AROUND THE WORLD
Man executed by stoning for adultery
Published July 11, 2007
TEHRAN, IRAN -- The Iranian government confirmed Tuesday that a man was executed by stoning last week for committing adultery, and said 20 more men would be executed soon on morality violations.
A judiciary spokesman told reporters that a death sentence by stoning had been carried out last week near Takestan, west of Tehran, despite an order by the chief of the judiciary not to carry out such executions.
Iran Widens Investigation Of Two Jailed Americans
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; A09
Iran announced yesterday that it had uncovered new evidence against two imprisoned Americans and had launched an expanded investigation into their alleged activities against the Islamic republic.
The statement dashed hopes of any imminent breakthrough in the cases, after Iran announced last month that it was in the final stage of its probe and would announce whether the dual U.S.-Iranian nationals would be tried or freed within two or three days.
The two Americans are Haleh Esfandiari, a Potomac resident and director of the Middle East program at the Smithsonian's Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and Kian Tajbakhsh, a New York-based social scientist. Both have been charged with unspecified crimes against Iran's national security.
"We have received fresh evidence" about Esfandiari and Tajbakhsh, judiciary spokesman Alireza Jamshidi told reporters in Tehran. "Fresh investigations have started based on this evidence."
In Washington, the State Department and Esfandiari's husband called the new allegations unwarranted.
"It is obvious that the Ministry of Intelligence, lacking any real cause or evidence to keep my wife, Haleh, incarcerated in solitary confinement at Evin, is trying to drag things out by claiming continuing 'investigations,' " said George Mason University professor Shaul Bakhash, referring to a prison in Tehran.
In a further sign of Iran's clampdown, three Iranians who had been in the United States on a cultural exchange for documentary filmmakers had their passports confiscated upon their return to Tehran on Saturday and were instructed to report on Sunday to court, where they were told to await a further summons, according to U.S. officials. The State Department has declined to release the names of the three.
At least two other Americans are detained in Iran. California businessman Ali Shakeri was picked up on May 8, and correspondent Parnaz Azima of U.S.-funded Radio Farda has been unable to leave Iran for several months.
Slowdown Seen in Iran's Nuclear Program
By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 10, 2007; A12
After boasting of rapid progress for months, Iran has slowed expansion of a controversial uranium enrichment program that can be used both for peaceful nuclear energy and to develop weapons, according to the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency.
Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said yesterday that U.N. inspectors detected the change during a visit to Iran's underground enrichment facility at Natanz last week. "Without going into detail, you could say that there is a fairly marked slowdown. It is not a full-size freeze, but it is a marked slowdown" in launching new centrifuges that spin at high speeds to refine uranium into fuel, ElBaradei told reporters in Vienna.
Explanations for the shift vary widely.
ElBaradei has been pushing Iran to consider a "timeout" in which it would stop adding more centrifuges in exchange for a suspension of movement toward a third punitive U.N. resolution against Tehran, which has repeatedly not complied with a Security Council mandate to stop developing nuclear fuel. Tehran initially balked at the proposal.
U.S. and European officials who are engaged in carrot-and-stick diplomacy with Tehran said yesterday that they do not believe that Iran is showing good-faith interest in resolving the tense standoff.
"As Iran still appears to be working to master centrifuge technology, it is not the numbers of centrifuges that matter. What matters is that all centrifuge activity be suspended immediately, as the U.N. Security Council has required," said Jim Kelman, spokesman for the State Department's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation.
A senior European official said Iran's slowdown is most likely due to technical problems. "They've committed down a road to expand as quickly as possible. But Iran won't be the first to discover that it does happen to be rocket science, and development has its peaks and troughs," said the envoy, who tracks Iran's activities.
Iran had predicted that it would have 3,000 centrifuges running by the end of July. Most estimates by nuclear experts say Iran had to work hard just to get to its current level -- between 1,600 and 2,000 centrifuges -- which have still produced low enrichment levels. "Iran may be trying to learn how to operate centrifuges better, so they produce more enriched uranium instead of trying to add more centrifuges," said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security.
Others suggest, however, that Tehran may be responding to mounting international pressure.
"We've been getting a lot of signals from Iran that they want to talk," said Joseph Cirincione, a weapons proliferation expert at the Center for American Progress. "Pay less attention to the rantings of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and pay more attention to the comments of [national security adviser Ali] Larijani. All of Larijani's body language and statements indicate that they want to make a deal. There have been more signals over the past couple of months than in the past year. They also want to talk to us about Iraq."
Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Iran is ready for a second round of talks with the United States on Iraq, following similar statements by other Iranian officials over the past week. The first talks took place in May.
Iran has not lived up to other nuclear claims. Tehran said on July 3 that its first Russian-built nuclear power plant, at Bushehr, would be completed in two months, a statement immediately refuted by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak as "too ambitious."
"It's not doable physically because the state of development requires . . . a number of additional months to complete it and certainly to sort out all these technical and economic questions that need to be resolved," Kislyak told reporters in Washington last week.
Iraq War 'Myths' vs. 'Facts'
Wednesday, July 11, 2007; A05
After President Bush's speech yesterday in Cleveland, the White House distributed talking points titled "Iraq Fact Check: Responding to Key Myths." The following are e xcerpts from the document's 13 "myths" regarding the war -- without specifying who is spreading them -- and the administration's "facts" that rebut them:
MYTH: The war "is lost."
FACT: Our commanders and ambassador do not believe that. . . . The surge of operations is just beginning. . . . We have seen promising indicators since the President announced the new strategy in January.
MYTH: The U.S. is playing "whack-a-mole" in Iraq.
FACT: U.S. and Iraqi forces are conducting offensive operations against terrorists while simultaneously providing security in neighborhoods with joint security stations and patrols. . . . The primary reason for the "surge" in troops was to give U.S. and Iraqi forces the ability and flexibility to conduct such offensive operations in and outside of Baghdad without having to shift troops out of so many areas where they were needed for security. This is why commanders held off on many of them until the brigades were in place -- to avoid the problems of past offensives.
MYTH: Setting a timeline and pulling troops out of Iraq regardless of conditions on the ground would be a responsible end to the conflict and/or would put needed pressure on Iraq's government.
FACT: The collective judgment of our intelligence community is that this would increase, not decrease, the violence and hinder national reconciliation.
MYTH: Gen. [David H.] Petraeus does not believe the U.S. military can make a difference in Iraq.
FACT: Democrats sometimes quote Gen. Petraeus when arguing that the U.S. should give up in Iraq, but they completely misrepresent the General's views. While Gen. Petraeus has indeed said the ultimate solution to Iraq's problems is a political one, he has consistently argued that such a solution can only come with the improvements in security he is trying to achieve.
MYTH: Iraqis are going on a two-month holiday and are not defending their own country.
FACT: Iraq's Parliament decided not to take a two-month recess and instead will continue working on legislation critical for Iraq's future.
Thursday, July 05, 2007
Palestinian civil servants line up to receive first full pay in 17 months
By Agence France Presse (AFP) The Daily Star Lebanon
RAMALLAH, West Bank: Palestinian civil servants began receiving their first full salaries in 17 months on Wednesday, keen to start paying debts that piled up during a crushing Israeli economic boycott. Relieved Palestinians lined up en masse outside banks, checking to see whether their names were on a list of those to be paid, or drawing cash from ATM machines.
The Western-backed Palestinian government based in the West Bank has vowed not to pay allies of the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip, which overran their Fatah rivals loyal to the Palestinian Authority nearly three weeks ago.
The estimated 170,000 employees on the Palestinian Authority books have received only partial salaries since March 2006, owing to Israeli and Western economic boycotts slapped on successive administrations led by Hamas, considered a terror outfit by Israel and the West.
The boycott was eased after president Mahmud Abbas sacked the Hamas-led government following their bloody Gaza takeover and installed an emergency cabinet headed by economist Salam Fayyad.
"This is the first time I received my complete salary in more than a year," said a grinning 51-year-old Jasser Sbai, who works in the agriculture ministry in the West Bank political capital of Ramallah.
"Unfortunately most of this salary will go to the electricity company and shops because I owe them too much," he added, surrounded by more than 50 Palestinians queuing to use the ATM, with dozens more further down the road.
The salaries were paid three days after Israel transferred $118 million to the new emergency government based in Ramallah, as part of hundreds of millions in tax duties owed to the Palestinian Authority.
Israel froze monthly transfers of $50 to $60 million worth of customs duties, levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through Israel, in February 2006 after the general election win by Hamas.
Officials refused to say on Wednesday how many Palestinians would receive their pay checks, but Hamas charges that 23,000 civil servants are being boycotted because of links to the Islamist movement.
"The Fayyad government's decision not to give thousands of employees their salaries enforces the political and geographical separation of Palestinian people," spokesman Sami Abu Zurhi said in Gaza City.
Palestinians finally receiving their full salaries were all smiles after withdrawing the funds, though their problems that have piled up over the past year are far from over.
"The problem is how to solve what happened in previous months. We need another month's salary to cover all of our debts," said Ruba Hamad, who has an outstanding rent payment of $3,500 for one year.
At a branch of the Arab Bank in Gaza City, hundreds of people queued in two lines snaking outside. Ashraf Shada, a 40-year-old doctor at the Palestine Bank in Gaza City, waited from early morning."I am very happy because this is the first time I get a complete salary for more than a year. I hope things will carry on like this," he said.
But not everyone was pleased. Mohammad, a 27-year-old policeman, waited for hours outside a bank in Gaza City, but did not find his name on the list of those due to be paid.
"We followed [President Mahmoud] Abbas's decision not to work [after the Hamas takeover] and I was shocked not to see my name on the list," he said, sad and angry. –AFP
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Mostly, a divine victory for disinformation
The Daily Star Lebanon
By Michael Young
Daily Star staff
It says something that one year after the summer 2006 war, we're not sure whether to celebrate Hizbullah's "divine victory" or bemoan Israel's destruction of our country and its economy. That disconnect reflects the larger disconnect between Hizbullah and the rest of Lebanese society. But then the war was such a fount of falsehoods that its conflicting interpretations are not surprising. Two of the more enduring myths from last year merit revisiting, as well as a more recent addition.
The first myth was that of Lebanese unanimity in the face of Israel. Soon after the war began, a spectacular bit of disinformation surfaced when the Beirut Center for Research published a poll that allegedly showed overwhelming support for "the Resistance" - shorthand for Hizbullah. The head of the center is Abdo Saad, and his daughter, Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, summarized the poll's results in an interview with the American radio and television program Democracy Now:
"Basically, 87 percent of all Lebanese support Hezbollah's resistance against Israel today. And that includes 80 percent of all Christian respondents, 80 percent of all Druze respondents, and 89 percent of all Sunnis. And this, of course, is non-Shiite groups, so those which have supported the March 14 pro-American - the March 14, sorry, alliance, which is seen as being pro-American, pro-French, anti-Syrian."
These numbers were truly remarkable; so remarkable indeed that rare were the foreign media outlets that did not, early in the war, diligently cite them. Unfortunately, rare, too, were the correspondents who could read Arabic and the question the Beirut Center for Research had put to its respondents. It was a simple one, to the point: "Do you support the Resistance's opposition to the Israeli aggression against Lebanon?"
More loaded a question would have required a firearms license, its answer obvious in advance, particularly when Lebanon was being bombed. Naturally, most of those asked said they approved opposing Israel, but what those preparing the poll got across, intentionally or unintentionally, was that this could be read as support for Hizbullah per se. The jump was unjustified, but it was one many journalists, who missed the artfulness of the question, happened to make. Under the circumstances, it was astonishing that 13 percent of people said they did not support resisting Israel.
Ironically, the person most responsible for discrediting the poll's results was Hizbullah's secretary general, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. In an interview with Al-Jazeera a week after the war began, he declared, rather chillingly: "If we succeed in achieving the victory ... we will never forget all those who supported us at this stage ... As for those who sinned against us ... those who made mistakes, those who let us down and those who conspired against us ... this will be left for a day to settle accounts. We might be tolerant with them, and we might not.''
If Nasrallah had retribution on his mind only days after the start of the conflict, this hardly squared with an 87 percent approval rating for Hizbullah among the Lebanese public.
By the same token, the language of unity against Israel was equally insincere in the mouths of members of the parliamentary majority - the "pro-American" March 14 alliance, to borrow from Saad-Ghorayeb's verbal slip. While no one could deny there was humanitarian solidarity at the local level between Lebanese, one that transcended politics, the majority's fear was that Hizbullah would either win the war or lose it so badly that it would turn its anger against the interior once the fighting had ended.
There never was any unanimity behind Hizbullah. This seems so obvious today in the shadow of the current political crisis, that we forget how risky and controversial it was to say such a thing in the midst of the fighting, when no voice was entitled to rise above the voice of battle.
A second myth, peddled most forcefully by American journalist Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, but whose implications were picked up by many critics of the Siniora government, was that the Lebanese war was a practice run for a US military campaign against Iran's nuclear facilities. This appraisal served several purposes, most importantly that it situated the Lebanese conflict in the context of a larger American and Israeli plot to change power relations in the region. There was some truth there: once the war kicked off, Washington saw a golden opportunity to weaken Hizbullah, and by extension Iran and Syria. However, there was little evidence then, or today, to indicate that Israel had launched a pre-planned attack.
If anything, Israeli press reports soon after the war, but also the first release of the Winograd commission's findings, emphasized that Israel's government was guilty of a confused response that seemed to belie a pre-planned attack. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert accused his military of not having provided him with adequate contingency plans, and the military accused the prime minister of failing to provide political guidance. In light of this, it is increasingly difficult to interpret Israeli actions as part of a systematic military project directed against Iran, prepared in close collaboration with Washington.
Even during the fighting it seemed apparent to those inside Lebanon that the Israelis didn't know very well what they were doing. Their air force seemed to be engaged in a mindless, brutal, persistent process of devastation, but with no specific or clear political aims underlining it.
Nasrallah, again, helped discredit this particular myth, if only by affirming its general tropes and then stepping back and contradicting himself. The secretary general first injected determinism into the Israeli attack by affirming that Hizbullah, by kidnapping Israeli soldiers, had pre-empted an Israeli assault planned for October 2006. Yet this jarred with his statement made on New TV in late August, when he admitted: "We did not think, even with one percent likelihood, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, had I known on July 11 ... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I have done it? I would say 'no, absolutely not.'"
If the war was coming anyway and Hizbullah did well to pre-empt the Israelis, then why did Nasrallah need to apologize for capturing the Israeli soldiers? And if the war was part of a US-Israeli conspiracy to eliminate Hizbullah and prepare for the bombing of Iran, then surely Nasrallah should have guessed that the violence would reach the magnitude it did.
One might add a third myth, this one recent and more a topic of divination than a case of mendacity. It is the statement that because Israel cannot accept defeat in Lebanon, it is bound to attack the country again in the future. The Lebanese war was not one that Israel's generals will soon forget. However, such a statement is disturbing not only because it suggests that war is inevitable, though one can be avoided if border issues are managed through negotiations; but also because it gives Hizbullah an excuse to retain its weaponry. Will Israel attack Lebanon again or won't it? Who knows; but the chances of that happening are likely to increase if South Lebanon is again turned into an armed redoubt by Hizbullah.
However, we won't need to worry if Israel does decide to resume the killing. The polls will be there to show that almost 90 percent of Lebanese are on Hizbullah's side. It will be just divine.
Michael Young is opinion editor of THE DAILY STAR.