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Monday, January 28, 2008

Arab FMs back initiative on Lebanon

Mon, 28 Jan 2008 09:47:47
Arab FMs have voiced their consensus on abiding by an Arab initiative and continuing efforts to resolve the Lebanese political crisis.

In a statement issued after an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers at the headquarters of the Cairo-based Arab League (AL), Arab top diplomats lauded the efforts made by AL Secretary General Amr Moussa, urging all Lebanese parties to respond to Moussa's efforts.

The AL Council held the meeting on Sunday at the foreign ministerial level to discuss the outcome of efforts made to implement the Arab plan on the Lebanese issue which was endorsed by Arab foreign ministers earlier this month.

The council reviewed Moussa's report, his assessment of the outcome of his efforts to get rival Lebanese leaders to agree to details of an Arab initiative to end the political deadlock as well as his recommendations to continue Arab efforts to implement the initiative.

In addition, the council voiced its extreme concern over the continuation of the Lebanese crisis and its dangerous consequences on Lebanon's stability and security, Xinhua reported.

It also called for continuing meetings that had been started between all Lebanese sides upon an invitation from Moussa.

The Arab ministers urged all sides in the dispute to vote for Michel Suleiman in a new parliamentary session to be held on Feb. 11.

Lebanese presidential seat has been vacant since former president Emile Lahoud ended his term on Nov. 24, 2007, and the Lebanese parliament has postponed a parliamentary session to elect a new president for a 13th time.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Chomsky: Gazan democracy intolerable

Sat, 26 Jan 2008 02:25:43

American political analyst, Noam Chomsky

Renowned American political analyst, Noam Chomsky, says the Palestinians are being punished for standing up to the US and Israel.

In an interview with Mehr news agency Chomsky said the major crisis in Gaza started when Hamas won in 'a free and fair election.'

"The West, which despises democracy unless it comes out "the right way", immediately turned to punishment of the people for the crime of not following the orders of the US and Israel, " he said.

He also criticized what he called the "US-Israeli takeover of whatever is of value in the West Bank with considerable violence".

Referring to the Annapolis conference as "a joke in poor taste", Chomsky maintained it has nothing to do with Israel-Palestine.

'It was an effort by Bush and Rice to line up the "moderate" Arab states -- that is, the extreme fundamentalist tyrannies that are expected to follow orders -- in an anti-Iran alliance,' he said

Chomsky also called on Islamic states, and everyone else, to put an end to the savage punishment of Palestinians by the U.S.-Israeli alliance.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bush's Middle East legacy

Wed, 16 Jan 2008 13:35:23
An interview with Scott Lucas by Afsaneh Ostovar,
Press TV, Tehran

Scott Lucas has been on the staff of the University of Birmingham since 1989 and has been Professor of American Studies since 1997. He is the Executive Director of Libertas: The Center for the Study of US Foreign Policy, Adjunct Professor of the Institute for North American and European Studies at Tehran University and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for American Studies and Research at American University of Beirut. He is also the Associate Editor of the Journal of American Studies.

He began his academic career as a diplomatic historian but, believing the approach was now narrow, began considering the role of "propaganda", "culture" and "ideology" in the history of US and British foreign policy.

Here is an interview with him about The US President George W. Bush's tour to the Middle East.

Q. What were the goals of US President, George W. Bush's Middle East tour?

A. I think Bush's trip should be seen in three contexts: 1) the public priority --- a settlement between Israel and Palestine; 2) the priority of the past --- remaking the Middle East through regime change in Iraq; 3) the priority of the present --- remaking the Middle East through "containment" of Iran.

Anyone with "a lick of common sense," as my grandfather would say, can see that there is no realistic prospect of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. President Clinton spent almost eight years pursuing this without success; President Bush is proposing to achieve this within 12 months. Still, the pretence has to be maintained. It has to be maintained for US domestic opinion, which needs to see a Presidential commitment to "peace" rather than further military operations/occupation in the region, and for Arab governments who cannot maintain support for American policy without the appearance that there is some movement on Israel/Palestine.

Beyond this public appearance, the Bush Administration is trying to hold up the idea that --- after almost five years --- they are on the brink of success in Iraq. This is an illusion, of course. However, having spent so much money and ended so many lives (American and Iraqi) in the quest to replace Saddam Hussein with a suitable pro-American government and to demonstrate American power to all in the Middle East, there cannot be an admission of failure.

This brings us to the current Bush Administration goal. Having failed to remake the Middle East through a suitable, stable post-Saddam Iraq, the US Government needs another core issue to hold together its political, economic, and military strategy. This strategy continues to rest upon Israel as a "pillar" in the Middle East but also has to safeguard the American position with Arab states. The answer to this, diverting attention from Palestine and indeed Iraq, is to portray the necessity of an anti-Iranian coalition.

Q. What is your speculation on the seriousness of the United States' commitment to peace in Palestine?

A. Any serious attempt at an Israeli-Palestinian settlement would have to offer possibilities --- to each side --- on the issues of Jerusalem [al-Quds], right of return, Israeli occupation, and borders. The current Bush initiative offers little to the Palestinian side on any of these issues.

1) Bush avoided the question of Jerusalem [al-Quds] on his trip. He did not, for example, confront the issue of the extension of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem [al-Quds], even though the Israeli Government had offered a token "pullback" of some (but not all) of the illegal settlements.

2) Bush announced the need for compensation of displaced Palestinians without any consideration of who would provide that amount (estimated at $100 to $150 billion). At most, this is an indication that the right of return is off the American (and, of course, Israeli) agenda.

3) On borders and occupation, some in the US and British press highlighted Bush's call for an end to occupation. Significantly, however, he did not specify that Israel would have to withdraw from all of the territory it seized in 1967 nor did he address the issue of a contiguous Palestinian state without the interruption of Israeli fences, settlements, and checkpoints.

And, of course, Bush did not refer to a settlement that included Gaza, which I suggest is a pretty significant omission.

Q. What do you think Bush will offer in his Middle East trip?

Publicly he will offer rhetoric about an American commitment to stability based on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Privately, he will be offering a lot of economic and military aid to those Arab governments who continue to back an approach ensuring an American presence through the isolation of Iran.

Q. Why is Bush taking his first trip in the twilight of his presidency?

A. Because, having failed to succeed in his primary goal of establishing US power through a post-Saddam Iraq, he has to be seen to be doing something. Otherwise, he is just a "lame duck."

Q. Why does Israel continue its offensive against Palestinians after the Annapolis conference?

Because Israel will seek to negotiate with Abbas from a position of strength and will continue to try to isolate and, indeed, break Hamas. My belief is that a "Palestinian state" for Israel and the US means a compliant state based on a relatively weak leadership. Hamas is a challenge to that approach.

Q. How do you see the future of Israel's plans for occupying more regions of the West Bank? What prompts this regime to continue its expansionist policies?

A. My belief is that the Israeli notion of security rests upon a need for a permanent "superiority" over any Palestinian entity. Thus occupation is not an end in itself to expand the borders of Israel but to ensure that there is never sufficient Palestinian strength to challenge Israel's political/economic/military position.

Q. How has the United States contributed to the realization of Israeli ambitions?

A. At this point, US and Israeli interests are largely convergent. That is, the maintenance and projection of American power rests upon support for Israeli power --- political, economic, and military.

Q. Can the US be a peace broker to the Palestine-Israel conflict while it is the main supporter of the Israeli regime?

A.The issue is whether, given the US relationship with Israel, others (Arab governments, the European Union, Russia, the United Nations) continue to defer to Washington as the primary broker of discussions.

Q. What is the Bush's legacy for the Middle East?

A.In light of what has happened in Iraq, Israel/Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, the legacy of the American attempt to remake the region has been destruction and instability.

The more important question for me is how those in the region try to pursue political, economic, and cultural development --- including the pursuit of "freedom" and "democracy" --- which is not dependent upon being either "with" or "against" the United States.

Further thoughts on this can be found in the talk "Shifting the Gorilla: De-Centring America in the Middle East"(
http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis/index.htm at http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis and http://www.libertas.bham.ac.uk/analysis/index.htm.)

Q. Do you believe Bush has been successful in rallying the regional countries against Iran?

A. I doubt that the United States will succeed in forging an anti-Iranian coalition, at least to the extent of enforcing economic sanctions and political isolation. In my opinion, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States are not convinced that attention to Iran should come before, for example, stability in Iraq and a meaningful resolution of the Israel/Palestine question. At a practical level, Persian Gulf States are far too dependent upon trade with Iran to bear the economic cost of supporting American sanctions.

If I was being cynical, I would suspect that some Arab states such as Saudi Arabia are happy to listen to the American song of isolating Iran as long as the outcome is more military assistance and arms sales.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Root to peace - stop denying the majority

Hezbollah sets resolution terms

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
The government accuses Hezbollah of being loyal to Syria and Iran
The Lebanese opposition group Hezbollah has said openly that it will not allow a president to be elected unless it gets a third of the cabinet seats.

This would give Hezbollah and its allies a veto over key decisions.

The Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, blamed the US for obstructing a solution to Lebanon's political crisis by opposing such a move.

The western-backed Lebanese government has repeatedly rejected the opposition's demand for powers of veto.

The government has proposed reforming the cabinet to give the president a casting vote.

Hezbollah and its allies have been demanding a third of the cabinet seats since the 2006 war with Israel - which Hezbollah regards as a victory - but until now they had not publicly linked the issue to a presidential vote.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who is aligned with the government, said Hezbollah was making impossible demands and was more loyal to Syria and Iran than to Lebanon.

Political paralysis

The dispute between the government and opposition has left Lebanon without a president for more than five weeks.

A parliamentary session to elect a president was postponed for the 11th time on 28 December, and is now due to begin on 12 January.

solution lies in a partnership through a constitutional guarantee (and) through a veto power for the opposition, which represents more than half of the Lebanese people
Hassan Nasrallah

Government and opposition agree on that the next president, traditionally a Maronite Christian and elected by parliament, should be the head of the army, Gen Michel Suleiman.

But they disagree over the shape of a future government.

The wider political crisis has paralysed the government and parliament for more than a year, and spilled over into armed clashes and political assassinations.

Long interview

Sheikh Nasrallah's comments came in an interview with a private Lebanese TV station, and were aired simultaneously by Hezbollah's al-Manar TV.

"A solution lies in a partnership through a constitutional guarantee (and) through a veto power for the opposition, which represents more than half of the Lebanese people," he said.

"As long as there is a US decision not to give the opposition a veto power, this means there won't a presidential election," he said.

"[The government] wants to fully control authority and rejects partnership with the other party," Sheikh Nasrallah said.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A dictator created then destroyed by America

Tue, 01 Jan 2008 17:34:09

By Robert Fisk, The Independent UK

Saddam to the gallows. It was an easy equation. Who could be more deserving of that last walk to the scaffold - that crack of the neck at the end of a rope - than the Beast of Baghdad, the Hitler of the Tigris, the man who murdered untold hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis while spraying chemical weapons over his enemies?

Our masters will tell us in a few hours that it is a "great day" for Iraqis and will hope that the Muslim world will forget that his death sentence was signed - by the Iraqi "government", but on behalf of the Americans - on the very eve of the Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice, the moment of greatest forgiveness in the Arab world.

But history will record that the Arabs and other Muslims and, indeed, many millions in the West, will ask another question this weekend, a question that will not be posed in other Western newspapers because it is not the narrative laid down for us by our presidents and prime ministers - what about the other guilty men?

No, Tony Blair is not Saddam. We don't gas our enemies. George W Bush is not Saddam. He didn't invade Iran or Kuwait. He only invaded Iraq. But hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians are dead - and thousands of Western troops are dead - because Messrs Bush and Blair and the Spanish Prime Minister and the Italian Prime Minister and the Australian Prime Minister went to war in 2003 on a potage of lies and mendacity and, given the weapons we used, with great brutality.

In the aftermath of the international crimes against humanity of 2001 we have tortured, we have murdered, we have brutalized and killed the innocent - we have even added our shame at Abu Ghraib to Saddam's shame at Abu Ghraib - and yet we are supposed to forget these terrible crimes as we applaud the swinging corpse of the dictator we created.

Who encouraged Saddam to invade Iran in 1980, which was the greatest war crime he has committed for it led to the deaths of a million and a half souls? And who sold him the components for the chemical weapons with which he drenched Iran and the Kurds?

We did. No wonder the Americans, who controlled Saddam's weird trial, forbad any mention of this, his most obscene atrocity, in the charges against him. Could he not have been handed over to the Iranians for sentencing for this massive war crime? Of course not. Because that would also expose our culpability.

And the mass killings we perpetrated in 2003 with our depleted uranium shells and our "bunker buster" bombs and our phosphorous, the murderous post-invasion sieges of Fallujah and Najaf, the hell-disaster of anarchy we unleashed on the Iraqi population in the aftermath of our "victory" - our "mission accomplished" - who will be found guilty of this? Such expiation as we might expect will come, no doubt, in the self-serving memoirs of Blair and Bush, written in comfortable and wealthy retirement.

Hours before Saddam's death sentence, his family - his first wife, Sajida, and Saddam's daughter and their other relatives - had given up hope.

"Whatever could be done has been done - we can only wait for time to take its course," one of them said last night. But Saddam knew, and had already announced his own "martyrdom": he was still the president of Iraq and he would die for Iraq. All condemned men face a decision: to die with a last, groveling plea for mercy or to die with whatever dignity they can wrap around themselves in their last hours on earth.

His last trial appearance - that wan smile that spread over the mass-murderer's face - showed us which path Saddam intended to walk to the noose.

I have catalogued his monstrous crimes over the years. I have talked to the Kurdish survivors of Halabja and the Shia who rose up against the dictator at our request in 1991 and who were betrayed by us - and whose comrades, in their tens of thousands, along with their wives, were hanged like thrushes by Saddam's executioners.

I have walked round the execution chamber of Abu Ghraib - only months, it later transpired, after we had been using the same prison for a few tortures and killings of our own - and I have watched Iraqis pull thousands of their dead relatives from the mass graves of Hilla.

One of them has a newly-inserted artificial hip and a medical identification number on his arm. He had been taken directly from hospital to his place of execution. Like Donald Rumsfeld, I have even shaken the dictator's soft, damp hand. Yet the old war criminal finished his days in power writing romantic novels.

It was my colleague, Tom Friedman - now a messianic columnist for The New York Times - who perfectly caught Saddam's character just before the 2003 invasion: Saddam was, he wrote, "part Don Corleone, part Donald Duck". And, in this unique definition, Friedman caught the horror of all dictators; their sadistic attraction and the grotesque, unbelievable nature of their barbarity.

But that is not how the Arab world will see him. At first, those who suffered from Saddam's cruelty will welcome his execution. Hundreds wanted to pull the hangman's lever. So will many other Kurds and Shia outside Iraq welcome his end. But they - and millions of other Muslims - will remember how he was informed of his death sentence at the dawn of the Eid al-Adha feast, which recalls the would-be sacrifice by Abraham, of his son, a commemoration which even the ghastly Saddam cynically used to celebrate by releasing prisoners from his jails.

"Handed over to the Iraqi authorities," he may have been before his death. But his execution will go down - correctly - as an American affair and time will add its false but lasting gloss to all this - that the West destroyed an Arab leader who no longer obeyed his orders from Washington, that, for all his wrongdoing (and this will be the terrible get-out for Arab historians, this shaving away of his crimes) Saddam died a "martyr" to the will of the new "Crusaders".

When he was captured in November of 2003, the insurgency against American troops increased in ferocity. After his death, it will redouble in intensity again. Freed from the remotest possibility of Saddam's return by his execution, the West's enemies in Iraq have no reason to fear the return of his Ba'athist regime. Osama bin Laden will certainly rejoice, along with Bush and Blair. And there's a thought. So many crimes avenged.

But we will have got away with it.


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