuclear capability but refrain from menacing the Jewish state.

In combining the two explosive ingredients, the Iranians will find that a nuclear-powered Iran suddenly becomes a clear and present danger to the security of Israel.

The specter of a nuclear Holocaust looming over Israel, much like a colossal sword of Damocles (Iran armed with long-range nuclear-tipped missiles) is a situation no Israeli leader – regardless of their political affiliation – would be willing to accept.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is sending mixed signals to the very Western nations that are trying to convince Iran it can only gain by abandoning plans to develop nuclear know-how. The Iranian president on one occasion says he is “serious about nuclear talks,” while another time he says Iran will not retreat “one iota” on the issue.

The deadline given Iran to freeze uranium enrichment in return for withholding further sanctions – has come and gone without reply from Tehran.

On Saturday, as the two-week deadline expired, Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling Syrian President Bashar Assad that Iran “will not give an inch on its nuclear rights.”

The next step will most likely be additional sanctions; a move that rarely has any effect on the governments it is meant to punish. On a daily basis contraband goods – from the latest hi-tech electronics to cars and motorcycles – are shipped to Iran aboard traditional dhows from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), less than 100 miles of easy sailing from the opposite bank of the Persian Gulf. Trade between Persians and Arabs is a centuries-old activity that has continued uninterrupted by war and politics.

In order to introduce viable sanctions against Iran, the international community would have to do the following:

1. Impose a trade ban from the UAE, and establish the capability to monitor some 250 miles of coastal waters. But given the fact that the UAE is a close U.S. ally, imposing a trade ban on Dubai is out of the question.

2. Impose a ban on trade across the 550-mile Iraq-Iran border; and have the necessary manpower to police it. Given the inability of Iraqi and U.S. forces to control the people flow across the border since the U.S. invasion of Iraq, there is little guarantee that the situation can be improved.

3. Control all trade crossing the 560 miles of border between Iran and Armenia, Azerbaijan and Turkey and across the 500-mile border between Iran and Turkmenistan.

4. Closely monitor goods entering via the 275 miles of Caspian Sea shoreline.

5. Control whatever crosses the 400-mile border Iran shares with Afghanistan and another 400 miles or so shared with Pakistan.

In total, close to 3,000 miles of land borders and 900 miles of shoreline would have to be monitored efficiently to maintain a ban of certain goods. Clearly, it is an impossible task.

So under these circumstances the likelihood of an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities seems more inevitable. Removing the growing Iranian nuclear threat might well be Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s last hurrah before leaving office.