A Talk with the Taliban

December 17, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sara Daniel, Le Nouvel Observateur

121109french
Former Taliban are part of the ongoing dialogue between the Karzai government and the Taliban in Pakistan. (Photo: Codepink / Flickr)

Obama has finally opted for troop reinforcement. But by evoking the beginning of a scheduled withdrawal 18 months from now, he has also incited the Karzai government to keep the channels of discussion with the Taliban open.

And what if the stabilization of Afghanistan could come only at this price? While Barack Obama’s decision to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan seems to sound the death knell for that option envisaged by the more cynical members of the American administration, those who don’t believe in a military solution in the country continue to militate in favor of a “discussion” with the enemy. Not with the “pragmatic” Taliban Hamid Karzai boasted of having been able to rally to his cause – and who are today considered traitors by the guerrilla – but with the most ideological fringe of the “students’ of religion” representatives, the Mullah Omar and Hezb-e-Islami leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. These are the ones who are inflicting losses on NATO’s forces and laying siege to Kabul. “If you want significant results, you have to talk to important people,” Norwegian diplomat and UN representative in the country Kai Eide declared the day before the elections to encourage discussions with the guerrilla movement’s leadership.

The idea is highly controversial. Its detractors explain that any attempt at dialogue would be considered a sign of weakness by the fundamentalist guerrilla at precisely the moment when the West is demonstrating the scope of its determination to pacify the country militarily. Didn’t Mullah Omar just violently reject the proposals for national reconciliation that President Karzai since his investiture has ceaselessly tried to engage him in? Nonetheless, Barack Obama has repeated that NATO’s troop withdrawal should begin in 18 months. Yet, nothing proves that the counterinsurgency strategy he has opted for will be a success in the meantime. Consequently, the Afghan president maintains all channels open and, far from official platforms, enemy leaders are talking to one another.

In spite of the fighting, meetings occur between the clandestine headquarters of the blind mullah and the Afghan government. From Pakistan to Kabul, intercessors see to it that messages are passed under the watchful eye of the Americans. Even American Defense Secretary Robert Gates has declared that, in Afghanistan as in Iraq, it would be necessary to come to the point of conducting a policy of a reconciliation with people who have killed American soldiers: “Isn’t that how wars always end?” he declared during a NATO meeting.

Maulvi Arsala Rahmani is one of those messengers. Under the Taliban regime, he was minister for religious affairs. Today, he has returned to the Afghan Senate. He receives people in his house in Kabul, where he is under good protection and spied on by several countries’ intelligence agents. Enveloped in an Uzbek coat lined in gray fur, he prays with fervor, as though better to reflect on the questions he is asked. To hear him tell it, he would like to reconcile everybody. For he likes Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and … Mullah Omar. He mentions his “friend, Osama” (bin Laden), whom he knew well in Sudan, then during the jihad. According to Rahmani, Mullah Baradar, the present Taliban operational commander, is a “good and honest man.” And he misses Jalaluddin Haqqani, whose armed groups are covering the south of the country with blood: “We always used to be together …” Nonetheless, he believes that the time has come for the guerrilla movement to dissociate itself from his “friend Osama.” But are the members of Mullah Omar’s choura (council of notables), with whom he is in contact, ready for that divorce? In his opinion, it’s not impossible. For, in spite of their military “success,” the Taliban, like all soldiers, would like to be able to go home. Moreover, and contrary to what has been suggested in Mullah Omar’s communiqués, it is sometimes the guerrilla leaders, and not the Afghan presidency, who take the initiative for these meetings, Maulvi Arsala Rahmani assures me. Last year, Mullah Baradar led a Taliban delegation to Kabul to talk with Karzai’s older brother, Qayyum.

Born to the same tribe as the Afghan president, Mullah Omar’s right hand man is supposed to be a more conciliating man than his mentor. Patient, charismatic, he has proved to be a redoubtable enemy for NATO’s troops. At the head of the Quetta choura in Pakistan, it is he who manages the war chest – the booty from kidnappings and trafficking – and who coordinates attacks. Above all, it is he who has been authorized to speak in the name of the man the insurgents consider the commander of the faithful: Omar. “Should there ever be discussions, he will be an indispensable interlocutor,” asserts Rahmani.

In Kabul, the former minister is sharing his home with another one of these “intermediaries” who sound out the Taliban and regularly meet with Barack Obama’s advisers. His beard is black, his turban, cream-colored: Pir Mohamed was the president of the University of Kabul under the Taliban regime: “Afghanistan is composed of several groups. No one should be excluded … That’s what I said to Holbrooke, who shares my point of view!” Repeating – for whatever purpose it might serve – that, at the time, he had tried several times to convince Mullah Omar to allow him to give girls a religious education, he asserts that today he has warned the White House special envoy against the new pacification strategy for the country: “Afghanistan is not Iraq. The Taliban come from very different origins. Mores come from Uzbekistan, Kandahar or Khost. And one may neither set the tribes against one another nor buy them: there are too many of them!”

Yet, is seems that the political leadership of the Taliban, tossing around between Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi, would like to put an end to its wanderings in Pakistan. That’s the sense of the messages from the Quetta choura and its representatives, Baradar and Mohamed Mansour, former chief education officer. The rebels would like to install themselves somewhere, then form a government-in-exile to elaborate the conditions for a negotiation with the Karzai government. Why not in Saudi Arabia where Mullah Zaeef, former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, has already tried to organize a meeting between the enemy sides? Then from Riyadh, the Taliban leadership could negotiate its own neutrality in exchange for a right to return, amnesty and participation in political life after the withdrawal of foreign troops.

Isn’t this scenario unrealistic or premature? Our intermediaries agree: it will not be easy to convince Westerners to guarantee a safe haven for the same people they’re fighting. But the two men insist on the necessity of cutting the guerrilla off from its Pakistani sanctuary. Even though they know Afghanistan will not be at peace until Pakistan agrees to it. “As long as Pakistan’s vital interests, such as the future of the Durand Line, are not taken into account, all discussions will fail,” explains Rahmani. According to him, the key to potential negotiations is in the hands of the Pakistani mullahs, themselves under ISI – the Pakistani secret services’ – control.  As are Mullah Fazel Rahman and Sami ul-Haq, who lead the coalition of Pakistani fundamentalist religious parties. “Before the Taliban, it is they who must be convinced to make peace, because today they control al-Qaeda and bin Laden and hold the future of the region in their hands …” On this point, at least, the former Taliban and Barack Obama come to the same conclusions.

Maulvi Rahmani

Religious affairs minister under the Taliban regime, he is a member of the Afghan Senate today. He has contacts within circles close to the Pakistani secret services.

Pir Mohamed

Former rector of Kabul University. He meets regularly with Richard Holbrooke and representatives of the Quetta choura.

Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef

He was the sole interface between the Taliban regime and the international community from 1996 to the end of 2001. He was imprisoned at Guantanamo from 2002 to 2005. He would like to see the Saudis play a role in future peace talks.

Wakil Muttawakil

Former foreign affairs minister for the Taliban, he played the role of intermediary between the Americans and Taliban groups in Kandahar and negotiated the conditions for surrender with the Americans at the fall of the regime.

11-52

Obama, the Anti-Churchill?

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

winston_churchill_01 If you take out just one sentence, Barack Obama’s speech on Afghanistan last week was all about focusing and limiting the scope of the U.S. mission in that country. The objectives he detailed were exclusively military: to deny al-Qaeda a haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and strengthen the Kabul government’s security forces. The nation that he was interested in building, he explained, was this one.

And then there was that one line: “I have determined that it is in our vital national interest to send 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.” Here lies the tension in Obama’s policy. He wants a clearer, more discriminating foreign policy, one that pares the vast commitments and open-ended interventions of the Bush era, perhaps one that is more disciplined than Bill Clinton’s approach to the world. (On the campaign trail, Obama repeatedly invoked George H.W. Bush as the president whose foreign policy he admired most.) But America is in a war that is not going well, and scaling back now would look like cutting and running. Obama is searching for a post-imperial policy in the midst of an imperial crisis. The qualified surge — send in troops to regain the momentum but then draw down — is his answer to this dilemma.

This first year of his presidency has been a window into Obama’s worldview. Once most presidents get hold of the bully pulpit, they cannot resist the temptation to become Winston Churchill. They gravitate toward grand rhetoric about freedom and tyranny and embrace the moral drama of their role as leaders of the free world. Not Obama. He has been cool and calculating, whether dealing with Russia, Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan. Obama is a realist by temperament, learning and instinct. More than any president since Richard Nixon, he has focused on defining American interests carefully, providing resources to achieve them and keeping his eyes on the prize.

“In the end,” the president said last Tuesday, “our security and leadership does not come solely from the strength of our arms.” He explained that America’s economic and technological vigor underpinned its ability to play a world role. At a small lunch with a group of columnists before his speech last week, he made clear to us that he did not want to run two wars. He seemed to be implying that the struggles in Iraq and Afghanistan were not the crucial path to America’s long-term security. He explained that challenges at home — economic growth, technological innovation, education reform — were at the heart of maintaining America’s status as a superpower. In fact, throughout history great nations have lost their way by getting bogged down in imperial missions far from home that crippled their will, strength and focus. (Sometimes even when they won they lost: Britain prevailed in the Boer War, but it broke the back of the empire.)

It is clear that Obama is attempting something quite ambitious — to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward something less extravagant and adversarial. That begins with narrowing the “war on terrorism”; scaling back the conflict with the Islamic world to those groups and countries that pose serious, direct threats to the United States; and reaching out to the rest. He has also tried to develop a better working relationship with major powers such as Russia and China, setting aside smaller issues in hopes of cooperation on bigger ones. This means departing from a bipartisan approach in which Washington’s role was to direct and hector the rest of the world, pushing regimes large and small to accept American ideas, and publicly chastising them when they refused. Obama is trying to break the dynamic that says that when an American president negotiates with the Chinese or Russians, he must return with rewards or concessions — or else he is guilty of appeasement.

For his policy to succeed, Obama will need to maintain his focus come July 2011. Afghanistan will not be transformed by that date. It will not look like France, with a strong and effective central government. The gains that will have been made will be fragile. The situation will still be somewhat unstable. But that should still be the moment to begin the transition to Afghan rule. We can find ways to secure American interests in that region more manageably. By the end of 2011, the United States will have spent 10 years, thousands of lives and $2 trillion trying to create stable, democratic governments in Iraq and Afghanistan, two of the most difficult, divided countries in the world. It will be time to move on.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His e-mail address is comments@fareedzakaria.com.

11-51

Iran: Time To Leave The NPT?

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nader Bagherzadeh & Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich

Article IV of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) acknowledges the “inalienable right” of non-nuclear weapons states (NNWS) to research, develop, and use nuclear energy for non-weapons purposes. The NPT also supports the “fullest possible exchange” of such nuclear-related information and technology between nuclear weapons states (P5) and non-nuclear weapons states. Iran, a NNWS has been denied its “inalienable rights” while support and the exchange of nuclear-related information has been withheld. This begs the question why Iran should continue to honor the NPT?

Indications are that Tehran did not believe that in the international arena, its biggest foe would be injustice. When former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was busy engineering completely illegal sanctions against Iran, it was with the goal of testing Tehran’s patience in the hope of having it exit the NPT so that he could muster up support for yet another war against an Islamic country in the Middle East. But Iran remained steadfast and in sharp contrast to the United States, it continued to respect international laws in the firm belief that justice would prevail. It did not.

Since 2003, the IAEA has consistently failed its obligations towards Iran as defined by the 1974 Safeguards Agreement. It has failed to facilitate refueling of a small reactor in Tehran, used mostly for short-lived medical isotopes. It has cancelled several key technical assistance programs with Iran, some of them related to nuclear safety issues, under pressure from the US. At America’s behest, the IAEA has become a conventional weapon inspector agency, seeking information about national secrets of Iran related to missiles and conventional bomb making capabilities; which is completely outside of its jurisdiction, as spelled out in the 1974 agreement. In violation of Article 9 of the 1974 Agreement, the IAEA has shared Iran’s sensitive nuclear technology with member nations, as well as outside nuclear experts with dubious connections to Iran’s enemies. And most importantly, the Agency with tremendous pressure from US, has elevated a technical non-compliance matter to the level Chapter 7 UNSC sanctions, which should have been used when there is a clear indication of a nuclear weapons program.

The Agency’s clear violation of Iran’s rights under the NPT leads one to wonder if the IAEA is ever going to clear Iran’s file and revert it back to the normal status while the US is exerting pressure. It is unrealistic for Iran’s leadership to assume that by fully engaging the IAEA, sometime in the near future, this agency, working against the wishes of Obama’s administration, will clear Iran’s path to have nascent enrichment capability. After all, the so called “laptop” filled with mostly fabricated information against Iran’s nuclear programs did not show up until it was clear that the IAEA was going to declare 6 outstanding concerns on Iran’s past nuclear activities were no longer valid.

Although Obama has extended his hand towards Iran, the policy of “zero-enrichment” has not changed an iota from Bush’s policy. When Obama chose Gary Samore and Dennis Ross to handle Iran’s nuclear case, it was obvious that Obama did not have any major changes in mind, and the goal was to use a softer approach to gather more support for putting pressure, or as Ross calls it “bigger sticks.” Moreover, a recent trip by Ross to Beijing to convince Chinese leadership to sign up for more sanctions against Iran on behalf of Obama, shows that not only Ross was not marginalized after he was transferred from the State Department to the White House, but he is practically in the driver’s seat for Obama’s Iran policy.

In addition to the West’s shaping of IAEA’s illegitimate position on Iran’s nuclear file, relentless fabricated attacks by the western media has finally resulted in portraying Iran as an outlaw when it comes to the nuclear activities. The propaganda machine led by the likes of Fred Hiatt of Washington Post and Nicolas Goldberg of Los Angeles Times, have helped create such an environment that a recent Pew poll showed that more than 50% of Americans support a US military strike against Iran while the U.S. is in a quagmire in the graveyard of the empires – Afghanistan, and continues to be engaged in its sixth year war in Iraq.

The latest IAEA’s report which continued its demands from Iran to go beyond its obligations under the NPT safeguards and Subsidiary Arrangement Code 3.1 is another misrepresentation of the truth by the Agency. Iran’s Majlis (parliament) never approved this code which requires reporting any nuclear project at the point of inception. It is ironic that a major NPT member (i.e. US) is allowed to threaten Iran’s nuclear facilities with military strikes, but when Iran rightfully wants to prevent that from happening by using passive defensive majors, she is censured by the Board.

Iran’s continued cooperation with the IAEA may be a call for equality. Their security in pursuing their goal stems from the justness of their cause, itself a compelling reason to delay a war with the US. However, this cooperation is not serving the development of peaceful nuclear energy in Iran. The Agency has been a tool in the hands of major powers and it does not seem that the status will change anytime soon. The way Obama is pushing the chess pieces against Iran by seeking an oil embargo and crippling sanctions, he may be boxed into a war, even if he is ostensibly against it. Perhaps it is time for Iran to reconsider her membership and leave the NPT.

Dr. Nader Bagherzadeh is a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at UC Irvine, California.

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich has a Master’s in Public Diplomacy from USC Annenberg. She is an independent researcher and writer.

11-51

Gates: US Absolutely Not Leaving Afghanistan

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Matt Spetalnick

2009-10-14T173345Z_514805076_GM1E5AF044W02_RTRMADP_3_AFGHANISTAN

An Afghan boy pushes his youngest brother on a wheelbarrow in a village in Charkh district, Logar province October 14, 2009.

REUTERS/Nikola Solic

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House on Monday ruled out any consideration of a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as part of President Barack Obama’s sweeping strategy review of the increasingly unpopular war there.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in a television program taped at George Washington University that will be aired by CNN on Tuesday.

Gates said the Afghan and Pakistani governments should not be “nervous” about the U.S. review as Obama prepared to brief congressional leaders and to convene his war council again this week on how to deal with the deteriorating security situation.

“I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “That’s quite clear.”

Obama faces pivotal decisions in the coming weeks after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, presented a dire assessment of the eight-year-old war effort.

Earlier, Gates urged military advisers to speak “candidly but privately” but defended McChrystal, who has been criticized for appearing to lobby in public for his position that more troops need to be sent to Afghanistan.

“Stan McChrystal is exactly the right person to be the commander in Afghanistan right now,” Gates said. “I have every confidence that, no matter what decision the president makes, Stan McChrystal will implement it as effectively as possible.”

The debate within the Obama administration is now over whether to send thousands more U.S. troops, as McChrystal has requested, or scale back the U.S. mission and focus on striking al Qaeda cells, an idea backed by Vice President Joe Biden.

‘Our Inability’

Gates suggested that the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years — a period when former U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq — had given the Taliban an edge in Afghanistan.

“The reality is that because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (to put) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said, although he declined to discuss what options Obama may be considering.

As the strategy debate in Washington gathered steam, Afghan election authorities began a recount on Monday in the disputed presidential election held in August.

Allegations of fraud in what Gates called the “flawed” election are among the reasons U.S. officials have cited for launching the review of policy toward Afghanistan.

With U.S. casualties on the rise, American public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama’s aides once hailed as the “good war,” in contrast to the unpopular war in Iraq that occupied the focus of Bush.

There also have been increasing calls from the anti-war left and foreign policy critics for a U.S. pullout. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the White House on Monday, and a few were arrested when they chained themselves to the gates.

Seeking to shore up support, Obama invited senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the White House on Tuesday to discuss the future course of the war. He is due to meet his national security team on Wednesday and Friday.

The Obama administration already has almost doubled the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan this year to 62,000 to contend with the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001. The U.S. invasion was launched in the weeks after the September 11 attacks carried out by al Qaeda, which had been given a haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

McChrystal has warned in a confidential assessment that the war effort would end in failure without additional troops and changes in strategy.

But signing off on the 30,000 to 40,000 troop increase that McChrystal is said to have requested would be politically risky for Obama due to unease within his own Democratic Party and fatigue among the American public after eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered their worst losses in more than a year when fighters stormed remote outposts near the Pakistan border over the weekend. Eight American soldiers were killed on Saturday after tribal militia stormed two combat outposts in remote Nuristan province in eastern Afghanistan.

11-44

Many Guantanamo Cases Referred to US Prosecutors

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Devlin Barrett 

Washington – Dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainee cases have been referred to federal prosecutors for possible criminal trials in the nation’s capital, Virginia and New York City, officials told The Associated Press on Monday as a second strategy for trying the detainees emerged within the Obama administration.

The Justice Department’s strategy of holding trials in East Coast cities could be a sharp departure from a Pentagon plan to hold all Guantanamo-related civilian and military trials in the Midwest.

The politically volatile decisions about where and how to try Guantanamo Bay detainees ultimately will rest with President Barack Obama as he tries to meet his self-imposed January deadline for closing the island prison.

Obama administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal deliberations, said Attorney General Eric Holder met privately last week with the chief federal prosecutor in each of the East Coast areas to discuss the preparations for possible indictments and trials in those districts.

Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the Guantanamo Bay detainee task force “has referred a significant number of cases for possible prosecution, and those cases have now been sent to U.S. Attorney offices who are reviewing them with prosecutors from the Office of Military Commissions.” His statement didn’t identify the districts involved.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said no final decisions have been made on where in the U.S. to transfer Guantanamo detainees.

One official said prosecutors and military lawyers are now reviewing the individual cases. The work is aimed at indicting individuals in civilian courts, but final decisions have not been made on the cases and some of the inmates whose cases were referred could still end up before military commissions instead.

Officials said the districts which have been referred Guantanamo cases are: Washington, D.C.; the Eastern District of Virginia, which has a courthouse in Alexandria, Va.; the Southern District of New York, which is based in lower Manhattan in New York City; and the Eastern District of New York, which is based in the New York borough of Brooklyn.

Each district has experience prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases, and each courthouse has high-security facilities for holding particularly dangerous inmates.
Yet the plan to hold terror trials in those cities may run afoul of a separate initiative being considered to build a courtroom-within-a-prison complex in the U.S. heartland.

Several senior U.S. officials said the administration is eyeing a soon-to-be-shuttered state maximum security prison in Michigan and the military penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., as possible locations for a heavily guarded site to hold the suspected 229 al-Qaida, Taliban, and foreign fighters now jailed at Guantanamo.

The president has said some detainees will be tried in civilian courts, some in military commissions, and some will be held without trial because they are simply too dangerous but the evidence against them cannot be aired in any courtroom.

The proposed Midwest facility would operate as a hybrid prison system jointly operated by the Justice Department, the military and the Department of Homeland Security.

Both the Justice and Pentagon plans face legal and logistical problems.

If a significant number of civilian trials were to be held in the Midwest, the government might have to send in prosecutors and judges experienced in terrorism cases, and lawyers for the detainees could object to the jury pool.

Such a plan would also require an expensive upgrade of the facilities in Kansas or Michigan, and it’s unclear if there is enough time for such work under the president’s deadline.

But trying them on the East Coast could generate more of the kind of public opposition that led Congress earlier this year to yank funding for bringing such detainees to U.S. soil until the administration produces an acceptable plan for shuttering the Guantanamo facility.

The Obama administration has already transferred one detainee to U.S. courts – Ahmed Ghailani was sent to New York in June to face charges he helped blow up U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998.

Associated Press Writer Lara Jakes contributed to this report.

11-33

Deputy Says Bin Laden Truce Offers Still Valid

August 6, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Maamoun Youssef (AP)

CAIRO—Osama bin-Laden’s deputy said in a video message released Monday that the al-Qaida leader’s offers of a truce with the U.S. and Europe remained on the table, though he ridiculed President Barack Obama as “the new face of the same old crimes.”

In a video posted on an Islamic militant Web site, al-Qaida’s No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, scorned the American president over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the U.S. approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Nonetheless, al-Zawahri said “fair” truces offered by bin-Laden were still valid.

In 2004, bin-laden offered a truce to European countries that do not attack Muslims. Two years later, he offered the American people a “long-term truce” without specifying the conditions, though in that same audio recording he also warned that his fighters were preparing new attacks in the United States.

“These offers were dealt with impolitely but are still valid, and the offer is fair,” al-Zawahri said. “But they (Americans) want a relationship with us based on suppression.”

“Obama is like a wolf whose fangs tear your flesh and whose paws slit your face and then he calls on you to talk about peace,” he said.

Al-Zawahri has been critical of Obama since his election, even releasing a message that referred to him as a “house negro,” a slur for a black subservient to whites.

In the message released Monday by al-Qaida’s media operation, Al-Sahab, al-Zawahri said Obama is seeking to mislead the Muslim world with calls for better ties and was doing so because wrath from the Muslim world had inflicted catastrophes upon America.

“We are not idiots to accept meaningless flexible words. Obama is the new face with the same old crimes,” he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters Monday that the United States believes it has “turned a tide” in the struggle against extremists. He spoke of success in Afghanistan, “difficult as it is,” and “meaningful steps” by the Pakistani government against al-Qaida and others.

“This is not a struggle that al-Qaida is destined to win,” Crowley said. “As to a truce, I have no further comment.”

11-33

Obama Administration Renews Sanctions on Syria

May 14, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Pleming

2009-05-07T125052Z_01_SYR06_RTRMDNP_3_SYRIA-US

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem (R) meets Jeffrey Feltman, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs, in Damascus May 7, 2009. The portrait on the wall shows Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.

REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama said on Friday he had renewed sanctions against Syria because it posed a continuing threat to U.S. interests, despite sending two envoys to Damascus this week to try to improve ties.

In a letter notifying Congress of his decision, Obama accused Damascus of supporting terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and missile programs, and undermining U.S. and international efforts in trying to stabilize Iraq.

“For these reasons I have determined that it is necessary to continue in effect the national emergency declared with respect to this threat and to maintain in force the sanctions,” Obama said in the letter to Congress.

The sanctions, imposed by former President George W. Bush and which are up for renewal annually, prohibit arms exports to Syria, block Syrian airlines from operating in the United States and deny Syrians suspected of being associated with terrorist groups access to the U.S. financial system.

While the United States has made clear it wants better ties with Syria, which appears on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, the renewal of the sanctions shows it is not yet ready for a dramatic improvement.

“We need to see concrete steps from the Syrian government to move in another direction,” State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters.

Obama signed the executive order extending the sanctions on Thursday, shortly after two U.S. envoys met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Damascus.
The visit by senior State Department official Jeffrey Feltman and White House National Security Council official Daniel Shapiro was their second since Obama took office in January and started talking to Damascus.

Tough Words

The two officials discussed Syria’s role in Iraq, where Washington has accused Damascus of allowing fighters to cross into its neighbor, and Lebanon, where the United States says Syria plays a destabilizing role.

“Part of Feltman’s trip to the region was trying to get the Syrians to take some steps that will move us toward a better relationship,” Wood said. “But there is a lot that Syria needs to do.”

The United States wants a commitment from Syria that it will not interfere with a June election in neighboring Lebanon, which U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited last month to show U.S. support.

The administration hopes direct talks with Syria, which will continue despite the sanctions, will weaken its ties to Iran.

Syria and Iran are the main backers of Hizbollah, a Shi’ite Muslim political and guerrilla group that fought a war against Israel in 2006 and has representatives in the Lebanese government and parliament.

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad indicated this week he did not plan to change course. After meeting Iran’s president in Damascus, he said their strategic relationship contributed to Middle East stability.

The administration is reviewing whether to send back an ambassador to Damascus but a senior U.S. official said this week a decision had not yet been taken.

The U.S. ambassador was pulled out of Syria after the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. Syria denies any involvement in the killing but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.

11-21

Community News (V10-I31)

July 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Asif Chaudhry appointed US envoy to Moldova

WASHINGTON, D.C.—A Pakistan born agricultural economist has been appointed as the new American envoy to Moldova. Asif Chaudhry will take over the charge as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Moldova from August, the Pakistan Post reported.

In an interview with the journal, Chaudhry said he was the first Pakistani appointed as United States’ ambassador to another country on merit, and was proud to be the first Pakistani-American to take oath on Holy Quran.  

Dr.Chaudhry, a member of the US Foreign Service, was born and raised in a farming family in a small village in Pakistan, Mr.Chaudhry completed his Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science from the University of Punjab in Lahore, Pakistan, before going on to the American University of Beirut, Lebanon for a Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics. He completed a PhD in Agricultural Economics from Washington State University, Pullman Washington, and had a brief stint as Assistant Professor of Economics at Montana State University, Bozeman Montana, before joining FAS.

Mr. Chaudhry’s language skills include Russian, Urdu, Punjabi, Arabic, and Polish. He is an avid squash player. He is married to  Charla Chaudhry and they have two sons and a daughter.

He has also served as the Assistant to the General Sales Manager (GSM)in FAS Washington from 1999-2002, and was the GSM’s principal advisor on USDA commodity assistance programs for the Former Soviet Union and other Eastern European Countries. Prior to assuming this role in Washington, he served at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow during 1996-1999, where he was assigned as the Senior Agricultural Attaché and was promoted to the position of Agricultural Counselor after one year.

In his first overseas tour (1992-1995), Mr. Chaudhry served as the Agricultural Attaché in Warsaw, Poland overseeing the USDA assistance programs designed to help with the transformation of Poland to a post-Soviet free-market economy. He worked as a Marketing Specialist and an Agricultural Specialist in the Horticultural and Tropical Products Division of CMP prior to converting to Foreign Service and starting his overseas career.

Obama campaigns hires Muslim liaison

WASHINGTON D.C.—US presidential aspirant Barack Obama’s campaign has created a Muslim liaison to reach out to the community, the Politico website reported.

The website reports that the position will likely be filled by Haim Nawas, a Jordanian-American. She had worked in a similar capacity for the campaign of Gen.Wesley Clark in 2004.

Obama’s campaign did not confirm the report at print time.

An Obama aide told the Politico.com that the job had been created, but said the campaign had not made a final decision on who would fill it.

Former prison guard files discrimination lawsuit

CHICAGO, IL—A former guard at Kane County Jail in Illinois has a filed a federal lawsuit claiming that he lost his job because of his Muslim faith. Abal Zaidi worked for a six month period in 2006 as a correctional officer at the county jail located in Geneva.

He claims that he was fired after the new sheriff mandated that all office employees be clean shaven. Zaidi objected to the order because having it was “an expression of his Muslim practice and belief.”

He was initially asked to show the religious meaning of the beard but was never given the opportunity to do so.

Zaidi claims that he was fired despite having a flawless record and good performance reviews.

The one-count suit claims violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and seeks a written apology from the sheriff’s department; all wages and benefits he would have received if not for the discrimination; compensatory damages; punitive damages; attorney fees; additional relief; and an unspecified amount of money.

Township assessor forwards anti-Muslim email

FRANKFORT, IL—An assessor with the Frankfort township in Illinois has forwarded an email containing vile anti-Islamic comments.

The e-mail, circulated last month, said America should follow the lead of Australia’s former prime minister John Howard, who said Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law should get out of Australia.

“Once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about our flag, our pledge, our Christian beliefs or our way of life, I highly encourage you to take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, the right to leave,” the e-mail said, supposedly quoting Howard.

“Maybe if we circulate this amongst ourselves, American citizens will find the back bone to start speaking and voicing the same truths,” the e-mail continued. “If you agree, please send this on.”

The assessor did not respond to a request for comments.

10-31

« Previous Page