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It is time for Obama to meet Ahmadinejad

by Marwan Bishara in Imperium blog on February 27, 2010

in IThe US  needs to drop the false dichotomy of sanctions or war and embrace direct talks, says Marwan Bishara.


The two-day visit by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, to Syria and his warm meetings with his Syrian counterpart as well as with the leaders of the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas have ruffled many feathers in the US, Europe and Israel.

Although they said much about the future of the region, including the end of the ‘Zionist regime’, the anti-Israeli gathering has sent a primarily strategic not polemical message: We stand united – an attack on one of us is an attack on all.

A deterrent message to both Israel and the US, it comes against the backdrop of increased war speculation in Israel and mounting pressures to pass a new round of tougher sanctions against Iran.

It is also a wake up call for US diplomats who reckoned that Washington’s rapprochement with Damascus, including the reopening of its embassy, should lead to a severing, or at least cooling, of Syrian relations with Tehran.

But while such public posturing has not deterred Israel or worried Washington in the past, it does complicate attempts to isolate Iran or its allies.

Diplomatic assault, military preparations

Since the White House shifted its Iran strategy from accommodation to confrontation, Washington’s coercive diplomacy has been going at full speed.

The Obama administration has been lobbying the Middle East and the world’s influential capitals in the hope of isolating Iran and passing another UN Security Council resolution that would include biting sanctions against Tehran.

Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, escalated US rhetoric against the Iranian regime during a visit to the Gulf where she warned of a Revolutionary Guards takeover and the militarisation of the Iranian government.

General Petraeus made a similar visit to the Gulf and Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, travelled to Russia, followed by Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, to convince Moscow to abandon Iran.

However, Washington seems frustrated by either the lack of positive response or the slow pace of international reaction to Tehran’s persistence in enriching uranium and expanding its nuclear and missile programme.

Russian hesitance, Chinese objection

Russia seems to have softened its rejection of the US strategy of sanctions, but has not agreed to them either. Moscow thinks it is too early to carry out such escalatory actions when the issue is still being discussed at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

If and when such sanctions come to be voted on at the UN Security Council, Russia insists that they should be focused solely on the nuclear programme, not the country or its regime which Moscow does not consider to be a dictatorship.

Beijing is as sceptical of Washington’s motives and more reluctant than Moscow to slap Iran with tough new sanctions.

Moscow’s approach is defined primarily by security considerations, especially the loss of whatever strategic leverage it has with Tehran and the probable escalation on its southern borders. China’s thinking, however, is molded on geo-economics grounds, particularly the prospect of losing Iran as an important energy supplier and economic partner.

The Chinese and Russian leadership are both uneasy with the new American escalation in the Islamic world after US entanglements in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They worry that the political and security overspill from widening the landscape of confrontation in the Muslim world could end up affecting their substantial Muslim minorities and eventually their internal stability.

Washington’s attempt to make up for the loss of Iran’s energy supply (through Saudi Arabia?), and its persistent warning to Russia about the alternative to sanctions (war!) do not seem to have, yet, convinced the two key veto carrying members of the UN Security Council to come on board.

Neither side believes sanctions will bring a solution to the impasse with Iran and both consider protracted geopolitical tensions with Iran to be terribly destabilising.

Anxious Saudi, aggressive Israel

Regionally, the two relevant powers, Saudi Arabia (to a far less extent, Egypt) and Israel are keen to stop Iran’s nuclear programme and to curtail Tehran’s influence.

However, as Israel nudges its US patron to move speedily towards imposing new tough sanctions and to prepare for war, Riyadh is worried about a new protracted American strategy and insists on a speedier end to the tensions with Tehran.

The Gulf states are the first to be affected by long-term tensions or military escalation between the US and Iran.

Recent US naval deployments in the Gulf and its sales of sophisticated weapons to Gulf countries have not calmed their fears that an escalation of those tensions could bring down their economies and affect their security.

The same could apply to other parts of the ‘Greater Middle East’ such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine which could be affected by an escalation between the US and Iran.

US bold, Iran confident

Who will blink first is the whole point of this dangerous diplomatic exercise.

Iran reckons that China and Russia will not sacrifice their relations with Iran and will object to another American escalation in the Middle East. They also realise that new punitive measures will not suffice to curtail Tehran’s programme.

For its part, the Obama administration calculates that Chinese/Russian cooperation is indispensable, but that it will take substantial political capital and major quid pro quo for them to come on board.

If Iran continues to defy Washington publicly and successfully, the political price demanded by Russia and China could only increase, all of which puts extra pressure on Washington to act promptly.

But what can the Obama administration offer its fellow UN Security Council members that is worthy of isolating Iran, aside from threatening the alternative – war?

And there is no doubt that war will be either horribly destructive or terribly protracted. Either way, Washington has the most to lose, not Moscow or Beijing.

All of which should send the Obama administration back to the drawing board. Has President Obama truly exhausted the diplomatic track before the US attends to sanctions or war?

In other words, has the Obama administration truly extended a hand or unclenched its fist for the sake of a peaceful resolution to the Iranian Middle East impasse?

The answer is an unequivocal NO.

It is time to remind Barack Obama of his willingness as a candidate to meet with his Iranian counterpart as president if that can protect US interests, and remind President Ahmadinejad of his welcoming of the extended US hand for peace last spring.

Well Mr Presidents, it is time.

I shall discuss the context, nature and implications for such a breakthrough next … as promised.


Lieberman: U.S. demand to end East Jerusalem building is ‘unreasonable’

Last update – 09:54 31/03/2010

By Barak Ravid, Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz Service and Agencies
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday deemed unreasonable the demands of the United States and the international community over Israel’s construction in East Jerusalem.

“This demand from the international community is mainly an opportunity to increase pressure on Israel and to demand unreasonable things,” the foreign minister said at a joint press conference with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Meanwhile, the government’s top seven ministers deliberated late into the night on Wednesday over Israel’s response to the demands put forth by the Obama administration regarding construction in East Jerusalem and the future of the peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had anticipated an official reply to the demands from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as early as yesterday, but none was forthcoming.

Israeli diplomatic sources in Jerusalem said a further delay in responding to Clinton could exacerbate the rift between the two countries. They said it may compel U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to cancel a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu in Washington next week.

The “forum of seven ministers” was unanimous in agreeing on the need to resolve the crisis with the United States. Still, a majority of the ministers expressed serious reservations over Clinton’s demands, including the cancellation of the Ramat Shlomo housing plan in East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu will make every effort to formulate an Israeli response that will be both agreeable to the ministers and mollify the Obama administration.

During their telephone conversation late Tuesday, Biden failed to persuade Netanyahu to agree to the administration’s demands. “There was a difficult air to the conversation, and it ended with no results and no agreements,” a senior official in Jerusalem said.

The American administration said yesterday that it was still waiting for a reply from Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, Clinton departed for Moscow on Wednesday to participate in a conference of the Quartet for Mideast peace. Washington has made clear that it would behoove Israel to submit a response before the Quartet convenes its meeting tomorrow.

The U.S. envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, delayed his visit to the region this week due to the rift, though Mitchell is now considering whether to arrive on Sunday to advance indirect “proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu is scheduled to fly to Washington on Sunday for pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual conference. An Israeli diplomatic source said the Americans are considering a high-level boycott of the prime minister – namely, no meeting with either Biden or Clinton – if he fails to issue an official reply to Clinton’s demands by tomorrow.

U.S. President Barack Obama will not be in Washington during Netanyahu’s visit.

Iranians find refuge in Turkey

Dissidents flee regime’s crackdown and try to continue their work in the neighboring country


Hesam Misaghi (l) and Sepehr Atefi (r) being interviewed by The Associated Press in Nigde, Turkey, on February 16. The two Iranians are members of the independent Committee of Human Rights Reporters.

By Scheherezade Faramarzi – The Associated Press

NIGDE, Turkey – Light snow was falling when the two young men set out on horseback for the border to flee Iran. By the time they were deep in the mountains, the snow had become a blinding blizzard, the temperature had dropped below freezing, and they were barely alive.

Hesam Misaghi and Sepehr Atefi were joining what has become an exodus of dissidents fleeing Iran’s political turmoil. For them that meant a harrowing journey through the country’s rugged northwest in the dead of winter, with the help of Kurdish smugglers.

At a river crossing, the ice broke beneath them and their horses stumbled in, soaking the two with freezing water. “There was no feeling in my legs and hands,” recalled Misaghi, a tall, wiry 21-year-old. “I felt drunk. I didn’t know where I was. I was laughing from pain.”

Atefi, 20, spotted a van in the distance, grabbed Misaghi’s arm and dragged him toward it through the snow. “There was no life left in me to move forward, but we had to reach the highway,” Atefi said.

The men, both Iranian human rights reporters, reached the van, begged a ride and made it to safety in Turkey.

At least 4,200 Iranians have fled their homeland since disputed presidential elections in June, according to a list compiled by activist Aida Saadat, who herself slipped across the border into Turkey in December. These refugees have scattered to the United States, Europe and the United Arab Emirates and other Persian Gulf nations.

Most of all, they have come to Turkey – around 1,150 of them, according to the UN refugee agency – taking advantage of the porous border and Turkey’s policy of not requiring visas. Most of the new arrivals fled for political reasons, including those who took part in opposition protests after the vote. They bring the number of Iranians in Turkey to 4,440 as of February – including “undesirables” in the eyes of the clerical regime, such as homosexuals or members of the Baha’i religion.

The danger these Iranians face back home is clear. A month after Atefi and Misaghi’s January escape, police raided their homes in the central Iranian city of Isfahan. Among the charges against them: “moharebeh,” or “waging war against God,” a crime punishable by death.

Police arrested their friend and colleague, Navid Khanjani, who was supposed to have fled with them but changed his mind at the last minute. With Khanjani’s arrest, eight people in the independent Committee of Human Rights Reporters have been jailed, and three remain in prison and could face execution.

In Turkey, the refugees are safer, but they live in limbo.

Almost all brought little money and cannot work because of Turkish restrictions, so they cram into small, coal-heated apartments with minimal furniture.

Hope in UNHCR

Many Iranian refugees hope the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees will arrange resettlement for them in the United States or Europe. The wait for that could take years, as the refugee agency also is dealing with thousands of Iraqis who have fled to Turkey here from their own war-torn homeland in recent years.

Many of the Iranians have been put in the central town of Kayseri and nearby towns such as Nigde. Like other refugees in Turkey, they are required to live in particular towns designated by the Interior Ministry, must regularly report to police to confirm their locations, and must get permission from authorities to move to other cities.

In addition to rent and other expenses, each adult is required to pay the Turkish government about $200, along with $100 for each child, every six months to stay in the country. The interior minister signed an order in March to lift the permit fees, but the order has not yet been enforced.

In the meantime, they watch events back home, where hundreds have been arrested, and two have been executed out of 11 sentenced to death for taking part in opposition protests. From exile, some try to continue their activism, and some try to recover from their trauma.

Political activist Mahdis, 35, who once worked for a dissident cleric in the holy city of Qom, said she fled Iran more than a year ago after having been repeatedly raped in jail. Mahdis spoke on condition her last name not be used to avoid public embarrassment.

When she arrived in Turkey she was again raped, this time by a fellow Iranian refugee. She said police would not allow her to transfer to Kayseri unless she paid $200, which she did not have.

“I was sobbing, saying, ‘I swear to God’ I don’t have the money,” recalled Mahdis. It took her 40 days to come up with the money, which she borrowed from fellow refugees.

Another refugee, Mehrdad Eshghi, was the official singer for the state-run Iranian TV and Radio, known as Seda va Sima. Then authorities questioned his loyalty because he worked in the election campaign of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s top rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi.

After he refused to perform for Ahmadinejad’s campaign, security forces began harassing him. He was detained and threatened with worse consequences.

“I was surprised by the way they treated me,” said Eshghi, 40. “I was one of them. When I had the mike in my hand doing live programs, it meant they trusted me with their lives,” he said in his apartment in Kayseri.

After security men began staking out his home around the clock, Eshghi went into hiding. He took a bus to Turkey six months ago, and his wife and daughter joined him a couple of months later.

Eshghi, a singer, calligrapher, painter and composer, mourns his former life in his homeland. “I was at my best in Iran,” he said. “Here, I’m just an ordinary person.” Like others, he said his attempts to keep up political activism from exile are prevented by Turkish authorities.

Eshghi said authorities refused to allow him to put on an exhibition of his paintings or a concert for Iranian refugees. “They tell me no one must know of my whereabouts because it poses danger to my life.”

Kayseri’s police chief said any restrictions on Iranians are for their own protection. “They are free here,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of police regulations. “But for their own personal safety, they cannot be interviewed by reporters.”

Three dead in Washington shooting

posted by VSN

Wed, 31 Mar 2010 11:08:32 GMT

A mass drive-by shooting has killed three people and wounded six others in the US capital, US media report.

A gunman was “spraying [bullets] into a crowd” gathered outside an apartment block, The Washington Post quoted Police Chief Cathy Lanier as saying.

The shooting took place late Tuesday in one of Washington DC’s poor southeast neighborhoods.

No motive has been established for the attack.

Spokeswoman for Washington Hospital Center Carolyn Hammond said one victim died at the scene, one was dead on arrival at the hospital, and a third died in the operating room. She added that a fourth victim was in critical condition.

Police have arrested three people in connection with the attack. However, no charges have been filed yet.

Four police officers had been slightly injured in the subsequent car chase into neighboring Prince George’s County.

Washington’s NBC channel reported that an AK47-type weapon was thrown from a fleeing car as police cars, aided by a helicopter, pursued a van from the scene.

Gazans barely survive under Israeli siege: UNRWA chief

Sun, 28 Mar 2010 02:32:38 GMT
Andrew Whitley, director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine
The following is a rush transcript of Press TV’s interview with Andrew Whitley, director of the New York Representative Office of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). The interview was first broadcast on March 24 in Press TV’s Face to Face, hosted by Rhonda Pence.

Press TV: We are talking today about the status of refugees in Gaza. Thank you for joining me today. Recently, at a Brookings event, Congressman Keith Ellison – our first Muslim elected to Congress – was comparing a visit he had to Gaza, about a year ago, to coming back to Gaza now… he says he wishes the status of Gaza had remained the same. But he says that, unfortunately, things have deteriorated; Schools have not been rebuilt, there are not enough jobs to go around and people in Gaza are on the brink of starvation. Do you agree with his assessment that things have deteriorated that dramatically in the past year?

Andrew Andrew Whitley:Congressman Ellison is a wonderful advocate. He is a great speaker for the Muslim world, and a great advocate in the Congress for downtrodden people, particularly in Gaza, which he has really made his personal cause. I don’t say that it’s been a dramatic decline. Certainly, there has been a decline. Living standards continue to deteriorate. Nothing is static in this world after all, and, as the siege has not been lifted to any appreciable degree, you are still getting into Gaza perhaps 20 percent of the volume of goods that are required for daily subsistence of people. People are effectively living on a subsistence diet. The kind of food and other products that we can bring in provide the barest essentials for life. People have got their noses just above the waterline. But, in the meantime, what has happened is that those few small remaining businesses, which had provided some local employment, have virtually all collapsed, because there is no money in circulation. Poverty is deepening in Gaza every day. So, today we probably have 80 percent of the population living below the poverty line. People have survived until now through the tunnel economy, which certainly was bringing in some illicit goods – drugs, weapons. We know about that. But, most if it, it was a lifeline for people providing normal goods. It was a means of being able to keep some commerce going and being able to provide consumers with a few essentials certainly needed for ordinary life which were not coming through the largely closed Israeli crossings from Israel into the Gaza Strip. So, there is the problem of the tunnel economy which is being threatened now as a result of the construction of the wall that Egypt is putting on its side of the border…

Press TV: This is a 20-mile (32-km) steel wall…

Andrew Whitley: It is a huge wall. We don’t know the whole plans, but it is obviously a massive enterprise which is designed to interdict the tunnels that have been running. Perhaps several hundreds of them throughout the entire area, that have provided the basis for the economy. But, everything else has come virtually to a halt. Apart from the tunnel economy, you’ve got UNRWA which supports about 17,000 people directly. Over 100,000 people indirectly who are being supported by them. Plus the Palestinian Authority, which is paying for people to largely sit at home and not do their jobs, and then Hamas of course, which has had its own sources of money, which has been able to keep it. That is it; That is what people are living off. All the traditional ways that people used to live – on agriculture, on fishing – those all virtually have collapsed.

Press TV: So, are the agriculture and fishing industry damaged beyond repair? I mean, is this just gone?

Andrew Whitley: I wouldn’t say that it is damaged beyond repair. But, obviously the pollution that has been going into Gaza has severely damaged the water quality in the area and is damaging the fishing fleet. The main restrictions on fishing at the moment are those imposed by the Israelis, because they prevent the boats going out to sea in order to be able to catch the more lucrative fish which are a little bit further off shore. As far as agriculture is concerned; that is a long-term trend. Most of Gaza’s traditional agricultural lands have been built over. A lot of it has been destroyed in the repeated Israeli incursions that have been coming in as bulldozed ……….. the traditional date palms or orange groves or other normal crops that they had in the area. It is not completely destroyed, but just recently Hamas took a decision to ban farming in certain areas of Gaza, because they said that the land had been contaminated as a result of the toxic metals that were left behind after Israel’s operation a year ago. So, that was a further blow to people wanting to have a little bit of agriculture. People are just about surviving in Gaza today. Through ways that they hardly know how they are going to manage.

Press TV: So, they are hungry every day. Are the kids going to school?

Andrew Whitley: The kids are falling asleep in school, because they are not able to eat enough. They are not concentrating. There is serious and growing problem of malnutrition in Gaza, and that is going to have a long-term effect. We are already seeing the stunting of children. This is something that happens only after a few years of malnutrition. So, we are affecting a whole generation, which not only has no prospects in life, but is going to grow up weak and hungry and anemic and, unfortunately, ill equipped to be able to deal with normal life, if and when it returns.

Press TV: You mentioned that wall that is being constructed. Why is this wall being constructed and is it in compliance with international agreements?

Andrew Whitley: Well, one of the reasons that the wall is being constructed, and it is a perfectly legitimate one, is in compliance with resolution 1860 from the Security Council, which called for an end to arms smuggling into Gaza. One of the main routes – probably the main route – was through these underground tunnels that were coming through. And, the consequence of that is that it is going to further deepen the hardships, the deprivation, that the ordinary people are facing, if there is no comparable opening up of the crossings on the Israeli side. Because, clearly, there is no other way in which the population is going to survive. People have to remember that Gaza depends for 80-90 percent of its normal subsistence on imports and on exports. Most of that in the past used to come through Israel. Israel has closed that door, and attempted to throw away the key, allowing in only a very small quantity of goods, most of which comes in through the United Nations and most of which my agency is responsible for distributing.

Press TV: So, Israel stopped UNRWA from providing medicine, food and goods to the refugees?

Andrew Whitley: No, I would not go that far. We now have a fairly established régime with the Israelis, after some difficulties for some months, where, for month after month, we were not able to bring cash in for example. We couldn’t even pay our own staff. Which I thought was particularly unfair. When people do a month’s work, they are entitled to their wages which they depend on to support their families and their extended relatives who depend on them for income. Now that has eased, and we do at least have enough money to be able to pay our staff and to meet some of our social welfare obligations to people who have no means of support for themselves, who are registered refugees, who are unemployed and who are completely without any means of sustenance for themselves. And we are able to bring in most of the basic goods that we want, but there are many things in addition to the food commodities and medicines that we need. Spare parts for machines, for example. Light bulbs for our classrooms. Other essentials of life, which we have to negotiate on a case-by-case basis, sometimes for months, to be able to say, “are these things on a prohibited list or not?”. We assume that they are not dual-use items. They are the kinds of things which are the normal consumer goods. They are not going to have any negative consequences, if you bring in a truck-load of paper for textbooks for example, and yet we were not able after the war to print the right number of textbooks, because we did not have enough paper locally to be able to do it. So, three kids at a desk were sharing one book. That is no way for getting an education going.

Press TV: So, about 6 months ago, if this is the right timeframe, you were having difficulty getting medicine and food in, because of some restrictions from Israel, but things have lessened. Is it because of negotiations that UNRWA has been making with Israeli officials?

Andrew Whitley: Absolutely, and we do have at least a cooperative, cordial, working-level relationship to be able to explain what the basic essential goods are that we need to be able to bring in to the area. I mean, this is within a highly restricted environment. Let me not go too far and to suggest that somehow we approve of the overall restrictions, or the blockade. Absolutely not. But we do need, as we are dependent entirely on the cooperation of Israel, to bring these goods in to be able to negotiate with them to explain exactly what the purpose of the goods are. What we would like to have done, which we have not succeeded at all, is doing any reconstruction. We have got hundreds and hundreds of buildings of refugee shelters, our own schools, our own warehouse in Gaza which was destroyed exactly a year ago, and all the contents of it, which we are not able to rebuild, because we don’t have the structural steel, we don’t have the cement, we don’t have the building aggregate. So, important re-housing projects to at least give a normal life to people who have been living in truly miserable conditions for a long time, we weren’t able to finish off. We provided guarantees to Israelis that there was going to be no diversion of supplies; that the goods were going to go directly to where we wanted. We’d supervise them. We do direct implementation. It is not as if we are subcontracting to someone else. It is our engineers who oversee those sites. We import directly the goods ourselves, so that they are not going to get misused for concrete bunkers, by Hamas for example, for which is one of the arguments Israel makes. And, besides, if Hamas wants to build concrete bunkers, it can import the cement through the tunnels. So, they don’t need us to use it; that is a pretext. So, unfortunately, on many of the big things that we have wanted from Israel, we have not got it. We have got bare essentials.

Press TV: How is this going to affect the conditions in Gaza, long term?

Andrew Whitley: I don’t believe this is a permanent situation. I believe that Hamas is exerting its authority by showing a determination to say “we are here to stay. You can’t wish us away. You have to deal with us”. And, that is the message that is being sent to Fatah and to the outside world, saying “we need to be taken into account and we are a part of the eventual solution for the Palestinian issue”. Clearly, it is our view. It is a strong UN-held principle that there needs to be Palestinian reconciliation. There needs to be a unified Palestinian leadership, in order to be able to re-unify Gaza and the West Bank, which are increasingly drifting apart, in order to be able to ensure that the Palestinian national project of ending the occupation and building a state can finally be achieved. It will not happen, in our view, if Gaza remains under Hamas control and simply build up the West Bank under the PA (Palestinian Authority) control. Because, how is the PA going to be able to deliver on the people of Gaza when it has no presence there?

Press TV: We haven’t talked about the United States yet and, recently, at a panel discussion at Brookings – and you were on the panel – one of the experts was talking about how the Gazans expect the United States to step in, rebuild their homes, repair their sewage system. What is the United States doing?

Andrew Whitley: There is a touching faith in the power of the United States. There is a great belief, I think, that President Obama’s speech in Cairo inspired a large number of people to believe that there were going to be different policies. I think that people are willing to give [US special envoy to the Middle East] Senator Mitchell credit for the seriousness and determination with which he has approached his task. Obviously, they have not seen much by way of concrete results yet, but then perhaps they were expecting too much too soon. But they do recognize that the keys are in the United States’s hands, and that they expect that the Israeli government will listen to what Washington has to say. Obviously, that is not always exactly the case. The Israeli government has got its own views. It’s got its own perspective on what are its priorities and its policies. Prime Minister Netanyahu has at least committed himself to a two-state solution and to entering into negotiations. Those must happen. It remains everyone’s goal to eventually bring about the end of the occupation and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. How do we get there, given these deep divisions which are being played upon by outside forces also, and that is a factor. The United States is by far the most important actor in this process, but there are a number of others, in the region and further afield, who have been playing a role – some of them constructively, some of them not so constructively.

Press TV: President Bush was criticized because he wasn’t involved enough in the Palestine-Israeli conflict and, as you said, President Obama did give an inspiring speech in Cairo. But that was about a year ago. Do you really see any progress since then? Because there are some Middle Eastern experts out there who say that the United States really hasn’t done enough.

Andrew Whitley: To be a UN official and to be a diplomat, you have to be a professional optimist. You have to – despite what looks like a temporary bleak or negative picture – try and look a little bit beyond that and you have to try to assume that hose who are involved in it – because they are serious people who do recognize the centrality of being able to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute, and specifically the Palestinian aspect of it, how central this is to the wider issue of the Muslim world. And, therefore, I give credit to President Obama and to Senator Mitchell for being determined to try to bring about a solution within a determined period of time. I think this point is very important, which is that this is not just about process, about an open-ended process that would drag on and drag on. Senator Mitchell has made clear in recent days, and I think we should take comfort from this, that he sees this as a two-year timeframe. In other words, he is saying to those people who might like to say, as former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon used to say, that we’d just kick the negotiations into the long grass and we’ll be able to just play out the flock. No, I think what they are saying is, “we are serious, gentlemen. We want a two-year timeframe and we believe you must do it within this period”. Setting a deadline, saying that you must move towards it, under certain preconditions that have to be met. Obviously, on the Palestinian side, the issue of the settlements in the West Bank is a very serious one, because those continue to expand and I think that the US administration was right to be able to make this an important issue. They didn’t get the results that they were hoping to, in terms of the commitment to be able to halt it and president Abbas is standing firm and insisting on this… What Senator Mitchell is clearly aiming at is to be able to, by hook or by crook, by some means, to be able to get the negotiations started again. To change the dynamics of where we are at the moment, where is one where there is an increasing pessimism and fatalism about where we are going.

Press TV: The question that is actually burning inside of me right now is that, do the refugees have two years?

Andrew Whitley: I must say that the capacity of Palestinians, their resilience, in the face of great and deep adversity, always makes me full of admiration. They are living in very difficult circumstances, in Gaza in particular. Yes, things are getting better generally on the West Bank. But, let’s not forget that there are approximately 600 checkpoints in the West Bank, which are restricting normal movement, normal commerce to be able to live free lives of free movement. Do they have two years? Yes, I think that they probably do. They have been enduring already over forty years of occupation since the 1967 war. We are talking about forty-three years now, and they probably could hang for a little bit more. But, people in Gaza are not just dependant on food. They need hope. They need concrete signs of things getting better for them. Young people in particular need to be offered something tangible, which is more than the very nihilistic environment they are living in these days. They need to be given some reason to think that their lives and their families’ lives are going to get better in a certain defined frame, and not to be treated as if they are simply playthings in a larger political game.

Press TV: I have heard a statistic recently that 70 percent of the population of Gazans is under 30. Is that correct?

Andrew Whitley: I think that is a very reasonable statistics. Certainly, over 60 percent of the population is under 25.

Press TV: And, what is the unemployment rate?

Andrew Whitley: The unemployment rate is off the scale. Frankly, it is very hard to come up with a realistic unemployment rate in a situation like Gaza today, because there are very few real sources of employment. You can’t measure it in an economy that is destroyed like that. The real question to ask is how many people are actually in regular employment, which is a tiny percentage. Probably only of the active, potential labor force – not those who have given up – because many people have given up looking for a job, or think that there is no prospect for them, perhaps only 20-25 percent of people are actually working in a normal, regular, productive fashion, and most of those are on the payroll of either Hamas or the Palestinian Authority or UNRWA.

Press TV: Do the rest just sit around?

Andrew Whitley: Yes…. They don’t have much to do.

Press TV: So, what are the prospects for young people growing up in Gaza today?

Andrew Whitley: We try to provide an alternative. I recognize that we can’t do everything. Our financial means and our capacity and our mandate are limited to the refugee population, although let’s remind listeners and viewers that the refugee population is 70 percent of the population of Gaza – 1.1 million out 1.5 million are registered refugees. For those young people, we have a summer games program that provides some fun, some normality of life to them. Some remedial education. Some connections to Gaza’s ancient culture. Looking at their archeology, for example. Something to be able to give them something better to hope for than the drabness and the dreariness and the tensions and conflicts at home and in the streets that they face every single day. But, this is only a sop. We need to be able to give people, not just education, but a sense of where that is going to lead to. It is not in UNRWA’s hands. We are a UN organization; that’s a developmental organization, that can only go so far. We can’t create private sector jobs out of nothing. We have a small micro-enterprise program which can help people to be able to set up some more jobs. We have a skills training program that is overwhelmed with demand for its vocational training centers. But, these meet perhaps 10 percent of the goals. Most young people unfortunately will drift into the underground tunnel economy and, tragically, large numbers of young teenagers have been killed in these dangerous conditions, burrowing under the ground in order to be able to complete a tunnel or bring goods through the tunnel, mostly because they are so unsafe. Or else, they will join one of the militia groups and think that they will earn at least some credit and some kudos, for some brave, perhaps futile, act of resistance.

Press TV: With these conditions remaining the way they are, doesn’t this really cause more insecurity and instability for Israel, for the United States, for the world?

Andrew Whitley: That certainly is our view. We certainly believe very strongly that the policies that have been applied to Gaza are counterproductive. That they lead to increased radicalization. That it simply creates a tinderbox on Israel’s border, which, ultimately, is not in Israel’s interest. Gaza can’t be wished away. It is not some offshore island that is going to disappear and go somewhere else. It’s part of the geography of the region, whether you like it or not and Egypt has made clear that it is not going to assume responsibility for this problem. The problem lies, ultimately, in reuniting Gaza with the West Bank and dealing with the Palestinian issue on its own land.

Press TV: Do you think Israel is going to budge? You said that have been in negotiation. Are you hearing any melting of that wall?

Andrew Whitley: Not much. Not much in the near future.

Press TV: What about the United States? What could the United States do right now to just get things moving?

Andrew Whitley: I hope that the prisoner exchange, which has been brewing for a long time, will actually change the dynamics. Will change the mood. Will remove the pretext for the maintenance of the blockade, at least of the severity that it is, and start to allow the traditional business elites in Gaza – the strongly entrepreneurial class – who want to be able to establish links with the outside world, including with Israeli businesses, to actually be in a position where they can start having some normal business life and social life and that education can be completed. All those young Gazans who would like to be able to complete their education abroad or in the West Bank universities have not been able to do so. We need to be able to give them a sense of perspective in their future. So, I’m hoping, and I think many of us do, that, the prisoner exchange, when it happens, will not be an end in itself, but that it will lead to a virtuous circle.

Press TV: We are almost out of time, but I have one last question. It appears to many that the United States lacks political will right now in this situation. Is that what you are seeing?

Andrew Whitley: I don’t think so. I mean I don’t think that we should underestimate the determination of the United States within a difficult political environment. They have to work within practical constraints and they know what the limits are to which they can push and the timing is very important also. At what stage do you decide that you do really use the levers, the ‘tools in your toolbox’ as they sometimes call it, in order to be able to put pressure on? So, I think that we should be a bit more patient.

Press TV: Right, we’ll have to be patient. Thank you very much, Mr. Whitley for joining us today on Face to Face.

Analysis: Pakistan tells the USA, that it is time to pay up.

Pakistan is likely to bring a laundry list of demands to talks with the US today, as the two sides reassess their frayed relationship.

By Nicolas Brulliard – GlobalPost

Published: March 24, 2010 06:48 ET
Pakistani supporters of hardline pro-Taliban party Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Nazaryati torch a U.S. flag in Quetta on Feb. 4, 2010, to protest a U.S. court verdict against Pakistani scientist Aafia Siddiqui, found guilty in the United States of trying to kill a U.S. serviceman. (Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — When Pakistani officials sit down with their American counterparts for a round of high-level talks in Washington today, they’ll be a demanding bunch.

They’ll say that their armed forces have paid a heavy price to fight what many here see as America’s war, and they’ll argue that their country continues to bear the brunt of the war on terror with bomb blasts claiming the lives of Pakistanis nearly every week.

“We have already done too much,” Foreign Minister Shah here last week. “Pakistan has done its bit, we have delivered; now it’s your turn. Start delivering.”

The United States government has already taken steps to address Pakistan’s grievances. U.S. officials have markedly increased the frequency of their visits to Islamabad in recent months, and America is helping fund the country’s recent military offensives. In addition, Congress has passed legislation that provides for $7.5 billion of economic and development assistance to Pakistan over a five-year period.

Despite all these gestures of goodwill, deep mistrust subsists between the two strategic allies. Pakistan remembers that Americans were quick to leave the region once their objectives were attained at the end of the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, and the widely held view is that the same will happen when American troops depart from Pakistan’s neighbor.

U.S. efforts to improve its image have often turned into public-relations disasters, and anti-Americanism seems to be on the rise among the general Pakistani population.

“Ultimately, they want to change the tone of this relationship,” said Moeed Yusuf, South Asia adviser at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “This is a realization on both sides that the relationship has failed to deliver.”

Qureshi, who will officially lead Pakistan’s delegation, intends to bring an exhaustive list of demands when he meets with his counterpart Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today. He has identified no less than 10 “sectoral engagements” that go much beyond military cooperation and include everything from energy and education to health and agriculture.

Pakistan, a country of 175 million people — half of them illiterate — with an economy crippled by corruption and chronic power outages, has proved particularly fertile ground for fundamentalist ideologies and militant groups.

As a result, U.S. officials have increasingly emphasized economic development as a key component of their relationship with Pakistan, and the $7.5 billion aid package passed by Congress late last year was meant as a substantial move in that direction.

But the Kerry-Lugar bill, as the piece of legislation is known here, is a symbol of the dangers the United States faces when trying to woo the country’s population.

Instead of focusing on the bill’s potential benefits to Pakistan, local politicians and media preferred to turn their attention to the conditions of good governance the bill carried and labeled them as yet another infringement on Pakistan’s sovereignty.

More recently, a U.S. tour of Pakistani legislators also turned into a PR fiasco when the tour members suddenly decided to return to Pakistan after experiencing what they saw as excessively intrusive body screening at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Airport.

Perceived American favoritism in favor of India, Pakistan’s historical enemy, has also proved to be a major stumbling block in U.S.-Pakistan relations.

“Washington’s heavy tilt in favor of India and its helplessness in nudging India to seriously address Kashmir and other issues is another source of friction,” wrote Talat Masood, a retired lieutenant general, in The News, a local newspaper. “Pakistan also cannot kowtow America’s Afghanistan policy either unless it takes into account Pakistan’s security and strategic concerns.”

Pakistan has always sought to ensure a friendly Afghan regime would allow it to focus the bulk of its military might on its eastern border. The involvement of India in the training of Afghan armed forces is therefore seen as a strategic menace to Pakistan’s interests, said Imtiaz Gul, the executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.

“We do not want an army operating in our backyard … that has been trained by our archrival,” he said.

Gul said a recalibration of the U.S.-India relationship that would take into account Pakistan’s interests would go a long way toward mending fences between America and Pakistan.

He said the upcoming talks between the United States and Pakistan are unlikely to yield guarantees besides agreements related to the energy sector. Nonetheless, he said he views the intensification of the dialogue between the two countries as a major opportunity.

“I think they’re developing into a much more positive relationship,” Gul said. “Pakistan stands a very good chance to benefit from it.”,0

Mercenaries: UN experts: Nissour Square, Iraq killings should not remain unpunished

GENEVA (7 January 2010)

The United Nations Working Group on the use of mercenaries* calls on the United States and the Iraqi Governments to cooperate to ensure that the Nissour Square incident is fully remedied and, in relation to the crimes that may have been committed, those responsible fully held accountable as appropriate.

The Working Group notes with interest the decision of the Iraqi authorities to sue the American security company Blackwater in United States and Iraqi courts, in connection with a shooting in Nissour Square in Iraq 2007 during which 17 people were killed and a further 20 injured, many seriously. The Iraqi government announced its position after the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed an indictment against five security guards of Blackwater, the private firm charged with voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations. On 31 December 2009, Judge Ricardo M. Urbina ruled that evidence against them was inadmissible under the U.S. Constitution. The United States Government can appeal against the decision.

“We respect the independence of the United States judiciary and the requirements for due process, but are very concerned that the recent decision to dismiss the case against Blackwater guards may lead to a situation where no one would be accountable for grave human rights violations” said Ms. Shaista Shameem, who currently heads the Working Group. “After such a decision, the Iraqi Government and the families of victims correctly feel they have no recourse to justice for the alleged human rights abuses that took place in Nissour Square on 16 September 2007,” she added, noting that the Coalition Provisional Authority Order No.17 had granted immunity from Iraqi laws to American contractors operating in that country.

“Credible oversight and accountability of private security companies working on the behalf of the United States and other governments remain essential to avoid these alleged violations to be unpunished in future,” stressed Ms. Shameem. The Working Group is advocating for an international oversight mechanism which would provide an avenue of redress to victims.

(*) The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination is composed of five independent experts serving in their personal capacities: Ms. Shaista Shameem (Chairperson-Rapporteur, Fiji), Ms. Najat al-Hajjaji (Libyan Arab Jamahiriya), Ms. Amada Benavides de Pérez (Colombia), Mr. José Luis Gómez del Prado (Spain), and Mr. Alexander Nikitin (Russian Federation). It was established in 2005 by the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Mass Layoff Events up Jan. 2010

March 03, 2010 

Mass Layoff Events up in January


From the Editors Desk. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employers took 1,761 mass layoff actions in January that resulted in the separation of 182,261 workers, seasonally adjusted, as measured by new filing for unemployment insurance benefits during the month. Mass  layoff events and initial claimants for unemployment insurance, January  2007–January 2010, seasonally adjusted [Chart data] Both mass layoff events and initial claims increased from the prior month after four consecutive over-the-month decreases. During the 26 months from December 2007 through January 2010,the total number of mass layoff events (seasonally adjusted) was 53,739,and the associated number of initial claims was 5,425,101.

Economic News Release Economic News Release-Mass Layoffs
USDL-10-0229 (monthly report)


Employers took 1,761 mass layoff actions in January
that resulted in the separation of 182,261 workers,

seasonally adjusted, as measured by new filings for
unemployment insurance benefits during the month,

the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.

Each action involved at least 50 persons from a

single employer. Both mass layoff events and initial

claims increased from the prior month after four

consecutive over-the-month decreases. In January,

486 mass layoff events were reported in the manufacturing

sector, seasonally adjusted,resulting in 62,556 initial claims.

Both figures increased over the month--thefirst increases

since August 2009 for events and since September 2009

for initial claims. (See table 1.)

During the 26 months from December 2007 through January 2010,

the total number of mass layoff events (seasonally adjusted) was

53,739, and the associated number of initial claims

was 5,425,101.
(December 2007 was the start of a recession as designated by the

National Bureau of Economic Research.)

The national unemployment rate was 9.7 percent in January 2010,

seasonally adjusted, down from 10.0 percent the prior month but

up from 7.7 percent a year earlier. In January, nonfarm payroll

employment decreased by 20,000 over the month and by 4,022,000

from a year earlier.Industry Distribution (Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The number of mass layoff events in January was 2,860 on a not

seasonally adjusted basis; the number of associated initial claims

was 278,679. Over the year, the number of mass layoff events

decreased by 946, and associated initial claims decreased

by 110,134. (See table 2.)

Sixteen of the 19 major industry sectors in the private economy

reported over-the-year decreases in initial claimants, led by

manufacturing (-67,911). (See table 3.) Management of companies

and educational services reported January program highs in terms

of average weekly initial claimants while utilities reached a

January program low. (Average weekly analysis mitigates the effect

of differing lengths of months. See the Technical Note.)

The manufacturing sector accounted for 34 percent of all mass

layoff events and 38 percent of initial claims filed in

January 2010. A year earlier, manufacturing made up

38 percent of events and 44 percent of initial claims.

Within manufacturing, the number of claimants in January

was greatest in transportation equipment, followed by food,

fabricated metal products, and machinery.
Eighteen of the 21 manufacturing subsectors experienced

over-the-year decreases in initial claims, led by

transportation equipment (-34,023). (See table 3.)

The six-digit industry with the largest number of initial

claims in January 2010 was temporary help services.
Of the 10 detailed industries with the largest number of
mass layoff initial claims,school and employee bus

transportation, discount department stores, and

nonresidential electrical contractors reached program

highs forthe month of January.

(See table A.)
Table A. Industries with the largest number of mass layoff

initial claims in January 2010, not seasonally adjusted

January peak
Industry Initial Initial

claims Year claims
Temporary help services (1) .. 16,575 1998 26,224
School and employee bus

transportation ......... 15,131 2010 15,131
Discount department stores . 8,065 2010 8,065
Motion picture and video

production ............ 7,966 1998 12,038
Professional employer

organizations (1) ........ 6,462 2009 11,345
Highway, street, and bridge

construction ....... 5,094 2000 9,680
Hotels and motels, except casino

hotels ........ 4,248 2009 6,592
Automobile manufacturing ...... 4,173 2001 21,093
Supermarkets and other

grocery stores .......... 3,371 2009 3,978
Nonresidential electrical

contractors .......... 3,299 2010 3,299

1 See the Technical Note for more information on these industries.

Geographic Distribution (Not Seasonally Adjusted)

All regions and all divisions experienced over-the-year decreases
in initial claims due to mass layoffs in January. Among the 4 census
regions, the South (-41,525) and Midwest (-31,010) registered the
largest over-the-year decreases in initial claims. Of the 9

geographic divisions, the East North Central(-30,146) and the

South Atlantic (-21,046) had the largest over-the-year decreases

of initial claims.

(See table 5.)
California recorded the highest number of initial claims in January,

followed by New York and Pennsylvania. Forty states experienced

over-the-year decreases in initial claims, led by Ohio (-13,850),

Pennsylvania (-13,226), and Michigan (-10,418). (See table 6.)

In 2010, three states reached January program highs for average

weekly initial claims: North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.


The monthly data series in this release cover mass layoffs of 50or more workers beginning in a given month, regardless of the

duration of the layoffs.For private nonfarm establishments,

information on the length of the layoff is obtained later and

issued in a quarterly release that reports on mass layoffs

lasting more than 30 days (referred to as "extended mass layoffs").

The quarterly release provides more information on the industry

classification and location of the establishment and on the

demographics of the laid-off workers.

Because monthly figures include short-term layoffs of

30 days or less, the sum of the figures for the 3 months in

quarter will be higher than the quarterly figure for mass

layoffs of more than 30 days.

(See table 4.)

See the Technical Note for more detailed definitions.

The Mass Layoffs in February 2010 news release is scheduled to be
released on
Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at 10:00 a.m. (EDT).

Technical information:  (202) 691-6392  *  *
Media contact:          (202) 691-5902  *

UNAMA, Indo-US nexus not on same page?

By: Sikander Shaheen | Published: February 27,

ISLAMABAD – Although intensified and off-the-curtain deliberations for reconciliation between US and Taliban have been continuing for the last couple of months in Afghanistan, yet the United Nations holds certain disagreements with NATO command over its ‘overstepping’ on some fronts.
United Nations Assistance Missions in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has been instrumental, throughout, in arranging covert talks between Taliban and NATO command, and some senior Taliban leaders frequently met Kai Eide in the second half of December last and couple of months that followed. However, the inclusion of some wanted miscreants of different terrorist organisations in the ‘dialogue process’ followed by their stealthy visits in Afghanistan, and uncalled for Indian involvement are some of the factors that do not go well with UNAMA.
After UN Afghanistan Chief Kai Eide had faced wide criticism on his failure to play an active role in stopping Afghanistan’s fraudulent presidential elections last year under growing demands for his resignations coming from credible international agencies, the outgoing Envoy wants to quit his responsibilities with some worthy achievements to his credit and his active involvement in initiating dialogue with Taliban is inter-linked to it.
Deeply cautious of his somehow passive role on the occasion of presidential elections and carrying the resolve not to repeat his mistakes, Kai Eide has been critical of Afghan government’s inefficiency and has differences with Karzai’s regime in the wake of massive corruption and drugs trafficking. During his tenure, UN had made public several reports highlighting Afghanistan’s inability to counter indigenous vices, other than terrorism, like lack of transparency, misappropriation of funds, and drugs smuggling. It was under his command that international community, for the first time, started pointing fingers at Afghanistan for its self-created multiple crises instead of using Pakistan as a scapegoat.
While Kai Eide has an individual role in facilitating secretive meet-ups with Taliban leaders, he is equally repulsive of NATO’s overstepping to use ‘fugitive’ Taliban in pursuit of its vested agenda. The outgoing Envoy, who is stepping down the next month, cites some personal reasons and family commitments for his decision to wind up, but informed circles in UNAMA believe that their Chief would have given a serious thought to get his contract renewed “had he not been completely out of line on some issues with US military command in Afghanistan.”

US power plant blast kills several

A massive gas explosion has ripped through a power plant in the United States, killing at least five people, according to the local mayor.

Rescue workers are still searching among the debris for other possible victims. So far 12 people are known to have been injured.

The explosion happened at 11.30 on Sunday morning, as workers were purging natural gas lines at the 620 megawatt gas-fired power station in Middletown, Connecticut.

The plant is still under construction and was due to come on line in the summer.

It is thought some 100 people were working on site at the time, but the blast was felt up to 50 kilometres away.

Local media talk about as many as up to 250 people being injured and an eyewitness described seeing “bodies everywhere”.

It is thought a natural gas leak caused the explosion.