NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: May 27

Carter urges ‘supine’ Europe to break with US over Gaza blockade

Britain and other European governments should break from the US over the international embargo on Gaza, former US president Jimmy Carter told the Guardian yesterday. Carter, visiting the Welsh border town of Hay for the Guardian literary festival, described the EU’s position on the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as “supine” and its failure to criticise the Israeli blockade of Gaza as “embarrassing”.

Referring to the possibility of Europe breaking with the US in an interview with the Guardian, he said: “Why not? They’re not our vassals. They occupy an equal position with the US.”

The blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza, imposed by the US, EU, UN and Russia – the so-called Quartet – after the organisation’s election victory in 2006, was “one of the greatest human rights crimes on Earth,” since it meant the “imprisonment of 1.6 million people, 1 million of whom are refugees”. “Most families in Gaza are eating only one meal per day. To see Europeans going along with this is embarrassing,” Carter said.

Hamas seeks mediation from Qatar, AL for reconciliation with Fatah

Hamas on Monday confirmed it held contacts with the Arab League (AL) and Qatar to achieve reconciliation with rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The contacts Hamas holds with the AL and Qatar regarding the reconciliation with Fatah are not new,” said Ahmed Yousef, an advisor to deposed Hamas premier Ismail Haneya.

Haneya and Hamas’ politburo chief Khaled Mashaal asked AL secretary general Amr Moussa and the Qatari prince to arrange for the reconciliation, Yousef said, adding the recent calls were madeafter the AL and Qatar’s success in helping settling Lebanon crisis.

Barak: Israel on a collision course with Hamas

Defense minister addresses situation on Gaza border, says events in danger of escalating within days but that ‘if there is a calm, we will consider matters.’ Barak also says Syria less concerned with Golan Heights than with improving its relations with Washington.

Iran pledges to continue support of Hamas

Iran pledged to continue its military, financial, and moral support to the Hamas Movement even if Damascus abandons the latter, should a peace treaty be signed between Syria and Israel, the state of war and animosity between the two countries be ended by Israel handing the occupied Golan back to Syria, and the Syrian-Israeli border be declared secure and demilitarized. This statement was made by an Iranian source close to the talks that Hamas Movement Political Bureau Chief Khalid Mishal held in Tehran. Mishal held talks with Iranian political, security, military, and religious leaders, including Commander in Chief of the [Revolutionary] Guard Maj Gen Jafari, Commander of the Qods Force Brig Gen Qasim Sulaymani, and officials of the Defense Industries Organization, including Brig Gen Ahmad Wahid. Brig Gen Wahid promised Mishal to provide very advanced missiles that are currently being produced at the Martyr Bakiri Complex in Tehran especially for Hamas.

Master of the Senate

As Barack Obama considers his vice presidential options, he would be very wise to take Jim Webb seriously. By now the idea that Webb could help Obama connect with the Scots-Irish voters of Greater Appalachia is familiar to most of those who follow the presidential horse race. And Webb’s military experience, together with his years in Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon, give him national security expertise that few leading Democrats can match. Yet there is another reason the Virginia Senator would make an excellent vice presidential nominee. As he’s demonstrated this week, Webb can be a masterful legislative tactician.

Mid-level official steered U.S. shift on North Korea

Early in President Bush’s second term, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened a series of strategy sessions on how to persuade North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons programs. One key official, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, remained largely silent, four participants said, except to pipe up periodically with the same refrain.

“If you just let me go to Pyongyang, I’ll get you a deal,” the career Foreign Service officer said, prompting others to roll their eyes and move on.

In the twilight of the Bush presidency, the nuclear agreement that Hill has tirelessly pursued over the past three years has emerged as Bush’s best hope for a lasting foreign policy success. In the process, Hill has become the public face of an extraordinary 180-degree policy shift on North Korea, from confrontation to accommodation.

May 26, 1908: Mideast oil discovered — there will be blood

1908: A British company strikes oil in Persia (now Iran). It’s the first big petroleum find in the Middle East, and it sets off a wave of exploration, extraction and exploitation that will change the region’s — and the world’s — history.

Englishman William D’Arcy had obtained a license to explore for oil in Persia in 1901. He sent explorer George Reynolds, who searched fruitlessly for seven years.

Fresh investment from the Burmah Oil Co. had rescued the expedition financially in 1904, but with no results and D’Arcy’s personal fortune completely run out, he risked losing his two country houses and his London mansion. In Persia, staff was already being dismissed. Reynolds received orders from London for his last-chance well: Drill to 1,600 feet and then stop.

Sadr pursues image to match his power

When the revered head of Iraq’s largest Shiite opposition group was assassinated in 1999, the mantle of leadership passed to an unexpected heir: Moqtada al-Sadr, then a 25-year-old video game aficionado who oversaw the movement’s security forces.

Sadr, now 34, has since emerged as an ardent nationalist who commands the support of hundreds of thousands of devotees and the scorn of those who see him as a thuggish militia leader of limited intellect. He has lately sought to reposition himself as a more mainstream figure, even in the face of increasing pressure from Iraq’s Shiite-led government.

His decision last week to allow the Iraqi army to enter the capital’s Sadr City district, his base of power, was the latest in a series of calming edicts that began last summer. In August 2007, he ordered his militia, which had been responsible for some of the most horrific sectarian violence in the country, to lay down its weapons. The freeze prompted senior U.S. military officials to begin praising the young cleric, despite his steady opposition to the American presence in Iraq.

Sadr has spent the past year studying in Iran under a politically influential cleric who runs the country’s judicial system, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, according to several top-ranking Sadr aides. Sadr’s effort to burnish his theological credentials may offer some insight into his ambitions, since he is descended from a line of clerics who endorse “wilayat al-faqih,” the theory that high-ranking Shiite clerics should oversee affairs of state.

Mideast governments increasingly ignore U.S. views

The governments of the Middle East, from Iran to Israel and beyond, are increasingly ignoring the wishes of a U.S. administration which has only eight months left in office, going their own way in regional diplomacy.

U.S. President George W. Bush’s latest speech on Middle East policy, made in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh last week, shows how the gap has grown between what Washington would like and what is happening in the region.

It is part of a wider picture of Washington’s declining clout, accelerated by its debilitating deployment of more than 100,000 troops to Iraq for the past five years.

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