|Southwest Asia News Digest
Mitchell Delays Visit to Israel
March 19 (EIRNS)U.S. special peace envoy George Mitchell postponed his scheduled visit to Israel during the week of March 14, waiting for the Netanyahu government to respond to the demands made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. When no response was immediately forthcoming, Mitchell instead flew to Moscow to meet with the Quartet of Middle East peace mediatorsthe U.S., Russia, EU, and UN.
Among Clinton's demands is that Israel halt settlement activity in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not only refused the demands, but said, in a statement read before the Knesset, "For the past 40 years, no Israeli government ever limited construction in the neighborhoods of Jerusalem." The Israeli government chose the occasion of a visit to Israel by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden to begin construction of a new block of settlements in East Jerusalem.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley explained: "We want to make sure that we have the commitment from both sides, that when [Mitchell] travels, we can make progress."
"We have to have guarantees that these kinds of things will not happen again," a senior U.S. official told the Washington Post, speaking on condition of anonymity. "If [Netanyahu] is unwilling to make that kind of commitment, it raises the question of how committed he is to negotiationsand it raises the question of how committed he is to the relationship between Israel and the United States."
Netanyahu did not respond until March 18, when he finally called Clinton for a 40-minute conversation. While no details were officially made public, reports were that Netanyahu did not agree to cancel the 1,600 housing units in East Jerusalem, but offered to remove some West Bank checkpoints and to release some Fatah prisoners. Regarding the Jerusalem settlements, Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren said the Ramat Shlomo construction project would be suspended, but not cancelled.
Netanyahu's continuing insults to the U.S. were taken up by Israeli commentator Yoel Marcus, in the March 16 daily Ha'aretz. "It's not just the personal insult to Biden, our only friend in the White House today. It's the insult to the institution of the Presidency, which no American can forgive," Marcus wrote. "The Presidency is sacrosanct in the American democracy, and when Bibi rolls his eyes and says the incident should not have occurred and that in any event it happened in good faith ... he cannot begin to grasp the damage he is causing the U.S.-Israeli relations with the whole settlements issue.... Bibi's casual attitude toward his scandalous conduct calls into question his fitness to continue serving as prime minister."
Quartet Statement Condemns Israeli Settlements
March 19 (EIRNS)The Middle East Quartet concluded its meeting in Moscow March 19, with a statement which condemned Israel's decision to expand housing in East Jerusalem. The statement said, in part:
"The Quartet reiterates its call on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the basis of international law and on their previous agreements and obligationsin particular adherence to the Roadmap, irrespective of reciprocityto promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations and re-affirms that unilateral actions taken by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognized by the international community. The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001, and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem. The Quartet also calls on both sides to observe calm and restraint and to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric especially in areas of cultural and religious sensitivity. Noting the significant progress on security achieved by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, the Quartet calls on the Palestinian Authority to continue to make every effort to improve law and order, to fight violent extremism and to end incitement. The Quartet emphasizes the need to assist the Palestinian Authority in building its law enforcement capacity.
"Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem.
"Recognizing the significance of the Arab Peace Initiative, the Quartet looks forward to closer cooperation with the parties and the Arab League and urges regional governments to support publicly the resumption of bilateral negotiations."
Mitchell Invites Netanyahu to White House
March 22 (EIRNS)U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell delivered an invitation Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday in Tel Aviv, to meet with President Obama and other U.S. officials while Netanyahu is in Washington for a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The meeting with Obama will take place March 23 at the White House. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will travel to Washington with Netanyahu. Both Netanyahu and Barak will meet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Netanyahu will also meet a group of U.S. Congressmen.
Both Clinton and Netanyahu were scheduled to address the AIPAC meeting on March 22.
Israel Continues Provocations Toward Palestinians
March 22 (EIRNS)Two Palestinian cousins, both 18, were killed March 21 by Israeli fire south of Nablus in the West Bank, bringing the Palestinian death toll in the area to four within 24 hours. Two other teenagers, ages 16 and 19, were shot during a confrontation with the military on March 20. One died immediately and the other overnight. The Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, said in a statement that he "strongly condemned the Israeli military escalation," and that it "puts in jeopardy the Palestinian Authority's achievements of security and stability." Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, said, "The Israeli escalation and the killing of Palestinians on a daily basis is the actual response of the Israeli government to the Palestinians, the Arabs and to American efforts."
On March 19, Israel conducted airstrikes on six sites in Gaza, calling this retaliation for a rocket attack on a southern Israel town that killed a Thai worker.
Obama to Iran: Offer of Dialogue Still Stands
March 20 (EIRNS)U.S. President Barack Obama, in a videotaped statement to mark the observance of Nowruz, an Iranian festival celebrating the arrival of Spring, said: "We are working with the international community to hold the Iranian government accountable because they refuse to live up to their international obligation. But our offer of comprehensive diplomatic contacts and dialogue stands.... The United States believes in the dignity of every human being and an international order that bends the arc of history in the direction of justicea future where Iranians can exercise their rights, to participate fully in the global economy and enrich the world through educational and cultural exchanges beyond Iran's borders."
Iran Makes New Offer for Nuclear Fuel Exchange
March 17 (EIRNS)Iran offered yesterday a one-shot nuclear fuel exchange on its own soil, in contrast to its previous offer to deliver it only in smaller portions. Iran's atomic chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, revealed the offer in an interview with the hardline daily Jawan, signalling a major change in Tehran's long-standing position on the nuclear fuel plan first drafted last October. Salehi said Iran is ready to deliver 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium (LEU) at one time, in return for 120 kilos of 20% enriched uranium for its Tehran medical research reactor, but the exchange must be inside the country, and simultaneously. According to the IAEA, Iran currently has around 2,065 kilograms of LEU.
U.S. Reportedly Shipping Bunker-Buster Bombs to Diego Garcia
March 17 (EIRNS)The Scottish daily The Herald reports that hundreds of U.S. "bunker-buster" bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, in preparation for a possible attack on Iran. It is reported that the U.S. government signed a contract in January to transport ten ammunition containers; a Florida shipping company, Superior Maritime Services, will be paid $699,500 to carry many thousands of military items from Concord, Calif., to Diego Garcia. The cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs, and 192 massive 2,000-lb. Blu-117 bombs.
"They are gearing up totally for the destruction of Iran," said Dan Plesch, director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at the University of London, coauthor of a recent study on U.S. preparations for an attack on Iran. "U.S. bombers are ready today to destroy 10,000 targets in Iran in a few hours," he added.