International community refuses to deal with Hamas
Thursday, July 19, 2007, 05:10 PM - Middle East
The United States and European Union are continuing with their refusal to deal with Hamas as Tony Blair prepares to start his new job as Middle-East peace envoy.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, both rejected any dealings with Hamas, even when questioned whether the stance could compromise Blair's work with the Palestinians.
"Hamas, I think, knows what is expected for international respectability,'' Rice told reporters at a news conference in Lisbon, shortly before the international diplomatic Quartet was to hold its first high-level meeting with Blair.
She said neither the Quartet - the US, EU, the UN and Russia - nor Washington would deal with Hamas unless it recognises Israel's right to exist and renounces terrorism, ruling out its participation in an upcoming Middle East peace meeting called by US President George Bush.
Speaking for the EU, Amado agreed. "I see no conditions at the moment to engage (in) new relations with Hamas without a new position from them,'' he said.
Source Belfast Telegraph
Iraqi link to Bin Laden captured: US
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 06:07 PM - Middle East
US forces say they have have arrested a top Iraqi militant who acted as a link between Al Qaeda's Iraqi offshoot and Osama bin Laden, the global jihadist network's Saudi founder.
Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner said American troops had arrested Khaled al-Mashhadani, a senior Iraqi figure in a local group otherwise dominated by foreign-born extremists, on July 4 in the northern city of Mosul.
Brigadier-General Bergner said that under interrogation, Mashhadani revealed propaganda tapes released by Al Qaeda in Iraq's supposed Iraqi kingpin, Omar al-Baghdadi, were in fact voiced by an actor under the command of an Egyptian militant.
"Mashhadani is believed to be the most senior Iraqi in the Al Qaeda in Iraq network," he said.
"He is a close associate of Abu Ayyub al-Masri, the Egyptian-born head of Al Qaeda in Iraq."
The statement came at a time of intense dispute in Washington about the place of Iraq in the United States' global war on terror.
The US military sees Al Qaeda as a foreign-led interloper rather than an Iraqi resistance group and wants to isolate it from support from nationalist Iraqis opposed to foreign interference.
Meanwhile, President George W Bush and the White House are keen boost support for the war by tying Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq to bin Laden's network, which was behind the September 11 attacks on US soil. - See Iraqi link to Bin Laden captured: US for the complete article.
North Korea has shut all nuclear reactors
Wednesday, July 18, 2007, 04:27 AM - Asia
NORTH Korea has shut down all of its nuclear facilities after earlier closing its key Yongbyon reactor, the head of the UN atomic watchdog has said.
"Yes, we have verified that all five nuclear facilities have been shut down,'' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei said.
His announcement came as a new round of six-nation talks was due to resume on North Korea's denuclearisation drive.
Top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said in Beijing on Tuesday, after meeting the communist state's chief envoy, that no major obstacles currently impeded the drive to disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons programme.
Mr Hill held a series of bilateral meetings with North Korea's Kim Kye-Gwan ahead of the six-party talks.
Mr ElBaradei had confirmed on Monday during a visit to Bangkok that his inspectors had verified the shutting down of North Korea's main nuclear reactor and were "working to verify the shutdown of the other four facilities.'' - See North Korea has shut all nuclear reactors for the full article.
Bush calls for conference to restart Mideast peace talks.
Monday, July 16, 2007, 08:31 PM - Middle EastPresident George W. Bush called Monday for an international conference to include Israel, the Palestinian Authority and some of their Arab neighbors to help restart peace talks and pledged more aid to President Mahmoud Abbas' government. Bush's high-profile effort to resolve the Middle East conflict came hours after Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert met with Abbas and said Israel will free 250 Palestinian prisoners Friday.
Speaking at the White House, Bush said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would preside over the conference, which would include representatives from Israel, the Palestinians "and their neighbors in the region."
Participants would include only governments that support the creation of a Palestinian state, he said. The conference will take place later this year.
Bush said the past few years had seen "some hopeful, some dispiriting" changes in the Middle East. And he called the present time "a moment of clarity for all Palestinians. And now comes a moment of choice."
Rice "and her counterparts will review the progress that has been made toward building Palestinian institutions," the president said.
"They will look for innovative and effective ways to support further reform. And they will provide diplomatic support for the parties in their bilateral discussions and negotiations so that we can move forward on a successful path to a Palestinian state," he added. - See Bush calls for conference to restart Mideast peace talks for the complete article.
Gorbachev: Russia's Suspension of Arms Treaty Justified.
Monday, July 16, 2007, 02:29 AM - RussiaFormer Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev says Russia's decision to suspend participation in a major European arms treaty is an "absolutely logical" move.
Mr. Gorbachev signed the original Conventional Forces in Europe treaty - a key Cold War-era agreement with the United States and NATO - in 1990.
The treaty was revised in 1999, after the Warsaw Pact communist alliance was dissolved, but neither the United States nor NATO's members have ratified those changes. Mr. Gorbachev tells Russia's Interfax news agency it would be "incomprehensible" for Moscow to abide by the treaty under those circumstances.
U.S. plans to deploy a missile shield in central Europe are widely seen as the major factor behind Russia's treaty suspension. Mr. Gorbachev, however, says Russia wants to save the treaty, by reopening talks on the accord.
The United States, NATO and the European Union all have said they are disappointed by Mr. Putin's suspension of the treaty.
Mr. Putin hinted at such action earlier this year and linked the treaty issue to the U.S. missile plan. Official announcement of the Kremlin decree on Saturday in Moscow did not mention the missile proposal, but a Russian Foreign Ministry statement said the decision was based NATO's failure to ratify the 1999 revision. - See Gorbachev: Russia's Suspension of Arms Treaty Justified for the complete article.
N Korea announces closure of reactor.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 07:14 AM - AsiaIt took almost four years of negotiations, 50 000 tons of oil and a complex multinational banking deal to get North Korea to announce the closure of its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor.
Now comes the hard part.
All six countries which began negotiating in August 2003 - the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - say their ultimate aim is a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
But the path to that goal is strewn with potential pitfalls.
The US State Department said on Saturday it had been told by the North that Yongbyon's reactor and other facilities have been closed. International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are to verify the shutdown.
The closure of Yongbyon, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium, would be "a significant accomplishment," said Peter Beck, Northeast Asia director of the International Crisis Group.
"The question is where we go from here," he told AFP late last week. "I'm not sure if the players have a really clear road map. That will be a challenge."
The closure, to be rewarded with 50 000 tons of oil from South Korea, is the first step in a six-nation February deal.
Progress was blocked for months by a dispute over North Korean funds frozen in Macau over US claims they were the proceeds of illegal activities. In an extraordinary development, the New York Federal Reserve helped return the allegedly dirty cash to Pyongyang via Russia.
The North will receive another 950 000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, plus major diplomatic benefits and security guarantees, if it goes on to declare all nuclear programmes and permanently disable all nuclear facilities. See
N Korea announces closure of reactor for the complete article.
UN Inspectors Ready to Verify Shutdown of North Korea's Reactor.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 07:10 AM - AsiaU.N. inspectors are set to begin verifying North Korea's announcement that it has shut down its main nuclear reactor.
The U.S. chief nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, told reporters in Tokyo that the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors are ready to begin their work Sunday.
The inspectors arrived in Pyongyang Saturday, as North Korea informed the United States it had shut down its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.
South Korea Sunday welcomed the North's announcement. The Foreign Ministry in Seoul said it is an encouraging step in the nuclear disarmament process.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack says Washington hopes for rapid progress in implementing the next phase of the six-nation agreement on ending North Korea's nuclear program. See UN Inspectors Ready to Verify Shutdown of North Korea's Reactor for complete article.
Iran to grant more access to inspectors.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 03:36 AM - Middle EastIran's decision to grant international inspectors greater access to a major nuclear facility was greeted by skepticism as well as cautious hope yesterday among nonproliferation experts.
Under the terms of an agreement announced yesterday, the United Nations' international atomic watchdog will be granted access again to the heavy-water reactor at Arak by the end of the month. International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, inspectors were barred this year from the remote facility in the mountains of western Iran after enjoying previous access.
Tehran, the Iranian capital, is at loggerheads with the U.S. and the U.N. over Iran's nuclear program. Iranian officials insist that their country is developing nuclear technology to meet its growing domestic energy needs and to achieve other peaceful purposes. But governments in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East fear that Iran is covertly building infrastructure for the production of atomic weapons and have punished Iran with sanctions.
Heavy-water reactors like the one in Arak produce isotopes used in medicine and for other peaceful purposes. But they also produce plutonium, which can be used for the core of nuclear warheads.
The atomic agency also announced yesterday that Iran had agreed on unspecified inspection "safeguards" for the nuclear fuel enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Natanz and a new roster of inspectors to enter the country.
The accord doesn't address Tehran's continued enrichment of uranium at Natanz, the main issue of contention between Iran and the international community and the reason the U.N. Security Council has imposed economic sanctions on the regime. But a diplomat close to the inspection agency said that the agreement might show a new willingness by the Iranians to be more transparent. See Iran to grant more access to inspectors for the complete article.
Iraq report card not accurate: Maliki.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 03:26 AM - Middle Eastraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki says the country's forces are getting ready to take over security responsibility in Iraq but still need more training and equipment.
Mr Maliki has called the latest White House progress report on the situation in Iraq submitted to Congress "positive" but not entirely fair.
"We are fully confident that we are able to take full responsibility for security any time the international forces wish to withdraw," he said.
Thursday's progress report said Iraq had failed to successfully prepare its forces for taking over the security in the country, a key benchmark set by the US Congress.
The embattled Prime Minister, who is under pressure from the US to boost his security forces, says local troops have gained confidence as they have started to play a greater role in planning and managing operations.
"This heralds a new phase in which they can take over the security responsibility in its entirety but they need more equipment and training," he said.
"The Government is serious about increasing its forces and equipping them so they are more able to bear the responsibility in case foreign troops decide to withdraw." See Iraq report card not accurate: Maliki for the complete article.
Moving Iraq Forward.
Sunday, July 15, 2007, 03:18 AM - Middle EastIn its just published Third Quarter Forecast for 2007, private intelligence firm Strategic Forecasting (STRATFOR) predicts that the governments of the United States and Iran "...are now closer than ever to reaching an agreement..." on Iraq. If such a deal is indeed finalized, STRATFOR expects Iraq to "...become somewhat ordered near the quarter's end...." If no agreement can be reached, however, the analysts in downtown Austin foresee full-blown violence that will likely last for several more years.
As things stand now, I believe the likelihood of any U.S.-Iranian pact on Iraq will be sabotaged not by the negotiating parties from Washington and Tehran, but rather by the Iraqis themselves. Thus far it has been the Iraqis that have been the main obstacle to peace, regardless of what the United States and Iran may want to see happen. It is true that foreign fighters have played a role in the continuing violence, making grand efforts to stoke sectarian conflict by attacking Sunni and Shi'a Iraqi civilians indiscriminately. And it is equally true that Iraq has become a central front in the Global War on Terrorism since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. But the main source of the fighting does not stem from the multitude of terrorist organizations operating within Iraq's borders. The chief fomenters of violence are Iraqis, and they are killing each other by the tens of thousands.
Why is this happening? Why would Iraqis insist on sectarian warfare that prevents national reconciliation and the possibility of a stable and secure nation? I suspect that it is because the Iraqis themselves have no real desire to get along with each other and to move the country forward. There is a deep-seated hatred between the three main ethnic groups, a hatred that was violently suppressed under Saddam's ruthless dictatorship, and none of the fighting parties have thus far been willing to take any meaningful action to end the cycle of violence that is preventing political progress and the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces. See
Moving Iraq Forward. for the complete article.