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Archive for December 11th, 2006

Annan to blast U.S. in farewell


In a farewell speech on U.S. soil today, retiring United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan plans to deliver a tough critique of President Bush’s policies. He will accuse the administration of trying to secure the United States from terrorism in part by dominating other nations through force, committing what he termed human rights abuses and taking military action without broad international support.

Though Annan has long been a critic of the war in Iraq and other Bush foreign policies, the planned speech is among his toughest and is unusual for a U.N. secretary-general concluding his tenure.

Annan’s remarks, provided to USA TODAY by his office, list principles for international relations, among them “respect for human rights and the rule of law.”

These ideas can be advanced only “if America remains true to its principles, including in the struggle against terrorism,” the speech says. “When it appears to abandon its own ideals and objectives, its friends abroad are naturally troubled and confused.”

In the 61-year history of the U.N., no secretary-general has ended his tenure by criticizing U.S. policies so sharply, said Stanley Meisler, a historian of the United Nations and author of a new biography of Annan.

Ric Grennell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N., said he would not discuss the remarks prior to their delivery. John Bolton, outgoing U.S. ambassador to the U.N., also declined to comment.

In his speech, Annan refers to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. When “military force is used, the world at large will consider it legitimate only when convinced that it is being used for the right purpose … in accordance with broadly accepted norms.”

The speech continues that “governments must be accountable for their actions in the international arena, as well as in the domestic one.”

The speech, to be delivered at the presidential library of the late Harry Truman in Independence, Mo., contrasts Truman’s support for the United Nations with the Bush administration’s unilateral actions.

Annan acknowledges terrorism and other global threats but cautions against nations acting alone. “Against such threats as these, no nation can make itself secure by seeking supremacy over all others,” the speech says.

Annan leaves office Dec. 31 and will be replaced by former South Korean foreign minister Ban Ki Moon.

Annan’s predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, developed a personal hostility toward then-U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright, but saved his anger for a book after he left office, Meisler said.

The United States supported Annan for the job 10 years ago, when it blocked Boutros-Ghali from serving a second five-year term. Annan has worked with the United States on a number of issues, including U.N. reform, said Lee Feinstein, a U.N. expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Critics of Annan in Congress, including Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., faulted the Ghana-born, U.S.-educated diplomat for lax management of the $64 billion U.N. oil-for-food program. The 1996-2003 effort was tainted by $1.5 billion in kickbacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

“Annan’s legacy will be one of missed opportunity and failed leadership,” said Coleman, who urged Annan to resign last year.

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Seeking Iran Intelligence, U.S. Tries Google


Internet Search Yields Names Cited in U.N. Draft Resolution

When the State Department recently asked the CIA for names of Iranians who could be sanctioned for their involvement in a clandestine nuclear weapons program, the agency refused, citing a large workload and a desire to protect its sources and tradecraft.

Frustrated, the State Department assigned a junior Foreign Service officer to find the names another way — by using Google. Those with the most hits under search terms such as “Iran and nuclear,” three officials said, became targets for international rebuke Friday when a sanctions resolution circulated at the United Nations.

Policymakers and intelligence officials have always struggled when it comes to deciding how and when to disclose secret information, such as names of Iranians with suspected ties to nuclear weapons. In some internal debates, policymakers win out and intelligence is made public to further political or diplomatic goals. In other cases, such as this one, the intelligence community successfully argues that protecting information outweighs the desires of some to share it with the world.

But that argument can also put the U.S. government in the awkward position of relying, in part, on an Internet search to select targets for international sanctions.

None of the 12 Iranians that the State Department eventually singled out for potential bans on international travel and business dealings is believed by the CIA to be directly connected to Iran’s most suspicious nuclear activities.

“There is nothing that proves involvement in a clandestine weapons program, and there is very little out there at all that even connects people to a clandestine weapons program,” said one official familiar with the intelligence on Iran. Like others interviewed for this story, the official insisted on anonymity when discussing the use of intelligence.

What little information there is has been guarded at CIA headquarters. The agency declined to discuss the case in detail, but a senior intelligence official said: “There were several factors that made it a complicated and time-consuming request, not the least of which were well-founded concerns” about revealing the way the CIA gathers intelligence on Iran.

That may be why the junior State Department officer, who has been with the nonproliferation bureau for only a few months, was put in front of a computer.

An initial Internet search yielded over 100 names, including dozens of Iranian diplomats who have publicly defended their country’s efforts as intended to produce energy, not bombs, the sources said. The list also included names of Iranians who have spoken with U.N. inspectors or have traveled to Vienna to attend International Atomic Energy Agency meetings about Iran.

It was submitted to the CIA for approval but the agency refused to look up such a large number of people, according to three government sources. Too time-consuming, the intelligence community said, for the CIA’s Iran desk staff of 140 people. The list would need to be pared down. So the State Department cut the list in half and resubmitted the names.

In the end, the CIA approved a handful of individuals, though none is believed connected to Project 1-11 — Iran’s secret military effort to design a weapons system capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. The names of Project 1-11 staff members have never been released by any government and doing so may have raised questions that the CIA was not willing or fully able to answer. But the agency had no qualms about approving names already publicly available on the Internet.

“Using a piece of intel on project 1-11, which we couldn’t justify in open-source reporting, or with whatever the Russians had, would have put us in a difficult position,” an intelligence official said. “Inevitably, someone would have asked, ‘Why this guy?’ and then we would have been back to the old problem of justifying intelligence.”

A senior administration official acknowledged that the back-and-forth with the CIA had been difficult, especially given the administration’s desire to isolate Iran and avoid a repeat of flawed intelligence that preceded the Iraq war.

“In this instance, we were the requesters and the CIA was the clearer,” the official said. “It’s the process we go through on a lot of these things. Both sides don’t know a lot of reasons for why either side is requesting or denying things. Sources and methods became their stated rationale and that is what they do. But for policymaking, it can be quite frustrating.”

Washington’s credibility in the U.N. Security Council on weapons intelligence was sharply eroded by the collapse of prewar claims about Iraq. A senior intelligence official said the intelligence community is determined to avoid mistakes of the past when dealing with Iran and other issues. “Once you push intelligence out there, you can’t take it back,” the official said.

U.S., French and British officials came to agree that it was better to stay away from names that would have to be justified with sensitive information from intelligence programs, and instead put forward names of Iranians whose jobs were publicly connected to the country’s nuclear energy and missile programs. European officials said their governments did not rely on Google searches but came up with nearly identical lists to the one U.S. officials offered.

“We do have concerns about Iranian activities that are overt, and uranium enrichment is a case in point,” said a senior administration official who agreed to discuss the process on the condition of anonymity. “We are concerned about what it means for the program, but also because enrichment is in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution.”

The U.S.-backed draft resolution, formally offered by Britain and France, would impose a travel ban and freeze the assets of 11 institutions and 12 individuals, including the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, the directors of Iran’s chief nuclear energy facilities, and several people involved in the missile program. It would prohibit the sale of nuclear technologies to Iran and urges states to “prevent specialised teaching or training” of Iranian nationals in disciplines that could further Tehran’s understanding of banned nuclear activities.

The text says the council will be prepared to lift the sanctions if Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA’s director general, concludes within 60 days that Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and has halted efforts to produce a heavy-water nuclear energy reactor.

Many Security Council members are uneasy about the sanctions. The Russians and the Chinese — whose support is essential for the resolution to be approved — have told the United States, Britain and France they will not support the travel-ban element of the resolution, according to three officials involved in the negotiations. Russia is building a light-water nuclear reactor in Iran and some people on the sanctions list are connected to the project.

“The Russians have already told us it would be demeaning for people to ask the Security Council for permission to travel to Russia to discuss an ongoing project,” a European diplomat said yesterday.

U.S. and European officials said there is room for negotiation with Russia on the names and organizations, but they also said it is possible that by the time the Security Council approves the resolution, the entire list could be removed.

“The real scope of debate will be on the number of sanctions,” one diplomat said. “Companies and individuals could go off the list or go on.”

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Iraq’s President Harshly Criticizes U.S. Strategy

BAGHDAD, Dec. 10 — President Jalal Talabani said Sunday that the American program to train Iraq’s security forces had been a repeated failure and he denounced a plan to increase the number of American advisers working with the Iraqi Army, saying it would subvert the country’s sovereignty.

Mr. Talabani’s remarks, in an interview with Western news service reporters that was later summarized and distributed by his office, amounted to an extraordinarily harsh denunciation of a central American strategy in Iraq as well as a major recommendation of the report issued last week by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group in Washington. He is the highest ranking Iraqi official to criticize the report, adding to anger among Iraqi leaders who have disagreed with some of its recommendations.

American commanders have poured more than $12 billion into training and equipping Iraq’s security forces and have tied a withdrawal of American troops to success in these efforts. But Mr. Talabani ridiculed them. “What have they done so far in training the army and the police?” he said. “What they have done is move from failure to failure.”

Mr. Talabani, who is Kurdish, said the Iraq Study Group report offered some “dangerous” recommendations that he said were “an insult to the Iraqi people” in that they undermined the country’s ability to control its own army and police.

He did not offer specific criticisms of the American training program, except to blame the Americans for inadequately screening recruits to the Shiite-dominated police to ensure their loyalties to the state rather than to a sect.

American and some Iraqi officials say some Iraqi police and army units are more beholden to Shiite militias than to the government and have helped to drive the cycles of retributive violence by attacking Sunni Arabs. Some Iraqi officials have also said that Sunni Arab officers have abetted the Sunni-led insurgency.

The Americans, Mr. Talabani said, “gathered them from the street regardless of their loyalty to the new Iraq, their capacity, their ability. These mistakes would be repeated if the Iraqi Army would be under the control of foreign officers, and we would never accept it.”

The Iraq Study Group called for increasing the number of American trainers to as many as 20,000 from the current level of more than 4,000, in the hope that it would help Iraqi units move more quickly to assume full control of the nation’s security.

Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top American commander in the Middle East, told Congress last month that he envisioned doubling the number of American trainers, but senior military officers now say they are planning to at least triple the number of trainers.

The shift has been endorsed in general terms by President Bush, and in recent weeks, commanders in Iraq have started moving hundreds of troops from their combat ranks to training teams.

American commanders have argued that expanding the training teams would allow trainers to work more closely with Iraqi soldiers and police. In addition, trainers would be able to watch more closely for sectarian biases and abuses.

But Mr. Talabani said the proliferation of American advisers threatened Iraqi control of the security forces.

“Assigning foreign officers in every unit of the Iraqi Army is a breach of Iraqi sovereignty,” he said, according to the translation issued by his office. “What will be left of this sovereignty if the Iraqi Army becomes a tool in the hands of foreign officers coming from outside?”

He added, “We want our hand to be free, not paralyzed, in fighting terror.”

Mr. Talabani’s remarks may be dismaying to the American leadership, which has regarded him as one of its more reliable and like-minded partners here.

Mr. Talabani’s attack on the Iraq Study Group report was wide-ranging and vociferous.

He criticized a recommendation for a law that would allow some former members of the outlawed Baath Party to return to government. The measure would reverse a “de-Baathification” process that has marginalized thousands of Sunni Arabs who worked in the Baathist government of Saddam Hussein.

He also said he supported a statement issued Thursday by Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region, who objected to several elements of the report that could weaken Kurdish autonomy by delaying an opportunity for the Kurds to govern the contested oil city of Kirkuk, and by giving the central government control over all oil revenue.

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Talks under way to replace Iraq PM


BAGHDAD, Iraq – Major partners in Iraq’s governing coalition are in behind-the-scenes talks to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki amid discontent over his failure to quell raging violence, according to lawmakers involved.

The talks are aimed at forming a new parliamentary bloc that would seek to replace the current government and that would likely exclude supporters of the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is a vehement opponent of the U.S. military presence.

The new alliance would be led by senior Shiite politician Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, who met with President Bush last week. Al-Hakim, however, was not expected to be the next prime minister because he prefers the role of powerbroker, staying above the grinding day-to-day running of the country.

A key figure in the proposed alliance, Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, a Sunni Arab, left for Washington on Sunday for a meeting with Bush at least three weeks ahead of schedule.

“The failure of the government has forced us into this in the hope that it can provide a solution,” said Omar Abdul-Sattar, a lawmaker from al-Hashemi’s Iraqi Islamic Party. “The new alliance will form the new government.”

The groups engaged in talks have yet to agree on a leader, said lawmaker Hameed Maalah, a senior official of al-Hakim’s Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI.

One likely candidate for prime minister, however, was said to be Iraq’s other vice president, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, a Shiite who was al-Hakim’s choice for the prime minister’s job before al-Maliki emerged as a compromise candidate and won.

News of the bid to oust al-Maliki, in office since May, came amid growing dissent over his government’s performance among his Sunni and Shiite partners and the damaging fallout from a leaked White House memo questioning the prime minister’s abilities.

Washington also has been unhappy with al-Maliki’s reluctance to comply with its repeated demands to disband Shiite militias blamed for much of Iraq’s sectarian bloodletting.

Bush publicly expressed his confidence in al-Maliki after talks in Jordan on Nov. 30. But the president told White House reporters four days later that he was not satisfied with the pace of efforts to stop Iraq’s violence.

It was not immediately clear how much progress had been made in the effort to cobble together a new parliamentary alliance. But lawmakers loyal to al-Sadr who support al-Maliki were almost certainly not going to be a part of it. They had no word on al-Maliki’s Dawa party.

They said al-Maliki was livid at the attempt to unseat him.

“We know what’s going on and we will sabotage it,” said a close al-Maliki aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivities involved. He did not elaborate.

A senior aide to al-Sadr, who insisted on anonymity for the same reason, said the proposed alliance was primarily designed to exclude the cleric’s backers and they would resist.

Al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army militiamen fought U.S. troops for much of 2004 in Baghdad and across central and southern Iraq. It is blamed for most of the sectarian violence raging in Iraq.

The cleric’s supporters have been among al-Maliki’s strongest backers, ensuring his election as prime minister. Relations have recently frayed, however, with the 30 Sadrist lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers boycotting the government and parliament to protest al-Maliki’s meeting with Bush in Jordan.

The al-Sadr aide said recent contacts with the office of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of most Iraqi Shiites, indicated the Iranian-born al-Sistani was not averse to replacing al-Maliki. Al-Sistani issued an unusually harsh criticism of the government in July.

Al-Hakim’s SCIRI, along with parliament’s Kurdish bloc and al-Hashemi’s Islamic party, are likely to be the major powers of the new alliance.

Independent lawmakers are also expected to join, legislators said.

Al-Hashemi’s Islamic party said Sunday it would not join any future government unless it had a real voice.

Mahmoud Othman, a prominent Kurdish lawmaker and a sharp government critic, said talks on a new parliamentary alliance were initiated early this year, abandoned and recently resumed.

“This government must offer a remedy for all the problems we have in Iraq or publicly announce that it’s unable to do so,” said Othman, who is close to the negotiations.

Al-Maliki’s government, under the Iraqi constitution, could be ousted if a simple majority of parliament’s 275 members opposed it in a vote of confidence. Parties in the talks expressed confidence they had enough votes.

“The question of confidence in this government must be reconsidered,” Parliament Speaker Mahmoud al-Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, told legislators Sunday. “Why should we continue to support it? For its failure?”

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