Search This Blog

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Obama Realism May Not Play Well in Cairo Streets - James Traub, New York Times:

Obama Realism May Not Play Well in Cairo Streets - James Traub, New York Times:

This Thursday, when President Obama delivers a much-anticipated speech in Cairo, he will be addressing so many audiences, and seeking to advance so many agendas, that even his oratorical gifts are likely to be taxed. He will surely express his respect for Islam and the Islamic world, as he has before; articulate his broad policy goals in the Middle East; and offer proposals to increase the prospects, now quite dim, for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. But the president has chosen to deliver this speech in Cairo, and so he must also address the Egyptian people, who live — like the citizens of virtually all Arab countries — in an authoritarian state, and who have grown increasingly restive as President Hosni Mubarak has snuffed out flickering hopes for change.

The Egypt Speech: Obama's Watershed Moment - J. Scott Carpenter, PolicyWatch

The Egypt Speech: Obama's Watershed Moment - J. Scott Carpenter, PolicyWatch #1522, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy: By traveling to Cairo, Obama risks signaling a return to the era when the United States ignored human rights and democracy as an element of national security. Moreover, should Obama fail to deliver peace on their terms, the same undemocratic Arab regimes will blame him for the failure, providing Iran and others another stick with which to beat the United States for being on the wrong side of history. By seeking peace at the expense of democracy and long-term stability, the president risks achieving none of these regional objectives.

OPEC is Criminal Cartel Run by Saudis and Linked to Terrorism - J. Michael Waller, Palluxo

OPEC is Criminal Cartel Run by Saudis and Linked to Terrorism - J. Michael Waller, Palluxo: "[T]his, American strategists say, is the time for the United States to finish off OPEC once and for all. … Options worth considering include … [p]romot [ing] freedom and justice in the rest of the Middle East. …

What Will Obama Say in Cairo? - William Pfaff

What Will Obama Say in Cairo? - William Pfaff, Truthdig: The possibility that scarcely seems worth mentioning is that Obama declares in Cairo that he wishes to withdraw all American forces from Muslim countries, and seeks the support of all Muslim governments to make this possible. Now that would make headlines, and history

Can Timmy Tackle China? by Leslie H. Gelb

Can Timmy Tackle China?

by Leslie H. Gelb

Forget the GM’s protracted death spiral. The only economic story that matters this week is Secretary Geithner’s definitive trip to China, writes Leslie H. Gelb.

Even on a weekend largely devoid of news, save for the trials of Judge Sonia Sotomayor and pretend war dances on the Korean peninsula, the story that will largely determine the fate of the American and global economies goes strikingly unattended: Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is in China. He’s there to meet with its leaders to begin figuring out policy puzzles whose resolution will shape the future far more than the mesmerizing crises of Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Iran. He’s there to talk about the value of the dollar and the yuan, trade and investment decisions, and how best to pump life into a listless world economy. By these eye-crossing threads does our future hang.

Once deadly Cold War enemies, the economies of China and America have become inseparable. The United States is China’s biggest export market by far. China is America’s biggest investor by far. If one sneezes, the other catches a cold. Their markets are so intertwined that if one side tries to gain advantage over the other, it hurts itself as well. The United States remains the biggest economy in the world by far, and China has been the fastest-growing one by far for decades now. One of America’s leading international economists, C. Fred Bergsten, recently called for downplaying the G-20 group of industrial powers and focusing instead on what he termed the “G-2,” namely China and the United States.

Once deadly Cold War enemies, the economies of China and America have become inseparable.

Here’s the agenda for the Geithner talks, the policy puzzles, and the stakes.

On economic stimulus, both countries are basically on the same page and accepting of their responsibilities for the global economy. Depending on how it’s counted, the U.S. stimulus and salvation package ranges somewhere around $2 trillion. China’s reaches almost $600 billion, second largest to Washington’s. But for this, Beijing gets much more bang for its buck. The Chinese, for example, have more infrastructure projects underway in Beijing than the Obama administration does in all of the United States. Low labor costs give Beijing a tremendous advantage here, which will continue to give it a big competitive advantage.

Nonetheless, the Obama team wants Beijing to spend much more to stimulate its own internal economy. The Chinese economic miracle has been built mainly on exports, especially to America. This has resulted in enormous trade surpluses for China and deficits for the United States. Washington wants to export more to China, far more than its already upward trend in recent years. But that’s a hard decision for Beijing. To begin with, the Chinese people are savers, including for things like medical costs that are scanted by the Chinese government. Also, that conservative-minded government is loathe to pump out yuan even to its own economy if the result is deficit-spending.

The trade relationship hangs in good part on the relative value of the dollar against China’s reminbi or yuan. Washington has long accused Beijing of keeping the worth of the yuan artificially low against the dollar in order to make its exports cheaper to the United States. Beijing says the situation is more complicated than that. In any event, if Beijing were to let the yuan fall against the dollar by about one-third, the figure often bandied about in Washington, its losses would be catastrophic. China holds about $1.5 trillion in treasury bonds, equities and the like. A one-third decline would mean the loss of $500 billion.

On the other hand (and there’s always another hand in these subjects), Washington can’t afford to let the value of the dollar drop in America’s interests. In the first place, if its worth falls, American securities will become less attractive to investors, especially foreign ones, especially China, which already has such large investments. And without those foreign investments, especially from China, the Obama administration has no hope of financing its vast deficit-spending stimulus package. Less investment money from China, more printing of depreciated money in America, more inflation, and more undercutting of Obama’s stimulus package.

Declining investments from China would also mean a jump in interest rates in America in order to attract more Chinese and other foreign investors. But the higher the interest rates, the slower the economic recovery in America because more expensive loans would further slow growth as well. Mortgages for the housing markets, in particular, would fly skywards and grind down the recovery of the housing market. And of course if all these bad things came to pass, China itself would be the second biggest loser after America, given its investment in dollars.

All of these cold calculations revolve around cash and the money balance sheets. But the talks between Geithner and the top Chinese leaders have another, still more confounding dimension—the economic power relationship. The vast majority of international economic transactions are denominated in dollars. In other words, the American economy is the touchstone that all nations have to honor and its currency the one that requires the most protecting in the common interest. Now feeling its power oats after decades of economic growth and diplomatic deference by others, Beijing wants more of a say in the global economy and the prestige aspects of currencies. Some of its leaders have been talking about replacing the dollar with a new “international reserve currency,” over which Beijing would have its rightful influence.

But as with so many dimensions of its new great power role, Chinese leaders have not thought through what they want and what they’re demanding. Who would take the weaker dollars China would unload onto this reserve currency? How happy would they be holding onto these devalued dollars, while China profited? Global leadership requires sacrifices on the part of the leader, a fact not yet chewed, let alone digested by Beijing’s bosses. With prestige comes costs and responsibilities, which the United States alone among great powers remains willing to shoulder.

As if all this weren’t complicated enough, the Geithner visit in the next days takes place against the backdrop of North Korea’s flexing of its nuclear and missile power. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be looking to China for help in taming this latest outburst by Pyongyang. China is North Korea’s lifeline for food and fuel and China has more influence over Pyongyang than any other country. It has resisted pressure for fear of a collapse of the North Vietnamese government, causing a flood of refugees and instability on China’s border.

Geithner is charged with sorting out the economic layers of the new Chinese-American relationship. But until he and his Chinese counterparts figure out how the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and how critically interlocked common interests can be advanced without damaging separate interests, they should observe the central maxim of international medical practice: Do No Harm.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and senior government official, is author of Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (HarperCollins 2009), a book that shows how to think about and use power in the 21st century. He is president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The End of National Currency

The End of National Currency
Benn Steil May/June 2007

US Won't Accept North Korea as a Nuclear State

US Won't Accept North Korea as a Nuclear State

Gates: North Korea Nuke Progress Sign of 'Dark Future'

Border Calm as Tensions Rise on Korean Peninsula

Analysis: NKorea nuke test won't break China ties

A Look at North Korea's Missile Arsenal

The Nuclear Arms Race Between Pakistan And India

The Nuclear Arms Race Between Pakistan And India
A nuclear-capable missile is displayed during
National Day celebrations in Pakistan — APP photo.

Pakistan Enhances Second Strike N-Capability: US Report --

WASHINGTON: Pakistan has addressed issues of survivability in a possible nuclear conflict through second strike capability, says a US congressional report.

The first part of the report, published on Friday, deals with Islamabad’s efforts to develop new weapons, while the second part studies its strategy for surviving a nuclear war.

According to the report, Pakistan has built hard and deeply buried storage and launch facilities to retain a second strike capability in a nuclear war.

It also has built road-mobile missiles, air defences around strategic sites, and concealment measures.

Read more ....

More News On The Nuclear Arms Race Between Pakistan And India

Pakistan-India tensions spur nuclear race --

Pak develops second strike capability: US report -- SIfy

Army chief expresses concern over Pak nuke arsenal -- Times Of India

India army chief calls for Pakistan nuclear cap -- Reuters

Pak has 60 nukes & counting... -- Economic Times of India

South Asia nuclear upgrades worry United States -- Daily Times\05\29\story_29-5-2009_pg7_13

Pakistan and the Bomb -- Wall Street Journal

5 Reasons Why this North Korean Crisis is No Groundhog's Day - Dan Twining, FP's Shadow Government.

5 Reasons Why this North Korean Crisis is No Groundhog's Day - Dan Twining, FP's Shadow Government.

North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, new threats of war against its declared enemies, and the predictable results of these developments -- expressions of concern at the UN Security Council, U.S. offers of more unconditional talks, China’s ambivalent response - suggest that we remain in the “Groundhog Day” cycle of crisis and response that has characterized U.S. policy towards Pyongyang since 1994. In fact, new dynamics on the peninsula and in the region, and the fresh opportunity provided by what can now clearly be judged to be years of failed policy on denuclearization and disarmament, present an opportunity for a creative rethink about U.S. policy options. To clarify a way forward, it’s worth considering how the playing field has shifted (I see five ways that it has), and how this may create a different set of possibilities for the United States and our allies vis-à-vis the North Korean regime -- one that breaks decisively from the past and offers real hope for change.

A Perpetual Missile Crisis - Victor Davis Hanson, Washington Times

A Perpetual Missile Crisis - Victor Davis Hanson, Washington Times opinion. Why would the Iranian government spend billions of dollars on trying to develop a few first-generation nuclear bombs (as nearly everyone believes is the case) when the country is so poor it has to ration gasoline? A lot of reasons have been offered by various experts. Upon developing a nuclear weapon, states win instant prestige and attention beyond what they otherwise might have earned. Take away its bomb, and North Korea would be in the news about as much as Chad. Nuclear weapons also can change the nature of conventional warfare.

Gates Calls on Asian Partners for Help in Afghanistan - Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service.

Gates Calls on Asian Partners for Help in Afghanistan - Fred W. Baker III, American Forces Press Service.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today called on US allies in Asia to render more aid to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. In his opening remarks at the “Shangri-La Dialogue” Asia security summit here, Gates said terrorist groups rooted in training camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have international reach, even to the Asia-Pacific region. “I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat to their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan’s geographic location,” he said. “But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope, whether in the security, economic or ideological realm.” The secretary cited examples of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, and said some are inspired and supported by terrorist groups operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

A Nation Up for Grabs - Thomas H. Henriksen, Washington Times

A Nation Up for Grabs - Thomas H. Henriksen, Washington Times opinion.

Pakistan is in political and military play. And the stakes in its struggle against Islamic extremism could not be higher for the South Asian country or the United States. Until the past few weeks, Pakistan was viewed by President Obama as a sideshow to the main event in the stiffening Taliban insurgency within neighboring Afghanistan. Now the outcome of the US-led counterinsurgency in Afghanistan hinges on the fate of Pakistan's conflict with Islamic militants. The Taliban and the allied terrorist network al Qaeda have proved themselves more adept practitioners of a quickly executed strategy than the Obama administration.

Israel to U.S.: 'Stop favoring Palestinians' By Barak Ravid


Israel to U.S.: 'Stop favoring Palestinians'
By Barak Ravid

Tensions between Washington and Jerusalem are growing after the U.S. administration's demand that Israel completely freeze construction in all West Bank settlements. Israeli political officials expressed disappointment after Tuesday's round of meetings in London with George Mitchell, U.S. President Barack Obama's envoy to the Middle East.

"We're disappointed," said one senior official. "All of the understandings reached during the [George W.] Bush administration are worth nothing." Another official said the U.S. administration is refusing every Israeli attempt to reach new agreements on settlement construction. "The United States is taking a line of granting concessions to the Palestinians that is not fair toward Israel," he said.

The Israeli officials attributed the unyielding U.S. stance to the speech Obama will make in Cairo this Thursday, in which he is expected to deliver a message of reconciliation to the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Mitchell was joined at the London talks by his deputy David Hale, Daniel B. Shapiro (the head of the National Security Council's Middle East desk), and State Department deputy legal adviser Jonathan Schwartz.

The Israeli delegation consisted of National Security Adviser Uzi Arad, Netanyahu diplomatic envoy Yitzhak Molcho, Defense Ministry chief of staff Mike Herzog and deputy prime minister Dan Meridor.

Herzog spoke to Mitchell and his staff about understandings reached by former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon with the Bush administration on allowing continued building in the large West Bank settlement blocs. He asked that a similar agreement be reached with the Obama government.

Meridor spoke of the complexities characterizing the coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and said Washington's demands of a complete construction freeze would lead to the dissolution of the Netanyahu government.

The Israeli delegates were stunned by the uncompromising U.S. stance, and by statements from Mitchell and his staff that agreements reached with the Bush administration were unacceptable. An Israeli official privy to the talks said that "the Americans took something that had been agreed on for many years and just stopped everything."

"What about the Tenet Report, which demanded that the Palestinians dismantle the terror infrastructure?" said the official, referring to former CIA director George Tenet. "It's unfair, and there is no reciprocity shown toward the Palestinians."

The Israeli envoys said the demand for a total settlement freeze was not only unworkable, but would not receive High Court sanction. Tensions reportedly reached a peak when, speaking of the Gaza disengagement, the Israelis told their interlocutors, "We evacuated 8,000 settlers on our own initiative," to which Mitchell responded simply, "We've noted that here."

Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Washington today in an attempt to put further pressure on the Obama administration.

"We want to reach an agreement with the United States on ways to advance the peace process," said a senior Jerusalem official. The U.S. stance, he said, "will stall the process and bring about tension and stagnation, which will hurt both Israel and the United States."

Saturday, May 30, 2009

American capitalism gone with a whimper

American capitalism gone with a whimper

Trial of CIA, Italian agents provides rare look at intelligence work,1,2718096.story
From the Los Angeles Times

Trial of CIA, Italian agents provides rare look at intelligence work

Testimony about the alleged 'rendition' of Egyptian Abu Omar features feuds and rogue conduct in a case that has apparently made and crushed careers.
By Sebastian Rotella

May 19, 2009

Reporting from Milan, Italy — The two spies were allies and kindred spirits.

Robert Seldon Lady, the CIA station chief in Milan, and Col. Stefano D'Ambrosio, the local head of the SISMI, Italy's intelligence agency, shared pride in their fight against terrorism and disdain for self-serving bosses.

On a fall day in 2002, the American made an explosive revelation. He told D'Ambrosio that, over his objections, a CIA team was in Milan doing reconnaissance for the "rendition" of an Egyptian extremist ideologue. The American was worried that the risky operation would ruin his carefully built alliances, D'Ambrosio testified years later, and could even lead to a shootout between the Americans and the Italians if things went awry on the street.

With an urgent look, spy to spy, Lady said: "Talk to your people."

D'Ambrosio recalled that he got the unspoken message: "In other words, he says . . . 'This whole thing is so crazy that if . . . two operational chiefs in the field, who know the area, who work in this territory, say that an action is completely crazy, probably they will back off.' "

Four months after the conversation in Milan, the CIA allegedly abducted the cleric and flew him to Egypt, where he was tortured for months. An international scandal ensued: The accused abductors left a sloppy trail of phone activity, credit card charges and photo IDs that allowed Milan authorities to prosecute 26 Americans (in absentia), including the now-retired Lady, and seven Italian officials.

The brazen nature of the alleged rendition has gotten much attention. But the trial has also revealed how the Bush administration's drastic tactics shook up the secret world of U.S. intelligence work overseas. Testimony has featured remarkable allegations about feuds and rogue conduct. The case apparently made and crushed careers and spread betrayal and suspicion among U.S. and Italian anti-terrorism officials.

On the witness stand in October, D'Ambrosio summed it up: "We were between the tragic and the ridiculous."

The case arose from an extrajudicial practice known as "extraordinary rendition," in which U.S. intelligence officials have secretly abducted terrorism suspects and transported them to secret detention facilities or to countries that subject the suspects to harsh interrogation and, sometimes, torture.

Unless otherwise noted, the following account is based on testimony during the trial, which has slogged on almost two years.

Tragic figure

Lady seems a rather tragic figure at the heart of the case: a veteran spy who, after the Sept. 11 attacks, established himself as a point man in the shadows of the battle against the Islamic extremist underworld. Although he took risks to try to stop the abduction, in the end he allegedly became one of its dutiful architects.

The bearded, curly-haired Lady, now 55, spoke excellent Italian. He thrived in the convivial culture of Italian law enforcement, doing business over espresso and long lunches, hosting barbecues. He cultivated bonds with anti-terrorism units of agencies that are wary of one another: the SISMI spy service, the paramilitary Carabinieri and the national police. He passed along valuable leads from U.S. intercepts and offered cash and high-tech equipment for costly stakeouts.

"We all had excellent relationships with him because this was a very affable and professionally accessible person," testified Luciano Pironi, a Carabinieri lieutenant who confessed to a hands-on role in the abduction. "I think he had given CIA souvenirs to half of Milan."

Lady also developed his own agents at a mosque that was a European hub for Al Qaeda, targeting a network suspected of sending militants to training camps in northern Iraq. He helped Milan anti-terrorism police build a case against the rendition target, Abu Omar, regarded as a vehement ideologue in the group.

At a discreet sit-down with D'Ambrosio in October 2002, however, Lady said that his CIA bosses had decided to circumvent the police and abduct Abu Omar, supposedly hoping to force him to become an informant. As a result, Lady was embroiled in a feud in his own agency. The American told D'Ambrosio that he had an "awful" relationship with the CIA's Rome station chief, who resented Lady's criticisms of the planned rendition and had sent a tough deputy to Milan to make sure he followed orders.

D'Ambrosio was dumbfounded. When Lady told him that the SISMI had dispatched Italian agents to help a team from the CIA's paramilitary "special operations group" stalk the Egyptian, D'Ambrosio realized that his own bosses were keeping him in the dark about the plan.

Warning issued

Lady said he warned higher-ups that the idea was a colossal mistake.

He said "it would eliminate from the area a subject who was known to counter-terrorism forces," D'Ambrosio said. "We knew what [Abu Omar] did, who he met, where he met them. . . . It would cause grave harm, because at the moment Abu Omar was substituted in his post, we would have to start all over again, with the risk that terrorist projects perhaps in the initial stage could be executed. . . . The subject they wanted to abduct was not certainly a subject who posed an imminent danger. Abu Omar did not go around with an AK-47 ready to shoot children."

CIA bosses dismissed objections and got clearance from top officials in Washington. D'Ambrosio testified: "I'll tell you my impression. . . . The only motive was career advancement. That is, to show Washington that [the Rome station chief] was a tough enough and skilled enough person to pull it off."

D'Ambrosio said he hurried to Bologna to urge his boss, Marco Mancini, to abort "an action in my territory . . . [that] was not only wrong but extremely dangerous. I expressed complete dissent."

Mancini seemed surprised only that the American had confided in D'Ambrosio. A few weeks later, Mancini ordered D'Ambrosio's transfer to Rome. Commiserating in Milan, Lady told his friend that the CIA chief in Rome had demanded D'Ambrosio's head. And Lady made a startling disclosure about Mancini, who soon became the No. 2 chief of the Italian spy agency.

"He told me that Mancini had offered himself to the CIA as a double agent," D'Ambrosio recalled. "And he said the CIA had made a negative response to the offer. . . . An analysis done by CIA psychologists based on conversations with Mancini had revealed according to them that Mancini had an extremely venal character."

Mancini and other Italian officials deny that allegation. In addition to the Abu Omar case, Mancini has been charged with criminal conspiracy in a corruption scandal involving illegal wiretaps and an Italian telephone company.

Despite Lady's initial objections, he is accused of setting up the abduction on Feb. 17, 2003. He allegedly recruited Pironi, the Carabinieri lieutenant, who confessed to using his badge to stop Abu Omar before masked men dragged him into a van. Pironi testified that Lady rewarded him with a paid six-day trip to the United States featuring a visit to CIA headquarters, where two top officials for European operations thanked him.

Meanwhile, the CIA's former Rome station chief -- a defendant in the Milan trial -- was promoted after the rendition, Italian investigators said.

American and Italian spymasters have been accused of efforts at a cover-up. Two weeks after the disappearance, the CIA allegedly sent Italian agencies a false report indicating that Abu Omar had gone to the Balkans.

It took a year until Abu Omar was freed from prison in Egypt and resurfaced. The official story began to unravel. But Lady's hard-won alliances and friendships with Italian police had already fallen apart amid suspicion and silence.

The U.S. government has refused to comment. The Italian government has tried to scuttle the prosecution in the name of state secrecy laws. Responding to a high court decision on a government appeal, the judge here will decide Wednesday whether the trial can continue and what evidence can be used.

Rotella was recently on assignment in Milan.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Commentary: Loose nukes terrorism by By ARNAUD DE BORCHGRAVE, UPI Editor at Large

Commentary: Loose nukes terrorism

Published: May 29, 2009

WASHINGTON, May 28 (UPI) -- Is the world more dangerous today than it was at the height of the Cold War? Anyone who's still anyone in the field of nuclear arms control has weighed in with a resounding "yes." North Korea's second nuclear test, followed by a renunciation of the 1953 armistice agreements and more missile firings, is the latest red flag on a dark nuclear horizon. Nuclear terrorism, unthinkable during the Cold War, is now the most immediate fear of the experts.

Whether this is an ailing petulant North Korean toddler throwing his nuclear teddy bear out the stroller to gain the attention he craves, or a sick, paranoid dictator currying favor with his aging, bemedaled generals to ensure a smooth succession to the hermit throne for one of his sons, may never be known. The only power that has any influence over Kim Jong Il is China. But their leaders are reluctant to wield it lest they provoke the total collapse of the Dear Leader's gulag.

That is also South Korea's main concern. A sudden power vacuum -- or a bloody struggle for power -- would make the bill for German reunification -- $1 trillion over 10 years -- seem like chump change next to Korean reunification. East Germany had an industrial and social infrastructure; North Korea wouldhave to build from the ground up in every field of human endeavor.

Korea is just one of the nuclear nightmares now haunting the world stage. Pakistan, in the throes of near-civil war, is feverishly adding to its nuclear arsenal of between 80 and 100 weapons. Former head of the Pakistani civil service turned pundit Roedad Khan wrote:

"These are critical days in Pakistan. There is no steady hand on the tiller of government. The survival of the country, its sovereignty, its stunted democracy, its hard-won independent judiciary, all are on the line. In these dangerous times, anything is possible. I shall not be surprised at any event that may happen. The country is gripped by fear and uncertainty. … The ship of state is decrepit and leaky. The sea is turbulent. The captain has … no compass. The crew is inexperienced. If the nation doesn't wake up, we will all go down like the Titanic. History will remember both that (President) Zardari failed to hear the warning bells and the politicians failed to ring them loud enough."

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen says he is satisfied that Pakistan's nukes are under a goof-proof, fail-safe system and that warheads and their missile delivery vehicles are stored in separate places in different parts of a country of 175 million Muslims. But no U.S. officer has been allowed to see any of the storage sites. Pakistani officers ask, "You haven't let us see how yours are stored and safeguarded, so why should we let you see ours?"

More worrisome for Western intelligence services is the Pakistani nuclear establishment in Kahuta, 36 miles from Islamabad. Created by How-I-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb Abdul Qadeer Khan, the super-secret Khan Research Laboratories and missile-building facility employs some 7,000 nuclear engineers and scientists, and enriches enough plutonium to produce about six nuclear weapons a year.

Dr. "Strangelove" Khan peddled nuclear secrets to America's enemies -- North Korea (in exchange for missile technology) and Iran (for big bucks) -- and is idolized as a national hero. Presented with the CIA's evidence against A.Q. Khan, former President Pervez Musharraf placed him under house arrest after he made a groveling public confession on television -- in English, not in Urdu. But Musharraf never allowed any contact with American intelligence officials.

Recently exonerated, with apologies, by the Supreme Court, the former metallurgist still has a huge following as a national hero second only to the nation's founder, Ali Jinnah. In Kahuta, many of the buildings are named after him. And the CIA and MI6 have a hard time keeping tabs on possible leakage of nuclear materials to al-Qaida, still based in Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and their Taliban insurgent allies, now active in Pakistan's four provinces and over most of Afghanistan.

That leaves Iran's nuclear ambitions as another red flag on a troubled geopolitical horizon that makes the world far less safe than it ever was during the Cold War. A.Q. Khan began helping the mullahs with nuclear know-how almost 30 years ago. Shortly after the clerics kicked out the late Shah's pro-Western monarchy in early 1979, the supreme leader, Ayatollah ("Sign of God") Ruhollah Khomeini, gave his benediction to a nuclear weapons future. The Shah told this reporter Iran would one day be a full-fledged nuclear power, and when he went into exile, Iran had 10 nuclear reactors on order -- five from the United States and five from Western Europe.

Iran's nukes are also pulling Israel's new Netanyahu government and the Obama administration apart. For the first time since 1956, when President Eisenhower ordered Israel, France and Britain out of their occupation of the Suez Canal, U.S. and Israeli strategic interests are no longer seen as one and the same.

For Israel, Jewish settlements in the West Bank have nothing to do with Iran's secret nuclear weapons program. A majority of Israelis say Iran's coming nuclear attractions constitute an existential crisis for the survival of a Jewish state. For President Obama, Israel's creeping annexation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem is making a Palestinian state impossible, which, in turn, leads to what Jordan's King Abdullah predicts will be another war in 2010.

Israel's new strategic affairs minister, Moshe Ya'alon, minced no words: "Settlement construction will not be halted," and "Israel will not allow the U.S. to dictate its policy." Binyamin Netanyahu's new team is also confident the U.S. Congress would never allow Obama to make aid to Israel conditional on a settlement freeze, let alone dismantling 160 major colonies that house some 300,000 Jews.


Why Treat Russia as an Enemy? William Pfaff

Why Treat Russia as an Enemy?

William Pfaff

Paris, May 26, 2009 – The failure last week of Russian talks
with the European Union on the security of energy supplies to Europe
is one more occasion for Russian-Western tension. This has sent
Europeans on a search for more reliable energy sources, but these are
proving expensive and awkward.

Last week’s talks, provocatively held in the Russian Far East, in
Kahabarovsk near the Chinese frontier (no doubt to make a point about
Russia’s vast resources and wide choice of collaborators and
customers) took place at the same time that a rather pathetic NATO
exercise was being ended in Georgia. It was meant presumably as a
“warning” to Russia, but a warning of what?

The actual warning has been to NATO, which by violating its own
rules contributed to last August’s short war between Georgia and
Russia. NATO’s rules preclude membership for nations with unsettled
territorial disputes or unresolved ethnic national claims, of which
Georgia has both.

Under pressure from Americans apparently eager to humiliate
Russia, the NATO governments were persuaded to offer Georgia eventual
membership in the alliance, which Georgia’s reckless president
Mikheil Saakashvili took as authority to attack and try to seize
autonomous South Ossetia, provoking a short and sharp war with Russia
last August, which Saakashvili lost. (Ukraine, which also has a
profound internal division on cultural and historical lines, was at
the same time also offered eventual alliance membership, which has
already made trouble, and can be expected to make more in the future.)

Russian-American as well as Russia-NATO relations have been
chilly since, unsurprisingly. An excellent and clarifying brief
article on U.S. policy towards Russia appears in the current National
Interest bi-monthly, by the magazine’s publisher, Dimitri K. Simes,
and Gary Hart, the former senator and co-chairman (with Chuck Hagel)
of the Nixon Center and Harvard Kennedy School’s recent bi-partisan
commission on relations with Russia, whose report was recently

The authors place part of the blame for existing Russian-U.S.
tensions with those in the United States who resent the fact that
post-Soviet Russia did not immediately remake itself on the model of
the United States, and petition to become an American protégé.

Instead, Russia today has a highly imperfect parliamentary and
presidential system with an unreliable legal system, media
suppression, and rigged elections. Its dual leadership, by the
seemingly interchangeable President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime
Minister and former President Vladimir Putin, seems to exercise
arbitrary power.

The authors ask if this is reason enough for the United States
to resist cooperation with Russia on matters that are of strong
mutual interest. Their answer clearly is “no.” You have to take
Russian governments as you find them, if you need to get along with

Since Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council,
possesses nuclear weapons with competitive delivery systems, plus a
very great deal of oil and natural gas, and it does or could dominate
the ex-Soviet space in Central Asia as well as the Caucasus, and
borders the Caspian and Black seas, with access to Iran, it cannot be
ignored. Yet Washington has tended to behave towards it in an
antagonistic manner while demanding cooperation (which it has often
received) on matters of concern to the United States.

The authors ask a further question: “Are we holding the
Russians to a higher standard of performance than we do other nations
with whom we deal? And if so, why?” The answer is that we are --
notably by continuing to withhold trade benefits from it under the
Jackson-Vanik amendment (passed in American law many years ago to
force the Soviet Union to make democratic concessions, and to allow
Jewish emigration). The Jackson-Vanik restrictions are no longer
imposed on China or Vietnam, or Georgia or Ukraine. Why on Russia,
which is no more undemocratic than China or Vietnam?

Hart and Simes blame “the dangerous triumphalism that has
shaped U.S. international strategy since 1993.” This is a problem
among “a majority of America’s political leaders and its wider
foreign-policy elite” who hold “the arrogant yet naïve view that the
United States could shape the world order without the consent of the
other major powers and without creating a backlash against America
and American leadership.” They have treated Russia as a “defeated

An answer to this criticism has come from John R. Bolton, one
of the most belligerent of the Bush administration neo-conservatives
and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, a body he
indicated would better be dismantled with NATO taking its place.

Bolton says that the U.S. under Barack Obama is anxious to give
away America’s strategic assets to the Russians, in a desire to
please its liberal friends and get a new Strategic Arms Reduction
Treaty before Christmas, at the cost of imposing on the U.S. a
“dangerously low” level of nuclear warheads, and abandoning the
“defense system intended for Poland and the Czech Republic.” (It
formerly was described in the U.S. as a defense system intended for

The basic question is whether the United States wishes to treat
Russia as a permanent enemy, if it is not. The result of treating
states as enemies is that sooner or later they become one. One might
think the United States already has enough enemies.

© Copyright 2009 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights

This article comes from William PFAFF

The URL for this article is:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut by SWJ Editors

Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut
by SWJ Editors

Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut
by Clint Watts, Small Wars Journal

Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut (Full PDF Article)

Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, which ended in early 1989, created a glut of foreign fighters, who found themselves unwanted by their home/source countries and restless for another Jihadi campaign. This “First Foreign Fighter Glut” spawned al-Qa’ida (AQ) and a decade of increasingly lethal terrorist attacks leading up to September 11, 2001.

Today, Western nations face a smaller, more lethal threat resulting from the “Second Foreign Fighter Glut.” As major conflicts in Iraq and later Afghanistan diminish in scale, a new generation of former foreign fighters will sit idle in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). The future success of AQ hinges on its recruitment process in which former foreign fighters from Iraq and Afghanistan guide the recruitment and production of future foreign fighters who will conduct regional and global terrorist attacks. Left unchecked, the Second Foreign Fighter Glut will produce the next generation of terrorist organizations and attacks much as the First Foreign Fighter Glut fueled AQ.

Current Western counterterrorism (CT) strategies, largely overshadowed by counterinsurgencies (COIN) in Iraq and Afghanistan, place great emphasis on eliminating the supply of foreign fighters at their intended targets. These strategies fail to adequately mitigate the demand for jihad by young recruits in foreign fighter source countries.

Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut (Full PDF Article)

Continue reading "Countering Terrorism from the Second Foreign Fighter Glut" »

Nuclear Aims by Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern

Nuclear Aims by Pakistan, India Prompt U.S. Concern
R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick, The Washington Post
Sometime next year, at a tightly guarded site south of its capital, Pakistan will be ready to start churning out a new stream of plutonium for its nuclear arsenal, which will eventually include warheads for ballistic missiles and cruise missiles capable of being launched from ships, submarines or aircraft.

The North Korean Nuclear Test: The Japanese Reaction Masako Toki, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

The North Korean Nuclear Test: The Japanese Reaction
Masako Toki, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

Only 50 days ago, Japan called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn North Korea's long-range missile launch. On May 25, Tokyo once again appealed to the Security Council for an emergency meeting to condemn Pyongyang--this time for its second nuclear test and its subsequent launch of three short-range missiles.

North Korea Threatens Attack Amid Escalating Nuclear Dispute by Christian Oliver and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times

North Korea Threatens Attack Amid Escalating Nuclear Dispute
by Christian Oliver and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times

North Korea threatened yesterday to attack the South if Seoul intercepted any of Pyongyang's ships to check for weapons shipments - further raising tensions on the peninsula after a nuclear warhead test on Monday.

* Commercial Satellite Imagery of 2009 Nuclear Test Site in North Korea (PDF)

How to Reduce the Nuclear Threat

How to Reduce the Nuclear Threat
William J. Perry, Brent Scowcroft and Charles D. Ferguson, The Wall Street Journal
Jong-ilMonday's North Korean nuclear test was a dramatic reminder of the challenges to eliminating nuclear weapons world-wide. President Barack Obama has stated that he intends to pursue this goal while maintaining a reliable nuclear deterrent for the United States and its allies. But achieving nuclear abolition will likely require many years.

Indeed, it is difficult to envision the necessary geopolitical conditions that would permit even approaching that goal. Unless the U.S. and its partners re-energize international efforts to lessen the present dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism,

Little leaps forward? By Geoff Dyer

Little leaps forward?

By Geoff Dyer

The Financial Times: May 27 2009
Children playing in front of portrait of late Chairman Mao Zedong
Faded supremacy: Shanghai children beneath a mural depicting Mao Zedong. Since his time, decisions are made more by consensus among party leaders

Ever since China’s leaders sent in tanks and soldiers to mow down pro-democracy protesters in Beijing 20 years ago, the Chinese Communist party has faced a constant stream of predictions about its imminent demise. American President Bill Clinton was one of the most pointed critics, telling Jiang Zemin, Chinese president, in 1997 that China’s authoritarian system “was on the wrong side of history”.

This year has been no different. The global economic crisis has led to at least 20m factory workers losing their jobs, and would, according to some forecasts, undermine the legitimacy of the Communist party.

Yet 20 years after the Beijing massacre, the Communist leaders remain firmly in control. There is no coherent challenge to their rule and, although grassroots protests are widespread, the simmering discontent of 1989 is less evident today, especially in the main cities. Even the economy appears to have begun to recover more quickly than that of any other major country.

Opinion polls have to be viewed cautiously as respondents might be afraid to criticise the government openly, but they generally show a level of optimism that few nations can match.

“There is a lot of unhappiness, but surveys tend to show that hope is rising and people generally think the country is going in the right direction,” says Cheng Li, a Chinese politics expert at the Brookings Institution.

The apologetic tone that leaders once adopted on political issues has gradually been replaced by more confident claims about the benefits of a “China model”. Zhou Xiaochuan, head of the central bank, recently said indications China was recovering from the crisis demonstrated “its superior system” when it came to making important decisions.

From Russia to Venezuela, other countries have trumpeted a more authoritarian, statist approach in recent years, but it is China with its steamroller economy and rising international influence that poses the biggest challenge to the postwar march of democracy. Indeed, the fate of the Communist party – whether it maintains its tight grip on power or is forced to give way to more democratic forms of government – will be one of the defining stories of the century.

Just how has China managed to disarm the democracy movement? The basic outline of the approach is well understood – a mixture of wealth from a dynamic economy and repression. The state clamps down on signs of organised opposition and boasts an increasingly sophisticated propaganda machine, skilled at fanning the flames of nationalist sentiment.

Yet there are other explanations for the durability of the one-party state. Beneath its Leninist surface, the CCP has introduced a string of reforms aimed at boosting its ability to govern and adapt to a changing society.

Training for officials has been improved, including the opening of MBA-style colleges for party members. The CCP’s all-powerful personnel department has imposed rotation of officials to reduce scope for corruption and broaden experience, as well as enforcing retirement for older officials. In 2007 alone, about 200,000 local government officials changed positions.

Since 2002, private entrepreneurs – a potential source of opposition – have been allowed to join the party; in one recent list of the country’s richest people, one-third were CCP members. Although public debate on sensitive topics is still closely curtailed, the CCP has established stronger ties with intellectuals and professionals to solicit expert advice. New labour laws to strengthen workers’ rights, for example, were drafted with the help of academics. Some intellectuals were motivated to advise the Tiananmen protesters by their anger at being ignored: now, their successors give regular private briefings to top leaders.

While a small group of scholars openly supports democracy, other academics are trying to find ways to gauge public opinion without elections. Experiments are being conducted with focus groups, opinion polls and public hearings. The objective is not to pave the way slowly towards a more democratic system but to make the one-party state more effective and durable.

The CCP also seems to have established a more stable process for leadership transitions – the Achilles heel of so many authoritarian regimes. Hu Jintao was anointed the next leader a decade before he took over in 2002, which helped avoid a destabilising power struggle when he took office. For the next generation, the leadership has been selected five years ahead of time, with Xi Jinping expected to become president and CCP boss in 2012, with Li Keqiang as premier. Most importantly, these decisions were the result of consensus among senior party members, not the word of one dominant figure such as Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping.

In his book, China’s Communist Party: Atrophy and Adaptation, David Shambaugh of George Washington University described the 10-year effort by the CCP to study the decline of the Soviet Union and learn survival lessons. Some conclusions were obvious, such as the need to avoid economic stagnation and military adventures overseas. But the CCP also decided to make its officials more professional and allow for dissent and debate within the party. “The lesson [from the Soviet experience] is clear: adapt and change or atrophy and die,” Mr Shambaugh concluded. “The CCP has clearly chosen the former option.”

None of this is to deny that there are clear limits on political discussion and activity – the CCP does not allow debate about its own legitimacy or any potential challengers. But the capacity for flexibility helps explain how the party has avoided becoming an ossified oligarchy in the eyes of many Chinese.

If the CCP has stifled calls for democracy by adapting, the other reason for its resilience has been the important changes in peoples’ lives that go well beyond the expansion in incomes.

Society can still seem highly controlled to many westerners, but petty interference by the state has diminished dramatically – especially for the urban middle class. The young have grown up hearing about how the authorities decided the length of hair and clothes to be worn. Even in the 1980s, getting married required the approval of officials from the “work unit”, the employer-based bureaucracy that controlled many aspects of private life. Getting tickets to the theatre or to travel often required official stamps. Large parts of that supervision, one of the underlying complaints of the Tiananmen generation, have disappeared.

Academic debate in elite circles has become much more open. The internet is another important part of that sense of liberation. Whether it really does allow a wide discussion of sensitive issues or whether, actually, the government’s extensive censorship efforts restrict discussions to safer topics is open to question. But young internet-savvy people genuinely believe their access to information has been greatly enhanced.

Foxshuo, a 22-year-old blogger from Wuhan in central China, says the government’s propaganda tactics – which range from blocking sites to paying students to make pro-CCP comments in chatrooms – are often fruitless. “Even though we have to use proxies or encryption tools, which can be a complicated process, we eventually get to find out what we want,” he says. “The internet environment is harsher than in many western countries, but westerners would be wrong to think that China has no freedom at all.” In other words, whatever the reality, the flow of information feels free to the young.

As a result of the effective combination of governance reforms and co-opting the rich and the middle class, few analysts believe the party will face a serious threat over the next decade.

Yet there are also plenty of reasons for thinking that the party will come under greater pressure to introduce deeper political reforms. For all the resilience the party has shown, its support at the level of ideas is shallow.

When asked if they support multiparty elections, the young will often sound sceptical but they are also quite likely to express strong support for much greater freedom for media and for civil society organisations. Opinion surveys bear some of this out. A study of youth attitudes prepared by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences found 61 per cent said they identified with “liberalism”. Surveys also indicate that most of the bright young people who apply for membership are mostly interested in the job opportunities that party membership might bring.

The youth are gradually shedding their image as an apolitical, materialistic “me generation”. The Sichuan earthquake last year exposed a deep vein of idealism that is not otherwise being channelled. On the campuses of the leading universities, environmental protection is becoming as important an issue as it is in the west.

Chart comparing China GDP and freedom criteria to other Bric countriesThe sense that the CCP has yet to win the political argument is reinforced by the frequency with which leaders use the word “democracy”. In his speech to the National Peoples’ Congress this year, Premier Wen Jiabao said: “We need to improve democratic institutions, enrich the forms of democracy, expand its channels, and carry out democratic elections.”

What they mean by “democracy” is different from what reformers seek or how it is practised elsewhere – usually some modest form of inner-party vote on specific CCP posts. But the fact that leaders feel the need to couch their words in the language of democratic reform is not indicative of a regime with solid intellectual foundations.

The country is a long way from creating the sort of institution that can channel legitimate complaints from citizens and counterbalance unaccountable political power. Important court decisions are still referred to party officials and the centuries-old petitioning system, where people lodge complaints to the authorities, is known for corruption and abuse.

For all the party’s success in blunting any challenge from the new middle class, it has been helped by the fact that the number of people whose income makes them genuinely comfortable is still relatively small. Car ownership in China – an important badge of middle-class status – is only 2-3 per cent. One popular idea among political scientists is that pressure for democracy really starts to build when gross domestic product per capita reaches $5,000-$6,000. Based on purchasing power parity China has reached this, although in nominal terms it is still barely half that level. This means the theory that a flourishing middle class will challenge the CCP is only just starting to be tested in China.

Moreover, the very flexibility that has helped the party survive means that the status quo is unlikely to hold. “If the CCP really is so resilient, it will have to adapt into something fundamentally different as society changes,” says Cheng Li at Brookings. China’s dissidents hope social changes will eventually propel political reform. “For now, the attempts to protect individual rights are dissipated and fractured,” says Bao Tong, a former senior official whose reformist views led him to be imprisoned after Tiananmen. “But if all those pieces can be gathered together, they will create a power that will influence China’s leaders.”

Additional reporting by Yang Jie


June 4 1989: The day the tanks moved in

Tanks in Tiananmen Square 1989

On the night of June 3 1989, soldiers arrived at the scene of protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. By the next day they had cleared it and the army was in control.

Independent estimates of deaths range from 500 to several thousand. The government claimed no one was killed on the square itself, although this has been contradicted by witnesses. However, most deaths did occur elsewhere in the city, in particular around Muxidi to the west, where residents tried to block the soldiers.

Recently leaked documents say that in the days after the massacre, anti-government protests occurred in 181 places around the country.


From jail time to a ‘cup of tea’ with the police

Liu Xiaobo is China’s latest democracy martyr. Late last year, he helped write Charter 08, a pro-democracy manifesto that organisers say has been signed by 8,000 people. He has been in jail since December 8, write Geoff Dyer and Jamil Anderlini.

The fate of Charter 08 illustrates the way China smothers its democracy movement to avoid any repetition of the Tiananmen protests. Promoting democracy is not illegal, at least within a circle of approved academics. Beijing University’s Yu Keping, an occasional adviser to President Hu Jintao, published Democracy is a Good Thing last year. But the state cracks down on sensitive discussions outside its control. Mr Liu was charged with “inciting subversion of state power”.

“There can never be harmony when there is a constant crackdown under way,” says Bao Tong, a prominent dissident. “China is stable but turbulent at all times under this government.”

Repression can be subtle. Tang Xiaozhao, a blogger, describes how after signing the charter she was invited to “have a cup of tea” by the police, who told her off for being naive. “What can you change by signing a document? It’s no use. It could only bring you trouble. I think you are not mature enough in politics,” she says she was told. A blocked promotion or a word with relatives are other methods of marginalising persistent critics.

Charter 08 has an impressive number of signatories given the risks. But some liberal academics declined to sign it because they thought it too foreign, modelled as it was on Charter 77, the anti-Soviet manifesto issued in what was Czechoslovakia by intellectuals such as Vaclav Havel.

Qin Hui, a historian at Tsinghua University in Beijing, says he approved of a lot of the ideas in the document but it did not “suit the characteristics of China’s special situation”. The implication is that future reformers must present their ideas as continuous with Chinese traditions and history rather than adopting an occidental blueprint.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

Putin Is Snookering Obama - Daniel Kimmage, Foreign Policy

Putin Is Snookering Obama
- Daniel Kimmage, Foreign Policy

Russia’s first Persian Gulf naval presence coordinated with Tehran DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

Russia’s first Persian Gulf naval presence coordinated with Tehran
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report
May 26, 2009, 6:47 PM (GMT+02:00)

Russian warships are due to call Wednesday, May 27, at the Bahrain port of Manama, seat of the US Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, DEBKAfile’s military sources reveal. They will be following in the wake of the Russian vessels already docked at the Omani port of Salalah, the first to avail themselves of facilities at Gulf ports.

Their arrival is fully coordinated between the Russian and Iranian naval commands.

According to our sources, this is the first time a Russian flotilla will have taken on provisions and fuel at the same Gulf ports which hitherto serviced only the US Navy. Moscow has thus gained its first maritime foothold in the Persian Gulf.

The flotilla consists of four vessels from Russia’s Pacific Fleet: The submarine fighter Admiral Panteleyev is due at Manama Wednesday, escorted by the refueling-supply ship Izhorai, The supply-battleship Irkut and the rescue craft BM-37 are already docked in Salalah.

DEBKAfile’s military sources report that the Russians, like the Iranians, cover their stealthy advance into new waters by apparent movements for joining the international task force combating Somali pirates. While Iranian warships have taken up positions in the Gulf of Aden, the Russians are moving naval units southeast into the Persian Gulf.

Monday, May 25, the Iranian naval chief, Adm. Habibollah Sayyari, announced that six Iranian warships had been dispatched to "the international waters" of the Gulf of Aden in a "historically unprecedented move… to show its ability to confront any foreign threats." He did not bother to mention the pirates.


U.S. undertakes Iraq-scale embassy project in Pakistan By SAEED SHAH AND WARREN P. STROBEL

U.S. undertakes Iraq-scale embassy project in Pakistan
McClatchy Newspapers

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- The U.S. is embarking on a $1 billion crash program to expand its diplomatic presence in Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, another sign that the Obama administration is making a costly, long-term commitment to war-torn South Asia, U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The Global Economic Crisis and Iraq's Future By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

The Global Economic Crisis and Iraq's Future
By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross

My colleague Josh Goodman and I have an article in the new issue of inFocus examining the impact that the global economic crisis will have on the future of Iraq. An excerpt:

Last summer, when oil prices reached all-time highs virtually every day, it seemed that one of the few silver linings was a more stable future for Iraq. Surging oil prices appeared to give Iraq a windfall; experts forecast an improving economy that could diminish support for the insurgency and increase resources for Iraq's nascent security forces. But now that the collapse in the world's economy has caused oil prices to plummet, what does the future hold for Iraq?

While estimates of Iraq's dependence on oil revenues vary wildly, oil clearly lies at the heart of the country's economy. Indeed, median estimates hold that oil accounts for more than 80 percent of its revenues. Iraq now faces several challenges spawned by the global recession. These challenges come just as the U.S.—pursuant to agreements with Iraq's government—is due to cease its patrols of cities. While a spiral into chaos is not inevitable, there is a clear opening for insurgent factions.

The decline in oil prices has left Iraq short of revenues. Speaking at a London-based think tank in early May, Iraqi deputy prime minister Barham Saleh said that the economic crisis "has had a serious impact" on Iraq's economy, with "plummeting oil prices" forcing the country "to constrain our government spending."

Accordingly, Iraq's government slashed its 2009 budget by about 25 percent, from $80 billion to nearly $60 billion. Yet, despite this reduction in expenditures, around $20 billion of that figure will be deficit spending. This is made possible in part by the fact that a budgetary surplus of around $35 billion remains from the 2008 oil boom.

Jim Durso, who served in the transportation ministry of the Coalition Provisional Authority, predicts that Iraq will try to "make that money last as long as they can, spend it on essential services, and hope that foreign investment can pay for infrastructure."

However, budgetary shortfalls will likely directly impact Iraq's ability to maintain security. Over the past two years, the size of the Iraqi security forces has almost tripled—from 250,000 uniformed personnel to 609,000. With less money in its coffers for salaries, Iraq must curtail the expansion of these forces.

To read the entire article, click here. I also wrote about oil prices and Iraq for the Middle East Times last summer, when the price of oil was around $125 a barrel. To see what I had to say then, click here.
May 27, 2009 09:43 PM Link Middle East Roundtable: If Iran gets nuclear weapons May 25, 2009
Middle East Roundtable

Edition 20 Volume 7 - May 28, 2009

IF Iran gets nuclear weapons

• Regional arms race, eventual Arab A-bomb - Riad Kahwaji
High ethno-sectarian tension between Iran and its Arab Gulf neighbors would likely increase.

• International failure and regional high alert - Emily B. Landau
The primary effect of nuclear weapons is psychological deterrence.

• The psychological significance of the Iranian nuclear program - Sadegh Zibakalam
The eight-year war with Iraq taught Iranians that in this world they are on their own.

• Nuclear and political policy toward Iran - Mahjoob Zweiri
A military campaign will first and foremost be aimed at ending Iran's influence with non-state actors in the region.

Regional arms race, eventual Arab A-bomb
Riad Kahwaji

Many officials and others in Arab Gulf states believe that it is only a matter of time before Iran is capable of producing its own nuclear weapons. Very few believe the United States, Israel or the international community can do anything--politically or militarily--to prevent this anticipated new reality. Even fewer believe sanctions would deter Tehran from becoming the next nuclear state. However, like the rest of the world, they do not seem to have a clear idea how to deal with a nuclear Iran. Still, numerous options are out there. They comprise many steps, including military defensive measures and a western nuclear umbrella to deter possible future Iranian threats. Seeking an Arab nuclear bomb could also be an option in the long run.

The possibility of Iran possessing nuclear weapons has already started to impact Arab Gulf states. Almost all of them have announced an intention to acquire nuclear technology for peaceful use. Four of them, notably the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, have gone on a shopping spree signing deals that would bolster their air and naval capabilities. The Saudis have purchased about 72 Typhoon Eurofighter jets and upgraded their AWACS early-warning planes and their Patriot anti-ballistic missile batteries. The UAE, in turn, has ordered the Theater High Altitude Air Defense System (THAAD) along with the Patriot PAC-3 and other complimentary systems to establish a fully integrated multi-layered ballistic missile defense shield. The UAE has started negotiations with France to acquire 60 Rafael jetfighters, and is about to start receiving the first of six multirole Baynounah-class corvettes and other systems related to combating underwater threats and improving naval information, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

In this way, mounting tension resulting from Iran's controversial nuclear program has sparked an arms race in the Arabian Gulf region and an increased interest in acquiring nuclear capabilities. At the same time, the Arab Gulf states have kept channels of communication with Iran wide open in an attempt to reduce tensions between the two sides, especially Sunni-Shi'ite tension resulting from the internal power struggle in Iraq and Lebanon and the recent quarrel between Cairo and Hizballah over the latter's role in smuggling weapons via Egyptian territory to the Gaza Strip.

High ethno-sectarian tension between Iran and its Arab Gulf neighbors would likely increase if Tehran builds nuclear weapons. The Arab side would be worried about both Iranian hegemony and a deal between Washington and Tehran at the expense of Arab interests. Many Arab officials and analysts believe that Washington's inability to check the Iranian nuclear program would possibly prompt the United States to go for a political deal with Iran according to the latter's terms--better known as the "grand bargain." Tehran has thus far refused to discuss the nuclear file separately from other issues such as Iraq, Lebanon, the peace process and its role as a regional power. Iranian leaders have long insisted on one big deal with Washington that includes all outstanding matters between the two.

Heightened anxiety and reduced trust in their main strategic ally, the United States, might drive Arab Gulf states toward greater self-reliance in defending themselves by seeking a deterrent to Iran's nuclear capabilities. Or they might be encouraged to seek new strategic allies that back the US or if need be replace it. One example of this trend was the opening of a new French naval base in Abu Dhabi on May 26. This was the first non-US base in the Gulf region. Additional non-American bases might be opened in the region.

The impact of Iran's strong rhetoric about its support for resistance and fighting Israel has been considerable in the Arab street, including the Gulf. If Tehran were to acquire nuclear weapons, the Arabs would feel embarrassed for having failed to achieve a balance of nuclear power with Israel while Iran had done precisely this. This would create a sense of weakness and vulnerability among many Arab leaders, who would likely seek to right the balance of power with non-Arab states in the region. The lack of any progress in the peace process would also encourage many Arabs to call on their leaders to copy the Iranian rejectionist and confrontational approach. It seems to have succeeded to a great extent, while the Arabs' peaceful and moderate approach has failed to achieve what they regard as a "peaceful and just solution" to the Palestinian cause in particular and the Arab-Israel struggle in general.

If the US and the international community learn to live with a nuclear Iran, the general Arab assumption would be that the world should be able to coexist with an Arab nuclear bomb as well. This may not happen in a year or two, but regional geopolitics and simple logic lead to this conclusion. Hence future military conflicts, especially if based on ethno-sectarian differences in the Middle East region, would likely turn into devastating nuclear wars.- Published 28/5/2009 ©

Riad Kahwaji is CEO, Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA), Dubai.

International failure and regional high alert
Emily B. Landau

The first implication of Iran becoming a nuclear state will be to drive home the extreme helplessness of the international community in the face of a determined nuclear proliferator. This scenario will mark the failure to present a united and determined international front against Iran's defiance in the nuclear realm, a responsibility shared by all the actors that have faced Iran over the past seven years. The inability to secure the necessary international cooperation to implement painful economic sanctions as a prelude to more effective negotiations with Iran will be a particularly troubling aspect of that failure.

The ramifications of Iran attaining nuclear weapons will reverberate strongly both regionally and globally, especially if Iran decides to become an overt (rather than ambiguous) nuclear state, with proven missile capabilities to deliver nuclear warheads. Within the Middle East, a nuclear Iran means an even stronger regional presence that will gain an immediate and significant advantage over all of its non-nuclear neighbors. Due to Iran's already apparent hegemonic ambitions, the added status and potential for mass destruction will cast a heavy shadow over all.

But while Iran will seek to capitalize on this to impose its will on the region, the primary effect of nuclear weapons is psychological deterrence, which is a function of how other states react to their presence. It will take time before we see the real effect on inter-state dynamics and are able to appraise the full implications of Iran's enhanced regional potential.

In the meantime, however, fears among the non-nuclear states in the region are likely to push them more determinedly in the direction of attaining or developing their own nuclear capabilities. In a sense, this process is already under way: many regional states have expressed interest over the past three years in developing civilian nuclear programs. The UAE has moved particularly quickly to conclude nuclear deals with France and the US, but there are other serious contenders, not least Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The scenario of a chain reaction of nuclear proliferation is a dangerous one, although for most states this will mean a long and arduous process; these states are all parties to the NPT, and will thus have to proceed clandestinely. The sad reality is that the international community is unlikely to be better equipped to deal with these countries' nuclear ambitions than it was with Iran's--so if they are determined, they will probably get there.

Although the long, drawn-out process of seven or eight years of failed attempts to stop Iran through diplomacy will have left Israelis with no illusions as to the real prospects of their success, the news of a nuclear Iran will still be received in Israel with a degree of shock. It will be earth-shattering in the sense that it will eliminate a long-standing pillar of Israel's security and nuclear policy; and the frequent references to Iran as an existential threat will continue to ring in the ears of Israelis, eliciting fears that the fate of the country is now on the line. Surely the very fact that Iran is nuclear will introduce an unavoidable additional layer of caution whenever Israel contemplates action to confront threats to its security.

But because the stakes are so high, it is to be expected that both in the direct Israeli-Iranian context and with regard to broader regional dynamics, some kind of stability will ultimately begin to be established. The principles of the process will probably be similar to the US-Soviet experience--namely, mutual deterrent threats, then realization that nuclear exchange could result, beefed up missile defenses and finally some kind of tension-reduction process--but it remains to be seen what the specific path will be. A central question is just how dangerous it will get before new rules of the game for managing inter-state relations in the Middle East are put in place. The explosiveness of the region, especially due to Iran's ability to stir up tension and violence through Hamas and Hizballah, does not bode well for the interim period.

At this advanced stage of Iran's nuclear activities, it is difficult to assess the implications of Iran going nuclear in isolation from the last effort to stop it. Will that be only a failed US negotiation effort or military action as well? As the US has signaled its distaste for military force and has given Israel a clear red light in this regard, the likely scenario at present is that this will come in the wake of a long, drawn-out and failed US attempt to engage Iran. After assuming the role of the major external player facing Iran, then abandoning both economic and military pressure, it will be primarily US President Barack Obama's failure when Iran ultimately goes nuclear. The US will be exposed globally as weak and ineffective, with an unsophisticated approach to negotiations.

And Obama's probable reaction once it is clear that Iran has become a nuclear state? Additional attempts to negotiate, no doubt--with Iran poised to get the best deal yet, at the expense of all.- Published 28/5/2009 ©

Dr. Emily B. Landau is senior research associate and director of the Arms Control and Regional Security Project at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) at Tel Aviv University. She teaches nuclear arms control at Tel Aviv and Haifa universities.

The psychological significance of the Iranian nuclear program
Sadegh Zibakalam

Ever since the Iranian nuclear program was disclosed in 2003, numerous articles, reports and analyses have explored various aspects of it. There is, however, one important aspect that has not been fully understood. This concerns the psychological significance of the nuclear program for many Iranians, including much of the country's leadership.

The nuclear program has meant for many Iranians a sense of security: an assurance against being attacked by the Islamic regimes' powerful enemies. Some analysts may dismiss this proposition and blame the Islamic regime's own behavior for creating real or perceived enemies. And while it is true that Iran's behavior internationally, particularly under its current hard-line president, does not leave it with many friends, the threat perception many Iranians feel is much more complicated than that implied by President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's behavior and goes much deeper than the last four years during which Ahmadinezhad has been in power. The fact that the nuclear program was started in the late 1980s and early 1990s demonstrates that the underlying reasons for it were cultivated during the 1980s.

In the course of the struggle against the late Shah of Iran in 1978 and 1979 the Islamic leaders, including the late Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, felt that the outside world, including the western powers, was not against them. The feeling of self-righteous and self-confidence prevailed and was intensified after the revolution. The world media broadly treated the Iranian revolutionary leaders as heroes who had managed to overthrow a ruthless and despotic ruler. The Islamic regime was welcomed by the major world powers and was immediately recognized by them. There were of course some hesitations on the part of the Carter administration to establish full diplomatic contact with the newly-formed Islamic regime, but the rest of the world was ready to establish ties with Tehran.

In short, the Islamic leaders had no cause to fear the outside world. They went so far as to cancel some of the advanced military weapons the Shah had ordered from the US. The list included long-range missiles, advanced jet fighters, anti-aircraft missiles, submarines, warships and other offensive military hardware. Rightly or wrongly, the first generation of Islamic revolutionary leaders felt Iran had no enemy, had no quarrel with any of its neighbors and was not contemplating fighting any other state. It therefore didn't need the huge arms stockpile the Shah had gathered and was still receiving from the US at the time of his downfall. Indeed, the Shah's policy to play the role of so-called "gendarme of the Persian Gulf" was always criticized by his opponents, including the Islamists who were now themselves in power. To convert the country's tanks into tractors was ironically a slogan mentioned many years earlier by Ayatollah Khomeini in one of his attacks against the Shah.

The war with Iraq, however, changed much of that early euphoria. To begin with, Iranians never imagined that Iraq would invade their territory. As a just, popular, revolutionary and Islamic regime that enjoyed the support of 98.5 percent of its people, it was inconceivable for the Iranian leaders and public-at-large to imagine that another country would attack them. Even more incomprehensible was that the world would simply stand by and not even condemn Saddam's invasion of their territory. To Iranians' astonishment and horror, neither the West nor the East, neither the Islamic states nor the Arab world, indeed no one at all was prepared to condemn Saddam's invasion of Iran, let alone support Iran in defending itself against the might of the Iraqi army. On the contrary everyone--the European Union, the UN Security Council, Iran's Arab neighbors and Muslim leaders repeatedly urged Iran to restrain itself and "try to resolve the dispute peacefully."

The new Iranian leaders learned their first bitter diplomatic lesson: if you want to remain independent of both the West and the East (one of the cardinal slogans of the Islamic Revolution), then neither will support you even if you are the victim of the most blatant violations of international rules and norms. Iranians learned that rather than waiting for the international community to take action to force the Iraqis to leave their country, they must rely on themselves.

There were more bitter lessons for the Iranians to learn. Having pushed back the Iraqis with huge sacrifices, thereby winning the world's admiration, Iran was once again advised to accept a ceasefire and negotiate with the Iraqi regime. Even opponents of the regime replied to the world, "What about justice, should those who invaded another country go unpunished?" The world showed a similar reaction when the Iraqis, in violation of international sanctions, used chemical weapons. To Iranians' horror, the world once again turned a blind eye on Saddam's atrocities when thousands of Iranians were killed by these weapons.

The eight-year war with Iraq taught Iranians that in this world they are on their own. Ironically, during the war many Iranians experienced the same feeling of loneliness and abandonment by the outside world that perhaps many Jews felt in the concentration camps during the Holocaust. Hence it was no accident that, immediately after the war, it became a top priority for the Iranian leadership to turn the country into a nuclear power.

In a further irony, the West's response to Iran's nuclear program has proved to Iranians that they indeed embarked on the right course. During the past three decades, the only issue regarding which the West has taken Iran seriously is its nuclear program. The West has, inadvertently, taught Iranian leaders that you are taken seriously only when you present the world your "nuclear credit card".- Published 28/5/2009 ©

Sadegh Zibakalam is professor of Iranian Studies at Tehran University.

Nuclear and political policy toward Iran
Mahjoob Zweiri

The problem with Iran is not whether its nuclear plans are for military or civilian use but the nature or perception of the Iranian regime and its role in the Middle East. The current animosity between Israel and Iran precedes any development of nuclear weapons and rests instead on Iran's ambitions and actions in spreading its influence throughout the region.

The international strategy surrounding Iran's nuclear policy suffers from two shortcomings, however. Firstly, there remains a dispute as to the nature of Iran's nuclear program and secondly, regional players have differing priorities toward Iran.

The US and Israel have maintained that for Iran even to have the capability to build a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. This view is not accepted by other members of the UN Security Council, including Russia and China, who have endeavored to allow Iran the use of civil nuclear power as long as safeguards and checks are adhered to.

But the ambiguity over the nature of Iran's nuclear program, increased by Tehran's stance toward international inspection teams, has made it difficult for the US, Israel and other states to devise a firm policy position. The obstruction and expulsions of International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have only increased the lack of certainty. The US National Intelligence Council report of December 2007 stated that, "we judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program." The report's last paragraph however noted that; "we assess with high confidence that Iran has the scientific, technical and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it decides to do so." Independently assessing Iran's nuclear program's scope and nature is still very difficult and this problem is central to the ongoing debate. Without a firm grasp of Iran's current intentions, an atmosphere of mistrust will continue.

Secondly, the United States, Israel and moderate Arab states have varying priorities as to the threats posed by Iran. These differing priorities make a coherent strategy difficult. For Israel, the knowledge that a military nuclear program would seemingly be aimed at their country keeps that concern a top priority. The more immediate threat to Israel, however, is the continued Iranian support of armed militants, namely Hamas and Hizballah, on Israel's borders.

For the US too, this concern takes top priority. In addition, the US is also uneasy over Iran's potential aspirations for regional hegemony. That is the concern Arab states are mostly worried about. They fear a powerful Iran with strong influence over their domestic affairs via non-state actors. These states do not prioritize the nuclear program per se. In fact, with the international community's failure to control Iran's nuclear progress, they themselves have been encouraged to develop nuclear power.

Such lack of unity on what is the most pressing threat Iran poses causes difficulty in creating a coherent policy on Iran's nuclear program. In addition, the lack of agreement over the nature of Iran's nuclear program presents a challenge to stipulating scenarios for what would happen should Iran become a nuclear power. An awareness of the priorities of the US, Israel and Arab states, however, would allow us to hypothesize the future direction these countries' policies toward Iran might take.

The new US administration's approach of using smart power and positive engagement may seem to make a military option less likely. The option, however, will always be on the table due to the sense in Israeli and US security circles that Iran represents the "mother of all threats" to the existence of Israel. Previous experience shows us that this may well be enough to coax decision-makers in Israel to attack Iran. Moreover, the approach of the international community in dealing with Iran on this matter does not indicate a peaceful end to the crisis. The whole issue is being dealt with under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. No previous issue in the region dealt with under Chapter 7 was ever solved through diplomacy. Furthermore, since 2005, Iran has already faced five Security Council resolutions, 1696, 1737, 1747, 1801 and in September 2008, 1835. These can be seen as an acceleration toward more drastic measures and are in fact viewed as acts of aggression in Tehran.

But a military campaign will first and foremost be aimed at ending Iran's influence with non-state actors in the region. Worldwide concern over the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran might then be used to justify this aim.

As we enter a period of electoral change in the Middle East--with Israeli elections already held and Lebanese and Iranian elections imminent--and with a new policy of smart power exerted from the White House, what are the potential scenarios?

Scenario 1 sees the new Iranian president, whether Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad or one of his opponents, continuing to defy international opinion and proceed with Iran's nuclear program. This, coupled with a failure to make progress in the burgeoning Iran-US dialogue, could lead to increased international sanctions. This package of sanctions could include a ban on the export of fuel to Iran that subsequently would be deemed another act of war by Tehran.

Scenario 2 sees a new Iranian president committing to a policy of engagement with the 5+1 group and progress with a US-Iran dialogue that may lead to the granting of security guarantees that would rehabilitate the image and economy of Iran.

Scenario 3 sees Israel attacking Iran on the basis of preempting Iran's accession to full nuclear power status. It may be important to note that it would not appear possible for Israel to attack Iran without first negating the potential threat of Hizballah on its border. An attack on Hizballah by Israel may then be seen as the opening salvo of a military campaign in Iran. However, once Israel becomes involved in a campaign on the border with Lebanon there is no guarantee that this would be a quick and easy war. Regardless, the regional consequences would be considerable.

There is also no evidence that an Israeli air strike could successfully end Iran's nuclear threat due to the disparate locations of the facilities. Some are believed to be buried very deep underground. This may lead Israeli military planners to also target secondary infrastructure assets such as government buildings. Should there be a wider set of military targets, we may also witness a wider response from the Middle East. As sentiments against Israel, America and other western allied countries increase, we may not just witness the beginning of a new stage of conflict but the end of President Obama's smart power diplomacy.- Published 28/5/2009 ©

Dr Mahjoob Zweiri is an Iran specialist with Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies. He is a former director of the Centre for Iranian Studies at the Institute for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Israeli legislation raises issue of loyalty by Richard Boudreaux



Israeli legislation raises issue of loyalty

An ultranationalist party introduces a bill requiring an oath of allegiance to Israel, and another barring the traditional Arab day of mourning over the Jewish state's birth.

Richard Boudreaux

Reporting from Jerusalem — The ultranationalist party led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has unveiled two bills targeting Israel's Arab minority, one that would outlaw the Arabs' traditional day of mourning over the birth of Israel and another that would require an oath of allegiance to the Jewish state.

Both bills face opposition within Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition and uncertain prospects for approval in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

But in the meantime, they are provoking vigorous debate over free expression, internal security and Israel's sense of international isolation.

Palestinian Arabs who remained in Israel after its independence and their descendants make up about one-fifth of the citizenry. Hundreds of thousands of other Arabs fled or were driven into exile in the war surrounding Israel's founding in 1948. Each May 15, Arabs inside and outside Israel gather for public expressions of grief over what they call the Nakba, or catastrophe.

A bill approved by a Cabinet committee Sunday would end Israel's tolerance for these annual demonstrations on its soil, making participation in them punishable by up to three years in prison.

Lieberman's party, Israel Is Our Home, announced Monday that it had prepared a separate bill requiring an oath of allegiance from anyone applying for a national identity card, a document essential for almost any transaction with the state, the school system or financial institutions. The oath would profess loyalty to Israel as "a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state."

The bill does not explicitly target Arab citizens but stems from Lieberman's campaign message that they pose an internal security threat. It would allow the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who refuses to perform some kind of military or national service.
Parliament defeated a similar initiative by Lieberman's party in 2007, but its campaign on the loyalty issue propelled Israel Is Our Home to a strong third-place finish in this year's election.

Unlike Palestinians in the neighboring West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel's Arabs hold full citizenship rights. But they complain of discrimination and have little identification with a country that defines itself as Jewish.

Arab citizens are exempt from military service, which is compulsory for Jews, and few volunteer for it.

Arabs, a small minority in the parliament, reacted with fury to both pieces of legislation.

Jamal Zahalka, head of the Balad party, called the attempt to outlaw Nakba demonstrations "a crazy bill by a crazy government." He said the Jews "drove away our people and now they want to deny us even our cry of pain. This is record-breaking Israeli chutzpah."

Alex Miller, a member of Lieberman's party, said it would be inconceivable for Americans to hold protests against their country's independence. "It's time for us to be proud of our country," he said.

Dissent within the right-leaning governing coalition could trip up the Nakba bill, which faces several hurdles in parliament.

After it cleared a Cabinet committee, 8 votes to 3, three lawmakers from Netanyahu's conservative Likud party asked the Justice Ministry to overturn the decision. One of them, Michael Eitan, said Israel must combat security threats "not by limiting freedom of expression, but rather through belief in the justice of our path."

"This is the last thing this government should be sending out as a message to the democratic world," declared Avishai Braverman of the left-leaning Labor Party, a junior partner in the coalition. He said Israel was isolated enough by Netanyahu's refusal to endorse the goal of an independent Palestinian state.

Netanyahu has taken no position on either bill. In assembling his coalition, his party rejected Lieberman's demand to make a loyalty oath requirement part of the government program. Instead, a written agreement by the two parties said the judiciary should be given power to withdraw government assistance from anyone found to have engaged in terrorism or espionage.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish members of the ruling coalition might also oppose a loyalty oath because some of their constituents object to the establishment of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah.

Analysis: Russia wins Mongol uranium right

Analysis: Russia wins Mongol uranium right
Washington (UPI) May 18, 2009 - While the Western press has largely fixated on the intense international struggle over the Caspian's hydrocarbon riches, farther east in Mongolia another rivalry is brewing between Russia and competitors for another valuable energy source - uranium. Moscow has established a commanding lead to develop the country's energy reserves, and its dominance seems likely only to grow with time. ... more

Russia, US agree first joint uranium export deals

Russia, US agree first joint uranium export deals
Moscow (AFP) May 26, 2009 - Russia said Tuesday it has signed contracts worth one billion dollars to supply uranium for US nuclear reactors, the first such deals between the two countries. Techsnabexport, the export arm of the Russia's Federal Nuclear Energy Agency (Rosatom), signed the contracts in Moscow with three US companies grouped together in the firm Fuelco, Rosatom spokesman Sergei Novikov told AFP. ... more

North Korea Threatens Military Strikes on South


North Korea Threatens Military Strikes on South - Choe Sang-Han, New York Times. North Korea on Wednesday threatened to launch military strikes against South Korea if any of its ships were stopped or searched as part of an American-led operation to intercept vessels suspected of carrying weapons of mass destruction. South Korea agreed to join the global interdiction program after North Korea tested a nuclear device on Monday. The North had earlier warned the South not to participate in the effort, known as the Proliferation Security Initiative. “We consider this a declaration of war against us,” an unidentified North Korean military spokesman said Wednesday in a statement carried by the North’s official news agency KCNA. “Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels including search and seizure will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike.”

North Korea Issues Heated Warning to South - Blaine Harden, Washington Post. North Korea announced Wednesday that it is no longer bound by the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War, the latest and most profound diplomatic aftershock from the country's latest nuclear test two days earlier. North Korea also warned that it would respond "with a powerful military strike" should its ships be stopped by international forces trying to stop the export of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. The twin declarations, delivered by the country's state news agency, followed South Korea's announcement Tuesday that it would join the navies that will stop and inspect suspicious ships at sea. North Korea has repeatedly said that such participation would be a "declaration of war."

North Korea Warns on Ship Searches - Evan Ramstad, Wall Street Journal. North Korea's military said in a statement Wednesday that it would respond with "immediate, strong military measures" if South Korea actually stops and searches any of the North's ships under a US-led effort to halt nuclear-weapons trafficking. In the new statement, North Korea reiterated an earlier one in which it said the South's active participation in the effort would be a declaration of war and went on to add that it no longer considers itself bound by the armistice that ended the Korean War of the 1950s. The new statement was issued by the North's Korean Central News Agency. South Korea on Tuesday had lashed back at the North's latest weapons tests by announcing full participation in the US-led Proliferation Security Initiative. After South Korea's move, North Korea test-fired three short-range missiles, a spokesman for the South Korean military's Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Wednesday.

Analysts Worry Threatening N. Korea with Sanctions Could Create Escalation - Andre de Nesnera, Voice of America. North Korea detonated an underground nuclear explosion in the northeast of the country - its second nuclear test since 2006. David Albright, President of the Institute for Science and International Security, has been following North Korea's nuclear program for many years. "In 2006, it [North Korea] was trying to achieve an explosion of four kilotons and it only got about half a kiloton - so it was generally viewed as not very successful. This time, it looks to be anywhere from one to five kilotons and if North Korea was trying to get four kilotons, then you'd have to judge the test a success," he said. Albright says as a comparison, the bomb the United States detonated over Nagasaki at the end of World War II had a yield of 20 kilotons.

Verifying North Korean Nuke Test Will Take Time, Official Says - Gerry J. Gilmore, American Forces Press Service. It will take time before US and international officials can know with some certitude whether North Korea conducted an underground nuclear-device test yesterday, a senior Defense Department official said here today. Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters that it’s too early to have definitive knowledge regarding yesterday’s purported North Korean underground nuclear test. “I suspect that some of the details that you’re looking for that more tightly define the characteristics of the event will come out like they did a couple of years ago, but that takes some time,” Whitman said. “If you go back to 2006, I think the [Director of National Intelligence] did something after there was sufficient time to collect the necessary evidence to be able to make a definitive statement.” North Korea’s nuclear device and ballistic-missile activities “pose a great threat to the peace and security of the world and I strongly condemn their reckless action,” President Barack Obama told reporters yesterday at the White House. The United States and international organizations are working together to construct an assessment of North Korea’s most-recent purported nuclear test, Whitman said. It’s believed that North Korea carried out its first underground nuclear test in October 2006. North Korea also has conducted several missile and rocket tests over the past decade; the most-recent was a long-range rocket shot conducted in April. Whitman didn’t comment on news reports saying North Korea conducted short-range missile tests today. North Korea has conducted several missile tests over the past decade. In a highly publicized incident, North Korea fired a missile that passed over Japan in August 1998.

Report: North Korea Fires Another Short-Range Missile - Voice of America. A South Korean news report says North Korea has fired yet another short-range missile off its eastern coast. The Yonhap news agency reports that Pyongyang launched the missile into the sea late Tuesday. Earlier in the day, North Korea fired two short-range missiles. Yonhap says those followed three missile launches on Monday after what North Korea said was a nuclear test. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus South Korea and Japan, met Tuesday for discussions on how to deal with the North Korean actions. She said they held "very serious, concrete talks" on a possible resolution to impose additional sanctions on North Korea.

North Korea Said to Test More Missiles - John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times. Tensions on the Korean peninsula rose further Tuesday as Seoul announced that it would join a US-led initiative to curb nuclear trade, and North Korea reportedly test-launched three more short-range missiles. At the United Nations, representatives of the five permanent Security Council members, plus South Korea and Japan, began meetings that could lead to new sanctions against North Korea. North Korea said Monday that it had conducted a nuclear test and several short-range missile launches, drawing sharp criticism from world capitals and a warning that it had violated a Security Council resolution.,0,2320407.story

Washington Says North Korea Will 'Pay a Price' - David Gollust , Voice of America. The United States said Tuesday it is working for quick action in the UN Security Council to make North Korea "pay a price" for its nuclear test Monday. But officials say they still hope to get Pyongyang to return to Chinese-sponsored disarmament talks. State Department officials say the United States wants the Security Council to impose tangible costs on North Korea for defying a 2006 resolution and conducting its second nuclear test. But they also say they want to keep the door open for Pyongyang to come back to the negotiating table, where in 2007 it agreed in principle to scrap its nuclear program for energy aid and diplomatic benefits. The Obama administration is pleased with the early response from the United Nations, where Russia and China, which have resisted tough action on North Korea, joined in a strong statement condemning the nuclear test.

China Debates Its Bond with North Korea - Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times. When is it time to dump an old friend who insists on behaving badly? The debate is raging in China. North Korea's latest nuclear test raises the question of just how long the bonds forged between old communist allies will endure. The test was conducted barely 50 miles from the Chinese border. The ground rumbled in northeast China, and some schools were evacuated because of fears of an earthquake. "It was quite shocking. The location where they did this test was a lot closer to China than to where [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il is living in Pyongyang," said Zhang Liangui, a Korea expert with Beijing's Central Party School, where Communist Party officials are trained.,0,4095573.story

Leadership Mystery Amid N. Korea’s Nuclear Work - Mark Landler, New York Times. In dealing with North Korea, American officials are reduced to studying two-month-old photographs of its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-il, to calculate how long he is likely to live. The new administration’s North Korea team includes a special emissary who works part time as an academic dean and a State Department official who has yet to be confirmed by Congress. And as President Obama tries to find a way to punish North Korea for its latest nuclear test and missile launchings, his senior aides acknowledge that every policy option employed by previous presidents over the past dozen years - whether hard or soft, political or economic - has been fruitless in stopping North Korea from building a nuclear weapon.

North Korea Tests Obama - Washington Times editorial. While President Obama pushes soft power, the North Korean dictator plays hardball. North Korea's underground nuclear test and missile trials show that the regime is probing Mr. Obama's resolve. Pyongyang apparently has concluded that the president's rhetoric of conciliation and understanding betrays serious weakness as a global leader. Like all tyrants, Kim Jong-il sees an open hand as a weak one. North Korea is determined to be a nuclear power. Pyongyang has vowed to continue missile tests and uranium enrichment. The Korean Central News Agency, the communist regime's mouthpiece, declared the regime's goal: to "further [increase] the power of nuclear weapons and steadily [develop] nuclear technology."

How to Reduce the Nuclear Threat - William J. Perry, Brent Scowcroft and Charles D. Ferguson, Wall Street Journal opinion. Monday's North Korean nuclear test was a dramatic reminder of the challenges to eliminating nuclear weapons world-wide. President Barack Obama has stated that he intends to pursue this goal while maintaining a reliable nuclear deterrent for the United States and its allies. But achieving nuclear abolition will likely require many years. Indeed, it is difficult to envision the necessary geopolitical conditions that would permit even approaching that goal. Unless the US and its partners re-energize international efforts to lessen the present dangers of nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism, they will never have the hope of reaching this long-term objective. An effective strategy to reduce nuclear dangers must build on five pillars: revitalizing strategic dialogue with nuclear-armed powers, particularly Russia and China; strengthening the international nuclear nonproliferation regime; reaffirming the protection of the US nuclear umbrella to our allies; maintaining the credibility of the US nuclear deterrent; and implementing best security practices for nuclear weapons and weapons-usable materials worldwide.

A Shrinking Deterrent - Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Washington Times. North Korea celebrated Memorial Day with an underground test of a nuclear weapon reportedly the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. With that and a series of missile launches that day and subsequently, the regime in Pyongyang has sent an unmis- takable signal: The Hermit Kingdom has nothing but contempt for the so-called "international community" and the empty rhetoric and diplomatic posturing that usually precede new rewards for the North's bad behavior. The seismic waves from the latest detonation seem likely to rattle more than the windows and members of the UN Security Council. Even as that body huffs and puffs about Kim Jong-il's belligerence, Japan and South Korea are coming to grips with an unhappy reality: They increasingly are on their own in contending with a nuclear-armed North Korea.