FPI Overnight Brief: May 21, 2009
The New York Times reports that "An unreleased Pentagon report provides new details concluding that about one in seven of the 534 prisoners already transferred abroad from the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has returned to terrorism or militant activity, according to administration officials. The conclusion could strengthen the arguments of critics who have warned against releasing any more prisoners as part of President Obama's plan to shut down the prison by January 2010."
The Washington Post reports that "President Obama will attempt today to answer critics of his dismantling of Bush-era policies on detention and interrogation, in a speech reminding Americans that strong national security and adherence to laws and national values are not mutually exclusive. Beyond this lofty reassurance, senior administration officials said, Obama will also repeat the case he made on his third day in office that the Bush administration's system of dealing with 'enemy combatants' -- resulting in three prosecutions in seven years and challenged by U.S. courts and allies -- was not sustainable."
The Los Angeles Times reports that "Iran's president announced the successful test launch of an advanced surface-to-surface solid-fuel missile Wednesday that could reach Israel and other potential targets across the Middle East... 'The defense minister contacted me and said. . . 'With divine intervention and the assistance of the Lord of the Age, the Sejil-2 rocket, which has very advanced technology, was launched from Semnan province,' Ahmadinejad told a crowd of supporters in the rural northern province, where he was campaigning Wednesday ahead of June 12 elections. 'It hit the target exactly.' In Washington, Obama administration officials said the test demonstrated that Iran has made progress in its efforts to develop a solid-fuel missile with a longer range than its older, Shahab series rockets. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates described the launch as "a successful flight test" of a missile with a range between 1,200 and 1,500 miles."
VOA reports that "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told senators Wednesday that if Iran obtains a nuclear weapons capability, it would trigger an arms race in the Middle East and beyond. She said the Obama administration is pursuing a diplomatic track on the issue with Iran but within a specific time-frame. Clinton said the specter of a nuclear-armed Iran has created what amounts to an 'alliance' among Israel and many Arab states..."
The BBC reports that "Iran's electoral council has approved the four main candidates for the 12 June presidential poll, reports say. They include President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is seeking a second term in office, the semi-official Mehr news agency said. Two leading reformists have also had their qualifications approved - former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi. Former Revolutionary Guards chief, Mohsen Rezai, can also run."
The Wall Street Journal reports that "The United Nations, which aspires to protect human rights around the world, is struggling to deal with an embarrassing string of sexual-harassment complaints within its own ranks. Many U.N. workers who have made or faced accusations of sexual harassment say the current system for handling complaints is arbitrary, unfair and mired in bureaucracy. One employee's complaint that she was sexually harassed for years by her supervisor in Gaza, for example, was investigated by one of her boss's colleagues, who cleared him. Cases can take years to adjudicate. Accusers have no access to investigative reports. Several women who complained of harassment say their employment contracts weren't renewed, and the men they accused retired or resigned, putting them out of reach of the U.N. justice system."
The Wall Street Journal reports that "Pakistan and India have begun sharing intelligence on Islamic extremists, with the prodding of the U.S., in an arrangement that represents unprecedented cooperation between the two nuclear-armed South Asian nations. Washington hopes the cooperation will get a lift from last week's Indian elections, in which the incumbent Congress Party won by a wide margin over a Hindu nationalist party traditionally more hostile to Pakistan."
Reuters reports that "U.S. authorities have urged President Hamid Karzai to create a new executive post to help improve day-to-day governance in Afghanistan, Karzai's chief spokesman said Wednesday. The matter was discussed during Karzai's visit to Washington two weeks ago but the president 'has made no decision on it, spokesman Humayoun Hamidzada said."
In the Wall Street Journal, Douglas J. Feith writes about the civilian expertise required to win the 'Long, Hard Slog' in places such as Afghanistan and Pakistan and notes that the Bush and Obama administrations have both supported the creation of a Civilian Response Corps with the purpose of lining up "civilians with expertise in water systems, police training, road-building, judicial administration, and other relevant fields and prepare them for deployment abroad."
VOA reports that "U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is losing the media war in Afghanistan and Pakistan - something she said must be reversed. She told the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Wednesday that militants broadcasting from radio equipment on the backs of pickup trucks are threatening and intimidating people. She says while they are spreading what she called the 'worst kind of disinformation' they have been more effective than the U.S. when it comes to strategic communications... Clinton says the U.S. must not lose the 'information war' in the region, and much do a better job at communicating its values and ideals to Afghans and Pakistanis."
The New York Times reports that "Leaders of the Taliban and other armed groups battling the Afghan government are talking to intermediaries about a potential peace agreement, with initial demands focused on a timetable for a withdrawal of American troops, according to Afghan leaders here and in Pakistan. The talks, if not the withdrawal proposals, are being supported by the Afghan government. The Obama administration, which has publicly declared its desire to coax 'moderate' Taliban fighters away from armed struggle, says it is not involved in the discussions and will not be until the Taliban agree to lay down their arms. But nor is it trying to stop the talks, and Afghan officials believe they have tacit support from the Americans."
The BBC reports that "Somalia's neighbors have called for the UN to impose a blockade on air strips and sea ports to prevent Islamists getting weapons and fighters. The emergency meeting of East Africa's Igad grouping also called for sanctions to be imposed on Eritrea, which denies charges it arms Islamist forces. Igad officials want the international warships off the Somali coast hunting pirates to enforce the sea blockade. Islamists have gained ground recently and control much of the south. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) said a recent upsurge in fighting which had killed hundreds of people and forced thousands from their homes has been 'exacerbated by an influx of foreign armed aggressors'. Leaders of the Islamist al-Shabab group have admitted having links to al-Qaeda and global jihadists."
The Washington Post reports that "The White House said today that President Obama has approved an agreement to help build a nuclear-energy program in the United Arab Emirates, setting up a congressional review of the controversial accord. The agreement was reached at the end of the administration of President George W. Bush, and left for Obama to shepherd through Congress. The new president's team sees it as a way to prevent Middle Eastern countries from building nuclear weapons under the guise of energy programs. Under the accord, the UAE agrees not to enrich uranium to run its nuclear plants, or reprocess spent fuel. Those steps could be used to create weapons-grade fuel. In exchange, the UAE can buy fuel and other materials for its nuclear-energy plants from U.S. businesses. The UAE has also agreed to intensive international inspections to show its nuclear-energy plants aren't cheating. American officials have described the pact as a model for the region, where several countries have announced ambitions to develop nuclear energy...The agreement goes to Congress for a 90-day review period. It goes into effect unless both chambers pass resolutions of disapproval."
Reuters reports that "The United Arab Emirates, the second largest Arab economy, has pulled out of the planned monetary union of oil-rich Gulf states, dealing a blow to their goal of establishing a European-style single currency. 'It's like France saying it wants to pull out of the euro,' Eckart Woertz, an economist with the Dubai-based Gulf Research Center, said today in a telephone interview. 'The single currency is dead.' The U.A.E. has expressed reservations that Riyadh, the Saudi capital, was chosen on May 5 to host the Monetary Council, a precursor to a common central bank... The Gulf Cooperation Council in 2001 agreed to form an EU- style monetary union."
Reuters reports that "The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved by a 95-0 vote a compromise version of legislation that would reform the way the Pentagon buys weapons. Negotiators for the House of Representatives and the Senate hammered out agreement on the legislation on Tuesday. The House is due to vote on the compromise version on Thursday... The legislation would create a new Pentagon office charged with estimating the cost of new programs and evaluating them once they got started. The director of that office would be a Senate-confirmed appointment, and would report directly to the defense secretary. It would put a bigger focus on testing new weapons before they enter production, ensuring that technologies were sufficiently developed, and would give military commanders a bigger say in framing requirements for any new weapons. The legislation also requires Pentagon officials consider the trade-offs among cost, schedule, and performance objectives when establishing new weapons programs. The bill also requires increased use of competitive prototypes and added tough requirements to a law that mandates termination of programs if they exceed certain cost thresholds."
Reuters reports that "The United States and Russia have held two days of successful talks on ways to slash vast stockpiles of Cold War nuclear weapons, a Russian diplomat said on Wednesday. Finding a replacement for the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I) before it expires on December 5 could herald a thaw in relations between the world's biggest two nuclear powers. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said the United States must allay Russian concerns over the missile system to achieve a breakthrough in the nuclear weapons talks. 'The fundamental principle of an agreement must be equal security for both sides and the preservation of strategic parity,' he told reporters at the 19th century mansion where the talks took place. 'This of course cannot be ensured without taking into account the situation with anti-missile defense.'"
The AP reports that "Russia's foreign minister warned Wednesday that U.S. missile defense plans must be taken into account in talks between Washington and Moscow on further reductions in their nuclear stockpiles. Sergey Lavrov said progress cannot be achieved in negotiating a new nuclear arms control deal unless the prospective European missile shield and other U.S. military plans are taken into consideration. Russian officials adamantly opposed the previous U.S. administration's plans for missile interceptors based in Poland and a related radar in the Czech Republic, saying they feared the missile-defense facilities might lead to a larger system that could give the U.S. a first-strike capability. They rejected the U.S. claim that the plan is aimed at the potential threat from Iran. President Barack Obama has put the missile defense plan on hold, but Russia wants the U.S. to scrap it."
Ken Adelman writes in Foreign Policy that "The 'Zero Nukes' movement got a big boost this week when two former U.S. secretaries of state -- tough-minded Republicans Henry Kissinger and George Shultz -- met with President Barack Obama in the White House, along with former Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) and former Secretary of Defense William Perry. It was the same Henry Kissinger who, after the October 1986 Reykjavik summit, criticized Shultz (and then U.S. President Ronald Reagan) for delegitimizing the role of nuclear weapons in keeping the peace over the previous 40-plus years. And it was the same George Shultz who defended the Reagan administration's buildup of nuclear arms before the Russians got serious about real reductions... So what's wrong with this picture? Or at least that picture -- Kissinger and Shultz advocating nuclear zero with Obama? I'd respectfully say several things to the well-meaning men in that photograph."
Reuters reports that "Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday defended cuts to U.S. missile defense programs, saying Washington would still invest in boosting defenses against long-range missile threats, like those posed by North Korea and Iran. Gates told a House of Representatives subcommittee that the United States had made "great technological progress on missile defense" in the last two decades, but it was vital to strike a balance between research and development of new programs and procurement. He said the Pentagon had enough money from its fiscal 2009 budget to start building missile defense facilities in the Czech Republic and Poland if those countries approve and the Obama administration decides to move ahead with the plans. But he said the administration also had 'great interest' in partnering with Russia on missile defense."
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