OXFAN: Excerpts:Netanyahu stays strong at head of coalitionWednesday, September 30 2009"... A recent poll found that security, and primarily the Iranian nuclear threat, topped the Israeli public's list of policy priorities, followed by the economy and education. Only 0.5% of the Israeli public believes that the peace process with the Palestinians should be the government's first priority.Currently, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government is very strong and could take action on the peace process if it chose to. However, this is only because all potential challengers are weak, both in themselves, and because he has managed to draft all his policy statements so that he does not alienate leaders on either his left or right.Coalition Partners. The parties in government pose little challenge to Netanyahu's policies ...............Those outside the coalition also pose little challenge ....Obama's efforts. Despite Netanyahu's ability to act, US President Barack Obama's inability to secure concessions from the Palestinians or Arab states to entice the Israelis into softening their position meant that the debate in Israel on whether the country should bow to Obama's demands was stillborn. Netanyahu's aides were able to use the confrontation with Obama to shore up the prime minister's position among the far-right by claiming that Netanyahu had "stood up" to the United States.Netanyahu's position was further strengthened by Obama's initial insistence on a total freeze in the construction of settlements.....Obama's shift to merely urging 'restraint' in construction was taken by the Israelis as a sign that he had finally realised that he had gone too far. ...Shifting the focus. Netanyahu's only real demonstration of leadership to date -- and his only real policy hold over his government -- has been his ability to shift almost all of the national debate onto the Iranian nuclear issue. As a result, he has been able to leave every major and potentially divisive economic and social issue -- including the peace process -- in abeyance.....International distraction. Netanyahu's position was further strengthened by the revelation last week about the secret Iranian nuclear processing centre in Qom. The Israelis had long known about the site, and had anticipated that its existence would be revealed by the end of this year as the subject of sanctions against Iran became an increasingly important foreign policy issue for Washington.The US announcement, the strong support for it given by the United Kingdom and France, as well as the subsequent apparent softening of Russian opposition to sanctions, all played into Netanyahu's hands. The Palestinian issue was driven off the front pages and Israel's opposition politicians had little choice but to rally behind Netanyahu's public emphasis on the issue....With the economy now out of the recession, Netanyahu is likely to remain strong in the foreseeable future -- so long as he is not forced to make a decision or take a position on any nationally divisive issue. Potential challengers are weak, and he is protected on all sides, leaving no threat to his leadership."
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
"Richard Goldstone, who recently headed a United Nations commission investigating the events of Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter, told CNN on Wednesday that Israel had intentionally targeted some civilian sites during the fighting, though he stressed that he did not believe it was an Israeli policy....
When asked whether he believed that Israel had targeted civilians, Goldstone said "Not as a policy. A fully fledged formal investigation will find that out. We didn't get near being judicial." "However, he also said that "some of the killing was certainly intentional. There was no mistake in bombing factories. The Israeli intelligence has very precise information.".."
"Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri violated the spirit of national unity in his decisions on the next government, opposition leaders say.....
Michel Aoun, leader of the opposition Free Patriotic Movement, blamed Hariri for moving forward in a unilateral fashion, which he said harmed efforts at forming a unity government. "Thus if we do not reach an accord over the government, that implies a unilateral decision by one party to form a cabinet which does not reflect national unity," he said. He stressed, however, that he was not leading the disputes over the appointment of Bassil, ......."Whoever provoked the problem should pay the price," he cautioned.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki is visiting Washington to inspect Iran's unofficial diplomatic office in the U.S. capital, but there are no plans for him to meet U.S. officials, the State Department said on Wednesday.
One day before Iran meets in Geneva with the United States and other powers worried about its nuclear program, the State Department said it granted Mottaki's request to visit the Iranian interests section at the Pakistani Embassy, which represents Tehran in Washington in the absence of diplomatic ties.
"I wouldn't read too much into this ... it was a straightforward request and we granted it," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told a news briefing, saying there were no plans for Mottaki to meet U.S. officials or anyone acting on behalf of the U.S. government. "As to what interactions he has here, I don't know. I refer you to the Iranians," he said.
Crowley declined to describe the U.S. move to allow Mottaki's visit as a gesture ahead of the Geneva talks, which U.S. President Barack Obama has described as a chance for Tehran to allay rising Western fears that its nuclear program has military aims. "We are far more interested in having Iran come tomorrow to Geneva and we hope that they will be the ones who are offering gestures that they are ready to address concerns that the international community has," he said.
However, a U.S. official acknowledged the possibility that the visit could set a better tone for Thursday's meeting. "From our standpoint the really important meeting is tomorrow," said a U.S. official who spoke to reporters on condition that he not be identified. "If this gesture today leads us in a constructive direction tomorrow, terrific."..."
"U.S. officials signaled Wednesday that they would seek a rare one-on-one meeting with Iranian diplomats during talks here on Thursday between Iran and other major powers on Tehran's nuclear program........ the talks here could be the most substantial and in-depth conversation between the United States and Iran since relations were severed after the Iranian revolution 30 years ago. The chief U.S. negotiator, Undersecretary of State William J. Burns, is a career diplomat who joined in similar major-power talks last July in the final months of the Bush administration, but was barely permitted to speak under rules set by the White House......
U.S. officials believe the revelation of the facility, hidden in an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom, has given them leverage heading into the talks. In a blow for Iran, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency on Wednesday said that Iran violated the rules on timely disclosure. "Iran was supposed to inform us on the day it was decided to construct the facility. They have not done that," said Mohamed ElBaradei in an interview with CNN-India...........
As a sign of U.S. seriousness -- and the intense media interest -- a substantial team of White House and State Department officials, including three spokesmen, is accompanying Burns. The massive press attention is also leading the Swiss government to shift the venue to another location still under discussion, officials said........
The initial package of incentives offered by the six countries in 2006 included only a vague reference to Iran's security concerns because the Bush administration insisted that section of the offer be largely gutted. By contrast, a revised package offered in 2008 -- and reaffirmed by the Obama administration this year -- pledges to negotiate extensive security commitments, including supporting Iran in "playing an important and constructive role in international affairs."..."
(...)Format: With the Europeans officially hosting the talks, the EU’s Solana will make introductory remarks before inviting Iran’s Jalili to respond and address the gathering. Then, Solana will invite each delegation to make a statement or convey a message or comment on some aspect of Jalili’s proposal. (Each delegation is likely to be represented in the meeting by “1+1” — in diplo-speak —one lead official accompanied by a key deputy). All of this has to be translated. Then the group will break for lunch, followed by a likely afternoon plenary session.Lunch itself offers more diplomatic opportunities. “An interpreter can help pin down some subjects,” Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said. “Everything is pretty open.”The U.S. delegation is currently planning to return to Washington on Friday, a State Department official said. But at least some participants think there is a possibility for a second day of talks.What the U.S. and its allies want: Success in the talks would consist of two things, U.S. and international diplomatic sources said: a decision on dates for further talks, as well as an agreement reached on some sort of structured discussions involving Iran's nuclear program, among other issues.“What I can tell you is, if there are no follow-on meetings, that is not good news,” Cristina Gallach, a spokeswoman for chief European negotiator Solana, told POLITICO. “Such an important subject cannot be solved without entering into a dialogue, and eventually, hopefully, into formal negotiations. Therefore, the objective of this meeting is to prepare for meaningful negotiations on all issues, including, of course, the nuclear issue. Therefore such a process needs substantial engagement.”But while Solana would try to achieve that, she warned, he could not guarantee that outcome.What the Iranians want: Presumably, to split the international coalition from a unified position, as well as any indication from the U.S. or its allies that there would be a willingness to negotiate some level of continued uranium enrichment program.“They want to make sure they keep their enrichment program,” says the National Iranian American Council’s Trita Parsi. “They want to make sure they get continuous dialogue with the U.S. And they want recognition [of their role] in the region. And they want elimination of an external threat" -- some sort of guarantee from the U.S. that they won’t be attacked.( ... continue here)
"As the Obama administration struggles about whether or not to reengage the North Koreans by sending Amb. Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang, experts over at the Johns Hopkins School for Advanced International Studies are getting ready to release a new prescription for U.S. policy there.
The paper (pdf), principally authored by former North Korea negotiator Joel Wit, lays out a framework for renewing an approach with Kim Jong Il's regime. It argues that the United States must take action before a new and unpredictable North Korean leader ascends, that America must live with a nuclear North Korea without accepting its status as a nuclear state for the time being and that the Obama administration must avoid overreaching for ambitious goals while seeking incremental steps that could improve relations.
"The idea, when we started this report in April just after the missile test, was to chart a course back to dialogue that the administration could use in the future," said Wit, "since we all knew that was what would eventually happen."...."
"One day ahead of talks between Iran and the Western powers, Congress is weighing in on the disclosure of Iran's newest secret nuclear facility near the city of Qom.
A bill was introduced Tuesday in the House that would call on Iran to allow "unfettered access" to the Qom enrichment facility and disclose the existence of any additional facilities under its control. The legislation is one of those non-binding items that doesn't actually force action, but its introduction with 33 cosponsors from both parties indicates the rising tide of congressional angst over the Iranian developments..."
"Let's face it, the meme that's currently taking shape is that President Barack Obama is weak and vascillating....Is it a fair characterization? It leaves out a number of policy positions where he has taken bold initiatives and followed them up well. His nuclear nonproliferation agenda, for instance, which I initially dismissed but have since come to appreciate, offers promising openings on a number of fronts. His handling of the much-needed U.S. image makeover, too, has been effective. His initial handling of China and India have been quietly consistent with precedent, if not without some (unavoidable) bumpy patches. His reset of the Russia relationship was necessary, and the concessions made -- inevitable because it entailed walking back previous overreach -- were kept to a minimum.But on Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan and Iran -- that is, the inherited conflicts, as opposed to the inherited engagements -- there definitely seems to be a hesitation on following through on initial convictions and openings. To be fair, in the latter two cases, the ground shifted under the stated policy's feet. And in all three cases, the reality is that there are no good options. All the possible approaches carry great risks -- whether immediate or deferred -- and limited chances of optimal outcomes. They're all also politically perilous domestically.But even if it's understandable why, Obama has blinked. And that will certainly have effects down the road. The logic behind the "Nixon in China" axiom isn't that a hawk can sell engagement to domestic hawks. ... The logic behind the axiom is that a hawk can sell engagement as strength to both the interested party and to third-party observers, whether adversaries or rivals, thereby minimizing the risk of collateral damage on other conflicts, whether active or potential.I had initially interpreted Obama's immediate decision to deploy 21,000 troops to Afghanistan in this light: a show of strength that would provide cover for subsequently drawing down the military footprint there. That effect has now been muddied, and the resulting image of a modern-day Hamlet could very well limit Obama's hands in the subsequent rounds of what are all multi-round affairs.The alternate danger is that Obama might feel the need to give another, more dramatic demonstration of force to dispel any lingering image of weakness. And that could fatally wound his campaign to re-brand the U.S. as a more benign superpower...."
"American diplomats have arrived in Geneva ahead of international talks tomorrow with Iran.
Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns is leading the U.S. delegation, accompanied by State Department Special Advisor for Arms Control and Nonprolifetation Robert Einhorn, arms control advisor Steve Mull, and the National Security Council’s Senior Director for Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf Puneet Talwar. State Department spokesman Robert Wood and White House spokesman Tommy Vietor are also there.
The Washington delegation is being joined in Geneva by their counterparts from France, Germany, the UK, Russia, and China, -- the so called P5+1 -- as well as the group’s long time envoy, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the official host of the gathering.
The Iranian delegation is led by nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and Ali Bagheri, the foreign policy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry has set up shop at Geneva's Intercontinental Hotel, near the UN and Iranian missions, while tomorrow's talks are expected to take place at the Hotel de Ville, just outside of town.
The whole thing is still shrouded in secrecy, one colleague at the scene said, but that could be because discussions are still taking place among allies about how exactly the whole thing should proceed. "Still early, nothing to report," one official said this morning.
"... The ISI believes that despite “all his imperfections, Mr Karzai has one essential quality that American strategists lack — he’s an Afghan,” writes David Ignatius.ISI officials suggest that Mr Karzai should capitalise on the post-election ferment by calling for a ceasefire so that he can form a broadly-based government that includes some Taliban representatives.The ISI fears that a US military surge in Afghanistan would be counter-productive but it also believes that a US pullout would endanger Pakistan as well, writes Mr Ignatius.He says the ISI is keenly debating a new US strategy for Afghanistan proposed by the top US and Nato commander in Kabul, Gen Stanley McChrystal.“The ISI leadership thinks the US can’t afford to lose in Afghanistan, and it worries that a security vacuum there would endanger Pakistan,” Mr Ignatius writes. “But it also fears a big military surge could be counter-productive.” .....ISI officials believe the US should be realistic about its war objectives. If victory is defined as obliteration of the Taliban, the US will never win. But the US can achieve the more limited aim of rough political stability, if it is patient. ..."
"......Since the end of the war, more than 350 people in Lebanon have been killed or injured by unexploded cluster bombs acting as de facto land mines, and every month that figure slowly increases.
Terkiya lives in the village of West Zawtar, at the heart of a swathe of land south of the town of Nabatiyeh that was badly hit during the war.
Large areas of southern Lebanon became a no-go area as a result of the cluster bomb-strikes; farmers were cut off from their land and schools forced to close their playgrounds.While more than half of this land has now been declared safe, de-mining progress is stalling. The crucial donations that pay for cluster bomb clearance are drying up as new crises deflect attention away from what has become "yesterday's war" and the global recession puts pressure on foreign aid budgets.
The result has been a dramatic cut in de-mining capacity in the country.
"In 2007 there were 114 clearance teams working here," says Lt Col Mohamed el Cheikh of the Lebanese Mine Action Centre (LMAC), a military body set up to co-ordinate the clearance with the various civilian de-mining agencies that work in the country. "At the beginning of this year we had 46 teams left. Now there are just 20."
At current capacity, LMAC estimates that it will take at least another three-and-a-half years to finish the job, although that time could be cut to just 18 months if new donations are made. ..."
"INTELLIGENCE chief Sir John Scarlett has been told that Saudi Arabia is ready to allow Israel to bomb Iran’s new nuclear site. The head of MI6 discussed the issue in London with Mossad chief Meir Dagan and Saudi officials after British intelligence officers helped to uncover the plant, in the side of a mountain near the ancient city of Qom...."
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
" ... Bisa Williams, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state forWestern Hemisphere affairs, met with , visited an area affected by hurricanes in the Western province of and toured a government agricultural facility during a six-day trip to Cuba this month, the officials told AP.
The meetings came on the heels of Sept. 17 talks on the possibility of restarting direct mail service between the countries, suspended since 1963. Those discussions had been public, but neither country had previously revealed that Williams remained in Havana for five extra days.....
"We were going over ground we haven't gone over for a long time," said the official. "Each side was taking advantage of the opportunity to size each other up."
"The Cable reports that, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Fayssal Mekdad met today with Deputy Secretary of State Jack Lew and will make the rounds to some other agencies during his visit to Washington...."
"...Hizballah's strategy toward Israel since the 2000' withdrawal from Lebanon has been incoherent..."
"(WINEP's) Robert Satloff reminds Obama of a cardinal rule of American politics: no pressure on Israel ever. Just keep giving them money and they will give the US the finger in return. The only permitted position is to say you oppose settlements in the West Bank, while doing everything you can to keep them growing and advancing."
" ... While Israeli eyes are on other fronts for now, there is always a calculation that Egypt may one day turn unfriendly again. The IDF performs exercises for that eventuality from time to time. So does Egypt. In the meantime, however, Egypt and Israel are cooperating on a range of issues, including the fight against arms smuggling into Gaza.....
The IDF wants Syria taken out of the equation of potential violence, and is pushing the political echelon to pay the necessary diplomatic price.
Current Western assessments posit that, given the chance, Assad will go for peace with Israel if he is given back the Golan Heights to the 1967 lines. A Syrian-Israeli peace, while unlikely in the short term, could radically change the Middle East picture, leaving Iran isolated in the new alignment. In the meantime, Syria is pleased with the status quo.
In 2008, President Bashar Assad was a worried man. The UN probe into the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri pointed at direct involvement of senior members of the Assad regime. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was pursuing a probe of a nuclear facility, which according to foreign media, was bombed by the Israel Air Force. Assad was also nervously watching for any last-minute surprises by a departing George W. Bush......
.... Despite all these knocks, Assad maintains a strong hold on power in Syria, and in 2009 he can afford to smile. Bush has left the scene, and so has Jacques Chirac, who really loved Hariri. Whenever he feels threatened, he can allude that he's willing to conduct peace talks with Israel, and everybody smiles at him.
Assad now has leverage over both the pragmatic camp and the radical axis. Both sides want him to come over fully. Assad is being courted by an American president keen on dialogue, while Iran is making it even more difficult to break away. Europe sees him as part of the solution..........skillfully playing both sides against each other, but is not really moving in any direction. Assad still has to decide where along the East-West axis he wants to position his country...."
"... The official explanation for this stance is connected to the assertiveness that U.S. President Barack Obama and his administration are showing vis-a-vis Tehran, alongside the decision by the Obama administration to nix plans to deploy missile systems in Eastern Europe. That move is expected to help in getting Russia to hop on the sanctions wagon.But there are other factors in the background. The dialogue is the penultimate exit stop before the scenario of a military attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. The talks are expected to go on intermittently until December, when harsher sanctions are expected.Israel, from its point of view, now needs to show the Obama administration and the international community that it is a team player, one that supports exhausting all non-military options. At some point in the future, there will come a time when it would make sense to once again threaten to attack Iran in order to pressure Tehran, but now is still the time for negotiations. ..."
Top secret/Codeword Iran briefing: Senate Armed Services Committee members and staff are invited to attend an informal, classified briefing on Iran’s nuclear program on Thursday, October 1 from 4:00-5:00 p.m. Briefing the committee will be a National Intelligence Council officer. The briefing comes as Iran's nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili of course is due to sit down with political directors of the U.S., UK, France, Germany, China and Russia in Geneva's Hotel de Ville, for the first of what's anticipated to be a series of intense meetings over the coming weeks..."
"The United States has invited a Syrian official to Washington for the first time in five years as part of its efforts to improve relations with the Damascus government, a U.S. official and diplomats said on Sunday.The United States wants Syria's help in forging a deal between Israel and the Palestinians through its influence on the Palestinian group Hamas, which is opposed to President Mahmoud Abbas's approach to talks with Israel.In Lebanon, Washington wants Syria to help in the formation of a new government led by its ally Saad al-Hariri, ..."
"American insiders in Baghdad say the relationship between the top U.S. commander there, Gen. Raymond Odierno, and the top civilian official there, Amb. Christopher Hill, is deteriorating rapidly. Old hands say the chill between the two brings to the bad old days of Sanchez vs. Bremer, when those two unfortunates barely would speak to each other as the American position fell apart in early 2004, along with Iraq itself.
What I am hearing is that Odierno is profoundly frustrated with Hill, who despite knowing almost nothing about Iraq has decided after a short time there that it is time to stand back and stop influencing the behavior of Iraqi officials on a daily basis. In addition, I am told, the ambassador believes the war is an Iraqi problem, not something that really concerns Americans anymore, despite the presence of 125,000 American soldiers. On the other hand, the diplomats respond, the military guys believe they have good relationships with Iraqi officials, but, the dips add, how would the soldiers really know? Because unlike Hill's posse, they don't speak Arabic. Which brings to mind my favorite saying of Warren Buffett, that if you've been playing poker for half an hour and you don't know who the patsy at the table is, you're the patsy.
This is not good. Too often in Iraq over the last six years, the mission has been undercut by needless squabbling between our soldiers and diplomats. For some inexplicable reason, we've never had a structure that gives the Americans unity of command, with one person in charge of the overall national effort. (Calling Gen. Tony Zinni! Oh wait, the Obama administration screwed him early on about an Iraq post, and he isn't taking their calls anymore.) We have been tying ourselves in needless knots because correcting the bifurcated command structure somehow has been deemed too hard. Some people, like Gen. Petraeus and Amb. Ryan Crocker, were able to overcome the jerry-built command structure by being determined to achieve unity of effort, even if it meant banging together the skulls of subordinates. But it sounds to me like this top-level spirit of cooperation has evaporated and once again the smackdown is Camp Victory vs. the Green Zone -- and let places like Kirkuk and Fallujah fall apart in the meantime.
I was pretty tough on Odierno in Fiasco, but then was very impressed with how he adapted and changed for his second tour in Iraq, in 2007-2008, which I wrote about in The Gamble. By contrast, I've never understood the selection of Hill for Iraq. I met him in the Balkans and thought him a pleasant and smart guy who speaks Serbo-Croatian and Polish, but from what I can tell, he doesn't know much about the Middle East. I am told he is there because he is a Holbrooke homey. But what does Richard "AfPak" Holbrooke have to do with Iraq? I mean, doesn't his writ end several hundred miles to the east, around Herat? "
"TEHRAN’S disclosure that it is building a second uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qum has derailed the Obama administration’s already faltering efforts to engage with Iran. The United States will now cling even more tightly to the futile hope that international pressure and domestic instability will induce major changes in Iranian decision-making.
Indeed, the meeting on Thursday in Geneva of the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany with Iran (the “five plus one” talks) will not be an occasion for strategic discussion but for delivering an ultimatum: Iran will have to agree to pre-emptive limitations on its nuclear program or face what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “crippling” sanctions.
However, based on conversations we’ve had in recent days with senior Iranian officials — including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — we believe it is highly unlikely Iran will accept this ultimatum. It is also unlikely that Russia and China will support sanctions that come anywhere near crippling Iran. After this all-too-predictable scenario has played out, the Obama administration will be left, as a consequence of its own weakness and vacillation, with extremely poor choices for dealing with Iran.
Because President Obama assembled a national security team that, for the most part, did not share his early vision for American-Iranian rapprochement, his administration never built a strong public case for engagement. The prospect of engagement is still treated largely as a channel for “rewarding” positive Iranian actions and “punishing” problematic behavior — precisely what Mr. Obama, as a presidential candidate, criticized so eloquently about President George W. Bush’s approach.
... Continue/ here