NEWS & VIEWS ROUNDUP: August 6

Political suicide, Palestinian style

It is painful watching events in Gaza and the West Bank unfold, as Fatah and Hamas battle it out like a bunch of armed neighborhood gangs. The mood among Palestinians throughout the world is one of despair and gloom, tinged with embarrassment and occasional shame.

Arab and others supporters of the Palestinian cause throw their hands up in the air in bewilderment. It will not be surprising to see some friends of Palestine quietly walk away, mumbling that if the Palestinians wish to kill each other and destroy their own society, they are free to do so. The world will easily forget about them.

These are grim days for the Palestinians, but not unusual ones for the Arab world as a whole. The sight of clan-based political groups in Gaza killing each other is familiar in many parts of the Middle East, sadly. That does not make it any better. It simply is a sign that national dysfunctionality expressed in internecine political violence is a regional Arab ailment, not a peculiarly Palestinian one.

Nothing to see here, folks: Foreign media’s Israel coverage wanes

A relative lull in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has led to a fall in the number of foreign journalists in Israel, according to an official at ABC News.

Simon McGregor-Wood, coordinator and bureau chief of ABC News in Jerusalem, noted that many foreign press offices, including major United States television networks, have retained their bureaus but cut their staff by half.

The cuts, he says, are due to the decrease in “spectacular” violence in the area, coupled with the rise to the fore of issues such as the Iraq war, the Iranian threat and the upcoming US presidential election.

“In terms of the media market there is less interest than there was [in the past],” McGregor-Wood told The Jerusalem Post. “There is the enormous drain on resources because of the war in Iraq, which is editorially more interesting and financially more expensive. It’s hard to get the attention of the American viewer or reader because of the domestic agenda, which is strong because of the presidential campaign.”

McGregor-Wood said that the country’s security situation had been more compelling for media outlets earlier in the decade because of frequent suicide bombings and Israeli military campaigns, both of which have since died down.

Mofaz: Iran is the root of all evil, threat to world peace

Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, a contender to succeed Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, denounced his native Iran on Wednesday as “the root of all evil,” saying that the Islamic republic’s nuclear program constituted a threat to world peace.

Mofaz was speaking a day after he launched a campaign for a party leadership primary election, scheduled for next month, whose winner will be named prime minister.

Opinion polls show that Mofaz, a deputy prime minister and former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff and defense minister, is a frontrunner in the contest to lead the centrist Kadima party but trails Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Why Iran won’t budge on nukes

When U.S. officials appeal to the Iranian people over the heads of its regime, they like to assume that Tehran’s defiance on the nuclear issue reflects only the extremist position of an unrepresentative revolutionary leadership. Plainly, they haven’t met Dr. Akbar Etemad, who ran the nuclear program of the Shah’s regime, which was overthrown in the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The scientist who first launched Iran’s nuclear technology program under a U.S.-backed regime in 1974 today urges the regime that stripped him of his job to reject any international demand that it halt uranium enrichment.

Dr. Etemad told an academic conference in Toronto last weekend, “Iran already stopped nuclear enrichment at the behest of Europe for more than a year [a reference to Tehran’s suspension of enrichment between late 2003 and mid-2005, to allow negotiations with the European Union]. And what happened? Nothing.”

Iran delivered its response to the latest Western offer on the nuclear issue to E.U. officials in Brussels on Tuesday, and reportedly avoided any mention of a freeze on uranium enrichment. Britain, France and the U.S. have made clear that the consequence of Iran turning down the current offer will be a push for further U.N. sanctions against Tehran.

Iran seeks details on nuclear offer

The Iranian government said Tuesday that it is ready to respond to an incentives package that the United States and five other world powers have offered in exchange for suspension of its uranium-enrichment program. But Iran insisted that the big powers “simultaneously” provide a more detailed explanation of the offer, a formula that may lead to drawn-out talks.

Iran’s position was outlined in a statement its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, sent Tuesday to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. The statement, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post, said that “such mutual clarification can pave the way for a speedy and transparent negotiating process with a bright prospect.”

“The Republic of Iran is ready to provide a ‘clear response’ to your proposal at the earliest possibility, while simultaneously expecting to receive your ‘clear response’ to our questions and ambiguities as well,” the statement said. “The second phase of negotiations can commence as early as possible, if there is such willingness.”

Allies say Germany is ‘wobbly’ on pressuring Iran

Germany’s allies are dismayed that the German government has granted a German firm permission to supply three natural gas plants to Iran at the same time they’re trying to pressure Iran into suspending its nuclear program, U.S. and European officials said Tuesday.

“The Germans are very wobbly, and certainly the French, the British and the Americans are quite worried,” said a European diplomat, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. “Their spine needs to be stiffened. The more mixed messages, the more it plays into the Iranians’ hands.”

There is “significant concern” in the Bush administration over the $156 million natural gas deal, said a U.S. official, who also requested anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities.

Doubt cast on U.S. version of terror suspect’s arrest

As U.S. authorities took a purported al Qaida operative to court on attempted murder and assault charges Tuesday in New York, her family, the Afghan police and the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan cast doubts on the accuracy of the American story.

On Monday, the Department of Justice announced that Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani woman who was educated in the United States, had been taken into custody in mid-July in Afghanistan.

She was arraigned in court in New York Tuesday, and her case has inflamed anti-American sentiment in Pakistan and triggered street protests against Siddiqui’s detention.

Siddiqui arrest brings attention to the ‘disappeared’ issue in Pakistan

The high-profile arrest of a Pakistani woman suspected of Al Qaeda links casts a spotlight on an issue her nation’s fledgling civilian government has been slow to confront: years of official secrecy surrounding the fate of hundreds of people rounded up as terrorism suspects.

Some human rights activists believe that Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani-born neuroscientist who appeared Tuesday in federal district court in New York, was originally “disappeared” by Pakistani authorities five years ago, possibly at U.S. behest.

President Musharraf cancels trip to China as impeachment looms

Pakistan’s embattled president Musharraf has abruptly cancelled his planned visit to China, as opponents in the ruling coalition move to impeach him.

He was to attend opening ceremony of Beijing Olympics and meet Chinese leaders during his two day visit.

Mohammed Sadiq, a Pakistan foreign ministry spokesman confirmed that the visit was called off, but did not give any reason. The announcement came as the president’s opponents met in Islamabad to decide on his impeachment.

A ragtag pursuit of the Taliban

Lt. Col. Abdul Hamid, a new police commander, was having trouble doing the math. When he took control of this district in the country’s north in early July, he had 54 officers. Since then, some had been transferred; others had disappeared.

How many were left?

The commander looked up at the bare light bulb hanging from his office ceiling. Nearby, Maj. Vincent Heintz, a barrel-chested National Guardsman and onetime New York prosecutor, put his palm to his temple and leaned toward Hamid. “Sir, would it be fair to say you don’t know how many officers you have working here?” Heintz boomed.

Hamid, reed thin and swimming in his oversize police uniform, smiled affably while the question was translated. He nodded. “No, I don’t know how many officers work here,” he said.

Unmanned spy planes to police Britain

The Government is drawing up plans to use unmanned “drone” aircraft currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to counter terrorism and aid police operations in Britain.

The MoD is carrying out research and development to enable the spy planes, which are equipped with highly sophisticated monitoring equipment that allows them to secretly track and photograph suspects without their knowledge, to be deployed within three years.

The plans have been backed by the House of Commons Defence Committee but have attracted criticism from civil liberties campaigners concerned about the implications of covert surveillance of civilians.

Iraqi army is willing, but not ready, to fight

Ahmed Mahmoud, a lieutenant in the Iraqi Army, lost one leg fighting the insurgency and says he would not quit his job even if he lost the other. He believes in his army.

But asked whether that army is ready as a national defense force, capable of protecting Iraq’s borders without American support, Lieutenant Mahmoud gestures toward his battalion’s parking lot. A fifth of the vehicles are rotting trucks and bomb-demolished Humvees that, for some complicated bureaucratic reason, are still considered operational.

“In your opinion,” Lieutenant Mahmoud says, “do you think I could fight an army with those trucks?”

While Americans and Iraqi civilians alike are increasingly eager to see combat operations turned over to the Iraqi Army, interviews with more than a dozen Iraqi soldiers and officers in Diyala Province, at the outset of a large-scale operation against insurgents led by Iraqis but backed by Americans, reveal a military confident of its progress but unsure of its readiness.

The Obama energy speech, annotated

Former Vice President Al Gore used a recent speech to call for weaning the United States from coal by 2018. [Reader Comment 6] On Monday, Senator Barack Obama proposed weaning the country from Middle Eastern and Venezuelan oil in roughly the same time span.

Feeling rising pressure in the campaign over high gas prices (and the looming specter of extraordinary home heating costs this fall), he shifted his stance to considering some new offshore drilling if it was part of a comprehensive energy agreement including big investments and incentives for nonpolluting energy technologies. He also wants to drill in a different part of Alaska’s North Slope than the national wildlife refuge known as ANWR, but one that also is a battleground for some environmental groups.

But Mr. Obama’s prime focus was a broad and sustained push for new energy technologies that could keep the country moving while sharply cutting petroleum use and carbon dioxide emissions. Getting there — given the hurdles in Congress, gaps in technology, and inertia built into century-old transportation and energy systems — will be a monumental task, but Mr. Obama insisted he can do the job.

How solid is the anthrax evidence?

While the FBI waits to formally release its evidence against Bruce E. Ivins, the microbiologist it claims to have linked to the anthrax mailings seven years ago, who killed himself on July 29, the public is getting a sneak peek — by way of federal leaks to the media. The leaks are piling up almost too fast to keep track of. Some seem damning, others perplexing, but the pause is creating a strange void — in which leaks are followed by rebuttals from Ivins’ colleagues and his attorney (who steadfastly denies that his client had any role in the attacks) and then followed by more leaks. The result leaves neither Ivins nor the FBI looking good.

Most notably, unnamed federal officials are telling media outlets that the FBI used new DNA technology to link the anthrax that killed five people in 2001 to anthrax handled by Ivins in his federal lab. But scientists who knew Ivins — and some who didn’t — tell TIME this is not a simple matter, technically speaking.

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