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September 22, 2009

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In-Depth Issues:

Egyptian Tied in Race for UNESCO Director General - Steven Erlanger (New York Times)
    In the fourth round of voting for the new UNESCO director general, Egyptian Culture Minister Farouk Hosny, who has been accused of anti-Semitism and censorship, was tied 29-29 with Irina Bokova, the Bulgarian ambassador to the agency., an Arabic-language Web site, published Saturday what it said were private admissions by Hosny that when he was the Egyptian cultural attache in Rome, he helped to organize the escape from Italy in 1985 of the hijackers of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.
    In that episode, a retired American Jewish tourist in a wheelchair was shot and pushed into the sea, horrifying much of the world.

U.S. Sees Hand of Iran's Revolutionary Guards in Afghanistan - Adam Entous (Reuters)
    The U.S. believes Iran's Revolutionary Guards are providing training and weapons to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan to help them fight Western forces, U.S. counterterrorism officials said on Monday.
    One official said the degree of assistance by the Revolutionary Guard's shadowy, elite Qods force had reached "very troubling" proportions.

Dissident Ayatollah Montazeri Unleashes His Wrath - Michael Theodoulou (The National-Abu Dhabi)
    Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, 87, was once the heir apparent to lead Iran but fell from favor with Ayatollah Khomeini.
    Today he wields considerable moral authority as the country's highest-ranking and most fearless dissident cleric.
    Last week Montazeri said Iran had become a "military regime" and that his fellow clerics had the responsibility to come out publicly against the regime and the "crimes" it had committed.
    "The grand ayatollahs...know quite well the regime needs their approval for its legitimacy. They also know the regime is exploiting their silence."
    Hours later, three of Montazeri's grandchildren were arrested for taking part in political rallies. Four sons of three other reformist clerics were also arrested.

Cairo Awash in Trash After Wiping Out Pigs - Michael Slackman (New York Times)
    When the government killed all the pigs in Egypt this spring - in a misguided attempt to combat swine flu - it was warned the city would be overwhelmed with trash.
    The pigs used to eat tons of organic waste. Now the pigs are gone and the rotting food piles up on the streets of middle-class neighborhoods like Heliopolis.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:

  • U.S. and Iran Heading into Talks Worlds Apart - Glenn Kessler and Thomas Erdbrink
    The U.S. and Iran remain far apart on the substance and purpose of the upcoming negotiations, and President Obama and Iranian President Ahmadinejad will make dueling speeches to the UN on Wednesday. For the Americans, time is of the essence. Obama has set an informal deadline of year's end for assessing Iran's intentions before trying to turn up the pressure by seeking to bolster international sanctions. But the administration also wants to demonstrate that it tried every diplomatic avenue, hoping that will convince skeptics of sanctions, such as Russia, that it has demonstrated flexibility in dealing with Tehran.
        For the Iranians, time needs to be dragged out. The Iranian government has made huge strides in its nuclear program while talks have dragged on, intermittently, since 2003. While the Iranians have stood still, the other parties have increasingly sweetened their offers. U.S. officials want to narrow discussion to nuclear weapons, but Iranians want to broaden the topics to issues such as drug trade, terrorism and regional security. (Washington Post)
        See also France Reluctant to Block Gasoline for Iran - Mark Landler
    Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France said Monday that he had deep misgivings about blocking shipments of refined fuel to Iran, one of the sanctions being weighed by the Obama administration if the Iranian government does not negotiate on its nuclear program. If France comes out against fuel sanctions, analysts said, they will most likely be off the table as an option for increasing the pressure on Iran. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia said last week that he doubted the Security Council would support an embargo of refined fuel products against Iran. (New York Times)
  • Ahmadinejad Proud of Holocaust Denial - Nasser Karimi and Lee Keath
    Iran's president said Monday he is proud to stoke international outrage with his latest remarks denying the Holocaust as he heads for the UN this week. He stoked the fires ahead of his fifth appearance at the General Assembly when asked about widespread condemnation of his new comments casting doubt on the Holocaust. Ahmadinejad said Monday: "The anger of the world's professional killers is (a source of) pride for us."
        Alireza Nader, an Iran analyst at the Washington-based RAND Corp., said Ahmadinejad is playing to an audience at home, trying to distract from the controversy over his election. "But I think that his credibility and legitimacy have been so damaged that this isn't going to help him in Iran." In addition, "it calls into question his seriousness in engaging the West."  (AP)
  • Israel Strengthens Its Missile Defenses - Howard Schneider
    As it pushes for international action against Iran's nuclear program, Israel is steadily assembling one of the world's most advanced missile defense systems, a multi-layered collection of weapons meant to guard against a variety of threats, partly financed by the U.S. and incorporating advanced American radar and other technology. Centered on the Arrow 2 anti-missile system, which has been deployed, the project is being extended to include a longer-range Arrow 3, the David's Sling interceptor designed to hit lower- and slower-flying cruise missiles, and the Iron Dome system intended to destroy Grads, Katyushas, Kassams and other shorter-range projectiles fired from Gaza and southern Lebanon.
        Israel "has something to stabilize the situation: the knowledge that an attack will fail," said Uzi Rubin, who ran Israel's missile shield program in the 1990s. Iran, he said, now cannot be assured of a successful first strike against Israel, while groups such as Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon may find one of their favored tactics undermined. Iran "is radical, but radical does not mean irrational," said Rubin. "They want to change the world, not commit suicide."  (Washington Post)
  • News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:

  • Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas Meeting at UN to "Kick Off" Talks - Herb Keinon and Hilary Leila Krieger
    Tuesday's tripartite meeting in New York will serve as the "kick-off" to a renewed diplomatic process, even though negotiations with the Palestinians will not be launched at that time, senior diplomatic officials said Monday. "We have no grand expectations out of one meeting," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. The trilateral meeting will follow two separate ones between Obama and each of the two leaders. According to senior Israeli diplomatic officials, Israel and the U.S. got extremely close to an agreement on the package that would launch negotiations, but the Palestinians refused to budge on their demand for a total Israeli building freeze. (Jerusalem Post)
        See also Obama and the Peace Process - Nahum Barnea
    At the outset of his term, Obama promised that resolving the Mideastern conflict will be one of his major targets during his tenure. But like the sad story about the army officer who screamed "follow me" and only later discovered that he is running alone, Obama's "follow me" was not endorsed by others. He asked King Abdullah to order modest trust-building gestures that would accompany the resumption of talks between Israel and Abbas. The Saudis refused. Israel's public opinion may have been willing to pay a price in exchange for ties with Saudi Arabia, but an interest office in Qatar doesn't get it excited. (Ynet News)
  • Defense Minister Barak: Peace Deal Must Include End to Conflict - Yitzhak Benhorin
    Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Washington on Monday that any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians must include an agreement on ending the conflict. Regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, Barak said Israel "is not taking any option off the table."  (Ynet News)
  • Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis (Best of U.S., UK, and Israel):

  • Iran: What We Know That We Know - Rafael Bardaji
    Combining the data advanced by Iranian authorities and the estimates made by the IAEA, experts at the University of Wisconsin who have long monitored the Iranian nuclear program think that Iran appears to be producing about 2.77 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) a day. As of Sept. 10, Iran had already stockpiled 1,602.31 kg of this nuclear material. If in order to produce military uranium for a bomb, 800 kg of LEU is the amount suitable, then Iran might already have enough material to make its first two nuclear bombs whenever it sees fit. Converting LEU into military uranium would only take Tehran approximately three months. The writer served as foreign policy advisor to Prime Minister Aznar of Spain. (Expansion/Strategic Studies Group-Spain)
  • Did Iran Buy Enriched Uranium in the FSU? - David E. Hoffman
    In 1993, two years after the Soviet Union's collapse, its former republics were brimming with highly enriched uranium and plutonium. That summer, Viktor Mikhailov, the Russian atomic energy minister, revealed that Russia had accumulated up to 1,200 metric tons of highly enriched uranium, more than was previously thought. "We knew that Iran was all over Central Asia and the Caucasus with their purchasing agents," recalled Jeff Starr, who was then director for threat reduction policy at the Pentagon.
        In late 1994, the Joint Atomic Energy Intelligence Committee prepared a report about the extent of the Russian nuclear materials crisis. The top-secret document concluded that not a single facility storing highly enriched uranium or plutonium in the former Soviet Union had safeguards up to Western standards. By 2008, more than 70% of the buildings with weapons-usable nuclear materials had been fortified, although the uranium and plutonium were still spread across more than 200 locations. (Washington Post)
  • The Goldstone Report and Afghanistan - Marty Peretz
    The Taliban do not fight by the rules of modern warfare which try to limit the exposure of non-combatants. The enemy in Afghanistan meshes with old women and men, with children and the infirm. Taliban loyalists, always without uniforms, move in and out of combat roles. The same issue arises with the Goldstone Report on the Gaza war in which Israel is accused of blithely targeting civilians.
        Israeli soldiers fought in Gaza in a fight forced upon them by the Palestinians sending rockets into towns and kibbutzim of the Negev with increasing frequency but mostly at random. They took enormous risks not to shoot or bomb people who may have not been combatants. There is an asymmetry that is endemic to the judgments in the international system on first-world armies fighting third-world terrorists. (New Republic)
  • Observations:

    Response to the Goldstone Report on Gaza (Economist-UK)

    • The UN report on the fighting in Gaza is deeply flawed. The risk is that both sides will now conclude the wrong thing: Arabs that Israel has just been found guilty; and Israel that it will never get a fair hearing in a hostile world.
    • From the very start, this report had to overcome the taint of prejudice. It was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, a notorious anti-Israeli outfit.
    • Israel's attempts to drop warning leaflets, direct civilians out of danger zones and call daily humanitarian pauses may well have been inadequate, but the report counts them for nought. It is a grisly thought, but if Israel really had wanted to make Palestinian civilians suffer, the toll could have been vastly higher.
    • Israel has argued that Hamas fighters endangered civilians by basing themselves around schools, mosques and hospitals. Yet the mission's fact-finders could detect little or no evidence for this - despite plenty of reports in the public domain to support it.
    • And there is a danger of double standards. American and European forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kosovo caused thousands of civilian deaths, without attracting a Goldstone.
    • The peace process was never going to be easy. With its thimbleful of poison, the Goldstone report has made the job all the harder.

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