Monday, March 29, 2010

West Shifts Focus on New Iran Sites

Source: PressTV
By: Anoush Maleki

Amid increasing Israeli and Congressional pressure, the White House's desperate struggle to win international support to impose tough United Nations Security Council sanctions against Iran has forced the Western propaganda machine to move into high gear.

The White House realizes that the campaign to persuade those that matter to adopt tough sanctions has hit a brick wall. The efforts are based on the same old arguments: that Iran is going nuclear, that a nuclear-armed Iran would upset the balance of power in the volatile Middle East, that it would cause an arms race with Arab countries just waiting to beat each other in making atomic bombs -- Israel already has a nuclear arsenal, that Iran could provoke an all-out war if Israel sensed it could no longer live with the possibility that its arch foe would go nuclear one day; and they are falling on apathetic ears in China and, to a degree, in Russia.

It is not that the Chinese, or the Russians, are not concerned by the notion that Iran could one day become the world's tenth nuclear-armed power -- a charge the Islamic Republic vehemently rejects. It is rather because the long lasting allegations against Iran seem to have been running their course as the world powers have failed to provide any compelling evidence to validate the claims in the past few years.

Today, China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council with veto power, says dialogue is the only solution to the Iranian issue. Russia, another veto-wielding member, says sanctions are not "optimal" in dealing with Iran over its nuclear program.

Iran is currently under three rounds of UNSC sanctions resolutions. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it says it will not yield to international pressure to abandon its rights to enrich uranium for civilian use. The sanctions, which Iran says are illegal, meanwhile, have failed, while proving troublesome at times, to force Iran to stop its enrichment work.

The reality is that there are no evidence whatsoever that Iran is making nuclear bombs -- as if such proofs existed, the Israelis would have let the world know with much fanfare. The United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has said in many reports that its inspectors, who have been roaming Iranian nuclear sites for years, attest to the non-diversion of Iran's civilian program.

The United States knows this; its allies, including Britain, also know this. But the White House is under Congressional and Israeli pressure to take action, and its allies have to follow suit.

David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, warned in an op-ed for the International Herald Tribune that a war in the Middle East could be in the offing, arguing that if the international community failed to show "unity and resolve," Israel might feel compelled to attack Iran in an "act of self defense."

He also went as far as claiming that, while stopping short of saying the future of humanity hanged in the balance, Iran was the most alarming problem the world faced today and that it needed to be dealt with by the means of sanctions or else.

"Iran's nuclear program, and the world's reaction to it, raise the most profound questions about the strength of international law, the purpose of the United Nations and the rights of states that feel threatened by others. More prosaically, Iran's nuclear ambitions are a potential flashpoint for war in the Middle East," Britain's top diplomat wrote.

I am not going to point out the flaws in Mr. Miliband's repetitive argument, but it seems to me that Western techniques are starting to lose their convincing power. Maybe they realize this too. And maybe that is why a new case is starting to make waves on the horizon.

According to the New York Times, "officials of several governments and international agencies deeply involved in the hunt for additional nuclear sites in Iran" have said, in private, that the country may be moving to build new nuclear enrichment sites.

The Times claims that there are "highly classified operations" underway in Iran to gather intelligence on the country's nuclear plans.

The article, by David E. Sanger and William J. Broad, makes a case that Iran is speeding up its nuclear activities, which ultimately lowers the time estimation given by American intelligence agencies that in the next one to four years, Iran may acquire the capacity to make atomic bombs, and that it is time for the international community to act on Iran; and adopt sanctions.

The argument, which is based on a whole lot of hypothetical estimations, may sound realistic to some; but it could also be viewed from a different angle if the White House so chose to.

Iran, an active member of the IAEA, has kept an open book on its nuclear work. It has even adopted the Additional Protocol -- the only measure that enables the UN agency to assert with absolute certainty that a country's nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes -- for two and a half years. And the reward for it was the first round of UNSC sanctions resolution against the country.

Iran, nonetheless, continued to keep a close cooperation with the agency. Last year, it informed the UN body that it was taking measures to build its second enrichment plant in Fordo, near Qum, southwest of the capital. The announcement was made in private. It, however, became public in September when President Barack Obama of the United States alleged that the Fordo site had been built in secret. With the allegation, the president hoped to get China and Russia on board for new sanctions -- an initiative which is yet to bear fruit.

In November, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's top nuclear official, revealed in an interview that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had instructed the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran to begin pre-construction work on ten new enrichment sites, similar to the Natanz plant, which was for years used to enrich uranium to a level lower than five percent for nuclear fuel.

Meanwhile, the Times article said American officials, examining satellite evidence, have been unable to find clues as to where the new sites are being built.

As if, no one in the American administration is keeping record on Iran's correspondents with the UN nuclear watchdog. Because if they did, they would know that the Tehran government, while abiding by its responsibilities to the NPT and the international community, would do all but to deliberately provide the West with a valid excuse over its nuclear program.

They would know that Iran would inform the IAEA of its plans when the time is right -- eighteen months before construction on new sites begin -- and would then allow UN inspectors to set up monitoring stations in and around the facility.

Nonetheless, the efforts to push for new Iran sanctions are meeting Chinese resistance. And the US administration is being forced to trim down its proposed list of sanctions on Iran's economy, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and the country's gasoline imports.

And even if they manage to pass such punitive measures in the toughest format, they will be making an already complex situation much worse. Mr. Obama must look for a way to solve the problem at its roots, and that goal cannot be achieved unless his administration involves in effective negotiations with Tehran, accompanied by redoubled trust building measures.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Arabs ask US to push Israeli ally on settlements

Source: PressTV

Arab leaders again resort to Washington to urge its closest ally Israel on halting settlement projects, ruling out 'peace talks' as long as settlement expansions continue.

In a final statement after a two-day summit, the leaders stressed "their total rejection of the settlement policy carried out by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories," calling on US President Barack Obama to pressure Israel to completely halt settlements.

Israeli settlement policy poses "a dangerous obstacle to a just and comprehensive peace process," said the resolution of the summit held in the Libyan coastal city of Sirte.

The two-day meeting was attended by 14 leaders of the 22-member Arab League, many of whom have already said they are convinced that indirect talks between the Tel Aviv regime and the Palestinians would end up nowhere.

Earlier this month, the Israeli regime announced plans to build 1,600 new settlement units in annexed East Jerusalem al-Quds, viewed by Palestinians as the capital of a future independent Palestinian state.

The announcement smothered US-sponsored "proximity talks" with the Palestinians, negotiations that had also enjoyed the backing of Arab leaders.

Conditions further deteriorated when Tel Aviv fueled more tensions by reopening a synagogue close to the highly revered al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East al-Quds, drawing wide-spread alarms of an Israeli scheme to demolish the occupied city's Islamic sites in an effort to Judaize the region.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani urged the global community on Friday to "accept its responsibilities." For the first time, he also called for international sanctions against the Israeli regime, which, al-Thani said "behaves as if it has immunity."

The monitoring committee of the Arab peace has conditioned the resumption of peace talks to a freeze on Israeli settlement building and an immediate reversal of the decision to build 1,600 new settlement units.

Hisham Yussef, a senior Arab League official, said there were several options for a new Arab strategy towards a defiant Israel.

"Some talk of war, others talk of armed resistance or pacifist resistance," he said, also noting the alternative option of "going to the UN Security Council to get an agreement imposed on the parties."

"It's time for the Security Council resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to be dealt with under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter" that calls for more pressure when international peace is threatened, said Yussef.

Israel condemned at Arab summit

Source: Al Jazeera

Regional leaders meeting in Libya have been united in their condemnation of Israel's settlement activity in occupied Palestinian land.

The Arab League summit began on Saturday in the Libyan city of Sirte, with Amr Moussa, the Arab League chief, warning that continued Israeli settlement building would end efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.

"We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," Moussa said in his opening speech to the two-day annual summit.

"It's time to face Israel ... We have accepted an open-ended peace process but that resulted in a loss of time and we did not achieve anything and allowed Israel to practise its policy for 20 years."

Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want as a joint capital for a future state, has been a particular point of focus for delegates.

Jerusalem's significance

Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, reiterated that Israel's settlements were illegal under international law, and called for Jerusalem to be part of peace negotiations.

"Jerusalem's significance to all must be respected, and it should emerge from negotiations as the capital of two states," he said at the meeting's opening session.

Ban also called for Arab leaders to support US-led efforts to facilitate indirect "proximity" talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Palestinians pulled out of the talks in reaction to Israel's announcement it would build 1,600 settlements on occupied land.

The Israeli move has also caused a rift between Israel and Washington as it came during a visit to Israel by Joe Biden, the US vice-president.

"I urge you to support efforts to start proximity talks and direct negotiations. Our common goal should be to resolve all final status issues within 24 months," Ban said.

But Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, ruled out taking part in the talks unless Israel stops building settlements.

"We cannot resume indirect negotiations as long as Israel maintains its settlement policy and the status quo," he said in his speech.

The warnings over Jerusalem were echoed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, who called Israel's policy of considering Jerusalem as its united capital "madness".

"Jerusalem is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim ... and we cannot at all accept any Israeli violation in Jerusalem or in Muslim sites," he said.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's deputy foreign minister, called the declarations coming out of the summit "aggressive", saying that the arguments put forward were based on "very selective opinions".

"We say strongly and firmly that we have a legal right to build in Jerusalem and those that seek to enshrine the 1949 Armistice Lines, the so-called 'Green Line' as a border have not understood history nor legal precedence," he said.

"We call on the Palestinian Authority to cease living in delusions of forcing Israel to the pre-1967 lines and to come and join us at the negotiation table without preconditions."

'Playing with fire'

Many Arab leaders have been angered by the opening of a restored 17th century synagogue near the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem, home to Islam's third holiest site.

They see such acts as a clear intention by Israel to "Judaise" Jerusalem and undermine chances for a peace agreement with the Palestinians who consider East Jerusalem the capital of their future state.

Jordan's King Abdullah warned that Israel was "playing with fire" and trying to alter the identity of Jerusalem.

Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria, described tensions with Israel as a "state of no-war, no-peace", and said his country was ready if "war is imposed" by Israel.

Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, opened the summit with an unusually short speech in which he said that Arabs were "waiting for actions, not words and speeches".

The Libyan leader, whose country is hosting this year's summit, has said he wants the meeting to be one of unity and the issue of Jerusalem has proved a unifying factor.

"The whole issue of Israeli actions has been under intense discussions, particularly in light of what has happened in that region in recent days," Mike Hanna, Al Jazeera's correspondent reporting from Sirte, said.

"Very clearly the issue of Jerusalem has been brought up and focused on because it is the one issue that would be very difficult for the international community as a whole to ignore.

"If, for example, resolutions would go to the UN General Assembly or the Security Council ... on the question of East Jerusalem and Israeli occupation, it is very difficult for international bodies - or countries such as the US - to veto or abstain over something they've already condemned."

Arab leaders are expected to ratify an agreement drafted by their foreign ministers to raise $500m in aid to improve the living conditions for Palestinians in Jerusalem as part of a "rescue" plan for the city.

A senior Palestinian official said the money would go towards improving infrastructure, building hospitals, schools, water wells and providing financial support to those whose houses have been demolished by Israeli authorities.

The leaders are also due to discuss a number of strategies, including keeping a record of what they consider to be Israeli "violations" in Jerusalem to refer them to higher bodies such as the International Criminal Court, based in the Hague in the Netherlands.

The last Arab League summit, held two years ago, was hosted by Qatar.

Time to Face Israel, Mideast Peace a Failure

Source: PressTV

The Arab League chief cautions that the so-called Middle East peace process may be “a complete failure”, calling on Arab states to seek other alternatives.

Amr Moussa's warning came on the first day of the Arab League Summit in the Libyan town of Sirte.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, however, told the summit of Arab leaders that there would be no alternative to indirect “proximity” talks on a two-state solution.

The two-day summit is being held amid Israeli plans to build new settlements in annexed Arab East Jerusalem al-Quds in defiance of international condemnations.

“We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure,” Moussa declared to the summit.

“It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning-point,” he said.

The Palestinians pulled out of the 'peace' talks after Tel Aviv announced plans to build 1,600 more settlement units in East al-Quds, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 — a move considered illegal under the international law.

The 22-member Arab League plans to appeal to the International Court of Justice for an end to Israel's settlement expansion plan.

The UN chief on Saturday urged Arab leaders in Libya to support indirect Israeli-Palestinian talks.

"My message to you is that, whatever our concerns, there is no alternative to negotiations for a two-state solution," Ban claimed in an address at the opening session of the summit.

"I urge you to support efforts to start proximity talks and direct negotiations. Our common goal should be to resolve all final status issues within 24 months," he added.

Ban further reiterated that "settlement activity is illegal and must stop."

His remarks come a day after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tel Aviv's policy on East al-Quds would not change.

Observers point out that Ban's emphasis on continued talks with the Tel Aviv regime despite its defiance of the international community and even its own commitments is contradictory and a double standard.

They add if the Israeli regime can defy the international community while the Palestinians are always demanded to make concessions, even on their basic rights, what sense does it make for the rest of the world to respect any UN decision?

20,000 Palestinian homes under demolition threat

Source: PressTV

Palestinian officials warn that more than 20,000 Palestinian homes in Jerusalem al-Quds could soon face demolition orders from Israeli municipal authorities.

Ahmad Ruweidi, the Palestinian Authority's legal advisor on al-Quds affairs, said Israeli courts will soon hand demolition orders to Palestinian homeowners over what Tel Aviv calls violation of construction rules over the past 10 years and the requirement of renewable licenses.

The figure does not include homes whose owners have already received final demolition orders from Israeli courts or the Israeli municipality in al-Quds, Ruweidi noted.

This means that all owners will live in a state of fear that at any moment their homes could be demolished or a family member may be found homeless on the street, he cautioned.

Ruweidi said Israel's policy was intended to force Palestinians in al-Quds to pay large sums to engineers and lawyers in addition to significant fines for the so-called 'violations of construction restrictions.'

Major differences between the Palestinians and Israelis are growing deeper over Tel Aviv's continued demolition of Palestinian houses in al-Quds and its efforts to create a demographic wedge in the region.

On Saturday, acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas told delegates at the Arab League summit in Libya that Israeli settlements in the West Bank, in annexed East al-Quds in particular, remained the main obstacle to the resumption of the 'peace' talks.

Abbas described al-Quds, which Palestinians have long been demanding as the capital of their future Palestinian state, as "the jewel in the crown as well as the door and the key to peace."

"We emphasize that we hold onto every grain of soil and stone in Jerusalem (al-Quds). We are determined to defend Palestine's capital," he stressed.

Israeli armor moves into Gaza, digging trenches

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Israeli forces have crossed into the Gaza Strip while tensions remain high following Tel Aviv's Friday incursion into the Hamas-run Palestinian coastal enclave.

Israeli soldiers moved around 500 meters (yards) inside Gaza on Sunday in several armored vehicles including bulldozers.

Witnesses said the troops were predominantly targeting olive groves and almond fields in the Abasan al-Jadida area east of Khan Yunis.

They dug large trenches and fired warning shots to keep farmers away, but there were no reports of casualties.

Sunday's incursion was close to the site where Israeli tanks, bulldozers and jeeps, backed by helicopters, carried out a strike late Friday damaging two houses and killing a Palestinian. Seven people were also wounded in the attack.

In an earlier skirmish, two Israeli soldiers were killed and two others wounded.

This is while Israel's Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has threatened that Tel Aviv will "liquidate" Hamas sooner or later, adding that Israel may even launch a new offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Israel launched a 22-day war on the coastal strip in December 2008, killing over 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians.

The offensive also devastated a large portion of the impoverished territory's infrastructure and left thousands of Gazans homeless.

Erdogan: Israeli stance on Al-Quds is 'madness'

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blasted Israel's insistence on its stance to consider the whole Jerusalem (Al-Quds) as its united capital as 'madness.'

"This is madness and it does not commit us in any way," AFP quoted Erdogan as saying in a speech at the Arab summit on Saturday.

"Al-Quds is the apple of the eye of each and every Muslim ... and we cannot at all accept any Israeli violation in the city or in Muslim sites," the Turkish premier added.

The two-day summit hosted by Libya in its Mediterranean city of Sirte kicked off on Saturday to discuss a common strategy to stop the expansion of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian land.

The Arab League chief Amr Moussa has called for the freeze of settlement expansion in east Al-Quds as a crucial precondition for indirect peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Speaking on the eve of an Arab summit in the Libyan city of Sirte, Moussa said Israel has to scrap its plans to construct 1,600 new housing units in the occupied city before indirect talks with the Palestinians can resume, AFP reported on Friday.

Moussa however cautioned that the so-called Middle East peace process may be "a complete failure", calling on Arab states to seek other alternatives.

"We have to study the possibility that the peace process will be a complete failure," Moussa declared to the summit.

"It's time to face Israel. We have to have alternative plans because the situation has reached a turning-point," he said.

Israel occupied Al-Quds during the six-day war in 1967 and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community.

Israeli minister talks of new war on Gaza

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

A senior Israeli minister has threatened that Tel Aviv will "liquidate" Hamas sooner or later, adding that Israel may even launch a new offensive on the Gaza Strip.

Israel's Finance minister Yuval Steinitz said Tel Aviv has not set a timetable for when it will eliminate the Palestinian movement, but he underscored that it would happen sooner or later.

He said Israel cannot tolerate the movement becoming stronger. Steinitz did not rule out the possibility of a new invasion of Gaza, saying Tel Aviv had no choice, but to take such action.

Israel launched a 22-day war on the coastal strip in December 2008. Over one-thousand-four-hundred Palestinians were killed in the offensive — most of them civilians.

The war also left thousands of Palestinians homeless as entire neighborhoods were flattened by Israeli forces.

Steinitz has also slammed the pressure from the US and the international community on Israel to alleviate the Gaza siege.

"American pressure isn't conductive and isn't fair, because the Netanyahu government made two enormous gestures toward the Palestinians: The opportunity to improve the Palestinian economy, and the settlement freeze," Haaretz quoted the Israeli minister as saying on Sunday.

"The US needs to understand that the atmosphere it created in the Middle East, makes Washington now less friendly to Israel, and isn't making the Palestinians more willing to compromise; it further adds to their rejection of the peace process," he added.

The Israeli minister's claims about Israel's settlement freeze comes as Tel Aviv announced plans to build 1,600 more settlement units in east Jerusalem (Al-Quds), which was occupied by Israel in 1967, a move considered illegal under the international law.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Dozens of US banks face fraud charges

Source: PressTV

The US federal government has targeted around 30 financial companies in new cases of potential fraud.

A US federal court is probing a criminal case involving 29 bankers with prominent financial institutes including Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, Lehman Brothers, UBS, Wachovia Bank and Societe General which are suspected of co-conspiring in the pricing of certain municipal derivatives, Reuters reported.

None of the individuals or institutions on the list have been criminally charged yet and the identity of the bankers have not been made public,

The issue of co-conspirators was mentioned at a court hearing on March 26 when a federal prosecutor and defense lawyers argued over a review of more than 125 million pages of documents and 670,000 audio tapes in evidence, the report adds.

In 2006, the US Justice Department, Internal Revenue Service, and Securities and Exchange Commission launched a sweeping investigation into how certain derivatives had been priced.

The investigation has gained momentum in the last few months as a number of counties and cities sued the companies involved.

Latest Israeli offensive into Gaza kills 4

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

The number of Palestinians killed in the latest Israeli offensive into Gaza strip has reached to four.

Violence erupted again after Israeli forces supported by tanks invaded the southern town of Khan Younis on Friday.

Earlier reports said the incursion resulted in the death of two Palestinians and two Israeli soldiers.

Two Israeli soldiers, including a high-ranking officer, were killed by Gazan resistance fighters during the incursion.

Hamas' military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, has claimed responsibility for the Israeli fatalities.

"We take the responsibility for the killing of the Israeli soldiers in southern Gaza. What happened shows that the al-Qassam Brigades are fully prepared to confront an Israeli aggression," Press TV correspondent in Gaza quoted Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman Abu Ubaidah as saying on Saturday.

"We also want to dedicate this operation to the soul of our late commander Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh who was assassinated by Israel's Mossad agents in Dubai," he added.

The violence added to the strain on Israel, which is already under pressure from the international community over the expansion of its settlements in occupied Palestinian land.

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she was "extremely concerned" by the latest violence and called on both sides to exercise restraint.

"Such actions undermine current efforts to facilitate a resumption of the peace process," AFP quoted Ashton as saying in Brussels.

S Korea continues hunt for missing sailors

Source: PressTV

Search and rescue efforts are continuing for 46 South Korean sailors missing after their naval ship sank off a disputed border with North Korea.

According to a South Korean military official, the 1,200-tonne Cheonan was on a routine patrol in the Yellow Sea near the South Korean-controlled Baengnyeong Island on Friday when it started to sink.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted officials as saying that an explosion inflicted severe damage on the ship, taking it down quickly.

So far, at least 58 out of the 104 crew members on board are reported to have been rescued.

While Seoul has ruled out any indications that Pyongyang had been involved in the incident, it says the cause of the event remains unclear.

Immediately after the sinking, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak convened an emergency meeting of security officials, urging them to investigate all possible reasons behind the event.

However, he ordered the military to focus on rescuing the sailors.

Some reports on Friday claimed that another South Korean ship had fired shots at an unidentified vessel to the North after the Cheonan began to sink. Government officials have denied the story.

Tensions have been running high on the Korean peninsula following the North's accusation that the South is attempting to oust Pyongyang's government.

North and South Korea are still in an official state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce.

South Korea recognizes the Northern Limit Line, drawn unilaterally by the US-led United Nations Command at the end of the war.

North Korea, however, has never accepted the borderline.

No assent given to US drone attacks:Pakistan

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020401

Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik says the US drone attacks in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan are carried out without the consent of Islamabad.

Speaking to reporters outside the Lahore High Court non Friday, Malik said the controversial issue of US drone attacks was to be raised with Washington during bilateral talks.

The remarks come as Washington claims the raids target militants in Pakistan. However, hundreds of civilians have fallen victim to such US drone attacks since 2008.

Islamabad has repeatedly condemned the strikes, saying that they infringe the country's sovereignty and fuel public anger.

Earlier on Thursday, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who was in Washington for high-level talks, criticized US forces for launching drone attacks on Pakistani soil.

"The issue of sovereignty is there. People of Pakistan feel strongly about it," Qureshi told CNN.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Despite 'row,' US seals military deal with Israel

Source: PressTV

The US gives written consent to generously boost the Israeli military despite Washington's alleged dissatisfaction with Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Upon agreeing on a relevant deal, the United States agreed to hand over roughly 250-million-dollars worth of Hercules C-130J aircraft to the Israeli army, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper said on Thursday.

Later in the day, the US Defense Department is to issue a formal announcement on the deal, which is to be financed by the American foreign assistance funds.

The aircraft have been custom made to suit the Israeli needs, the daily added.

Washington is rated as Tel Aviv's biggest arms supplier and has been reportedly injecting 2-billion-dollars worth of armaments into the Israel's defense industry annually.

The two sides are, meanwhile, carving out a deal which ensures Tel Aviv obtains F-35 stealth fighter jets.

Reports of Washington's still-significant military support for Tel Aviv run counter to an alleged dispute between the two sides over Israel's announcement that it would build a 1,600-unit settlement in the occupied East Jerusalem (al-Quds).

Iran urges global action for Palestine

Source: PressTV

Iran's representative to the UN seminar on Palestine says the Palestinian plight is a "global concern" which the international community must "urgently" address.

Speaking at the two-day event in Vienna, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said that the Palestinian issue was not simply a conflict between regional and Arab states and that the issue must raise concern on an international level.

"The international community must take urgent action to restore the rights of the Palestinian people, the most basic of rights which they have been denied for over six decades," he told the participants at the gathering.

The United Nations Seminar on Assistance to the Palestinian People, the theme of which is "Building institutions and moving forward with establishing the State of Palestine", opened at the UN headquarters on Wednesday.

The aim of the gathering was garnering support for the Program of the Palestinian Authority entitled "Palestine: Ending the occupation, establishing the State".

The organizers of the event also seek to attract much-needed international aid for Palestinians by raising awareness about their economy and the hardships they subject to because of the various limitations and blockades imposed by Israel.

Citing the Goldstone report on the 22-day Israeli war on Gaza, the Iranian envoy condemned Tel Aviv's crimes against humanity and said Israel was able to conduct such inhumane activities because it has US support.

He also condemned Israel's new decision to expand illegal settlements in the West Bank territories it has occupied, saying that Tel Aviv had no regard for international law.

Earlier this month, during US Vice President Joseph R. Biden's trip to Israel, Tel Aviv announced that it would soon initiate the construction of 1600 units in the Ramat Shlomo housing development in East Jerusalem (al-Quds).

More recently on Tuesday, Israeli website Ynet also announced that another East Jerusalem (al-Quds) building project was also underway, this time 20 units in the Palestinian populated neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

The UN Secretary-General has spoken out against the move and said that "all" Israeli settlement building in the occupied East Jerusalem al-Quds is illegal.

"All settlement activity is illegal. But inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem al-Quds is particularly troubling,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in New York.

“This leads to tensions and undermines prospects for addressing the final status of Jerusalem,” he said.

Ahmadinejad Slams West for Supporting Israel

Source: PressTV

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has slammed Western governments for their unconditional support of Israel.

"We don't want you to take a position against Israel; you cannot do that," he said, speaking at a ceremony at Shahrekord in central Iran for the inauguration of a hydroelectric dam across Iran's largest river, Karun.

"There is not a single statesman in the West who is brave enough to stand up against these corrupt Zionists, who have dominated the European nations and the US, and humiliated them with such crimes."

"There is not a brave statesman in the West. At least it seems so for the present. Maybe one will be found in the future," Ahmadinejad said.

He did not however demand that the West have a turnabout and oppose Israel.

“We lower our expectations," he said. "We don't want you to counter such crimes, although you are morally obliged to do so."

Instead, he demanded objectivity from Western governments, and said, "[We want you to] remain neutral. Withdraw your support from these Zionists."

He further said that Washington itself was part of the problem [in the Middle East conflict], because it has always been on Tel Aviv's side.

Iran Calls for 'Serious' Action Against Israeli Plot

Source: PressTV

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has urged the international community to foil an Israeli plot to change the identity of Jerusalem (al-Quds).

"Unfortunately, the recent developments and comments made over the past few months by the officials of the Zionist regime (Israel), clearly show the seriousness of the occupiers' plot to give a Zionist identity to the first kiblah of Muslims," Mottaki said in a statement on Thursday.

"This has raised the alarm for people across the globe and has highlighted the necessity of taking serious measures and maximizing potential in all Muslim nations,” the statement added.

The Iranian minister said that the expansion of the Israeli settlements, the destruction of Islamic and Christian structures and the construction of new synagogues in Jerusalem (al-Quds) have unveiled the Israeli plot, "which, unfortunately, has been approved by Washington."

Mottaki warned that the Israeli plot will have "dangerous consequences."

He urged Arab states to put the issue high on the agenda of the Arab League conference, which is underway in Libya.

Mottaki also called for the formation of a committee consisting of the foreign ministers of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference member states to discuss the latest developments in Jerusalem (al-Quds).

UN Chief: All Israeli settlements in al-Quds 'illegal'

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

The UN chief says "all" Israeli settlement building in East Jerusalem al-Quds is illegal, as Washington and Tel Aviv apparent row over plans to build more units.

"All settlement activity is illegal, but inserting settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem (al-Quds) is particularly troubling,” United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council in New York, quoted by The New York Times.

“This leads to tensions and undermines prospects for addressing the final status of Jerusalem (al-Quds),” he said.

Ban's comments came as US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister continued their talks for a second day in Washington amid an unusual news blackout.

"There are areas that they discussed last night, some of which they agree and some of which they disagree… The conversation was honest and straightforward," the White House press secretary told reporters.

"The president has asked the prime minister for certain things to build confidence,” Robert Gibbs said, refusing to give any further details.

The Palestinian side has maintained that Israel must fully withdraw from the territories if it is serious about peace.

In a statement released on Wednesday, chief negotiator of the Palestinian authority Saeb Erekat said that with the new settlements Israel was "digging itself into a hole that it must climb out of, if it is serious about peace."

Earlier this month, during US Vice President Joseph R. Biden's trip to Israel, Tel Aviv announced that it would soon initiate the construction of 1600 units in the Ramat Shlomo housing development in East al-Quds.

While the prime minister was in Washington for talks with Obama, the Israeli website, Ynet, also announced that another East al-Quds building project was underway, this time 20 units in the Palestinian populated neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Israel plans to build the units on the site of Shepherd Hotel, the former home of the late Islamic law scholar Haj Amin Husseini.

Contrary to UN's position, Netanyahu claims that Israel has the right to continue building in al-Quds.

Latest news reports suggest that Obama has withdrawn from the position of asking Israel to stop settlement construction. According to a Washington Post article on Thursday, Obama has asked Netanyahu to ensure that housing projects in East al-Quds "do not spoil the atmosphere for talks."

Netanyahu told reporters that he was hopeful of a compromise over the al-Quds settlement issue after his visit to Washington.

Russia will launch Bushehr plant despite US pressure

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020104

Russia says it will go ahead with the inauguration of Iran's Bushehr atomic power plant despite growing opposition from the United States.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko made the remarks days after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that the launch of the long-delayed 1,000 megawatt plant would send Tehran the wrong message.

The US and its allies have been trying hard to push through a fourth round of sanctions against Iran, while China and Russia have been reluctant to go along with the scheme.

Nesterenko said, "Everything is being done under IAEA [the International Atomic Energy Agency] regulations" and "spent fuel deliveries to Iran will be returned to Russia with the IAEA's seal according to the standards of all the existing technology in this field."

Russia says it will put the nuclear reactor into service in August.

Nesterenko said that Clinton did not voice any concern over the project during the talks in Moscow.

In 1995, Russia signed an agreement with Iran to build the plant. Under the deal, the plant was originally scheduled to be completed in 1999, but the completion of the $1 billion project has been frequently delayed.

Nesterenko added that possible new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program would not halt the start-up of the plant.

"It would be wrong to make any links between the construction and the launch of the plant and the growing need to take new measures towards Tehran," AFP quoted the Russian official as saying on Thursday.

Although the IAEA inspectors stationed in Iran have not been able to find any evidence to support US and European claims of diversion in the Iranian nuclear program, the Western allies continue to accuse Iran of pursuing nuclear military aims under the guise of a civilian program — a claim repeatedly rejected by Tehran.

Iran is adamant that, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at civilian applications of the technology which many Western countries enjoy but try to prevent other states to acquire.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

US may try Sheehan for anti-war campaign

Source: PressTV

US authorities have arrested a number of anti-war protesters, including high-profile activist Cindy Sheehan, during a demonstration in Washington DC.

Eight peace activists were detained after laying coffins near a fence outside the White House during a Saturday rally in which thousands of anti-war protesters gathered at a park in the area to mark the seventh anniversary of the US-led invasion of Iraq .

They were demanding the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The protesters directed their anger at US President Barack Obama and demanded action against former President George W. Bush and his Vice- President Dick Cheney.

Sheehan, arrested at the end of the march, had earlier said, "We did lose some momentum when Obama came into office, but now we have younger people that are very energetic. They know we can change the world."

Sheehan, who has been and anti-war campaigner since she lost a son in the Iraq war, may stand trial, reports indicate.

She gained repute as a peace activist in 2005 for protesting outside of Bush's Texas ranch.

Brazil: Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah vital to peace

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020706

Brazilian president says the potential for concluding a Middle East peace deal requires the presence of Iran, Palestinian Hamas movement and Lebanon's Hezbollah at the negotiating table.

Speaking during a TV appearance, Luis Inacio Lula da Silva expressed support for "dialogue with the Iranians, with the Syrians, with Israel, with the Palestinians, with Hamas and with Hezbollah," AFP reported on Tuesday.

"Everyone talks about the crisis in the Middle East, but no one is doing anything to fix it. Brazil is trying to do its part," he added.

Speaking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier in the month, Lula highlighted Iran's role in the region, reiterating that Tehran must be part of a solution to any conflict in the Middle East.

Tel Aviv refuses to meet the Palestinian conditions for resuming peace talks, which include a permanent and complete freeze on its illegal settlements construction in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The resulting longstanding stalemate in the negotiations was compounded by Israel's December 2008-January 2009 offensives against the Gaza Strip, which claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians.

Britain to expel Israeli diplomat

Source: Al jazeera

Britain is to expel an Israeli diplomat over the use of fake UK passports by a hit-squad that killed a Hamas operative in Dubai earlier this year, officials have said.
Israel's spy agency, the Mossad, has been accused by authorities in the UAE of being involved in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh on January 20.
The diplomat is likely to be the head of Mossad in London, Al Jazeera has learnt.
David Miliband, Britain's foreign secretary, was expected to make a statement later on Tuesday.

Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent in London said the move was "to show British displeasure".

"The British are not making any suggestion at this stage that this was a Mossad operation ... but they are saying that the government knew about the cloned passports and that's why they're taking this action".
Earlier Israel has confirmed that Ron Prosor, its ambassador to Britain, was called to London's foreign office on Monday for talks.

Wanted list

The move comes at the end of an investigation into the use of fake UK passports by a team of assassins.
Britain sent investigators to Israel this month to meet eight Israeli-British dual nationals whose identities were used by suspects in the killing.
Dubai authorities have identified at least 26 suspects from the alleged hit-squad that travelled to the UAE on fake identities and forged European and Australian passports.

At least 15 of the suspected killers share names with Israeli citizens, fuelling suspicions the Mossad was behind the hit.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in al-Mabhouh's killing.
Interpol has published a wanted list of 27 people in connection with the slaying.

China anger at Google switch

Source: Al Jazeera

Google's decision to shut down its internet search site for mainland China and stop censoring search results is "totally wrong" and represents a politicisation of business issues, China has said.

In an immediate and sharply critical response to Google's announcement, China said the California-based internet giant had "violated the written promise" it made when it entered the Chinese market.

"We firmly oppose politicising commercial issues, and express our dissatisfaction and anger at Google Inc's unreasonable accusations and practices," the state-run Xinhua news agency quoted an unnamed official from China's State Council Information Office as saying.

The backlash followed an announcement from Google on Monday that it was shutting down its China-based site,, and redirecting search requests to Google's Hong Kong-based portal,

The Hong Kong site is not subject to the same censorship rules as in mainland China.

"Users visiting are now being redirected to, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong," David Drummond, Google's chief legal officer, said on the company's blog.

The switch throws the burden on China to use its own internet filters to prevent Chinese users from seeing images and sites it deems politically or socially undesirable.

On Tuesday Al Jazeera's own testing of the site accessed from Beijing showed that while search terms such as "Tiananmen Square massacre" and "Tibet freedom" did yield results, the links themselves were not accessible.

In January Google stunned many in the online world when it said it would stop filtering searches and threatened to pull out of China altogether after uncovering what it said were sophisticated cyber attacks against its systems and email accounts used by Chinese activists.

No compromise

Google entered the Chinese market five years ago and had previously said it would follow Chinese law requiring service providers to censor access to sites banned by the government.

Following January's announcement the firm said it was engaging in talks with the Chinese government on the issue.

In recent weeks though China has repeatedly stuck to its position that any firm operating in China must follow Chinese laws, apparently leaving little room for compromise.

The State Council official quoted by Xinhua following Google's announcement said the government had twice talked to the firm to try to resolve the standoff but suggested that China's censorship laws were not up for negotiation.

"We made patient and meticulous explanations on the questions Google raised… telling it we would still welcome its operation and development in China if it was willing to abide by Chinese laws, while it would be its own affair if it was determined to withdraw its service,'' the official said.

"Foreign companies must abide by Chinese laws and regulations when they operate in China."


It was not clear whether Google cleared its move with the Chinese government or gave officials any prior notice of the changes.

China could retaliate against the firm by blocking access to its search services entirely, much as it has completely blocked access to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Google has said it intends to keep its office in Beijing and continue to its sales, research and development operations in the world's largest online market.

On Tuesday in the wake of the announcement the company said it was "business as usual" in its China offices, although lay-offs and redeployments of staff remained a possibility.

"We haven't worked out all the details so we can't ever rule out letting people go but we very much want to avoid that," Jessica Powell, a Google spokeswoman, told the Associated Press.

Monday, March 22, 2010

US passes landmark healthcare bill

Source: Al Jazeera

The US House of Representatives has passed a landmark bill overhauling the country's healthcare system, finally pushing through the top item on Barack Obama's domestic agenda.

The US president praised legislators for passing the reform bill late on Sunday, saying he knew it was not an easy vote but calling it "the right vote".

"Today's vote answers the prayers of every American who has hoped deeply for something to be done about a system that works for insurance companies, but not for ordinary people," Obama said at the White House just before midnight.

"It's a victory for the American people and it's a victory for common sense," he added.

Right Direction?

Al Jazeera's Rosiland Jordan, reporting from Capitol Hill, said the passing of the bill represented a landmark victory for Obama.

The US president was at his lowest point in public opinion polls, 15 months into his presidency, and there were questions about whether he would be able to accomplish anything on his domestic agenda if he could not get the healthcare bill passed, our correspondent said.

The passage of the bill was also a victory for Democrats, who can now cite it as an accomplishment when they face voters in midterm congressional elections in November, she added.

The 219 to 212 vote in favour of extending health insurance to nearly all American citizens came after days of negotiations and hours of heated debate.

The Democrats needed 216 votes to pass the bill and managed to secure more than that without a single Republican vote.

The bill now needs to be signed into law by Obama, who has staked his presidency on the legislation which provides health insurance coverage to 95 per cent of Americans, extending current coverage by 32 million people.

Obama put forward the proposal for the reforms in an attempt to get the bill passed after months of deadlock with opposition Republicans over the issue.

"This isn't radical reform, but it is major reform. This legislation will not fix everything that ails our healthcare system, but it moves us in the right direction ... this is what change looks like," Obama said.

The bill, which also bans insurers from denying coverage on the basis of pre-existing medical conditions and cuts deficits by an estimated $138bn over a decade, had previously passed votes in both the House of Representatives and the senate, but a reformed bill had to pass Sunday's vote and a later ballot in the senate.

Last Minute Deal

The vote came hours after Obama and House Democratic leaders struck a last-minute deal with anti-abortion Democrats to secure the final few votes needed to pass the legislation.

Obama lobbied by phone from the White House, then took the crucial step of issuing an executive order that satisfied a small group of Democrats who demanded that no federal funds be used for elective abortions.

"We're well past 216," votes, said Bart Stupak, a Democratic Representative who got behind the bill after leading the anti-abortion holdouts in a rebellion that had left the outcome in doubt.

While national healthcare has long been a goal of presidents stretching back decades, it has proved elusive, in part because self-reliance and suspicion of a strong central government remain widespread in the US.

According to the latest Gallup poll, only 45 per cent of Americans support the healthcare reforms, and a shouting band of protesters outside the Capitol dramatized that opposition, with one man standing up in the House visitor's gallery shouting "kill the bill" before being escorted out.

Battle to Continue

After more than a year of political combat that looks set to continue into the election campaign for control of congress later this year, debate on the House floor fell along predictable lines on Sunday.

Louise Slaughter, a Democrat, said Republicans had "grievously and purposely lied to" the public in their efforts to defeat the legislation, in an apparent reference to Republican accusations that included the claim that there would be death panels for elderly patients.

David Dreier, a Republican, criticised the Democrats for their tactics on the House floor, but said, "the greatest outrage has always been for the bill itself", which Republicans say will cut Medicare for the elderly and raise taxes by nearly $1 trillion.

Republicans have vowed to repeal the bill if they win back majorities in the November elections.

Obama has said often that presidents of both parties have tried without success to achieve national health insurance, beginning with Theodore Roosevelt more than a century ago.

And Obama's own healthcare reform quest seemed at a dead end two months ago, when Republicans won a special election to fill the late Edward Kennedy's Massachusetts senate seat, and with it, enough Democratic votes to prevent a final vote.

But the White House, Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and Harry Reid, the senate majority leader, soon came up with a rescue plan that required the House to approve the senate-passed measure despite opposition to many of its provisions, then have both chambers pass a fix-it measure incorporating numerous changes.

Insurance Exchanges

Under the legislation, most Americans would be required to purchase insurance, and face penalties if they refuse.

Much of the money in the bill would be devoted to subsidies to help families at incomes of up to $88,000 a year pay their premiums.

The legislation would also usher in a significant expansion of Medicaid, the federal-state healthcare program for the poor.

The insurance industry would come under new federal regulation and be forbidden from placing lifetime dollar limits on policies, from denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions and from cancelling policies when a policyholder becomes ill.

Parents would be able to keep older children on their coverage up to age 26.

A new high-risk pool would offer coverage to uninsured people with medical problems until 2014, when the coverage expansion goes into effect.

Once enacted, the two bills would create a series of so-called "insurance exchanges" beginning in 2014 where self-employed people and small businesses could pool together to shop for healthcare coverage.

To pay for the changes, the legislation includes more than $400bn in higher taxes over a decade, roughly half of it from a new Medicare payroll tax on individuals with incomes over $200,000 and couples over $250,000.

Nader attacks Israel for eluding NPT

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020202

Veteran liberal, citizens' rights campaigner and former US presidential candidate, Ralph Nader, has criticized Israel for possessing nuclear weapons and refusing to join the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"Israel has 250 nuclear bombs and they don't belong to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, so they aren't even part of international law," Nader told Press TV during an anti-war demonstration in Washington DC on Saturday.

Tel Aviv, which is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed power in the Middle East, refuses access to its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

According to May 2008 comments by former US President Jimmy Carter, Israel has 150 nuclear weapons in its arsenal.

Nader further pointed to the contrast between the treatment Israel is receiving from its Western allies over its nuclear program and the pressure Iran is under for its civilian atomic activities.

"Israel has invaded its neighbors repeatedly. Iran hasn't invaded anybody in 250 years," he said.

Despite Tel Aviv's refusal to renounce nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Israel and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program - a charge strongly denied by Tehran.

Under pressure from the US, Israel's closest ally, the UN Security Council has passed several rounds of sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.

This is while Tehran's is a signatory of the NPT and its nuclear activities are under the constant supervision of the IAEA.

IAEA inspectors have conducted more inspections in Iran than in any other NPT signatory state, and have confirmed that there has been no diversion of nuclear material from civilian to military applications.

'Netanyahu seeks US bombs for Iran attack'

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020104

As Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu plans a visit to Washington, a report says he will ask the US to release sophisticated bombs needed for a possible strike on Iran's nuclear sites.

Netanyahu will ask Israel's closest ally to supply sophisticated 'bunker-buster' bombs needed to break through to Iran's nuclear enrichment sites, the Sunday Times reported.

The Israeli premier is expected to attend a three-day meeting of the top pro-Israeli lobby in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, commonly known as AIPAC and to meet with senior administration officials.

Despite Tel Aviv's refusal to renounce nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction, Israel and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian program — a charge strongly denied by Tehran.

Iran, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), views the claims as "unfounded and baseless” as the non-diversion of Iranian nuclear materials has been repeatedly verified in unannounced visits by UN inspectors.

Israel, reported to have the region's sole atomic arsenal, has a long-standing tendency to bomb Iran's nuclear sites, arguing that the country is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Plans for a military attack against Iran have gained momentum in Tel Aviv over the past few months.

On November 7, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned Iran that Tel Aviv's persistent threats of military action were not just a bluff.

Meanwhile, the Sunday Herald has reported that hundreds of powerful US "bunker-buster" bombs are being shipped from California to the British island of Diego Garcia located in the Indian Ocean.

Experts believe that the cargo manifest from the US navy is being put in place for an assault on Iran's nuclear facilities, said the newspaper.

The US military used Diego Garcia as a base to attack Iraq in 1991 and 2003.

The developments come as US president Barack Obama on Saturday once again repeated his offer of "dialogue" with Tehran.

Iran says it is hypocritical of the US to call for normalization of ties with the country but does the opposite in practice.

"The new [US] administration and president … wrote letters and sent messages ... saying they are willing to normalize relations with the Islamic Republic, but in practice they did the opposite," Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said Sunday in a Nowruz address to Iranians in the holy city of Mashhad.

Lebanese army fires on Israeli jets

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020203

The Lebanese army says it has opened fire on two Israeli warplanes that were violating the country's airspace at medium altitude.

"The army's anti-aircraft guns fired at two Israeli warplanes overflying Hasbaya in southeastern Lebanon," the Lebanese army said in statement late Sunday.

Israel's regular overflights across southern Lebanon are in violation of the UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the statement added. The resolution calls on Tel Aviv to stop invading Lebanon's sovereignty by land, sea and air.

Resolution 1701 was unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council in August 2006 that brought to end Israel's 33-day war on Lebanon, during which Israeli forces failed to achieve any of their objectives.

The Sunday violation occurred amid Israel's escalating war threats in the region. The army says Israeli warplanes have entered Lebanese airspace on an almost-daily basis during the past months.

China threatens US over currency rate dispute

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020404

Beijing has threatened to retaliate if the United States declares China a currency manipulator and imposes trade sanctions.

The US Treasury is to rule whether China is unfairly holding down its exchange rate to gain a competitive edge in global markets.

Political pressure is growing in Washington to declare China a currency manipulator. Some US senators have threatened to slap duties on Chinese products if Beijing fails to allow the yuan's value to rise.

Washington says China holds the yuan low so that Chinese goods can enjoy an artificial competitive edge.

Three years ago, Beijing had let the yuan climb 21 percent against the US dollar.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have both urged China to let the yuan resume its ascent.

The currency debate has caused tension between the US and China. Relations between Beijing and Washington have been deteriorating over a number of issues, including the Pentagon's arms sales to Taiwan.

Google serves US intelligence agencies: Chinese media

Source: PressTV

Chinese state media have accused Internet giant Google of being a tool in the hands of US intelligence agencies in the country.

A commentary published by the Xinhua News Agency accuses Google of providing the US government with a record of its search engine results, the BBC reported.

"Google's high-level officials have intricate ties with the US government. It is also an open secret that some security experts in the Pentagon are from Google", the commentary read.

The commentary signed by three Xinhua writers also accuses Google of infiltrating the local culture.

"It is unfair for Google to impose its own value and yardsticks on Internet regulation to China, which has its own time-honored tradition, culture and value."

Google announced in January that it would no longer comply with China's internet censorship laws. The search engine giant has denied that it was influenced by the US government.

Google is the second-largest search site in China. Baidu Inc, China's domestic search engine, has benefitted from the dispute since Google's announcement that it could pull out of China. Baidu's shares have surged more than 44 percent since then.

Relations between Beijing and Washington have been deteriorating over a number of issues.

Recently, China reduced its military cooperation with Washington after the United States sold USD 6.4 billion worth of arms to Taiwan.

Israeli raid strikes Gaza tunnel

Source: Al Jazeera

Israeli fighter jets have struck southern part of the Gaza Strip in an overnight raid, targeting what the Israeli military said was an arms smuggling tunnel.
The aircraft attacked a tunnel on the Rafah sector on the border with Egypt, but no one was injured, witnesses said on Monday.

A military spokesman confirmed the raid, saying it had come in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian side.

One rocket was fired into southern Israel late on Sunday from the Gaza Strip, though it landed without causing any injuries or damage, the Israeli army said earlier.
The raid on the Gaza Strip comes in the wake of a visit by Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, to the Hamas-controlled territory.

'Unacceptable suffering'

Ban condemned the Israeli blockade of the territory, which he said had caused "unacceptable suffering".
The blockade has been imposed for about three years and, because it denies Gazans access to many goods, the so-called tunnel economy has thrived as Gazans seek to bring in materials from outside the Strip.

The raid also follows a series of deaths in the West Bank, which is is controlled by Hamas's rival, Fatah.
Two Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops near an army checkpoint close to the town of Nablus on Sunday.

Another two Palestinians died after apparently being shot by Israeli troops during violent protests in the city itself.
Israel has denied its troops used live ammunition, but medical workers say the dead were clearly hit by live ammunition.
An X-ray of one of the boys shows what appears to be a bullet lodged in his head.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Israeli PM defiant before US trip

Source: Al Jazeera

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has declared his government will not restrict building in occupied East Jerusalem, despite US condemnation of the recent announcement of 1,600 new housing units.

Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday that he would make Israel's position on Jerusalem clear during this week's visit to Washington.
"Our policy on Jerusalem is the same policy followed by all Israeli governments for the last 42 years, and it has not changed," he said.

"As far as we are concerned, building in Jerusalem is the same as building in Tel Aviv."

Netanyahu heads to the US capital on Sunday night to address the influential lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) and meet with Barack Obama, the US president.

His visit comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Washington over the settlement announcement, made as Joe Biden, the US vice-president, visited Israel.

The expansion plan was seen as an insult to the US and frayed Israel's usually strong ties with Washington.

Diplomatic activity

The Palestinians pulled out of planned so-called "proximity" talks after Israeli officials announced that the housing units would be built. They have demanded that all construction be stopped before they will return to negotiations.

In the aftermath there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity as major international powers have struggled to restart a peace process stalled for more than a year.

George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, met Netanyahu on Sunday, to present him with the official invitation to meet Obama on Tuesday and push for indirect talks between the Israelis and Palestinians.

He maintained pressure for renewed Israeli commitment to peace talks with the Palestinians, but also reassured Israel that the two countries enjoy an "unshakeable bond".

Jacky Rowland, Al Jazeera's Jerusalem correspondent, said: "What we're witnessing is really concerted efforts on the part of the international community to get some sort of peace process going again.
"It's been stagnant; it's been moribund for almost a year and a half now."
Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, was also in the region on Sunday, criticising Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip during a visit to the Hamas-controlled territory.
Ban said that Israel's policy of closing off the territory is not sustainable and causes "unacceptable suffering".

Israel imposed a tightened blockade after the Hamas movement took full control of the coastal enclave in June 2007.

Ban told Gazans that "we stand with you" as he visited an area damaged by Israel's offensive 14 months ago.
Ban said families were living under "unacceptable, unsustainable conditions".
He saidd that it was "distressing" for him to see houses still damaged, with no reconstruction possible under the blockade.

The blockade has prevented the United Nations from completing housing projects, however, Ban pledged to continue providing aid to Gazans.
"My message to people of Gaza is this: the United Nations will stand with you through this ordeal," he said.

He also called for a prisoner exchange involving Palestinian prisoners and Israeli soldier Gilat Shilad who was captured in 2006.

'Illegal' settlements

The UN secretary-general's visit to Gaza followed a trip to the West Bank the previous day, where he reiterated demands that Israel end settlement building in Palestinian territory.

"Let us be clear, all settlement activity is illegal anywhere in occupied territory and this must stop," Ban said, speaking at a joint news conference with Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister.

Ban emphasised the commitment of the so-called international Quartet of Middle East negotiators - comprised of the UN, the European Union, Russia and the US - to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

"The Quartet has sent a clear and strong message: we are strongly supporting your efforts to establish an independent and viable Palestinian state," Ban said.

He also met Israeli officials, including Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, as part of his trip.

But the moves on the diplomatic stage were overshadowed by violence on the ground in the West Bank.

Israeli troops shot dead two Palestiniansin the territory after they tried to stab a soldier at a checkpoint, the Israeli military said.

The deaths brought to four the number of Palestinians killed in the past two days in the West Bank.

Guatemala plans to expand Russia relations

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020706

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom is on its way to Russia to expand bilateral relations with the former super power in a move unprecedented in the history of the two countries during the past 65 years.

"We regard the visit of Alvaro Colom to Russia as an historic event and we are certain that it will give a new boost to our bilateral relations," the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti on Sunday.

"The Guatemalan economy is one of the leading economies in Central America. Besides, the country has free-trade agreements with the United States, Mexico and Canada. Russia could benefit from the opportunity to use our country as a foothold to promote its goods in the region," the ministry said.

Colom will meet with his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Monday. He is reportedly planning to boost cooperation with Moscow in oil and gas, telecommunications, transport and tourism.

In earlier comments, the leftist president said it would be a mistake for Guatemala or other Latin American nations to ignore relations and cooperation with such an important partner as Russia.

China won't turn blind eye to possible US sanctions

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020404

The Chinese commerce minister says Beijing will respond to Washington should the US decide to impose sanctions on the Chinese currency, the Yuan.

"We will not turn a blind eye," Chen Deming told People's Daily on Sunday.

Washington has threatened to impose sanctions and other penalties over China's exchange rate policies.

US President Barack Obama has labeled China a currency manipulator. US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has to decide on the issue next month.

Critics say China keeps the Yuan's value artificially low to make its exports cheaper and thus more competitive on overseas markets.

To consult with US officials about trade frictions, Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan will visit Washington from March 24 to 26.

The currency debate has caused tension between the US and China, whose relations have been deteriorating over a number of issues.

Despite sanctions, India wants IPI talks with Iran

Source: PressTV§ionid=351020103

As India's petroleum ministry announced proposals to restart direct “bilateral' talks with Iran regarding the long-delayed Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) natural gas pipeline project, the country's ministry of external affairs has called for a deep sea alternative pipeline from Iran.

India's Petroleum Secretary S. Sundareshan announced yesterday, "We have proposed dates for holding technical level talks in Tehran in May," regarding the IPI project which is envisaged to carry some 60 million cubic meters (2.12 billion cubic feet) of gas every day.

The IPI pipeline is expected to provide a route for the supply of natural gas from Iran to Pakistan and India. However, India's distrust of the security of supplies through the territory of its rival Pakistan led it to walk away from the talks in 2008, while Iran and Pakistan continued to discuss the project.

Now the Indians want to re-enter the project, subject to certain conditions, centered around pricing and delivery point, according to India's Business Standard.

“We want to address these issues before we sign up for the IPI pipeline deal," said S. Sundareshan, who also described the price quoted by Iran as “high and not affordable."

The paper reported that India wants Iran to be responsible for the safe transport of the natural gas through the 1,035-km (643-mile) pipeline in Pakistan. It also wants to pay for the fuel only when it is delivered at the India-Pakistan border.

Meanwhile Indian Express reported Saturday that the country's MEA has called for India to withdraw from the IPI project and instead discuss the establishment of a deep sea pipeline with Iran which would bypass Pakistan altogether.

“In view of the complicated relationship between India and Pakistan, the Ministry of External Affairs does not advise meeting between India and Pakistan for further discussions on the project... the deep-sea pipeline option may not involve Pakistan and, therefore, the same can be pursued," MEA officials said at a meeting last week to decide India's position on the IPI pipeline.

This view was met with approval from India's National Security Council Secretariat, which warned that the IPI pipeline would be a potential target for “India-centric terror groups in Pakistan."

Earlier, the Indian inter-ministerial group of bureaucrats meeting on March 9 had decided to meet Iranian officials to discuss upstream gas exploration and development.

According to Indian Express, the meeting was told that while “Iran is internationally isolated due to continuing sanctions, any wholehearted engagement in Iran may emerge as an area of friction between India and the West," yet "there was unanimity that in view of the energy security of the country, India does need to continue to engage with Iran."

It is thought the planned May talks between Indian and Iranian officials will cover both alternatives.

According to Oil and Gas Journal, with some 29.6 trillion cubic meters (1,045 trillion cubic feet) of proved reserves, Iran has the second largest stocks of natural gas in the world, and India's rapidly growing economy is in need of a secure and long-term source of gas.

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