Saturday, July 31, 2010

Israel says Iran sanctions not enough

Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020104

Repeating its accusations against Tehran's nuclear program, Israel says sanctions cannot stop a determined Iran from pursuing its nuclear goals.

"They're determined to get nuclear military capability. We see it," Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program on Friday, AFP reported. "I don't believe that sanctions will work," he told the US-based cable news channel.

Barak said Israel agreed in essence with the sanctions and that Tel Aviv still believed it was time for sanctions to see whether they worked, but said the measure was not enough. "We have to realize, we cannot wink in front of tough realities, however tough they might be."

The UN Security Council approved a fourth set of sanctions on Iran in June -- a slap in the face of the Islamic republic's confidence building efforts and a tripartite nuclear swap declaration it signed with Brazil and Turkey in May.

Israel played an active role in helping the United States to persuade the Security Council's veto-holding members to endorse the US-drafted sanction resolution against Iran.

Barak renewed Tel Aviv's call for a military action against Tehran.

"We say all the way there should be extremely effective sanctions. If they don't work, we recommended our friends always not to remove any option from the table. We do the same for ourselves," Barak stressed.

Remarks by Israeli leaders against Iran's nuclear program come while Tel Aviv is known to possess the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal -- estimated to include 300-400 nuclear warheads.

Tel Aviv has maintained a policy of ambiguity on its nuclear stockpile with the assistance of the US.

Iran has repeatedly assured it is committed to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory, arguing that as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency it has the right to civilian nuclear technology

End Gaza blockade, UNHRC tells Israel

Palestinians scuffle with Israeli soldiers in the
West Bank village of Lubban al-Gharbi

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020202

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has told Israel to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip and to take action about its human rights violations.

On Friday, the committee also told Israel to end extra-judicial executions of terrorist suspects, make torture illegal, end construction of settlements in the occupied territories, stop building a wall cutting off some of the territories from other regions, and stop destroying homes as a collective punishment, Reuters reported.

The 18 experts of the UN Human Rights Committee said they are also worried about Israeli restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

The panel of experts stated that since 2003, the Israeli armed forces have targeted and executed 184 individuals in the Gaza Strip, despite a Supreme Court ruling in 2006 imposing safeguards.

The UNHRC also told Israel to ensure that Palestinians in the occupied territories can enjoy the fundamental civil and political freedoms that are enumerated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Israel is a signatory to the international human rights treaty but maintains that the covenant does not apply to the occupied West Bank and Gaza, although it says that the treaty does apply to Jewish settlers there, committee member Christine Chanet said.

The panel dismissed Israeli assertions that the covenant — a multilateral treaty ratified by 166 nations in force since 1976 — did not apply in areas under occupation or during armed conflict, saying its government must ensure "full application."

The committee also called for a halt to restrictions on Palestinians and raised concerns about discrimination.

"The State party should ensure that all alleged cases of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials, including the police, the personnel of the security service and the armed forces, are thoroughly and promptly investigated by an authority, independent of any of these organs," the committee said.

The panel also questioned the fact that Tel Aviv is conducting its own inquiry into a commando attack on a Gaza-bound aid ship that killed nine Turkish activists and injured about 50 people on May 31.

They say that all decision makers responsible for the attack — whether military or civilian officials — should be prosecuted.

Panel calls for US Navy expansion

US Navy warships, file photo

Source: Press TV§ionid=3510203

A congressionally mandated defense panel in the US says the Pentagon should increase the number of people serving in the navy to deal with rising Asian powers.

The statement came in a report headed by former White House National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and former Defense Secretary William Perry on Thursday, urging the expansion of US naval power in Asia from its current fleet of 282 ships to 346 ships, the Washington Times reported.

The independent panel has also called for the US military to confront "the rise of new global great powers in Asia," adding that it must prepare for the "continued struggle for power in the Persian Gulf and the greater Middle East."

"In order to preserve US interests, the United States will need to retain the ability to transit freely the areas of the Western Pacific for security and economic reasons," the Washington Times quoted the panel as saying.

The recommendation for a bigger navy goes against the policies of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, however, who maintains that US naval forces are currently unrivaled.

After reviewing the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review strategy, the panel has also recommended that the US merge its military, intelligence and foreign assistance spending budgets.

According to the panel, the latest QDR is a "wartime" review, which "continues the trend of the last 15 years," and is prepared by a department that is focused "understandably and appropriately on responding to the threats America now faces and winning the wars in which the US is now engaged."

China boosts investment in Iran's energy

In ‎2009, Iran accounted for ‎‏11‏‎ percent of China's oil imports,
ranking ‎third among China's main oil suppliers after Angola
and Saudi Arabia

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020103

Chinese companies have invested around $40 billion in different upstream and downstream projects in Iran's oil and gas sector, an Iranian oil official says.

"Chinese companies have invested about $29 billion in Iran's upstream oil and gas sector and another $10 billion in the country's downstream energy sector, including gas, petrochemical and refinery construction projects," Iran's Deputy Oil Minister in International Affairs Hossein noghrehkar Shirazi said in an interview with Mehr news agency.

He added that the two countries are to start a new round of talks on developing bilateral oil trade and exchange.

Another Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Alireza Zeighami said earlier in July that Chinese companies have offered to finance some of the country's oil refinery development and gasoline production projects.

"Chinese companies are currently involved in building the Arak oil refinery; we intend to expand our cooperation with different Chinese firms for other oil refinery projects in Iran," Zeighami said.

Chinese companies are expanding their presence in Iran's oil refinery sector.

Last year, Chinese refiner Sinopec signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company to invest $6.5 billion for building oil refineries in Iran.

Iran, the world's fifth-largest oil producer, plans to build seven new refineries with a total investment of $23 billion.

A US official said Thursday that Washington is worried that Iran continues to attract investment from China despite a new round of UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Tehran.

Chinese companies were "aggressive" in investing in Iran's oil and gas fields, Joseph Christoff, head of the Government Accountability Office's international affairs and trade department, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Christoff said international and unilateral sanctions were "not changing their (the Chinese) behavior" toward Iran.

Addressing the same panel, another official said that the US will press China to abide by international sanctions on Iran.

"China is of concern to us," AFP quoted Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department, as saying on Thursday. "We need for them to enforce the Security Council resolution," he said.

More bank failures grip US economy

Source: Press TV§ionid=3510203

US regulators have shut five more banks over mounting loan defaults and economic recession, bringing the total number of failed US banks this year to 108.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) authorities closed Bayside Savings Bank and Coastal Community Bank in Florida, NorthWest Bank and Trust in Georgia, LibertyBank in Oregon and Cowlitz Bank in Washington on Friday in a bid to deal with the finicial problems facing the country, US media reported on Friday.

The FDIC took over the banks with assets worth a combined sum of 1.9 billion dollars.

The five failures are expected to cost the regulatory body over 300 million dollars.

Florida and Georgia are amongst the states with the highest number of bank closures in the wake of the US property market collapse that entailed the so-called toxic assets from mortgage loans.

Bank failures have been accelerating so far this year with 108 closures nationwide and it is anticipated to peak in 2010.

The pace has sped up as banks' losses mount on loans made for commercial property and development, a report in The Associated Press indicates.

Many companies have shut down in the recession, vacating shopping malls and office buildings financed by the loans which have led to delinquent loan payments and defaults by commercial developers.

'Iran could rethink EU trade ties'

Head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020104

The Islamic Republic could reconsider its economic ties with the European Union in response to EU's unilateral sanctions against Iran's nuclear work, a senior Iranian MP says.

“The European Union will receive an appropriate response [from Iran] should it put into practice [new] sanctions against the Iranian nation,” Head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Alaeddin Boroujerdi told IRNA Saturday.

The European Union on July 26 adopted new sanctions against Iran, which mainly target the country's financial and energy sectors.

Boroujerdi further pointed out that Iran reserved the right to retaliate against sanctions from any country, warning that Tehran would cut trade with the EU in response.

“If the decision [to impose sanctions] is put into practice, we will cut trade and economic capacities with them (EU member states) and shift to countries that are not after sanctioning the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The senior lawmaker also added that it was the EU that would suffer most from sanctions since Iran's multi-billion-dollar trade relations with European Union member states had created jobs for many European countries.

The European Union, with 27 member nations, is Iran's first trading partner.

Close to 90% of EU imports from Iran are energy related. EU exports to Iran in 2009 were mainly machinery and transport equipment, manufactured goods and chemicals.

The EU new sanctions come in addition to the fourth round of UN Security Council resolutions against Tehran over its nuclear work.

Iran says any sanctions against its nuclear work are legally baseless as its nuclear work is being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency and carried out within the frame work of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

Berlusconi loses parliamentary majority

33 Mps have deserted Berlusconi leaving his center-right coalition government ineffective

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020606

Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has lost his parliamentary majority after 33 lawmakers abandoned his ruling People of Freedom Party, reports say.

The lawmakers say they now support Berlusconi's former ally, Gianfranco Fini, who had also split from the ruling party.

The defection comes as Berlusconi expelled his long-time ally on Thursday on the grounds of having “an attitude of permanent opposition to us (The People of Freedom Party) in harmony with the left,” The Irish Times quoted.

Supporters of Gianfranco Fini left the ruling party to set up a new group, making the number of MPs in The People of Freedom Party just above 300, The Guardian reported. That number falls short of the 316 needed to make a majority.

The new party says it plans to stand up for public ethics.

The abandonment, which has left Berlusconi and his center-right coalition government ineffective, could raise the possibility of early elections.

The recent desertions come as a serious blow to the Italian prime minister, who has been subject to heavy condemnation in the wake of accusations of corruption.

'No response yet on Nuclear fuel swap talks'

Iran's IAEA Envoy Ali-Asghar Soltanieh

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020104

The Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the Vienna Group has not yet responded to Iran's announcement that it is ready for unconditional talks on a nuclear fuel swap.

Ali-Asghar Soltanieh said he had announced Iran's preparedness for unconditional negotiations in a meeting with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, reported Fars News Agency.

"We are now waiting for the other side to announce its response to the IAEA director general" Soltanieh added.

He reiterated that the Vienna Group (comprising the US, Russia, France and the IAEA) has not yet responded to the director of the UN nuclear watchdog on whether or not they will take part in the talks on supplying fuel to the Tehran nuclear research reactor and, if so, when the negotiations should be held.

He underlined the talks will be another test for the Vienna Group to show its goodwill and political determination to forge ahead with 'this humanitarian project' in keeping with the IAEA regulations.

'Sanctions have had no bearing on Iran's peaceful nuclear activities and have only harmed cooperation within the IAEA' said the top Iranian diplomat.

Soltanieh underscored the talks will also be another opportunity for the Vienna Group to drop its policy of confrontation and sanctions, and return to the 'path of cooperation.

Friday, July 30, 2010

FBI seeks easier access to web records

Source: Press TV§ionid=3510203

The White House is trying to make it easier for the FBI to ask companies for records of an individual's internet activities without a court order.

President Barack Obama's administration has asked the US Congress to amend the statute, the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, in the fiscal year that begins in October.

According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration wants to add "electronic communication transactional records" to a list of items that the law says the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may demand without a judge's approval.

"Electronic communication transactional records" include information like the addresses to which an internet user sends e-mails; the times and dates e-mails were sent and received; and possibly a user's browser history.

Obtaining such records now requires a court order. But once the law is amended, only a national security letter (NSL) can authorize the FBI agents to compel internet service providers to turn over an individual's electronic records if they believe the information is relevant to a terrorism or intelligence investigation.

"Our biggest concern is that an expanded NSL power might be used to obtain internet search queries and web histories detailing every website visited and every file downloaded," the Washington Post quoted Kevin Bankston, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, as saying.

The move is considered by critics as another example of the Obama administration retreating from campaign pledges to enhance civil liberties in relation to national security.

Pentagon: Leaked secrets dangerous

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates calls on reporters during a news
conference at the Pentagon July 29, 2010 in Arlington, Virginia. Getty Images

Source: Press TV§ionid=3510203

The US defense secretary says the leak of secret documents on the war in Afghanistan could have "severe and dangerous" consequences for foreign troops.

"The battlefield consequences of the release of these documents are potentially severe and dangerous for our troops, our allies and Afghan partners, and may well damage our relationships and reputation in that key part of the world," US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Thursday.

He said the Pentagon "is conducting a thorough, aggressive investigation to determine how this leak occurred, to identify the person or persons responsible, and to assess the content of the information compromised," Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.

Whistle-blower website Wikileaks has released over 90,000 classified records of military conduct in Afghanistan during the period 2004-09.

The White House immediately lashed out at the website and it's founder, Julian Assange saying the top secret material contained in the documents could cause potential harm to US personnel and operatives in Afghanistan.

The files also include the identity of Afghans, who have provided US forces with intelligence or have assisted the foreign forces.

Official believe the lives of individuals who are named in the documents are at risk.

Assange says his main objective in revealing the information to the public was to shed light on events involving the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.

Gilani lashes out at Cameron's stance

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020401

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has dismissed remarks by his British counterpart that Islamabad is guilty of exporting terrorism.

In an address to Pakistan's Senate on Thursday, Gilani noted that his government will take up the issue with Britain via diplomatic channels.

He also sharply criticized David Cameron's remarks questioning Pakistan's sincerity in the war on terror, saying that US-led NATO forces could not bring peace in Afghanistan. The prime minister pointed out that the sacrifices of Pakistani armed forces personnel in war-battered Afghanistan are much greater than those of the multinational force.

"They should assist for capacity building of our law enforcement agencies. Such a criticism would cast negative impact on war on terror," Gilani said.

Cameron risked provoking a diplomatic row with Pakistan on Wednesday when he came close to accusing Islamabad of exporting terrorism.

“We should be very, very clear with Pakistan that we want to see a strong, stable and democratic Pakistan," Cameron said.

“We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is allowed to look both ways and is able, in any way, to promote the export of terror, whether to India or to Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world," Cameron said in a speech to Indian business leaders in Bangalore, India.

In the past, Britain had warned against the threat of terrorism that emanates from Pakistan. Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown once said that the bulk of the threat of terrorism to Britain came out of Pakistan's restive tribal regions near the Afghan border.

China investment in Iran worries US

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020101

Washington is worried that Iran continues to attract investment from China despite a new round of UN Security Council sanctions imposed on Tehran, a US official says.

Chinese companies were "aggressive" in investing in Iran's oil and gas fields, Joseph Christoff, head of the Government Accountability Office's international affairs and trade department, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday.

Christoff says international and unilateral sanctions were "not changing their (the Chinese) behavior" toward Iran.

Addressing the same panel, another official said that the US will press China to abide by international sanctions on Iran.

"China is of concern to us," AFP quoted Robert Einhorn, special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control at the State Department, as saying on Thursday. "We need for them to enforce the Security Council resolution," he said.

Beijing should not "backfill" by doing business with Tehran while other countries are "distancing themselves from Iran," Einhorn said.

The US and its Western allies accuse Iran of seeking a military nuclear program. Tehran rejects the charges, stressing that as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it will not forgo its right to peaceful nuclear technology.

The UN Security Council adopted a US-drafted sanctions resolution on June 9. Ever since the US, European Union, Australia, and Canada have adopted unilateral sanctions against Iran.

However, China and Russia, two permanent members of the UNSC, as well as many other countries say they would not abide by the unilateral sanctions.

UNASUR to discuss Caracas, Bogota

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro (R) at the UNASUR
meeting, which was called to discuss the political crisis between
Colombia and Venezuela, Thursday July 29, 2010

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020706

South American foreign ministers gather in Ecuador to discuss broken ties between Venezuela and Colombia and find a peaceful solution to the escalating diplomatic row.

The meeting of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) is the first encounter between the two governments since Venezuela severed relations with Colombia last week.

The crisis began after Bogota accused Caracas of serving as a rear base for Colombian rebels.

The left-wing rebel groups have been fighting the Colombian authorities since the 1960s.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro has expressed hope that the issue will be resolved peacefully.

However, Colombia's Foreign Minister Jaime Bermudez has expressed doubts over reaching a solution at the UNASUR meeting.

Maduro and Bermudez also traded accusations at the start of the meeting.

Upon arrival in Quito, the Venezuelan foreign minister said that his country had asked the south American states to respond to the "grave threats and grave attacks" posed by Colombia, Reuters reported.

Bermudez, on the other hand, once again accused Caracas of sheltering rebel groups including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN).

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has offered to mediate between the two sides.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

China urges change in U.S. policy to avoid friction

By: Ben Blanchard

Source: Reuters

The United States should alter policy to take account of China's role as a major player on the world stage if it wants to avoid friction and instability, a major state newspaper said on Thursday.

The commentary in ruling Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily followed the latest spat in Sino-U.S. ties, over what China views as unwarranted U.S. interference in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

While senior officials, including U.S. President Barack Obama, say they welcome a prosperous, flourishing China, good words must be backed up by actions, the newspaper said.

"If the United States cannot find a way of recognizing and accepting China's entrance on the world stage as a big player, relations will swerve up and down like a roller coaster," it said.

"This instability in relations will have a negative effect not only on bilateral ties but on the world, and that is not something anyone wants to see."

Obama started out well, it said, with his visit to China last year, but arguments over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Google Inc. and the value of the Chinese currency showed nothing has really changed in the United States.

"On the issue of how to co-exist with a rapidly developing China, Washington has in fact not thought things through in a calm manner."

It was wrong to think, as some experts in the United States believe, that China will be flexible on certain issues as relations between the two sides deepen, the commentary said, suggesting more discord to come.

"On cardinal questions of right and wrong, China has flinched neither in the past nor the present, and will not do so in the future," the newspaper said.

"It is impossible that when China's bottom line in reached there will not be a response. The state of Sino-U.S. relations directly impacts upon or even decides global peace and stability, especially in the Asia-Pacific region ... Future ties to a large degree hinge upon whether Washington can control its 'impulses'."

China, it said, was simply pushing back in the same way as the United States.

"'It is impolite not to reciprocate'," it added, quoting a classic Confucian text. "There is no lack of China experts in Washington who should fully understand the meaning of this."

UK PM harangues Pakistan over terror

British Prime Minister David Cameron speaks in Bangalore, India.

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020401

British Prime Minister David Cameron has asked Pakistan not to allow militants to use its territory as a base for attacks against its neighbors, especially India.

Pakistan cannot be allowed to harbor militants and promote terror against India, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, Cameron said during a visit to the Infosys headquarters in Bangalore, India.

He went on to say that US President Barack Obama was in agreement with him on Pakistan.

"We want Pakistan to emerge as a strong, stable and democratic nation. We cannot tolerate in any sense the idea that this country is... able, in any way, to promote the export of terror," the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying.

His remarks come only a few days after leaked US reports said Pakistan has secretly aided Taliban militants in Afghanistan. The leaked documents suggest that the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence), one of Pakistan's two military intelligence agencies, was encouraging the Taliban as recently as last year.

The Pentagon called the release of some 91,000 classified documents by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks a "criminal act."

The reports also raised new doubts about key US ally Pakistan.

The British prime minister launched the strongest British criticism yet of Pakistan, warning that the country could no longer "look both ways" by tolerating terrorism while demanding respect as a democracy.

Angry responses followed from Pakistani officials in the UK and the Foreign Ministry in Islamabad.

The row comes as Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari prepares for a visit to Britain next week. He is due to stay at the prime minister's country retreat of Chequers.

India, UK sign $1.1 bln aircraft deal

The Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft‎

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020402

India and Britain have signed a $1.1 billion deal to supply the Indian Air Force and Navy 57 more Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer aircraft.

David Cameron, on his first visit to India after becoming British prime minister in May, called for a new "enhanced relationship" between New Delhi and London.

The deal was signed in Bangalore by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and British defense manufacturer BAE Systems for the supply of 57 Hawks for the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.

BAE's Guy Griffiths said BAE will supply the design and also the equipment which will be assembled in India by HAL personnel over the course of the next three or four years.

India had signed an earlier agreement to buy 66 Hawk Trainers in 2004. The first 24 of those aircraft were supplied directly, while the next 42 will be assembled in India, Griffiths stated.

Cameron, who began his visit in the southern city of Bangalore, also visited the headquarters of the high-tech company Infosys in Bangalore.

Cameron said his main mission is to make use of the business opportunities offered by the Indian economy. His center-right coalition government is keen on promoting economic and financial cooperation with India, which is one of the biggest defense markets in the world.

Cameron brought six ministers and more than 30 senior executives from top UK firms with him to boost trade with Asia's third-largest economy.

Earlier, Britain announced it was prepared to export its civilian nuclear technology to India, in line with the stances taken by the United States, Russia, and France.

Later on Wednesday, Cameron arrived in the capital New Delhi, where he is expected to hold talks on Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The two leaders will sign a cultural agreement and seal a round of trade deals.

Israel plans coup in emirate, report says

The Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor

Source: Press TV

Israel is aiding and abetting an exiled Arab sheikh in his efforts to stage a "coup" in the Persian Gulf emirate of Ras al-Khaimeh, which is part of the United Arab Emirates, a report says.

The Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor, has met Sheikh Khalid bin Saqr al-Qasimi, the exiled crown prince of Ras al-Khaimeh, who asked the Israeli envoy to provide help for his campaign to seize control of the strategically important Persian Gulf emirate only 40 miles from Iran, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

The meeting took place in London in March and has been followed by phone calls and wider assistance and advice, according to records of the relationship seen by The Guardian.

Khalid, who was sent into exile in 2003, is seeking to replace his ailing father Sheikh Saqr and half brother Sheikh Saud to take control of Ras al-Khaimeh.

He claims that Ras al-Khaimeh has become a trafficking hub for "nuclear arms parts" to Iran and has spent over £4 million (over $6 million) on an international public relations and lobbying campaign to persuade US politicians and the pro-Israel lobby in the United States that it would be safer if he were in charge.

The alliance with Israel is the latest twist in the already extraordinary saga of Khalid's bid to return to power, the report said.

Sheikh Saqr is understood to be dying in hospital in Abu Dhabi and his son, Sheikh Saud, 54, the sitting crown prince, has been told to get prepared for his wake.

Explosion rocks Japan oil tanker in Persian Gulf

An undated photo released by Tokyo-based Mitsui
OSK Lines shows the Japanese oil tanker M Star.

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020205

An Iranian official says a Japanese oil tanker has been damaged in Oman's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf following an explosion.

"The fire which was triggered by an explosion on the deck of the vessel was contained with the help of the crew and regional forces," Fars News Agency quoted head of marine department of southern Hormozgan Province, Ali Akbar Saffai, as saying on Wednesday.

Stressing that the incident onboard the Japanese tanker, M Star, had taken place in Oman's trivial waters, Saffai said "the ship has left the region following coordination.

He rejected earlier reports saying that the accident had occurred in the Strait of Hormuz.

Japan's transport ministry has said the incident may have been an attack, noting that one crewmember had seen a flash in the horizon before the explosion.

"Since one of the crew saw a flash on the horizon immediately before the blast, the company suspects it was highly likely an attack," the ministry said in a statement, AFP reported.

Oman's coastguard has rejected the claim, saying there was no evidence of any attack on the tanker and instead cited a 3.2 magnitude earthquake in the Iranian port-city of Bandar Abbas as the source of a freak wave that hit the ship.

The Vessel's operating company, Mitsui OSK Lines, says the ship has 31 crew members -- 16 Philippines and 15 Indian.

The tanker was carrying 270,000 tons of crude oil but did not suffer a spill, Mitsui OSK Lines added.

French Christians: End Israel's impunity

This file photo shows Palestinians and Arab-Israeli
Christians holding a protest against Israel.

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020603

A number of Christian organizations in France have called on the government to hold Israel accountable for its violation of Palestinians' rights.

Five institutions including Secours Catholique, Cimade, Acat-France, Defap and les Amis de Sabeel-France wrote a letter to the French Prime Minister Francois Fillon on Wednesday, calling for action against Israeli crimes in Palestinian territories.

The letter urged the "French government to act, to put an end to the impunity accorded to ... Israel as regards the violation of international law," AFP quoted the letter as saying.

The move came after Palestinian Christians approached the organizations, asking for help against an Israeli military decree aimed at expulsion of thousand of Palestinians from the West Bank, the groups said.

The only way for achieving a "just and fair" peace in the Middle East is observance of international laws by Israel, the letter went on to say.

The Christian institutions also urged for the suspension of the European Union-Israel Association Agreement which constitutes legal grounds for relations between the European bloc and Tel Aviv.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

US funds billions more for Afghan war

Source: Press TV§ionid=3510203

The US Congress has approved an extra multi-billion dollar fund to pay for President Barack Obama's increase in US troop numbers in Afghanistan.

The House of Representatives voted 308 to 114 in favor of the $60bn war-funding bill.

The Senate had already passed the bill, which will now go to Obama to be signed into law.

The package provides roughly $33.5 billion for the additional 30,000 more troops in Afghanistan and nearly $4 billion for other programs in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

The bill also covers some expenses for military operations in the war-torn Iraq.

The new money is in addition to about $130 billion the Congress already approved for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq this year. The US Congress has appropriated over $1 trillion for the two wars since 2001.

The latest vote comes at a time when some lawmakers are growing skeptical about the nine-year-long war in Afghanistan.

Interestingly, more Republicans supported the bill than Obama's fellow Democrats did.

The recent leak of tens of thousands of secret military documents on the war in Afghanistan was the main reason behind the 102 Democratic votes against the bill.

The files released by the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks detail how US-led forces have killed or wounded Afghan civilians in unreported attacks.

Hamas slams Israel's Negev demolitions

Villagers and activists in al-Araqib light bon fires
as Israeli forces raze houses in the Bedouin village
in the Negev desert, July 27, 2010

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020202

The Islamic Hamas movement has condemned the Israeli regime for the demolition of tens of Palestinian houses in a Bedouin village in the Negev desert.

More than 1,500 Israeli forces attacked al-Araqib village shortly before dawn on Tuesday. They bulldozed all houses and uprooted hundreds of olive trees belonging to the villagers, AFP quoted activists who tried to prevent the demolition.

Israeli authorities claimed that the homes had been built without legal permits.

In a statement released later on Tuesday, Hamas slammed the move, charging Israel with efforts to expel Palestinians, over baseless excuses, out of villages and places where they and their fathers have been living for years, IRNA reported.

The movement also praised the villagers and activists who staged a "bare-hand resistance against the occupation forces and their bulldozers."

It further called on the Palestinians to stand up against Israeli plans to raze another 45 Palestinian homes in Negev.

Hamas also urged the Arab League and the United Nations to fulfill their obligations concerning Israel's escalating violations against Palestinians.

On July 21, Amnesty International reiterated its call on Israel to stop the demolition of Palestinian houses and other buildings in the West Bank.

The international rights watchdog condemned Israel's "unacceptable" demolition policy and charged Tel Aviv with removing the Palestinian population from the West Bank through razing their homes.

The Tuesday demolition displaced about 300 Bedouins -- desert-dwelling Arabs who have been living in the Negev desert for centuries.

Blix questions judgment behind Iraq war

Hans Blix, the former executive chairman of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq, AP photo

Source: Press TV

The former UN weapons inspector questions the judgment of Britain and the US in their decision to invade Iraq despite lack of evidence regarding the country's possession of WMD.

Hans Blix, the former executive chairman of the UN weapons inspection team in Iraq from March 2000 to June 2003, made the remarks on Tuesday while testifying at the independent Iraq Inquiry.

Blix said that he had initially thought Iraq had weapons of mass destructions, but when none were found upon the inspections, he warned the US and Britain that it was unlikely Saddam Hussein had illegal weapons, Reuters reported.

"What was really important was about this business of sites given, was that when we reported we did not find any WMD (weapons of mass destruction) they should have realized in Washington and London that their sources were poor," he added.

"What I question was the good judgment, particularly in [former US President George W.] Bush but also in [former British Prime Minister Tony] Blair's judgment," he added.

According to Blix, his concerns were ignored by Blair and former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

The former UN weapons inspector said that his team wanted to continue inspections, "But the military timetable did not permit that."
2010 Jul 27

Hans Blix to appear at Iraq inquiry

Hans Blix has accused the US and UK of
dramatising intelligence on Iraq's weapons [EPA]

Source: Al Jazeera

Hans Blix, the former head of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, is to give evidence before a British public inquiry into the 2003 conflict.

The Swedish diplomat, who previously called the invasion a "tragedy" and "spectacular failure", is expected to speak about his tense relationships with former US and UK leaders in the run up to the war.

Blix revealed earlier this year that he had urged Tony Blair in the month before the invasion, to consider the possibility that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

He has also accused the UK and US governments of dramatising the limited intelligence on Iraq's weapons, saying: "The allied powers were on thin ice, but they preferred to replace question marks with exclamation marks".

Blix, who conducted inspections in Iraq from November 2002 to March 2003, had warned Saddam of "serious consequences" if he failed to co-operate with his team and comply with UN Security Council resolution 1441.

Retrospective Gloss

Earlier this year, Blair told the inquiry in London that Blix had been clear in his reports in the run-up to the war that Saddam was not complying with international demands.

"Hans Blix obviously takes a certain view now," he told the hearing.

"I have to say in my conversations with him then it was a little different."

Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, also suggested that Blix may have applied a retrospective "gloss" to his actions at the time.

"There are some of those who were involved who sought to give an account of what they were saying at the time without gloss," he told the inquiry earlier this year.

"There are others who have sought to give an account of what they thought they were saying at the time with gloss, and I think the jury is out on which camp Dr Blix is in."

But critics of the war say that Blix should have been given more time to establish whether or not Saddam was hiding stocks of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.

Blix is the first foreign witness to give evidence at a public hearing of the inquiry, though others have spoken to the five-member panel, headed by John Chilcot, a former civil servant, in private during visits to the US and France.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

US needs lesson in 'secret-keeping'

The documents are consistent with common perceptions of the war. Most of the leaked reports are accounts of small-scale incidents [AFP]

By: Robert Grenier

Source: Al Jazeera

The WikiLeaks website supposedly carrying some 91,000 US military reports from Afghanistan makes for oddly mesmerising reading.

Having only dedicated a few hours to the task, I can hardly claim even a cursory appreciation for what is there and what it represents. Like most of us, I am forced to rely to a large degree for now on the analyses provided by those media outlets which have had weeks to study and begin to digest the mass of documents.

To this reader, however, there are a few initial impressions that emerge from a quick perusal.

Minimal damage

The first is that this supposedly blockbuster trove is, in fact, highly underwhelming. The vast majority of the reports are very cursory, almost shorthand accounts of discrete, small-scale incidents: An improvised-explosive-device (IED) attack here, a small-scale ambush there, a couple of rockets fired at a location to no apparent effect somewhere else.

Many of the incidents are reported from other sources, and involve no US or coalition forces at all: Attacks on local officials or Afghan security forces, various kidnappings or, frequently, seemingly random and indiscriminate Afghan-on-Afghan attacks or bombings in which local civilians are the sole, and tragic, casualties.

Of course, there are many other reports of actual combat involving US forces engaged in direct fire, calling in air support, and so forth. Even these, reported in military shorthand, are oddly bloodless, although the reality they describe may be anything but.

For the most part, it is only in the aggregate that the beginnings of a coherent picture begin to emerge from these documents - a picture of an evolving war in which foreign forces shift from a posture involving isolated "Forward Operating Bases" to one in which they attempt to sweep insurgents from populated areas, all the while engaging with enigmatic, hard-to-identify enemies with seemingly obscure motives - and, yes, all too often with unintended consequences for Afghan civilians.

In short, there seem to be very few real surprises in these documents, which are consistent with the common understanding of what this war is like. All that is unusual, in fact, is the ground-level perspective these documents relentlessly convey.

Even the supposedly controversial revelations from secondary sources who have reviewed the WikiLeaks documents in detail - those involving double-dealing skullduggery by the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI, or collusion of the Pakistani military with Afghan insurgents - in essence represent nothing new.

Pakistani ISI bet-hedging contacts with Afghan insurgents and plotting against Indian interests are already well-known, while some of the more colourful stories, involving exploding Qurans or the alleged plotting of retired General Hamid Gul, the former director-general of the ISI, with Arabs from al-Qaeda are simply laughable: These are more of the ubiquitous rumours unendingly hatched by imaginative Afghans for credulous foreigners.

The reflections in some reports of US frustrations with Pakistani military forces, whose inaction in the face of cross-border activities by Pakistan-based militants have often appeared to American eyes as passive collusion with the enemy, are genuine enough. But most frequently what appears as collusion is in fact simple refusal on the part of the Pakistanis to get involved in what vulnerable commanders see as someone else's fight.

It is hard to disagree with the reported initial conclusion of the Pentagon that there is little real damage to US forces or to the coalition war effort represented in these leaked documents. One could perhaps draw from them certain conclusions about patterns of US response to attack, or military capabilities in certain sectors, but most such indications are so dated as not to be useful to an enemy.

Checks and balances

Indeed, while these documents are breathlessly referred to as "secret", the ones I viewed appeared to carry no classification at all, and in fact should more accurately have been classified as merely "confidential", or perhaps even "sensitive but unclassified".

No doubt there are genuinely sensitive documents among those currently revealed by WikiLeaks - to say nothing of the reported 15,000 being "reviewed as part of a harm minimisation process" at the insistence of the WikiLeaks source.

All in all, however, from available accounts - and political embarrassment with the Pakistanis aside - there seems to be very little in this material which would genuinely constitute "serious damage" to US national security - the definition of an appropriately-classified "secret" document.

Indeed, the greatest potential harm arising from this massive leak, from this observer's perspective, is the further evidence it presents - if any were needed - of the US government's inability to keep a secret.

Even if the harm seems generally marginal in this case, such indications of unreliability can only limit the willingness of potential sources of genuine information, in Afghanistan or anywhere else for that matter, to divulge sensitive information to US officials.

It must also have a potentially chilling effect on US military report writers themselves, who now have reason to believe that they are in fact writing for a general, global audience. It cannot be a boost to greater clarity or candor for them to suppose that what they are writing is likely to come into the hands of those motivated to present such information in a tendentious and negative context.

The US system is built upon checks and balances. Where potentially sensitive national security information in the US is concerned, however, it often seems that the only effective check on what is published is the judgment and discretion of the publishers themselves.

For that perhaps small subset of illegitimately revealed information which is of genuine national security concern and should remain secret, the US needs to devise an impartial system for determining what leaked information meets those criteria, and taking effective action in such cases against those who violate the public trust: That would be the leakers, and not the publishers.

It would require another column to describe what such a system might look like, but something needs to be done.
Robert Grenier was the CIA's chief of station in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002. He was also the director of the CIA's counter-terrorism centre.

Russia critical of new EU sanctions

Source: Press TV

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has expressed strong disapproval of new EU sanctions against Iran's nuclear program.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said EU sanctions on Iran would hamper international efforts to resolve Tehran's disputed nuclear issue, Reuters reported.

"We have already said many times that we consider unacceptable the practice of unilateral or collective sanctions measures against Iran, that go beyond the Security Council sanctions regime in
operation in the country," AFP quoted the Russian minister as saying in a statement released on Tuesday.

The EU sanctions show "disregard for the carefully regulated and coordinated provisions of the UN Security Council," he continued.

The European Union on Monday adopted new sanctions against Iran which mainly target investment and technical assistance to Iran's refining, liquefaction and natural gas sectors.

Iranian officials have condemned the act, arguing that EU's anti-Iran sanctions were approved due to US pressure on the Western block.

"Sanctions… will only complicate matters and move away [the parties] from mutual understanding," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast was quoted by IRNA as saying on Monday.

Israel threatens Lebanon with invasion

Israeli Defense Minister and War criminal Ehud Barak

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020203

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned that Tel Aviv would strike directly at the Lebanese government, should violence break out the next time.

In an interview with the Washington Post published Monday, the minister said, "if it happens that Hezbollah will shoot into Tel Aviv, we will not run after each…launcher of some rocket in all Lebanon. We'll see the government of Lebanon responsible."

"We will see it as legitimate to hit any target that belongs to the Lebanese state, not just to Hezbollah," said Barak.

Lebanon's Hezbollah resistance movement, however, has repeatedly dismissed the accusations that it fires rockets into Israel.

The movement says such allegations are part of Israeli propaganda which aims to justify another invasion.

The Israeli regime has launched two wars against Lebanon in 2000 and 2006. The second round of the all-out offensives killed about 1,200 Lebanese -- mostly civilians.

However, Tel Aviv on both occasions fell short of achieving any of its objectives and Hezbollah forced the Israeli military into retreating.

Tension between Lebanon and Israel has increased in recent months as Beirut arrested several people on suspicion of spying for Tel Aviv.

Dozens of people, including members of Lebanon's telecommunications personnel, have been arrested since last year on suspicion of collaborating with the Israeli spy agency, Mossad

'US Psy-war plan includes 2 hot wars'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020101

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says the United States and Israel plan to attack two countries in the Middle East as part of a conspiracy to apply pressure on Iran.

"We have precise information that the Americans have devised a plot, according to which they seek to launch a psychological war on Iran," Ahmadinejad stated in an exclusive interview with Press TV on Monday.

"They plan to attack at least two countries in the region within the next three months," he added.

He said the US seeks to achieve two main objectives with the scheme.

"First of all, they want to hamper Iran's progress and development since they are opposed to our growth, and secondly they want to save the Zionist regime because it has reached a dead-end and the Zionists believe they can be saved through a military confrontation," Ahmadinejad explained.

He also advised US President Barack Obama not to follow the policies of George W. Bush.

In addition, he warned Russian officials to avoid playing into the hands of Washington because that would go against their national interests.

Commenting on the nuclear issue, Ahmadinejad said Iran will resume nuclear talks with the West in September, adding that Iran wants Turkey and Brazil to participate in the negotiations.

US vessel to break Gaza siege

Obama signing copies of "The Audacity of Hope"

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020202

A pro-Palestinian American group has reportedly initiated a humanitarian campaign to sail an aid vessel to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.

The "US Boat to Gaza" has begun attracting funds for the purchase of the vessel, Israeli newspaper The Jerusalem Post wrote on Monday.

The vessel, which could carry 40 to 60 crewmembers, is expected to depart in autumn with the ultimate aim of challenging the four-year-long Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli-imposed restrictions have deprived the 1.5-million Palestinian residents of the impoverished coastal sliver of food, fuel and other necessities.

"...together we will contribute to the great effort to end the blockade of Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestine", the organizers have said on their website.

The boat is reportedly to be named as "The Audacity of Hope," synonymous with President Barack Obama's popular book.

A friend of the president and the director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, Professor Rashid Khalidi, is reportedly advocating the effort.

"If the name is a problem for the administration, it can simply insist publicly that Israel lift the siege: end of problem, end of embarrassment," Khalidi said.

"That of course would require it to respond to the systematic mendacity of those in Congress and elsewhere who support the siege, and indeed whatever else the Israeli government does."

Preparations for the relief effort are underway amid continued international condemnation of the Israeli commandos' May 31 attack on the Gaza-bound Freedom Flotilla aid mission. The assault in international waters killed nine Turkish activists.

The bid is also supported by Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of the famous US peace activist, Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer in 2003 as she was trying to prevent it from razing a Palestinian home.

Israeli forces seized an aid vessel with the same name last month while it was on a mission to break the blockade.

"Given the national-religious hierarchy which determines what the (Israel Defense Forces) IDF can do to whom, the fact that the ship is American will make it harder to deal with it as the Mavi Marmara was dealt with," Khalidi stressed, referring to the Turkish flotilla on which the May bloodshed took place.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Ex-spy chief denies Taliban links

Gul has been accused of planning bomb attacks
in Kabul, a charge he has denied [Reuters]

By: Andrew Wander

Source: Al Jazeera

A former head of Pakistan's intelligence service has denied claims contained in leaked US military documents that he provided weapons and support to the Taliban.

General Hamid Gul's name appears in eight separate intelligence reports that were posted on the Wikileaks website on Monday as part of the biggest military leak in history.

Gul told Al Jazeera that the charges were a "pack of lies" aimed at implicating Pakistan in violence in Afghanistan.

"I have no involvement whatsoever," he said. "I'm not involved because I have no means and no wherewithal. This is absolutely, utterly wrong."

The leaked documents show that US officers gathered intelligence suggesting that Gul ordered suicide and roadside bomb attacks on Nato troops, and met with senior Taliban officials to plan operations against international forces.

If true, the documents would confirm what the Afghan government has maintained; that senior Pakistani intelligence figures are involved in arming, training and funding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Planning attacks

In one classified "threat report", Gul is said to have ordered the planting of magnetic mines, to be hidden in snow on roads, where they would attach themselves to passing military vehicles and could then be remotely detonated to wreak havoc in Afghan cities.

"Gul's final comment to the three individuals was 'make the snow warm in Kabul' basically telling them to set Kabul aflame," the report said.

Another accuses him of meeting with Arab fighters in Pakistan's tribal area to plan a series of suicide bombings in Afghanistan.

Gul is also named in a report that outlines plans to kidnap UN workers to use as a bargaining chip for Pakistanis imprisoned by the US in Afghanistan for involvement in the conflict.

But the former spy chief insists he is being used as a "convenient whipping-boy" for the failings of the US-led mission in Afghanistan, and points out there is no hard evidence against him.

"They took my case to have me declared an international terrorist to the UN sanctions committee and it was vetoed, or placed technical hold on, by the Chinese because they could not produce any evidence," he said.

Prior allegations

The leaked documents are not the first time that Gul has been linked to the Afghan conflict. Earlier reports have said he is contact with senior insurgent leaders, including feared commanders Baitullah Mehsud and Jiluddin Haqqani.

Gul denies having met the men and describes himself as an "ardent friend of Afghanistan," although he is known for his vocal opposition to the US-led military presence in the country.

"I consider American and Nato forces as aggressors- in pursuit of a vicious agenda for the region, especially Pakistan and believe that the Afghan national resistance is fully justified," he said in 2008.

He insists this opposition is "strictly a moral and academic position" and says he had "never provided any material or financial support to the resistance."

But Haroun Mir, the deputy director of Afghanistan's Centre for Research and Policy Studies said he thought Gul was indeed linked to senior Taliban figures.

"He is still very active in this insurgency in Afghanistan," he said on Monday. "He has been seen in meetings with top Taliban leaders."

Complete fabrication?

Reports naming Gul are among hundreds included in the leaked documents that implicate the ISI in supporting the Taliban.

Some of the documents contain allegations of elaborate and implausible plots.

One warned that the ISI and local groupss were planning to spike alcoholic drinks and "use them for poisoning" international troops in Afghanistan; another that the ISI were offering bounties on the heads of Indian workers in Afghanistan.

Some analysts have cast doubt on the veracity of many of the claims made in the intelligence reports, pointing out that few of the alleged plots ever showed any signs of getting off the ground.

"Just about everything which I have been through on this category is rubbish," Michael Semple, a former deputy head of the EU mission in Afghanistan, said.

"Not just rumour, but complete fabrication. This applies to the tales of the adventures of Hamid Gul. He is a man with a reputation and he is a propagandist, so fabricators tell multiple tales about him."

Pakistani agents 'aiding Taliban'

The documents reveal more detail than previously
released, including about civilian deaths [EPA]

Source: Al Jazeera

US officials believe that the intelligence agency of ally Pakistan, which receives billions of dollars in aid from Washington, has been secretly supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan, leaked records say.

Wikileaks, the online whistleblower organisation, published more than 90,000 secret US military documentson Sunday, revealing an unedited account of the nearly nine-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The unverified files say that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, the country's spy service, has been holding strategy sessions with Taliban leaders to aid their efforts in Afghanistan.

An ISI spokesman denied the allegations, saying they were "far-fetched and unsubstantiated," but said the agency would be examining the files.

Wikileaks' documents, which cover a period from January 2004 to December 2009, include descriptions of a covert US special operations unit formed to target high-level al-Qaeda and Taliban figures.

They say more than 2,000 leaders are on a "kill or capture" list, but missions to hunt them down have led to unreported civilian deaths.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, said he expected the leaked records would "shape a [new] understanding of the past six years".

"The real story of this material is that it's war, it's one damn thing after another," Assange said at a news conference in London on Monday. "It is the continuous small events, the continuous death of children, insurgents, allied forces, the maimed people."

Taliban dealings

The New York Timesin the United States, Britain's Guardiannewspaper and the German weekly Der Spiegelwere all given about a month's advanced access to the dosier, with each jointly unveiling their findings on Sunday.

According to the Times report, the documents suggest Pakistan "allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Talibanin secret strategy sessions to organise networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders".

Husain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to the US, called the release of the files "irresponsible" and said it consisted of "unprocessed" reports from the field.

"The documents circulated by WikiLeaks do not reflect the current on-ground realities," Haqqani said in a statement.

"The United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan are strategic partners and are jointly endeavouring to defeat al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies militarily and politically," he said.

The US government also condemned the records' disclosure, saying they could threaten national security and endanger the lives of its forces.

"The United States strongly condemns the disclosure of classified information by individuals and organisations which could put the lives of Americans and our partners at risk," James Jones, the US national security adviser, said.

"These irresponsible leaks will not impact our ongoing commitment to deepen our partnerships with Afghanistan and Pakistan; to defeat our common enemies."

'Grimmer picture'

According to the records, the US has tried to cover up the fact that the Taliban have heat-seeking surface-to-air "stinger" missiles.

The documents also show that the Taliban's widening use of roadside bombs have killed more than 2,000 civilians.

Eric Schmitt, one of the New York Times reporters who worked on analysing the files over the last month, told Al Jazeera that the documents gave an unvarnished view of the war, a "very fine grain, down on the ground level detail that hasn't been revealed before ... whether it's in firefights or drone activities, secret operations performed by commandos of the CIA".

He said they painted "a much grimmer picture and portrayal than either the Bush or Obama administrations have allowed so far".

Included in the many revelations of the leaked documents were also reports that the CIA expanded paramilitary operations in Afghanistan and ran the Afghan spy agency from 2001-2008.

Pakistan's ISI had helped establish the Taliban's government in the 1990s, when Afghanistan was wracked by infighting following the withdrawal of Soviet troops.

The country's leadership reversed course after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, agreeing to assist the US against the Taliban, which the US accused of sheltering Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader.

But US officials and analysts have persistently questioned whether all of Pakistan's security apparatus is on the same page, with some believing that Islamabad's main interest is to ensure continued influence in Afghanistan.

Iraq video

Wikileaks has become one of the biggest and most controversial sources of classified government information, even publishing a document showing that US intelligence had plans to shut it down.

In April, Wikileaks released video footage from a helicopter cockpit showing a deadly 2007 aerial strike in the Iraqi capital that killed 12 civilians, including two journalists from the Reuters news agency.

Army Specialist Bradley Manning, 22, was charged this month with misconduct and putting national security at risk for allegedly leaking the classified video, and has now been implicated in the release of the Afghan documents as well.

Sunday's released records consist largely of classified reports and assessments from junior officers in the field that analysts use to advise policymakers.

The leak is expected to put further pressure on Barack Obama, the US president, to get results in Afghanistan as he send thousands of additional troops to bolster forces already in the country.

Iran faces new EU sanctions

Further sanctions against Iran could hit the
country's oil industry [AFP]

Source: Al Jazeera

The European Union is set to adopt a new package of sanctions against Iran, targeting the country's foreign trade, banking and energy sectors.

The sanctions, which were agreed to in principle by EU leaders in June, will be the latest in a series of measures taken by the international community in an effort to disrupt Iran's controversial nuclear program.

EU foreign ministers were expected "to adopt a decision on a package of restrictive measures to be imposed on Iran in the areas of trade, financial services, energy and transport, and also a regulation extending the list of entities and individuals subject to an assets ban," a statement said.

It would include a ban on the sale of equipment, technology and services to Iran's energy sector.

The new European restrictions will come on top of a fourth round of sanctions imposed last month by the UN Security Council.

Western powers believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons but Tehran insists its nuclear program has purely peaceful intentions.

The Security Council endorsed the latest round of sanctions after failing to get Iran to accept a UN-drafted plan to swap its low-enriched uranium for higher-enriched uranium in the form of fuel rods it needs for a medical research reactor.

'Dramatic effects'

Al Jazeera's Laurence Lee, reporting from the EU headquarters in the Belgian capital, Brussels, said the sanctions could dramatically affect the Iranian economy.

"As well as things like stopping Iranian banks with links to the Revolutionary Guard from operating in Europe, the key thing is that in the future, European countries, which have very strong ties to Iran, won't be able to offer technical assistance to Iran in things like refining oil," he said.

"Iran is a major producer of oil, but doesn't refine it very well. If this block comes in, it will dramatically affect the Iranian economy."

EU foreign ministers were in their Monday meeting also expected to reaffirm the bloc's invitation to Tehran to hold talks on the nuclear issue.

"Our aim is to bring Iran back to the negotiating table," Werner Hoyer, a German secretary of state, said.

"We're offering our hand, and all they have to do is to take it."

Turkey's foreign minister said on Sunday that Iran may hold nuclear talks with the EU after the end of the holy month of Ramadan in early September.

Ahmet Davutoglu briefed the media after a meeting with Manouchehr Mottaki, his Iranian counterpart, and Celso Amorim, the Brazilian foreign minister, in Istanbul.

"Iran has stated that it is ready to meet with [EU's foreign policy chief Catherine] Ashton as the representative of the P5+1," Davutoglu said, referring to the group negotiating with Iran which includes the five permanent members of the UN Security Council the UK, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany.

Davutoglu welcomed the move and expressed Turkey's readiness to host the meeting if need be.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, has set three conditions for an eventual resumption of talks, saying countries who want to participate should make clear whether they oppose Israel's nuclear arsenal, whether they support the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and whether they want to be friends or enemies with Iran.

Chavez threatens to cut oil sales to US

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez speaks to members of his party,
the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), at a campaign rally for
upcoming congressional elections in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday July 25, 2010.

Source: Press TV

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez says his country will cease oil supplies to the United States if a military confrontation breaks out between Venezuela and Colombia.

"If there was any armed aggression against Venezuela from Colombian territory or from anywhere else, promoted by the Yankee empire, we would suspend oil shipments to the United States even if we have to eat stones here," he said on Sunday.

"We would not send a drop more to US refineries," he said to a roar of approval from thousands of supporters at a rally for his Socialist party.

Venezuela is America's fifth biggest source of imported oil, supplying about a million barrels a day.

Chavez severed diplomatic relations with neighboring Colombia on Thursday over public accusations from Bogota that Caracas was providing a safe haven to leftist guerrillas. He says Colombian officials and right-wing paramilitary units have plotted his assassination.

The South American neighbors have kept bickering over the past few years and ties have been fragile. The fresh spike in tensions between Colombia and Venezuela has ratcheted up public unease about stability in the volatile Andean region.

Bogota and Caracas reached the threshold of a military confrontation in 2008 after Colombian military marched into Ecuador to destroy a cross-border rebel camp.

The present high level of antipathy between Chavez and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has also exacerbated the situation.

'Shameful defeat awaits US in 3rd war'

Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri warns 
US against a new war in the Middle East

Source: Press TV

A senior Iranian military official has described a third US war in the Middle East as another heavy defeat for the country in the region.

“The United States, which has already suffered two heavy, disgraceful defeats against Hezbollah and Hamas in the region, can start a new war with a third country to endure another defeat,” Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri told Mehr News Agency on Sunday.

Jazayeri made the statements after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made mention of the possibility of an imminent US and Israeli war against two Middle Eastern states in the near future.

"They (Iran's enemies) have decided to attack two of the regional Arab states, which are our allies, with the help of the Zionist regime to create a fear of decision-making in Iran," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying on Friday night.

Political analysts, however, believe Syria and Lebanon could be the two targets of Israel and the US in the region.

The Iranian top military official slammed recent remarks made by the Commander of US forces in Iraq, General Raymond Odierno, who had accused Tehran of training militant groups in Iraq with the aim of what he called destabilizing the volatile state.

"There's a very consistent threat from Iranian surrogates operating in Iraq," AFP quoted Odierno as saying in Baghdad in mid-July.

General Jazayeri reiterated Iran's support for the establishment of peace and security inside Iraq, citing Tehran's support for Baghdad as “strategic.”

“The Islamic Republic's interests in Iraq are actually that of the Iraqi nation,” he concluded.

Iran MP warns EU against sanctions

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Majlis National
Security and Foreign Policy Commission

Source: Press TV§ionid=351020101

A senior Iranian lawmaker has warned the European Union against imposing any additional sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its nuclear program.

“If EU wants to follow US policies on Iran and impose additional sanctions on the country, Islamic Republic will reconsider its cooperation with the member states,” head of the Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, said,

Boroujerdi added that the EU is a political union of 27 independent member states but, regarding Islamic Republic, it always follow US policies and can not make an independent decision.

The warning came just a day before the European Union is expected to impose unilateral sanctions on Tehran at a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday.

The EU reached agreement on Thursday on a package of sanctions which includes measures against Iran's oil and gas industry.

On June 9, the UN Security Council passed a US-drafted sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program. The US and EU have since adopted unilateral measures against Iran.

Iranian officials say that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty the country has the right to peaceful nuclear technology for civilian electricity generation and medical research.

Tehran has repeatedly declared that it will not relinquish the legitimate nuclear rights of the Iranian nation under Western pressure.

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