Revealed: the letter Obama team hope will heal Iran rift

January 29, 2009

Symbolic gesture gives assurances that US does not want to topple Islamic regime
Robert Tait and Ewen MacAskill in Washington

Officials of Barack Obama‘s administration have drafted a letter to Iran from the president aimed at unfreezing US-Iranian relations and opening the way for face-to-face talks, the Guardian has learned.

The US state department has been working on drafts of the letter since Obama was elected on 4 November last year. It is in reply to a lengthy letter of congratulations sent by the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on 6 November.

Diplomats said Obama’s letter would be a symbolic gesture to mark a change in tone from the hostile one adopted by the Bush administration, which portrayed Iran as part of an “axis of evil”.

It would be intended to allay the ­suspicions of Iran’s leaders and pave the way for Obama to engage them directly, a break with past policy.

State department officials have composed at least three drafts of the letter, which gives assurances that Washington does not want to overthrow the Islamic regime, but merely seeks a change in its behaviour. The letter would be addressed to the Iranian people and sent directly to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or released as an open letter.

One draft proposal suggests that Iran should compare its relatively low standard of living with that of some of its more prosperous neighbours, and contemplate the benefits of losing its pariah status in the west. Although the tone is conciliatory, it also calls on Iran to end what the US calls state sponsorship of terrorism.

The letter is being considered by the new secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as part of a sweeping review of US policy on Iran. A decision on sending it is not expected until the review is complete.

In an interview on Monday with the al-Arabiya television network, Obama hinted at a more friendly approach towards the Islamic Republic.

Ahmadinejad said yesterday that he was waiting patiently to see what the Obama administration would come up with. “We will listen to the statements closely, we will carefully study their actions, and, if there are real changes, we will welcome it,” he said.

Ahmadinejad, who confirmed that he would stand for election again in June, said it was unclear whether the Obama administration was intent on just a shift in tactics or was seeking fundamental change. He called on Washington to apologise for its actions against Iran over the past 60 years, including US support for a 1953 coup that ousted the democratically elected government, and the US shooting down of an Iranian passenger plane in 1988.

The state department refused to comment yesterday on the draft letters.

US concern about Iran mainly centres on its uranium enrichment programme, which Washington claims is intended to provide the country with a nuclear weapons capability. Iran claims the programme is for civilian purposes.

The diplomatic moves are given increased urgency by fears that Israel might take unilateral action to bomb Iranian nuclear facilities.

The scale of the problem facing the new American president was reinforced yesterday when a senior aide to Ahmadinejad, Aliakbar Javanfekr, said that, despite the calls from the US, Iran had no intention of stopping its nuclear activities. When asked about a UN resolution calling for the suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment, Javanfekr, the presidential adviser for press affairs, replied: “We are past that stage.”

One of the chief Iranian concerns revolves around suspicion that the US is engaged in covert action aimed at regime change, including support for separatist groups in areas such as Kurdistan, Sistan-Baluchestan and Khuzestan.

The state department has repeatedly denied that there is any American support for such groups.

In its dying days, the Bush administration was planning to open a US interests section in the Iranian capital Tehran, one step down from an embassy. Bush’s secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, said that never happened because attention was diverted by the Russian invasion of Georgia. Others say that rightwingers in the Bush administration mounted a rearguard action to block it.

The idea has resurfaced, but if there are direct talks with Iran, it may be decided that a diplomatic presence would obviate the need for a diplomatic mission there, at least in the short term.

While Obama is taking the lead on policy towards Iran, the administration will soon announce that Dennis Ross will become a special envoy to the country, following the appointments last week of George Mitchell, the veteran US mediator, as special envoy to the Middle East, and Richard Holbrooke, who helped to broker the Bosnia peace agreement, as special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Ross, who took a leading role in the Middle East peace talks in Bill Clinton’s administration, will be responsible on a day-to-day basis for implementing policy towards Iran.

In a graphic sign of Iranian mistrust, the hardline newspaper Kayhan, which is considered close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has denounced Ross as a “Zionist lobbyist”.

Saeed Leylaz, a Tehran-based analyst, said a US letter would have to be accompanied by security guarantees and an agreement to drop economic sanctions. “If they send such a letter it will be a very significant step towards better ties, but they should be careful in not thinking Tehran will respond immediately,” he said.

“There will be disputes inside the system about such a letter. There are lot of radicals who don’t want to see ordinary relations between Tehran and Washington. To convince Iran, they should send a very clear message that they are not going to try to destroy the regime.”

Can President Obama Change Nukes Policy?

January 29, 2009

Wednesday 28 January 2009
by: J. Sri Raman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

What should the world expect from the new US president on the nuclear

The question may sound distant and largely disconnected from the current context, where the financial crisis looms as his administration’s first priority. No one can be blamed, however, for raising it, as nuclear weapons form one of the main issues on which Barack Obama differentiated himself clearly from his rivals – during the battle for the Democratic nomination as well as the war for the presidency.

Obama did so dramatically on August 2, 2007, when confronted with a
query about use of the ultimate weapon in the war on terror and against
proliferation. He declared: “I think it would be a profound mistake for us
to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance.” He then added: “Involving

Obama then said, “There’s been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That’s
not on the table.” That brought reactions bordering on ridicule. “It’s naive
to say,” sneered a dismissive John McCain, “that we will never use nuclear
weapons.” Hillary Clinton came out with a stronger-than-Republican rebuff:
“”Presidents should be very careful at all times in discussing the use or
non-use of nuclear weapons. Presidents since the Cold War have used nuclear deterrence to keep the peace. And I don’t believe that any president should make any blanket statements with respect to the use or non-use of nuclear weapons.”

“Presidents,” she added for good measure, ” never take the nuclear
option off the table.”

As president now, will Obama keep the terrible option off the table?
This and other questions of his nuclear outlook reflect more than ideal
curiosity in regions on which the new president’s foreign policy focuses. In South Asia, one of such regions, the questions acquire added urgency.

Before coming to the region with two nuclear-armed rivals, a little more
about what Obama has let the world know so far about his mind on the weapons of mass destruction that provided only an excuse for war to his predecessor.

In Obama’s inaugural address, the subject figured only in the sentence:
“With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the
nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet.” He, however, had made clearer promises during the campaign.

In a speech at DePaul University in Chicago in October 2007, he added
his voice to an anti-nuke plan endorsed earlier by a bipartisan group of
former government officials from the Cold War era, including Henry
Kissinger. The group had wanted the US to start building a global consensus to reverse a reliance on nuclear weapons that had become “increasingly hazardous and decreasingly effective.” Obama set a goal of eliminating nuclear weapons in the world, adding that the US must greatly reduce its stockpile of nuclear arms as well.

Speaking at Purdue University in Indiana in July 2008, he declared:
“It’s time to send a clear message to the world: America seeks a world with
no nuclear weapons.” He added: “As long as nuclear weapons exist, we’ll
retain a strong deterrent. But we’ll make the goal of eliminating all
nuclear weapons a central element in our nuclear policy.”

The promises compelled attention because of the contrast they presented to what the world had been hearing from the White House. As a summary by the New York-headquartered Natural Resources Defense Council put it years ago:
“The Bush administration assumes that nuclear weapons will be part of US
military forces at least for the next 50 years. Starting from this premise
it is planning an extensive and expensive series of programs to sustain and modernize the existing force and to begin studies for a new ICBM
(inter-continental ballistic missile) to be operational in 2020, a new SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) and SSBM (surface-to-surface ballistic missile) in 2030, and a new heavy bomber in 2040, as well as new warheads for all of them.”

Nuclear weapons were to continue to play a “critical role” because they
possess “unique properties” that provide “credible military options” for
holding at risk “a wide range of target types” important to a potential
adversary’s threatened use of “weapons of mass destruction” or “large-scale conventional military force.” The neocon regime wanted a return of the US to nuclear testing, even as Bush promoted the idea of battlefield nukes like bunker-busters.

Obama has never disowned the general declarations of his intent on
nuclear disarmament, but has increasingly been couching it in anti-terrorist terms. A more detailed “foreign policy agenda” delineated on the White House web site cites terrorism as the top-priority target of his administration’s plan of action in this area.

After recalling Obama’s record as a senator in taking congressional
action to counter “the threat of a terrorist attack with a nuclear weapon
and the spread of nuclear weapons to dangerous regimes,” the agenda states:
“Obama and (Vice President Joseph) Biden will secure all loose nuclear
materials in the world within four years. While working to secure existing
stockpiles of nuclear material, Obama and Biden will negotiate a verifiable
global ban on the production of new nuclear weapons material. This will deny terrorists the ability to steal or buy loose nuclear materials.”

The agenda is silent on US fears of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons falling
into terrorist hands, but these continue to be voiced. Threats of American efforts to “take out” Pakistan’s nuclear arms have been heard, from time to time, ever since the fall of the military regime of Pervez Musharraf, presumed somehow to have made these weapons pilferage-proof. Apprehensions in that regard have been revived after David Sanger’s article earlier this month, based on his book, “The Worst Pakistan Nightmare for Obama.”

Pakistan’s army and its civilian government have hastened to assure the
US of the safety and security of their nuclear weapons. The Pakistani media have made clear a public resentment, which Islamabad could not officially articulate, over the implications of what are seen as Washington-Pentagon insinuations. Indignant note is made of the fact that, while there is panic over Pakistan’s weapons, India’s nuclear arsenal is not seen as a serious problem at all.

The second task listed in the agenda – strengthening the Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – has an India link, too. The agenda,
however, takes no note of the blow that, according to the world peace
movement, the US-India nuclear deal has dealt the treaty distinguished for its increasing brittleness over the years.

Instead, the agenda says: “Obama and Biden will crack down on nuclear
proliferation by strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so that countries like North Korea and Iran that break the rules will automatically face strong international sanctions.” To many, the formulation would seem to reflect the false priorities that have weakened the “world nuclear order” that the NPT allegedly represents.

The only way to strengthen the treaty would seem to lie in serious and
sincere action by the leading nuclear powers on Article VI of the NPT. The provision, introduced under international pressure, says: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an
early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and
complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

The agenda, in fairness to its formulators, addresses this issue as
well. Talking of the third task of the new administration on the nuclear
weapons front, the document says: “Obama and Biden will set a goal of a
world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama and Biden will always
maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But they will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons.

They will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take US and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in US and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the US-Russian ban on intermediate-range missiles so that the agreement is global.”

This, however, is easier said than done. A weighty Bush legacy of
nuclear militarism is waiting to be lived down. Officially, the Obama
administration is bound to an extent by the interim report of a bipartisan
congressional commission, released as recently as last month, which talks about the US teetering “on the brink of losing the capability to maintain its nuclear weapons.”

The new president cannot listen to this argument and make the nuclear
leap he has promised. Daryl G. Kimball of the Arms Control Association
offers a strikingly different counsel: “If Obama directs the Pentagon to
conduct a congressionally mandated nuclear posture review on the basis of this ‘core deterrence’ mission, then Washington and Moscow could each slash their respective arsenals to 1,000 or fewer total warheads. This would open the way for Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge …”

Obama faces a challenge to his drive for a change in the US nukes policy
not only from the old policies he seeks to discard, but also from
personalities whom he prefers to retain in the administration. Reports about a conflict of views on a crucial issue between him and Defense Secretary Robert Gates have not been officially rebutted so far. Gates continues to press for a reliable replacement warhead (RRW) program, while the president’s agenda (quoted above) asserts without ambiguity that the new administration “will stop the development of new nuclear weapons.”

Obama has shown courage in acting for the closure of the Guantanamo
torture chambers, in defiance of powerful defenders of “anti-terrorist”
atrocities. Will he move forward towards nuclear disarmament in the face of inevitable opposition from the military-industrial complex?
A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the
author of “Flashpoint” (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular
contributor to Truthout.

Clinton Raises Prospect of Direct Negotiations With North Korea

January 29, 2009


WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton suggested on Tuesday that there could be high-level direct negotiations with North Korea, and offered the view that American relations with China had been overly dominated by economic concerns during the Bush administration.

In her first remarks to reporters as the nation’s chief diplomat, Mrs. Clinton reaffirmed the Obama administration’s commitment to multilateral negotiations with North Korea over its nuclear program, with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea also taking part. But she noted that there have also been bilateral talks within the context of the current six-party arrangement.

Turning to China, Mrs. Clinton said the United States needed “a more comprehensive dialogue” with Beijing, and noted that the strategic dialogue of the Bush administration “turned into an economic dialogue.”

In her brief appearance before reporters, she did not specify what other elements the United States would seek to emphasize in its relations with China.

Last week, the Treasury Secretary, Timothy F. Geithner, signaled a potentially more confrontational stance toward China, saying in written testimony to the Senate that China manipulates its currency.

Mrs. Clinton, fresh from a breakfast with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., seemed energized as she spoke to reporters Tuesday, and described a world yearning for a new American foreign policy approach.

“There is a great exhalation of breath going on around the world,” she said. “We’ve got a lot of damage to repair.”

Mrs. Clinton declined to be drawn out on two of the most thorny diplomatic challenges facing Washington: Iran and Afghanistan. Both, she said, were the subject of policy reviews.

Mrs. Clinton said little new about the maiden mission of her special envoy to the Middle East, George J. Mitchell, who arrived in Cairo on Tuesday.

“We’re going to await the report of the envoy,” she said.

Mrs. Clinton brushed off suggestions that the appointment of Mr. Mitchell and another special representative, Richard C. Holbrooke, would pose any management problems for her.

“We have already established a collegial working atmosphere,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Helene Cooper contributed reporting.

Obama’s Lobbyist Ban Meets a Loophole: William Lynn

January 29, 2009

from Time Magazine – Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009
By Mark Thompson / Washington

Last year the Pentagon paid the Raytheon Corp., its fifth largest contractor, a cool $10 billion for its missiles, missile shields and a constellation of electronics. This year President Barack Obama is putting Raytheon’s recently departed top lobbyist in charge of the Pentagon’s day-to-day management.

In Washington that almost qualifies as business as usual, except for a small detail: on the campaign trail, Obama vowed to stop the revolving door that lets onetime lobbyists go to work for the Federal Government and oversee contracts that could harm — or help — their former employer. Andone of the first things the new President did in office was seemingly make good on that promise, signing an Executive Order barring former lobbyists from joining his Administration to work at agencies they recently lobbied. (See pictures of Obama’s Inauguration.)

Not surprisingly, Obama’s good-government backers were less than pleased to see the President, only a few days after signing the blanket ban, issue a waiver permitting William Lynn to serve as Deputy Secretary of Defense. The lobbying loophole was allowed, Administration officials explain, because Lynn is “uniquely qualified” for the job. Realists at the Pentagon and elsewhere put it slightly differently, saying the President was simply acknowledging that people who know how to run the Pentagon generally have been involved in the process.

The episode is a painful lesson for Obama. Even though his team asserts that it has put into place the toughest rules ever against lobbyists going to work for the Federal Government, the only thing most folks will remember is that Obama made an exception to that rule for one of his top officials. (See who’s who in Obama’s White House.)

As with most Federal Government arcana, there are arguments on both sides of Obama’s leaky lobbyist ban. Lynn, Obama’s choice to serve as the Pentagon’s No. 2 civilian, got high marks for struggling to bring some accountability to Pentagon spending when he served as its top money manager from 1997 to 2001. By one account, he reduced the amount of undocumented Pentagon spending from $2.3 trillion to $1.3 trillion (before the federal banking bailout, only at the Pentagon could $1.3 trillion in undocumented spending be deemed progress).

But the idea that Lynn is “uniquely qualified” — the White House’s language — for the post is simply bogus. The phrase doesn’t mean merely good or talented; it means that Lynn, of all the possible candidates for the position, is the only person who could fill it.

“While Lynn may be well qualified, it is absurd to argue that he is uniquely qualified,” says Danielle Brian, head of the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, a watchdog group in Washington. “There are plenty of people with far greater business-management experience than that of a lobbyist.” Nonetheless, Lynn, who during his confirmation hearing on Jan. 15 pledged to “maintain the highest ethical standards,” appears headed for Senate confirmation. To ease some Senators’ concerns, he has promised to sell all his Raytheon stock and have his dealings at the Pentagon for the first year subject to an ethics review.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters on Jan. 22 that he pushed for Lynn’s hiring and the waiver it required. “I asked that an exception be made because I felt that he could play the role of the deputy in a better manner than anybody else that I saw,” Gates said. The next day, Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Lynn would be getting one of a “very limited number of waivers” so he could assume the Pentagon post despite being a registered lobbyist for Raytheon from 2003 to mid-2008.

Lynn’s defenders say it’s wrong to paint all lobbyists as evil. He has “precisely the kinds of skills required,” says William Cohen, who served as Lynn’s boss when Cohen ran the Pentagon during President Clinton’s second term. “The fact that he lobbied for a defense contractor should not lead anyone to conclude that he is now rendered incapable of exercising his duties with complete fidelity to Secretary Gates or President Obama.”

John Hamre, who was Cohen’s deputy at the Pentagon, says Lynn “didn’t do lobbying on a day-to-day basis” and is being unfairly lumped in with “bottom feeders” who have given lobbying a bad reputation. “Representing the interests of American citizens in Washington is a necessary attribute of our democracy,” Hamre adds. “People are conflating ‘lobbying’ with unethical behavior, and that is unfair.” Of course, when one of those people is the President, the argument tends to carry more weight.

War Toll

January 29, 2009
Those who were killed in Iraq from Jan 18 to 24:
Pvt Ricky Turner  20  Athens AL
Pvt Matthew Pollini  21  Rockland MA
Pvt Grant Cotting  19  Corona CA
Sgt Kyle Harrington  24  Swansea MA
5 were seriously wounded.
21 wounded were returned to occupation.
87 Iraqi brothers and sisters were killed.
In Afghanistan were killed:
Sgt Carlo Robinson  33  Lawton OK
Spc Ezra Dawson  31  Las Vegas NV
Cpl Julian Brennan  25  Brooklyn NY

Fallacies of a Surge in Afghanistan

January 29, 2009

Download the PDF: 6

January 14, 2009
By Tyler Moselle Research Associate,
Harvard Kennedy School Carr Center for Human Rights Policy

General David Petraeus of CENTCOM, a handful of American foreign policy thinkers and politicians, andmany NATO allies support a “surge” of military troops to stabilize Afghanistanand fight the neo-Taliban insurgency. They rightly argue that the U.S. and the West in general should help rebuild Afghanistan. They argue that increasing the number of troops similar to the surge in Iraq is the first step for providing relief. Yet, while a surge of military troops can provide short-term security, there are sixfallacies commonly utilized to support the argument for a surge that should be evaluated more closely to ensure Afghanistan receives the attention it deserves.

Assertion 1: A Surge in Afghanistan Will Stabilize the Country Only partially. A large-scale surge of American troops will likely bolster the legitimacy of the insurgency based on their image as anti-occupation fighters. In fact, increasing troops may attract jihadisfrom the region just as the Soviet invasion did in the 1980s and provide incentives for foreign powers to funnel funding and weapons to the insurgents as a way to undermine the U.S. (just as Iran did in Iraq and just as the U.S. did during the Soviet invasion).

Assertion 2: An Army and Marine Corps Style-Surge is the Only Solution for Afghanistan Wrong. While U.S. Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency doctrine has come a long way, any new military strategy in Afghanistan should be based on Special Forces, intelligence operatives, and potentially constabulary forces from NATO allies. The American footprint should be lighter, not heavier, in Afghanistan. Strategists and policy planners should evaluate the British role in Oman as a useful case study.

Assertion 3: A Surge is Necessary to Provide Security for a Political Solution Poor assumption. The multitude of tribes, ethnic groups, and religious leaders in Afghanistan must be enticed or coaxed into a factionalized political federation to provide stability for the country. Insecurity due to Taliban attacks must be combatedby the citizens of Afghanistan based on alliances between tribes. Moreover, Americans are delusional when it comes to nation building. It would take roughly 10 years of a heavy occupation force combined with economic and social development to even start to provide a foundation for transforming deeply rooted issues in Afghanistan. American domestic political sensibilities will not support such an intense and long-term effort nor will the deepening economic recession. American forces do not want to occupy Afghanistan like they did in Germany, Japan, and South Korea — the only largely successful nation building endeavors in modern U.S. history. American policy-makers must articulate more realistic expectations.

Assertion 4: The Karzai Government Will Fall Apart Without a Surge False. Karzai already complained of civilian casualties resulting from U.S. airpower as a propaganda victory for insurgents. U.S. support for Karzai must remain behind the scenes so he can cultivate political will for a unified government. Karzai needs more support but less visible American presence.

Assertion 5: The Taliban and Potentially Al Qaeda Will Re-Establish Themselves Without a Surge Partially true. But Afghan citizens must provide a response to the worldview of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda is largely discredited as a political movement in many parts of Iraq because of its inability to provide a more appealing system of governance. Afghans already know what life under the Taliban is like. Provide incentives and support for Afghans to take back their country but allow them to do it and take the credit for it.

Assertion 6: A Surge Will Mitigate Insurgents Crossing Into Afghanistan From Pakistan Perhapsin the short-term. But the only long-term solution for the problem of radicalism in Afghanistan and Pakistan cannot be predicated on soldiers policing the vast border between the two countries. Pakistan must be enticed into dealing with the Pakistani Taliban through political, economic, and social tools. Americacannot solve the problem of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistanwith more military force.

Conclusion: The surge is not a panacea and may even be counterproductive in its current form. Many Western foreign policy thinkers, politicians, and military planners romantically believe that more force can stabilize and fix the country. The incoming Obama foreign and defense policy team must look far beyond the surge for solutions to the problems in Afghanistan.

Video: Jean Athey: Guard Shouldn’t be Used as “Backdoor Draft”

January 26, 2009


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