France’s highest appeals court has struck down a decision to release Georges Abdallah, 62, jailed in French prisons for 29 years, calling the Lebanese prisoner’s request for parole “irreceivable” on legal grounds.
He was granted parole on 21 November 2012, but the prosecution appealed the decision, and France has come under mounting pressure from the US and Israel to block his release.
“We don’t think he should be released and we are continuing our consultations with the French government about it,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters in January. “We have serious concerns that he could return to the battlefield.”
France’s interior minister Manuel Valls refused to sign Abdallah’s extradition order on the morning of his anticipated release in January, prompting protests and sit-ins at French centers across Lebanon.
Abdallah was sentenced to twenty years to life over his alleged involvement in the murder of two diplomats, an assistant to an American military and an Israeli in 1982. The court was not able to present concrete evidence against him, and he was imprisoned for passport fraud.
France’s court of cassation, its highest court of appeals, ruled against his release on grounds that Abdallah’s extradition would not allow for a one-year, electronically monitored parole period, compulsory for life-sentence convicts appealing for parole. His deportation from the country was ruled a necessary condition for his release.
The document detailing the court’s deliberations and ruling made no reference to the crime in question as justification for his continued imprisonment.
But Lebanese activists say there is still hope, and are holding out for an April 11 hearing at the Sentence Enforcement Tribunal (TAP), where they hope to challenge the appeal. It is unclear whether Thursday’s ruling can be contested, however.
“A case like this cannot be appealed based on the courts and France’s legal sources,” the prisoner’s brother, Joseph Abdallah, told Al-Akhbar.
Dozens of activists have gathered outside the French embassy to protest Thursday’s ruling, continuing months of regular demonstrations and sit-ins demanding Abdallah’s release.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has condemned the US over its plan to continue financing certain Russian NGOs. Moscow has accused Washington of meddling in its domestic affairs.
“We consider the statement by the US State Department official representative Victoria Nuland, saying the US is going to continue financing some of Russia’s NGOs through intermediaries in third countries, avoiding the Russian legislature, a blatant interference into our internal affairs,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aleksandr Lukashevich said in a statement on Saturday.
Mass audits of Russian NGOs started on March 21, on orders from the Justice Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.
The checks immediately sparked criticism in the international rights community, which labeled them an attempt to pressure activists. Russia has maintained the checks are regular inspections to see if NGO work complies with Russian law – legislation was recently amended to require that NGOs receiving foreign funding register as ‘foreign agents.’
Victoria Nuland, US State Department spokesperson, said that Washington’s NGO funding will continue unabated: “We are providing funding through platforms outside of Russia for those organizations that continue to want to work with us,” she said at a Thursday briefing.
The Russian Foreign Ministry believes the US is engaged in “direct instigating of certain non-governmental and public structures to violate legislation related to the work of non-governmental organisations in the Russian Federation,” according to Lukashevich’s statement.
Russian diplomats were also incensed by Victoria Nuland’s description of the NGO raids as a “witch hunt.” Lukashevich’s statement described his American counterpart’s choice of words as “cynical and provocative.”
Moscow has said that its NGO policy is in line with generally accepted international practices. So far, auditors have reported no infractions in the activities of non-governmental groups, apart from one incident. On Thursday, ‘For Human Rights’ leader Lev Ponomaryov refused to turn over working documents to inspectors, saying that his organization had already been subjected to a recent check.
Law enforcers said the act was a refusal to comply with lawful demands, and started an administrative case against the activist.
President Putin on Friday asked Russia’s top Human Rights Commissioner, Vladimir Lukin, to monitor the situation with the NGO raids. “I would like to rule out any excesses there,” Putin said.
The US State Department has threatened Islamabad with sanctions if the country goes through with a joint multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline project with Iran.
“We have serious concerns, if this project actually goes forward, that the Iran Sanctions Act would be triggered,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday.
“We’ve been straight up with the Pakistanis about these concerns,” Nuland added.
The 1996 Iran Sanctions Act allows the US government to ban imports from any non-American company that invests more than USD 20 million a year in the Iranian oil and natural gas sector.
Nuland said the US was “supporting large-scale energy projects in Pakistan that will add some 900 megawatts to the power grid by the end of 2013.”
The threats came on the same day as the inauguration of the final construction phase of the multi-billion-dollar Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline, intended to carry natural gas from Iran to its eastern neighbor.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari attended the ceremony on the Iran-Pakistan border on Monday.
The pipeline is designed to help Pakistan overcome its growing energy needs at a time when the country of 180 million is grappling with serious energy shortages.
Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Oil Minister Javad Owji said on Monday that Pakistan has raised its demand for natural gas imports from Iran to 30 million cubic meters (mcm) per day from a previous 21.5 mcm.
Owji added that Iran has hitherto spent USD 2 billion to build the section of the pipeline that lies on the Iranian side of the border and that the Pakistani section would need USD 3 billion.
On March 2, Zardari said that Islamabad would not stop the pipeline project at any cost.
The Pakistani president stressed that his government would continue to pursue the construction of the gas pipeline despite threats and pressure from the US.
- Pakistan-Iran gas pipeline launched (morningstaronline.co.uk)
The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced it will close its offices in Russia.
After 20 years of working in Russia, USAID officials said they were informed by the Russian government that their services were no longer required.
According to the Foreign Ministry, USAID was attempting to manipulate the election processes in the country.
“The character of the agency’s work…did not always comply with the declared aims of cooperation in bilateral humanitarian cooperation,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website. “We are talking about issuing grants in an attempt to affect the course of the political processes in the country, including elections at different levels and institutions in civil society.”
Russian civil society has become fully mature, the Foreign Ministry said, and did not need any “external direction.” Moscow is read to work with USAID in third-party countries, it said.
In an interview with Kommersant, Dmitry Peskov, President Putin’s press-secretary, suggested that the US agency was not abiding by the rules regulating their work with NGOs.
“As all foreign agencies that provide financial support for Russian NGOs, USAID should abide by Russia’s legal regulations,” Peskov said. “As long as the Americans abide by these norms, we obviously couldn’t make a decision to terminate their activities on Russian territory.”
Moscow‘s decision to halt USAID programs comes after Putin in July signed legislation that requires nongovernmental organizations that receive funds from abroad to register as “foreign agents.”
The law requires that Russian-based NGOs provide information as to how funds received from abroad are being used in Russia.
The United States has denied that USAID programs are aimed at interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs.
US State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland announced the termination of USAID’s operations in Russia on Tuesday. The Kremlin notified US officials they have until October 1 to close the mission.
Washington began its USAID operations in Moscow following the unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time, Russia was a basket case, dependent on IMF loan transfusions just to keep its head above water. USAID spent more than $2.6 billion in Russia on various projects, like cleaning up the environment and fighting against infectious diseases.
Russia’s domestic situation began to turn around, however, when the presidency passed from Boris Yeltsin to Vladimir Putin. Today, Russia has not only returned its debts, but is now a lender of last resort for countries hammered by the 2008 financial crisis.
Although Russia’s reversal of fortunes is often explained by its vast natural resources, political will also played a significant role in the progress.
Since Russia no longer sees itself as a charity case, USAID activities were increasingly viewed as not only redundant, but even a little humiliating.
Aside from the growing irrelevance of such foreign-sponsored activities, there was the nagging suspicion inside Russia that these agencies served as fronts for purely political motives.
This year, for example, USAID was allotted $50 million to finance its Russia activities. Approximately 60 per cent of the budget was to be used for promoting democracy and human rights. This represents a dramatic increase compared with the former Bush administration.
- Russia Closes USAID Office (themoscowtimes.com)
The United States has predicted that another Houla-style massacre will occur in Syria and has even mentioned exact locations.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said on Monday that the Syrian government “may be organizing another massacre, this time in the village of al-Haffa, in Latakia province, as well as in the towns Deir el-Zour, in Daraa, in Homs, in Hama, and in suburbs of Damascus.”
She accused Damascus of using new tactics of repression but made no mention of the armed gangs’ failure to abide by the joint UN-Arab League peace plan, brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan.
In 15 months of violence in Syria, the Houla massacre, in which over 100 civilians were killed in the western town on May 25, was the worst incident.
A Syrian government-appointed fact-finding mission has said armed groups carried out the Houla massacre to frame the government and foment sectarian strife.
But anti-government groups say Syrian government forces were the perpetrators of the acts of carnage in Houla.
Annan’s six-point plan, effective from mid-April, calls for the establishment of a cease-fire between the government and the opposition and also says humanitarian groups should be allowed to have access to the population, detainees should be released, and a political dialogue should be started.
The unrest in Syria began in March 2011, with demonstrations being held both against and in support of President Assad’s government.
The West and the Syrian opposition accuse the government of killing protesters, but Damascus blames “outlaws, saboteurs, and armed terrorist groups” for the unrest, insisting that it is being orchestrated from abroad.
- Propaganda War: The Houla Massacre Committed by The West’s “Free Syrian Army” But They Accuse Syrian Gov’t (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Reconsidering The Houla Massacre – OpEd (eurasiareview.com)
- Syrian government denies involvement in Houla massacre (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In a coordinated move, Western countries on Tuesday moved to expel Syrian envoys and diplomats “in protest at the massacre of Houla.”
Countries of US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and Canada expelled the diplomats as Belgium summoned the Syrian ambassador.
The United States ordered the expulsion of Syria’s top diplomat.
“We hold the Syrian government responsible for this slaughter of innocent lives,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, informing charge d’affaires Zuheir Jabbour that he had 72 hours to leave the country.
In Paris, President Francois Hollande told journalists that France’s decision to expel Ambassador Lamia Shakkur, which would be formally communicated to her on Tuesday or Wednesday, was “not a unilateral decision by France, but a decision agreed upon with (our) partners.”
In Berlin, national news agency DPA reported that Germany too would expel the Syrian ambassador in protest.
A government source in Britain said the country had also expelled its top Syrian envoy.
“The charge d’affaires is being expelled. The foreign secretary will give more details soon,” the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Syria had already withdrawn its ambassador from London.
“There was a concerted plan between Britain, France and Germany,” said another source, who asked not to be identified.
Rome also took a similar move as its government said in statement: “Ambassador Khaddour Hasan was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told he was ‘persona non grata’.”
Italy expressed its “indignation for the heinous crimes carried out against the civilian population,” the statement added.
Madrid said it was expelling the Syrian ambassador in protest against the “unacceptable repression by the Syrian regime against its own people”.
“Spain has decided to declare the Syrian ambassador in Spain, Hussam Edin Aala, persona non grata because of the unacceptable repression carried out by the Syrian regime against its own people,” the foreign ministry said.
“Spain has also decided to expel four other members of Syria’s diplomatic mission in Spain,” it added in a statement.
The Netherlands also declared Syria’s ambassador to the country as “persona non-grata”, the Dutch foreign affairs minister said.
“I have decided to declare the Syrian ambassador as a persona non-grata,” Uri Rosenthal said in a statement, adding that “we cannot co-operate with a country headed by such a president,” referring to Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, Canada expelled all Syrian diplomats, with its Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said: “Canada and our partners are speaking loudly, with one voice, in saying these Syrian representatives are not welcome in our countries while their masters in Damascus continue to perpetrate their heinous and murderous acts.”
“Today, Canada is expelling all Syrian diplomats remaining in Ottawa. They and their families have five days to leave Canada,” the minister said in a statement.
A Syrian diplomat awaiting passage to Ottawa from Syria will be refused entry into Canada, Baird added.
For its part, Belgium summoned Syria’s ambassador to meet Foreign Minister Didier Reynders later Tuesday.
“The ambassador has been summoned at 1800 hours (1600 GMT),” the minister’s office said.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, whose relationship with President Obama dates back to Obama’s days in the Senate, made headlines this week with his statement, in an address to Israel’s bar association, that America’s military option against Iran is “not just available,” but “ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready,” see here. Commenting on these remarks, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said today, see here,
“Let me just make clear that Ambassador Shapiro’s comments were designed to reflect completely what the President has said all along, which is that even as we move forward with the P5+1 discussions with Iran and hope that we can settle these issues through diplomacy, that we nonetheless take no option off the table.”
Against these remarks by Ambassador Shapiro and Ms. Nuland, we juxtapose one of the more striking pieces of commentary we have read since last month’s nuclear talks in Istanbul between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 countries—an article from Mehdi Mohammadi, published in Kayhan. Mohammadi has written important and insightful pieces in the past. We provide below an English translation, titled “What Did Not Take Place,” below. For the original text, see here.
Mohammadi’s analysis is especially interesting with regard to the U.S. military option against Iran. In the middle of his analysis, he also makes an arresting factual claim: that President Obama, “in a letter written to Iran this past winter, announced openly that the military option from his country’s perspective is not on the table.”
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett
What Did Not Take Place
By Mehdi Mohammadi, domestic political analyst and contributor to Kayhan
A useful way of truly understanding what took place in the Istanbul talks [in April] is to analyze these talks through the lens of “what did not take place.”
From about six months before these negotiations and with the memories of the Istanbul I talks still on the Westerner’s minds, the primary concern of the P5+1 was that of how to force Iran to end its perseverance and to adjust its strategic calculus.
First of all, the most immediate issue for the United States and Israel was to halt Iranian uranium enrichment from progressing any further than where it currently stood. Therefore, a wave of “semi-hard power” operations in the form of cyber attacks, assassinating nuclear scientists, restricting the imports of certain materials and components to Iran, and most important of all, the cutting off what the Americans call the “source of funding” for the nuclear program has been undertaken. However, if we use the criterion of the expansion of installations and the amount of nuclear materials produced by Iran as a measure for the acceleration or deceleration of Iran’s nuclear program, these operations have achieved none of their goals. Scientists have been assassinated, but this affair has only convinced other scientists that they must work harder and take revenge for their martyrs. Cyber attacks were carried out against nuclear facilities but the only result was that not only did Iranian specialists learn defensive technological skills, but they quickly became capable of carrying out widespread cyber attacks in enemy territory. The sanctions prompted Iranian producers to search for new methods and in a short time this lead to self-reliance in certain areas which prior to the sanctions were dependent on imports. The financial resource for Iran’s nuclear program has not been cut off, since the increased oil revenue due to the psychological effect of the sanctions – keep in mind that the oil sanctions neither from Europe nor America have been enacted so far and it is all talk until now — has been much greater than the effect of the tiny amount of reduction Iranian oil exports have experienced.
Therefore, Iran was supposed to enter the Istanbul 2 negotiations with its nuclear program on the verge of bankruptcy. However, Iran entered the negotiations with the Fordo [plant] on the verge of operations, it had produced more than 100 kilos of 20% enriched nuclear materials and a few thousand reserve kilos of 5% enriched uranium, it had loaded the domestically produced fuel into the Tehran reactor and tested it successfully, and the determination of new nuclear sites had been completed and programs for the increase in nuclear production had been announced.
Western “semi-soft power” operations neither stopped nor slowed Iran’s nuclear progress, instead they had only resulted in the deepening, quickening, and immunization of the program and this was the first pillar upon which Iran’s negotiation strategy in Istanbul was founded upon.
Secondly, before the Istanbul talks, all of the West’s efforts went into convincing Iran that if negotiations did not go forward as some of the P5+1 members wished, the military option was firmly on the table. Based on a division of labor between America and Israel, Israel was supposed to threaten Iran with military attacks if it did not relinquish its nuclear program, and America was supposed to back up these threats. The Israeli theory was that if America did not approve of the threats, Iran would not take them as being credible, and the threats would not be taken seriously. However, was it really intended for someone to attack Iran? It has in fact been revealed that such a plan was not in the works from the very beginning.
The objectives of the American and Israeli military threat project were twofold:
First, the analytical consensus for the Israelis and Americans was that Iran would only cease its nuclear program when it felt that the pressure on its program was morphing into a threat to the existence of the Islamic Republic. The result of this Israeli presumption was that in order for Iran to cease its nuclear program, Iran must foresee the threat to its own existence, which is not possible unless Iran feels that the West is willing to even go as far as militarily attacking Iran in order to prevent its nuclearization. The reason that Barack Obama stated in his speech at the last AIPAC conference that his government’s policies in regards to Iran was not one of containment or prevention but rather intended to stopping Iran’s nuclear program, was precisely to send the message to Iran that America saw the risks associated with military confrontation with Iran as being less than that of the risks associated with Iran’s nuclearization. In sum, Israel wanted America to explicitly announce that all options, especially the military one, were on the table and to make the criterion for the use of such options very clear to Iran.
Second, the Israelis believe that the world would not accept the tightening of sanctions against Iran unless it felt that resisting against these sanctions may lead to the ignition of a new war in the region. The threat of attack, in essence, is a tool to force countries such as members of the European Union to tighten sanctions, and thus the analysis of some Western strategists is completely accurate that the most extreme option America and Israel can take against Iran is sanctions. The evaluation is that an attack is basically not one of the possible options, it is strictly a tool through which to make effective the sanctions option, a tool which they imagine furthers the effects of sanctions on Iran and also forces various countries to take the enforcement of sanctions more seriously.
Very well, so what has become the fate of this grand project of psychological warfare, and have the Westerners been able to bake any bread out of this oven they have built for the Istanbul talks? The fate of this project to create a credible military threat is truly quite full of lessons. At the beginning the Americans accepted the argument that if Iran sees a credible military threat on the table — and from America, not Israel — it will have a reason to back down. Therefore, American officials began threatening Iran by stating that their military capability for confronting Iran’s nuclear facilities is sufficient, that their plans for attack were almost complete and that no option has been excluded. However, astonishingly, the effects of this rhetoric were not at all what America had envisioned nor what Israel had predicted.
First of all, Iran quickly responded and conducted special military operations which demonstrated that not only could it defend itself against any attack, but if necessary, that it could carry out preventive operations before the enemy takes action and at a stage when threats are still being made. Subsequently, the Americans saw that their activities which were intended to keep tensions with Iran at a controlled level, could quickly slip out of hand and at any moment there was a possibility that a self-confident Iran could move America towards a deadly, albeit unwanted, conflict. The reason why Barack Obama, in a letter written to Iran this past winter, announced openly that the military option from his country’s perspective is not on the table, was exactly because the Americans saw that Iran was not afraid but in fact was preparing for war!
Secondly, the repeated threats against Iran drove up the price of oil (and as a result Iran’s revenues) sharply, doubling the stagnation of the the half-alive world economy, and with the unprecedented rise in gasoline prices, brought about serious domestic political problems for America and European countries. Indeed, the Americans felt that this ridiculous rhetoric is producing an opposite effect, it has not actually harmed Iran but instead it might at any moment bring about their own downfall and it was for this reason that Barack Obama stated visibly this past Isfand month (March) that whomever talks of attacking Iran are nonsensical fools who are lying to the American people about the potential cost of such an act.
The delectable result is this: while the project for creating a “credible military threat” was meant to make Iran scared and passive, it has unexpectedly and in a short time revealed the secret that the biggest opponent of this option is the American government itself, meaning the same government which was supposed to make the threats seem credible by putting on a show! Not only was the military threat without credit, but it was taken off the table not by the Iranians but by the Americans with unprecedented clearness, and the American representatives came to Istanbul knowing that the threats of attacking Iran were regarded by Iran as nothing but a bad joke and it was for this reason that neither the Americans nor the other members of the P5+1 even came close to expressing such threats [during negotiations].
Up until this point I have only discussed two of the factors which were supposed to occur at Istanbul but did not. There are at least three other factors which can be discussed but there is not enough opportunity to do so at this point. When these three factors are discussed properly and the arguments as to why these factors that the Americans wanted did not come into being are reviewed, then can it be clearly understood why the P5+1 participated in the Istanbul II talks from a weak position.
We are grateful to Mohammad Sagha, a senior in political science and economics at DePaul University for this translation.
TEHRAN — Iranian lawmakers issued a statement on Sunday asking the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany (P5+1) to respect Iran’s nuclear rights in the upcoming nuclear talks.
“We warn the P5+1 to respect the rights of the Iranian nation, act on the basis of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which is an internationally accepted norm,” the statement was quoted as saying by the semi-official Fars news agency.
The lawmakers urged the world powers to act “free from the Zionists’ (Israeli) pressures and change the policy of confrontation with the Islamic Republic to a policy of interaction, ” read the statement. … Full article
The US State Department says Washington will continue to support non-governmental groups in Russia, ignoring a warning by Moscow that the move could lead to a strain in the two countries’ ties.
“This is designed to support a vibrant civil society in Russia and to allow us to work with those Russian NGOs who want to work with us,” AFP quoted the US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland as saying.
The US official added that Washington has proposed to set up a USD 50-million fund in order to help the Russian non-governmental groups “to develop their skills and their voice and their ability to represent the aspirations of Russians to increasingly deepen and strengthen their democracy.”
This is while Russian Prime Minister and president-elect Vladimir Putin has repeatedly accused the US of using its so-called pro-democracy program to fuel the protests that erupted after December’s parliamentary elections in Russia.
On Tuesday, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also noted that Moscow continues to raise the issue with US officials but has not received a clear explanation about the ultimate aims of the funding.
“This activity is reaching a scale that is turning into a problem in our relations,” Ryabkov stated.
“We really are concerned that Washington is funding certain groups and movements in Russia,” he added.
Russian media has also criticized US Ambassador Michael McFaul’s meetings with the members of the anti-Putin movement since his arrival in Moscow two months ago.
Washington plans to take bids for the management of drone operations in Iraq over the next five years
US President Barack Obama has acknowledged Washington’s unauthorized surveillance drone operations in Iraq where the un-mandated move has sparked outrage among senior Iraqi officials and the public.
“The truth is we’re not engaging in a bunch of drone attacks inside Iraq. There’s some surveillance to make sure that our embassy compound is protected,” said Obama in a chat with web users on Google+ and YouTube on Monday.
The confirmation came after The New York Times disclosed that the US State Department began operating some drones in Iraq last year on a trial basis to help protect the US Embassy and that it stepped up their use after the last US troops left the country in December.
The report has infuriated senior Iraqi officials who say Washington must respect the country’s sovereignty and consult with the Baghdad government before carrying out any operation now that “the war is over.”
“I think that there’s this perception that we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes, willy nilly,” Obama said, adding, “It is important for everybody to understand that this is kept on a very tight leash.”
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also claimed that her department uses unmanned aerial vehicles to take pictures of US facilities and personnel abroad.
Meanwhile, The Times said that senior Iraqi officials told the newspaper that the US had not consulted with Iraqi government about the drone operations and that despite the official US withdrawal from Iraq, it maintains a strong presence in the country.
The daily said that since getting the approval for using surveillance drone aircraft over Iraq might be hard given the political tensions between the two countries, the US continues drone operations in the country without formal approval from Iraq.
It added that Washington plans to take bids for the management of drone operations in Iraq over the next five years.
- Iraqis terrified of US drones (rt.com)
- Iraq Is Angered by U.S. Drones Patrolling Its Skies (nytimes.com)
The country that has long been known to abuse its powers and privileges in the United Nations is now leading a campaign to reform the same organization. While UN reforms are welcomed, if not demanded, by many of its member states, there is little reason to believe the recent US crusade is actually genuine. Rather, it seems a clear attempt to stifle any semblance of democracy in the world’s leading international institution.
Most American politicians actually despise the UN. While the Security Council is directed or tamed by the US veto (often to shield the US and its close ally Israel from any criticism), other UN bodies are not as easily intimidated. When the UN education and science agency, UNESCO, accepted Palestine’s bid for full membership last October, following a democratic vote by its members, the US could do little do stall the process. Still, it immediately cut funding to the agency (about 20 percent of its total budget).
The move was devoid of any humanitarian considerations. The UNESCO provides vital services to underprivileged communities all over the world, including the United States. Yet, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, insisted on sugarcoating what was an entirely injudicious political act. “Today’s vote by the member states of UNESCO to admit Palestine as member is regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” said Nuland (CNN, October 31).
The fact is, there has been much sabre-rattling in the US Congress targeting the UN. The campaign, led by Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, chairwoman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, is threatening the UN with all sorts of punishment if the organization does not cease its criticism of Israel and tighten the noose around Iran. Naturally, the UN is not meeting the expectations of Ros-Lehtinen and her peers. It happens to be a body that represents the interests of all its member states. Some US politicians, however, see the world through the distorted logic of former president George W. Bush: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
The late British author and humanitarian doctor Theodore MacDonald showed that the US actually has a love-hate relationship with the UN. In his final book, Preserving the United Nations; Our Best Hope for Mediating Human Rights, MacDonald reveals a strange reality: that the US and its allies labor to undermine the UN, while also using it to further their own military, political and economic objectives. Expectedly, successive US governments had mastered the art of political manipulation at the UN. When successfully co-opted to accommodate US military designs, the UN suddenly becomes true to its mission – per Washington’s account, of course. However, when US pressures failed to yield a unified front against Iraq in late 2002, President Bush asked in his first address to the United Nations, on September 12, 2002: “Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?”
The Bush years were rife with such ultimatums – to the UN and the whole world. However, a similar attitude continues to define the administration of Barack Obama. The US latest assault on the UN is now happening under the guise of reforms, but no ‘reforms’ are possible without first creating the needed polarization aimed at pushing for an American agenda. Joe Torsella, the US Deputy Ambassador for Management and Reform of the United Nation, spoke of the latest US efforts at reining in the 47-nation Geneva-based Human Rights Council. “The US will work to forge a new coalition at the UN in New York, a kind of ‘credibility caucus’ to promote truly competitive elections, rigorous application of membership criteria, and other reforms aimed at keeping the worst offenders on the sidelines,” he said (Reuters, Jan 20).
UNHRC is an outspoken critic of human rights violations. As of late, the organization has been particularity vocal regarding the rights violations underway in Syria. It is also very critical of Israel and its one-sided wars and human rights violations in Gaza and the rest of the occupied territories. For years, the US has conspired to undercut, intimidate and silence this criticism.
The Reuters report on the US latest push for the supposed reforms states: “Council members include China, Russia and other countries where rights groups say abuses are commonplace.” To offset the seeming inconsistency – between UNHRC mission and its members’ records – the US, according to Torsella, wants to “hold Human Rights Council members to the same standard of truly free and fair elections that the U.N. promotes around the world, and insist on the highest standards of integrity for the Council and all its members.” Viewed without context, it is a noble endeavor indeed. However, it becomes a tainted statement when one considers that the US status at the UN has been achieved through the least democratic of all means: a disproportionate political power (the veto) and money (used for arm-twisting).
Attempting to curb and contain the UN, as opposed to punishing and boycotting the international body, is basically what sets Democrats apart from Republicans. Unlike Republicans, “the other side of the debate (mostly Democrats) believes that achieving these reforms requires strong American leadership – and strong leadership is demonstrated by paying dues on time and in full. You can call this side ‘constructive engagement,’” wrote Mark Leon Goldberg in the UN Dispatch (January 20). Practically, both approaches are aimed at achieving similar outcomes: realizing US policies, rewarding allies and punishing foes – even at the expense of the noble mission once championed by the UN over 65 years ago.
While the latest push for ‘reforms’ is being hailed by Washington’s media cheerleaders, no honest commentator could possibly believe the US campaign against UNESCO, UNHRC and the UN as a whole represents a genuine democratic endeavor. In fact, the truly urgent reforms required right now are ones that aim at correcting what MacDonald described in his book as the UN’s “foundational defects”.
MacDonald counseled for immediate addressing of the “issue of permanent membership and the use of the veto”. He also recommended the granting of greater power to the General Assembly and eliminating the “imposed use of the US dollar” in mediating UN transitional affairs. MacDonald’s guidelines for reforms are comprehensive, and rely on the concept of equality, guided by humanitarian and moral urgencies.
The same can hardly be said of Washington’s latest UN intrigues and shady politics.
- Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an internationally-syndicated columnist and the editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London).