|Southwest Asia News Digest
EIR Confronts White House on Iran Military Strikes
White House spokesman Scott McClellan denied that the U.S. was preparing military action against Iran, in reply to a question from this news service Jan. 25. EIR's question was based on reports from a symposium in Dubai, where the Washington Institute for Near East Peace's Patrick Clawson claimed that it was only a question of time before the U.S. would act militarily. The transcript is as follows:
EIR: Scott, a few days ago, Pat Clawson, from the Washington Institute was briefing a number of officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council. And he said that in terms of military action against Iran, the question is not "if," but "when" and "how" the U.S. will act. He insisted also that this was not his private opinion, but reflected the thinking of the administration. Is that accurate? Does this reflect the
McCLELLAN: I think the thinking of the administration has been expressed by administration officials, by the President and by others. In terms of Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons, we've made it very clear how we're working with our European allies to pursue a diplomatic approach to get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. They've made some commitments and we expect them to abide by their commitments. We will see if they are serious about ending their pursuit of nuclear weapons by their actions.
EIR: Is it really the case that you are willing to pursue a diplomatic approach, or you're simply letting the Europeans do what they have to do, with an eye to them failing, and then going for some kind of military action?
McCLELLAN: We're pursuing a diplomatic approach to get Iran to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. That's the approach we are pursuing.
Hamas, Palestinian Authority Reach Agreements
After a week of meetings between Palestinian President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) and Khaled Meshaal, exiled leader of the radical Hamas, Hamas has agreed to a 30-day trial ceasefire, reported Ha'aretz on Jan. 25. Hamas is demanding, in return, the release of "thousands" of prisoners from Israel, and the end of military incursions into the occupied territories. Although nothing is official, "we speak of a conditional calming," said Meshaal, there has been an "unknown calm" in the area since Abbas deployed Palestinian security forces to police the border
Ha'aretz on Jan. 26, also reports that President Abu Mazen reached an agreement in principle with the Hamas leadership for cooperation in the decision making process with the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The agreement reportedly involves the creation of a "supreme diplomatic authority" that would include the PLO and all other Palestinian organizations, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which do not belong to the PLO. Up until now, all diplomatic decisions were made by the PLO. There is also an agreement in principle that Hamas will run candidates in the upcoming legislative elections later this year, but Hamas will not participate in Abu Mazen's government before then.
Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, told the Arab daily, Al Hayat, that "with these agreements reached, the ball is now in the international and American court. There is no barrier to the PLO being the supreme legal framework of the Palestinian people after it is rehabilitated and rebuilt on appropriate foundations." He added that participation in the Palestinian government now being formed "is not on the agenda." The agreement would also mean that Hamas would accept a state based on the 1967 borders.
A third development was reported by Associated Press, Jan. 27: Senior Palestinian advisor Mohammed Dahlan said in an interview with AP that during meetings on Jan. 26, Israel agreed, in principle, to stop pursuing militants and halt targeted killings. In addition, the Palestinian Authority issued a ban on civilians carrying weapons.
Separately, Voice of America reported that U.S. envoy William Burns is holding three days of talks with Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Burns met with Shimon Peres and Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayed Jan. 26, followed by talks in Ramallah on Jan. 27 with Abbas and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Palestinian radio that the Palestinians want a clearer American commitment.
Human Rights Watch Scores Israel for Destroying Homes
One of the issues for Israel in the Gaza Strip is the tunnels through which weaponry for the Palestinian Resistance travels. The Israelis, who think that Palestinian homes are built above the tunnels, since they are located near the Egyptian border, have bulldozed hundreds of these homes over the past year. Now, Israel is feeling the pressure over this, from a Jan. 14 press release from Human Rights Watch, which warns the Israeli Defense Forces not to build a proposed trench along the Egyptian-Gaza border, which would wipe out 300, to as many as 3,000 homes, depending on the route chosen. The HRW letter was particularly strong, charging Israel with deliberate destruction of property, illegal under international law. It cited the North Koreans, who also police a border such as this, and use uninvasive electromagnetic and sonic technologies to protect the border.
Hamas Wins Big in Gaza Municipal Elections
In the first Palestinian municipal election ever held in the Gaza Strip, the Islamic Hamas Party won 76 of the 118 seats in 10 local districts. The ruling Fatah Party only won 39 seats, and three seats were taken by independents.
"We consider this victory as the victory of the Palestinian people," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri. "It's not the victory of somebody against somebody, the competition was to serve our people's interests."
Voter turnout was over 80%. Similar elections were held in the West Bank in December where Fatah won 12 of the 26 councils and Hamas won eight, and the rest went to independents.
The U.S. State Department had little to say about this exercise of democracy, except, "We'll follow this situation and see if it has any effect on President Abbas's moves to control the security situation and to eliminate violence." This, of course, is no comment at all.
Iraq's Road to Democracy Passes Through Police State
Judging from remarks made by Iraqi Minister of State for National Security Kassim Daoud to reporters at the Pentagon via video-teleconference from Baghdad, the U.S. occupation and the puppet Allawi government in Iraq, believe they can hold an election under police-state conditions, and call it free and fair.
According to Daoud, the security measures to be adopted for the elections, from Jan. 28 to Jan. 31, include preventing all civilians from moving from one province to another, banning the movement of vehicles (other than those specifically exempted), including keeping them away from polling places, and a ban on carrying arms, even by those with licenses. There will also be curfews during certain hours.
These measures are supposed to facilitate the vote and prevent insurgents from disrupting it. "So it seems to me that with these measures and with the mentality of the people, I'm sure that the Iraqi people are convinced to go and participate in this process," Daoud said.
Do U.S., Brits Have Secret Exit Plan For Iraq?
British Defense Secretary Geoff Hoon and his American counterpart Donald Rumsfeld have secretly agreed on an exit plan for Iraq, according to the British Guardian, Jan. 28. The plan would be "based on doubling the number of local police trainees and setting up Iraqi units that would act as a halfway house between the police and the army," says the paper.
The secret deal, brokered Jan. 25, was reportedly based on recommendations made by retired U.S. General Gary Luck, whom Rumsfeld had deployed to Iraq, for a "reassessment" of the situation. There is no deadline set for the withdrawal. "Everything the defense secretary is working towards now is an exit strategy, but without a public timetable," the Guardian quoted a British military source as saying. Another British defense source is quoted saying that help should come as well from Spanish and Italian forces, who could help train the Iraqis. The Iraqi police would still be "backed up" by thousands of troops from the multinational force.
At the same time, the Pentagon announced publicly days ago, that 150,000 troops would stay for two years.
President Bush, in an interview with the New York Times, printed on Jan. 28, said, for the first time, that he would withdraw troops from Iraq, if the new government requested it. He added, that he expected the new government to ask the U.S. troops to stay on. "I've, you know, heard the voices of the people that presumably will be in a position of responsibility after these elections, although you never know," he said. "But it seems like most of the leadership there understands that there will be a need for Coalition troops at least until Iraqis are able to fight."
Bush said one "fundamental question" was how to make Iraqis look at U.S. troops "as helpers, not occupiers," adding that as long as they are seen as occupiers, the resistance will promote the idea that the Iraqi government is "complicit in having their country occupied." He said he thought this was "reasonable," and said it was a "positive sign" that many people in Iraq have "a nationalist sentiment that says, 'This is my country.' I mean, to me, that's a positive sign." At the same time, Bush noted "a certain realism amongst the leadership ... that says, 'Look, there's much more work to do before we're ready to move out on our own.'"
Taken together with other reports received by EIR over the last week, it looks as though the gameplan is to stage an "agreement," after the elections, whereby the new "sovereign" government asks the U.S.-UK forces to leave, but not right away. The first step should be redeployment out of population centers, into bases (which should be permanent), from which troops could be called out to help, against the insurgency.
Neo-Cons Push for War with Iran and Syria
According to a source at the U.S. National War College, an American strike against Syria nearly took place a month ago, but was nixed due to objections from the Army, wrote Middle East specialist, Patrick Seale, in Al-Ahram Weekly Jan. 28. Until recently, Seale says, "most observers believed the U.S. was too busy and overstretched in Iraq to contemplate new wars. But ... the view one now tends to hear in Washington is that there can be no victory in Iraq until Iran and Syria are brought to heel."
Seale asserts that another explanation "for the recent bout of war fever" in Washington, is that the neo-cons are anxious to preempt any change of course in policy that might be made by Condoleezza Rice.
Doug Feith, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, "is said to be working closely with Israeli officers in identifying weapon sites for targetting in Iran," Seale reports, "much as he did in planning the war against Iraq."
The article was written before the announcement that Feith will step down this summer was made public. The removal of Feith weakens the Cheney neo-con faction, but is not decisive in stopping more of the Bush-Cheney wars.