Sunday, July 09, 2006


West Mounts 'Secret War' to Keep Nuclear N. Korea Iran in Check
July 09, 2006 Times Michael Sheridan

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A programme of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week’s missile tests by the North Korean regime. Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a “secret war” against Pyongyang and Tehran. It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the “hermit kingdom” in the waters north of Japan.

Few details filter out from western officials about the programme, which has operated since 2003, or about the American financial sanctions that accompany it. But together they have tightened a noose around Kim Jong-il’s bankrupt, hungry nation. “Diplomacy alone has not worked, military action is not on the table and so you’ll see a persistent increase in this kind of pressure,” said a senior western official. In a telling example of the programme’s success, two Bush administration officials indicated last year that it had blocked North Korea from obtaining equipment used to make missile propellant.

The Americans also persuaded China to stop the sale of chemicals for North Korea’s nuclear weapons scientists. And a shipload of “precursor chemicals” for weapons was seized in Taiwan before it could reach a North Korean port.

According to John Bolton, the US ambassador to the United Nations and the man who originally devised the programme, it has made a serious dent in North Korea’s revenues from ballistic missile sales. But the success of Bolton’s brainchild, the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), whose stated aim is to stop the traffic in weapons of mass destruction, might also push North Korea into extreme reactions.

Britain is a core member of the initiative, which was announced by President George W Bush in Krakow, Poland, on May 31, 2003. British officials have since joined meetings of “operational experts” in Australia, Europe and the US, while the Royal Navy has contributed ships to PSI exercises.

The participants include Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Italy, Spain and Singapore, among others.

There has been almost no public debate in the countries committed to military involvement. A report for the US Congress said it had “no international secretariat, no offices in federal agencies established to support it, no database or reports of successes and failures and no established funding”. To Bolton and senior British officials, those vague qualities make it politically attractive.

In the past 10 months, since the collapse of six-nation talks in Beijing on North Korea’s nuclear weapons, the US and its allies have also tightened the screws on Kim’s clandestine fundraising, which generated some $500m a year for the regime. Robert Joseph, the US undersecretary for arms control, has disclosed that 11 North Korean “entities” — trading companies or banks — plus six from Iran and one from Syria were singled out for action under an executive order numbered 13382 and signed by Bush.

For the first time, the US Secret Service and the FBI released details of North Korean involvement in forging $100 notes and in selling counterfeit Viagra, cigarettes and amphetamines in collaboration with Chinese gangsters. The investigators homed in on a North Korean trading company and two banks in Macau. The firm, which had offices next to a casino and a “sauna”, was run by North Koreans with diplomatic passports, who promptly vanished.

The two banks, Seng Heng bank and Banco Delta Asia, denied any wrongdoing. But the Macau authorities stepped in after a run on Banco Delta Asia and froze some $20m in North Korean accounts. Last week the North Koreans demanded the money as a precondition for talks but the Americans brushed off their protest. Kim told Hu Jintao, the Chinese president in January that his government was being strangled, diplomats in the Chinese capital said.

“He has warned the Chinese leaders his regime could collapse and he knows that is the last thing we want,” said a Chinese source close to the foreign ministry. The risk being assessed between Washington and Tokyo this weekend is how far Kim can be pushed against the wall before he undertakes something more lethal than last week’s display of force.

The “Dear Leader” has turned North Korea into a military-dominated state to preserve his own inherited role at the apex of a Stalinist personality cult. Although he appears erratic, and North Korea’s rhetoric is extreme, most diplomats who have met him think Kim is highly calculating. “He is a very tough Korean nationalist and he knows exactly how to play the power game — very hard,” said Professor Shi Yinhong, an expert in Beijing.

But the costly failure of Kim’s intercontinental missile, the Taepodong 2, after just 42 seconds of flight last Wednesday, was a blow to his prestige and to the force of his deterrent. Six other short and medium-range missiles splashed into the Sea of Japan without making any serious military point.

The United States and its allies are now preoccupied by what Kim might do with the trump card in his arsenal — his stockpile of plutonium for nuclear bombs. “The real danger is that the North Koreans could sell their plutonium to another rogue state — read Iran — or to terrorists,” said a western diplomat who has served in Pyongyang.

American officials fear Iran is negotiating to buy plutonium from North Korea in a move that would confound the international effort to stop Tehran’s nuclear weapons programme. The prospect of such a sale is “the next big thing”, said a western diplomat involved with the issue.

The White House commissioned an intelligence study on the risk last December but drew no firm conclusions. Plutonium was the element used in the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki in 1945. It would give Iran a rapid route to the bomb as an alternative to the conspicuous process of enriching uranium which is the focus of international concern.

American nuclear scientists estimate North Korea is “highly likely” to have about 43kg and perhaps as much as 53kg of the material. Between 7kg and 9kg are needed for a weapon. Siegfried Hecker, former head of the US Los Alamos nuclear weapons laboratory, has warned that North Korea’s plutonium would fit into a few suitcases and would be impossible to detect if it were sold. For the first time since the crisis over its nuclear ambitions began in 1994, North Korea has made enough plutonium to sell a quantity to its ally while keeping sufficient for its own use.

North Korea is known to have sold 1.7 tons of uranium to Libya. It has sold ballistic missiles to Iran since the 1980s. American officials have said Iran is already exchanging missile test data for nuclear technology from Pyongyang. The exchanges probably involve flight monitoring for Scud-type rockets and techniques of uranium centrifuge operation. Relations deepened between the two surviving regimes in Bush’s “axis of evil” after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s military and scientific links with North Korea have grown rapidly. Last November western intelligence sources told the German magazine Der Spiegel that a high-ranking Iranian official had travelled to Pyongyang to offer oil and natural gas in exchange for more co-operation on nuclear technology and ballistic missiles.

Iran’s foreign ministry denied the report but diplomats in Beijing and Pyongyang believe it was accurate. At the same time evidence emerged through Iranian dissidents in exile that North Korean experts were helping Iran build nuclear-capable missiles in a vast tunnel complex under the Khojir and Bar Jamali mountains near Tehran.

So while one nation, North Korea, boasts of its nuclear weapons and the other, Iran, denies wanting them at all, the world is on edge. If the stakes are high in the nuclear terror game, they are equally high for the balance of power in Asia and thus for global prosperity.

North Korea’s aggressive behaviour and a record of kidnapping Japanese citizens have created new willpower among politicians in Tokyo to strengthen their military forces. To China, Japan’s wartime adversary, that signals a worrying change in the strategic equation.

Nationalism in both countries is on the rise. Relations between the two are at their worst for decades. One scenario is that Japan abandons its pacifist doctrine and becomes a nuclear weapons power. “The Japanese people are very angry and very worried and, right now, they will accept any government plan for the military,” said Tetsuo Maeda, professor of defence studies at Tokyo International University.

The mood favours the ascent of Shinzo Abe, Japan’s hawkish chief cabinet secretary, the man most likely to take over from Junichiro Koizumi, the prime minister, who steps down in September. “He will be far more hardline on Pyongyang and I’m firmly of the opinion that he intends to make Japan into a nuclear power,” Maeda said. The government is already committed to installing defensive Pac-3 Patriot missiles in co-operation with the Americans.

But radical opinion in Japan has been fortified by Kim’s adventures. “The vast majority of Japanese agree that we need to be able to carry out first strikes,” said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University. “I spoke to Mr Abe earlier this week and he shares my opinion that for Japan, the most important step would be for Japan to have an offensive missile capability.” Such talk causes severe concern to Washington, which has sheltered Japan under the umbrella of its nuclear arsenal since forging a security alliance after the second world war.

Divisions within the Bush administration — which even sympathisers concede have paralysed its nuclear diplomacy towards the North — also served to undermine Japanese confidence in America, as have the well-documented failings of American intelligence.

Dan Goure of the Lexington Institute, a think tank with ties to the Pentagon, says: “There’s no human intelligence in North Korea. Zero. Zippo. It’s like looking at your neighbour’s house with a pair of binoculars — and they’ve got their blinds shut.”

Last week Bush was working the phones to the leaders of China and Russia. But British officials think it unlikely that either will support a Japanese proposal for UN sanctions on the North Koreans. That leaves the Bush administration with the same unpalatable choices that existed a week, a month or a year ago. The military option, to all practical purposes, does not exist. “An attack is highly unlikely to destroy any existing North Korean nuclear weapons capability,” wrote Phillip Saunders of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, in a paper analysing its risks. “The biggest problem with military options is preventing North Korean retaliation,” Saunders said.

He believes half a million artillery shells an hour would be rained on Seoul in the first day of any conflict from North Korean artillery hidden in caves. The North Koreans could fire 200 mobile rocket launchers and launch up to 600 Scud missiles. American and South Korean casualties, excluding civilians, are projected at between 300,000 and 500,000 in the first 90 days of war.

Like former president Bill Clinton’s team, the Bush administration has therefore realised that a diplomatic answer is the only one available. But years of inattention, division and mixed messages robbed the US of diplomatic influence. One observer tells of watching the US envoy Christopher Hill sit mutely in an important negotiation because policy arguments in Washington had tied his hands. Yesterday Hill compromised by offering the North Koreans a private meeting if they came back to nuclear talks hosted by China.

But American faith in China’s powers of persuasion may have been misplaced. “China is the source of the problem, not the source of the solution,” argued Edward Timperlake, a defence official in the Reagan administration and author of Showdown, a new book on the prospect of war with China.

Kim ignored Chinese demands to call off the missile tests and some American officials now think Beijing is simply playing off its client against its superpower rival. The clearest statement of all came from the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” (DPRK) itself. The state news agency said America had used “threats and blackmail” to destroy an agreement to end the dispute. “But for the DPRK’s tremendous deterrent for self-defence, the US would have attacked the DPRK more than once as it had listed it as part of an ‘axis of evil’.”

The lesson of Iraq, the North Koreans said, was now known to everyone. Additional reporting: Sarah Baxter, Washington; Julian Ryall, Tokyo Thoughts of Kim I know I’m an object of criticism in the world, but if I am being talked about, I must be doing the right thing The leader’s greatness is in reality the greatness of our nation We oppose the reactionary policies of the US government but we do not oppose the American people. We want to have many good friends in the United States.
Iraq: U.S. Military Seized Man Suspected of Importing Surface-to-air Missile From Iran
July 08, 2006 Reuters Lutfi Abu Oun
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BAGHDAD -- U.S. and Iraqi forces with armoured vehicles surrounded a Shi'ite mosque in southeastern Baghdad after dark on Saturday in what appeared to be the latest operation against Shi'ite militias, police said.

There was no immediate comment from the U.S. military or the Iraqi Interior Ministry but a policeman at the scene outside the Sadrain mosque in the Zafaraniya district said he believed they were trying to arrest members of the Shi'ite Mehdi Army militia. The mosque is believed to be loyal to radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Mehdi Army fighters have been the target of several recent operations by government and U.S. forces, including a major raid on Baghdad's Sadr City area on Friday.

The U.S. military said it captured a major militant suspect accused of kidnappings and murders in that raid, although Shi'ite political sources said a renowned local warlord known as Abu Deraa, whose neighbourhood was targeted, was still at large. The sources said the raid was part of a hunt for a Sunni Arab lawmaker whose kidnap a week ago in a Shi'ite neighbourhood has prompted a boycott of parliament by her Sunni colleagues.

In another operation announced on Friday, the U.S. military said it seized a Mehdi Army leader on Thursday whom it suspected of importing surface-to-air missiles from Shi'ite Iran. Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said his national unity coalition formed two months ago will crack down on nominally pro-government Shi'ite militias as well as the minority Sunni Arab insurgency.

He launched a security clampdown a month ago in the capital, where dozens are dying every day in sectarian violence. Many Sunnis, dominant under Saddam Hussein, accuse the Mehdi Army and other Shi'ite militias of running death squads. Turning on Shi'ite gunmen will be problematic for Maliki, however.

Sadr's followers hold important ministries in his government and their support was crucial to Maliki's appointment in April when his predecessor was forced to step aside after lengthy internal Shi'ite wrangling that followed December's election.

When U.S. and Iraqi forces stormed a Baghdad building believed to be used by the Mehdi Army in March and killed 22 men, Maliki led condemnation by the main Shi'ite parties, who said the dead were Shi'ite civilians in a mosque. U.S. officers called them militants and denied it was a religious institution.

Iran: Ban Terrorists >From Iraq
July 09, 2006 Reuters Edmund Blair in Tehran
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Iran, accused by the United States of stirring up an Iraqi insurgency, said overnight that "terrorist" groups should be stopped from entering Iraq because they created an excuse for foreign troops to stay. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also said in a speech to a meeting of ministers from Baghdad's neighbours that surrounding states were committed to ensuring stability in Iraq. "It is necessary to stop the crossing of terrorist groups into Iraq who aim at creating insecurity, hatred and differences, and pave the way for the presence of foreign forces in Iraq," Mr Ahmadinejad told the foreign ministers in Tehran. He did not say from where or how the groups were entering.

Washington accuses Tehran of backing anti-US insurgents in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies saying the US occupation is to blame for the instability. "We are all committed to try to restore stability, security and progress in Iraq," Mr Ahmadinejad told the gathering.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki called for a timetable to be drawn up for foreign forces to leave and said Iraq's neighbours should not be blamed for the country's problems. "It is impossible to bestow freedom and democracy by resorting to violence and to cover up the failures in Iraq by accusing and conspiring against its neighbours," he said in a speech to the closed session, a copy of which was handed out.

Syria has also been accused by Washington of not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Iraq. Asked what more Damascus could do to secure its border, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said: "We are doing our best." Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Iraq wanted neighbouring states to help improve security and to support the new government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and its national reconciliation plan. "We asked them to use their influence over all the groups to participate, to embrace this national reconciliation initiative," Mr Zebari said without naming the groups.

Iraqi officials have said some Iraqi insurgents have asked Arab states to act as mediators following the offer of dialogue. Most Arab states are ruled by Sunni Arabs, the majority sect within Islam, and some of these view with suspicion Iraq's Shi'ite majority. Non-Arab Iran is also mainly Shi'ite. Ministers and officials from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Turkey were among those attending the meeting that ends on Sunday, as well as Egypt, which does not share a border with Iraq. Arab League chief Amr Moussa also attended.
Israel Must Be Removed "Says Iran's President".

July 08, 2006 Iran Press Service Safa Haeri
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Paris -- In one of his yet strongest, strident ttacks, Iran’s fundamentalist President Mahmoud Ahmadi Nezhad again repeated that Israel must be “removed” from the region and called on all Arab and Muslim nations to help “isolating” the artificial product of Islam’s enemies”.

“All the conditions for the removal of the Zionist regime are at hand, a usurper that our enemies made it and imposed it on the Muslim world, a regime that prevented the progress of the region’s nations, a regime that all Muslim must join hands in isolating it worldwide”, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad told the gathering of Iraq’s neighbours, employing for the first time the Arabic word (ezaleh) which means removing body hairs as well as women’s virginity.

Foreign ministers from Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey plus the Persian Gulf Island nation of Bahrain and Egypt are meeting on the invitation of Iran to discuss Iraq’s alarming security problems, as a secret report from the American Defence says in the last month of June, there has been over 1.300 terrorist operations and explosions throughout the country. General Secretaries of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Conference and a special representative of the United Nations General Secretary are also present.

Using the podium to unleash his fury over Israel in particular and its Western “producers” in general, with the United States at their helm, Mr. Ahmadi Nezhad also warned all nations that support “this artificial regime before it is too late”, as, in his messianic view, it won’t take longtime before the wrath of the people in the region and the world turn into a terrible explosion that would wipe the Zionist entity off the map”.

“They should realize that their support for the illegitimate, usurper Zionist regime is a mistake. I tell them to dissociate themselves or face the terrible consequences”, he added, referring indirectly to Turkey, Egypt and Jordan, three a Muslim and two Arab nations that have official diplomatic relations with Israel. While Ankara and Amman’s relations with Tehran are lukewarm, Cairo has no ties with Iran. Notwithstanding, all the participants have strongly condemned Israel’s military operations “Spring Rain” against the Palestinians.

To get the release of one of its soldiers captured by the Palestinians, Israel has unleashed its forces against Gaza, killing hundreds of Palestinians, arresting tens of people, including eight ministers of the Hamas-led Palestinian government, destroying houses, official buildings, and factories.

The foreign ministers of Arab nations attending the conference also condemned Israel for its "increasing aggression against the Palestinian people" and attacked the "silence" of the international community. "The Arab foreign ministers participating in today's Tehran meeting expressed their strong condemnation of this continuing and increasing aggression against the Palestinian people," Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa said in a statement on behalf of officials from Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

On Friday, Iran organized mass rallies in support of the Palestinians, condemning Israel’s “crimes”. According to the former Revolutionary Guards officer who fought against Iraq immediately after the former Iraq dictator attacked Iran in 1980, it is “a vital necessity” for all neighbours, Arabs and Muslims to help and support the present Iraqi government overcoming the immense problems it faces, as “Iraq’s problems are rooted in the presence of enemies that are trying to divide the Iraqi people and pit them against each other”.

However, all the participants welcomed the Iraqi Premier’s plan for national reconciliation and pledged support. “This is a good decision and will no doubt help bring stability to the country”, stated Prince Saud Al Faysal, Saudi Arabia’s Minister. Calling on all “friends and neighbours” to help Iraqi Government’s efforts to fight terrorism and back the national reconciliation, Mr. Hoshyar Zibari, the Iraqi Foreign Affairs Minister, who, like the country’s president is a Kurd, hoped that all foreign troops would leave Iraq “as soon as the army, police and security system are reconstructed and operative”.

Contrary to Iranian delegates, other speakers refrained from attacking American-British military presence, hoping instead for the “quick restoration” of peace and security in the terrorist-riddled nation engulfed in religious infighting. “The proposal for a national reconciliation calls on all political parties, major ethnic and all the country’s religious forces to come together, join hands fighting terrorists and restoring peace and security”, Mr. Zibari said, stressing the importance of “tightly controlled borders and preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity”. “Iraq’s situation is very delicate and sensitive. As neighbours, we all have a historic responsibility and duty to help the country to overcome its problems peacefully”, the Saudi Minister stressed. "It is necessary to stop the crossing of terrorist groups into Iraq who aim at creating insecurity, hatred and differences, and pave the way for the presence of foreign forces in Iraq," Ahmadinejad told the foreign ministers in Tehran.

He did not say from where or how the groups were entering Iraq. Washington accuses Tehran of backing anti-U.S. insurgents in Iraq, a charge Tehran denies saying the U.S. occupation is to blame for the instability. "Stability, security and progress of Iraq strengthens stability, security and progress in the whole Islamic world," Ahmadinejad said. "We are all committed to try to restore stability, security and progress in Iraq," he told the gathering.

Syria, which sent its foreign minister to Tehran, has also been accused by Washington of not doing enough to stop militants crossing into Iraq. Damascus insists it is doing its best. The last meeting of Iraq’s neighbours was held in Istanbul, Turkey, a year ago.

Ahmadinejad: Islamic Countries Should Eliminate Israel
July 08, 2006 VOA News Voice of America
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Iran's president has called on Islamic countries to eliminate Israel. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke Saturday in Tehran at the opening of a regional conference of Islamic nations. He said the basic problem in the Islamic world is the existence of what he called the Zionist regime. He said the Islamic world must mobilize to remove the problem.

The two-day meeting is aimed at improving security in Iraq. Foreign ministers from many Arab countries are attending. Mr. Ahmadinejad called on Iraq's neighbors to help keep foreign terrorists out of that country.

The Iranian president said the ongoing insurgency is an excuse for foreign troops to remain in Iraq. The U.S. has accused Iran of supporting Shi'ite insurgents in Iraq. But earlier this year, Washington said it was ready to discuss with Tehran how it could use its influence on Iraqi Shi'ites to bring security to that country.

The U.S. has also blamed Damascus for allowing foreign insurgents to pass through Syria on their way to Iraq. Mr. Ahmadinejad is known for his fiery anti-Israel rhetoric. On Friday, he called the Jewish state a "fake regime" and said it should be dismantled. Last year, he faced international condemnation after he questioned the Nazi Holocaust against the Jews and said Israel should be wiped off the map. Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

Bush's Promise to Defend Israel Against Iran
July 07, 2006 Bitter Lemons International Michael Rubin
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Asked on February 1, 2006 whether the United States would protect Israel militarily against Iran, President George W. Bush left no doubt: "You bet, we'll defend Israel."

To some realists, his statement was evidence that Israel had become a strategic liability to the United States.

A few prominent Jewish leaders, worried that Jews might be blamed for any military conflict with Iran, urged Bush to tone down his statements pledging support for Israel. "We are basically telling the president: We appreciate it, we welcome it. But, hey, because there is this debate on Iraq, where people are trying to put the blame on us, maybe you shouldn't say it that often or that loud," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, explained. In reality, though,

Bush's pledge of support to Israel is neither new nor special. While critics of US foreign policy and the Bush administration suggest that US wars are fought for either Israel or oil, history suggests otherwise. In the last 15 years, the US military has intervened not only in Iraq and Afghanistan--both part of the war on terrorism--but also in Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and Kosovo, in each case for humanitarian purposes.

That the US would act to defend its allies should not surprise. While US professors proffer informed comment that Iranian leaders do not mean what they say, policymakers have learned to take the opinion of academic experts with a grain of salt. One week before Iraq invaded Kuwait,

The Times (London) reported, "The consensus among Middle East experts...was that Iraq would not invade Kuwait." After Saddam Hussein demonstrated that sometimes dictators mean what they say, President George H.W. Bush did not go wobbly. Before a joint session of Congress on September 11, 1990, Bush declared, "Our objectives in the Persian Gulf are clear, our goals defined and familiar: Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait completely, immediately, and without condition. Kuwait's legitimate government must be restored."

Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt may receive plaudits in certain crowds for arguing that Israel is a strategic liability to the United States, but the fact remains that the US went to war in 1991 not to protect Israel, but to protect Saudi Arabia and liberate Kuwait. That it did so was correct. US defense of allies from aggression is not limited to the Middle East.

In both Korea and Vietnam, invasions by communist states of US allies sparked full-scale war. President Harry S. Truman recorded the lowest popularity ever among US presidents in part because of high casualties and domestic criticism of his engagement in an "open-ended" conflict. He understood--as have subsequent presidents--that US credibility among its allies is more important than any snapshot poll.

Today, the US maintains 35,000 troops in South Korea, and Truman ranks among the top five presidents in polls by American historians. As costly as a war with China would be, US administrations have made clear that Washington would consider military action to defend Taiwan from Chinese aggression. In 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act that declared it necessary to provide arms to Taiwan and "to maintain the capacity of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion that would jeopardize the security, or the social or economic system, of the people of Taiwan."

Early in his first term, against the backdrop of a crisis with Beijing, George W. Bush declared that if the Peoples' Republic of China attacked Taiwan, the US would do "whatever it took to help Taiwan defend itself".

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may believe their anti-Israel rhetoric resonates with both their domestic audience and the Arab street. They may believe that Washington is too weak to respond. Addressing the United States on the seventeenth anniversary of the death of Islamic Republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Khamenei asked, "Why do you [the US] not admit that you are weak and your razor is blunt?"

But, despite Bush administration equivocation about its democratization policy, the strain of US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan and the failure of the White House to stand by its previously declared red lines, Tehran would be mistaken to believe that the US government neither had the will nor the capacity to stand by Israel or any other ally. If forced to act,

Washington would and could. The US Air Force and Navy remain unencumbered. While no serious policymaker discusses occupation of Iran, the Islamic Republic's leadership would not likely survive should it push the White House into conflict over Israel or, for that matter, over Washington's allies in the Persian Gulf.

On certain issues, US policy is remarkably consistent and bipartisan. No matter how poisonous political battles are in Washington, Congress unites in the face of aggression against the United States or its allies. Bush's pledge to protect Israel is neither unique nor counter to US interests. For Tehran or any other state to believe otherwise or engage in policies that would challenge the White House on its fundamental duties to its allies would represent a serious miscalculation. Michael Rubin, editor of the Middle East Quarterly, is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, Washington, DC.

US - Led Forces Arrest Top Militia Commander Suspected Spying for Iran
July 07, 2006 Reuters The New York Times
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BAGHDAD -- U.S.-led forces arrested a regional commander for a pro-government Shi'ite militia suspected of smuggling surface-to-air missiles and spying for Iran, the U.S. military said on Friday. Adnan al-Unaybi, leader of the Mehdi Army militia in charge of an area south of Baghdad where two U.S. helicopters were shot down this year, was arrested during an Iraqi-U.S. raid near the town of Hilla, 100 km (62 miles) south of Baghdad on Thursday.

Unaybi had been previously detained in 2004 but later released for torching liquor stores and tearing down public billboards of Iraqi singers, the U.S. military said. News of his arrest came the same day as Iraqi and U.S. forces arrested a militant leader in Baghdad's Sadr City slum after a firefight in which 30-40 gunmen were killed or wounded. Police later identified him as a Mehdi Army leader. It was not clear if the two sweeps were part of a coordinated crackdown, but Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has vowed to disband militias, some of which, like the Mehdi army, are tied to political parties in his government coalition.

Unaybi led the Mehdi militia in the volatile middle Euphrates valley, an area which has seen much fighting. Militants shot down two U.S. helicopters during clashes with American troops near Yusifiya in April and in May. The U.S. military did not say if Unaybi was wanted for his role in shooting down the helicopters but said he was responsible for ``weapons smuggling, including the movement of SA-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles.'' Among other crimes he is suspected of committing, the military said, were ``espionage activities for Iran'' and ''financing the operations of his organization through contacts in both Lebanon and Iran.''

Mehdi Army militias are loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a radical and influential political figure who has allies in Iran. The militias staged two revolts against U.S. forces in 2004.

U.S., Russia to deal over nukes
By Peter BakerWashington Post

WASHINGTON — President Bush has decided to permit extensive U.S. civilian nuclear cooperation with Russia for the first time, reversing decades of bipartisan policy in a move that would be worth billions of dollars to Moscow but could provoke an uproar in Congress.

Bush resisted such a move for years, insisting that Russia first stop building a nuclear power station for Iran on the Persian Gulf. But U.S. officials have shifted their view of Russia's collaboration with Iran and concluded that President Vladimir Putin has become a more constructive partner in trying to pressure Tehran to give up any aspirations for nuclear weapons.

"We have made clear to Russia that for an agreement on peaceful nuke cooperation to go forward, we will need active cooperation in blocking Iran's attempts to obtain nuclear weapons," Peter Watkins, a White House spokesman, said Saturday.

The president plans to formally announce his decision at a meeting with Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday before the annual summit of leaders from the Group of Eight major nations. The statement to be released by the two presidents would agree to start negotiations for the formal agreement required under U.S. law before the United States can engage in civilian nuclear cooperation.

In the administration's view, both sides would benefit. A nuclear cooperation agreement would clear the way for Russia to import and store thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel from U.S.-supplied reactors around the world, a lucrative business so far blocked by Washington. It could be used as an incentive to win more Russian cooperation on Iran. And it would be critical to Bush's plan to spread civilian nuclear energy to power-hungry countries because Russia would provide a place to send the used radioactive material.

At the same time, it could draw significant opposition from across the ideological spectrum, according to analysts who follow the issue. Critics wary of Putin's authoritarian course view it as rewarding Russia even though Moscow refuses to support sanctions against Iran. Others fearful of Russia's record of handling nuclear material see it as a reckless move that endangers the environment.

"You will have all the anti-Russian right against it, you will have all the anti-nuclear left against it, and you will have the Russian democracy center concerned about it too," said Matthew Bunn, a nuclear specialist at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

Since Russia is already a nuclear state, such an agreement, once drafted, presumably would conform to the Atomic Energy Act and therefore would not require congressional approval. Congress could reject it only with majority votes by both houses within 90 legislative days.
Some specialists said Bush's decision marks a milestone in U.S.-Russian relations, despite tension over Moscow's retreat from democracy and pressure on neighbors. "It signals that there's a sea change in the attitude toward Russia, that they're someone we can try to work with on Iran," said Rose Gottemoeller, a former Energy Department official in the Clinton administration who now directs the Carnegie Moscow Center.

But others said the deal seems one-sided. "Just what exactly are we getting? That's the real mystery," said Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Until now, he noted, the United States has insisted on specific actions by Russia to prevent Iran from developing bombs. "We're not getting any of that. We're getting an opportunity to give them money."

Environmentalists have denounced Russia's plans to transform itself into the world's nuclear dump. The country has a history of nuclear accidents and contamination. Its transportation network is antiquated and inadequate for moving vast quantities of radioactive material, critics say. And the country, they add, has not fully secured the nuclear facilities it already has against theft or accidents.

The United States has civilian nuclear cooperation agreements with the European atomic energy agency, along with China, Japan, Taiwan and 20 other countries. Bush recently sealed an agreement with India, which does require congressional approval because of that nation's unsanctioned weapons program.

Russia has sought such an agreement with the United States since the 1990s. Estimating that it could make as much as $20 billion, Russia enacted a law in 2001 permitting the import, temporary storage and reprocessing of foreign nuclear fuel, despite 90 percent opposition in public opinion polls.

But the plan went nowhere. The United States controls spent fuel from nuclear material it provides, even in foreign countries, and Bunn estimates that as much as 95 percent of the potential world market for Russia was under U.S. jurisdiction. Without a cooperation agreement, none of the material could be sent to Russia, even though allies such as South Korea and Taiwan are eager to ship spent fuel there.

Like President Clinton before him, Bush refused to consider it as long as Russia was helping Iran with its nuclear program.

The concern over the nuclear reactor under construction at Boushehr, however, has faded. Russia agreed to provide all fuel to the facility and take it back once used, meaning it could not be turned into material for nuclear bombs. U.S. officials who once suspected that Russian scientists were secretly behind Iran's weapons program learned that critical assistance to Tehran came from Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan.

The 2002 disclosure that Iran had secret nuclear sites separate from Boushehr shocked the U.S. and Russian governments and seemed to harden Putin's stance toward Iran. He eventually agreed to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council and signed on to a package of incentives and penalties recently sent to Tehran. But at the same time, he has consistently opposed economic sanctions, military action or tougher diplomatic language.

Opening negotiations for a formal nuclear cooperation agreement could be used as a lever to move Putin further. Talks will inevitably take months, and the review in Congress will extend the process. If during that time Putin resists stronger measures against Iran, analysts said, the deal could unravel or critics on Capitol Hill could try to muster enough opposition to block it. If Putin proves cooperative on Iran, they said, it could ease the way toward final approval.
Sweden: Iranian diplomat brandishes gun in embassy

Associated Press
July 9,2006

An Iranian diplomat walked into Iran's embassy in Stockholm on Saturday and threatened his colleagues with a gun, but no shots were fired in the incident, police said.

The diplomat, who was not identified but is employed at the embassy, then left in a car but was later found by police near his house in the Stockholm suburb of Lidingo, police spokeswoman Eva Nilsson said.

The man has diplomatic immunity and cannot be arrested or interrogated by police unless his diplomat status is revoked, she said. Instead, he was taken to a hospital because "he was not feeling too well," Nilsson said.

It was unclear what prompted the incident, which happened shortly after 1 p.m. (1100GMT), or how many employees were in the embassy at the time, she said.
Embassy officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Oil Prices Hit New Record at $75.78 July 08, 2006

Oil prices hit an all-time high at $75.78 a barrel on Friday, following a US government report of strong fuel demand in the US.

The ongoing international tensions stemming from the nuclear dispute between Iran and the US, in addition to North Korea's missile tests, contributed to the new record.
London Brent crude also increased by 9 cents, rising to $74.17, having earlier hit a record $75.09 a barrel.

However, the prices later fell on Friday upon signs of reduced tensions between the West and Iran. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said yesterday that he had a "positive impression" of a Western proposal for Iran to stop uranium enrichment in return for a package of incentives.

Currently, crude oil per barrel stands at nearly $74 while London Brent stands at slightly over $72 a barrel.

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