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History > 2009 > USA > Politics > International (I)

 

 

 

Dwayne Booth

Mr. Fish

Cagle

15 January 2009

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Obama

‘Gravely Concerned’

About Pakistan

 

April 30, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and JEFF ZELENY

 

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Wednesday that he was “gravely concerned” about the stability of the Pakistani government but that he was confident Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would not fall into the hands of Islamic militants.

Speaking at a prime-time news conference on his 100th day in office, Mr. Obama called the government in Pakistan, where army forces are at war with Taliban insurgents who have been advancing on Islamabad, “very fragile.” Pakistan’s leader, President Asif Ali Zardari, is to visit Washington next week, and American officials have been pressing his government to be more aggressive in battling the insurgency.

“I am more concerned that the civilian government right now is very fragile,” Mr. Obama said, because it lacks the capacity to deliver services like health care and the rule of law. “As a consequence,” he added, “it’s very difficult for them to gain the support and loyalty of their people.”

Mr. Obama also hit back at critics including former Vice President Dick Cheney, maintaining that harsh interrogation techniques used by the previous administration did not yield any information that could not have been obtained through other means.

Responding to the fallout over his decision to release secret memorandums that laid out the Bush administration’s legal justification for interrogation techniques like waterboarding — which Mr. Obama called torture — the president said that none of the intelligence reports he had seen left him thinking such methods were justified or necessary. “I will do whatever is required to keep the American people safe,” Mr. Obama said. “But I am convinced that the best way to do that is to make sure we’re not taking shortcuts that undermine who we are.”

He offered no shift, however, in his opposition to an independent inquiry into the Bush administration’s policies on the interrogation of terror suspects.

During the one-hour news conference, Mr. Obama struck a variety of notes, ranging from historian-in-chief to mom-in-chief, when he lectured Americans to take precautions against the swine flu.

“Wash your hands when you shake hands; cover your mouth when you cough,” he said. “I know it sounds trivial, but it makes a huge difference.”

There were a few light moments, particularly when Mr. Obama was asked what has surprised, troubled, enchanted and humbled him in the past 100 days. “Wait, let me get this all down,” he said, taking out a pen.

He was surprised, he answered, by the number of critical issues that appear to be coming to a head all at the same time.

“I didn’t anticipate the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said. “The typical president has two or three big problems, we have seven or eight.”

He said he was troubled, or at least, “sobered” by how much “political posturing and bickering takes place even when we’re in the middle of really big crises.”

He called himself enchanted by American servicemen and women, and their sacrifices they make, although he allowed that “enchanted” might not be the exact characterization.

By the time he got to what humbled him, he was ready to expound, going on about the how the presidency was “just part of a much broader tapestry of American life” and how “the ship of state is an ocean liner, not a speed boat.”

Often over the course of the hour, he sought to draw distinctions between himself and his predecessor, and said that he had changed America’s relations with the world. “We have rejected the false choice between our security and our ideals,” he said.

Asked about his administration’s support in several recent court cases for the Bush administration’s position that the government had a broad right to invoke national security secrets to block litigation, Mr. Obama responded that he wants to modify the so-called state secrets doctrine, but had not had time to do so when the court cases came up.

“I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified,” he said. “I think right now it’s over broad.”

Addressing the economy, Mr. Obama said his administration had made progress but that there was much more to be done and that he ultimately wants a more stable economy less prone to boom and bust.

“We cannot go back to an economy that is built on a pile of sand — on inflated home prices and maxed-out credit cards, on overleveraged banks and outdated regulations that allowed the recklessness of a few to threaten the prosperity of us all,” Mr. Obama said in an eight-minute speech before taking questions from reporters.

He offered a new catchphrase to describe his economic program, calling for a “new foundation for growth,” that would encompass increased spending on issues like education and renewable energy.

Mr. Obama suggested that the pressures of governing at a time of economic crisis, war and now a potential flu pandemic have led him to pay less attention to some issues of intense interest to his political base. Asked if he would keep a campaign promise to eliminate federal, state and local restrictions on abortion, he said that while he favored abortion rights, getting rid of those restrictions were “not my highest legislative priority.”

Asked about how he would use the government’s power as a major shareholder in companies like General Motors and Citigroup, he said the government should limit its involvement.

“I don’t want to run auto companies. I don’t want to run banks,” Mr. Obama said. “I’ve got two wars I’ve got to run already. I’ve got more than enough to do. So the sooner we can get out of that business, the better off we’re going to be.”

The news conference in the East Room of the White House was the final act in a daylong series of events staged to mark Mr. Obama’s 100th day in office.

Earlier Wednesday, Mr. Obama traveled to Missouri for a town meeting in a state that he narrowly lost last year. He offered an upbeat assessment of his first three months in the White House, but implored patience as he tackles a mountain of challenges, saying he could not work miracles.

The tone of Mr. Obama’s remarks on Wednesday reflected an assessment from several advisers that the next chapter of his presidency is likely to be even more difficult than the first. But his job approval rating remains high, particularly given the wave of challenges on his desk, which in the last week grew even larger with the first health emergency of his administration.

    Obama ‘Gravely Concerned’ About Pakistan, NYT, 30.4.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/30/us/politics/30obama.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Next Foreign Crisis Could Be Next Door

 

March 25, 2009
The New York Times
By MARC LACEY and GINGER THOMPSON

 

MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s economy is being dragged down by the recession to the north. American addicts have turned Mexico into a drug superhighway, and its police and soldiers are under assault from American guns. Nafta promised 15 years ago that Mexican trucks would be allowed on American roads, but Congress said they were unsafe.

United States-Mexican relations are in the midst of what can be described as a neighborly feud, one that stretches along a lengthy shared fence. That border fence, which has become a wall in some places, is another irritant.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives in Mexico on Wednesday for what will be the first in a parade of visits by top administration officials, including President Obama himself next month, to try to head off a major foreign policy crisis close to home. They will find a country mired in a deepening slump, miffed by signs of protectionism in its largest trading partner, and torn apart by a drug war for which many in Mexico blame customers in the United States.

There is plenty of angst on the other side as well. Many American communities are worried about drug violence spilling over the border, and about Mexican immigrants taking scarce jobs. That is forcing the Obama administration, already managing two wars and a deep recession, to fashion a new Mexico policy earlier than it might have wished.

Mr. Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, is finding that these foreign challenges touch on some of the thorniest issues in domestic politics, including immigration, free trade and gun control. The Bush administration disturbed relations by failing to deliver on its promise of immigration reform. And the Obama administration, in its first weeks in office, has set off new tensions with a series of conflicting signals and false starts.

Some in the administration have suggested that the Mexican government is not in control of all of its territory, even as other officials praise President Felipe Calderón’s resolve to fight the drug trade. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. urged and then backed away from reinstituting a ban on sales of assault rifles, which are fueling the drug violence.

Mr. Obama acknowledged contingency plans to deploy troops to the border if too much of the violence spilled over into the United States, but he said almost in the same breath that no such deployment was imminent.

“I think it’s unacceptable if you’ve got drug gangs crossing our borders and killing U.S. citizens,” Mr. Obama told reporters when asked if he might deploy troops. “I think if one U.S. citizen is killed because of foreign nationals who are engaging in violent crime, that’s enough of a concern to do something about it.”

The bloody drug war, which has caused 7,000 deaths in 16 months, has become the principal sore point between the countries. Although addiction rates among Mexicans are on the rise, the vast majority of the drugs flowing through Mexico will be sniffed, smoked or injected by Americans. On top of that, 90 percent of the guns used by Mexican drug cartels originated in the United States, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

The suggestion by Mr. Obama that American troops might be moved toward the border to combat drug cartels prompted Gen. Guillermo Galván, Mexico’s defense secretary, to assert that no deployment of foreign soldiers would be allowed on Mexican soil. History was at the root of the concern here, as even Mexican schoolchildren know of the war a century and a half ago in which the United States seized half of Mexico’s territory.

Also riling the Mexicans was Congressional testimony by Dennis C. Blair, the director of national intelligence, suggesting that drug cartels controlled some parts of Mexico. The Calderón administration reacted angrily, with Interior Minister Fernando Gómez Mont saying that such remarks “are unfortunate and don’t contribute to generating a climate of confidence that is indispensable to win this fight.”

For his part, Mr. Calderón has spoken of an American “campaign” against Mexico, and has pointed out that the murder rate is higher in New Orleans than in his country. Mexico’s battered image, as outlined in State Department travel advisories, is of particular concern to Mr. Calderón because it scares off potential investors and tourists.

The litany of angry rebuttals from Mexico has grown so fierce that an American diplomat here, Leslie Bassett, wrote a column in a Mexican newspaper the other day, saying, “No Obama appointee has referred to Mexico as a failed state; every Obama appointee posed the question has acknowledged the existing security challenges, commended President Calderón’s fortitude, and dismissed the idea out of hand.”

State Department officials said that one of the critical goals of Mr. Obama’s visit would be to “open the aperture” of the bi-national agenda so that the relationship was not limited — some say, held hostage — to a single issue.

“It is important to underscore that this is a big relationship,” Assistant Secretary of State Thomas A. Shannon Jr. said in an interview. “It is very broad and deep. And it should not be narrowed down to a couple of issues.”

Few of those issues are simple, however.

After the United States shut the border to Mexican trucks, in violation of a promise it made under the North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico placed tariffs on 89 American products, from grapes to dishwashers, in some cases appearing to select items from the districts of well-connected members of Congress to increase the action’s impact.

Mexico is reeling from the recession in the United States. Although Mr. Calderón speaks often of how well prepared his country is for the global downturn, Mexico’s export factories have lost some 65,000 jobs since October, one of many tangible effects. Exports fell 32 percent in January, and automobile exports fell 50 percent in the first two months of 2009. Mexico’s central bank expects the economy to contract no more than 1.8 percent this year, but some investment banks forecast shrinkage of as much as 5 percent.

Last week, Mr. Obama made clear that many problems, including the drug trade and immigration reform, will have to be dealt with together.

“I don’t think we can do this piecemeal,” Mr. Obama said during a town hall meeting in California. “I’m going to be working with President Calderón in Mexico to figure out how we get control over the border that’s become more violent because of the drug trade. We have to combine that with cracking down on employers who are exploiting undocumented workers.”

 

Marc Lacey reported from Mexico City, and Ginger Thompson from Washington. Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting from Mexico City.

    Next Foreign Crisis Could Be Next Door, NYT, 25.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/25/world/americas/25mexico.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Iran’s Supreme Leader Dismisses Obama Overtures

 

March 21, 2009
Filed at 9:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's supreme leader rebuffed President Barack Obama's latest outreach on Saturday, saying Tehran was still waiting to see concrete changes in U.S. policy.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was responding to a video message Obama released Friday in which he reached out to Iran on the occasion of Nowruz, the Persian new year, and expressed hopes for an improvement in nearly 30 years of strained relations.

Khamenei holds the last word on major policy decisions, and how Iran ultimately responds to any concrete U.S. effort to engage the country will depend largely on his say.

In his most direct assessment of Obama and prospects for better ties, Khamenei said there will be no change between the two countries unless the American president puts an end to U.S. hostility toward Iran and brings ''real changes'' in foreign policy.

''They chant the slogan of change but no change is seen in practice. We haven't seen any change,'' Khamenei said in a speech before a crowd of tens of thousands in the northeastern holy city of Mashhad.

In his video message, Obama said the United States wants to engage Iran, but he also warned that a right place for Iran in the international community ''cannot be reached through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions that demonstrate the true greatness of the Iranian people and civilization.''

Khamenei asked how Obama could congratulate Iranians on the new year and accuse the country of supporting terrorism and seeking nuclear weapons in the same message.

Khamenei said there has been no change even in Obama's language compared to that of his predecessor.

''He (Obama) insulted the Islamic Republic of Iran from the first day. If you are right that change has come, where is that change? What is the sign of that change? Make it clear for us what has changed.''

Still, Khamenei left the door open to better ties with America, saying ''should you change, our behavior will change too.''

Diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Iran were cut after the U.S. Embassy hostage-taking after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, which toppled the pro-U.S. shah and brought to power a government of Islamic clerics.

The United States cooperated with Iran in late 2001 and 2002 in the Afghanistan conflict, but the promising contacts fizzled -- and were extinguished completely when Bush branded Tehran part of the ''Axis of Evil.''

Khamenei enumerated a long list of Iranian grievances against the United States over the past 30 years and said the U.S. was still interfering in Iranian affairs.

He mentioned U.S. sanctions against Iran, U.S. support for Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during his 1980-88 war against Iran and the downing of an Iranian airliner over the Persian Gulf in 1988.

He also accused the U.S. of provoking ethnic tension in Iran and said Washington's accusations that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons are a sign of U.S. hostility. Iran says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes, like energy production, not for building weapons.

''Have you released Iranian assets? Have you lifted oppressive sanctions? Have you given up mudslinging and making accusations against the great Iranian nation and its officials? Have you given up your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? Even the language remains unchanged,'' Khamenei said.

Khamenei, wearing a black turban and dark robes, said America was hated around the world for its arrogance, as the crowd chanted ''Death to America.''

Prominent political analyst Saeed Leilaz said Khamenei's comments did not amount to a rejection of better ties with the Obama administration. Rather, Iran's current hard-line leaders need to publicly maintain some degree of anti-U.S. rhetoric to bolster their own position, especially with their conservative base, he said.

''Iran's ruling Islamic establishment needs to lessen tensions with the U.S. and at the same time maintain a controlled animosity with Washington,'' he said. ''Iran can't praise Obama all of a sudden.''

Khamenei will also likely stand his ground as long as he remains concerned about the United States' ability to destabilize Iran, he said.

For its part, the Obama administration must take practical steps such as lifting a ban on selling Iran spare parts for passenger aircraft or considering unfreezing Iranian assets in the U.S., Leilaz said.

Obama has signaled a willingness to speak directly with Iran about its nuclear program and hostility toward Israel, a key U.S. ally. At his inauguration last month, the president said his administration would reach out to rival states, declaring ''we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.''

''They say we have stretched a hand toward Iran. ... If a hand is stretched covered with a velvet glove but it is cast iron inside, that makes no sense,'' Khamenei said.

    Iran’s Supreme Leader Dismisses Obama Overtures, NYT, 21.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/03/21/world/AP-ML-Iran-Obama.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Speaks to Congress on Economy

 

March 5, 2009
The New York Times
By BRIAN KNOWLTON

 

WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged American leaders on Wednesday to “seize the moment,” in tandem with their European allies, to work through the global economic crisis and prepare for a future that brings “the biggest expansion of middle-class incomes and jobs the world has ever seen.”

Speaking from one of the most prominent stages accorded any visiting foreign dignitary — a joint meeting of Congress — Mr. Brown called for a clear rejection of protectionist tendencies as the world struggles toward recovery.

The address came a day after President Obama assured Mr. Brown that the “special relationship” between the two countries was as strong as ever — despite what some observers have described as coolness in the handling of the prime minister’s visit. The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said again Wednesday that “the relationship remains strong and special.”

In any case, the senators and congressmen, joined by American military leaders and other dignitaries, gave the prime minister a warm welcome, interrupting his 45-minute speech at least a dozen times with standing ovations. One of those came after he announced that Senator Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, who is suffering from brain cancer, had been granted an honorary knighthood.

The chamber was nearly full as Mr. Brown spoke; the Capitol interns who are sometimes summoned to fill empty seats on such occasions were relatively few in number.

Mr. Brown praised his host country as one of remarkable strength, optimism and resilience. “America is not just the indispensable nation,” he said, “you are the irrepressible nation.”

Those strengths, he added, needed to be marshaled fully now in what Mr. Brown said would have to be concerted world action to stimulate national economies, bolster banks and improve their oversight, and help developing countries survive the downturn.

Echoing a point that Mr. Obama has begun to make, Mr. Brown argued that a big part of the solution to the crisis lay in having confidence that it can be solved.

“While today people are anxious and feel insecure, over the next two decades our world economy will double in size,” Mr. Brown said. “Twice as many opportunities for business, twice as much prosperity, and the biggest expansion of middle class incomes and jobs the world has ever seen.”

He argued that the United States, under a president who enjoys great popularity at home and sometimes even greater popularity abroad, would find a rare receptiveness to its efforts to move forward.

“Let me say that you now have the most pro-American European leadership in living memory,” Mr. Brown said.

“There is no old Europe, no new Europe, there is only your friend Europe. So once again I say we should seize the moment — because never before have I seen a world so willing to come together. Never before has that been more needed. And never before have the benefits of cooperation been so far-reaching.”

He also vowed to continue close cooperation in the fight against terrorism, in efforts to induce Iran to suspend its nuclear program, and in moves to curtail global warming. And he paid tribute to the soldiers of both countries who had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Brown, who was chancellor of the Exchequer, or finance minister, in the Labour Party government of Tony Blair, has been calling for a “global new deal” with every country working to end the downturn.

The prime minister has been laying the groundwork for a meeting on April 2 in London of the leaders of the Group of 20 major economies. He has been calling for greater accountability and transparency, and stricter oversight, for banking and financial institutions around the world.

Mr. Obama has supported many of the same goals, at least in principle.

But Julianne Smith, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said that Mr. Brown might not get all he wanted.

“I don’t think he’s going to be able to go back home and say ‘Obama and I see completely eye-to-eye on some big global regulation scheme,’ ” she said.

Part of that is a general American skepticism toward such internationalist approaches, Ms. Smith said. “Europeans, even the Brits, have a higher level of comfort with global machinery and bureaucratic machinery than Americans do,” she said.

Commentators on both sides of the ocean have catalogued a number of signs that the reception accorded to Mr. Brown in Washington was not quite as warm as the ones British prime ministers enjoyed during the Bush years: No invitation to Camp David, no full-scale news conference, no state dinner — and while there was a meeting between the men’s wives, none was held between the two couples. Mr. Brown, whose own approval ratings in Britain are suffering, had hoped to profit from his visit to the popular American president.

Mr. Obama brushed such concerns aside on Tuesday, saying that the two countries were united by a bond “that will not break.”

And Mr. Brown said the same on Wednesday: “Partnerships of purpose are indestructible,” he said. “There is no power on Earth that can drive us apart.”

    Brown Speaks to Congress on Economy, NYT, 5.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/05/world/europe/05brown.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Pledges to Press For Palestinian State

 

March 3, 2009
Filed at 11:02 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pledged on Tuesday to press hard for Palestinian statehood, putting Washington on a possible collision course with Israeli Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu.

"We happen to believe that moving toward a two-state solution is in Israel's best interests," Clinton told a news conference with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Netanyahu, whom Clinton met later, has spoken of Palestinian self-government but has shied away from saying he backed a U.S. and Palestinian vision of statehood that has been at the heart of Middle East peace talks.

Clinton, on her first visit to the region as secretary of state, said Washington believed "the inevitability of working toward a two-state solution is inescapable." She promised the United States "will be vigorously engaged" in its pursuit.

Speaking to reporters, Netanyahu made no mention of Clinton's call for a two-state solution. Dina Libster, a spokeswoman for Netanyahu, said "the subject didn't come up" in the meeting. "They didn't discuss that."

Netanyahu said that during their talks, he and Clinton voiced a strong desire for future cooperation and agreed that "creative thinking" was needed in moving toward peace.

Earlier, at the news conference, Clinton also said two U.S. officials would be going to Syria for preliminary talks on improving relations between Washington and Damascus, which engaged Israel in indirect peace talks last year.

Asked about Iran's nuclear program and a possible U.S. dialogue with Tehran, Clinton said the United States "will do everything necessary to ensure Israel's security" and consult closely on the Iranian issue with Israeli leaders.

She said the United States shared Israel's concern "about Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." Iran says its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity.

 

COALITION NEGOTIATIONS

Netanyahu, who clashed often with the U.S. administration when Bill Clinton, the secretary of state's husband, was in the White House, was tapped by Israeli President Shimon Peres after Israel's election last month to try to form a government.

He has enough parliamentary support to put together a right-wing government but has been seeking, unsuccessfully so far, to form a middle-of-the-road coalition that could reduce the chances of friction with the United States.

Netanyahu supports expansion of existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, a policy opposed by Washington and which Palestinians say could deny them a viable state.

President Barack Obama has said it will be a priority and Clinton pledged to push on "many fronts" early on.

The United States is Israel's chief ally. U.S. aid to Israel will amount to $2.55 billion in 2009.

Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, revived in late 2007, have stalled over violence, settlement-building and disputes over other core issues such as the future of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian Authority suspended the negotiations after Israel launched in December a devastating 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip with the declared aim of halting rocket attacks by militants in the Hamas-ruled enclave.

Clinton said a durable ceasefire in Gaza depended on Hamas stopping rocket fire at Israel.

In the Gaza Strip, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Clinton's remarks gave Israel, which again bombed smuggling tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border on Tuesday, the green light "to continue to attack civilians."
 


On Wednesday, Clinton visits the West Bank to see Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

    Clinton Pledges to Press For Palestinian State, NYT, 3.3.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/03/03/world/international-us-palestinians-israel-clinton.html

 

 

 

 

 

Mideast Peace, Russian Ties Next Up for Clinton

 

February 28, 2009
Filed at 9:59 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is using her second overseas trip to assess Mideast peace prospects, reconnect with European allies and remind her Russian counterpart that U.S. efforts to rebuild relations with Moscow have their limits.

She kicks off the weeklong tour by attending an international conference in Egypt, where on Monday she will announce a U.S. pledge of up to $900 million in humanitarian aid for rebuilding of the war-shaken Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians are seeking $2.8 billion. The United States does not recognize the Hamas movement that rules Gaza and will not allow aid money to flow through Hamas.

The pledge conference reflects in part a U.S. effort to move quickly to influence events there, where the Islamic militants of Hamas are aligned with Iran and opposed to peace talks with Israel. Hamas is at odds with the other Palestinian faction, Fatah, which takes a more moderate approach to Israel.

Clinton also will visit Israel to show President Barack Obama's commitment to finding a ''two-state solution'' that establishes a sovereign Palestinian state at peace with Israel.

After elections Feb. 10, Israel is operating under a caretaker government. The hawkish Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to form a coalition government but the timing and outcome are in doubt.

Among leaders Clinton would be expected to visit in Israel are Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, leader of the centrist Kadima Party, which won one more seat in the election than Netanyahu's Likud. Netanyahu, who opposes moving forward in peace talks with the Palestinians, was asked to put together the next government because he has the support of a majority of the elected lawmakers.

Israel edged closer to a government of hawks and right-wing religious parties Friday after Netanyahu failed to persuade Livni to join a coalition that could help avert a showdown with the Obama administration. Obama has pledged to become ''aggressively'' involved in pursuing Mideast peace.

Clinton also will go to the West Bank to meet with leaders of the Palestinian Authority, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.

After focusing her first foreign trip on Asia, Clinton now is trying to build on what the administration believes is early enthusiasm in the Mideast and Europe for changing the dynamic of relations with America.

Daniel Fried, the assistant secretary of state for European affairs, said Friday a main theme of Clinton's visit to Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday will be ''a sense of consolidating some of the enormous political good will on both sides of the Atlantic, and harnessing it to a common agenda -- not an American agenda but a common trans-Atlantic agenda.''

On Friday, Clinton is scheduled to meet in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. He had a sometimes rocky relationship with Clinton's predecessor, Condoleezza Rice, a Russian affairs specialist.

Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies on Friday as saying he expected the meeting to focus on arms control. That was an issue of great frustration for the Russians during the Bush administration. President George W. Bush abandoned the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty early in his first term in order to accelerate the development of a missile defense opposed by Moscow.

Clinton has said the administration is willing to move ahead quickly on a replacement for the START arms treaty that is due to expire in December, and to consider deeper cuts in nuclear weapons.

Fried said that although the administration is interested in improving relations with Russia, Lavrov will be reminded that the U.S. does not accept the Russian argument that it has a sphere of influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe that gives Moscow special say on issues like missile defense.

The administration's interest in engaging Russia is tempered by ''cautionary notes,'' Fried said. That includes a concern that Moscow has gone too far in flexing its muscles in places such as the former Soviet republic of Georgia, where Russian troops fought a brief war last summer, and in opposing the NATO membership aspirations of countries including Ukraine, a a former Soviet republic on Russia's border.

''The most productive way (to move forward with Russia) is to do so building on areas where we have common interests, but also mindful of our differences -- not shying away from them, nor abandoning our values and our friends,'' Fried said. ''That makes for a complicated relationship with Russia.''

Clinton plans to wind up her trip with a stop in Ankara, Turkey, to discuss a range of topics, including Obama's review of war strategy in Afghanistan. The Turks think the U.S. should put more focus on expanding and improving the Afghan security forces and on pressing Afghan authorities to reconcile with elements of the Islamic insurgency, rather than on putting tens of thousands more U.S. troops.

------

On the Net:

State Department: www.state.gov

    Mideast Peace, Russian Ties Next Up for Clinton, NYT, 28.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/28/washington/AP-Clinton-Mideast.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton pushes environment, finance in China

 

21 February 2009
USA Today
By Calum MacLeod

 

BEIJING — Starting the first of what she expects will be "many trips" to China, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met Chinese leaders Saturday in Beijing to build co-operation in tackling the global crises in finance, climate change and security.

But Clinton disappointed human rights groups by saying Friday that U.S. pressure on Chinese human rights issues "can't interfere" with dialogue on those three key topics. Her comments "send the wrong message to the Chinese government," the New York-based Human Rights Watch said Friday.

Wrapping up her first overseas visit as secretary of state, Clinton arrived in the Chinese capital Friday evening after stops in Japan, Indonesia and South Korea. Saturday she met Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen JiabaoU.S., and toured a power plant to highlight the need for clean energy.

After talks with foreign minister Yang Jiechi, Clinton vowed that the Obama administration seeks a "positive, co-operative relationship" with China. The international community "is counting on China and the United States to collaborate to pursue security, peace and prosperity for all," she said Saturday.

Both Yang and Clinton vowed to work together to solve the financial crisis. "We have every reason to believe that the United States and China will recover and that together we will help to lead the global recovery," said Clinton, who thanked the Chinese government for its "well grounded confidence" in U.S. Treasuries. Buoyed by massive foreign exchange reserves, Beijing is the world's largest holder of U.S. government debt.

On Saturday, Clinton also announced:

• Sino-U.S. military dialogue, stalled since U.S. arms sales to Taiwan last October, will resume later this month

• A regular bilateral dialogue on economic issues will be expanded to include political and security concerns

• The U.S. and China will build a partnership on clean energy technologies, and hold regular consultations ahead of the December 2009 Copenhagen summit on climate change.

President Obama will meet his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao for the first time in April, at a G20 summit in London which Clinton hoped would produce agreement on a new international financial system with better supervision of cross border capital flows.

 

Cleaner power

On Saturday, Clinton toured the Taiyanggong thermal power plant, located two miles from the 'Bird's Nest', Beijing's Olympic stadium. The natural gas fired plant uses GE clean energy technology to achieve reductions of 1.62 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, compared with a coal-fired unit with the same capacity, said Jack Wen, President and CEO of GE Energy China.

Most Chinese power plants are fired by coal, the fuel that provides up to three quarters of Chinese energy. In a 'white paper' on climate change issued in October 2008, China's government admitted that its "coal-dominated energy mix cannot be substantially changed in the near future, thus making the control of greenhouse gas emissions rather difficult."

Touring the plant, Clinton encouraged China not to repeat the "same mistakes" as Western countries. "When we were industrializing and growing we didn't know any better," she said. "Neither did Europe. Now we are smart enough to figure out how to have the right kind of growth, sustainable growth, clean energy driven growth. This plant could be a model."

Vowing to build an "important partnership" to speed "our transition to low-carbon economies," Clinton cited three areas for Sino-U.S. co-operation: renewable energy, the capture and storage of CO2 from coal plants, and energy efficiency in buildings.

 

Human rights

Clinton's tough speech to the U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing in 1995, when she criticized human rights abuses in China, led some observers to hope she would take a tougher line as Secretary of State. She said Saturday that she had raised human rights issues with the Chinese foreign minister, and promised to continue "frank discussions on issues where we have disagreements", including human rights, Tibet, religious freedom and freedom of expression. Clinton promised to support efforts by civil society groups to push for progress on human rights.

Foreign minister Yang acknowledged differences of opinion on human rights between Beijing and Washington, and agreed to further dialogue. He also countered criticism by suggesting the Chinese people are happy. "Although the air temperature in Beijing is quite low, I am confident that in China you can see the most smiling faces in the world," he said Saturday.

The U.S. "is one of the only countries that can meaningfully stand up to China on human rights issues," T. Kumar, Amnesty International USA advocacy director for Asia and the Pacific, said Friday. "But by commenting that human rights will not interfere with other priorities, Secretary Clinton damages future U.S. initiatives to protect those rights in China," he said.

Clinton's remarks Friday "point to a diplomatic strategy that has worked well for the Chinese government — segregating human rights issues into a dead-end 'dialogue of the deaf,'" said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, which argues that only sustained international pressure has produced rights gains in recent years.

China's Premier Wen Jiabao also stressed the need for the two countries to co-operate to overcome the financial crisis. He praised Clinton for her use, during a pre-trip speech, of the Chinese proverb "When on a common boat, cross the river peacefully together."

After worshipping at a Beijing church Sunday morning, and a dialogue with women's leaders and other civil society representatives, Clinton will hold a webchat with readers of China Daily, the state-run English newspaper. She leaves China Sunday.



Contributing: Associated Press

    Clinton pushes environment, finance in China, UT, 21.2.2009, http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2009-02-21-clinton-china_N.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan

 

February 21, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK MAZZETTI and DAVID E. SANGER

 

WASHINGTON — With two missile strikes over the past week, the Obama administration has expanded the covert war run by the Central Intelligence Agency inside Pakistan, attacking a militant network seeking to topple the Pakistani government.

The missile strikes on training camps run by Baitullah Mehsud represent a broadening of the American campaign inside Pakistan, which has been largely carried out by drone aircraft. Under President Bush, the United States frequently attacked militants from Al Qaeda and the Taliban involved in cross-border attacks into Afghanistan, but had stopped short of raids aimed at Mr. Mehsud and his followers, who have played less of a direct role in attacks on American troops.

The strikes are another sign that President Obama is continuing, and in some cases extending, Bush administration policy in using American spy agencies against terrorism suspects in Pakistan, as he had promised to do during his presidential campaign. At the same time, Mr. Obama has begun to scale back some of the Bush policies on the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects, which he has criticized as counterproductive.

Mr. Mehsud was identified early last year by both American and Pakistani officials as the man who had orchestrated the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister and the wife of Pakistan’s current president, Asif Ali Zardari. Mr. Bush included Mr. Mehsud’s name in a classified list of militant leaders whom the C.I.A. and American commandos were authorized to capture or kill.

It is unclear why the Obama administration decided to carry out the attacks, which American and Pakistani officials said occurred last Saturday and again on Monday, hitting camps run by Mr. Mehsud’s network. The Saturday strike was aimed specifically at Mr. Mehsud, but he was not killed, according to Pakistani and American officials.

The Monday strike, officials say, was aimed at a camp run by Hakeem Ullah Mehsud, a top aide to the militant. By striking at the Mehsud network, the United States may be seeking to demonstrate to Mr. Zardari that the new administration is willing to go after the insurgents of greatest concern to the Pakistani leader.

But American officials may also be prompted by growing concern that the militant attacks are increasingly putting the civilian government of Pakistan, a nation with nuclear weapons, at risk.

For months, Pakistani military and intelligence officials have complained about Washington’s refusal to strike at Baitullah Mehsud, even while C.I.A. drones struck at Qaeda figures and leaders of the network run by Jalaluddin Haqqani, a militant leader believed responsible for a campaign of violence against American troops in Afghanistan.

According to one senior Pakistani official, Pakistan’s intelligence service on two occasions in recent months gave the United States detailed intelligence about Mr. Mehsud’s whereabouts, but said the United States had not acted on the information. Bush administration officials had charged that it was the Pakistanis who were reluctant to take on Mr. Mehsud and his network.

The strikes came after a visit to Islamabad last week by Richard C. Holbrooke, the American envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In a telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Holbrooke declined to talk about the attacks on Mr. Mehsud. The White House also declined to speak about Mr. Mehsud or the decisions that led up to the new strikes. A C.I.A. spokesman also declined to comment.

Senior Pakistani officials are scheduled to arrive in Washington next week at a time of rising tension over a declared truce between the Pakistani government and militants in the Swat region.

While the administration has not publicly criticized the Pakistanis, several American officials said in interviews in recent days that they believe appeasing the militants would only weaken Pakistan’s civilian government. Mr. Holbrooke said in the interview that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others would make clear in private, and in detail, why they were so concerned about what was happening in Swat, the need to send more Pakistani forces to the west, and why the deteriorating situation in the tribal areas added to instability in Afghanistan and threats to American forces.

Past efforts to cut deals with the insurgents failed, and many administration officials believe that they ultimately weakened the Pakistani government.

But Obama administration officials face the same intractable problems that the Bush administration did in trying to prod Pakistan toward a different course. Pakistan still deploys the overwhelming majority of its troops along the Indian border, not the border with Afghanistan, and its intelligence agencies maintain shadowy links to the Taliban even as they take American funds to fight them.

Under standard policy for covert operations, the C.I.A. strikes inside Pakistan have not been publicly acknowledged either by the Obama administration or the Bush administration. Using Predators and the more heavily armed Reaper drones, the C.I.A. has carried out more than 30 strikes since last September, according to American and Pakistani officials.

The attacks have killed a number of senior Qaeda figures, including Abu Jihad al-Masri and Usama al-Kini, who is believed to have helped plan the 1998 American Embassy bombings in East Africa and last year’s bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

American Special Operations troops based in Afghanistan have also carried out a number of operations into Pakistan’s tribal areas since early September, when a commando raid that killed a number of militants was publicly condemned by Pakistani officials. According to a senior American military official, the commando missions since September have been primarily to gather intelligence.

The meetings hosted by the Obama administration next week will include senior officials from both Pakistan and Afghanistan; Mrs. Clinton is to hold a rare joint meeting on Thursday with foreign ministers from the two countries. Also, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, the Pakistani Army chief, will meet with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, the head of Pakistan’s military spy service, will accompany General Kayani.

 

 

 

Bomber Kills More Than 30

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The police on Friday blamed a suicide bomber for a powerful explosion that killed more than 30 people and wounded at least 50 in the Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, according to residents and Pakistani television reports.

The bombing, aimed at the funeral of a Shiite man who had been shot, set off chaos in the city of a million people on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal areas. Mobs attacked security forces, ransacked shops and surrounded hospitals said the mayor, Abdur Rauf.
 


Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan.

    Obama Widens Missile Strikes Inside Pakistan, NYT, 21.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/21/washington/21policy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Clinton Hails Alliance With Japan

 

February 18, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER and MARTIN FACKLER

 

TOKYO — In words and gestures, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered reassurance to Japan on Tuesday, calling its alliance with the United States a “cornerstone” of American foreign policy and meeting with families of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea.

Mrs. Clinton also warned North Korea not to undertake a test of a ballistic missile, as it has threatened in recent days.

“The possible missile launch that North Korea is talking about would be very unhelpful in moving our relationship forward,” she said after a meeting with the Japanese foreign minister, Hirofumi Nakasone.

Mrs. Clinton brought an invitation from President Obama to Prime Minister Taro Aso to meet him in Washington next Tuesday. He will be the first foreign leader received at the White House.

In the secretary’s first bit of diplomatic business, the United States and Japan signed an agreement to begin shifting thousands of Marines from Okinawa to Guam, part of a realignment of troops in the Pacific.

North Korea’s saber-rattling has cast a shadow over Mrs. Clinton’s first trip as secretary of state, forcing her to confront an issue that evokes a complex range of feelings among Pyongyang’s neighbors.

In Japan, where animosity toward North Korea runs deep because of the plight of the abductees, Mrs. Clinton said she met with families “to express my personal sympathy and our concern for what happened.”

During the meeting, several family members said, Mrs. Clinton pledged her support for resolving questions about abductees — the fate of many of whom remains unknown even after three decades. But she stopped short of promising concrete steps to press Pyongyang on the issue.

The relatives said that Mrs. Clinton spent most the 30-minute meeting listening to their accounts. Sakie Yokota, whose daughter, Megumi, was kidnapped from Japan in 1977 at age 13, said she gave Mrs. Clinton a copy of her book about her daughter and an extra copy as a present for President Obama.

“She is also a mother, and she said that any mother would fight to the end if such a thing happened to her,” Mrs. Yokota said.

But when she asked Mrs. Clinton to punish North Korea by restoring it to Washington’s list of state sponsors of terrorism — it was removed by the Bush administration last year — Mrs. Clinton only said she “would think about it,” according to Mrs. Yokota.

The relatives said it was noteworthy that Mrs. Clinton had met them, saying it sent a signal to North Korea not to ignore the issue. But they also showed disappointment in Mrs. Clinton’s offer to normalize relations with North Korea if it abandoned its nuclear program.

Shigeo Izuka, whose sister was kidnapped in 1978, said he implored Mrs. Clinton “not to become friendly with North Korea because of a nuclear agreement.” He said she listened to him “with intense concern in her eyes, but I felt in my heart that this issue will be all too easily forgotten.”

North Korea has admitted to abducting Mrs. Yokota’s daughter and Mr. Izuka’s sister and claim both later died in North Korea. The families reject the North’s account, saying they want a full investigation.

Mrs. Clinton said Washington would not relent in its pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program — in a way that is verifiable. “We are watching very closely” she said.

But she repeated President Obama’s pledge to “reach out a hand to those with which we have differences, so long as they unclench their fists.” And she committed to continuing the multiparty talks with the North Korean regime that include China, Japan, and South Korea.

Mr. Nakasone said he was not concerned that “the U.S. policy toward North Korea is going to change in any significant way.”

Mrs. Clinton’s meeting with Mr. Nakasone began a busy day that included afternoon tea with Empress Michiko at the imperial residence and a town hall meeting at Tokyo University.

Fielding a question from a student about American economic sanctions against Myanmar, Mrs. Clinton acknowledged the policy had not brought reforms to the military-ruled country. She said the Obama administration was reviewing its options, although she did not give details. The administration “is looking at what steps we might take that might influence the current Burmese government, and we’re also looking for ways that we could more effectively help the Burmese people,” she said.

On Tuesday evening, Mrs. Clinton had dinner with Prime Minister Aso, followed by a meeting with his political nemesis, Ichiro Ozawa, the leader of the opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

In doing so, Mrs. Clinton reached out to a politician who polls show could become Japan’s leader after elections later this year but who had frosty relations with the Bush administration, opposing Japan’s naval refueling mission to support the war in Afghanistan.

    Clinton Hails Alliance With Japan, NYT, 18.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/18/world/asia/18diplo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Seen Likely to Hedge on Missile Defense

 

February 13, 2009
Filed at 8:45 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama's go-slow approach to missile defenses in Europe is stirring speculation that he is planning either to deep-freeze the costly project he inherited from the Bush administration or use it as a bargaining chip in broader security talks with Russia.

It's a defense and diplomacy issue with important implications for American policy toward Europe, whose territory the anti-missile system would be meant to protect. And it complicates relations with Russia, which fiercely opposes the missile project, and Iran, whose development of long-range missiles is at the root of the U.S. rationale for pursuing the plan.

Obama has not said how he intends to proceed, stressing only that the system has to be cost-effective and proven and should not divert resources from other national security priorities. But leading defense and foreign policy experts are already taking Obama's constant repetition of those caveats as signals that he is not eager to plow ahead with the Europe leg of the Bush antimissile plan.

''I think it's on the back burner,'' said James F. Collins, director of Russia studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former ambassador to Moscow. He believes the administration is considering how the issue might fit in a broader set of arms and other negotiations with Moscow.

The Bush plan called for installing 10 silo-based missiles in Poland and a missile-tracking radar in the Czech Republic at a cost of $4.5 billion, with a 2013 target date for having the system up and running. Construction has not yet begun at either site. Together they would provide a means of shooting down a small number of long-range missiles launched from the Middle East by intercepting them in flight outside the Earth's atmosphere -- a so-called ''hit-to-kill'' technology that critics say needs more rigorous testing.

Senior Obama aides have suggested the planned antimissile system will be included in a lengthy review this year of defense policy and programs.

''I read the Obama and other statements more or less as tentative about this system in the sense that they aren't going to put huge investment in it unless they can figure out it's going to work,'' Collins said.

Dean Wilkening, a physicist and defense expert at Stanford University, said a money crunch caused by the economic crisis may be the most compelling reason for the Obama administration to lean against the European project. ''They may opt to delay the site just because'' of the cost and more urgent spending needs, Wilkening said.

Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski said Friday that Poland expects the United States to carry through with general promises of stronger military cooperation with Warsaw, even if the missile defense base doesn't work out.

''Poland is in favor of the United States remaining a European superpower,'' Sikorski said in a speech to Poland's Parliament. He said that Warsaw still is ready to do its part in hosting the missile interceptors, but acknowledged the new uncertainty.

''Regardless of what kind of decision the U.S. will take,'' he said, ''we expect that the declaration on strategic cooperation will be fulfilled.''

The Bush administration saw missile defense in Europe as a vital link in a broader U.S. effort to deter the use of long-range ballistic missiles by countries like North Korea and to discourage their development by nations like Iran. The European site would be linked to existing missile defense sites in Alaska and California, which the Pentagon says are capable of defending against a small-scale North Korean attack.

Robert Gates, the holdover Pentagon chief, has argued strongly for working out a deal with the Russians that would enable the project to go forward. His press secretary, Geoff Morrell, said Gates and his new boss, Obama, have yet to discuss the issue in depth.

Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton share the view that if Iran were persuaded to give up its nuclear ambitions and not develop an intercontinental ballistic missile, that would ''obviate much of the need'' for the European sites, Morrell said.

Clinton told reporters this week that money was not the overriding issue on missile defense. She said it was mainly a matter of resolving technical issues, while stressing that Iran's behavior could be a deciding factor.

''If we are able to see a change in behavior on the part of the Iranians with respect to what we believe to be their pursuit of nuclear weapons, you know, then we will reconsider where we stand,'' she said. ''But we are a long, long way from seeing such evidence of any behavior change.''

Clinton did not mention Russia's strong objections to the missile plan, but Moscow has been a central figure in the debate from the beginning. Although the Russians have objected on grounds that the bases in Poland and the Czech Republic pose a strategic threat, many in the United States believe the real problem is a Russian conviction that the bases are part of a broader effort by the U.S. to encroach on what the Russians consider their sphere of influence -- territories that once were part of the Soviet Union.

John Rood, who was the State Department's chief arms control official for the final year and a half of the Bush administration, said in an interview that he would advise against bargaining away the European missile plan.

''Such a step would be ineffective and send a worrying signal to U.S. allies in Europe, who would question whether the U.S. lacked resolve and was recognizing a Russian sphere of influence in central Europe, which would be a strategic error,'' Rood said.

All agree there is currently no Iranian missile that threatens wider Europe; the disagreement is over projections of when Iran may have such a capability and how Europe, the U.S. and Russia should deal with it in the meantime.

    Obama Seen Likely to Hedge on Missile Defense, NYT, 13.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/13/washington/AP-Missile-Defense.html

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

Obama, Israel and the Arab Street

 

February 13, 2009
The New York Times

 

To the Editor:

Re “Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama” (Op-Ed, Feb. 8):

Alaa Al Aswany says that the only way the Arab street, particularly in Cairo, will hear Barack Obama is if our new president recognizes “the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.”

But it was precisely when Israel ended its occupation of Gaza that Hamas increased its rocket attacks against Israeli civilians.

Did Dr. Al Aswany forget that Egypt occupied Gaza between 1949 and 1967? I doubt that the Cairo street would have tolerated rocket attacks from occupied Gaza against Egyptian civilian targets.

If the price of the Arab street hearing President Obama is to accept terrorism against civilians as a “right” of formerly occupied people, then it is too high a price to pay.

In America, we have a word for what Israel did to prevent Hamas from playing Russian roulette with the lives of its children. We call it self-defense, as Mr. Obama recognized when he, then a presidential candidate, stood in front of Hamas rockets in Sderot and said: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

Alan Dershowitz
Cambridge, Mass., Feb. 8, 2009

The writer is a professor of law at Harvard University.



To the Editor:

Alaa Al Aswany accurately sums up the feeling among a vast majority of politically aware Muslims around the world. Interviews to Arabic television channels are no substitutes for actions and policies that break with the past. Such public diplomacy is in fact patronizing and, therefore, insulting because it underestimates the political acumen of the Muslim public.

That the new administration will be no different from its predecessors is borne out not only by President Obama’s stance during the Israeli invasion of Gaza, but also by news filtering out of Washington about key appointments about to be made to deal with crucial Middle Eastern actors and issues.

The torpedoing of Gen. Anthony C. Zinni’s appointment as ambassador to Iraq is one indication of the new president’s tendency to allow the “old hands” to make decisions when it comes to the Middle East. His presidency does not bode well for America’s relations with the Muslim world.

Mohammed Ayoob
East Lansing, Mich., Feb. 8, 2009

The writer is the coordinator of the Muslim Studies Program at Michigan State University.



To the Editor:

Alaa Al Aswany seems to assume that because President Obama said that he would listen to the Muslim world, he would make a public statement condemning Israel’s actions and acknowledging Hamas’s actions as appropriate. This assumption was wrong.

Egypt’s frustration with Mr. Obama’s decision not to stop the “massacre” in Gaza is unwarranted. Israel, along with every other country, has the obligation to protect its citizens. Israel’s actions were completely justified, and America appropriately supported Israel.

In saying, “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers,” Mr. Obama meant that we are a nation that respects the “other.” When Hamas is prepared to talk instead of fire rockets, then Mr. Obama’s words will have equal meaning in Gaza.

Jacquie Zaluda
Highland Park, Ill., Feb. 8, 2009



To the Editor:

If President Obama wants to be heard by Muslims, he must strip away the politics and honestly answer the question: “What’s the moral justification for the dispossession of the Palestinians from Palestine by the Israelis that has gone on systematically since 1948?” And then he must act on it.

Lowell Johnston
New York, Feb. 8, 2009



To the Editor:

In his article about the latest war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, Alaa Al Aswany asserts, “I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.” He then urges President Obama to condemn Israel “if only with simple words.”

I can well understand Dr. Al Aswany’s frustration. But what would Egypt then call the unprovoked action of Hamas, which sent thousands of rockets into sovereign Israeli civilian territory? To me, that sounds a lot like terrorism.

If the so-called moderate Muslim world would like to hear condemnation from our new president, then perhaps the blame should go both ways!

(Rabbi) Michael Stanger
Old Westbury, N.Y., Feb. 8, 2009

    Obama, Israel and the Arab Street, NYT, 13.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/13/opinion/l13muslim.html

 

 

 

 

 

Iran Offers ‘Dialogue With Respect’ With U.S.

 

February 11, 2009
The New York Times
By NAZILA FATHI

 

TEHRAN — After the icy mutual hostility of the Bush era, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran on Tuesday made a conditional offer of dialogue to the Obama administration, saying Tehran was ready for “talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”

But he coupled the offer with an attack on former President Bush, calling for him to be “tried and punished” for his policies and actions in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks came in a televised address to a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution in 1979 which deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, ended the close relationship between Washington and Tehran, and replaced it with decades of confrontation that culminated in former President George W. Bush’s description of Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”

President Obama said Monday night that his administration was exploring ways to open a dialogue with Iran. “My expectation is, in the coming months, we will be looking for openings that can be created where we can start sitting across the table, face to face; of diplomatic overtures that will allow us to move our policy in a new direction," he said at a news conference.

Since the inauguration of Mr. Obama last month, Washington has sounded a more conciliatory tone, despite profound differences over Iran’s nuclear program and its support for political groups in the Middle East that the United States considers to be terrorists.

“The new U.S. administration has said that it wants change and it wants to hold talks with Iran,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said.

“It is clear that change should be fundamental, not tactical, and our people welcome real changes,” he said. “Our nation is ready to hold talks based on mutual respect and in a fair atmosphere.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad went on to say that Iran could cooperate with the United States to uproot terrorism in the region. “The Iranian nation is the biggest victim of terrorism,” he said.

But he referred to former President Bush as one of reasons for insecurity in the region and said, “Bush and his allies should be tried and punished.”

“If you really want to uproot terrorism, let’s cooperate to find the initiators of the recent wars in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, try them and punish them,” he said.

His comments seemed to move away from an earlier call by Mr. Ahmadinejad for the United States to apologize for actions in the relationship with Iran dating back 60 years.

His speech follows a series of overtures from Washington. Shortly after his inauguration, Mr. Obama told the Arabic-language television station Al Arabiya that “if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.”

Referring to Iran on Monday, Mr. Obama said at the news conference that he was “looking at areas where we can have constructive dialogue, where we can directly engage with them.”

Last weekend, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. indicated at a security conference in Munich, Germany, that the United States would take a nuanced approach toward Iran. He suggested that the administration was willing to be more conciliatory than Mr. Bush had been, but also to continue his tough policies if necessary.

“We are willing to talk to Iran,” Mr. Biden said, but quickly tacked back to a refrain common during the last years of the Bush presidency, offering Iran’s leader a choice: “Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives.”

Many western nations, including the United States, reject Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is designed solely for generating energy, suspecting that it is no more than a screen for a nuclear weapons program what would upset the regional power balance and potentially threaten Israel.

Washington also objects to Iran’s close ties to militant Islamic groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s choice of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic revolution seemed particularly significant. The United States had been a close supporter of the shah, but after his fall, radical students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran in 1980.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s comments came two days after a former Iranian president, Mohammad Khatami — a reformist politician who advocated more détente with the West — announced that he would challenge Mr. Ahmadinejad in presidential elections next June.

Mr. Khatami, who won an overwhelming victory in 1997 and was president until 2005, was elected on promises to grant greater political and social freedom and improve foreign relations.

Mr. Ahmadinejad’s presidency, by contrast, has been marked by economic mismanagement, surging inflation and international isolation.



Alan Cowell contributed from Paris and Helene Cooper from Washington.

    Iran Offers ‘Dialogue With Respect’ With U.S., NYT, 11.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/11/world/middleeast/11iran.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Contributor

Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama

 

February 8, 2009
The New York Times
By ALAA AL ASWANY

 

Cairo

PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.

But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

One would have expected them to. Mr. Obama had substantial support among Egyptians — more than any other American presidential candidate that I can remember. I traveled to America several days before the election. The Egyptians I met in the United States told me — without exception — that they backed Mr. Obama. Many Egyptians I know went to his Web site and signed up as campaign supporters.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.

This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching. Here in Egypt, we don’t have previous or future presidents, only the present head of state who seized power through sham elections and keeps it by force, and who will probably remain in power until the end of his days. Accordingly, Egypt lacks a fair system that bases advancement on qualifications. Young people often get good jobs because they have connections. Ministers are not elected, but appointed by the president. Not surprisingly, this inequitable system often leads young people to frustration or religious extremism. Others flee the country at any cost, hoping to find justice elsewhere.

We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.) We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza. We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

But Mr. Obama has been silent. So his brilliantly written Inaugural Speech did not leave a big impression on Egyptians. We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.

Mr. Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya on Jan. 27 was an event that was widely portrayed in the Western news media as an olive branch to the Muslim world. But while most of my Egyptian friends knew about the interview, by then they were so frustrated by Mr. Obama’s silence that they weren’t particularly interested in watching it. I didn’t see it myself, but I went back and read the transcript. Again, his elegant words did not challenge America’s support of Israel, right or wrong, or its alliances with Arab dictators in the interest of pragmatism.

I then enlisted the help of my two teenage daughters, May and Nada, to guide me through the world of Egyptian blogs, where young Egyptian men and women can express themselves with relative freedom. There I found a combination of glowing enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, a comparison between the democratic system in America and the tyranny in Egypt, the expectation of a fairer American policy in the Middle East, and then severe disappointment after Mr. Obama’s failure to intercede in Gaza. I thus concluded that no matter how many envoys, speeches or interviews Mr. Obama offers to us, he will not win the hearts and minds of Egyptians until he takes up the injustice in the Middle East. I imagine the same holds true for much of the greater Muslim world.

Have Egyptians irreversibly gone off Mr. Obama? No. Egyptians still think that this one-of-a-kind American president can do great things. Young Egyptians’ admiration for America is offset by frustration with American foreign policy. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this came from one Egyptian blogger: “I love America. It’s the country of dreams ... but I wonder if I will ever be able someday to declare my love.”



Alaa Al Aswany is the author of “The Yacoubian Building” and “Chicago.” This article was translated by Geoff D. Porter from the Arabic.

    Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/opinion/08aswany.html?ref=opinion

 

 

 

 

 

Back on World Stage, a Larger-Than-Life Holbrooke

 

February 8, 2009
The New York Times
By JODI KANTOR

 

Stashed in a drawer in his Manhattan apartment between snapshots of family vacations, a photograph shows Richard C. Holbrooke on a private visit to Afghanistan in 2006. He is mugging atop an abandoned Russian tank, flashing a sardonic V-for-victory sign and his best Nixon-style grin. The pose is a little like Mr. Holbrooke himself: looming, theatrical, passionate, indignant.

Three years later, he has inherited responsibility for the terrain he surveyed from that tank. As President Obama’s special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr. Holbrooke will help reformulate and carry out American policy in what many call the most problematic region on earth.

Between them, the two countries contain unstable governments, insurgencies, corruption and a narcotics trade, nuclear material, refugees, resentment of American power, a resurgent Taliban, and in the shadows of the tribal region that joins the two countries, Al Qaeda and presumably Osama bin Laden.

“You have a problem that is larger than life,” said Christopher R. Hill, a longtime colleague expected to be named as the new ambassador to Iraq. “To deal with it you need someone who’s larger than life.”

Few other diplomats can boast of the accomplishments of Mr. Holbrooke, 67, who negotiated the Dayton peace accords to end the war in Bosnia. But as he lands in Pakistan on Monday, back on duty after eight years of a Republican administration, he is still an outsider in the Obama circle, having only recently developed a relationship with the new president. His longtime foreign policy pupil, Hillary Rodham Clinton, has the secretary of state job he has always wanted. And he has taken on a task so difficult that merely averting disaster may be the only triumph.

“We are still in the process of digging our way into the debris,” Mr. Holbrooke said in an interview. “We’ve inherited an extraordinarily dysfunctional situation in which the very objectives have to be reviewed.” Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton chose Mr. Holbrooke because of his ability to twist arms as well as hold hands, work closely with the military and improvise inventive solutions to what others write off as insoluble problems. But no one yet knows how his often pyrotechnical style — he whispers, but also pesters, bluffs, threatens, stages fits and publicizes — will work in an administration that prizes low-key competence or in a region that is dangerously unstable.

“Richard C. Holbrooke is the diplomatic equivalent of a hydrogen bomb,” said Strobe Talbott, a former deputy secretary of state and a friend.
 

Return to Washington

Already, Mr. Holbrooke’s return to Washington has caused tremors. His arrival at the State Department has rattled colleagues who remember him as someone who cultivates the powerful and tramples those with less to offer. Others worry about his assiduous courtship of the news media. Judging from interviews with several officials, there seems to be confusion about whether the American Embassies in Pakistan and Afghanistan will be controlled by Mr. Holbrooke or the regular State Department overseers.

And even friends acknowledge that Mr. Holbrooke is intently focused on his own legend. (Many people have personal trainers; Mr. Holbrooke has a personal archivist.)

For now, Mr. Holbrooke is both raising expectations and lowering them. He is talking about Afpak — Washington shorthand for his assignment — as his last and toughest mission. But along with the rest of Mr. Obama’s foreign policy staff, he is also trying to redefine success in the region, shifting away from former President Bush’s grand, transformative goals and toward something more achievable.

On Monday, Mr. Holbrooke begins a 10-day tour of the region, where he will try to vacuum up as much information as possible, he said, visiting high-level officials and local ones, women who serve in the Afghan National Assembly, military bases, nongovernmental organizations, antinarcotics programs, refugee camps and the perilous tribal region.

There is a reason for this wide-ranging tour: because official Afghan and Pakistani leaders are seen as weak, Mr. Holbrooke may have to seek alternative partners, a task to which he is naturally suited, according to Wesley K. Clark, the retired Army general.

“Richard Holbrooke sees power the way an artist sees color,” General Clark said.



Studying Afghanistan

Until a few years ago, Mr. Holbrooke had been to Afghanistan exactly once: in 1971, when he wandered around with a backpack, he said in the interview last week as he frowned at television reports of a kidnapping in Pakistan. The setting of the interview, Perseus LLC, a Manhattan private equity firm where he worked as vice chairman until recently, was an elegant one, at least until he began clipping his fingernails with office shears.

During the Bush years, Perseus was Mr. Holbrooke’s base, providing him with what friends say was a relatively undemanding job and lavish compensation as he bounced from topic to topic, almost as if seeking a problem tough enough to rivet all of his attention. He founded the American Academy in Berlin, which promotes cultural relations, and used a formerly quiet nonprofit called the Global Business Coalition to match corporate leaders with public health issues. He became chairman of the Asia Society, an institution mostly known for art exhibits, and pushed it toward more policy discussions.

At night, he retreated to his softly lighted, wood-paneled apartment in the Beresford, the grand Central Park West building, or to the homes in Colorado or the Hamptons that he shares with his wife, Kati Marton, a journalist and human rights advocate.

But with a Republican president, Mr. Holbrooke’s nose was pressed to the glass of the statecraft window. On the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, when the greatest foreign policy challenge in generations came crashing into his own city, Mr. Holbrooke, the former American ambassador to the United Nations, sat in traffic like any other New Yorker.

Few New Yorkers, though, decide to inspect Afghanistan for themselves. By 2006, alarmed at the deteriorating conditions there and lured by a relative working for the United Nations, Mr. Holbrooke traveled privately around the country, returning for another visit in 2008. He went to a police training center in Herat, near the Iranian border, where he watched retired policemen from Alabama try to train Afghans. In Khost, Mr. Holbrooke slept on a cot at a reconstruction project office and met with madrasa students and former Taliban fighters, pouring the tea himself to convey respect, according to Kael Weston, a State Department political officer who served as his guide.

At another stop, Mr. Holbrooke met with newly elected female leaders who barely seemed to know the basics of legislation. Everywhere, Mr. Holbrooke passed enormous new villas built by narcotics smugglers.

At a maximum-security prison north of Kabul, the capital, Mr. Holbrooke fell into a long conversation with a senior Taliban operative, a mullah who patiently answered questions and then asked one of his own:

“When will you and the Americans be leaving?”

Mr. Holbrooke told him he did not know. “The more you think about it, the more it highlights the dilemma,” he said in the interview: the United States cannot say it is leaving, nor can it say it is staying forever.

At home, Mr. Holbrooke used the Asia Society to assemble his own personal think tank on Afghanistan. The group, which included Gen. James L. Jones until he became national security adviser, will soon release a study recommending that the United States declare an end to President Bush’s “war on terror” and negotiate with Taliban members willing to separate from Al Qaeda. Mr. Holbrooke has now left the group, but thanks to him, some of the regional experts who wrote the study are now briefing Mrs. Clinton.



Cultivating the Powerful

Every December, Mrs. Clinton can be found in Mr. Holbrooke and Ms. Marton’s apartment, laughing through an annual dinner they hold in her honor. The guests and the entertainment have varied — Glenn Close has sung carols, Robert De Niro and Matt Damon have sat alongside business figures and writers, and one of the tamer toasters called Mrs. Clinton the nation’s “first shiksa,” or gentile. But Mr. Holbrooke and Ms. Marton always give Mrs. Clinton laudatory toasts of their own.

Mr. Holbrooke served as a foreign policy adviser to Mrs. Clinton from the beginning of her Senate career, contributing ideas for major speeches and weighing in on crises. Sometimes, Mrs. Clinton or her staff reached out to him, aides said. But Mr. Holbrooke was not exactly shy about calling or sending e-mail messages on his own. The moment the Democratic primaries ended, Obama aides say, Mr. Holbrooke showered them with ideas as well.

“I did not cross the DMZ until a cease-fire was declared,” he now says jokingly.

By the time Mr. Obama sat down for a sustained conversation with Mr. Holbrooke, he was president-elect, and Mrs. Clinton was already the leading candidate for secretary of state. Once she took the job, Mr. Holbrooke was considered for the deputy post, but the idea was quickly rejected: he was a negotiator, not an administrator, and the secretary and the president wanted to put a powerful person in charge of dealings with Afghanistan and Pakistan, State Department officials said.

“Richard represents the kind of robust, persistent, determined diplomacy the president intends to pursue,” Mrs. Clinton said in an interview. “I admire deeply his ability to shoulder the most vexing and difficult challenges.”

Thanks to Mr. Holbrooke’s negotiating skills, he won himself an unusual title: representative rather than envoy, meaning that his responsibilities extend beyond the State Department and that he will report to the president, but through Mrs. Clinton. It is a bit of Washingtonese whose precise meaning will become clear only with time.

His first task is to help lead a total review of American policy in the region, an assignment on which Mr. Obama has imposed a 60-day deadline. Another is to learn as much about Pakistan as Mr. Holbrooke has about Afghanistan; he is hiring staff members to fill some of the gaps in his knowledge, according to colleagues.

Asked about Mr. Holbrooke’s sometimes overbearing qualities, Mrs. Clinton replied with mock innocence. “Gee, I’d never heard that he could be any of those things before,” she said. Then she turned serious. “Occasionally he has to be, you know, brought down to earth and reined in.”

Ms. Marton, in defending her hard-driving husband, said, “Richard is all about outcome.” She described him and the new president as “kindred spirits” in their views on diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Both Ms. Marton and Mr. Holbrooke sounded relieved, even a little surprised, that he found a place in the Obama administration. Now, she said, “he won’t be able to look back and say he didn’t get a shot.”

    Back on World Stage, a Larger-Than-Life Holbrooke, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/us/politics/08holbrooke.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Biden Says Up to Georgia Whether to Join NATO

 

February 8, 2009
Filed at 5:23 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

MUNICH, Germany, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on Sunday it was up to Georgia to decide whether it would become a member of the NATO military alliance.

Asked after meeting Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili whether he was in favour of the U.S. ally joining NATO, he said: "I'm in favour of Georgia's continued independence and autonomy. That is a decision for Georgia to make."

The previous U.S. administration of President George W. Bush pressed last year for Georgia to be admitted to the alliance, but ran into opposition from countries including Germany and France.

Biden's comments, on the margins of the annual Munich Security Conference, appeared to suggest the new administration of President Barack Obama might be less aggressive in its backing for Georgia's NATO bid.

At a NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Georgia and another former Soviet state, Ukraine, were promised eventual NATO membership. This angered Russia, with which the Obama administration is keen to rebuild ties.

Calls for allowing Georgia into NATO grew in the United States after Tbilisi's brief war with Russia last year, but the conflict increased concern in some European countries about letting the country into the alliance.

Critics say Saakashvili has stifled the media, judiciary and political opposition, and concentrated power on an inner circle largely blamed for taking the country into war with Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who led opposition to Bush's push for Georgia's admission to NATO in Bucharest, said earlier at the conference that the country would join the alliance some day, but set no time.

    Biden Says Up to Georgia Whether to Join NATO, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/02/08/world/international-security-georgia-biden.html

 

 

 

 

 

Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Deal With Russia on Missiles

 

February 8, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and NICHOLAS KULISH

 

MUNICH — Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Saturday that the United States will pursue a missile defense plan that has angered the Kremlin, but he also left open the possibility of compromise on the issue and struck a more conciliatory tone than the Bush administration on relations with Russia.

“It is time to press the reset button and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia,” Mr. Biden said in a speech at a security conference here attended by global leaders and diplomats.

Deputy Prime Minister Sergei B. Ivanov of Russia on Sunday said that Mr. Biden’s remarks were “very positive,” Reuters reported.

The highly anticipated speech, seen as the first major outline of the new administration’s relations with the world, came just days after Kyrgyzstan’s president announced a decision to close a United States base there that is crucial to the war in Afghanistan, which President Obama has made his top foreign policy priority. That announcement was made in Moscow, and many American officials concluded that the Russians had pressured Kyrgyzstan as part of their campaign to reassert control over former Soviet republics.

Some Western diplomats had expected Mr. Biden to announce a strategic review of the planned missile defense system as a way to defuse tensions between Washington and Moscow. Although Mr. Biden did not go that far, he did leave room in both the speech — and an interview afterward — for unspecified changes in the plan put forward by the Bush administration.

“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective,” Mr. Biden said during the speech.

Foreign policy experts said that the Obama administration was most likely averse to making any outright concessions on the antimissile system just days after the Kyrgyz announcement, fearing it could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. Mr. Biden, they said, seemed to be balancing the need to appear firm with the administration’s hopes to reverse the several-year slide in American-Russian relations. Russian cooperation is considered important to American attempts to keep Iran and North Korea from continuing with their nuclear programs.

The missile defense plan as it had been envisioned by the Bush administration would place missile interceptors in Poland and a radar system in the Czech Republic. The Russians balked at the placement so close to their border, saying it was proof that the system was meant to combat their nuclear arsenal, rather than a missile threat from Iran as President Bush had said. Mr. Biden did not say in his speech where he expected the system to be based.

In an interview after the speech, Mr. Biden declined to say what changes might be considered. “What I did say in the speech is that we would consult with our European allies as well as consult with the Russians,” he said.

A top Obama administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the issue said that the administration had not yet reached the point of discussing whether it could, or would, move the missile defense sites to other countries.

The Russian reaction to Saturday’s speech was quick, and favorable. Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee in the Duma, the lower house of Parliament, said in an interview that he welcomed Mr. Biden’s comments about “a need to listen to partners,” which Mr. Kosachev contrasted with Mr. Bush’s approach “that everything is already predecided, everything is clear and should be done the way the American administration thinks about it.”

Mr. Kosachev said the new stance would make it easier to reach agreement on many issues, including the antimissile dispute.

Mr. Biden also indicated that the United States would take a nuanced approach toward Iran. He suggested that the administration was willing to be more conciliatory than Mr. Bush had been, but also to continue his tough policies if necessary.

“We are willing to talk to Iran,” Mr. Biden said, in a departure from the Bush administration. But the vice president quickly tacked back to a refrain common during the last years of the Bush presidency and spoke of offering Iran’s leader a choice: “Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, and there will be meaningful incentives.”

Iran contends its nuclear program is for generating energy; many Western countries see it as a screen for a nuclear weapons program.

It was unclear if Mr. Biden’s refusal to take a clear step back on missile defense Saturday was part of a bargaining strategy in the elaborate chess game being played between the former cold war enemies.

In recent weeks, Russia’s leaders have sent mixed messages: offering kind words about Mr. Obama, then suggesting that the United States would need to do more to win Russia’s support — including addressing complaints about American plans to expand NATO and ending plans for the antimissile defense system as it was conceived by Mr. Bush.

The Kremlin’s relationship with Washington became increasingly frosty in the last several years as Russia began to try to reclaim some of its old power and chafed at what it saw as Bush administration attempts to stymie its efforts. The relations hit a low point during the brief war last summer between Russia and Georgia, an American ally, over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Russian president, Dmitri A. Medvedev, later recognized the independence of the two enclaves.

On Saturday, Mr. Biden rejected the notion of a Russian regional sphere of influence and said that Mr. Obama would continue to press NATO to seek “deeper cooperation” with like-minded countries.

Although his language was tempered, Mr. Biden said, “We will not agree with Russia on everything.

“For example,” he said, “the United States will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not — will not — recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.”

Mr. Biden’s remarks came a day after Mr. Ivanov told the same group that Moscow would not deploy missiles on the Polish border if the United States reviewed its missile defense plan. Just after Mr. Obama won the presidency last year, Mr. Medvedev promised to place short-range missiles on Russia’s western border if Washington proceeded with its planned missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

But chances for a clear reconciliation between the United States and Russia at this conference dissipated, foreign policy experts said, after the announcement on the Kyrgyz base. Mr. Obama plans to send as many as 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan over the next two years; shaky overland supply routes through Pakistan would make it difficult for the United States to adjust to the loss of the base.

During the interview Saturday, Mr. Biden said that the United States would find an alternative to the air base. “We have other options,” he said, but he did not elaborate.

Mr. Biden’s speech was the highlight of the security conference. Most of the dignitaries who were gathered seemed primed to hear how the United States and its new leadership viewed the world. They erupted into applause when Mr. Biden walked onto the stage.

It was at this security conference two years ago when the new tension between the United States and Russia leapt to the fore as Vladimir V. Putin, then Russia’s president, lashed out against the United States over its use of force in Iraq.

    Biden Signals U.S. Is Open to Deal With Russia on Missiles, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/washington/08biden.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

AP Analysis: US-Iran Ties Tense Despite Obama

 

February 8, 2009
Filed at 9:30 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

MUNICH (AP) -- Vice President Joe Biden was there along with a senior Iranian official -- and at first glance, that's about all that can be said for the first public opportunity to make good on President Barack Obama's proffered hand to Tehran.

Negative feelings at the Munich Security Conference seemed to outweigh the Obama administration's recent positive messages on when -- or if -- eye-to-eye talks with Iran could begin.

The United States, while opening the possibility of direct talks, has not relented on its demands that Tehran resolve international concerns over its nuclear program and its alleged support of terrorists.

At the conference in Germany, the two sides have shown they are still mistrustful after decades of enmity since the seizure of the American Embassy and U.S. hostage crisis during Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani said America had much to apologize for before his country could consider sitting down at the table. He accused Washington of causing untold human suffering through decades of failed U.S. policies on Israel, Iraq, Iran and Palestine.

The next day, when Biden was the featured speaker, Larijani was conspicuously absent.

Biden repeated Obama's offer of talks and rewards, but sternly warned that unless Iran showed willingness to compromise ''there will be (further) pressure and isolation.''

American allies at the meeting also piled on Iran.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Tehran of stricter U.N. Security Council sanctions if it rejects a U.S. overture; French President Nicholas Sarkozy urged Russia to join the West in seeking harsher U.N penalties if necessary; and British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Iran the U.S. offer ''is not going to get any better.''

Larijani complained to Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung that Iran had heard of Washington's readiness to negotiate only through the media.

Tehran is ready to sit down with the U.S. but needs ''an existing really good starting point,'' he was quoted Sunday as saying. ''(Issues) cannot be solved with a smile.''

But there were a few positive signs that Obama's offer was not made in vain.

Larijani at one point spoke of a ''golden opportunity for the United States'' -- suggesting if Washington went far enough in conciliatory signals Tehran could respond in kind. And he said several times that the U.S. needed to change ''to a chess game instead of a boxing match.''

A European official said Larijani spoke Saturday with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and appeared very interested in the American offer to talk.

The official, who demanded anonymity in exchange for sharing confidential information with The Associated Press, said Larijani ''kept talking about the unacceptability of the 'carrot and the stick''' -- suggesting Iran was looking for a more finely tuned approach from the West.

That appears to jibe with Obama's approach: direct official dialogue and the appointment of a special envoy to deal with Iran after years of isolation under the Bush administration.

------

Associated Press Correspondent George Jahn has been reporting on Iran's nuclear program and linked strategic issues since 2002.

    AP Analysis: US-Iran Ties Tense Despite Obama, NYT, 8.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/02/08/world/AP-EU-US-Iran-Shaky-Start-Analysis.html

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Air Base In Kyrgyzstan Says No Sign Of Closure

 

February 4, 2009
Filed at 2:44 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

BISHKEK (Reuters) - The United States said on Wednesday it had received no official notification from Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. air base in the Central Asian country and U.S. officials said they hoped negotiations would go on.

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said in Moscow on Tuesday his government had decided to shut down the Manas air base, set up in 2001 after the start of the U.S.-led military campaign against Taleban and al Qaeda militants in Afghanistan.

In Washington, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: "We have been discussing the base with Kyrgyz authorities for some time now. We hope those discussions will continue to the point where we reach some mutually beneficial outcome."

The U.S. embassy in Bishkek said on Wednesday it had received no formal notification that the base would be shut.

Bakiyev's statement was made at a time when the United States is planning a major troop buildup in Afghanistan and is seeking to reinforce supply routes that bypass Pakistan, where convoys have been attacked by militants.

On his visit to Moscow, Bakiyev received a promise of more than $2 billion in credit and aid from Russia to assist his impoverished country, a former Soviet republic.

Russia, annoyed about the presence of U.S. troops in a region it considers as part of its strategic sphere of interest, has long pressured Kyrgyzstan to close the Manas base, home to more than 1,000 U.S. military personnel.

Moscow operates its own military air base in Kyrgyzstan.

Iskhak Masaliyev, a Kyrgyz member of parliament, said the United States would be given 180 days to remove its forces once it had received official notification of the termination of its contract for the air base.

"Basically Kyrgyzstan had to make its choice. And it has now made its strategic choice," said Masaliyev, who represents Kyrgyzstan's communists in parliament.

U.S. officials said while the Manas base was important, any decision to close it would not halt military operations in Afghanistan.

"The United States and coalition forces will be able to continue operations in Afghanistan without the Manas base," U.S. State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said in Washington.

In Moscow, Russian President Medvedev said despite Kyrgyzstan's decision, both countries would carry on cooperating with the United States on Afghanistan.

New U.S. President Barack Obama plans to boost U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan to try and combat an intensifying insurgency.

The United States currently has 32,000 troops in Afghanistan and U.S. officials have said the planned build-up could grow to include as many as 30,000 troops over the next 12 to 18 months.
 


(Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Maria Golovnina; editing by Ralph Gowling)

    U.S. Air Base In Kyrgyzstan Says No Sign Of Closure, NYT, 4.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/02/04/world/international-us-kyrgyzstan-usa-base.html

 

 

 

 

 

For Obama’s Iran Plan, Talk and Some Toughness

 

February 4, 2009
The New York Times
By HELENE COOPER and MARK LANDLER

 

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration may take a tough line with Tehran in coming months even as it signals a willingness to move toward direct talks with Iranian officials, according to President Obama’s aides and outside experts who have consulted with the government about Iran.

While Mr. Obama is expected to soften the Bush administration’s line against talking to Iran, the aides said, he may also seek to toughen sanctions. Iran’s announcement on Tuesday that it launched its first satellite into orbit — a matter that Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, described as being of “acute concern to this administration” — may reinforce the impulse to get tough.

“This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region,” Mr. Gibbs said, adding that the Obama administration “will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community.”

A further indication of Mr. Obama’s approach could come on Wednesday, when William J. Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, is to meet in Germany with world powers seeking to rein in Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Obama told the Arabic-language television station Al Arabiya last week that “if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fist, they will find an extended hand from us.” He has also spoken recently of the need to treat Iran with “mutual respect.” But among the circle of experts advising Mr. Obama on Iran, several have also advocated increasing the pressure against Tehran.

Dennis B. Ross, the longtime Middle East peace negotiator who is expected to be named to a senior post handling Iran, has long argued that the United States must persuade America’s European allies to increase economic pressure against Iran. A Bipartisan Policy Center task force that included Mr. Ross issued a report in September saying that “the Europeans make war more likely if they do not strengthen sanctions against Iran and effectively end all commercial relations.”

Gary Samore, a former Clinton administration arms control negotiator who is expected to become Mr. Obama’s nonproliferation czar, has argued that any carrot offered to Iran should be accompanied by a bigger stick.

Aides to Mr. Obama say that Mr. Samore has favored offering Tehran warmer relations with the United States, including lifting certain American sanctions against Iran and assuring the Iranian leadership that the United States will not pursue regime change. (Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in the past that he thought the United States should assure Iran that it would not pursue regime change.) But Mr. Samore has also argued that such an offer is not enough unless it comes backed by the threat of stronger sanctions from the United States, Europe, Russia and China, like, for instance, a ban on foreign investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry.

The aides, along with other advisers, spoke about the direction of Iran policy on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the matter.

Both Mr. Samore and Mr. Ross are listed on the Web site for United Against Nuclear Iran, an organization dedicated to stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons. The Web site lists Mr. Samore as a member of the group’s advisory board and Mr. Ross as a co-founder.

The goal of getting Iran to agree to suspend its uranium enrichment eluded the Bush administration and America’s European allies, in part, some foreign policy analysts say, because Russia, China, and some European countries have balked at the idea of increasing economic pressure on Iran. The United States and other Western countries suspect that Iran is enriching uranium to produce nuclear weapons, an accusation that Iranian officials have repeatedly denied.

Mr. Obama’s aides are hoping that he can talk those countries into doing for him what they were unwilling to do for Mr. Bush. “I think Obama’s trip in April will be very important,” one administration official said, referring to Mr. Obama’s expected trip to attend the NATO summit meeting in Strasbourg, France, where he will meet with a number of European leaders for the first time as president.

Some Europeans have signaled that they are open to additional sanctions against Iran, viewing them as a diplomatic lever that could lead to direct talks between the United States and Iran. “We want to be helpful in making sure that the outstretched hand of President Obama is a strong hand,” said the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in an interview after his first meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Several European diplomats said that France, Britain and Germany might be willing to consider sanctions if the Obama administration makes an effort to improve the atmosphere with Iran first.

Mr. Obama’s aides say that no decision has been made yet about how to proceed on Iran policy. “We’re still reviewing Iran policy,” said Robert A. Wood, the acting State Department spokesman. Indeed, Mr. Ross has yet to be named to his new post. And while Mrs. Clinton also struck a conciliatory note toward Iran last week, Mr. Obama’s top aides have yet to sit down for a substantive meeting on Iran, administration officials said.

American policy toward Iran is also likely to be complicated by presidential elections scheduled for June. An overture by the United States would raise two kinds of risks, experts say: that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran would benefit politically from such a gesture, and that he may choose to rebuff Washington to score political points before the voting.

At the same time, several experts said the Obama administration cannot afford to sit on its hands, in part because any further delay in persuading Iran to change course would give Tehran more time to enrich uranium.

“Coming out of the barrel like a jack-in-the-box, saying, ‘Meet us in two days in Geneva for talks,’ would be a mistake,” said Thomas R. Pickering, a former undersecretary of state for political affairs. . “But you have to pursue negotiations, regardless,” he said. “To wait around for a more favorable president is not a good idea.”

Mr. Pickering and other Iran experts favor a series of confidence-building steps, which could open the door to more substantive direct contacts. Among these could be the opening of an American interests section in Tehran, a low-level diplomatic outpost.

    For Obama’s Iran Plan, Talk and Some Toughness, NYT, 4.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/washington/04diplo.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

In Shattered Gaza Town, Roots of Seething Split

 

February 4, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER and SABRINA TAVERNISE

 

EL ATATRA, Gaza — The phosphorus smoke bomb punched through the roof in exactly the spot where much of the family had taken refuge — the upstairs hall away from the windows.

The bomb, which international weapons experts identified as phosphorus by its fragments, was intended to mask troop movements outside. Instead it breathed its storm of fire and smoke into Sabah Abu Halima’s hallway, releasing flaming chemicals that clung to her husband, baby girl and three other small children, burning them to death.

The Israeli military says that it is unaware of the family’s disaster, or of any other civilian deaths in this farming village in northwest Gaza. While residents say that 11 other civilians were killed during the first few days of Israel’s ground invasion, Israel says that its soldiers killed gunmen and militants in this village, which it considers a Hamas stronghold. At least four Israeli soldiers were wounded in the fight.

The war in El Atatra tells the story of Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, with each side giving a very different version. Palestinians here describe Israeli military actions as a massacre, and Israelis attribute civilian casualties to a Hamas policy of hiding behind its people.

In El Atatra, neither version appears entirely true, based on 50 interviews with villagers and four Israeli commanders. The dozen or so civilian deaths seem like the painful but inevitable outcome of a modern army bringing war to an urban space. And while Hamas fighters had placed explosives in a kitchen, on doorways and in a mosque, they did not seem to be forcing civilians to act as shields.

The gaps reflect not only a desire to shape public opinion, but also something more significant: a growing distance between two peoples who used to have daily interactions, but who are being forced apart by violence, mutual demonization and a policy of separation.

Palestinians almost never question the legitimacy of firing rockets at Israeli civilians as a form of resistance, and seemed shocked that Israel would go to war over it. Meanwhile, Israel sent a double message.

On one hand, it made clear that it was furious over the years of rocket fire and would not restrain its reaction. On the other, it argued that it took an exceptionally humane approach to the civilians of Gaza, in contrast to what it saw as its bloodthirsty enemy, Hamas.

Unlike most Gazans, many people in this village are not refugees from the 1948 independence war, but farmers and landowners, who for years sold strawberries to Israel until an embargo against the Hamas-run territory began a few years ago. Israel warned residents, in leaflets, radio broadcasts and telephone calls to leave, but many thought that the Israeli incursion did not threaten them.

“I figured it would be like all the other times when they dropped leaflets, so we went inside and waited,” said Rafiq Gambour, 45, a car mechanic who worked in Israel for years, including in Sderot, where Hamas rockets have taken the biggest toll.

So when disaster struck at the Abu Halima house on Jan. 4, a Sunday, many did the only thing they thought might save them: They got on the phone with their Israeli friends. As the sun set and the bodies burned, a crowd of panicked villagers waited as a village elder and farmer, Mahmoud Khlaiyel, and another farmer made frantic phone calls to merchants on the other side of the border.

“There was no one I didn’t call,” Mr. Khlaiyel said.

A man who identified himself as Danny Batua, a 54-year-old Israeli Jewish businessman whose family has been friends with the Abu Halima family for years, said by telephone that he believed the Abu Halimas were not involved with Hamas, and that their suffering was a result of inaccurate intelligence on the part of the Israeli military.

“What can I tell you?” Mr. Batua said. “The army has no idea.”

But according to Captain E., an Israeli military commander whose men took the western sector of the village on the first night of the ground war, most houses in that area were empty of civilians. What is more, he said, militants had remained and had begun gun battles with his soldiers.

The military made the commander available for an interview in Israel, but limited his identification to the initial of his first name.

“We faced fire mostly from snipers,” he said. “We found tunnels, maps, Kalashnikovs, uniforms from our army and many large explosives throughout the houses we searched,” he added, showing photographs of what his men had collected. “We also found a bucket of grenades inside a mosque.”

Some of what the army contends is clearly real. Rockets were launched from near the town’s elementary school, and from many of its fields, Israeli commanders and several residents said.

Hamas leaders were in the village and Israeli commanders displayed evidence of four tunnels throughout the village, though not the extensive network that higher-level commanders had reported. The militants also had weapons, but while the commanders said they had destroyed houses that corresponded only to weapons caches, that did not always seem to have been true.

“My principle for blowing up houses was not to destroy a house that just had one AK-47, but only if we found real infrastructure or large amounts of explosives,” said the brigade commander for the area, Col. Herzl Halevy, by telephone from Israel.

“I checked this out personally,” he added. Between 40 and 50 houses were destroyed.

But when the platoon of another commander, Captain Y., took over the neighborhood where a family named Ghanem lived, it blew up their house without going inside, he made clear in a phone interview. A search of it two weeks later by a correspondent for The New York Times joined by a 20-year veteran of the British Army, Chris Cobb-Smith, a weapons consultant for Amnesty International, showed no evidence of explosive material or of a secondary blast.

So why was the house destroyed?

“We had advance intelligence that there were bombs inside the house,” Captain Y. said. “We looked inside from the doorway and saw things that made us suspicious. I didn’t want to risk the lives of my men. We ordered the house destroyed.”

That seemed to be the guiding principle for a number of the operations in El Atatra: avoid Israeli casualties at all cost.

The elementary school was a similar story. Intelligence suggested that there were explosives inside, and an F-16 dropped a bomb on it, producing a house-size hole. When the Israelis inspected later, they found written material from Hamas but no explosives, Captain Y. said. Now the school is unusable, its giant metal flower decorations lying on their sides.

For the Ghanem family’s 23-year-old son, Bakr, the act will not easily be forgotten.

“A house is something physical, but also something in your heart,” he said as he stood outside his collapsed home, taken over by cats and putrid odors. “The place in our heart has also been injured. There can be no peace after this.”

This talk pains some of the older villagers, like Tamam Abu Halima, 65, who wants to return to the past she shared with Israeli neighbors, when she would fix dinners of fish and figs, and accepting an invitation was as easy as getting in the car.

Her grandson, Hamza, who grew up in a time when boundaries were stricter, has no fond memories of Israelis.

“The only ones I know shoot and kill,” he said.

Many here believe that Israelis feel the same about them, and that they were treated with suspicion and contempt, as would-be fighters. That might help explain what happened, they say, when Omar Abu Halima and his two teenage cousins tried to take the burned body of his baby sister and two other living but badly burned girls to the hospital on that Sunday.

The boys were taking the girls and six others on a tractor, when, according to several accounts from villagers, Israeli soldiers told them to stop. According to their accounts, they got down, put their hands up, and suddenly rounds were fired, killing two teenage boys: Matar Abu Halima, 18, and Muhamed Hekmet, 17.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that soldiers had reported that the two were armed and firing. Villagers strongly deny that. The tractor that villagers say was carrying the group is riddled with 36 bullet holes.

The villagers were forced to abandon the bodies of the teenage boys and the baby, and when rescue workers arrived 11 days later, the baby’s body had been eaten by dogs, her legs two white bones, captured in a gruesome image on a relative’s cellphone. The badly burned girls and others on the tractor had fled to safety.

Matar’s mother, Nabila Abu Halima, said she had been shot through the arm when she tried to move toward her son. Her left arm bears a round scar. Her son came back to her in pieces, his body crushed under tank treads.

“Those who came this time were not Israelis,” Mr. Gambour, the car mechanic, said of the attackers. “They were not even human.”

The question of how Israel handled civilians in this war has become a matter of keen controversy. Human rights groups are crisscrossing Gaza, documenting what they believe will form the basis for war crimes proceedings aimed at demonstrating that Israel used disproportionate force.

Israeli officers said they took special care not to harm civilians.

“I can promise you that throughout the war, there were many times that civilians walked by us and we never shot at them,” said a commanding officer in a part of El Atatra, Major E.

That statement draws a hollow laugh from villagers.

“They think everybody in Gaza is a terrorist,” said Bekker Abu Halima, who had driven a truck with other bodies and said it was fired on.

Both sides engage in their own denials.

Israelis argue that this war was especially tough because they had waited so long before taking action in response to the thousands of rockets fired from Gaza over eight years.

Yet after Israelis withdrew their settlers and soldiers from Gaza in late 2005, they killed, over the next three years in numerous military actions here, the same number of Gazans as those killed in this war — about 1,275.

For their part, few Palestinian villagers even acknowledged the existence of fighters here. Hamas is now asserting that it achieved a victory.

But here in the ruins of El Atatra, perhaps the biggest damage has been to any memory of a shared past and any thought of a shared future.

“We used to tell fighters not to fire from here,” said Nabila Abu Halima, looking over a field through her open window. “Now I’ll invite them to do it from my house.”



Taghreed El-Khodary and Nadim Audi contributed reporting.

    In Shattered Gaza Town, Roots of Seething Split, NYT, 4.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/04/world/middleeast/04gaza.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

U.S. Promises Sustained Mideast Peace Bid

 

February 3, 2009
Filed at 12:33 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Sticking to a pledge to make Israeli-Palestinian peace a priority, the Obama administration said on Tuesday its Middle East envoy would return to the region this month to try to revive the stalled peace process.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who was dispatched to the region just a week after Barack Obama took over the presidency, would return before the end of this month.

Clinton, speaking with Mitchell shortly after he returned from his first trip, said the United States was prepared to work with "all of the parties" to make progress toward a Palestinian statehood.

But she urged the militant group Hamas to meet oft-repeated conditions. "They (Hamas) must renounce violence, they must recognize Israel, they must agree to abide by prior agreements," she said.

Hamas, she said, must also cease its rocket fire into Israel and said the Jewish state would continue to defend itself as long as it was attacked.

In his presidential campaign Obama promised to focus on the Middle East right away. His predecessor, George W. Bush, who was engaged in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, waited until his last year in office to make a major effort in the area.

Clinton, whose husband President Bill Clinton worked until nearly his last day in office to get an elusive deal, promised a sustained effort from the new administration.

"This is the first of what will be an on going high level of engagement by Senator Mitchell on behalf of myself and the president," she said.

"The United States is committed to this path, and we are going to work as hard as we can over what period of time is required to try to help the parties make progress together," she added.

Mitchell, who helped broker peace in Northern Ireland, returned on Monday from talks with Israelis and Palestinians in a bid to shore up a ceasefire in Gaza following Israel's three-week offensive launched in December.

Mitchell said the situation was "obviously complex and difficult" but he was convinced that with patient diplomacy the United States could help achieve a long-term peace.

"There are no easy or risk-free courses of action," he told reporters. "I plan to establish a regular and sustained presence in the region."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled nearly monthly to Israel and the West Bank in her final year in office in a bid to get both sides closer to reaching a deal.

Mitchell said leaders in the region were anxious for Clinton to go at an "appropriate time."



(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and John Whitesides; Editing by David Wiessler and David Storey)

    U.S. Promises Sustained Mideast Peace Bid, NYT, 3.2.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/02/03/washington/politics-us-israel-palestinians-mitchell.html

 

 

 

 

 

Gaza Violence Complicates Mitchell Mission

 

January 30, 2009
The New York Times
By ISABEL KERSHNER

 

JERUSALEM — A day after President Obama’s special Middle East envoy called for a consolidation of the fragile Gaza cease-fire, the truce came under new strain on Thursday when the Israeli military said Palestinians fired a rocket into Israel at dawn and Israel launched an air attack into southern Gaza.

On his first visit to the region in his new role, the envoy, George J. Mitchell, traveled to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian leaders. On Wednesday, after discussions with Israel’s prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Mr. Mitchell said he spoke of “the critical importance” of consolidating the cease-fire that ended Israel’s three-week offensive against Hamas.

As Mr. Mitchell prepared to travel to Ramallah, Israel said it launched an air attack in the southern Gaza town of Khan Younis against a “known terrorist” accused by an Israeli military spokesman of being part of a squad responsible for a roadside bombing on Tuesday that killed an Israeli soldier on the Israeli side of the border.

News reports from Gaza described the target of the attack as a Hamas policeman on a motorcycle who was injured along with several civilians, including schoolchildren.

But the Israeli military spokesman, who spoke in return for customary anonymity, said the man was a member of a group called Global Jihad. The spokesman said the man had once been a supporter of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and that Israel holds responsible for all attacks from the coastal strip.

“As the sole authority in the Gaza Strip, Hamas bears full responsibility for all terrorist activity originating from Gaza,” an Israeli military statement said Thursday.

Global Jihad, a small and shadowy group that broke from Hamas, took responsibility for a roadside bombing on Tuesday. Israel retaliated with an airstrike that wounded a militant and a raid that killed a man whose family said he was a farmer.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military said a rocket, the first since the fighting ended on Jan. 18, was fired from Gaza hours after Mr. Mitchell arrived in Israel from Cairo. It landed in an open area in Israel, causing no injuries. Israel carried out a retaliatory air strike against what the military said was a weapons manufacturing plant in southern Gaza. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

Mr. Mitchell told reporters after the meeting with Mr. Olmert that a broadening of the truce should include a cessation of hostilities, an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza and “the reopening of the crossings” based on agreements reached in 2005.

Those agreements, brokered by the United States, called for Palestinian Authority forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, a Hamas rival, to secure the Palestinian side of the crossings. But Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, routing the Palestinian Authority forces there. Israel has since imposed a strict economic embargo on Gaza, letting in only humanitarian aid and basic supplies.

An Olmert aide said the prime minister told Mr. Mitchell that the crossings would “not be permanently opened” until the case of a captured Israeli soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, was resolved. Corporal Shalit was seized in a cross-border raid in 2006 and taken into Gaza. Hamas is demanding that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including many convicted of major terrorist acts, in exchange for his release.

Hamas has rejected any linkage between the reopening of the passages and the case of Corporal Shalit, and it insists on the reopening as a prerequisite to a lasting cease-fire. In a statement issued in Syria on Wednesday, the exiled leaders of Hamas and seven other Palestinian militant groups said the “factions of the resistance reject the signing of a truce agreement before the opening of all crossing points, the lifting of the blockade and the arrival of supplies.”

Mr. Mitchell planned to meet Mr. Abbas and other Palestinian Authority leaders on Thursday. Mr. Mitchell had no plans to meet with any representatives of Hamas, which the United States, like Israel and the European Union, classifies as a terrorist organization.

In Davos, Switzerland, meanwhile, the United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, launched an appeal for $613 million in emergency aid for Palestinians in Gaza, saying: “Help is needed urgently,” news reports said.

Mr. Ban visited Gaza after both sides declared unilateral cease-fires almost two weeks ago. He is the highest-ranking international figure to have visited Gaza since the war. Mr. Ban was speaking to reporters covering the World Economic Forum in Davos.



Ethan Bronner and Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza, Myra Noveck from Jerusalem, and Alan Cowell from Paris.

    Gaza Violence Complicates Mitchell Mission, NYT, 30.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/30/world/middleeast/30mideast.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Letters

What Is Bush’s Legacy in the Mideast?

 

January 25, 2009
The New York Times
 

To the Editor:

In “The Next War President” (column, Jan. 19), William Kristol says, “I couldn’t help but reflect that a distressingly small number of my fellow Jews seem to have given much thought at all to the fact that President Bush is one of the greatest friends the state of Israel — and, yes, the Jewish people — have had in quite a while.”

As a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, I often think about, and of course appreciate, Mr. Bush’s friendship. However, Mr. Bush’s ardent support seemed to be directed more to one political faction in Israel — the extreme right — than to Israel as a whole.

His support hardened the intransigence of that faction, and made it harder for Israel’s centrist government to counter the right’s irredentist hold on territories. Territorial compromise and eventual peace became that much harder to achieve.

This, in turn, alienated potential Arab parties to any peace settlement. And now eight lost years have passed during which peacemaking in the Middle East went nowhere.

I hope that President Obama will steadfastly support Israel’s mainstream body politic by promoting a policy that has greater likelihood of strengthening Israel’s moderates, enticing its neighbors to the negotiating table, and exacting from both sides the mutual concessions necessary to bring the peace and stability we crave so much.

Dov Eden
New York, Jan. 19, 2009

The writer is a visiting professor of management at Baruch College, CUNY.



To the Editor:

President George W. Bush will be remembered as the greatest friend to Israel and the Jewish people, surpassing even Presidents Ronald Reagan and Harry S. Truman. History will treat him far better than the present.

Mr. Bush established a free democracy in Iraq, and set free millions of oppressed people in Afghanistan and Iraq. If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan are able to continue to live in a peaceful, free society, they will owe George W. Bush many thanks.

Mark Friedman
East Windsor, N.J., Jan. 19, 2009



To the Editor:

When Israel needed a friend to help it deal with a rapidly changing dynamic in the Palestinian government, President George W. Bush was absent.

When Israel needed a friend to help find better solutions to the Iranian-backed militant groups Hezbollah and Hamas, Mr. Bush supported the use of military force, despite the fact that a military solution to these problems does not exist.

And when Israel needed a strong, respected ally to be its advocate with regard to Iran, Mr. Bush’s policies in Iraq and his refusal to deal with Iran in a diplomatic way prevented the world from being able to end Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

I have no doubt that Mr. Bush believes that he is a good friend to Israel and believes his love for Israel is genuine. However, Israel is further away from its goal of a safe and secure future today than it was when he took office.

Michael C. Levy
New York, Jan. 19, 2009



To the Editor:

William Kristol argues that one of President George W. Bush’s accomplishments was keeping the country safe.

So specifically, how many major terrorist attacks on American soil had there been before 9/11 and what reason do we have to believe that there would have been more without the efforts of the Bush administration?

The available evidence, it seems to me, points to the conclusion that most of the terrorist plots that were supposedly nipped in the bud by the administration were never viable threats to anyone.

Joseph Turner
Portland, Ore., Jan. 19, 2009

The writer is a former analyst and station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency.



To the Editor:

William Kristol has come to praise George W. Bush, not to bury him, stating that he is “perfectly happy to defend most of his surveillance, interrogation and counterterrorism policies against his critics.”

If the cost of security has been the undermining of the Constitution, it has been a Pyrrhic victory indeed.

Gary Tonucci
Maplewood, N.J., Jan. 22, 2009

    What Is Bush’s Legacy in the Mideast?, NYT, 25.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/opinion/l25kristol.html

 

 

 

 

 

Appointing Emissaries, Obama and Clinton Stress Diplomacy

 

January 23, 2009
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER

 

WASHINGTON — Signaling his determination to use diplomacy to address the world’s toughest conflicts, President Obama went to the State Department on Thursday to install high-level emissaries to handle the Arab-Israeli issue and Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama struck an empathetic tone toward Palestinians in Gaza, who he said were suffering greatly after the recently halted Israeli military campaign against Hamas. But he signaled no major shift in American policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Mr. Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton jointly introduced the emissaries, George J. Mitchell, who will be special envoy for Arab-Israeli affairs, and Richard C. Holbrooke, who will hold the title of special representative and will be responsible for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Mr. Mitchell, a former Senate majority leader, helped broker a peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Mr. Holbrooke, a longtime diplomat who was the American ambassador to the United Nations, played a central role in drafting the 1995 Dayton peace accords, which ended the war in Bosnia.

The appointment of such diplomatic heavyweights could pose a challenge to Mrs. Clinton as she seeks to carve out her place as the nation’s chief diplomat. Each was once viewed as a potential secretary of state, and Mr. Holbrooke, in particular, will have a wide-ranging portfolio.

Underscoring the potentially tangled lines of authority, Mrs. Clinton said that the National Security Council, led by Gen. James L. Jones, would play a coordinating role on Afghanistan and Pakistan. She emphasized unity, saying, “We want to send a clear and unequivocal message: we are a team.”

Already, though, there is some jockeying over whether the State Department or the White House will dominate foreign policy — with the first skirmishes playing out in the titles given to the emissaries.

Both Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Holbrooke will report to Mrs. Clinton, and through her, to Mr. Obama, according to a State Department spokesman. But as if to dramatize the murkiness of the arrangement, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who accompanied Mr. Obama to the State Department, seemed confused at one point about whether the new president or the new secretary of state would introduce the emissaries. (It was Mrs. Clinton.)

As a special envoy, the State Department spokesman said, Mr. Mitchell will have a more traditional role, working out of the State Department. As a special representative, administration officials said, Mr. Holbrooke will have the freedom to roam — and to represent Mr. Obama, the National Security Council and even the Pentagon.

Mr. Holbrooke and General Jones, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, wanted Mr. Holbrooke to be able to speak directly to the White House, an official said. General Jones once led NATO’s Supreme Allied Command in Afghanistan and plans to be deeply involved in Afghan policy.

With the United States about to deploy 30,000 more troops there, policymaking on Afghanistan is as much about the military as about diplomacy, officials said, so Mr. Holbrooke will have to cut across departments.

Mr. Obama and Mr. Biden visited the State Department hours after Mrs. Clinton arrived for her first day of work there. She received a hero’s welcome from more than a thousand State Department employees, who whooped and cheered as if it were a campaign rally.

“This is going to be a great adventure,” Mrs. Clinton said to employees in a lively 10-minute address, with people craning to see her from a balcony in the flag-lined lobby of the State Department.

“I will do all that I can, working with you, to make it abundantly clear that robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long-term tools for securing America’s future,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Mr. Obama made the same point in his speech to senior and midlevel diplomats in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room. And he went out of his way to praise his former rival for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I’ve given you an early gift: Hillary Clinton,” he said, to noisy applause.

The State Department has been demoralized by a lack of resources and the primacy of the Pentagon in overseas operations. Among the crowd gathered to greet Mrs. Clinton, there was a palpable hope that the department finally had a forceful advocate. Her arrival — she was bathed in flashbulbs and mobbed by outstretched hands — was more suited to a celebrity than a government official.

“The employees are ecstatic that we now have a secretary of state who is going to fight for the resources we need,” said John Naland, the president of the American Foreign Service Association, the professional association and labor union representing career diplomats. “For three years, there were almost no requests for additional staffing and resources.”

To bolster the department’s fund-raising efforts on Capitol Hill, Mrs. Clinton has named Jacob J. Lew, a former budget director in the Clinton administration, as one of two deputies. The other deputy is James B. Steinberg, a deputy national security adviser to President Clinton. Both appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Thursday for their confirmation hearings.

While Mr. Obama’s remarks on the Middle East did not break new ground, his reference to the plight of Palestinians suggested that his administration might strive for a more evenhanded tone.

“Our hearts go out to the Palestinian civilians who are in need of food, clean water and basic medical care,” he said, noting that the blocking of border crossings in Gaza had deepened their misery.

Mr. Mitchell, 75, said his experience in Northern Ireland, where sectarian conflict raged for centuries, had prepared him for the grueling work of a Middle East peace negotiator. “We had 700 days of failure and one day of success,” he said.

Mr. Holbrooke, 67, who spoke of his roots as a junior diplomat, offered no details about future policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But he demonstrated his assertive personal style, saying he would coordinate “what is clearly a chaotic foreign assistance program” in Afghanistan.

Foreign-policy analysts uniformly praised both men, but some said Mrs. Clinton would need to assert her authority.

“There’s no precedent for a secretary of state to subcontract two incredibly high-profile and politically resonant issues so early in her tenure,” said Aaron David Miller, an analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington. “That could create a management problem.”



Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

    Appointing Emissaries, Obama and Clinton Stress Diplomacy, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/washington/23diplo.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Acts Fast on Mideast, But Substance Familiar

 

January 23, 2009
Filed at 8:06 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By REUTERS

 

CAIRO (Reuters) - President Barack Obama has taken the Middle East by surprise with the speed of his diplomacy but his first statement on the conflict between Arabs and Israelis was strikingly similar to old U.S. policies.

Arab leaders in the meantime are jumping in with their own proposals in the hope of helping to shape U.S. policy before the new administration sets it in stone.

Arab governments and commentators had expected Obama to take his time before turning his attention to the Middle East, concentrating instead on the U.S. economy and domestic concerns.

But the new president, only two days into office, appointed on Thursday a special envoy for the region, veteran mediator and former Senator George Mitchell, and said Mitchell would go to the Middle East as soon as possible.

Mitchell will try to ensure that an informal ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip becomes durable and sustainable, Obama added.

One day earlier, Obama made telephone calls to Washington's long-standing allies in the Middle East - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah of Jordan.

The conservative Arab governments saw the calls as an affirmation of their privileged status -- another sign that Obama is sticking to traditional approaches.

"It took two longs days before Obama dispelled any notions of a change in U.S. Middle East policy," said As'ad Abu Khalil, Lebanese-born and pro-Palestinian professor of political science at California State University.

"Obama's speech was quite something. It was like sprinkling sulphuric acid on the wounds of the children in Gaza," he added.

But Obama's diplomatic activism and promises of engagement on Arab-Israeli conflicts does at least address one of the conservatives' main grievances about former President George W. Bush -- that he ignored the conflict for too long and never put his full weight behind any Middle East peace plan.

A senior member of the Saudi ruling family, Prince Turki al-Faisal, said Bush had left "a sickening legacy" in the Middle East and had contributed through arrogance to Israel's slaughter of innocent people in Gaza over the past month.

"If the United States wants to continue playing a leadership role in the Middle East and keep its strategic alliances intact ... it will have to revise drastically its policies vis a vis Israel and Palestine," he added.

Jamal Khashoggi, editor of the Saudi newspaper al-Watan, said the Saudi government was still optimistic about Obama, whom it sees as a possible friend to the Muslim world.

"Even the few Saudi officials who liked Bush were disappointed with him in the last two years," he added.

Maverick Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi took the opportunity of Obama's advent to refloat his own pet proposal -- that Israelis and Palestinians live together in one state.



"CONSTRUCTIVE ELEMENTS"

Prince Turki, a nephew of King Abdullah and a former ambassador to Washington, said Washington should back the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which offers Israel peace and normal relations in return for withdrawal to its 1967 borders.

In his policy statement on Thursday, Obama said the Arab peace offer contained what he called constructive elements.

But he then called on Arab governments to carry out their half of the bargain -- "taking steps toward normalizing relations with Israel" -- without suggesting that Israel should meet the parallel Arab demand for territorial withdrawal.

Obama gave full backing to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Western-backed prime minister, ignoring the political weight of Hamas and other groups opposed to Abbas.

He repeated the controversial conditions which the Quartet of external powers in 2006 for dealing with Hamas -- recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and accepting previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Some analysts had speculated that Obama might bring a new approach to dealings with Hamas and other Middle East forces which retain the right to armed struggle against Israel.

Obama even linked ending the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza -- one of the roots of the recent fighting -- to restoring Abbas's control of Gaza's borders. That could perpetuate the present blockade for months or years to come.

U.S. reconstruction aid for Gaza will also be channeled exclusively through Abbas, who has no control over Gaza.

The new president followed the traditional U.S. approach of relying on Egypt to mediate between Israel and Hamas and to stop Hamas in Gaza receiving weapons through smuggling.

But Egypt failed to bring Hamas and Israel together on an agreed ceasefire and Israel says that Cairo's anti-smuggling efforts along the Gaza-Egypt border fall far short.

Hamas dismissed Obama's first venture into Middle East policy making as more of the same failed U.S. strategy.

"It seems Obama is trying to repeat the same mistakes that George Bush made without taking into consideration Bush's experience that resulted in the explosion of the region," the Hamas representative in Lebanon, Osama Hamdan, told Al Jazeera.

The pro-Syrian Lebanese newspaper As-Safir added: "The new American President inspired by Bush's positions ... Obama continues the Israeli war on the Palestinian people."

"(Obama) disappointed many hopes set on his balance and moderate views toward the Arab-Israeli conflict, since his positions allows Israel to continue what it began in its last war on Gaza," the newspaper added.



(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy in Beirut and Riyadh newsroom; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)

    Obama Acts Fast on Mideast, But Substance Familiar, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2009/01/23/washington/politics-us-obama-arabs.html

 

 

 

 

 

Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief

 

January 23, 2009
The New York Times
By ROBERT F. WORTH

 

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The emergence of a former Guantánamo Bay detainee as the deputy leader of Al Qaeda’s Yemeni branch has underscored the potential complications in carrying out the executive order President Obama signed Thursday that the detention center be shut down within a year.

The militant, Said Ali al-Shihri, is suspected of involvement in a deadly bombing of the United States Embassy in Yemen’s capital, Sana, in September. He was released to Saudi Arabia in 2007 and passed through a Saudi rehabilitation program for former jihadists before resurfacing with Al Qaeda in Yemen.

His status was announced in an Internet statement by the militant group and was confirmed by an American counterterrorism official.

“They’re one and the same guy,” said the official, who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing an intelligence analysis. “He returned to Saudi Arabia in 2007, but his movements to Yemen remain unclear.”

The development came as Republican legislators criticized the plan to close the Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, detention camp in the absence of any measures for dealing with current detainees. But it also helps explain why the new administration wants to move cautiously, taking time to work out a plan to cope with the complications.

Almost half the camp’s remaining detainees are Yemenis, and efforts to repatriate them depend in part on the creation of a Yemeni rehabilitation program — partly financed by the United States — similar to the Saudi one. Saudi Arabia has claimed that no graduate of its program has returned to terrorism.

“The lesson here is, whoever receives former Guantánamo detainees needs to keep a close eye on them,” the American official said.

Although the Pentagon has said that dozens of released Guantánamo detainees have “returned to the fight,” its claim is difficult to document, and has been met with skepticism. In any case, few of the former detainees, if any, are thought to have become leaders of a major terrorist organization like Al Qaeda in Yemen, a mostly homegrown group that experts say has been reinforced by foreign fighters.

Long considered a haven for jihadists, Yemen, a desperately poor country in the southern corner of the Arabian Peninsula, has witnessed a rising number of attacks over the past year. American officials say they suspect that Mr. Shihri may have been involved in the car bombings outside the American Embassy in Sana last September that killed 16 people, including six attackers.

In the Internet statement, Al Qaeda in Yemen identified its new deputy leader as Abu Sayyaf al-Shihri, saying he returned from Guantánamo to his native Saudi Arabia and then traveled to Yemen “more than 10 months ago.” That corresponds roughly to the return of Mr. Shihri, a Saudi who was released from Guantánamo in November 2007. Abu Sayyaf is a nom de guerre, commonly used by jihadists in place of their real name or first name.

A Saudi security official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Mr. Shihri had disappeared from his home in Saudi Arabia last year after finishing the rehabilitation program.

A Yemeni journalist who interviewed Al Qaeda’s leaders in Yemen last year, Abdulela Shaya, confirmed Thursday that the deputy leader was indeed Mr. Shihri, the former Guantánamo detainee. Mr. Shaya, in a phone interview, said Mr. Shihri had described to him his journey from Cuba to Yemen and supplied his Guantánamo detention number, 372. That is the correct number, Pentagon documents show.

“It seems certain from all the sources we have that this is the same individual who was released from Guantánamo in 2007,” said Gregory Johnsen, a terrorism analyst and the editor of a forthcoming book, “Islam and Insurgency in Yemen.”

Mr. Shihri, 35, trained in urban warfare tactics at a camp north of Kabul, Afghanistan, according to documents released by the Pentagon as part of his Guantánamo dossier. Two weeks after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan via Bahrain and Pakistan, and he later told American investigators that his intention was to do relief work, the documents say. He was wounded in an airstrike and spent a month and a half recovering in a hospital in Pakistan.

The documents state that Mr. Shihri met with a group of “extremists” in Iran and helped them get into Afghanistan. They also say he was accused of trying to arrange the assassination of a writer, in accordance with a fatwa, or religious order, issued by an extremist cleric.

However, under a heading describing reasons for Mr. Shihri’s possible release from Guantánamo, the documents say he claimed that he traveled to Iran “to purchase carpets for his store” in Saudi Arabia. They also say that he denied knowledge of any terrorists or terrorist activities, and that he “related that if released, he would like to return to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, wherein he would reunite with his family.”

“The detainee stated he would attempt to work at his family’s furniture store if it is still in business,” the documents say.

The Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda has carried out a number of terrorist attacks over the past year, culminating in the assault on the American Embassy in Sana on Sept. 16. In that assault, the attackers disguised themselves as Yemeni policemen and detonated two car bombs. The group has also begun releasing sophisticated Internet material, in what appears to be a bid to gain more recruits.

Yemen began cooperating with the United States on counterterrorism activities in late 2001. But the partnership has been a troubled one, with American officials accusing Yemen of paroling dangerous terrorists, including some who were wanted in the United States. Some high-level terrorism suspects have also mysteriously escaped from Yemeni jails. The disagreements and security lapses have complicated efforts to repatriate the 100 or so Yemenis remaining in Guantánamo.

Despite some notable Yemeni successes in fighting terrorist groups, Al Qaeda in Yemen appears to be gaining strength.

“They are bringing Saudi fighters in, and they want to start to use Yemen as a base for attacks throughout region, including Saudi Arabia and the Horn of Africa,” said Mr. Johnsen, an expert on Al Qaeda in Yemen.



Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington; Khalid al-Hammadi from Sana, Yemen; and Muhammad al-Milfy from Beirut.

    Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief, NYT, 23.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/23/world/middleeast/23yemen.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Chinese Translation Cuts Out Parts of Obama Speech

 

January 21, 2009
Filed at 1:07 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

BEIJING (AP) -- The official Chinese translation of President Barack Obama's inauguration speech was missing his references to communism and dissent, while a live broadcast on state television Wednesday quickly cut away to the anchor when the topic was mentioned.

The comments by the newly installed U.S. president veered into politically sensitive territory for China's ruling Communist Party, which maintains a tight grip over the Internet and the entirely state-run media. Beijing tolerates little dissent and frequently decries foreign interference in its internal affairs.

At one point, Obama said earlier generations ''faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions.'' He later addressed ''those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent -- know that you are on the wrong side of history.''

The Chinese translation of the speech, credited to the Web site of the official China Daily newspaper, was missing the word ''communism'' in the first sentence. The paragraph with the sentence on dissent had been removed entirely.

The censored version was carried by the state-run Xinhua News Agency and posted on popular online portals Sina and Sohu. Another portal, Netease, used a version without the paragraph mentioning communism, but retaining the part about dissent.

The news channel of state broadcaster China Central Television broadcast the speech live early Wednesday local time, but appeared caught off-guard by the statement about facing down communism.

The translator had no sooner said ''fascism and communism'' when the audio faded out from Obama's speech and cameras cut back to the studio anchor, who seemed flustered for a second before turning to ask an expert what challenges the president faces in turning around the U.S. economy.

Wang Jianhong, deputy director of the CCTV general editing department, said he did not stay up to watch the inauguration broadcast but suggested the transition was a normal part of the program.

''There are breakaways even when broadcasting China's own meetings,'' he said. ''Americans might care a lot about the presidential inauguration, but Chinese may not be very interested.''

No one in the editing department of the China Daily Web site was immediately available to answer questions.

The full translation of Obama's speech could be viewed on the Web site of Hong Kong-based broadcaster Phoenix Satellite Television, which has a reputation as a more independent news source. The China Daily Web site posted Obama's full remarks in English only.

China has previously altered the words of U.S. officials. A 2004 speech in Shanghai by former Vice President Dick Cheney was broadcast live on state-run television at the insistence of U.S. officials, but the Chinese transcript of the remarks deleted references to political freedom.

In 2003, the memoirs of then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were pulled from publication in China after the government-backed publisher removed references to the 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy protests and altered Clinton's comments about human rights activist Harry Wu.

    Chinese Translation Cuts Out Parts of Obama Speech, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/21/world/AP-AS-Inauguration-China-Obama.html

 

 

 

 

 

Obama Promises the World a Renewed America

 

January 21, 2009
The New York Times
By JOHN F. BURNS

 

LONDON — President Obama used his Inaugural Address to promise the regeneration of an America many in recent years had feared lost.

Speaking directly to the millions who crowded around televisions across the world as much as to Americans, Mr. Obama said the United States was “ready to lead once more” despite the ravages of protracted wars and a depleted economy.

But he coupled that with a vision of an America that exercises its power with a sense of justice, humility and restraint, and an America that, while believing its values still light the world, pledges to promote them through cooperation and understanding as much as military might.

With a steel never so pronounced in his campaign, he challenged America’s adversaries — and, recently, some of its oldest friends — who have spied an America diminished by economic distress and war, and heralded a new world order in which America would give up much of its power.

That hesitant, regretful America was nowhere to be seen in Mr. Obama’s address, which called on Americans to rally against “a nagging fear” that decline is inevitable. While offering a “new way forward to the Muslim world,” and warning dictators that they are “on the wrong side of history,” he sounded not unlike George W. Bush in his challenges to those who spread terror and destruction. “You cannot outlast us; we will defeat you,” he said.

Some abroad bridled and some were reassured by the recurring foreign policy motif of Mr. Obama’s address — his resolve that the United States, as it rebuilds at home, will not give up its long-established role as the leader of the free world. And while many hailed the change of tone, others were uncertain that real change was coming, given the realities of American politics and the world that has not altered with the transition in Washington.

In Cairo and Lebanon, while some hailed Mr. Obama’s outreach to the Muslim world, most remained skeptical about his ability to change the basic direction of American policy and what many Arabs regard as a strong bias toward Israel. For many, the war in Gaza, which caused tremendous anger throughout the Arab world, overshadowed the inauguration; Mr. Obama did not refer to it in his address.

“Why should I be optimistic about what he said?” said Hassan Abdel Rahman, 25, a salesman in a flower shop in Cairo. “If there was reason to be optimistic, then we would have felt it during the war on Gaza, and if he was just, then he would have said something then — but he said nothing!”

Some old adversaries suggested that they would keep an open mind. “We salute the people of the United States,” said Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, emphasizing that he hoped that Mr. Obama’s presidency would “mark a change in the relations of the United States with the countries of the third world.”

In some capitals, Mr. Obama’s renewed claim to foreign leadership and the prospect of an American president with the kind of aura not seen since John F. Kennedy have provoked stirrings of jealousy, even animosity. In Russia and France, notably, there have been high-level calls that Mr. Obama accept that America’s days as the dominant superpower are over, especially in the face of the retreat from the free-market capitalism the United States has championed.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei V. Lavrov, published an essay last month saying, in language that was almost pitying, that Russia had “returned to the world stage” and would not accept the United States any longer as an imperial power. “America has to recognize the reality of a ‘post-American’ world,” he said.

More surprising, perhaps, has been the changed tone of France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who took office in 2007 with a reputation as France’s most pro-American president in memory but has tempered that as he has sought to establish himself as Europe’s most powerful voice. “I have always been in favor of a very close alliance with the United States of America,” Mr. Sarkozy said two weeks ago. “But let us make things clear: in the 21st century, there is no longer one nation that can tell what must be done or what one must think.”

The tone of Mr. Obama’s address, especially his emphasis on greater cooperation, and his vow to combat poverty, climate change and nuclear threats, scarcely presaged a new era of American bullying. But even with a radical new tone, he may find the partners he seeks may be reluctant to share burdens that have until now been America’s main responsibility to bear.

“We have entered a period of historical transition in which the United States will become first among equals, rather than simply top dog, hyperpower and unquestioned hegemon,” said Timothy Garton Ash, a professor of European studies at Oxford. “But for Europeans, it may be a case of being careful what you wish for, because the Obama administration is likely to say, ‘Good, then put your money where your mouth is, and in the first place, put more troops in Afghanistan.’ ”

In the days leading up to the inauguration, many politicians, academics, opinion leaders and others spoke to correspondents of The New York Times around the world about Mr. Obama in terms verging on euphoria. But they also sounded warnings that the expectations were too high and that the world might discover that Mr. Obama is hemmed in by some of the unyielding realities that had frustrated his predecessor, compounded now by the worldwide recession and what it has done to diminish America’s reputation as a model of free-market prosperity.

“Obviously, there is a risk that we will expect too much of this president — that we will learn that however hugely talented he is, he isn’t a global miracle worker,” said Christopher Patten, a former European commissioner for foreign affairs who is now chancellor of Oxford.

Moves that Mr. Obama has signaled, like a plan to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to align the United States with international law on the use of torture, are certain to be greeted with relief and celebration around the world. But on Iran’s suspected bid to acquire nuclear weapons, on his pledge to step up the allied military commitment in Afghanistan, on climate change and a host of other issues, he may find personal popularity one thing, achieving his goals through partnership and negotiation quite another.

As he prepared to leave office, Mr. Bush admonished Mr. Obama to remember that a president’s first priority is to keep America safe, a challenge the new president addressed.

But his pledges to “leave Iraq to its people” and push for a “hard-earned peace” in Afghanistan may yet jar with reality, military analysts have warned. His plan to increase American and allied troop strength in Afghanistan has met with a chilling riposte from Osama bin Laden, who, by eluding capture since 9/11, has embodied the limits of Mr. Bush’s “great war on terror.”

Last week, Mr. bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s leader, challenged Mr. Obama in an audio message. Referring to Afghanistan and Iraq, he said Mr. Obama was “like one who swallows a double-edged dagger — whichever way he moves it, it will wound him.” Iraq could be just as tricky, confronting Mr. Obama, should trends toward less violence there reverse, with a challenge to his campaign commitment to a 16-month troop withdrawal timetable.

Jorge Montaño, a former Mexican ambassador to the United States, said that Mr. Bush had been too focused on Afghanistan and Iraq to notice that Latin America was drifting away from the United States, and that Mr. Obama might prove little different. “Right now, the people of the United States are worried about their credit cards, their mortgages,” he said. “These will be Obama’s priorities, and this region will have to wait.”

But as Mr. Obama took office, practical calculations were largely set aside. Commentaries praising him found much more to admire than the fact that he is the first African-American president, significant though that is in a world whose population of 6.5 billion is overwhelmingly nonwhite.

Even before his solemn and measured address, Mr. Obama had drawn widespread plaudits for his character and judgment. “Obama acts like a kind of antacid to the American stomach,” Andrew Sullivan, a columnist for The Sunday Times of London, wrote last weekend, one of a raft of adulatory articles in Europe’s major newspapers. Rather than seeing the world in black and white terms, he wrote, Mr. Obama “sees it as a series of interconnected conflicts that can be managed by pragmatic solutions, combined with a little rhetorical fairy dust and willingness to offer respect where Bush provided merely contempt.”

“This is not a panacea,” he added. “But it is not nothing either.”



Reporting was contributed by Simon Romero from Caracas, Venezuela; Mona el-Naggar from Cairo; Ellen Barry from Moscow; Marc Lacey from Mexico City; and Daphné Anglès from Paris.

    Obama Promises the World a Renewed America, NYT, 21.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/21/us/politics/21abroad.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

On First Full Day, Obama Will Dive Into Foreign Policy

 

Tuesday, January 20, 2009
A12
Washington Post
Staff Writers
By Michael D. Shear and Karen DeYoung

 

President-elect Barack Obama will plunge into foreign policy on his first full day in office tomorrow, finally freed from the constraints of tradition that has forced him and his staff to remain muzzled about world affairs during the 78-day transition.

As one of his first actions, Obama plans to name former senator George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) as his Middle East envoy, aides said, sending a signal that the new administration intends to move quickly to engage warring Israelis and Palestinians in efforts to secure the peace.

Mitchell's appointment will follow this afternoon's expected Senate vote to confirm Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state. And tomorrow afternoon, aides said, Obama will convene a meeting of his National Security Council to launch a reassessment of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

By the end of the week, Obama plans to issue an executive order to eventually shut down the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to lay out a new process for dealing with about 250 detainees remaining at the prison.

The actions -- to be taken before the entire White House staff has found their desks -- reflect the frenetic activity among Obama's national security advisers that has been taking place behind the scenes since Election Day.

Following his noon inauguration, Obama will spend a brief time at the White House before heading to a series of dinners and inaugural balls. Aides said the work of being president will begin in earnest tomorrow morning.

That work has already been in full view with regard to the economic crisis and other domestic issues. Obama has not been bashful, giving speeches and dispatching aides to work with Congress on an $825 billion stimulus package. He will meet with economic advisers tomorrow and is expected to quickly issue an executive order demanding a new level of transparency and ethics in government.

But the new president will for the first time assume the responsibility for an Iraq war that he opposed from its inception and a series of international crises that will quickly test his mettle as commander in chief.

Publicly, the president-elect has deferred to President Bush and has declined to comment on the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip and the terrorist attacks in Mumbai. But privately, he and his aides have been preparing to dramatically reshape the country's foreign policy, starting with the broad conflict zone from Israel to Pakistan.

Last Thursday, in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Obama criticized Bush for treating Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan as "discrete" problems. Under his watch, Obama said, policy in that region will be treated as a single, unified one.

"One of the principles that we'll be operating under is that these things are very much related and that if we have got an integrated approach, we're going to be more effective," he said.

Incoming officials were still debating yesterday how involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis should proceed during the first week. With a fragile Gaza cease-fire in place, the new administration plans to tread gingerly, working behind the scenes while allowing Egyptian and European initiatives to play out before taking a highly visible role.

Obama transition officials are acutely aware that the world -- and especially the Israelis and Palestinians -- will be watching to see what tone the new president takes. Sources said the initial emphasis will likely be on stepped-up presidential engagement rather than the specifics of a U.S. role, and empathy and aid toward humanitarian suffering.

The first concrete evidence of a new foreign policy approach will begin with the meeting tomorrow. Obama will instruct the Pentagon to prepare for a stepped-up withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, to be completed within 16 months, and will hear proposals for turning around the deteriorating war in Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Michael Mullen, will attend, and Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of Central Command, and Gen. Raymond Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq, will weigh in via live video connection.

Senior officers began late last year to prepare options for withdrawing from Iraq. Obama has said he will listen carefully to their recommendations before approving a plan that meets his specifications. He has said he expects to maintain a "residual force" in Iraq but has not indicated how many troops will remain over what period.

He has also indicated he will move ahead with existing plans for deployment of as many as 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year.

After returning to the White House following his swearing-in today, Obama is expected to visit the Oval Office, aides said.

A handful of senior staff members will ride in Obama's motorcade to the White House today and enter their offices for the first time as they brace to confront the economy, the Middle East, overseas wars and a raft of domestic policy controversies.

Aides said only about 15 White House staffers were pre-screened to enter the West Wing today. The rest will arrive tomorrow morning, after partying at inaugural balls.

Gates will not attend inaugural festivities, having been designated to stay away from the president and other national leaders in case of a catastrophic event.

Mitchell, who led a Middle East peace commission in 2000, is highly regarded as a negotiator for his work in the successful Northern Ireland peace process. An Obama adviser said the exact timing of Mitchell's appointment will depend on Clinton's confirmation vote, which is scheduled to take place by "unanimous consent" and so cannot be stopped by filibuster.

But a Republican senator could demand a voice vote, thus delaying Clinton's confirmation by another day. "If any Republican holds her over, they are stalling the entire administration from hitting this problem," the adviser said.

The Guantanamo order is being crafted by Obama White House Counsel Gregory B. Craig. Its timing is expected to preempt a Guantanamo trial scheduled to begin Monday under the current "military commission" proceedings.



Staff writer Anne E. Kornblut contributed to this report.

    On First Full Day, Obama Will Dive Into Foreign Policy, WP, 20.1.2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/19/AR2009011902726.html?hpid=topnews

 

 

 

 

 

China Calls for Better Military Ties Under Obama

 

January 20, 2009
Filed at 5:24 a.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

BEIJING (AP) -- China's defense ministry urged President-elect Barack Obama on Tuesday to work with Beijing to improve its occasionally tense military relationship with the United States, calling on the Pentagon to ''remove obstacles.''

Sr. Col. Hu Changming, chief spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, said China -- with one of the world's fastest-growing armed forces -- looked forward to smoother relations with Washington and its military, the world's largest.

''At present, when China-U.S. military-to-military relations are faced with difficulties, we call on the U.S. Department of Defense to remove obstacles ... and create favorable conditions for the healthy growth of military relations,'' Hu said during a news conference held to present a major military policy paper.

China has long opposed U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, and blocking formal independence for self-governing Taiwan remains the military's chief concern, the policy paper said. China also views separatist movements in Tibet and the far western region of Xinjiang as the biggest threats to the country's national security.

''On these matters, we will not compromise,'' Hu said.

Defense sales to and relations with Taiwan have been an issue for every U.S. president since Beijing and Washington established diplomatic ties 30 years ago. China considers the self-ruled island a part of its territory and supports reunification.

U.S. arms sales to the island remain a major point of contention. Last fall, China's defense minister demanded that the U.S. cancel a $6.5 billion arms sale to Taiwan, including Patriot III missiles and Apache helicopters, and then suspended some senior-level visits and other exchanges in retaliation.

Later in the day, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu reiterated China's opposition to the arms sales, warning that Washington should ''cautiously and properly handle the Taiwan issue, (and) support the peaceful development of cross-strait relations with concrete actions.''

However, years of tension with Taiwan have given way to rapprochement following last year's election of Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, who favors a less confrontational approach to China.

Hu noted there had been major improvements in cross-strait relations, saying ''the situation across the Taiwan Strait has taken a significant and positive turn.''

China also said it considered the global economic crisis a threat to development and was concerned about possible competition among nations for energy and food.

The paper did not give any new spending figures for China's 2.3 million-strong armed forces for 2009. For 2008, China had announced a military budget of $59 billion, up nearly 18 percent over the previous year. It was the 18th year of double digit growth of military spending in the past 19 years.

Such lavish funding has allowed China to add cutting-edge fighter jets, missiles, submarines and surface ships, and the report said such efforts would continue, increasing capabilities as China moves to protect its expanding interests in other parts of the world.

But it did not mention an aircraft carrier, the object of frequent speculation by observers of the Chinese military.

A Defense Ministry spokesman last month said China would ''seriously consider'' building a carrier, while the recent deployment of a three-ship Chinese flotilla to fight piracy off Somalia has further bolstered those prophesying a major expansion of Chinese naval power.

Strategically, a carrier would serve to police the 1.16 million square miles (3 million square kilometers) of sea claimed by Beijing as its maritime territory.

    China Calls for Better Military Ties Under Obama, NYT, 20.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/20/world/AP-AS-China-Defense.html

 

 

 

 

 

Op-Ed Columnist

The Next War President

 

January 19, 2009
The New York Times
By WILLIAM KRISTOL

 

In synagogue on Saturday, before saying the customary prayer for our country, the rabbi asked us to reflect on the fact that a new president would be inaugurated on Tuesday, and urged us to focus a little more intently than usual on the prayer. The congregants did so, it seemed to me, as we read, “Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask your blessings for our country — for its government, for its leaders and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority ...”

Barack Obama will assume that just and rightful authority at noon on Tuesday. After a dinner with him that I attended last week, as we said our goodbyes, I overheard one of my fellow conservatives say softly to the president-elect, “Sir, I’ll be praying for you.” Obama seemed to pause as they shook hands, and to thank him more earnestly than he did those of us who simply — and sincerely — wished him well.

The incoming president is the man of the moment. He deserves good wishes and sincere prayers. But I’ve found myself thinking these last few days more about the man who has shouldered the burdens of office for the past eight years, George W. Bush.

He wasn’t my favorite among Republicans in 2000. He has made mistakes as president, and has limitations as a leader. But he has exercised his just and rightful authority in a way — I believe — that deserves recognition and respect.

It will probably be a while before he gets much of either. In synagogue, right after the prayer for our country, there is a prayer for the state of Israel, asking the “rock and redeemer of the people Israel” to “spread over it the shelter of your peace.” As we recited this on Saturday, I couldn’t help but reflect that a distressingly small number of my fellow Jews seem to have given much thought at all to the fact that President Bush is one of the greatest friends the state of Israel — and, yes, the Jewish people — have had in quite a while. Bush stood with Israel when he had no political incentive to do so and received no political benefit from doing so. He was criticized by much of the world. He did it because he thought it the right thing to do.

He has been denounced for this, as Israel has been denounced for doing what it judged necessary to defend itself. The liberal sage Bill Moyers has been a harsh critic of Bush. On Jan. 9, on PBS, he also lambasted Israel for what he called its “state terrorism,” its “waging war on an entire population” in Gaza. He traced this Israeli policy back to the Bible, where “God-soaked violence became genetically coded,” apparently in both Arabs and Jews. I wouldn’t presume to say what is and isn’t “genetically coded” in Moyers’s respectable Protestant genes. But I’m glad it was George W. Bush calling the shots over the last eight years, not someone well-thought of by Moyers.

Many of Bush’s defenders have praised him for keeping the country safe since Sept. 11, 2001. He deserves that praise, and I’m perfectly happy to defend most of his surveillance, interrogation and counterterrorism policies against his critics.

But I don’t think keeping us safe has been Bush’s most impressive achievement. That was winning the war in Iraq, and in particular, his refusal to accept defeat when so many counseled him to do so in late 2006. His ordering the surge of troops to Iraq in January 2007 was an act of personal courage and of presidential leadership. The results have benefited both Iraq and the United States. And the outcome in Iraq is a remarkable gift to the incoming president, who now only has to sustain success, rather than trying to deal with the consequences in the region and around the world of a humiliating withdrawal and a devastating defeat.

The cost of the war in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, has been great. Last Wednesday afternoon, in the midst of all the other activities of the final week of an administration, Bush had 40 or so families of fallen soldiers to the White House. The staff had set aside up to two hours. Bush, a man who normally keeps to schedule, spent over four hours meeting in small groups with the family members of those who had fallen in battle.

This past weekend Barack Obama added to his itinerary a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Obama knows that he, too, will be a war president. He knows the decisions he makes as commander in chief will be his most consequential. And so on Sunday morning, before going to church, he placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns and stood silently as taps was sounded. The somber tableau provided quite a contrast to all the hubbub and talk of the last few days. Obama’s silent tribute captured a deeper truth, and — I dare say — a more fundamental hope, than could any speech.

    The Next War President, NYT, 19.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/19/opinion/19kristol.html

 

 

 

 

 

Hamas Announces Cease-Fire in Gaza

 

January 18, 2009
Filed at 12:51 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Hamas offered Israel an immediate weeklong truce Sunday, hours after Israel silenced its guns and grounded its aircraft, but the Islamic militant group conditioned long-term quiet on a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territory.

Israeli tanks rolled out of Gaza Sunday, and infantry soldiers walked across the border to Israel, their guns and packs slung over their shoulders.

Militant rockets peppered southern Israel ahead of the Palestinian truce offer, threatening to re-ignite three weeks of violence that killed more than 1,200 Palestinians -- more than half of them civilians, Gaza officials said -- and turned the streets of Hamas-ruled Gaza into battlegrounds.

In Gaza, Palestinians loaded vans and donkey carts with mattresses and ventured out to see what was left of their homes after Israel's punishing air and ground assault. Bulldozers shoved aside rubble in Gaza City to clear a path for cars. Medical workers sifting through mounds of concrete said they recovered 100 bodies amid the debris.

Israel mounted the offensive three weeks ago to halt years of rocket attacks, but despite the latest barrage, the government spokesman said Israel's cease-fire offer stood. Thirteen Israelis died during the offensive, including four killed by rocket fire.

''We will honor our cease-fire as we said last night and will only act to defend ourselves if we see Hamas provocation,'' the spokesman, Mark Regev, said in response to the Hamas cease-fire announcement.

At least a dozen tanks and armored personnel carriers rumbled back into Israel, with relieved crews waving ''victory'' signs with their fingers. Hundreds of soldiers, laden with equipment, walked through the rain. Some smiled, others looked weary, their faces smeared with war paint. Israeli flags poked out of their packs and were attached to the tops of radio antennas.

The Israeli army refused to say how many troops had withdrawn, or how large a force would remain inside Gaza, but the government said an Israeli presence would stay until rocket fire halted entirely.

The Palestinian cease-fire was announced by military leaders in Gaza and in Damascus, Syria, the base of Gaza's exiled Hamas leaders. They did not set a time, but it appeared to be effective immediately.

In Damascus, Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas' deputy leader, told Syrian TV that the cease-fire would last a week to give Israel time to withdraw and open all Gaza border crossings to let humanitarian aid into the embattled seaside territory.

''We the Palestinian resistance factions declare a cease-fire from our side in Gaza and we confirm our stance that the enemy's troops must withdraw from Gaza within a week,'' Abu Marzouk said.

Hamas, which rejects Israel's right to exist, violently seized control of Gaza in June 2007, provoking a harsh Israeli blockade that has deepened the destitution in the territory and confined 1.4 million Palestinians to the tiny coastal strip. Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely sealed.

Militants did not back down from their demand that Israel ultimately open blockaded crossings, which serve as economic lifelines for Gaza.

The Hamas offer raised hopes that the cease-fire would stick more than a few hours. Militants had fired 17 rockets into Israel on Sunday, slightly injuring three people, police said, even as foreign leaders tried cement an end to the war in Egypt. Israel briefly retaliated against the rocket assaults with air and artillery strikes.

In Gaza City, the Shahadeh family was loading mattresses into the trunk of a car in Gaza City, preparing to return home to the hard-hit northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya.

''I've been told that the devils have left,'' said Riyadh Shahadeh, referring to the Israelis. ''I'm going back to see how I'm going to start again. I don't know what happened to my house. ... I am going back there with a heart full of fear because I am not sure if the area is secure or not, but I have no other option.''

In southern Israel, residents who have endured rocket attacks for eight years accused the government of stopping the offensive too soon. Israel declared the cease-fire before reaching a long-term solution to the problem of arms smuggling into Gaza, one of the war's declared aims.

Schools in southern Israel had remained closed in anticipation of the rocket fire that was swift to come. Shortly before the rocket fire resumed, the head of a parents association in the town of Sderot faulted the government for not reaching an agreement directly with Hamas, which Israel shuns.

''It's an offensive that ended without achieving its aims,'' Batya Katar said. ''All the weapons went through Egypt. What's happened there?''

''The weapons will continue to come in through the tunnels and by sea,'' she said.

Before Hamas made its cease-fire offer, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned militants not to attack.

''Israel's (cease-fire) decision allows it to respond and renew fire at our enemies, the different terror organizations in the Gaza Strip, as long as they continue attacking,'' Olmert said at the start of the weekly Cabinet session.

''This morning some of them continued their fire, provoking what we had warned of,'' Olmert said. ''This cease-fire is fragile and we must examine it minute by minute, hour by hour.''

Cabinet Secretary Oved Yehezkel quoted the head of the Shin Bet security service, Yuval Diskin, as telling ministers that ''the operation is not over.''

''The next few days will make clear if we are heading toward a cease-fire or the renewal of fighting,'' Diskin was quoted as saying.

The Israeli operation outraged the Muslim world, sparking dozens of demonstrations. On Sunday, Qatar announced that it had closed Israel's trade office in the small Gulf Arab state and ordered its staff to leave within seven days.

Qatar is the only Gulf Arab state that has ties with Israel.

Leaders of Germany, France, Spain, Britain, Italy, Turkey and the Czech Republic -- which holds the rotating European Union presidency -- headed for Egypt to lend international backing to the cease-fire. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon were also expected to attend.

Ban welcomed the Israeli move and called on Hamas to stop its rocket fire. ''Urgent humanitarian access for the people of Gaza is the immediate priority,'' he said.

Israel said it was not sending a representative to the meeting. But Sunday evening, leaders from Britain, Germany, Spain, Italy and France and the European Union were coming to Jerusalem for a working dinner with Olmert.

Hamas, shunned internationally as a terrorist organization, was not invited to the summit in Egypt. But the group has been mediating with Egypt, and any arrangement to open Gaza's blockaded borders for trade would likely need Hamas' acquiescence.

Abbas, too, echoed Hamas' call for a total Israeli withdrawal and the lifting of bruising Israeli sanctions.

Israel's cease-fire ''is an important and necessary event but it's insufficient,'' said Abbas, Hamas' bitter rival and the top leader in the West Bank, the larger of the two Palestinian territories. ''There should be a comprehensive Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, a lifting of the siege and a reopening of crossings'' to aid, he said, speaking from Egypt.

Under the truce plan, Hamas would not rearm, as militants did during a 6-month truce that preceded the war. In a step toward achieving those guarantees, Israel on Friday won a U.S. commitment to help crack down on weapons smuggling into Egypt and from there, to Gaza.

But Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Saturday that his country would not be bound by the agreement. Egypt's cooperation is essential if the smuggling is to be stopped.

----------

Ibrahim Barzak reported from Gaza and Amy Teibel reported from Jerusalem. Alfred de Montesquiou contributed to this report from Rafah, Gaza Strip.

    Hamas Announces Cease-Fire in Gaza, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/18/world/AP-ML-Israel-Palestinians.html

 

 

 

 

 

In Homes and on Streets, a War That Feels Deadlier

 

January 18, 2009
The New York Times
By SABRINA TAVERNISE

 

RAFAH, Gaza — The war here comes from the sky: fast, sharp and coldly lethal. And even when it is not crushing a building or collapsing a tunnel, its sound is always near in the nasal whine of drones and the earsplitting roar of fighter jets.

Here in Gaza’s south on Saturday, the 22nd day of the war, conversations were punctuated by the whistles and occasional cracks of Israeli ordnance hitting its targets — a maze of underground tunnels that served as smuggling routes for Hamas.

To many people in this bustling town on the Egyptian border, this short war has been the worst in living memory, one that they say is likely to further deepen age-old resentments. As their walls shook and windows rattled, they said it seemed that Israel was seizing the opportunity to destroy as much as possible before a unilateral cease-fire was to take effect early Sunday.

In past conflicts, the attacks came in spurts, people here said, with missiles shot from helicopters that could take out a living room, but not an entire building. Now, said Muhammad Hamed, 24, things feel different. He lost some of his hearing for a short while, after a house on his street was destroyed.

“You see a plane, but you don’t know where it will hit,” he said, standing near an empty playground where several houses, and the tunnels that probably lay underneath them, had been crushed. The weapons, he said, were so big that people just disappeared.

“Even if you are a giant, all that could remain is your finger.”

It left a feeling, he said, of weakness and insignificance. Of being outside his body as if he were watching events from somewhere else.

It also presented more tangible obstacles: engaged to be married, he now has to wait until after the war to tie the knot.

“There are far too many martyrs right now to get married,” he said, in a black T-shirt with the number 78 on the front.

A number of government institutions were hit, including the police and fire station. Israel argues that Hamas is a terrorist organization and therefore many of its agencies are legitimate targets. To be sure, some members of the police department are part of the group’s security apparatus, but many officers, whose duties include writing traffic tickets or registering cars, have no ideological loyalty to Hamas.

So when the main police station was hit, Jabbar Shalah, 40, thought it was all-out war. He had been sunning himself outside his house in a plastic chair and felt an explosion thump in his chest.

“I thought — it’s over,” he said, sitting on a mat at home with his family around a hot plate that has served as the only cooking device since their gas supply was cut off. “They’re going after all of us.”

The building was demolished, and the police chief, Tawfiq Jabbar, had been obliterated, he said. Chief Jabbar’s family buried only his legs.

Samira Shalah, who was making coffee on the hot plate, chimed in: “They say it’s Hamas’s fault. They don’t want to take responsibility for anyone else they kill.”

Muhammad Muhaisin, 35, a member of the rival Fatah party who was not particularly enthusiastic about Hamas, said people were getting the sense that the real target was Palestinian civil society itself.

“We see this war as a war on the Palestinian state, not against a party,” he said. “They are targeting the institutions of the Palestinian state.”

The municipal building and another public building that handled marriages and electricity payments were also hit. Those buildings, he said, were built by Fatah.

“They say they want to replace Hamas with Fatah, but really they just don’t want anybody in charge,” he said in his living room, where the windows had no glass and a clock hung sideways, stopped at 12:27, the time a bomb hit the mosque across the street.

The war, he said, will not diminish Palestinians’ national aspirations.

“The idea of Palestine is in people’s minds, not in buildings,” he said. “Every time they press us it gets stronger.”

Rafah, in many ways, has been spared. Tanks do not roll in its streets, and because its power comes from Egypt, it has had electricity for most of the war. In all, according to Muhammad al-Hams, director of the main hospital, Al Najar, 46 people have been killed in the fighting here, a fraction of the toll in Gaza City.

And though the war has caused serious destruction, leveling buildings and certain neighborhoods along the border, there are surprising pockets of normality. In the center of town, donkey carts were stuck in a traffic jam. On the outskirts, a field of cultivated flowers was untouched.

People had even grown accustomed to the sounds of the planes and bombs, and went about their lives resigned to it. Abdullah Shamali, a 60-year-old in a sheik’s headdress and suit coat, did not look up from his hummus, when a crack sounded at lunchtime.

“We’re used to it,” he said, shrugging.

War has been here for what seems like forever. Mr. Hamed, the groom-to-be, lives in a house pockmarked by shrapnel from a previous war. He was standing outside with a group of friends, watching planes shoot flares into the blue sky, and thinking about his wedding.

His fiancée’s name is Palestine.



Nadim Audi contributed reporting.

    In Homes and on Streets, a War That Feels Deadlier, NYT, 18.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/18/world/middleeast/18gaza.html

 

 

 

 

 

Israeli Cabinet Appears Ready to Declare a Gaza Cease-Fire

 

January 17, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER and MARK LANDLER

 

JERUSALEM — Israel’s security cabinet is expected to meet Saturday night to declare a cease-fire in Gaza and will keep its forces there in the short term while the next stage of an agreement with Egypt is worked out.

“It looks as if all the pieces of the puzzle are coming together,” Mark Regev, a spokesman for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Friday. “There will be discussions tomorrow morning, and it looks like a cabinet meeting will take place tomorrow night. Everyone is very upbeat.”

Meanwhile, Israeli tank fire killed two boys at a United Nations-run school on Saturday in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, a U.N. official told Reuters. Adnan Abu Hasna, a spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, said two brothers had been killed and 14 people had been wounded in the attack, including the boys' mother. An Israeli army spokesman said that he was checking the report.

The most promising element for bringing the three-week conflict to a close occurred in Washington on Friday, where Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of Israel signed an understanding on a range of steps the United States would take to stem the flow of new arms to Hamas from the Egyptian Sinai, mostly via tunnels.

The agreement came on the last business day of the Bush administration and set the stage for the Obama administration to play a more active role in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. President-elect Barack Obama and Secretary of State-designate Hillary Rodham Clinton signed off on the plan, the State Department said.

Whether Hamas will comply with the terms of parallel talks with Egypt was unclear. At a meeting organized by Qatar, a top exiled Hamas leader rejected Israeli terms for a cease-fire and called for increased resistance.

“Israel will not be able to destroy our resistance, and the United States will not be able to dictate us their rules,” the leader, Khaled Meshal, said in defiant remarks broadcast worldwide. “Arab countries should help Hamas to fight against the death of civilian Palestinians.”

But the Gaza branch of Hamas, squabbling with exiles out of the line of Israeli fire, seems to have agreed to much of Egypt’s cease-fire proposal.

Fighting in Gaza continued Friday, despite the apparent progress toward ending it. Palestinian medical officials said the death toll had risen above 1,100 people, many of them civilians.

The cease-fire under discussion is more formal than the one that broke down late last month, when each side accused the other of failing to live up to its terms, and in some ways seems devised to overcome the last one’s weaknesses.

Unlike the last one, this will be written down, in Israel’s case, in the form of an agreement with Egypt and the understanding with the United States. Israel and Hamas do not speak officially but Egypt has been brokering terms between the two. Israel was unwilling to have an accord that might confer legitimacy on Hamas, which preaches Israel’s destruction.

The agreement hammered out in Washington would provide American technical assistance, as well as international monitors, to crack down on the tunnels. It would not, however, involve the deployment of American troops in the region. The composition of the monitoring force was not yet clear, a senior American official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The agreement stipulates that the United States would work to interdict weapons with its NATO partners, expanding significantly the responsibility to keep Hamas disarmed.

After meeting with Ms. Rice, Ms. Livni, who has been hawkish on continuing the assault aimed at stopping Hamas rockets from coming into Israel, stressed that the nation had met its war aims and was prepared to enter a cease-fire cautiously.

“Israel embarked on the campaign in order to change the equation and restore its deterrent capacity,” she told Israel Radio. “We did that a few days ago, in my opinion. It has to be put to the test. If Hamas shoots, we’ll have to continue. And if it shoots later on, we’ll have to embark on another campaign.”

The Bush administration agreed to the deal after consulting Mrs. Clinton and Gen. James L. Jones, who will be Mr. Obama’s national security adviser. Ms. Rice discussed the terms over lunch with Mrs. Clinton on Thursday, the State Department spokesman said, and briefed Mr. Obama by phone.

“It’s safe to assume that we wouldn’t have moved forward if we hadn’t done some careful consultations, prior to signing, with the incoming folks,” the spokesman, Sean McCormack, said.

The timing of the agreement, after a last effort of American diplomacy, struck some Middle East experts as symbolic of a Bush administration that had refused to engage in the peace process until late in its term, and has left its successors with little choice but to re-engage.

“They will inherit this agreement, which is critically important and will make them more engaged in the region than Bush was,” said Aaron David Miller, a public policy analyst at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “This is the shape of things to come.”

Ms. Rice said the agreement was only supportive of broader negotiations being carried out by Egypt, and she refused to say when a cease-fire could actually take place and when the fighting in Gaza would stop.

“We are doing everything we can to bring it to an end,” she said.

In Gaza, Palestinians tried to recover Friday from a heavy assault from Israel the day before.

A funeral for a senior Hamas official, Interior Minister Said Siam, who was killed Thursday by an Israeli attack, turned into a mass rally in Gaza City. Thousands raised their fingers into the air as a speaker called out, “Let us say goodbye to one of the lions of Hamas!” Passers-by stopped, elderly women emerged from houses, and children stood on roofs and declared, “This is in the name of God!”

Gaza hospitals were struggling. They were damaged on Thursday by Israel, which said mortars had been fired at its forces from sites near the hospitals. CARE International and other global aid groups said they had resumed distribution after being forced to stop by the intense attacks of the previous day. They condemned Israel’s actions.

In Tal Al Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City where fighting was fiercest on Thursday, Israeli tanks withdrew, leaving a blighted landscape and several dozen more dead.

Palestinians reported that a mother and her five children — 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 years old — had been killed in the Bureij refugee camp. Three riders on motorbikes, means of transport increasingly used by Hamas fighters, were also killed by missiles.

Israel stepped up military activity on Friday evening. Palestinian medical officials reported that at least 10 Palestinians had been killed in the Shajaiye section of Gaza City by a shell that hit a house of mourning. Four more people were killed in an attack on a house in Jabaliya, north of the city.

At the meeting in Qatar, the Hamas leader, Mr. Meshal, was joined by Iran and Syria in calls for all Muslim countries to break ties with Israel. Qatar and Mauritania, which have low-level ties with Israel, were reported to have said at the meeting that they were freezing those relations.

It was not clear what impact Mr. Meshal’s fiery speech would have on any cease-fire. But his presence before the emergency meeting underscored the continued evolution of power in the region away from state players aligned with the West, to non-state players, like Hamas, and their anti-Western benefactors who support a more direct and aggressive stance toward Israel.

The once dominant regional leadership of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even Jordan tried to undermine this meeting, refusing to attend, and pressed other Arab states to stay away, too.

But it was those who boycotted the event who found themselves marginalized — at least for the day — as Mr. Meshal spoke before an audience that included representatives from Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, Iran and about 10 other countries assembled for the meeting in Doha, Qatar’s capital.

A senior Egyptian official said that Hamas was unhappy with Israel’s plan to leave its forces in Gaza during a short cease-fire, but that it had accepted the idea of placing the Palestinian Authority in charge of the border crossing into Egypt and the presence of European monitors there. It was unclear how the divisions within Hamas as well as within the Arab world would affect negotiations in the coming days.



Ethan Bronner reported from Jerusalem, and Mark Landler from Washington. Taghreed El-Khodary contributed reporting from Gaza City, and Michael Slackman from Cairo.

    Israeli Cabinet Appears Ready to Declare a Gaza Cease-Fire, NYT, 17.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/17/world/middleeast/17mideast.html?hp

 

 

 

 

 

Qatar Suspends Ties With Israel

 

January 16, 2009
Filed at 2:22 p.m. ET
The New York Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS


DOHA, Qatar (AP) -- Qatar and Mauritania suspended contacts with Israel to protest the Gaza bloodshed at an Arab summit Friday that deepened the divisions between pro-U.S. Arab nations and their rivals in the Middle East.

U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia led a boycott of the gathering in the Qatari capital, which the Gulf nation had called to take a united stance over the Gaza violence but which ended up being dominated by backers of the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a top Hamas supporter, made a surprise appearance, along with Hamas' Syria-based political chief Khaled Mashaal. They and Syria's president made fiery denunciations of Israel and called for Arab and Muslim nations to cut any bilateral ties they have with the Jewish state.

Syrian President Bashar Assad repeated an earlier announcement that his country had frozen its indirect peace negotiations with Israel, mediated by Turkey. He also declared that a 2002 Saudi-led Arab peace offer to Israel was ''dead'' because of the assault against Hamas in Gaza.

Qatar's prime minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani, announced the suspension in ties with Israel. The oil-rich state does not have diplomatic relations with Israel but has maintained lower-level ties, allowing an Israeli trade mission to operate and hosting Israeli leaders at conferences.

Hamad, who is also Qatar's foreign minister, said the Israeli trade mission in the country will have about a week to leave. ''We will tell the Israeli (trade mission) office that their presence here is unwanted until the circumstances improve and there is a better chance for peace,'' he told reporters.

Mauritania, an Arab League member attending the summit, also announced it was suspending diplomatic relations with Israel over Gaza. Mauritania had full relations with Israel. Earlier this month, the Western African nation recalled its ambassador from Israel amid street protests over Gaza.

The Qatar summit issued a final statement urging all Arab states to stop all forms of ''normalization'' with Israel and to reconsider their diplomatic and economic ties with it. Egypt and Jordan, which did not attend the summit, are the only Arab countries with peace treaties and full relations with Israel.

The Qatar gathering drew a stark line between Arab nations who support Hamas and those who back its rival, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel and Egypt expressed optimism Friday that a cease-fire could come soon, but the Arab divisions are likely to endure well after the Gaza fighting ends, and they could have an impact on a truce's stability. Any final cease-fire deal for Gaza will likely need cooperation between the two factions to guard key border crossings into the tiny coastal strip -- but cooperation could be strained over time if their regional backers are at odds.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Abbas were preparing to hold a rival summit this weekend in Kuwait.

In the past week, Cairo and Riyadh reportedly used their political and financial weight to persuade other Arab countries to boycott the Qatar gathering or to send only low-level figures -- hoping to limit the platform for Hamas' backers. Egypt in particular feared that the summit could boost Hamas and undermine Cairo's cease-fire mediation.

In the end, the only Arab heads of state to attend in Doha were from Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Qatar and Algeria -- and from the more minor Arab League members, the Comoros Islands and Mauritania. Also attending were Ahmadinejad and the leaders of Hamas and the smaller Palestinian radical group Islamic Jihad and representatives from 9 other Arab and African nations.

Syria's Assad criticized Arab nations for not attending and chided them for failing to support Hamas and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in their armed ''resistance'' against Israel.

''Israel is a country, built on massacres ... the enemy (who) speaks in language of blood only,'' Assad said. ''This is a call to resistance ... resistance is the only way to peace.''

''How can those seeking peace, not support resistance,'' Assad added, referring to Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mashaal took a tough line, insisting Hamas would not stop fighting in Gaza until its borders are opened. Israel has imposed a crippling embargo on Gaza since Hamas took over there in 2007, saying it was necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the militant group. But the blockade has also caused widespread shortages and suffering among Gaza's 1.4 million people.

In Iran, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a message to Hamas' chief Ismail Hanieh in Gaza, saying Hamas' resistance will lead to the defeat of Israel and infamy of ''hypocrites'' and ''traitors'' in the Islamic and Arab world, state TV reported.

In another sign of division between the two camps, Qatar's emir announced ahead of Friday's gathering that his country would give $250 million in aid for rebuilding Gaza -- and he said it should go ''directly to Gaza,'' implying that it would not go through Abbas' government, based in the West Bank.

The rival summit in Kuwait is expected to announce up to $500 million in aid for Abbas' Palestinian Authority to help rebuilding.

    Qatar Suspends Ties With Israel, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/01/16/world/AP-Mideast-Diplomacy.html

 

 

 

 

 

Israel Lets Reporters See Devastated Gaza Site and Image of a Confident Military

 

January 16, 2009
The New York Times
By ETHAN BRONNER

 

GAZA — To the west, the Mediterranean sparkled and winked. To the east, columns of black smoke rose and gunfire pounded. In between, Israeli Merkava tanks plowed through potato and strawberry fields on Thursday as paratroopers guarded their ground, a mix of ruins that once were handsome two-story houses and farm fields that had been turned into rocket-launching pads against Israel by Hamas.

On a day of unusually harsh Israeli attacks inside the center of Gaza City to the south, this neighborhood of Atatra, in northwest Gaza, was a scene of devastation on Thursday, filled with impromptu tank-track roads, rusting greenhouses and blown-up houses that had been booby-trapped with mannequins, explosive devices and tunnels.

The area was a major site for Hamas launchers over the past eight years. But for the past 10 days, it has been a ghost town inhabited only by Israeli soldiers, many of them from a paratroopers’ unit, the 101, founded in 1953 by Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister, as the first elite Israeli unit aimed at striking Palestinian guerrillas infiltrating from Gaza.

The fact that more than half a century later Israel remains at war with the children and grandchildren of those guerrillas has served as a kind of overpowering historical backdrop to the 20-day-old military confrontation that Israel says is aimed at ending Hamas rocket fire onto Israeli towns. No one believes this will be the last war.

Israelis face harsh censure abroad for their tactics, but a visit by 10 foreign reporters to this position arranged by the Israeli military showed an army that feels serenely confident that it is doing the right thing. The army, which has banned foreign journalists from entering Gaza on their own, has begun taking small groups to outer positions for briefings with commanders in the field.

“It is a very righteous war and has the full support of public opinion,” said Brig. Gen. Avi Ronzki, the military’s chief rabbi, a West Bank settler who spends most of his time these days on the battlefield encouraging the troops and who happened to be at a military campground in Israel earlier on Thursday. “Our army is showing the way to stop terrorists. And in order to win against terror we need to use a lot of force like the Americans are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Across the border region, Israel has lowered a kind of electronic curtain to prevent remote-control bombs, disabling even remote car locks well into Israel.

The paratroop brigade commander, Colonel Herzi (military rules forbid his giving a family name), was the chief briefer for the visit. He arrived late in a massive Merkava, popped out of a hatch and, M-16 and binoculars hanging from his neck and shoulders, expressed his regrets.

“What you see here is not a pleasant scene,” he said, looking down at a military-issued briefing book with talking points. “War is not pleasant. I don’t like this environment. I don’t like war.”

His soldiers took this area on the first night of the ground invasion a week into the war. The rocket launchers, which sent deadly projectiles into Ashdod and Ashkelon, Israeli cities due north, were placed among the potatoes and peppers, explosive devices around them to prevent their dismantling.

Colonel Herzi said the soldiers found improvised explosive devices in the houses and, on Wednesday, in a mosque. The typical ruse for the houses was a mannequin with an explosive nearby and a hole or tunnel covered by a rug.

“I can say that one-third of the houses are booby-trapped,” he said. “You get into the houses and you see many I.E.D.’s. We had one officer who got married one day before this operation started, and then five days into it he was badly wounded and is now between life and death after an I.E.D. exploded in a booby-trapped house.”

Colonel Herzi showed large glossy pictures of what had been seen and captured, including mannequins and tunnels with ladders, I.E.D.’s and rocket launchers.

The idea behind the setups in some of the houses, he and other officers said, was that Israeli soldiers would shoot the mannequin, mistaking it for a man; an explosion would occur; and the soldiers would be driven or pulled into the hole, where they could be taken prisoner.

None have yet suffered that fate.

That may be partly because shortly after taking this neighborhood, the soldiers found a hand-drawn map with the booby traps laid out.

The elaborate nature of the snares impressed Colonel Herzi, but he and his men said they had grown increasingly less impressed with the Hamas fighters themselves.

“They are villagers with guns,” said Sergeant Almog, a gunner on an armored personnel carrier. “They don’t even aim when they shoot.”

Seven members of his unit were wounded by a rocket-propelled-grenade attack on Wednesday, he said. But he added, “We kept saying Hamas was a strong terror organization, but it was more easy than we thought it would be.”

The war has been successful, but not necessarily decisive, from Israel’s perspective, Colonel Herzi said, especially as talk of a cease-fire has grown.

“I know that in the end Hamas will say they won,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what will be the end of this war. We know they know today that they have a problem. Will they put down their weapons forever? For sure, no, but I think they have learned a lesson from this war.”

    Israel Lets Reporters See Devastated Gaza Site and Image of a Confident Military, NYT, 16.1.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/16/world/middleeast/16gaza.html