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The $4 billion US-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline officially opens. The pipeline begins in Baku, Azerbaijan and travels 1,762 km (1,000 miles) through Georgia to the Mediterranean port city of Ceyhan in Turkey. The pipeline has been under construction for ten years and was built by a consortium of oil companies including Amerada Hess, ConocoPhillips, Eni, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil, Total, SOCAR, TPAO, Unocal, and BP. The pipeline is expected to bring one million barrels of oil per day to the West. [Institution, 3/4/2003; BBC, 5/5/2005; BBC, 5/25/2005]
Entity Tags: Unocal, British Petroleum, TPAO, SOCAR, Total, Eni, ConocoPhillips, Amerada Hess, Inpex, Itochu, Statoil
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Peak Oil
A delegation from India visits Pakistan to discuss cooperation in the oil and gas sectors. The 11-person delegation is headed by Indian Minister for Petroleum and Natural Gas Mani Shankar Aiyar. The two countries agree to establish a working group to review the legal, technical, commercial, and financial parameters of the proposed Iran-India-Pakistan gas pipeline (see 1993 and January 27, 2003) that would transport natural gas 2,775 km from Iran to India via Pakistan. They plan to start the project by December 31, 2005. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005; Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] At a press conference on June 6, Aiyar is asked about US concerns expressed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in March (see March 19, 2005) that the pipeline would strengthen Iran. Aiyar responds that construction of the pipeline is contigent only upon an agreement being made between India and Pakistan. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005] India and Pakistan also discuss the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) pipeline (see January 18, 2005), which they agree should extend to India. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 6/5/2005; Associated Press, 6/5/2005] The delegation also explores the possibility of exporting Indian diesel to Pakistan. [Islamic Republic News Agency, 6/5/2005]
India’s Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar says that Iran has agreed to research the possibility of extending the proposed 2,670 km Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline (see 1993) to China. [PakTribune (Islamabad), 6/13/2005]
The National Iranian Gas Company announces the awarding of a $2.2 billion contract to construct a gas refinery in the southwestern Iranian province of Khuzestan to a consortium headed by the British construction firm Costain Oil, Gas & Process (COGAP). [Costain, 6/24/2005 ; Forbes, 6/24/2005]
The Bush administration reverses almost 30 years of US policy by announcing that it will “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.” The US agrees to provide India with nuclear fuel, reactor technology, and dual-use goods that have both civilian and military applications. The US has been leery of such dealings with India because of its unsanctioned development of nuclear weapons (using US technology—see June 20, 1996 and May 11-13, 1998). Since 1998, the US has sanctioned India and backed a UN resolution demanding that India give up its nuclear program. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Given that context, it was shocking that the Bush administration would renew Indian access to nuclear technology.” The deal violates the US’s commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT—see July 1, 1968) and requires a fundamental rewrite of laws written specifically to constrain India’s nuclear ambitions. With the agreement, the US has turned India from a global “nuclear pariah” to a burgeoning full partner in the world’s “nuclear club.” The agreement is also guaranteed to inflame passions in Pakistan, India’s traditional enemy, which is, in Scoblic’s words, “nuclear-armed, jihadist-riddled, and politically unstable.” Pakistan is almost certain to step up its production of nuclear reactors and even weapons, a major concern considering that Pakistan is considered the nation most likely to provide nuclear technology to Islamist militants. State Department official Nicholas Burns explains that the US wants to “transform relations with India… founded upon a strategic vision that transcends even today’s most pressing security needs.” The US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, writes that the Bush administration decided to ignore the “nagging nannies” in the State Department who warned of the danger of nuclear proliferation. Many experts see the US as cultivating India to serve as a bulwark against Pakistan and Islamic radicalism, as well as a counter against the geostrategic maneuverings of China. Bush officials call it a “natural alliance,” and claim that arming a “democratic friend” with nuclear technology is worth the risk of unwanted proliferation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 255-258] Two years later, the US will repeatedly sanction Indian entities for providing nuclear technology to, among other nations and organizations, Iran (see 2007).
The six-way talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003 and Spring and Summer 2005) finally bear fruit: all participants, including North Korea and the US, agree to “the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner.” The North Koreans had insisted that they were entitled to receive light-water nuclear reactors in return for disarming, a central provision of the 1994 Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). The US refused to agree, and the Chinese brokered a compromise statement in which North Korea “stated that it has the right to peaceful uses of nuclear energy” and that the “other parties expressed their respect” and will discuss the reactor demand “at an appropriate time.” But Bush administration conservatives, furious at the agreement, prevail on President Bush to modify the US’s position. The White House forces US negotiator Christopher Hill to read a hard-line statement written by Bush conservatives that defines the “appropriate time” for the reactor discussions as being after North Korea has unilaterally disarmed. Simultaneously, the Treasury Department announces its imposition of sanctions on an Asian bank for allegedly laundering North Korean funds. The North Koreans respond by walking out of the negotiations, leaving the agreement unsigned. They will not return to negotiations for 15 months. [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 244]
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors passes a resolution declaring Iran in non-compliance with its safeguard obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The resolution calls on Iran to suspend all enrichment-related activity, cease construction on a heavy water research reactor, and provide agency inspectors access to research and development locations and documentation. The resolution also calls on Iran to “[p]romptly… ratify and implement in full the Additional Protocol,” which would require Iran to allow short-notice inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities. [International Atomic Energy Agency. Board of Governors, 9/24/2005 ] Iran has signed but not ratified it. [Washington Post, 9/27/2005] If Iran fails to comply with this resolution, the board could decide at its next meeting in November to refer the matter to the UN Security Council. A referral to the Security Council would set the stage for the possible imposition of sanctions on Iran. Iran has repeatedly stated that it will not relinquish its right under the NPT to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. The resolution, sponsored by Britain, France, and Germany, passes with 22 votes. Twelve countries abstain, including Russia, China, Pakistan, South Africa and Brazil, and only one—Venezuela—opposes the resolution. India, under strong pressure from the US (see September 10, 2005), backs the resolution, despite its close ties to Iran. The resolution marks the third time in two decades that an IAEA resolution has not been approved unanimously. [BBC, 9/25/2005; Associated Press, 9/25/2005; Washington Post, 9/25/2005; Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki calls the resolution “politically motivated, illegal, and illogical,” asserting that the “three European countries implemented a planned scenario already determined by the United States.” [Economic Times (Gurgaon, India), 9/26/2005]
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council spokesman, Ali Aghamohammadi, says that Iran has no intention of withdrawing from a multi-billion dollar deal to sell natural gas to India. There have been rumors that Iran, upset over India’s support of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution declaring Iran in breach of its Safeguard Agreements (see September 24, 2005), had informed India the deal was in jeopardy. “We have had good, deep relations with India in many fields and regional affairs and their behavior at the IAEA was strange and we didn’t expect them to vote against Iran,” he says. Nonetheless, “We don’t want to review our current relations with India and their vote against Iran doesn’t affect the gas project.” [BBC, 9/28/2005]
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions is adopted at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference held in Paris, France. It is the first major international convention to be adopted that reaffirms the sovereign right of states to formulate and implement cultural policies. The convention’s approval is seen as a challenge to the legitimacy of the global regime of bilateral, regional and multilateral free trade agreements revolving around the World Trade Organization (WTO), in particular regarding international trade in cultural goods and services and the related cultural policies effected by governments. The approval of this international instrument is seen as a major culmination of years-long efforts led by Canada and the European Union, specifically France, to arrest liberalization commitments in various free trade agreements that tend to strengthen Hollywood’s overwhelming advantage in the global film, music, publishing, advertising, and other cultural industries. The convention is overwhelmingly approved despite a strong counter-lobby by the United States. A hundred and forty-eight vote in the convention’s favor, four countries (Australia, Honduras, Liberia, and Nicaragua) abstain, and only two countries—the United States and Israel—vote against its approval. [Coalition Currents, 10/2005]
Some time between when al-Qaeda leader Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi is moved to a prison in Mauritania in November 2005 (see November 2005) and September 2006 when most imprisoned al-Qaeda leaders are transferred to Guantanamo (see September 2-3, 2006), al-Libi disappears from known US custody. Al-Libi was captured in late 2001 and confessed that the Iraqi government helped train al-Qaeda in chemical and biological weapons (see January 2002 and After). In 2004, he recanted his confession amid allegations that he was brutally tortured, and the CIA later determined his Iraq allegations were untrue (see February 14, 2004). In May 2007, a group of Democratic Congresspeople will write President Bush, asking if al-Libi was tortured and/or renditioned to Egypt to be tortured, and also asking, “Where is al-Libi today?” Human-rights groups and others suspect the Bush administration is hiding al-Libi and concealing key information about him because of the potential political and legal ramifications about his torture, as well as his false confession that helped lead to war with Iraq. While the White House has yet to respond to queries about al-Libi, Newsweek will later claim that al-Libi, a Libyan, has been quietly returned to Libya and is being secretly imprisoned there. He is reportedly extremely ill with tuberculosis and diabetes. It is said the Libyan government has kept silent about holding al-Libi as a favor to the Bush administration, to help avoid more public scrutiny about him. [Newsweek, 5/29/2007]
Through a unanimous all-party vote at its National Assembly, Quebec becomes the first government worldwide to approve the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. The approval comes just three weeks after the landslide vote for the international convention at the UNESCO 33rd General Conference in Paris, France. The day’s favorable vote on the convention is marked as well by statements by leading officials of Quebec noting Quebec’s prime role in the formation of the UNESCO instrument, as well as how the convention boosts Quebec’s efforts to protect and promote its cultural industries. Deputy Premier and Minister of International Relations Monique Gagnon-Tremblay emphasizes Quebec’s important contribution to the “emergence of an international instrument of fundamental importance for the cultural sector, and over and beyond this, for the socio-economic development of all our peoples at the beginning of the 21st century.” Culture and Communications Minister Line Beauchamp ends her own statements by calling the adoption of the convention “a great day for Quebec culture,” adding: ”(T)he fundamental issue is the commitment of states to support their cultures through cultural policies that take the form of subsidies, tax credits, of regulatory policies.… We should be aware to what degree everyday life is shaped and affected by culture and artistic creations.… It is important to realize that the cultural policies I just described are behind the songs you hear on the radio, the television programs you watch, the books you read, your encounters with culture.” For his part, Claude Béchard, minister of economic development, innovation, and exports, stresses the convention “will serve as a tool of reference for states facing pressure to liberalize their cultural sectors by helping to legitimize at the international level their cultural policies.” Premier Jean Charest, meantime, highlights the close cooperation between Quebec and the federal government of Canada in building international support for the convention. Charest indicates again his government is determined to continue championing the convention internationally, and to continue supporting Canada’s Coalition for Cultural Diversity and Quebec’s leading cultural organizations in their work to mobilize cultural professionals around the world to support ratification. [Coalition Update, 11/2005]
Canada becomes the first country to ratify the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Canada’s November 22 ratification comes just 33 days after the international instrument was adopted at the 33rd UNESCO General Conference in Paris, France. The prompt ratification meets a previous public commitment made by Minister of Canadian Heritage Liza Frulla, shortly after the November 22 adoption at the UNESCO Conference, that Canada would be the first to ratify the convention “ideally before Christmas [of 2005].” Frulla recalls at the signing ceremonies in Montreal on November 23, “some people gave me a very skeptical look [after I made that pronouncement], and thought I was dreaming in Technicolor.” But she points out that her resolve to make good the ratification commitment was matched by that of Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, who Frulla says “has always been a strong defender and promoter of this convention.” Frulla relates further: “[A]s soon as I got back, we triggered the process so that Canada could be in a position to ratify this convention.… And today we can say mission accomplished. Clearly, this is a great day for our artists, our culture, our cultural industries, and for our country.” Frulla, Martin, Quebec Minister of Culture and Communications Line Beauchamp, and Scott McIntyre and Pierre Curzi, co-chairs of Canada’s Coalition for Cultural Diversity, offer congratulations to each other at the Montreal ceremonies for the convention’s quick ratification in record time. [Coalition Update, 11/2005]
North Korea declares it will resume building nuclear reactors, and blames the US for withdrawing from the deal it had made in 1994 to build two light-water reactors in return for the nation eschewing nuclear weapons (see October 21, 1994). [BBC, 12/2007]
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Condoleezza Rice says that the US is seeking to encourage “a new strategic alignment” that is emerging in the Middle East between “responsible” leaders on the one side, and extremists on the other. She says the US is working with Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and certain reformist leaders in Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territories “to empower democratic and other responsible leaders across the region.” (Notably, only two of these countries—Turkey and Israel—have democratic forms of governments) Explaining the US’s interest in the Middle East, she says: “The security of this region is an enduring vital interest for the United States. America’s presence in this part of the world contributes significantly to its stability and success.” [US Congress, 1/11/2007 ] According to a later article by veteran reporter Seymour Hersh, the policy she is describing is actually aimed at rolling back the influence that Iran has gained since the US invasion of Iraq (see Late 2006).
As part of a panel discussion at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, Aaron Friedberg, the deputy national security adviser for Vice President Cheney, says that the most dire ramification of the ongoing six-party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program (see August 2003) is that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il would remain in power (see May 4, 2003). Author J. Peter Scoblic will write in 2008 that Friedberg does not seem to realize “that the six-party process was not designed to oust Kim—and could in fact only succeed in stopping the North’s nuclear program if the regime was assured of its survival.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 241]
Nicaraguan presidential candidate Daniel Ortega strikes a deal with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez that will allow an alliance of 51 Nicaraguan mayors, many from the Sandinista party, to purchase 10 million barrels of Venezuelan fuel on preferential terms. Under the agreement, the mayors will pay 60 percent of the cost of their purchases within 90 days of shipment, with the remaining 40 percent payable over the next 25 years at one percent interest, with a two-year grace period. In Nicaragua, high oil prices have led to rolling blackouts and transportation strikes. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 4/26/2006; Associated Press, 5/5/2006] Chavez says Venezuela will also donate 10,000 tons of urea to Sandinista farming organizations. [Associated Press, 5/5/2006] During Ortega’s visit to Venezuela, he also says (see April or May 2006) that if he wins the November 5 elections, he will make sure Nicaragua joins the Alternativa Bolivariana para la America (ALBA), or the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, which was initiated by Venezuela and Cuba in 2005.
Daily Telegraph defense correspondent Thomas Harding reports that American defense officials in the operations and planning staff at the Pentagon, with the backing of the George W. Bush administration, are requesting a “prodigious quantity” of ammunition from Russia to supply the Afghan National Army. The order is reported to include more than 78 million rounds of AK47 ammunition, 100,000 rocket-propelled grenades, and 12,000 tank shells, equivalent to about 15 times the British Army’s annual requirements. The order also suggests the Afghan Army will be equipped with T62 tanks, Mi24 Hind attack helicopters, and Spandrel anti-tank missiles. Harding’s diplomatic sources believe that the US may be offering an estimated $400 million for this “decade’s worth” of ammunition, including transport costs. All of the material will come from Rosoboronexport, the sole Russian state intermediary agency for military exports. “This is a request for a price indication from the Pentagon to the Russians,” says one arms source connected to Russia. “After that comes back they will look at their budget and turn it into an order—and it will be an order of huge magnitude.” American officials are said to be pressing for rapid processing of the order so that exports may begin before the end of this year, according to the report. Harding reports that White House “insiders” fear that Afghanistan could “drift,” and consequently want to arm President Hamid Karzai’s government before the 2008 US presidential election, especially in the event of a Democrat becoming president. The Telegraph report also indicates that some British officials and arms experts are privy to the deal. One senior British officer is quote as saying: “The point of getting Afghanistan up and running is so they can take on their own operations. This deal makes sense if we are going to hand over military control to them.” Harding’s arms industry source tells him that the Pentagon wants to “stack the country up” with arms. “It’s the equivalent of buying yourself a plane to fly to Le Touquet for lunch and you get yourself a 747 jumbo instead of a light aircraft,” he remarks. [Daily Telegraph, 5/22/2006]
Senate Democrats Joseph Biden (D-DE), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Harry Reid (D-NV) issue a demand for the Bush administration to “provide policy direction for negotiations with North Korea relating to nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other security matters,” and to “provide leadership for United States participation in Six Party Talks on the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” (see September 19-20, 2005). The White House ignores the demand. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 245]
North Korea announces that if it is attacked by the US, it will retaliate with nuclear weapons. A Bush administration spokesman says the threat is “deeply hypothetical” and not to be taken seriously (see October 9, 2006). Over the next two days after issuing the threat, North Korea test-fires seven ballistic missiles, including one long-range Taepodong-2 missile. [BBC, 12/2007]
The United Nations Security Council unanimously votes to sanction North Korea for its illict ballistic missile tests (see July 3-5, 2006). The resolution demands UN members bar exports and imports of missile-related materials to North Korea and that it halt its ballistic missile program. [BBC, 12/2007]
The government of Pakistan signs an agreement known as the Waziristan Accord with rebels in the tribal area of Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan known as Waziristan. This is the area where the Taliban and al-Qaeda have a strong influence and many believe al-Qaeda’s top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hiding there. The accord effectively puts an end to fighting between the Pakistani army and the rebels. Details of the accord are published in a Pakistani newspaper the next day. The main points include:
The Pakistani government agrees to stop attacks in Waziristan.
Militants are to cease cross-border movement into and out of Afghanistan.
Foreign jihadists will have to leave Pakistan, but “those who cannot leave will be allowed to live peacefully, respecting the law of the land and the agreement.”
Area check-points and border patrols will be manned by a tribal force and the Pakistan army will withdraw from control points.
No parallel administration will be established in the area, but Pakistan law will remain in force.
Tribal leaders will ensure that no one attacks government personnel or damages state property.
The Pakistani government will release captured militants and will pay compensation for property damage and the deaths of innocent civilians. [Dawn (Karachi), 9/6/2006] The deal is negotiated and signed by Gen. Ali Jan Orakzai, who had become the governor of the nearby North-West Frontier Province some months earlier. Orakzai, a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, is known to hate the US and NATO and admire militant groups such as the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). [New York Times, 6/30/2008] Two days later, President Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 7, 2006). The Wall Street Journal comments that Musharraf decided to approve the deal in order to take care of “an even bigger security problem: a growing rebellion in the resource-rich province of Baluchistan.” He does not have the forces to deal with widespread violence in both regions. [Wall Street Journal, 9/8/2006]
A similar deal was made with South Waziristan in February 2005 (see February 7, 2005). The agreement will soon be seen as a big success for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. In July 2007, the Washington Post will report that senior US intelligence officials attribute “the resurgence of bin Laden’s organization almost entirely to its protected safe haven among tribal groups in North Waziristan…” (see July 18, 2007). The same month, the Bush administration will publicly call the accord a failure as it collapses amidst an all out fight between the government and militants in Pakistan (see July 11-Late July, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
US senior negotiator Christopher Hill warns North Korea that it should not test a nuclear device (see October 9, 2006), and that if it does, the US may consider it a “provocative act,” implying that the US might retaliate with military force. [BBC, 12/2007]
United States Geological Survey graphic showing the location of the North Korea nuclear test. The USGS notes the test as ‘seismic activity.’ [Source: United States Geological Survey]North Korea explodes a nuclear weapon in an underground test site. The test takes place in spite of repeated US (see September 11, 2006), United Nations, and other international warnings. The North Koreans claim that the test is an unmitigated success. Both Japanese and US sources report a seismic event at the time of the test, and Russia says it is “100 percent certain” a nuclear test has occurred. The US calls the test a “provocative act”; China, in an unusually strong denunciation of its ally, calls the test “brazen,” expresses its “resolute opposition” to the test, and says it “defied the universal opposition of international society.” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan calls the test “unpardonable” and notes that the region is now “entering a new, dangerous nuclear age.” Many observers believe the United Nations will attempt to impose economic sanctions on the country, and to condemn it in a Security Council resolution. “We expect the UN Security Council to take immediate actions to respond to this unprovoked act,” says White House press secretary Tony Snow. Abe, in South Korea to meet with President Roh Moo-hyun, agrees, urging the Security Council to take “undaunted” action. Abe says the test will spur Japan and the US to speed up work on a joint missile-defense system begun after a North Korean missile test in 1998. Roh says the test creates a “severe situation” that threatens stability in the region; South Korea’s military is on high alert. For its part, North Korea says the test is a “historic event that brought happiness to our military and people,” and claims the test will maintain “peace and stability” in the region. It is “a great leap forward in the building of a great prosperous, powerful socialist nation.” [BBC, 10/9/2006] A week later, the US confirms that the North Koreans have, in fact, tested a nuclear weapon of less than a kiloton. [Bloomberg, 10/16/2006]
North Korea says it may carry out further nuclear testing (see October 9, 2006), and says that any United Nations sanctions (see October 14, 2006) would be considered an act of war. The North blames the US for the threatened sanctions, and says, “If the US keeps pestering us and increases pressure, we will regard it as a declaration of war and will take a series of physical corresponding measures.” South Korea has placed its military on high alert. President Bush calls for stiff sanctions against North Korea, but insists the US has “no intentions of attacking” it. The US remains committed to diplomacy, Bush says, but “reserves all options to defend our friends in the region.” UN General Secretary Kofi Annan urges the US to hold bilateral talks with North Korea, and adds: “I would urge the North Korean authorities not to escalate the situation any further. We already have an extremely difficult situation.” Any further nuclear tests hinge on the US’s actions, says Kim Yong Nam, the deputy leader of the North Korean government. Kim says, “The issue of future nuclear tests is linked to US policy toward our country.” [Fox News, 10/11/2006]
The United Nations Security Council votes unanimously to sanction North Korea for its recent nuclear weapons test (see October 9, 2006). UN Resolution 1718 demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons as well as its ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. The resolution gives other nations the right to inspect cargo moving in and out of North Korea to look for non-conventional weapons, but has no threat of force connected to the inspections’ potential findings. It also demands that Pyongyang return “without precondition” to the stalled six-nation talks on its nuclear program. [BBC, 12/2007] As it threatened, North Korea labels the sanctions “a declaration of war” (see October 11, 2006). Though Pyongyang makes no direct military strikes towards South Korea or any other neighbor, indications are strong that it may be preparing for a second test. [Washington Post, 10/17/2006]
In an abrupt reversal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il apologizes for his country’s nuclear test (see October 9, 2006). He reportedly tells a Chinese delegation that he regrets the test, denies any plans for further tests (see October 11, 2006), and says he is willing for North Korea to resume its participation in international nuclear negotiations if the US agrees not to “financially isolate” his country. For their part, US State Department officials say they doubt Kim made any such statements. But the US is willing to rejoin negotiations. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says, “The Chinese are emphasizing the need for six-party talks to begin again and for the North to re-engage in the talks.” North Korea “urged us to be open to returning to those talks without preconditions, which for us is not difficult.” [MSNBC, 10/20/2006]
The UN General Assembly votes in favor of creating an international treaty aimed at curbing the illicit trade in guns and other light weapons. The United States, the world’s largest supplier of small arms, is the only country to vote against the resolution. Supporters of the resolution say that the small arms trade fuels conflict, poverty, and serious human rights violations. Inter Press Service reports that “independent experts who have worked closely with the United Nations on the issue of small arms proliferation estimate that in the past three years more than one million people have been killed as a result of the unchecked flow of guns and other small weapons.” [UN General Assembly, 10/26/2006; Inter Press Service, 10/27/2006]
Oxfam publishes a report concluding that poor people in developing nations are dying needlessly because drug companies and the governments of certain wealthy nations are putting a higher priority on defending intellectual property rights than protecting human life. According to the report, the United States has used free-trade agreements and threats of sanctions to prevent countries from producing and distributing low-cost generic drugs in order to preserve the monopolies of large drug companies. Likewise, the drugs makers themselves are pushing countries to prevent the sale of cheaper drugs. “Pfizer is challenging the Philippines government in a bid to extend its monopoly on Norvasc, a [blood] pressure drug. Novartis is engaged in litigation in India to enforce a patent for Glivec, a cancer drug, which could save many lives if it were available at generic prices,” the Guardian reports. The Oxfam report says that efforts to block the poor’s access to affordable medicine undermines the five-year old Doha declaration, which sought to improve poor countries’ access to cheap drugs. “[R]ich countries have failed to honor their promises. Their record ranges from apathy and inaction to dogged determination to undermine the declaration’s spirit and intent. The US, at the behest of the pharmaceutical industry, is uniquely guilty of seeking ever higher levels of intellectual property protection in developing countries,” the report says. [Guardian, 11/14/2006; Oxfam, 11/14/2006 ]
Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with King Abdullah and Prince Bandar bin Sultan. The king reportedly warns Cheney that the Saudis will consider providing financial support to Iraqi Sunnis in any war against Iraq’s Shiites if the US pulls out of Iraq. An unnamed Arab diplomat tells the New York Times, “If things become so bad in Iraq, like an ethnic cleansing, we will feel we are pulled into the war.” But according to a European intelligence official interviewed by reported Seymour Hersh, the real concern—one shared by both the Saudis and the Bush administration—is that the conflict in Iraq is resulting in a tilt of power in the Middle East that favors Shiite-dominated Iran. [New York Times, 12/13/2007]
During the year, the US imposes sanctions on nine different entities in India for unsanctioned nuclear proliferation—giving, or selling, nuclear technology to nations and/or organizations prohibited from having them. Perhaps the most worrisome buyer of Indian nuclear technology is Iran. Two years before, Bush officials had reversed 30 years of US sanctions against India over its unrestricted development of nuclear technology, and entered into an agreement with India to provide it with more technology and even fissile material (see July 18, 2005). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 258]
Irbil’s Iranian Liaison Office. [Source: Yahya Ahmed / Associated Press]US forces carry out two raids inside Iraq, capturing five Iranians as well as a large amount of documentary and computer data. Both raids are inside the Kurdish city of Irbil. One raid is at the Iranian Liaison Office, which is used as a local headquarters by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards; according to Iranian sources, five US helicopters land on the roof of the office building around 4 a.m. local time, and US soldiers break down doors, snatch up the five Iranians, and take away boxes of documents and computer equipment. The second raid, at the Irbil airport, ends differently, with US troops finding themselves confronting unfriendly Kurdish troops. Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari says, “A massacre was avoided at the last minute.” No Iranians are detained as part of the airport raid. The two raids are part of a new US intelligence and military operation launched in December 2006 against Iranians allegedly providing assistance to Iraqi Shi’ite insurgents. Iran’s al-Quds Brigade, which provides funding and military training to other Shi’ite revolutionary groups such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is the primary target of the US offensive. “Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces,” the headquarters of the US-led Multi-National Force-Iraq says in a prepared statement. The month before, two senior Iranians of al-Quds, Brigadier General Mohsen Chirazi and Colonel Abu Amad Davari, were captured in similar raids (see December 21-29, 2006), and freed shortly thereafter. [Alalam News, 1/11/2007; Washington Post, 1/12/2007; Newswire, 1/12/2007] US officials dismiss the raids as “routine.” [Reuters, 1/11/2007] Months later, a Kurdish government official says that the real target of the raids was not the Iranian liaison officials, but commanders of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, who were openly visiting Kurdish government officials. The commanders were not captured (see Early April, 2007). [Associated Press, 4/6/2007]
Rhetorical Escalation - Bush says that he has ordered US forces to “seek out and destroy the networks” arming and training US enemies, an indirect reference to Iran (see January 10, 2007). Joining Bush in the rhetorical escalation is General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who charges that Iran is “complicit” in providing weapons designed to kill American troops: “We will do all we need to do to defend our troops in Iraq by going after the entire network regardless of where those people come from.” The Iranian Liaison Office was opened with the approval of the Iraqi Kurds, who maintain a near-autonomous region in northern Iraq with the support of the US. Iran wants to upgrade the office to a formal consulate. US forces did not inform their Iraqi allies of the raids on the office beforehand; the raids may well disrupt Kurdish and Iraqi government attempts to deepen ties with the Iranian government. “This is a very, very dangerous thing,” says Zebari. The Iranian government has protested the raids, and the capture of their five officials, through Iraqi and Swiss diplomats to the United Nations (Switzerland represents US interests in Iran). Tehran insists that all five captured Iranians are diplomats, a claim rejected by US and Iraqi officials. [Washington Post, 1/12/2007] The State Department will assert, without presenting proof, that the Iranians are part of a much larger effort by Iran to support the Iraqi Shi’ite militias and insurgents. Apparently the United States’ charges that the Iranians are not diplomats rest on a bureaucratic foible: the five Iranians had applied for diplomatic accreditation, but their paperwork had not been fully processed. The Kurdish government were treating them as if they were accredited. Iran insists that the five are legitimate diplomats regardless of paperwork, and that by capturing them, the US is violating the Vienna Conventions and other international diplomatic regulations. But the US routinely ignores such laws in both Iraq and Afghanistan, causing criticism from human rights organizations and legal experts around the globe. Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says, “The US hasn’t articulated the legal grounds under which it detains ‘combatants’. They regularly conflate criminal terrorism, innocent civilians, and real combatants on the ground, and throw them all into the same pot. The vagueness of the war on terror has supplied the soil under which all this has flourished.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/25/2007; Asia Times, 3/31/2007]
Eventual Release of Some Captives - Months later, the US will release some of the captured Iranians (see November 6-9, 2007).
Entity Tags: al-Quds Brigade, US Department of Defense, Peter Pace, US Department of State, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, Mohsen Chirazi, Human Rights Watch, Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Abu Amad Davari, Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, Hezbollah, John Sifton, Iranian Liaison Office, Hoshyar Zebari, United Nations
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
The US abruptly reverses course on its North Korean policy (see Mid-January 2003 and October 9, 2006) and reopens negotiations with the North Koreans. It offers to release $25 million in North Korean funds impounded by Banco Delta Asia and to allow chief negotiator Christopher Hill to finalize a deal on the North’s denuclearization. The US will provide heavy fuel oil as North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows international inspectors into the country. The deal is quite similar to the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration (see October 21, 1994). The long-term goal is full disclosure of North Korea’s nuclear program, and normalized relations with the US. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “The North Korean regime seems no weaker for the years of antagonistic treatment by Bush conservatives” (see May 4, 2003). [BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 261]
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions enters into force. In accordance with the ratification procedure, this happens three months after 30 countries deposited their instruments of ratification at UNESCO. UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura notes, “None of UNESCO’s other cultural conventions has been adopted by so many states in so little time.” The 30 countries are Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, Djibouti, Ecuador, Estonia, Finland, France, Guatemala, India, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Namibia, Peru, the Republic of Moldova, Romania, Senegal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and Togo. By the time it comes into force, 22 more countries have deposited their ratification instruments at UNESCO. [UNESCO, 3/2007]
Russia strenuously objects to US plans to deploy 10 missile interceptors and an advanced radar system in Eastern Europe—in essence creating a missile defense system in several former Soviet satellite states. Russia says that those installations will be targeted by Russian nuclear weapons, and hints that it will accelerate its development of new ICBMs and new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, threatening a new, post-Cold War arms race. The US protests that the weapons systems are not intended for use against Russian targets, but the Russian government is not mollified. “In questions of military-strategic stability there are… immutable laws, actions, counteractions, defense, offensive systems,” says Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “These laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation. The military has its own duty, to figure out threats and take countermeasures.” Russian President Vladimir Putin says that the US missile defense system plans are “destroying the strategic equilibrium in the world,” and adds, “In order to restore that balance without setting up a missile defense system, we will have to create a system to overcome missile defense, and that is what we are doing now.” If the US continues with its planned deployment, Russia says it will stop observing the limits on conventional arms in Europe, an agreement negotiated by George H. W. Bush, and will consider withdrawing from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (see December 7-8, 1987). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 190-191]
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) enter North Korea to inspect the North Koreans’ promised shutdown of their nuclear program (see February 8, 2007 and After). It is the first time inspectors have been in North Korea in nearly five years (see December 31, 2002). [BBC, 12/2007]
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA—see June 26, 2007) confirm that North Korea has shut down its nuclear facility at Yongbyon. Pyongyang has just received the first fuel oil shipment as promised in earlier negotiations (see February 8, 2007 and After). [BBC, 12/2007]
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh asserts that the only reason Democrats are interested in stopping the genocide in Darfur is to secure the African-American vote. Democrats, Limbaugh says, “want to get us out of Iraq, but they can’t wait to get us into Darfur.… There are two reasons. What color is the skin of the people in Darfur? It’s black. And who do the Democrats really need to keep voting for them? If they lose a significant percentage of this voting bloc, they’re in trouble.” Limbaugh, in a conversation with a caller, continues: “So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela—who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.… The liberals will use the military as a ‘meals on wheels’ program. They’ll send them out to help with tsunami victims. But you put the military—you put the military in a position of defending US national interest, and that’s when Democrats and the liberals oppose it.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that Congress has exhibited overwhelming bipartisan support for US intervention in Darfur; Republicans sponsored legislation sanctioning Sudan, which contains the Darfur region. The House passed the bill on a 416-3 vote, the Senate passed it unanimously, and President Bush signed it into law shortly thereafter. [Media Matters, 8/23/2007]
Bilateral negotiations between the US and North Korea result in Pyongyang agreeing to declare and disable all of its nuclear facilities by the end of the year. The nation has already shut down its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon (see July 16, 2007). In return, the US agrees to take North Korea off its list of nations that sponsor terrorism. [BBC, 12/2007]
Republican presidential candidates Rudolph Giuliani (R-NY), John McCain (R-AZ), and Mitt Romney (R-MA) come out against the Law of the Sea treaty, saying that the treaty infringes on the natural rights of the United States. That treaty, signed in 1982, is supported by organizations and government entities as disparate as the Sierra Club and the US Navy, and provides what author J. Peter Scoblic will call “a commonsense agreement… that define[s] national responsibilities governing use of an international resource, the oceans.” Explaining his stance, Giuliani says, “I cannot support the creation of yet another unaccountable international bureaucracy that might infringe on American sovereignty and curtail America’s freedoms.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 267]
President Bush signs the ‘Declaration of Principles’ as part of a teleconference with Prime Minister al-Maliki. [Source: White House]The White House issues a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America.” The “Declaration of Principles” is signed by both President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. According to the White House press release, the declaration will affirm the “long-term relationship [of] two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests… based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.” The principles, as enumerated by the White House, include the following:
Supporting the Republic of Iraq in defending its democratic system against internal and external threats;
Defending of the Iraqi constitution;
“Providing security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters, or airspace”;
Helping Iraq combat “all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists, and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy[ing] their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat[ing] and uproot[ing] them from Iraq”;
Supporting and training the Iraq Security Force;
Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation;
Supporting Iraq’s attempts to “enhance its position in regional and international organizations and institutions so that it may play a positive and constructive role in the region and the world,” as well as assisting it in joining the World Trade Organization and achieving “most favored” trading status with the US;
Helping Iraq achieve peaceful relations with its neighboring countries;
Promoting “cultural, educational, and scientific exchanges between” Iraq and the US;
Helping Iraq in its “transition to a market economy”;
Building Iraq’s economic infrastructure and institutions;
Encouraging foreign investment, “especially American investments, to contribute to the reconstruction and rebuilding of Iraq”;
Helping Iraq recover funds and properties illegally hidden away by the family and associates of former dictator Saddam Hussein, “as well as antiquities and items of cultural heritage, smuggled before and after April 9, 2003” (see April 9, 2003);
Helping Iraq secure “forgiveness of its debts and compensation for the wars waged by the former regime.”
The declaration states that Iraq will request a final extension of the UN-mandated Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I); after that extension expires, Iraq’s UN status will revert to the levels enjoyed before August 1990’s UN Resolution 661 that determined the country was “a threat to international peace and security.” Iraq will, in the eyes of the UN, then enjoy “the full sovereignty of Iraq over its territories, waters, and airspace, and its control over its forces and the administration of its affairs.” The White House wants a formal agreement to this end signed by July 31, 2008. [White House, 11/26/2007]
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convenes a Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. It is one of the few Bush administration attempts to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and like the other attempts, the Annapolis conference will bear little fruit. Reflecting on the conference and on the Bush administration’s approach to the conflict in general, national security expert Anthony Cordesman will say: “In reality, a great deal of what Secretary Rice did seems to have been based as much on a search for visibility as any expectation of real progress. The fact was that you did not have to contend with [Palestinian] Chairman [Yasser] Arafat, but you did have to contend with a deeply divided Israel, which was far less willing to accept or make compromises over peace. And with the Palestinian movement, which was moving toward civil war. The United States can only make serious progress when both the Israelis and Palestinians are ready to move toward peace. Setting artificial deadlines and creating yet another set of unrealistic expectations [as is done at the Annapolis conference] did not lay the groundwork for sustained real progress. It instead created new sources of frustration and again made people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as hypocritical and ineffective.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The US envoy to North Korea, Christopher Hill, visits North Korea and confirms that it is making “good progress” in shutting down its nuclear program (see September 2-3, 2007). [BBC, 12/2007]
British military sources tout the success of secret meetings and negotiations held with elements of the Taliban, claiming that direct contact has led insurgents to change sides and has provided intelligence leading to the deaths of key insurgent commanders. But critics, such as officials within the Afghan government, argue that the tactics—including the use of bribes for information—undermine democracy and allow the Taliban a back door back into power. In addition, Afghan military sources claim that insurgents are using coalition forces to settle scores with rivals. American officials say the policy of engagement by the British has led to serious mistakes, such as the agreement reached in Musa Qala in February under which British forces were withdrawn in return for tribal elders pledging to keep the Taliban out. The Taliban quickly occupied the town and held it for seven months. The Independent also reports that the Taliban has killed and tortured insurgents, children included, who were seen to be collaborating with British and the Afghan governments. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government continues to officially deny Britain has been involved in negotiations with the Taliban. [Independent, 12/14/2007]
A map of recent Predator strikes in Pakistan’s tribal zones. (1) is the March 16, 2008 attack, (2) is the February 28, 2008 attack, and (3) is the January 29, 2008 attack that killed Abu Laith al-Libi. [Source: Washington Post]On January 9, 2008, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden visit Pakistan and meet with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Pakistani army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. Pakistan agrees to allow the US to increase its use of Predator drones to strike at al-Qaeda in Pakistan’s tribal region. [New York Times, 2/22/2008] At least three Predator attacks follow in the next months (see January 29, 2008, February 28, 2008, March 16, 2008) after a year of few or no attacks. Previously, Musharraf had issues with such strikes, but now the US has his unofficial tacit approval. Newsweek reports that the US now has “virtually unrestricted authority to hit targets in the border areas.” The US has pushed for more strikes partly because al-Qaeda has been launching more attacks from the tribal regions. But also, US officials are concerned that Musharraf is losing power and the new leaders will be more hostile to US operations in Pakistan. [Newsweek, 3/22/2008] Some of the Predator attacks are launched from secret CIA bases near the Pakistani towns of Islamabad and Jacobabad. The bases are first publicly mentioned in February 2008, and next to nothing is known about them. [New York Times, 2/22/2008; Washington Post, 3/27/2008]
An Israeli spy satelite is launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), signaling a continuing realignment of India with Israel and the US as well as straining relations with Iran and the Arab states. On the same day, Iran’s ambassador in New Delhi condemns India’s collaboration with Israel on the covert project, and accuses the United States and Israel of trying to create tensions in the region. Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University, later says, “India has recently allowed its new strategic relationship with the US and Israel to prevail over its traditional friendship with Iran.” The satellite incident is only the latest in a series of major arms, technology, and intelligence deals between India and Israel, including, according to sources, training of India’s external intelligence agencies by the Mossad. [Asia Times, 2/8/2008] India has agreed to launch two more spy satellites for Israel in exchange for receiving some of the image intelligence gathered. [Jerusalem Post, 2/25/2008]
Alasdair Roberts. [Source: Sunshine Week (.org)]Alasdair Roberts, a public administration professor and author of The Collapse of Fortress Bush, writes of what he views as the abject failure of the US government to plan and coordinate both the “war on terror” and the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. Roberts writes that since the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration has consistently failed to plan for, and to deal with, consequences and ramifications of their actions. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-133]
Military Response to 9/11 Questioned - Roberts contends that the Bush administration’s military response to the 9/11 attacks was not necessarily the best, and certainly not the only, possible response. In August 2006, a Washington Post op-ed observed that “[i]t was only natural that the military would take the lead in fighting terrorism after September 11.” Roberts writes that “this simple sentence [is] fraught with assumptions about the dynamics of post-millenial American government. Why is it ‘only natural’ that terrorism is a problem that should be handled only by the military? Other countries have dealt with decades-long terrorist threats and framed the problem in different ways,” with some approaching it as a law-enforcement problem, others from an intelligence perspective, and others by addressing internal security concerns. Few threaten to “take battle to the enemy,” as the Bush administration has done, for the obvious reason that they lack the ability to do so. Roberts posits that had al-Qaeda attacked Sydney in 2001, Australia would not have invaded Afghanistan. The Bush administration seized on a military response to the attacks almost immediately (see September 15, 2001), with the support of most Americans. “Impatience permeated its official statements,” Roberts writes of the administration. This is in part because, he writes, the military is the easiest, most powerful, and least legally constrained of al the tools at the president’s disposal. The US military’s “power, autonomy, and legitimacy heighten its attractiveness as a policy instrument.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106-107]
Lacking in Fundamental Rationality - Both the administration and the Pentagon executed the invasion of Iraq, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, quite well, he acknowledges, but once that was done, careful, logical planning and systematic execution gave way to ineffective bureaucratic thrashing. “An awareness of capabilities and risks is one of the signposts of rationality in decision-making,” he writes. It is also largely absent in the history of the Bush administration’s approach to the war on terrorism. “The administration followed the rituals of planning, Roberts notes: accounts of its behavior in Iraq are replete with strategy statements, operational plans, priority lists, and ‘megabriefs.‘… Unfortunately, much of this talk and paperwork was administrative flotsam. In reality, the Bush administration did not plan. It could articulate ambitious goals but could not marshal the administrative capacities of its agencies so that their work contributed directly to those goals. It could not induce agencies with overlapping responsibilities to collaborate. It could not anticipate curves in the road. The administration’s problem, Henry Kissinger is reported to have said, was that it ‘did not have a system of national security policy decision-making that ensured careful examination of the downside of major decisions.’”
'Worn Bromides' as Major Lessons - Roberts quotes a 2005 RAND Corporation study that found, “Unity of command and broad participation are both important to the success of stabilizing and reconstriction operations… An active NSC [National Security Council] interagency process [is] necessary to ensure that the State and Defense Departments are acting off the same sheet of paper and to bring forward debate of alternate views and subsequent decision-making on important issues. Policy differences need to be explained and adjucated, if necessary by the president, as the planning process goes forward… Some process for exposing senior officials to possibilities other than those being assumed in their planning also needs to be introduced.” Roberts writes, “It is a damning comment on the quality of governance within the Bush administration that worn bromides such as these could be presented as major lessons from the invasion.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 132-133]
The US and Iraqi governments draft an agreement that will provide for an open-ended US military presence in Iraq. The agreement is marked “secret” and “sensitive”; it will be leaked to The Guardian in April. If ratified, the agreement will supplant the UN mandate currently governing the US presence in Iraq. It will give the US the power to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to detain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security” without time limits. The authorization is described as “temporary,” and says that the US “does not desire permanent bases or a permanent military presence in Iraq.” However, there is no time limit or restrictions on occupation by US or other coalition forces. The agreement contains no limits on the numbers of US occupation forces, nor does it constrain their actions or bring them under Iraqi law. The agreement goes far beyond long-term US security agreements with other countries such as South Korea. Opposition to the agreement from Iraqi Sunnis and some Shi’ites is expected to be fierce. A knowledgeable Iraqi Sunni says: “The feeling in Baghdad is that this agreement is going to be rejected in its current form.… The government is more or less happy with it as it is, but parliament is a different matter.” It will also face stiff opposition in Washington, with Congressional Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) accusing the Bush administration of attempting to tie the hands of the next president by pushing through such a commitment. The agreement goes so far beyond other such commitments that, according to Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), it constitutes a treaty between Iraq and the US, and as such, would need to be ratified by Congress. But the White House has no intention of allowing Congress to ratify or deny the agreement (see April 8, 2008). [Guardian, 4/8/2008]
William Delahunt. [Source: US House of Representatives]Democratic House members William Delahunt (D-MA) and Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) announce legislation that will prohibit the use of federal funds to implement any long-term diplomatic and security agreement the Bush administration may enter into with the Iraqi government (see March 7, 2008). The Bush administration has not yet acknowledged that such a pact requires the approval of Congress; Delahunt and DeLauro say that such approval is mandated by the Constitution. The White House disagrees, saying that the entire controversy was triggered by what it calls a sloppy Arabic-to-English translation of the “Declaration of Principles” agreed to by President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (see November 26, 2007); the declaration serves as the basis for the proposed agreement. The declaration states that the US will provide “security assurances and commitments to the Republic of Iraq to deter foreign aggression against Iraq that violates its sovereignty and integrity of its territories, waters or airspace.” Such an agreement would be a long-term military commitment in Iraq and would, therefore, be a treaty. Treaties must be ratified by a two-thirds vote of the Senate. But a senior administration official says the translation of the “security assurances” phrase “was something we struggled with.” He says the original Arabic phrase was “translated in kind of an interesting way,” and a better translation might have been, “We’ll consult.” Democrats are skeptical of the White House explanation. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) says that when senators were recently briefed on the planned agreement, they “certainly did not speak to this unfortunate translation from Arabic.” Delahunt, who has co-chaired several hearings on the legality of the agreement, says he hasn’t heard this either, and says, “If it’s sloppy language, it borders on irresponsible to use words like ‘security assurances’ or ‘security commitments’ [when] their customary interpretation would be binding.” Bush officials say that Congress was indeed told about the problematic translation. Delahunt says he believes that the administration, having been “outed, if you will” by Congressional oversight, has decided that it is the “safe course” to argue that the words are not what they appear to be. And Webb’s spokeswoman, Jessica Smith, wonders why the White House did not “retranslate” the troublesome phrase before releasing the declaration. A Bush official says that the final version of the agreement will use the phrasing “consult” rather than “security assurances.” “There aren’t many countries that we give security guarantees to,” he says. [Politico, 3/13/2008]
President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki recently issued a “Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship” (see November 26, 2007) that would entail a possibly permanent US military presence in Iraq (see March 7, 2008). Although the Constitution requires Congressional approval to commit any US forces to a battle zone, Bush officials have refused to address that concern (see March 13, 2008). In a Senate hearing on April 8, 2008, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker says that the Bush administration has no plans to ask Congress for such permission—although the agreement would need to be ratified by the Iraqi Parliament. Crocker is asked by Hillary Clinton (D-NY) if an agreement would be submitted to the Iraqi Parliament, and Crocker replies: “The Iraqi government has indicated it will bring the agreement to the Council of Representatives. At this point, it is not clear, at least to me, whether that will be for a formal vote or whether they will repeat the process they used in November with the Declaration of Principles in which it was simply read to the members of the Parliament.” Clinton asks, “Does the administration plan to submit this agreement to our Congress?” and Crocker responds: “At this point, Senator, we do not anticipate the agreements will have within them any elements would require the advice and consent procedure. We intend to negotiate this as an executive agreement.” Yale law professor Oona Hathaway notes that such an agreement must be approved by Congress “either as a treaty or as a congressional-executive agreement.” [Think Progress (.org), 4/8/2008] Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) releases a letter from 31 Iraqi legislators to coincide with concurrent hearings in the House; the letter asserts that the Iraqi Parliament will not ratify any deal that does not provide a timetable for the withdrawal of US troops (see May 29, 2008).
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel
Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections
Thirty-one Iraqi legislators write a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the entire US Congress emphasizing that their government has no intention of signing any security agreement with the US that does not include a specific timetable for the withdrawal of US troops. The US government is working to hammer out an agreement between itself and the Iraqi government that would provide for some temporary (see March 7, 2008) or permanent (see June 5, 2008) US presence in Iraq. On June 4, Representative William Delahunt (D-MA) will release the letter. The letter reads in part, “[T]he majority of Iraqi representatives strongly reject any military-security, economic, commercial, agricultural, investment or political agreement with the United States that is not linked to clear mechanisms that obligate the occupying American military forces to fully withdraw from Iraq, in accordance with a declared timetable and without leaving behind any military bases, soldiers or hired fighters.” [US House of Representatives, 5/29/2008; Politico, 6/4/2008]
Australian troops at Camp Terendak crowd around newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd during his December 2007 visit to the camp. [Source: Australian Defense Department]The Australian government announces that its entire deployment of 550 troops is leaving Iraq immediately. Australian troops lower the national flag that had flown over their last enclave, Camp Terendak in Talil. The troops will be officially welcomed home on June 28 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who had campaigned on a platform of bringing the nation’s troops home as soon as possible. Australian Defense Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the withdrawal “closed another chapter in a strong and proud Australian military history.” Australian soldiers had rarely engaged in combat per se, but had protected engineers carrying out reconstruction work, had helped train Iraqi soldiers and police, and had taken part in training Iraqis for counterinsurgency operations. Fitzgibbon calls the decision to withdraw overdue, noting Australian deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan. Former Prime Minister John Howard, who made the unpopular decision to deploy troops to Iraq in support of US and British forces, describes himself as “baffled” by the decision to withdraw, and says that had he been returned to office, “we would not have been bringing them home, we would have been looking at transitioning them from their soon-to-be terminated role to a training role.” Rudd counters by accusing Howard of misleading the country over the necessity of invading Iraq, saying, “Of most concern to this government was the manner in which the decision to go to war was made: the abuse of intelligence information, a failure to disclose to the Australian people the qualified nature of that intelligence.” 300 Australian soldiers will remain in Baghdad to help guard Australian diplomats, and 500 more will remain in the Middle East. [Guardian, 6/2/2008; Associated Press, 6/2/2008]
The Iraqi government will miss a July 31, 2008 target for an agreement on long-term relations between the US and Iraq (see March 7, 2008), according to an Iraqi government spokesman. The Bush administration wants the agreement—which is far more broad and permanent than previously disclosed—passed for what many believe are political purposes (see June 5, 2008). Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh says the agreement will not be made by the target date: “I don’t think that we can meet this date. There is a difference in viewpoints between Iraq and the US. I don’t think that time is enough to end this gap and to reach a joint understanding.… Therefore, we are not committed to July as a deadline.” Iraq is also considering possible alternatives to the proposed agreement, he says, but gives no details. The agreement has raised strong objections among many Iraqis, who suspect the US of trying to create a permanent occupation of their nation. [Reuters, 6/3/2008]
Two Iraqi lawmakers denounce a proposed deal that would provide for a permanent presence of US forces in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008). In a hearing of a House foreign affairs subcommittee chaired by William Delahunt (D-MA), two Iraqi legislators, Sheikh Khalaf al-Ulayyan and Professor Nadeem al-Jaberi, both lambast the deal. Al-Ulayyan is a Sunni cleric and al-Jaberi is a Shi’ite parliamentarian. Al-Jaberi says that the biggest problem with the deal is that it threatens Iraq’s sovereignty. “The Iraqi government right now does not have the full reign of its sovereignty, because of the thousands of foreign troops that are on its land,” he says. “And perhaps the Iraqi government does not have as of yet sufficient tools to run its own internal affairs. Therefore, I ask the American government not to embarrass the Iraqi government by putting it in a difficult situation with this agreement.” Since the status of the two nations is so unequal, al-Jabari says, the deal will likely “lead to more instability,” and they hope “any future agreement does not affect or impact Iraqi sovereignty, such as permanent military bases.” Any such security deal must wait until US troops have fully withdrawn from Iraq, he says. Al-Ulayyan says he wants to “salute the American people for their stand against the war, which we saw on TV in the form of demonstrations and protests.” While he warns against a precipitous withdrawal of US forces that might lead to “impotence and flaws in the security,” he notes that “protecting Iraq does not require signing long-term agreements like the one proposed, because [the US has] bases in surrounding countries like Kuwait, Jordan and so forth, and therefore, we don’t see any importance or need for military bases in Iraq.” [Washington Independent, 6/4/2008]
The US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, denies that the US is trying to set up permanent military bases in Iraq. Recent reports have shown that the Bush administration is apparently trying to “strong-arm” Iraq into agreeing to a permanent military presence in the country (see June 5, 2008). While the Bush administration wants a military presence in Iraq for the foreseeable future, “It is not going to be forever,” Crocker says. “There isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty.” The military agreement will have a provision for periodic review and renewal, as do similar agreements with other countries, Crocker says. Many Iraqi lawmakers and civilians are balking at some of the provisions of the proposed agreement, including the long-term placement of private security forces inside Iraq, the legal immunity enjoyed by US government and corporate personnel, the longevity of the 50 or so bases proposed in the agreement, the US control over Iraqi airspace, and, more generally, the worry that the agreement will lock in US military, economic, and political domination of the country for generations to come. “The Americans have some demands that the Iraqi government regards as infringing on its sovereignty,” says lawmaker Haider al-Abadi. “This is the main dispute, and if the dispute is not settled, I frankly tell you there will not be an agreement.” Crocker denies that the bill contains any secret provisions, and that the entire deal is “transparent” for both Iraqis and Americans. The proposed agreement was kept secret for at least a month before being leaked to the British press in April (see March 7, 2008). [Associated Press, 6/5/2008]
NBC News Middle East correspondent Richard Engel, discussing the proposed permanent basing of US forces in Iraq (see June 5, 2008), says that, according to US and Iraqi officials, the bases would technically belong to Iraq. Such a measure is part of what Engel calls “a face saving device.” Engel says that “US troops would reside on them as tenants.” Engel’s report meshes with a recent statement by US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, who has said that “there isn’t going to be an agreement that infringes on Iraqi sovereignty” (see June 5, 2008). [American University Radio, 6/5/2008; Think Progress (.org), 6/7/2008]
The US is pressuring the Iraqi government to accept a military agreement for permanent US bases in Iraq (see March 7, 2008 and June 5, 2008) by using some $50 billion of Iraqi money being kept in the US Federal Reserve Bank as a negotiating tool. About $20 billion in outstanding court judgments exist against Iraq in the US. A presidential order currently gives that money protection from judicial attachment. But, US officials have told Iraqi lawmakers, if they do not sign the accord with the US, President Bush will lift that immunity and the $20 billion will be confiscated by the US court system. [Independent, 6/6/2008; Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 6/6/2008] Reporter Patrick Cockburn writes: “The US is able to threaten Iraq with the loss of 40 percent of its foreign exchange reserves because Iraq’s independence is still limited by the legacy of UN sanctions and restrictions imposed on Iraq since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the 1990s. This means that Iraq is still considered a threat to international security and stability under Chapter Seven of the UN charter. The US negotiators say the price of Iraq escaping Chapter Seven is to sign up to a new ‘strategic alliance’ with the United States.” Cockburn writes that regardless of the financial “blackmail,” Iraqis are resistant to the agreement because they fear it will make their nation a perpetual “client state” of the US. [Independent, 6/6/2008]
US Ambassador to Pakistan Anne W. Patterson sends a diplomatic cable back to the US reporting on recent discussions she had with Pakistani leaders. In the cable, she discusses a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani. The issue of when the next US drone strike in Pakistan’s tribal region would be politically feasible came up. According to the cable, Gillani said: “I don’t care if they do it as long as they get the right people. We’ll protest in the National Assembly and then ignore it.” The cable will later be released by the whistleblower website WikiLeaks. [Christian Science Monitor, 12/1/2010; Dawn (Karachi), 12/2/2010]
Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and NATO air strikes almost tripled from 2006 to 2007, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). A spate of recent airstrikes has exacerbated the problem and is fueling a public backlash, the report says. The report also condemns the Taliban’s use of “human shields,” a direct violation of the laws of war. The report is titled “‘Troops in Contact’: Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan.” It analyzes the use of airstrikes by US and NATO forces and resulting civilian casualties, particularly when used to make up for the lack of ground troops and during emergency situations.
Different Types of Strikes - The vast majority of civilian deaths occur during unplanned, impromptu airstrikes, the report finds; planned airstrikes result in far fewer civilian casualties. “Rapid response airstrikes have meant higher civilian casualties, while every bomb dropped in populated areas amplifies the chance of a mistake,” says HRW official Brad Adams. “Mistakes by the US and NATO have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans.”
Deaths Escalate from 2006 to 2007 - In 2006, 116 Afghan civilians died during US/NATO airstrikes; in 2007, 321 died during US/NATO airstrikes. In both years, the number of civilians dying due to Taliban strikes far outnumbered those killed by US or NATO forces. All of these trends continue during the first seven months of 2008.
'Poor Response by US Officials' - HRW is highly critical of what it calls “the poor response by US officials when civilian deaths occur.” The report finds: “Prior to conducting investigations into airstrikes causing civilian loss, US officials often immediately deny responsibility for civilian deaths or place all blame on the Taliban. US investigations conducted have been unilateral, ponderous, and lacking in transparency, undercutting rather than improving relations with local populations and the Afghan government. A faulty condolence payment system has not provided timely and adequate compensation to assist civilians harmed by US actions.”
Demanding Solutions - Adams says that the US must work to curtail the unplanned airstrikes that kill so many Afghan civilians, and when civilians are killed, the US must take the proper responsibility and provide “timely compensation.” He adds: “While Taliban shielding is a factor in some civilian deaths, the US shouldn’t use this as an excuse when it could have taken better precautions. It is, after all, its bombs that are doing the killing.” HRW also notes that in many instances, civilian deaths are accompanied by destroyed villages, causing that entire village’s population to become refugees. Afghanistan has a large and ever-growing number of what HRW calls “internally displaced persons.” Adams says: “The recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghans make clear that the system is still broken and that civilians continue to pay the ultimate price. Civilian deaths from airstrikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.” [Human Rights Watch, 9/7/2008]
The United Nations reports that 1,445 Afghan civilians have died during fighting between Taliban insurgents and US and/or NATO forces in 2008. This is a 40 percent increase over 2007 (see September 7, 2008). Around 55 percent of those civilian deaths were caused by Taliban attacks or by al-Qaeda or local strikes, says the UN report. Around 40 percent of those deaths were due to US, NATO, and/or Afghan troop attacks. Of those deaths, 395 were from US or NATO airstrikes. The number and percentages of civilian deaths at the hands of US/NATO forces is up significantly from 2007. “This is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” says UN human rights chief Navi Pillay. He calls for greater transparency in accountability procedures for US and NATO forces involved in civilian casualties. The UN does not provide information on how its figures were collected. Afghan officials say that a recent US-led operation in the western village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, including 60 children, dramatically increasing the death toll and damaging US-Afghan relations (see August 22, 2008). US General David McKiernan, the commander of US-led forces in Afghanistan, says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops. As a result, he is forced to rely more on air power, and that costs civilian lives. With violence escalating, McKiernan says he is fighting the war with too few ground troops, and that the shortage compels him to rely more on air power, at the cost of higher civilian casualties. Some 65,000 coalition ground troops are in Afghanistan, 33,000 of those American. Still, the UN emphasizes, most civilians die at the hands of Taliban attacks. Militants routinely kill civilians in suicide bombings and random strikes, but are also targeting Afghans that they suspect are working with the government of President Hamid Karzai, or with US-led forces. “There is substantial evidence indicating that the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence aimed at Afghan civilians they believe to be supportive of the government, the international community, and military forces,” says Pillay. [Associated Press, 9/16/2008]
Responding to speculation that his administration will continue the policies of torture and indefinite detention, President-elect Barack Obama says flatly that he will shut down the Guantanamo detention center as part of his administration’s new policy towards terror suspects. CBS interviewer Steve Kroft asks: “There are a number of different things that you could do early pertaining to executive orders. One of them is to shut down Guantanamo Bay. Another is to change interrogation methods that are used by US troops. Are those things that you plan to take early action on?” Obama responds: “Yes. I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantanamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/11/2008; CBS News, 11/16/2008] Two days into his administration, Obama orders that the Guantanamo detention facility be closed (see January 22, 2009).
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Twelve retired generals and admirals meet with President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team to ask that his administration completely repudiate the Bush administration’s policies of torture, rendition, and indefinite detentions of terror suspects. The group represents a larger number of some three dozen retired flag officers. Several of the participants tell reporters before the meeting about what they intend to discuss. The retired flag officers are going into the meeting with a list of “things that need to be done and undone,” says retired Marine General Joseph Hoar, who commanded the US Central Command (CENTCOM) from 1991 through 1994. “It is fairly extensive.” Such a set of moves by the Obama administration, the officers believe, would help reverse the decline in world opinion about the US, a decline they say was sparked by the issue of detainee abuse both in the Guantanamo detention center and in other such facilities. “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” says retired Vice Admiral Lee Gunn, a former Navy inspector general. Retired Major General Fred Haynes adds, “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that.” But it needs to be done quickly and decisively, says Gunn: “Gradualism won’t do. That abrupt change will send a signal to the world that America is back.” [Associated Press, 12/2/2008; Reuters, 12/2/2008] Obama has said repeatedly that he will shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center and stop the US practice of allowing detainees to be tortured (see November 16, 2008).
The Obama administration is moving towards seeking a worldwide ban on space-based weapons, a dramatic shift in US policy from the previous administration. While President Obama makes his inaugural speech, his advisers update the White House Web site with a number of policy statements, including a pledge to restore US leadership on space issues and seek a worldwide ban on weapons that interfere with military and commercial satellites. The statement also says that the US will consider threats to US satellites, and develop contingency plans to protect them from attack and keep information moving from them. One of the key issues surrounding the proposed ban on space weapons is defining what exactly such a weapon is. Even weather tracking satellites could be programmed to ram into and disable other satellites. No attacks on one nation’s satellites by another have been publicly documented, but both the US and China have destroyed their own satellites in recent years, showing that the capacity to bring down another nation’s satellites does exist. A defense official says that while Obama officials have not yet held briefings on the subject, it is clearly understood that the focus will shift towards more diplomatic initiatives. Work on classified projects involving what the official calls “active” military responses to attacks on US satellites may be halted in favor of more monitoring and passive protection measures, says the official, who declines to be more specific. Victoria Samson of the Center for Defense Information says, “There’s still a lot of wiggle room” in the administration’s statement on military space. “But just the sheer fact that they are discussing it represents a real shift from the Bush administration.… It’s not going to happen immediately, but it seems as though the wheels are in motion to initiate some sort of cooperative measure.” In his presidential campaign, Obama acknowledged the difficulties of securing a global treaty banning space-based weapons, and once suggested that a simpler and quicker solution might be a “code of conduct for responsible space-faring nations.” Such a code would include what Obama called “a prohibition against harmful interference against satellites.” [Reuters, 1/25/2009]
President Barack Obama, in the same sweeping set of executive orders that mandates the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and orders the closure of the CIA’s secret prisons (see January 22, 2009), orders that the US no longer torture prisoners. And in a broad repudiation of Bush administration policies and legal arguments, Obama’s order nullifies every single legal order and opinion on interrogations issued by any lawyer in the executive branch—including the Department of Justice—since September 11, 2001 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late September 2001, October 23, 2001, Late October 2001, November 6-10, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 25, 2002, and April 2002 and After). “Key components of the secret structure developed under Bush are being swept away,” the Washington Post reports. Obama orders that all interrogations conducted by the CIA and other US officials strictly follow the procedures outlined in the US Army Field Manual. Retired Admiral Dennis Blair, Obama’s nominee to become the director of national intelligence, says that the government may revise the Field Manual to include more coercive interrogation techniques; a commission will be appointed to determine if the Field Manual is adequate. Currently the Field Manual limits interrogators to 19 approved techniques, bans torture, and prohibits harsh questioning techniques in favor of using psychological approaches. “I can say without exception or equivocation that the United States will not torture,” Obama tells a group of listeners at the State Department. “The message that we are sending the world is that the United States intends to prosecute the ongoing struggle against violence and terrorism and we are going to do so vigilantly and we are going to do so effectively and we are going to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals,” he adds. The US will now “observe core standards of conduct, not just when it’s easy, but also when it’s hard.” [Agence France-Presse, 1/22/2009; Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009] Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch says that he is certain Obama will not secretly authorize torture. Malinowski says that while Obama might oversee some changes in the Field Manual, he says that Obama will not renege on his promise that detainees would not be tortured or treated inhumanely. [Financial Times, 1/22/2009]
US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, a Bush administration appointee who is preparing to depart the country in favor of a new appointee from President Obama, says he hopes Obama will not prematurely withdraw US troops from Iraq. He adds that to do so would be a potentially disastrous error. Crocker says that after discussing the matter with Obama in a four-way video conference, along with General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he is confident Obama will not do so. Obama promised repeatedly during the presidential campaign that he would withdraw US forces from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. Crocker says that during the video conference, Obama repeated his campaign promise to withdraw American forces from Iraq “responsibly.” “If it were to be a precipitous withdrawal,” Crocker says, “that could be very dangerous, but I think it’s clear that that’s not the direction in which this is trending.” Crocker adds: “We’re worried about a too-swift withdrawal. That’s when I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development, all of that could run the risk of getting set aside.” Crocker warns that the reaction to a US pullout among Iraqi citizens might be along the lines of “Uh, oh, we had better pull back, dig the trenches, build the berms and get ready for whatever comes next.… I’m not saying that that will happen, but I think these are dangers that could happen.” (Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim says his country is “prepared for the worst.”) Crocker says of the nation’s political and social status: “We’re at a very encouraging, hopeful point, but it is not a culminating point by any means. It’s not a point at which I at least can lay claims to legacy or make any claims resembling a definitive judgment. It is still fragile, and it is still reversible.” A US official quotes an adage he attributes to Crocker about the situation in Iraq: “Everything here is harder than you think it is, everything will take longer, and something will come along to screw it up.” [McClatchy News, 1/22/2009; Washington Post, 1/23/2009]
President Obama signals a new direction for US policy towards Israel and Palestine by promising to seek a lasting peace between the two warring sides. Obama says the US will always support Israel’s “right to defend itself,” but will also seek an equitable, peaceful solution for the Palestinian people. In conjunction with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama names former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as the administration’s special envoy to the Middle East, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke as the administration’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Mitchell helped broker the Clinton administration-led peace agreement in Northern Ireland, and Holbrooke helped write the peace agreement that ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia. [Associated Press, 1/22/2009; The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
President Obama says that the US’s battle against global terrorism will be refocused away from Iraq and towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. As the first step in that process, Obama names veteran diplomat Richard Holbrooke as the US’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan (see January 22, 2009). In his acceptance remarks, Holbrooke says: “This is a very difficult assignment as we all know. Nobody can say the war in Afghanistan has gone well.… In Pakistan the situation is infinitely complex. I will say that in putting Afghanistan and Pakistan together in the one envoy, we fully respect Pakistan has its own history and its own traditions.” Obama says that the situation remains “perilous” in Afghanistan, and any progress in combating the Taliban-led insurgency will take time. Holbrooke will lead “our effort to forge and implement a sustainable approach to this critical region,” Obama adds. [The Nation (Lahore), 1/23/2009]
The Obama administration names Gary Samore, a former National Security Council non-proliferation expert in the Clinton administration, as its coordinator for the prevention of WMD proliferation and terrorism, or its “nonproliferation czar.” Samore’s is a new position, recommended by Congressional legislation passed in 2007 but never created or filled under former President George W. Bush. The post does not require Senate confirmation. [Foreign Policy, 1/23/2009]
Susan Rice, speaking at the UN. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The newly named US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, says that the Obama administration will reverse years of Bush administration policies and engage in “direct diplomacy” with Iran. Such direct diplomatic efforts have not been tried with Iran since before the 1979 Iranian revolution (see February-November 4, 1979), when Iranian radicals captured 52 Americans and held them hostage for well over a year (see November 4, 1979-January 20, 1981). [Associated Press, 1/26/2009] Israel’s Arutz Shiva calls the announcement a “not-unexpected bombshell.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Iran Open to Engagement - Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki says Iran is “ready for new approaches by the United States.” Mottaki adds that Iran would consider the idea of allowing the US to open a diplomatic office in Tehran. The last US diplomatic office was closed in 1979.
US Still 'Deeply Concerned' about Iran's Nuclear Program - Rice says that Iran must meet UN Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment before the US will be willing to discuss its nuclear program. “The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council,” Rice says. “And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase.” Rice says the US remains “deeply concerned about the threat that Iran’s nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community.” She adds, “We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran, as well as continued collaboration and partnership” with the other four permanent members of the Security Council—Britain, China, France and Russia—as well as Germany.
NATO: Iran Must Be Included in Decisions Regarding Afghanistan - NATO Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer says that Iran must be part of the engagement process of escalating the war in Afghanistan. “We need a discussion that brings in all the relevant players: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Russia—and yes, Iran,” he says. “We need a pragmatic approach to solve this very real challenge.” Bush officials have long sought to isolate Iran from having any influence over the events in Afghanistan, even though its ruling Shi’ite theocracy has long opposed Afghanistan’s Taliban. [Associated Press, 1/26/2009; Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Clinton: 'New, Perhaps Different Approach' - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says: “Obviously, the incoming administration views with great concern the role that Iran is playing in the world, its sponsorship of terrorism, its continuing interference with the functioning of other governments, and its pursuit of nuclear weapons. There is an ongoing policy review that the Obama administration has undertaken, but… our goal will be to do everything we can, pursue through diplomacy, through the use of sanctions, through creating better coalitions with countries that we believe also have a big stake in preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power, to try to prevent this from occurring. We are not taking any option off the table, at all. But we will pursue a new, perhaps different approach that will become a cornerstone of what the Obama administration believes is an attitude towards engagement that might bear fruit.” She says that the US continues to view an Iranian nuclear program as “unacceptable.” [Arutz Shiva, 1/26/2009]
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says that he finds it “insulting” that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is concerned with civilian casualties from US military strikes in his country. Karzai has criticized the US for a recent air strike that he says killed 16 Afghani civilians (see January 26, 2009). O’Reilly tells his listeners: “US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are risking their lives to protect the Afghan people from the Taliban and al-Qaeda. But President Karzai does not seem to get that. Once again, he has condemned American forces after a raid killed some civilians. In that raid, a top Taliban commander and some of his cronies were also killed, but apparently, Karzai doesn’t understand that in war, collateral damage is constantly present. US military is investigating the situation, but Check [a segment on O’Reilly’s show] believes Karzai is making a political grandstand play, and it is insulting. Without us, his head is on a stick.” [Think Progress (.org), 1/27/2009]
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemns a US attack that he says killed 16 civilians in eastern Afghanistan. Hundreds of Afghan villagers protested the raid, which the US military says killed 15 Taliban militants. Karzai says no Taliban were killed, but among the civilian dead were two women and three children. Karzai says killing innocent Afghans “is strengthening the terrorists” and requests that Afghanistan be given more oversight of US military operations in the country. Vice President Joseph Biden says that the situation in Afghanistan will not improve any time soon. “We’ve inherited a real mess,” Biden says. “We’re about to go in and try to essentially reclaim territory that’s been effectively lost. All of this means we’re going to be engaging the enemy more now.” [New York Daily News, 1/26/2009] In 2008, Human Rights Watch condemned the US and NATO for killing hundreds of Afghan civilians, mostly in impromptu “rapid response” airstrikes (see September 7, 2008). Casualties in 2008 were higher than ever, according to a UN report (see September 16, 2008).
President Obama and Hisham Melhem, during the interview. [Source: Al Arabiya / Time]President Obama gives his first interview after assuming the presidency to the Dubai-based satellite broadcaster Al Arabiya. He tells interviewer Hisham Melhem that Americans are not the enemy of the Muslim world, and wants Israel and the Palestinians to resume peace negotiations. [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009] Melhem, Al Arabiya’s Washington bureau chief, originally believes he was slated to interview the newly named US envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell (see January 22, 2009). Melhem believed there was some discussion among White House officials on whether it was the right time for Obama to grant an interview to the Arab media. The selection of Al Arabiya is deliberate, as that channel is considered more moderate and Western-friendly than, for example, Al Jazeera. [Time, 1/28/2009]
Intent to Reopen Talks between Israel, Palestinians - Obama intends to resume negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, and says the US will open up new talks by listening to the two sides instead of immediately issuing demands. “[W]hat I told Mitchell] is start by listening, because all too often the United States starts by dictating—in the past on some of these issues—and we don’t always know all the factors that are involved. So let’s listen. He’s going to be speaking to all the major parties involved. And he will then report back to me. From there we will formulate a specific response. Ultimately, we cannot tell either the Israelis or the Palestinians what’s best for them. They’re going to have to make some decisions. But I do believe that the moment is ripe for both sides to realize that the path that they are on is one that is not going to result in prosperity and security for their people. And that instead, it’s time to return to the negotiating table.” The larger peace plan for the Middle East recently proposed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah will play an important role in the negotiations, Obama says.
'A Language of Respect' - Language matters, Obama notes. “[M]y job is to communicate the fact that the United States has a stake in the well-being of the Muslim world that the language we use has to be a language of respect,” he says. “[T]he language we use matters. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith’s name.”
Restoring Relations with the Muslim World - Melhem asks Obama about tensions between the US and the Islamic world, inflamed by demagogues and extremists on both sides. Obama says: “Well, I think that when you look at the rhetoric that they [extremists]‘ve been using against me before I even took office… what that tells me is that their ideas are bankrupt. There’s no actions that they’ve taken that say a child in the Muslim world is getting a better education because of them, or has better health care because of them.” Obama reminds Melhem, and the viewers, that he lived for a time in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country, during his childhood. He learned through his experiences in Indonesia and other Muslim countries that everyone, regardless of differences in culture or faith, has similar hopes and aspirations. “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy,” he says. “We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”
Dealing with Iran - Wrapping up the interview, Melhem asks if the US is prepared to “live with a nuclear Iran.” Obama responds: “I said during the campaign that it is very important for us to make sure that we are using all the tools of US power, including diplomacy, in our relationship with Iran.… Iran has acted in ways that’s not conducive to peace and prosperity in the region: their threats against Israel; their pursuit of a nuclear weapon which could potentially set off an arms race in the region that would make everybody less safe; their support of terrorist organizations in the past—none of these things have been helpful. But I do think that it is important for us to be willing to talk to Iran, to express very clearly where our differences are, but where there are potential avenues for progress.” [Al Arabiya, 1/27/2009]
Responses - In Pakistan, Obama’s interview is widely viewed, and receives what CNN calls “a generally positive response from analysts there.” Islamabad author and journalist Imtiaz Gul says, “It’s a good sign of an attempt to reconcile with the Muslim world, to say America wants to reach out to them and not to consider them as an enemy.” [CNN, 1/27/2009] Egyptian student Omar Youssef, who has joined in protests against the Israeli war in Gaza, says of Obama: “He’s a man of diplomacy and speaks well. Bush, Arab people hate him. But the world needs a man like Obama.” Another student, Ahmed Mahmoud, adds, “Maybe if he can solve the problem between white and black people in America, he can also solve the problem between Arab and Jewish people here.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Melhem, who has long criticized US policies towards the Middle East, later says he was touched by Obama’s conciliatory tone and references to his Muslim roots. “You can feel the authenticity about him,” he says. “The interview was his way of saying, ‘There is a new wind coming from Washington.’ Barack Obama definitely sees the world differently from a man named George W. Bush.” [Time, 1/29/2009] Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed says: “What he did campaigning in the US he is trying to do in the Middle East, convincing people that he is on their side. He is telling Muslims that he is proud of his Muslim roots. This is being received positively.” And Jordanian news columnist Jamil Nimri writes, “The language of force, conceit, and threat has totally disappeared.” [Time, 1/28/2009] Neoconservative columnist Charles Krauthammer disputes Obama’s implication that the Bush administration treated Islam with any disrespect, saying: “[S]omehow he is implying that somehow the Obama era is a break with the American past. Somehow it is undoing a disrespect of Islam that had somehow occurred under the previous administration.… We have no need to apologize. Extend a hand, yes, but to imply that there was a disrespect of Islam in the last administration, I think is unfair and fictional.” [Fox News, 1/28/2009]
Former US President Jimmy Carter says that any peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians must include Hamas, the Islamist Palestinian movement that controls the Gaza Strip. “Hamas has got to be involved before peace can be concluded,” Carter says. Israel, which like the US and many Western nations considers Hamas a terrorist organization, is in the midst of a military operation against Hamas. Carter says that previous presidents have been either unable or unwilling to oppose Israel’s supporters in the US, but he has high hopes for George Mitchell, the Obama administration’s new envoy to the Middle East (see January 22, 2009). “The fact is that very few of the presidents have been willing to confront Israel’s forces in the United States, politically speaking,” Carter says. “If you look at US Middle East envoys in the past, almost all of them have been closely associated with Israel, sometimes even working professionally for Israel. George Mitchell is a balanced and honest broker compared to the others.” He continues by noting that any possible reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, the organization led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has been “objected to and obstructed by the US and Israel.” He hopes the Obama administration will work to bring Hamas and Fatah together. Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank, while Hamas controls the Gaza Strip. President Obama has indicated he intends to institute new peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine, but has reiterated previous international demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel, renounce violence, and recognize previous peace agreements before they can join in any future negotiations. [Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009; Al Jazeera, 1/29/2009]
In 2009, reflecting on the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC—see May 6, 2002), ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will say: “When I started at the ICC, in 2003, the Bush administration appeared hostile towards the court, as though we were radioactive. But what started with hostility over time became less so. All of a sudden the court was seen to be useful. On Darfur, for example, the administration could have vetoed the Security Council vote referring Darfur to my office. They didn’t. That was a big change. But I’ve kept a respectful distance. They don’t give me intelligence. They cannot control me.… Ironically, the hostility has helped in my dealings with countries that might otherwise perceive me to be in the pocket of the Americans. It has been one positive factor in the Arab and African worlds. The US distance from the court seems to have had the very opposite effect of that intended—of strengthening it.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
The new Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Dennis Blair, tells the Senate Intelligence Committee that the economic crisis, not global terrorism, is the biggest national security issue facing the US today. “The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair says. If the crisis continues for more than two years, Blair says, governments could topple, with all the unrest that would entail. About 25 percent of the world’s governments, mostly in Europe and among former Soviet Union client states, have already experienced “low-level instability,” including government changes, because of the economic climate (see February 1, 2009). Blair also warns of “high levels of violent extremism” as seen during the downturn in the 1920s and 1930s, along with “regime-threatening instability.” He explains, “Besides increased economic nationalism, the most likely political fallout for US interests will involve allies and friends not being able to fully meet their defense and humanitarian obligations.” US allies in Europe are angry over the Obama stimulus bill’s provision to “Buy American,” Blair notes, and says the provision is being used to question the US’s leadership in shoring up the global economy and international financial structure. The biggest beneficiary of this global chaos, Blair says, could be China, if that nation’s government can “exert a stabilizing influence by maintaining strong import growth and not letting its currency slide.” Global coordination is essential to rebuild trust in the financial system and to ensure that the crisis does “not spiral into broader geopolitical tensions,” Blair recommends. [EUObserver, 2/13/2009]
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a tour of Asia, warns North Korea not to fulfill its threat to test a long-range Taepodong-2 ballistic missile. “The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” Clinton says. North Korea greets Clinton’s arrival in Japan, where she issues her warning, with an oblique statement that says in part, “One will come to know later what will be launched.” [New York Times, 2/16/2009; Associated Press, 2/16/2009] During the same trip, Clinton says the US is willing to provide assistance to North Korea in return for its dismantling of its nuclear program (see February 15, 2009).
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she is not sure whether North Korea actually has a secret program to enrich uranium, as the Bush administration had long claimed. She adds that she intends to persuade Pyongyang to give up the weapons-grade plutonium it does possess. “There is a debate within the intelligence community as to exactly the extent of the highly-enriched-uranium program,” she says. “My goal is the denuclearization of North Korea,” she continues. “That means a verifiably complete accounting of whatever programs they have and the removal of the reprocessed plutonium that they were able to achieve because they were given the opportunity to do so.… When they move forward” on ending the program, “we have a great openness to working with them, [and] a willingness to help the people of North Korea.”
Broadening Focus Beyond Uranium Possession - The claim of the uranium program led to the Bush administration’s rejection of the 1994 agreement that kept the North Korean nuclear weapons program in check (see October 21, 1994), she says: “The Agreed Framework was torn up on the basis of the concerns about the highly-enriched-uranium program. There is no debate that, once the Agreed Framework was torn up, the North Koreans began to reprocess plutonium with a vengeance because all bets were off. The result is they now have nuclear weapons, which they did not have before.” When the Bush administration withdrew from the Agreed Framework (see October 20, 2002), Clinton says, North Korea restarted its plutonium-based reactor at Yongbyon and now has enough material for at least a half-dozen nuclear weapons. A 2006 nuclear test by the North Koreans prompted Bush officials to reopen negotiations and eventually craft a new agreement remarkably similar to the Agreed Framework (see February 8, 2007 and After). Most Asian nations are expected to welcome Clinton’s new position on the uranium issue, as they thought the Bush administration had put too much emphasis on North Korea’s uranium possession. [Washington Post, 2/15/2009] Clinton also warns North Korea not to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile (see February 15, 2009).
'Old Wine in a New Bottle' - The senior editorial writer for South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper, Jungsoo Jang, calls the Clinton proposal little more than “old wine in a new bottle,” writing: “Of course, the side by side denuclearization and normalization plan elucidated by Clinton clearly does represent a considerable change from the Bush administration, which focused on a schematic view of denuclearization first, normalization second. But Clinton’s solution does have limitations, in that normalization of North Korea-US relations cannot be pursued as long as prior issues such as total abolition of nuclear weapons and suspicions about enriched uranium are not neatly resolved.” Jang says that a conflict between a more conservative camp and a more progressive camp in the Obama State Department is currently being won by the conservatives, who favor an emphasis on US-Japanese relations and a more direct, confrontational approach to dealing with North Korea’s nuclear program. [Hankyoreh, 2/16/2009]
NWFP Minister Bashir Bilour with Swat Treaty Hasham Ahmed. [Source: Agence France Presse - Getty Images]Pakistan agrees to a truce with Taliban fighters that would impose strict Islamic religious law—sharia—on the Swat Valley in northwest Pakistan, a setback for the Obama administration’s hopes to mount a united front against Islamist militants there and in Afghanistan. The agreement gives the Taliban religious and social control of the Swat region, considered of critical strategic importance in battling insurgents in the wild border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. James Dobbins, a former Bush administration envoy to Afghanistan, says: “It is definitely a step backwards. The Pakistanis have to take a stronger line with extremists in the region.” Obama administration envoy Richard Holbrooke says, “We are very concerned about Pakistan and stability.” A Pentagon official calls it a “negative development,” but other officials are more circumspect. “What is, of course, important is that we are all working together to fight terrorism and particularly to fight the cross-border activities that some Taliban engage in,” says Pentagon spokesman Gordon Duguid. NATO officials take a tougher stance, with NATO spokesman James Appathurai calling the truce a “reason for concern.” He adds, “Without doubting the good faith of the Pakistani government, it is clear that the region is suffering very badly from extremists and we would not want it to get worse.” Amnesty International official Sam Zarifi says, “The government is reneging on its duty to protect the human rights of people from Swat Valley by handing them over to Taliban insurgents.” [Associated Press, 2/18/2009]
White House officials give the press a broad outline of President Obama’s ambitious arms-control agenda. Obama’s plan calls for dramatic cuts in both US and Russian nuclear arsenals, an end to a Bush administration plan for a more advanced nuclear warhead, the ratification of a global treaty banning underground nuclear testing, and a worldwide ban on the production of nuclear weapons material. The long-term goal, officials say, is “a world without nuclear weapons” in which the US leads by example. Obama’s plans are striking departures from the Bush administration agenda, which had little use for arms-control treaties (see May 24, 2002 and Late May 2005) and pulled out entirely from the anti-ballistic missile treaty with Russia (see December 13, 2001). Obama has said his plans are based in part on the work of the bipartisan Nuclear Security Project, headed by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, former Clinton administration Defense Secretary William Perry, and former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz.
Criticism - Some conservative organizations and members of the national security community warn that Obama’s proposals could weaken US security. Henry Sokolski, a member of the bipartisan US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism and an advocate of limited arms reduction, says: “This brave new, nuclear world may be anything but peaceful. As the qualitative and quantitative differences between nuclear weapons states become smaller, rivalries are likely to become much more dangerous.” The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Strang says of the Obama administration: “The problem is that they are betting the physical survival of the US on nothing more than the hope that other nuclear-armed states and any states or non-state actors that join the nuclear club will follow suit by disarming. This gamble involves the highest possible stakes and has an exceedingly low likelihood of success.” And neoconservative Frank Gaffney, a Defense Department official during the Reagan administration and president of the Center for Security Policy, says, “Every other declared nuclear weapon state is modernizing its stockpile and the most dangerous wannabes—North Korea and Iran—are building up their offensive missile capabilities and acquiring as quickly as possible the arms to go atop them.” Obama may also face opposition from within his Cabinet; Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration, wants to implement the Reliable Replacement Warhead program (see January 26, 2009), a nuclear warhead replacement program that Obama opposes.
Support - Obama’s plan has strong support among Congressional Democrats: Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who heads the House subcommittee overseeing US nuclear forces, says that reducing US and Russian arsenals, negotiating a treaty to end production of new nuclear weapons material, and ratifying the test ban pact “are all achievable goals. The debate is at a point where it is a question about when we achieve these goals, not if,” she says. Ultimately, achieving Obama’s goals will be difficult, says nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione. “It is going to require a herculean effort,” he says. “It is completely doable, but it will require the sustained attention of the president himself.” [Boston Globe, 2/22/2009]
Entity Tags: Joseph Cirincione, Frank Gaffney, Ellen Tauscher, Barack Obama, Baker Strang, George Shultz, Henry Sokolski, Robert M. Gates, Sam Nunn, US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, William Perry, Nuclear Security Project, Obama administration, Henry A. Kissinger
Timeline Tags: US International Relations
Mohamed returning to London. [Source: Lewis Whyld / Associated Press]Binyam Mohamed (see May-September, 2001, February 8, 2009, and February 9, 2009) is released from Guantanamo, and returns to Great Britain. He is flown to Britain on a private chartered Gulfstream jet similar to those used by the CIA in “extraordinary renditions.” His sister, Zuhra Mohamed, meets him at the RAF Northolt airbase in west London, and tells reporters: “I am so glad and so happy, more than words can express. I am so thankful for everything that was done for Binyam to make this day come true.” His lawyers claim that he has suffered severe physical and psychological abuse, some of which was inflicted in recent days. He suffers from what his lawyers call a huge range of injuries. Doctors have found Mohamed suffering from extensive bruising, organ damage, stomach complaints, malnutrition, sores to feet and hands, and severe damage to ligaments. His weight has dropped from around 170 pounds to 125 pounds. His lawyers say he suffers from serious emotional and psychological problems, which have been exacerbated by the refusal of Guantanamo officials to provide him with counseling. Mohamed’s British lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, says his client had been beaten “dozens” of times, with the most recent abuse occurring in the last few weeks (see September 2004 and After). “He has a list of physical ailments that cover two sheets of A4 paper,” says Stafford Smith. “What Binyam has been through should have been left behind in the middle ages.” Mohamed’s American military lawyer, Lieutenant Colonel Yvonne Bradley, adds: “He has been severely beaten. Sometimes I don’t like to think about it because my country is behind all this.” Britain’s former Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, an advocate for the closure of Guantanamo, says that allegations of abuse against Mohamed, a British resident, should be raised by Foreign Secretary David Miliband with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “If there are credible accounts of mistreatment then they need to be pursued,” Goldsmith says.
Care Provided upon Return - Upon his return to Britain, Mohamed will receive physical care and emotional counseling in a secure, secret location by a team of volunteer doctors and psychiatrists. He will be kept under a “voluntary security arrangement,” where he must report regularly to authorities, but will not be subject to charges or anti-terror control orders. The US dropped all charges against Mohamed last year, including allegations that he had participated in a “dirty bomb” plot. [Guardian, 2/22/2009; Guardian, 2/24/2009]
MI5 to Be Investigated? - At least one MI5 officer may face a criminal investigation over his alleged complicity in torturing Mohamed (see February 24, 2009). And Mohamed’s future testimony is expected to shed light upon MI5’s own participation in his interrogation and alleged torture; Mohamed may sue the British government and MI5, Britain’s counter-intelligence and security service, over its alleged complicity in his detention, abduction, treatment, and interrogation. If filed, Mohamed’s lawsuit could force US and British authorities to disclose vital evidence regarding Mohamed’s allegations of torture. [Guardian, 2/22/2009]
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair says the Guantanamo detention facility needs to be closed (see January 22, 2009) because its existence has done serious damage to the US’s reputation and its ability to achieve foreign policy goals. “Countries won’t deal with us,” Blair tells the House Intelligence Committee. “Our popularity’s down. We don’t have blue chips to trade.” [Associated Press, 2/25/2009; Associated Press, 2/25/2009]
President Obama greets Marines at Camp Lejeune. [Source: White House]President Obama says that the target date for a substantial withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is August 31, 2010. “Let me say this as plainly as I can,” he tells the gathered Marines: “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” Around 100,000 troops will be withdrawn by that date. However, major withdrawals will not begin until after December 2009, to ensure that national elections go smoothly. Obama promised that US troops would be out of Iraq 16 months after he took office in January; the new deadline extends the withdrawal by some three months. Obama tells the Marines: “I want to be very clear. We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime—and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government—and you got the job done. And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life—that is your achievement; that is the prospect that you have made possible.” Some 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection, and counterterrorism operations. According to the latest Status of Forces (SOF) agreement between Iraq and the US, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. White House officials say that Obama has no interest in keeping troops in Iraq after that date. The August 2010 date was decided after input from all the key principals, including Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The date was chosen to best manage security risks without jeopardizing the gains of recent months. Obama has refused to set specific withdrawal schedules, preferring to give his commanders in Iraq some flexibility. One White House official says, “They’ll either speed it up or slow it down, depending on what they need.” [Associated Press, 2/27/2009; White House, 2/27/2009]
Positive Response - Many Iraqi citizens and lawmakers hail the decision to pull out (see February 27, 2009). And so do many of the Marines at Camp Lejeune. Petty Officer Ryan Junkin says he has an “all around pretty good feeling. It’s good that he gave some direction.” Sergeant Aldwin Del Rosario says, “My biggest take away is that he had dates, and he plans to meet those goals and those dates.” And Lance Corporal Codell Campbell says: “Iraq got all our full attention for the past years. A lot of fellow Marines have died trying to make the country better.… Afghanistan is where the real fight is.” [Think Progress, 2/17/2009]
Republicans Credit Bush Strategy - Senator John McCain (R-AZ), Obama’s challenger in the 2008 presidential race, says he is “cautiously optimistic” that the withdrawal will work. Both McCain and former Bush national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe credit the 2007 “surge” (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007) for making the withdrawal possible. [New York Times, 2/27/2009]
The US military announces that 12,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by September 2009. “Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers, and intelligence, will not be replaced,” says a Pentagon spokesman. US forces will also turn over a number of facilities to Iraqi control. Additionally, the remaining 4,000 British soldiers, stationed in southern Iraq, will also depart by that time. The US withdrawal is the first step in President Obama’s announced “drawdown” of troops from Iraq by August 2010 (see February 27, 2009). Major withdrawals will not happen until after Iraq’s national parliamentary elections in December 2009. The “Status of Forces” agreement between the US and Iraq requires all American forces to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011; it also requires US forces out of all major Iraqi cities by the end of June 2009. Even in the face of increasing troop withdrawals, Major General David Perkins, a spokesman for the US command structure in Iraq, says the military is “by no means complacent.” Perkins adds: “We know that al-Qaeda, although greatly reduced in capability and numbers, still is desperate to maintain relevance here.… When al-Qaeda senses that it is under extreme pressure and it is losing momentum, it works very hard to gain relevance and to regain momentum.” The remaining US forces will be redeployed around the country, most likely in areas such as the city of Mosul and Diyala province, both of which contain a still-fierce insurgency. “We will not leave any seams in regards to security,” Perkins says. “We know how to do this. This is not the first time we’ve reduced our forces.” [China Daily, 3/8/2009; Washington Post, 3/9/2009; Daily Telegraph, 3/9/2009]
Reporter Seymour Hersh speaking at a 2007 forum on the media in Doha, Qatar. [Source: Reuters / Fadi Al-Assaad / MinnPost (.com)]In a wide-ranging seminar with former Democratic Vice President Walter Mondale and investigative journalist Seymour Hersh at the University of Minnesota, Hersh claims that he has evidence that the US operated what he calls an “executive assassination wing” during the Bush administration, perhaps controlled by the office of then Vice President Dick Cheney. [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] (Hersh will later say he used the word “wing,” but it was widely misreported as “ring” in the media.) [CNN, 3/30/2009] Hersh says he will explain his charges more fully in an upcoming book. When asked about recent instances of a president exceeding his constitutional authority, Hersh gives a response that moves from CIA activities, through the Joint Special Operations Command, to the alleged “assassination wing”: “After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command—JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him.… Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination wing essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths. Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us. It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized. In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people. I’ve had people say to me—five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’ But they’re not gonna get before a committee.” Mondale says of Cheney and his office that “they ran a government within a government.” Hersh adds, “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale notes that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.” [MinnPost (.com), 3/11/2009] CIA spokesman George Little responds to Hersh’s allegation by writing: “I saw your story on Seymour Hersh’s recent allegations regarding CIA activities since 9/11. If you wish, you can attribute the quoted portion that follows to me, in name, as a CIA spokesman: ‘This is utter nonsense.’” [MinnPost (.com), 3/12/2009]
UN Human Rights Council logo. [Source: China Human Rights Net]The Obama administration announces that the US will seek a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The Bush administration had chosen not to participate in the council, saying that it would not countenance the influence of nations who repress their populations. “Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” says Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system.… We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.” Elections for three seats on the 47-member council will take place in May. The other countries on the ballot are Belgium and Norway. New Zealand agreed to withdraw from the ballot in favor of the US candidacy; New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Murray McCully, explained, “Frankly, by any objective measure, membership of the council by the US is more likely to create positive changes more quickly than we could have hoped to achieve them.” A human rights advocate tells the Washington Post: “This is a welcome step that gives the United States and other defenders of human rights a fighting chance to make the institution more effective. I think everybody is just desperate to have the United States and Barack Obama run for the human rights council, and countries are willing to bend over backward to make that happen.” Human rights activists have pressured the US to join the council since its inception in March 2006. The council took the place of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, which lost credibility when it allowed nations such as Sudan and Zimbabwe to join and thus thwart criticism of their treatment of their citizens. Bush officials had refused to join the new body, saying that they did not believe the new organization represented any improvement over its predecessor. Then-US ambassador to the UN John Bolton explained that the US would have more “leverage in terms of the performance of the new council” by not participating in it and thus signaling a rejection of “business as usual.” Bolton says of the Obama administration’s decision: “This is like getting on board the Titanic after it’s hit the iceberg. This is the theology of engagement at work. There is no concrete American interest served by this, and it legitimizes something that doesn’t deserve legitimacy.” Obama officials concede that the council has failed to do its job adequately, and focused too much on abuse allegations by Israel to the exclusion of allegations against nations such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Sri Lanka. US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice says: “Those who suffer from abuse and oppression around the world, as well as those who dedicate their lives to advancing human rights, need the council to be balanced and credible.” The US intends to join the council “because we believe that working from within, we can make the council a more effective forum to promote and protect human rights.” [Washington Post, 3/31/2009]
US presidential envoy Richard Holbrooke meets briefly and informally with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed Mehdi Akhondzadeh. Holbrooke, the Obama administration’s special representatative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, and Akhondzadeh are participants in a major international conference at The Hague convened to discuss the problem of Afghanistan. The two talk briefly during a lunch break. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will say of the meeting: “It was cordial, unplanned, and they agreed to stay in touch. I myself did not have any direct contact with the Iranian delegation.” Clinton says the US has asked the Iranian delegation to intercede in the cases of two American citizens being detained in Iran and a third who is missing. The New York Times calls the two contacts “another step in the Obama administration’s policy of engagement… a tentative process, in which the White House makes symbolic gestures, like President Obama’s recent video greeting to the Iranian people and government for their New Year (see March 19, 2009), while continuing to formulate its longer-term strategy.” Some experts believe that the meeting between Holbrooke and Akhondzadeh is not entirely fortuitous, but is the product of some planning. In the conference, Akhondzadeh says Iran will help reconstruction in Afghanistan as well as take part in efforts to curb the exploding Afghan drug trade. “The fact that they came today, that they intervened today, is a promising sign that there will be future cooperation,” Clinton says. “The Iranian representative set forth some very clear ideas that we will all be pursuing together.” The US and Iran have mutual interests in curbing Afghanistan’s drug trade, Clinton says: “The questions of border security, and in particular the transit of narcotics across the border from Afghanistan to Iran is a worry that the Iranians have, which we share.” [New York Times, 3/31/2009]
Conservative pundits on Fox News and other media outlets falsely claim that President Obama ceded the government’s authority over its economy to an international consortium during the G-20 summit, which concluded on April 2, 2009 in London. On April 3, pundit Dick Morris appears on Fox News’s America’s Newsroom to claim that Obama “effectively ceded massive areas of American sovereignty to Europe and to the global economic mavens.… [T]his literally is a massive surrender of sovereignty to an essentially European body.” On April 3, US Representative Don Manzullo (R-IL) tells CNN’s Kitty Pilgrim that Treasury Secretary Timothy “Geithner’s proposing, with the help of the administration, a worldwide international control over all financial interests—in fact, over any corporation, to the extent of even controlling the compensation of the employees. That’s not only radical, Kitty, that’s frightening.” Pilgrim responds, “Yeah, it certainly is.” On April 5, Fox News host Monica Crowley, appearing on the syndicated McLaughlin Group, says the G-20 agreement is “the first step to abrogating American sovereignty here, because… it is going to allow European bureaucrats to step in, not just on the hedge fund regulation and the other explicit things that they agreed to, but buried deep down in this communiqué was the ability for European bureaucrats sitting in Brussels to decide what kind of executive compensation American executives should—” Financial Times US managing editor Chrystia Freeland interjects, “No, there was no authority like that there, Monica.” Crowley responds, “I read it in the communique this morning.” [Media Matters, 4/7/2009] In an April 6 column titled “The Declaration of Independence Has Been Repealed,” Morris writes: “On April 2, 2009, the work of July 4, 1776 was nullified at the meeting of the G-20 in London. The joint communique essentially announces a global economic union with uniform regulations and bylaws for all nations, including the United States. Henceforth, our SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], Commodities Trading Commission, Federal Reserve Board, and other regulators will have to march to the beat of drums pounded by the Financial Stability Board (FSB), a body of central bankers from each of the G-20 states and the European Union.… Obama, perhaps feeling guilty for the US role in triggering the international [economic] crisis, has, indeed, given away the store. Now we may no longer look to presidential appointees, confirmed by the Senate, to make policy for our economy. These decisions will be made internationally.” Noting that the FSB is numerically dominated by European members, Morris writes: “The Europeans have been trying to get their hands on our financial system for decades. It is essential to them that they rein in American free enterprise so that their socialist heaven will not be polluted by vices such as the profit motive. Now, with President Obama’s approval, they have done it.” [Dick Morris, 4/6/2009] On the evening of April 6, Morris makes the same claims on Fox News’s Hannity, telling viewers: “Basically, from an economic standpoint, [Obama’s] repealed [the Declaration of Independence]. We no longer have economic sovereignty.” [New York Times, 4/3/2009] None of these claims are true, as Freeland tried to assert. The FSB has no cross-border authority and therefore no authority over American economic decisions. On April 3, the New York Times reports, “While the [G-20] leaders agreed to create a new Financial Stability Board to monitor the financial system for signs of risks, they stopped well short of giving regulators cross-border authority, something France has long advocated.” [New York Times, 4/3/2009; Media Matters, 4/7/2009]
Former Republican senator Rick Santorum writes in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer that President Obama is “contemptuous of American values.” Santorum, now a columnist for the Inquirer, ties his comments to the pending nomination of Harold Koh to become the State Department’s lead counsel. Santorum and other far-right conservatives oppose Koh, a former Yale Law School dean, because of his “internationalist” views. Obama’s nomination of Koh for the State Department, and Obama’s recent supposed “apology for American arrogance” to European audiences, “helped convince me that [Obama] has a deep-seated antipathy toward American values and traditions,” Santorum writes. Santorum opposes Koh’s view that the US must become part of the international legal community, and instead insists that the US hold itself apart from international law, a position Santorum shares with the former Bush administration. “Koh’s ‘transnationalism’ stands in contrast to good, old-fashioned notions of national sovereignty, in which our Constitution is the highest law of the land,” Santorum writes. “In the traditional view, controversial matters, whatever they may be, are subject to democratic debate here. They should be resolved by the American people and their representatives, not ‘internationalized.’ What Holland or Belgium or Kenya or any other nation or coalition of nations thinks has no bearing on our exercise of executive, legislative, or judicial power. Koh disagrees. He would decide such matters based on the views of other countries or transnational organizations—or, rather, those entities’ elites.” Koh supports the International Criminal Court, which Santorum views as an objectionable intrusion upon American sovereignty. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 4/9/2009] Santorum is echoing recent arguments by Fox News host Glenn Beck (see April 1, 2009) and Accuracy in Media editor Cliff Kincaid (see April 6, 2009).
Der Spiegel reports new evidence proving that the CIA ran a secret prison in Poland and tortured prisoners there. The prison is identified as the Polish military airbase of Stare Kiejkuty, about an hour’s drive north of the Szymany military airbase. One of the most well-known of the “high-value” prisoners kept there was accused 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was tortured (see March 7 - Mid-April, 2003) and waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003) in the facility. A Gulfstream N379P jet, known to Polish investigators as the “torture taxi,” landed at least five times at Szymany between February and July 2003. According to Der Spiegel, “Flight routes were manipulated and falsified for this purpose and, with the knowledge of the Polish government, the European aviation safety agency Eurocontrol was deliberately deceived.” A witness told the public prosecutor’s office in Warsaw of seeing people wearing handcuffs and blindfolds being led from the aircraft at Szymany, far from the control tower. The witness said it was always the same individuals and the same civilian vehicles that stood waiting on the landing field. Mohammed told delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) that most of the group at the airfield wore ski masks, presumably to avoid being identified. “On arrival the transfer from the airport to the next place of detention took about one hour,” he told the ICRC. “I was transported sitting on the floor of a vehicle. I could see at one point that there was snow on the ground. Everybody was wearing black, with masks and army boots, like Planet-X people.” Robert Majewski, the Warsaw public prosecutor who took the witness statement cited above, has been investigating former Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller’s government on allegations of abuse of office. One of the issues surrounding the Miller administration is its alleged secret cooperation with the CIA, and its alleged granting of free rein to the agency over the Stare Kiejkuty military base for its extraterritorial rendition program and torture interrogations. Majewski is also investigating whether the Polish intelligence agency, WSI, made 20 of its agents available to the CIA. Recently, two Polish journalists, Mariusz Kowalewski and Adam Krzykowski, have discovered flight record books from Szymany that had been declared lost. Based on these documents, and on a number of interviews with sources, the two journalists have put together a patchwork of evidence pointing to the CIA’s use of Stare Kiejkuty for secret rendition and torture purposes. They say that they lack a final piece of proof—that CIA interrogator Deuce Martinez, one of the primary interrogators of Mohammed, was in Poland at the time of Mohammed’s detention in Stare Kiejkuty. Rumors abound of Martinez’s presence, but Kowalewski and Krzykowski lack the evidence to prove it. Much of Kowalewski and Krzykowski’s reporting has been confirmed by a 2007 investigation conducted by the special investigator for the Council of Europe, Dick Marty. A WSI official told the Marty investigators, “The order to give the CIA everything they needed came from the very top, from the president,” meaning former President Aleksander Kwasniewski, who denies the allegation. The CIA has always denied any knowledge of, or involvement with, such a facility. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 4/27/2009]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Der Spiegel, Central Intelligence Agency, Aleksander Kwasniewski, Adam Krzykowski, Deuce Martinez, International Committee of the Red Cross, Dick Marty, Robert Majewski, Leszek Miller, Mariusz Kowalewski, Eurocontrol, Stare Kiejkuty, Wojskowe Sluzby Informacyjne
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
Todd Hinnen. [Source: Corbis James Berglie]Todd Hinnen, the deputy assistant attorney general for law and policy in the Justice Department’s national security division, discusses his team’s focus on the nation’s security needs at a presentation at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP). Hinnen says his team does the “30,000 foot level strategic thinking, policy development, and legal analysis” for the Justice Department’s national security work. Hinnen believes that developing an appropriate, long-term legal framework is “essential to effectively combating terrorism for reasons that are both principled and pragmatic.” Hinnen tells the gathering: “It is essential on grounds of principle because the law has defined this nation, a nation of laws, since its founding.… It would be a Pyrrhic victory if, in our struggle to preserve this country against the threat of international terrorism, we sacrificed so central a part of what this country stands for and why it has been a model for the rest of the world. It is essential on grounds of pragmatism because a lawless response to terrorism—one for instance that includes torture, black site prisons, and indefinite detention without due process—undermines our moral credibility and standing abroad, weakens the coalitions with foreign governments that we need to effectively combat terrorism, and provides terrorist recruiters with some of their most effective material.” [Think Progress, 4/28/2009]
Former Bush National Security Adviser and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has returned to Stanford University to teach political science and serve as a senior fellow at the university’s conservative Hoover Institute [Stanford University News, 1/28/2009] , refuses to take any responsibility for the Bush administration’s torture policies. All she ever did, she tells students, was “convey… the authorization of the administration” (see Late 2001-Early 2002, April 2002 and After, Mid-May, 2002, July 17, 2002, September or October 2002, Summer 2003, May 3, 2004, and April 9, 2008). However, Rice adds, since President Bush authorized the torture program, it was by definition legal, no matter what domestic law or international treaties stipulated. “The president instructed us that nothing we would do would be outside of our obligations, legal obligations under the Convention Against Torture” (see October 21, 1994), she says. “So that’s—and by the way, I didn’t authorize anything. I conveyed the authorization of the administration to the agency, that they had policy authorization, subject to the Justice Department’s clearance. That’s what I did.” Asked if waterboarding constitutes torture, Rice responds: “I just said, the United States was told, we were told, nothing that violates our obligations under the Convention Against Torture. And so by definition, if it was authorized by the president, it did not violate our obligations under the Convention Against Torture.” Ali Frick, a reporter with the progressive news Web site Think Progress, writes in response: “Rice is attempting to hide her central role in approving torture.… Rice’s opinion that a presidential authorization—‘by definition’—grants something legality is deeply disturbing. In fact, the United States—and its president—are bound by US statute and international treaties that ban the use of cruel, humiliating, degrading treatment, the infliction of suffering, and the attempt to extract coerced confessions. Memo to Rice: Bush may have been ‘the Decider,’ but he didn’t have the authority to make an illegal act magically legal.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009] In the same conversation, Rice seems to say that al-Qaeda poses a greater threat to the US than did Nazi Germany, and again denies that the US ever tortured anyone. A student asks, “Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced—” and Rice interjects, “Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.” “No, but they bombed our allies—” the student replies, and Rice once again interrupts: “No, just a second, just a second. Three thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon [referring to the 9/11 attacks].” The student observes, “500,000 died in World War II—” to which Rice replies, “Fighting a war in Europe.” The student continues, ”—and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.” Rice says, “We didn’t torture anybody here either.” [Think Progress, 4/30/2009]
The bust of Winston Churchill, loaned to the White House by the British government. [Source: WorldMeets (.us)]Conservative radio host Glenn Beck tells his listeners that President Obama recently returned a bust of Winston Churchill to Great Britain because of his secret hatred of the British. Britain gave President Bush a bust of Churchill to display in the Oval Office during his term of office. In February 2009, Obama returned the bust and replaced it with a bust of President Abraham Lincoln; he added a bust of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the display. At the time, London’s Daily Telegraph reported that the bust had only been lent to the White House: according to the British Embassy, it had been “uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W. Bush,” not given in perpetuity to the US government. A British Embassy spokesman told the Telegraph: “The bust of Sir Winston Churchill by Sir Jacob Epstein was uniquely lent to a foreign head of state, President George W. Bush, from the Government Art Collection in the wake of 9/11 as a signal of the strong transatlantic relationship. It was lent for the first term of office of President Bush. When the president was elected for his second and final term, the loan was extended until January 2009. The new president has decided not to continue this loan and the bust has now been returned. It is on display at the ambassador’s residence.” The White House curator, William Allman, said at the time, “It was already scheduled to go back.” However, Beck explains that Obama returned the bust because he harbors a secret hatred for the British. Beck tells his listeners that Obama’s paternal grandfather, a Kenyan, was tortured by the British during the Mau Mau Uprising in the 1950s, and that is the source of Obama’s supposed hatred. Beck presents no other evidence that Obama holds any sort of grudge or negative feelings towards the British, and ignores the fact that the Churchill bust had been slated to be returned to Britain at the end of Bush’s second term. Beck also fails to inform his listeners that Obama keeps a British treasure on his desk: a wooden penholder made from wood taken from a British sailing ship and given to him by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. Instead, Beck tells his listeners: “Why does Obama harbor animosity towards the British?… A listener called me this morning. Said he had found information about Barack Obama’s grandfather in an old Irish newspaper but couldn’t verify it. I said okay, what is it? We looked into it. The information, took us about 20 minutes to find. It was out there, but until today I never heard about this information, and I’m kind of in the Barack Obama business, you know what I mean? I don’t think you have. Maybe you have. What puts you in a position to act unexplainably in weird ways toward the ally? Something must have happened in your life and maybe this is a part of it.” The news report apparently carried an account from Obama’s Kenyan step-grandmother, who told of her husband being tortured by British soldiers during the 1950s. In light of this information, Beck says it “sure makes sense” that Obama would hate the British, and adds that if it had been his grandfather who was mistreated, “I certainly wouldn’t want someone like me dealing with longtime allies.” [Daily Telegraph, 2/14/2009; Associated Press, 1/5/2010; Media Matters, 6/29/2010] Beck is echoing themes advanced by a Nigerian-American conservative in a recent Internet publication, who claimed that Obama is secretly an “African colonial” (see June 25, 2009).
In his biggest break from Bush administration policies to date, President Obama announces his abandonment of Pentagon plans to build a missile defense shield system in Poland and the Czech Republic. During a July Moscow visit, Obama indicated that he would order a 60-day review of the project. The findings since then are said to conclude that Iran’s long-range missile program is progressing more slowly than previously thought; the resulting report also cites US officials’ belief that Iran’s short- to medium-range program poses a more potent and immediate danger. Therefore, the system is to be replaced by other facilities, placed closer to Iran. Obama says that the new approach offers “stronger, swifter, and smarter defense” for the US and its allies. He adds that the move will more readily focus on the threat posed by Iran’s proliferation of short- and medium-range missiles, as opposed to its intercontinental nuclear capabilities. “This new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems to offer greater defenses to the threat of attack than the 2007 European missile defense program,” he says.
Russian Reaction - Russia had asserted that the undertaking was aimed against Russia and threatened to deploy short-range nuclear weapons in the Russian region of Kaliningrad, just inside the European Union. However, now it suggests that Obama’s decision will not garner swift or generous concessions on its part, but a foreign ministry spokesman, Andrei Nesterenko, describes the move as “obviously a positive sign for us” while assuring that the decision was unilateral by Washington alone. Nesterenko says that there have been no deals with Moscow on Iran or any other issues. “That would disagree with our policy of resolution of any problems in relations with any countries, no matter how difficult or sensitive they may be.” Recently, however, analysts said that the decision would assist Obama in securing Moscow’s cooperation with a possible new sanctions package against Iran as well as further the president’s desire to reset relations with Moscow after a bleak period under the Bush administration. “Obama has taken a step in the direction of improving US-Russian relations. This will definitely help build a partnership,” Yevgeny Miasnikov, a senior research scientist at Moscow’s Centre for Arms Control, says. “Russia will also now make some concessions, maybe on strategic talks over nuclear arms reduction or maybe over Iran. Moscow will try to catalyze the process of improving US-Iranian relations and will facilitate dialogue between the two sides. I don’t think threatening Iran is the way to solve this problem,” he adds.
Prior Notification to Allies - The night before his announcement, Obama telephoned leaders of Poland and the Czech Republic to tell them he had dropped plans to construct missile interceptors and a radar station in their respective countries, telling them that his decision was prompted by advances in missile technology and new intelligence about Iran’s existing missile capabilities. He said that “updated intelligence” on Iran’s existing short- and medium-range missiles showed they were “capable of reaching Europe,” adding that the US would continue its efforts to end Iranian attempts to develop an “illicit nuclear program.”
Reaction of Poland and Czech Republic - While many Western European leaders cheer the US’s decision, the Czech Republic and Poland express disappointment with the White House’s reversal following six years of intricate negotiations. Senior government sources in the two countries say they will insist that the US honor pledges made last year by the Bush administration to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies in exchange for agreeing to the missile defense deployment plans. Former Czech deputy prime minister and Washington ambassador Alexandr Vondra, who was intimately involved in the negotiations, says: “This is a U-turn in US policy. But first we expect the US to honor its commitments. If they don’t they may have problems generating support for Afghanistan and on other things.” According to Miasnikov, the US may now consider ways of mollifying Poles and Czechs, which might include providing Patriot interceptors that are capable of shooting down short- and medium-range missiles. [Guardian, 9/17/2009]
President Obama tells Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “it is past time to talk about starting negotiations—it is time to move forward.” Obama’s meeting with the two Middle East leaders is the highest level of diplomacy of his presidency, although it is reported that expectations for resuming the talks fall short. Obama and State Department officials hoped that the meeting would pave the way for fresh negotiations of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. However, during a recent previous meeting, special Mideast envoy George Mitchell was unsuccessful in securing a deal in which Israel would halt West Bank settlements construction in return for the Arab states taking minute steps toward recognition. “Permanent status negotiations must begin, and begin soon,” Obama tells the two leaders, referring to talks on the fundamental issues that divide the parties, such as borders, Jerusalem’s status, and building settlements. The meetings, held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel where Obama meets with Netanyahu and Abbas separately before all three meet together, produce no real reconciliation, only an Israeli-Palestinian commitment to send negotiating teams to Washington, along with a general agreement that peace talks should quickly resume. “We knew this wasn’t going to be easy,” Mitchell says, adding that the talks were at times “blunt” with Obama importuning the two to “get things done.” Obama seems to concede that his previous calls for a construction freeze on settlements fell on deaf ears, and says that Israel has offered only to “restrain” its settlement activity. He appears to acknowledge that his early calls for a settlement freeze have fallen on deaf ears. Israel, he says, has only offered to “restrain” settlement production. The restraint on settlement building “is not everything we might have wanted,” says a senior State Department official speaking on condition of anonymity—one of the rules set by the White House before the meetings—but “it’s certainly a significant step.” US government officials try to dispel later impressions that Obama sought to play down the settlements issue, although senior Israeli government officials say they left the meeting with a separate message; the Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren says, “That’s not just the impression, that’s the reality.” An additional senior US official says Obama will not cease to press the settlements issue, arguing that the tentative steps Israel has agreed to extend “far, far beyond what any previous government has ever done to control settlement activity.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/22/2009]
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2009]
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells journalists for the Jerusalem Post that President Obama’s maiden UN speech was “good and positive” for Israel. Netanyahu expresses his belief that Obama’s speech stressed the legitimacy of a Jewish state as well as backing Israel’s right to live in security. He says that Obama’s address urged Palestine leaders to restart peace negotiations. “He said what we have been saying for months, that we need to restart negotiations without preconditions.” In his speech, Obama also addressed threats posed by Iran and North Korea, and spoke strongly against al-Qaeda and terrorism. “All of us, not just the Israelis and the Palestinians, but all of us, must decide whether we are serious about peace, or whether we only lend it lip service,” said Obama. “To break the old patterns—to break the cycle of insecurity and despair—all of us must say publicly what we would acknowledge in private. Nations within this body do the Palestinians no favors when they choose vitriolic attacks over a constructive willingness to recognize Israel’s legitimacy, and its right to exist in peace and security,” he said. “The United States does Israel no favors when we fail to couple an unwavering commitment to its security with an insistence that Israel respect the legitimate claims and rights of the Palestinians. The time has come to re-launch negotiations—without preconditions. The goal is clear: two states living side by side in peace and security—a Jewish state of Israel, with true security for all Israelis, and a viable, independent Palestinian state with contiguous territory that ends the occupation that began in 1967, and realizes the potential of the Palestinian people.” Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the US, says Obama’s reference to Israel as a Jewish state is vital recognition on which “Israel insists as part of any final status deal with the Palestinians.” Oren says that Israel “was gratified to hear the president reiterate US commitment to Israel’s security,” as well as pleased that the president supported a multilateral rather than bilateral means for bringing peace between Israel and its neighboring states. Netanyahu tells Israeli reporters that he “listened very carefully to President Obama’s call to the Arab countries to publicly support moving regional peace forward.” He also praises Obama for expressing his appreciation about restrictions that have been eased between Judea and Samaria in the last few months to improve the quality of living and upgrade the economy for the Palestinians in the region. However, Obama also said in his address that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements,” while simultaneously calling on Palestinians to end provocations against Israel and emphasizing that the settlements issue should not deter talks. [Jerusalem Post, 9/24/2009]
With President Obama serving as chairman, the United Nations Security Council collectively approves Resolution 1887 to decrease withdrawals from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The measure also decreases the opportunity for civilians to divert nuclear resources for the development of sophisticated weaponry. Although they are not specifically mentioned, it is believed that the resolution is to ensure compliance by countries such as North Korea and Iran, each of which has either banned inspectors or rigorously restricted their access. “The resolution is not about singling out nations,” Obama says. “We must demonstrate that international law is not an empty promise, and that treaties will be enforced.” Officials of the Obama administration say that the resolution will not become binding unless and until the Security Council takes steps to subject nuclear exports to supplementary restrictions. Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as well as France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, say that current sanctions against Iran and North Korea are inadequate, and ask the council for “far tougher sanctions” against Iran. Sarkozy says, “What I believe is that if we have the courage to affirm and impose sanctions on those who violate resolutions of the Security Council, we will be lending credibility to our commitment to a world with fewer nuclear weapons and ultimately with no nuclear weapons.”
"A World without Nuclear Weapons" - During his opening speech, Obama describes his vision of “a world without nuclear weapons,” as reflected in the text of Resolution 1887. He says the resolution “revitalized” the Security Council’s commitment to a world without nuclear weapons, while reaffirming nuclear proliferation as a threat to global peace and security. “We harbor no illusions about the difficulty of attaining such a world,” Obama notes, “but there will also be days like today that push us forward—days that tell a different story.”
Rare Security Council Session - Today’s session is unusual in that it is only the fifth time the Security Council has held a summit-level meeting since the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Obama, as chairman, makes history as the first US president to head a UN Security Council session.
US and Russia Meet - The day before, Obama met with Russia’s President Dmitri Medvedev for the first time since he announced that former President George W. Bush’s Eastern Europe missile defense program would be replaced by a system that Moscow sees as less menacing. Although Obama administration officials publicly deny that the missile defense replacement decision was a result of quid pro quo, for the first time, Medvedev indicates that his country would be agreeable to repeated American requests for drastically tougher Iran sanctions, should the October nuclear talks scheduled with Iran fail. “I told His Excellency Mr. President that we believe we need to help Iran to take a right decision,” Medvedev says. “Sanctions rarely lead to productive results, but in some cases, sanctions are inevitable.”
Dignitaries in Attendance - Among the dignitaries attending the session are former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, media mogul Ted Turner, and Queen Noor of Jordan; all three are active in efforts toward nuclear disarmament. [New York Times, 9/24/2009]
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