|Southwest Asia News Digest
Annan Urges Direct U.S.-Iran Talks
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan May 12 urged the U.S. to talk directly to Iran, saying that current policies are leading to a head-on conflict. "I think it is important that the United States comes to table," he said. On May 11, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns had reiterated that this wouldn't happen, and said, "we cannot be captive to endless discussions in the Security Council and we won't allow ourselves to be."
Rice Says EU-3 Will Draft New Proposal for Iran
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said May 10 that the EU-3the UK, France, and Germanywill be given a couple of weeks to draft an offer to Iran. Facing resistance by Russia and China in the UN Security Council, the U.S. and UK are trying a new approach. Rice said on morning talk shows, "We are going to take the time to try to bring the Security Council together in a more unified way. We are going to take the time so that the Europeans can show the Iranians what a path might look like."
The Times of London reported that the new British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett ordered an incentive package to be drafted by this week. The EU-3 is to propose civilian nuclear technology (light water reactors), increased trade, and perhaps security guarantees. What Iran wants, in addition to the civilian nuclear program, is a guarantee from the U.S. that it will not be attacked.
Saudi Ambassador Opposes Iran War, Partition of Iraq
In an interview with USA Today May 10, Saudi Ambassador to Washington Turki al-Faisal, when asked his views on the use of force "to prevent Iran from acquiring weapons," said the Middle East should be free of weapons of mass destruction, "no exception." Moreover, Saudi Arabia is against the use of force in any conflict, he said.
When asked about the partition of Iraq, as recently suggested by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del), al-Faisal said: "That is an awful idea, because it creates more problems than it solves. Dealing with one Iraq is enough of a problem, imagine dealing with three Iraqs. How do you partition? To divide Iraq into territorial entities would create a mess. And neighbors would interfere with that process. All the contiguous countries to Iraq, without exception, want a unified Iraq."
Kurdish Parliamentarians Vote for 'Kurdistan' Unity Govt.
The Kurdish parliamentarians in northern Iraq have voted to combine forces in a unity government for a semi-autonomous "Kurdistan," according to the Turkish Daily News May 8. Up to now, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) of Iraqi President Jalan Talabani and the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) of Masoud Barzani have ruled over Sulamaniya, and Arbil and Dohuk, respectively. Whether or not the Peshmerga (Kurdish militias) will be unified is not clear. This development is expected to fuel territorial claims, especially for Kirkuk. A referendum is planned for 2007 on whether Kirkuk will be part of the semi-autonomous Kurdish region. Since the 2003 invasion, Kurds have moved into Kirkuk massively, expelling Arabs and Turkmen. Under Saddam Hussein, the city was forcibly "Arabized," and Kurds were driven out.
Talebani: More Than 1,000 Killed in Baghdad Alone in April
At least 1,091 people were killed in Baghdad alone during April, Iraqi President Jawad al-Talebani said May 10, using statistics from the morgue. Talebani said he was "shocked and angry" at the daily violence, including executions. He urged all parties and security forces to stop the violence.
Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr Solagh revealed May 7 that a general in the Interior Ministry has just been arrested, along with 17 others, for links to Shi'ite kidnapping and death squads.
Iraqi officials report that an estimated 100,000 people have fled their homes since late February because of rising bloodshed, and this number only includes those who have registered for financial support and food with the Displacement and Migration Ministry. Of these, 35,000 have registered in just the past two weeks.
U.S. Agrees to Funding Mechanism for Palestinians
After a long meeting in New York between U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her EU-UN-Russia counterparts in the Quartet, the U.S. signed a statement May 9 agreeing to a "temporary international mechanism" to ensure "direct delivery of any assistance to the Palestinian people." Over the last two weeks, the Cheneyacs, reportedly operating through neo-con Elliot Abrams, had not only cut off aid to the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), but prevented banks from wiring international aid monies or any funds to Palestine. The U.S. signed onto a "silent agreement" to pay the salaries of Palestinian civil servants through the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Jewish Americans Mobilize vs. New Threat to PNA Funds
Jewish groups in the U.S. are mobilizing to prevent the cut-off of funds to the PNA. The week of May 5-12, the U.S.-based Jewish organization Brit Tzedek v'Shalom mobilized to block the passage of H.R. 4861, a vicious neo-con resolution that would cut off all funds to the Palestinians, because of the Hamas government.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Ilana Ros-Lehtinen (D-Fla), the Netanyahu pit bull in Congress, who also introduced the sanctions against Iran bill.
Brit Tzedek notified its members that the bill was pulled from a House floor vote scheduled for May 9, and referred back to the Judiciary Committee. It called it "a small but crucial victory [that] wouldn't have happened without your calls and e-mails." It noted that the bill is still alive and can be brought back for a vote.
Meanwhile the pro-Oslo organization, the Israel Policy Foundation, sent out a fundraising letter urging American Jews to block legislation cutting off funds to the Palestinians. It is important that pro-Palestinian statehood organizations and forces in the American Jewish community are mobilizing, because Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz is coming under very heavy threatslike his mentor, Yitzak Rabin did, now that Peretz is Defense Minister in the Ehud Olmert government. Peretz raised the question of opening up some border crossings into Gaza May 11.
Palestinian Prisons Can't Feed Prisoners
There is a severe food shortage in Palestinian prisons, as a result of the Bush Administration and European Union's cut-off of aid to the PNA. Palestinian police have asked families to bring food to their incarcerated relatives, and are considering freeing prisoners because they cannot feed them. The police have also not received food allowances. A senior Palestinian official told the London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi that no units of the Palestinian security forces have had any food for two days, a report confirmed by Palestinian Police Chief Gen. Ala Husseini.
World Bank Memo: PNA Crisis Worse Than Reported
A World Bank memo, acquired by Reuters, reports that the economic crisis in the PNA is worse than it had reported earlier, according to Ha'aretz May 8. The Bank had originally predicted that by the end of 2006, poverty in Palestine would have reached 67% and unemployment 50%. But, the memo says, "We now consider these figures underestimates." The memo was circulated ahead of the May 9 meeting of the Quartet to negotiate Palestinian-Israeli peace.
The memo states: "A continuation of the crisis threatens to undermine Palestinian institutions and cause severe damage to structures that donors have been building since 1993. The institutional decay will likely also have a negative impact on security, which in turn would make it difficult for government, the private sector, and providers of humanitarian assistance to operate properly."