Saturday, November 21, 2009

You don't say: Outlook for tough Iran sanctions is dim

Well yes, we already knew the outlook for tough Iran sanctions is dim - USSR and China watered down all previous sanctions resolutions, didn't they? But as the Obama administration had about 10 months to prepare for this moment, you would've thunk they had thought about the problema and worked out solutions, no? Apparently not.
Don't ever take it for granted that the people in charge know what they are doing. No matter who is in charge - it just isn't true in many cases.
Of course, one guy knew what he is doing. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad  understood that there would be no sanctions and wagered that there would be no military action, and that he could make the US and other Western powers look like helpless idiots.
Why shouldn't they look like helpless idiots, if they are helpless idiots?
Ami Isseroff

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is shifting the focus of its Iran policy from talk to sanctions, but the prospect of winning early international support for toughened new penalties appears dim.

Equally problematic is finding a set of sanctions that would have a significant impact on the prime target of American and international worry: Iran's suspected pursuit of an atom bomb. Three rounds of U.N. sanctions, dating to December 2006 and aimed mainly at squeezing Iran's nuclear work, have had little apparent effect.

The administration may get an early indication of its prospects at a huddle Friday in Brussels with senior diplomats from the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Russia, China, Britain and France — plus Germany. Any decisions on new Iran sanctions, though, are likely weeks away.

The administration has tried for months to draw Iran into talks to resolve international worries that its declared intent to develop a civilian nuclear power network is cover for a secret nuclear weapons program. But the Iranians have shown little interest, while denying any clandestine nuclear ambition.

The diplomacy, while unsuccessful so far, may improve the administration's chances on sanctions by demonstrating to the Europeans, Chinese and others that Washington has at least tried to find an accommodation with Iran.

"Many of them are still instinctively against sanctions, but Iranian intransigence has put them in a bind," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a think tank.

President Barack Obama said Thursday in South Korea that because the Iranians rejected a U.N. proposal to ship the majority of Iran's low-enriched uranium out of the country, "we have begun discussions with our international partners" about new pressure tactics. He said "a package of potential steps" against the Iranians would be developed over the next several weeks. He was not more specific.

The uranium gambit was seen as a way of getting Iran to open up, but on Wednesday Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki appeared to close that door by saying Iran would not send its uranium abroad. The uranium, if enriched sufficiently, could be used to produce a nuclear weapon, although Iran insists it is intended as fuel to power a planned network of civilian nuclear power reactors.

If, as some suspect, China and perhaps Russia balk at imposing new sanctions on Iran, the U.S. could enact its own penalties and coordinate them with the European Union, as it has done in the past. The administration's first choice, however, is to get the U.N. Security Council to ratchet up the pressure.

One possibility is to strengthen existing U.N. sanctions such as a March 2008 provision for financial monitoring of certain banks with suspected connections to the illicit spread of nuclear technologies.

Both houses of Congress are considering legislation that would give Obama a broad new array of authority to target Iran's energy sector by penalizing foreign companies that sell and ship refined oil products to Iran. Despite Iran's large oil holdings, it has limited capacity to make refined products like gasoline.

Obama has expressed confidence that he can persuade allies to join him in getting tougher on Iran, given widespread opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran. But it's far from clear that China, which has strong and growing commercial and investment ties to Iran, would go along. Russia's intentions also are unclear, although Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in September that sanctions may be inevitable.

Stephen P. Cohen, president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development, said it's no surprise that China has not publicly expressed a willingness to consider new sanctions, even if it might eventually go along. More significant, Cohen said, are recent Russian statements suggesting possible support.

"This is probably why the president thinks that he can discuss sanctions now without it being blown out of the water within five minutes by the Chinese and the Russians," Cohen said in a telephone interview.

Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, is doubtful of a positive turn of events, in part because he sees the Iranian leadership in turmoil following a disputed presidential election in June.

That might be why, he suggested, Iran has shown little interest in a separate International Atomic Energy Agency offer to provide nuclear fuel for an Iranian research reactor in exchange for Iran's shipping the majority of its low-enriched uranium to Russia or another third country.

"You may have a political system (in Tehran) that is so fractured, that is so at each other's throat, that they are incapable of making a decision of this magnitude," Parsi said.

EDITOR'S NOTE _ Robert Burns has been covering national security and military affairs for The Associated Press since 1990


Thursday, November 19, 2009

AP: "Muslim countries seek blasphemy ban"

Allah be DELETED BY CENSOR! The.Muslim countries are seeking a "blasphemy" ban. Supported by the usual majority and the leverage of petroblackmail, it might just pass the UN General Assembly. Blasphemy is of course in the eye (or ear) of the beholder or auditor. In Iran, the Bahai religion is blasphemous for example. Strict Muslims believe that the teaching of evolution is blasphemous. Presumably, it would be forbidden to speculate on the honeymoon of Muhammad and his first wife, Aisha, aged 9 and similar subjects. It would also be forbidden to express doubt about proven facts of Muslim belief: Muhammad flew to Jerusalem in a night and tied up his horse at the Wailing Wall, Suleiman the Muslim built the temple (even the New York Times believes that it seems) and Ibrahim was the first Muslim. The penalty for blasphemy? In Iran it's hanging.  

AP Exclusive: Muslim Countries Seek Blasphemy Ban

AP Exclusive: Muslim countries seek UN treaty to protect religion from blasphemy


The Associated Press


Four years after cartoons of the prophet Muhammad set off violent protests across the Muslim world, Islamic nations are mounting a campaign for an international treaty to protect religious symbols and beliefs from mockery — essentially a ban on blasphemy that would put them on a collision course with free speech laws in the West.

Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that Algeria and Pakistan have taken the lead in lobbying to eventually bring the proposal to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly.

If ratified in countries that enshrine freedom of expression as a fundamental right, such a treaty would require them to limit free speech if it risks seriously offending religious believers. The process, though, will take years and no showdown is imminent.

The proposal faces stiff resistance from Western countries, including the United States, which in the past has brushed aside other U.N. treaties, such as one on the protection of migrant workers.

Experts say the bid stands some chance of eventual success if Muslim countries persist. And whatever the outcome, the campaign risks reigniting tensions between Muslims and the West that President Barack Obama has pledged to heal, reviving fears of a "clash of civilizations."

Four years ago, a Danish newspaper published cartoons lampooning the prophet Muhammad, prompting angry mobs to attack Western embassies in Muslim countries, including Lebanon, Iran and Indonesia. In a countermovement, several European newspapers reprinted the images.

The countries that form the 56-member Organization of the Islamic Conference are now lobbying a little-known Geneva-based U.N. committee to agree that a treaty protecting religions is necessary.

The move would be a first step toward drafting an international protocol that would eventually be put before the General Assembly — a process that could take a decade or more.

The proposal may have some support in the General Assembly. For several years the Islamic Conference has successfully passed a nonbinding resolution at the General Assembly condemning "defamation of religions."

If the treaty was approved, any of the U.N.'s 192 member states that ratified it would be bound by its provisions. Other countries could face criticism for refusing to join.

Just last month, the Obama administration came out strongly against efforts by Islamic nations to bar the defamation of religions, saying the moves would restrict free speech.

"Some claim that the best way to protect the freedom of religion is to implement so-called anti-defamation policies that would restrict freedom of expression and the freedom of religion," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "I strongly disagree."

But there are signs the U.S. is worried by the Islamic Conference campaign. Behind the scenes it has been lobbying hard to quash the proposal, dispatching a senior U.S. diplomat to Geneva last month for talks described as akin to trench warfare.

"The U.S. presence can be significant in determining the whole destiny of the process," said Lukas Machon, who represents the International Commission of Jurists at the U.N.

From a legal point of view, "the whole exercise is dangerous from A-Z because it's a departure from the practice and concept of human rights," Machon said. "It adds only restrictions."

In a letter obtained by the AP, Pakistan said insults against religion were on the increase.

The Islamic Conference "believes that the attack on sacredly held beliefs and the defamation of religions, religious symbols, personalities and dogmas impinge on the enjoyment of human rights of followers of those religions," the letter said. It was sent last month to members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Complementary Standards, a temporary committee created to consider a previous anti-racism treaty.

In a separate submission to the committee, Pakistan proposed extending the treaty against racism to require signatories to "prohibit by law the uttering of matters that are grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion."

It's not clear who would decide what is considered grossly abusive, but each country's criminal courts would likely have initial jurisdiction over that decision, according to Marghoob Saleem Butt, a Pakistani diplomat in Geneva who confirmed the campaign's existence and has lobbied for the ban.

"There has to be a balance between freedom of expression and respect for others," Butt said in a telephone interview.

"Taking the symbol of a whole religion and portraying him as a terrorist," said Butt, referring to the Muhammad cartoons, "that is where we draw the line."

One American expert with more than 20 years experience of the U.N. human rights system said the treaty could have far-reaching implications.

"It would, in essence, advance a global blasphemy law," said Felice Gaer, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. The independent, congressionally mandated panel issued a report last week warning that existing laws against blasphemy, including in Pakistan, "often have resulted in gross human rights violations."

In Egypt, blasphemy laws have been used to suppress dissidents, said Moataz el-Fegiery, executive director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. Abdel Kareem Nabil, a blogger, was sentenced in February 2007 to four years in prison for insulting Islam and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

He said reformists who reinterpret traditional Islamic texts have also become the target of blasphemy accusations.

More broadly, introducing laws to protect religions from criticism would weaken the whole notion of human rights, said Sweden's ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Hans Dahlgren.

"Religions as such do not have rights — it's people who have rights," he said, adding that the European Union, whose presidency Sweden currently holds, would oppose attempts to limit freedom of speech.

The treaty goes against the grain of recent efforts by Western and Muslim countries to find common ground on human rights.

Only last month a joint U.S.-Egyptian resolution on freedom of expression won unanimous support in the U.N. Human Rights Council, much to the surprise of seasoned observers. "We will engage, and we're going to keep engaging," said Michael Parmly, spokesman for the U.S. Mission in Geneva.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, the Ad Hoc Committee's chairman, Algerian Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, said concerns the treaty could stifle free speech have been "whipped up into a bugaboo."

Failure to agree on a treaty would boost extremists in the Arab world, said Jazairy, a former envoy to Washington now considered a key player in the U.N.'s human rights forum.

"If we keep hitting this glass wall and say there's nothing you can do about Islamophobia — you can do something about anti-Semitism but Islamophobia is out of bounds — you give an ideal platform for recruitment of suicide bombers," he said.