The following is an archived copy of a message sent to a Discussion List run by the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
Views expressed in this archived message are those of the author, not of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq.
[Main archive index/search] [List information] [Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq Homepage]
News, 18-25/5/02 (2) NEW WORLD ORDER * America the fearful [Excellent article on the culture of fear currently being cultivated by the US government: ŒThe destruction of the twin towers shows that there are things to be afraid of, but our government's mad responses are making us more vulnerable to such things, not less.¹] * Iran, not Iraq, cited as top terror sponsor [State Department report on terrorism. Includes the curious statistic that: Œthe number of terrorist attacks declined in 2001. There were 346, compared with 426 in 2000. And more than half of the year's attacks were on an oil pipeline in Colombia ‹ not in the volatile Middle East or troubled South Asia.¹. It leaves us very curious to know how the term Œterrorist attack¹ is defined. For example: why should an attack on an oil pipeline be regarded as Œterrorist¹? And why should the bombing of Afghanistan not be regarded as terrorist?] * The schizophrenic Russian-Iranian nexus [Long, interesting article on Russian-Iranian relations. Only an extract, on the dispute over oil production in the Caspian Sea is given here, unbalancing the article somewhat since the rest of it is on reasons for Russian/Iranian friendship and cooperation.] * US "planned to attack Iran in 2003" : Mohsen Rezai * Iran Diary, Part 1: Sea of peace or lake of trouble? [Iraq isn¹t mentioned in this article, but its Pepe Escobar on oil politics (in the Caspian) so in it goes.] * IRAN DIARY, Part 1: Sea of peace or lake of trouble? [Pepe Escobar meets the Grand Ayatollah Sannei in the Holy City of Qom. Sannei tells him that all human rights are guaranteed under Islamic law. So that¹s OK.] * Time to end cold war with Cuba [Well deserved praise for Jimmy Carter and his visit to Cuba and equally well deserved scorn for the present administration¹s attempt to trash it by suggesting that because the Cubans have developed an impressive pharmaceutical industry they¹re probably manufacturing chemical weapons, and probably selling thm to terrorists. Though a little unfair to blame the Cuban government for the country¹s poverty when they¹ve been subjected to US embargo for 40 years ...] * There is a firestorm coming, and it is being provoked by Mr Bush [Robert Fisk on the general none too encouraging state of the world] NEW WORLD ORDER http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/141/oped/America_the_fearful+.shtml * AMERICA THE FEARFUL by James Carroll Boston Globe, 21st May The more powerful the United States becomes, the more frightened we are. Why is that? An undercurrent of hysteria has coursed through the talk out of Washington over the last week as, first, critics demanded to know whether government officials had ignored warnings of the terrorist attacks of last September and, second, the same government officials - in response? - issued a new warning of coming attacks that might be even worse. The new warning is sharp enough to generate fear but too vague to enable any defensive preparation. In airports, citizens sheepishly submit to screening measures that are still administered with such incompetence that they can only enhance uneasiness - prompting the question, Is that the point? Meanwhile, the FBI admits it has no clue about the anthrax attacks, American soldiers remain on the hunt in Afghanistan, Pentagon war planners are getting ready for Iraq, and even Cuba is said to be readying biological weapons. The war on terrorism is not the only manifestation of heightened levels of our national fear. This week Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin will sign an arms reduction treaty that includes a US-sponsored provision allowing for the indefinite mothballing of thousands of disarmed nuclear weapons. Notice this: The United States, breaking with the primordial assumption of nuclear arms control, is now saying that the overkill supply of warheads must be preserved against future threats - as yet entirely unimagined. This marks the end of the hope, long shared by conservatives and liberals alike, that human beings might eventually wean themselves of these terrible weapons altogether. In one stroke, Bush has taken us from ''reduction'' to ''storage.'' He has reversed the most positive foreign policy track of our lifetimes, and he has done it out of fear. Here is the irony: The surest way to make the world an even more dangerous place is to posit danger as the most important thing about it. This week's treaty is the clearest case in point. America's determination to preserve thousands of excess nuclear warheads means that now Russia, despite its firm preference for elimination, will certainly preserve them as well. And what will happen over time to those warheads? When the urgency of keeping such material out of the hands of rogue elements is clear, the American move away from full elimination of nukes, especially in Russia, makes no sense. But that very irrationality is the revelation. We are like a nation that has had a psychological break and is descending into rank paranoia. The destruction of the twin towers shows that there are things to be afraid of, but our government's mad responses are making us more vulnerable to such things, not less. The ''war on terrorism'' has strengthened the hand of those who hate America. The US example of ''overwhelming force'' has pushed the Middle East into the abyss and has dragged India-Pakistan to its edge. The only real protections against cross-border terrorism are international structures of criminal justice like the recently established International Criminal Court, yet an ''unsigning'' United States slaps the court down with contempt. Since September we have squandered our wealth and focus on a huge war while neglecting police work and intelligence at home and abroad. Hence the vagueness of the current warning. And how dare our government set off alarms about Cuba's putative bioterrorism project while it has done nothing to apprehend the anthrax killer? Oh, and - forgive me, just asking - where is Osama? The Bush administration's warning about Castro's interest in bioterrorism could seem blatantly timed to deflect political pressures arising from Jimmy Carter's trip to Havana. Vice President Cheney's agitated Sunday alarm about imminent terrorist attacks could seem timed to defuse last week's long overdue political offensive by Democrats. The president's rejection, in principle, of arms ''reduction'' could seem to serve his larger political and economic purpose of restoring the American war industry to its place of preeminence. The president and his closest advisers, in other words, could be cynically exaggerating threats to our national security for their narrow purposes. But it may be worse than that. The shape of their dread is useful to them in these ways, but, also, like the mentally disturbed, they seem convinced that any danger they imagine is real. Our nation is being led by men and women who are at the mercy of their fears. That they work hard to keep the American people afraid might seem to suggest that they want merely to deflect any second-guessing about the course they have set, but in fact our fear reinforces theirs. Fear has become Washington's absolute and is shaping its every response to the future. America is being led by cowards. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/nationworld/134459081_terror220.html * IRAN, NOT IRAQ, CITED AS TOP TERROR SPONSOR by Warren P. Strobel Seattle Times, 21st May WASHINGTON ‹ The State Department yesterday identified Iran, not Iraq, as the country that most actively sponsors international terrorism. The finding was significant because the Bush administration is drawing up plans to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, arguing that Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties threaten the United States. The report provides no new evidence of Iraqi terrorist activity or any link between Iraq and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By contrast, the report cites Iran's growing links to Middle East terrorism. It says Iran has intensified its backing for Palestinian groups that oppose Israel's existence, supplying them and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah militia with "varying amounts of funding, safe haven, training and weapons," the department said in its annual terrorism report. Some Iranians want to end Tehran's longtime support for terrorism, but "hard-liners who hold the reins of power continue to thwart any efforts to moderate these policies," it said. These conclusions were included in the State Department's survey of global terrorism for 2001. After the devastating attacks on New York and Washington in September and the subsequent launch of President Bush's war on terrorism, this annual report has taken on a new significance. [.....] The report says the Iraqi regime focuses mostly on dissident Iraqis overseas. The CIA shares that assessment. The report credits two of the seven nations on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, Sudan and Libya, with progress in ending their links to terrorism in response to Bush's post Sept. 11 demands. The other three countries are Cuba, North Korea and Syria. Sudan and Libya "seem closest to understanding what they must do to get out of the terrorism business, and each has taken measures pointing it in the right direction," it said. Sudan has shared intelligence on al-Qaida with the United States and moved to expel some of its members, and Libya has provided information on a local Islamic group with links to al-Qaida, U.S. officials have said. Even Iran has taken limited steps to cooperate with the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign, the report said. Tehran's support for violent groups in Africa, Central Asia and the Persian Gulf is declining, it said. "There is no evidence of Iranian sponsorship or foreknowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States," the report said. The worst international terrorist attack in history struck the United States last year, accounting for more than 3,000 of the year's 3,547 terrorist-related deaths. But the number of terrorist attacks declined in 2001. There were 346, compared with 426 in 2000. And more than half of the year's attacks were on an oil pipeline in Colombia ‹ not in the volatile Middle East or troubled South Asia. http://www.atimes.com/c-asia/DE22Ag05.html * The schizophrenic Russian-Iranian nexus by Ehsan Ahrari Asia Times, 22nd May [.....] The Caspian Sea is a region where oil specialists have over the years issued a variety of figures on the size of oil reserves. While reading those estimates, one has to distinguish between possible, probable and recoverable numbers. For instance, in 1994 it was reported that the Caspian Sea held 200 billion barrels of oil. Later, that figure was trimmed to 115 billion barrels, or even less. In both instances, the numbers reflected possible and probable estimates only. In a recent report, the US Department of Energy issued an estimate of 233 billion barrels of possible reserves. But the Italian oil company ENI might have been closer to reality when its chairman, Gros Pietro, stated that the Caspian Sea contains only 7.8 billion barrels of oil. This figure reflected recoverable oil reserves. Five littoral countries - Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan - are claimants to the Caspian Sea oil reserves. The issue of growing contention is the formula of dividing the sea floor among those states. Russia has "authored a formula of dividing only the sea floor into national sectors", leaving the waters open to its dominant navy. Iran, on the other hand, "has sought common control of the entire Caspian Sea or a 20 percent share, while the Russian plan would give it perhaps 12 percent". Iran bases its claims on the "equal partnership treaties" that it signed with the Soviet Union in 1921 and in 1940. Despite numerous meetings among the littoral states for the past 10 years, a mutually acceptable formula has not been negotiated. Putin, after yet another failed summit meeting on the issue in April, stated that he would pursue bilateral and trilateral arrangements. That was unmistakably a not-so-subtle threat to leave Iran out of the negotiating process. However, he set off alarm bells in Tehran by flying from that summit meeting to the Russian naval base at Astrakhan, where he ordered a naval exercise that will be held this summer. And Putin was good to his word. Last week he signed a bilateral agreement in Moscow with President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to divide the natural resources of the Caspian seabed. With regard to the naval exercises, Moscow later attempted to calm Iranian concerns by stating that they were aimed at combating terrorism and drug- and caviar-smuggling, Iran got the message behind the sudden surge of militarism in Russia related to the heady issue of distribution of oil reserves. The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, was the ranking official who bluntly gave Iran's reaction to Russia in a public statement. "Iran and Russia have good and close ties," he said, "but the Islamic Republic of Iran is obliged to defend its territorial integrity and national interests of the country. We are neither an aggressor nor [do we] tolerate aggression. We hope all countries, including Iran, will achieve their fair share in the Caspian Sea." There is little doubt that neither Iran nor Russia would want to further ratchet up their differences in their quest for an acceptable formula for the allocation of Caspian Sea oil, for at least two significant reasons. First, given the currently somewhat depressed nature of global oil prices, it behooves both of them not to rapidly develop the Caspian Sea oil reserves. In fact, a case can be made that Iran and Russia as oil producers would want to postpone bringing their respective shares of Caspian Sea oil to the global market by at least by 10 years. Second, both countries are only too aware that they must maintain their nexus at a time when the US is enhancing its own presence in their neighborhood in the name of fighting global terrorism. The US military presence is indeed escalating in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, while Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have agreed to open their air space for the US to supply humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan. That reality, in all likelihood, would lead to further military cooperation among them. Both Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan have shown a high degree of interest in expanding the scope of security ties with the US, a development that both Moscow and Tehran are watching warily. Washington has also started training the security forces in Georgia, traditionally a country of significant interest to Russia. The durability of the Russian-Iranian nexus became apparent once again when Russian officials reiterated their position, prior to the impending Bush-Putin Summit later this month, that their country was not providing missile or nuclear weapons technology to Iran. Even after the establishment of the Russia-NATO Council on May 14, Russia does not seem to have lessened the significance of its long-standing ties with Iran. On the Caspian Sea related issues, even though Iran appears to be in a not too strong a negotiating position, neither is Russia, given its own concerns related to the growing American presence in Central Asia. Thus, Moscow and Tehran are likely to find a formula for sharing the Caspian Sea oil that is reasonably acceptable to the latter. By doing so, they would avoid the emergence of any deleterious tensions within their nexus. In the final analysis, doing their fair share for the emergence of a multipolar international system remains an objective of high politics to both Iran and Russia. This type of system, in their collective judgment, will be eminently more promising to their strategic interests than the extant unipolar system of America's dominance, which in some instances ignores their interests, or, in others, assigns them lesser significance than they deserve. http://www.iranmania.com/news/ArticleView/Default.asp?NewsCode=10325&NewsKin d=CurrentAffairs&ArchiveNews=Yes * US "PLANNED TO ATTACK IRAN IN 2003" : MOHSEN REZAI Iranmania (from AFP), 22nd May TEHRAN: A former head of elite Revolutionary Guards said the United States had planned to attack Iran next year after Afghanistan and Iraq, but had to change its plans due to "Palestinian resistance", the conservative Qods daily reported Wednesday. Mohsen Rezai, who is also secretary general of the Expediency Council arbitration body chaired by former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, said "the United States intended to initiate a war with Iran in 2003 after attacking Afghanistan in 2001 and disposing of the Iraqi regime in 2002". "But the Palestinian resistance in the (Israeli) occupied lands has destroyed their plans," he was quoted as saying. In January, US President George W. Bush branded Iran part of an "axis of evil" and named it as a potential target in the US "war on terror". Tehran and Washington cut diplomatic ties following the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. Iran was maintained on the list of alleged sponsors of terrorism in the latest annual State Department report published Tuesday. http://atimes.com/c-asia/DE23Ag04.html * IRAN DIARY, PART 1: SEA OF PEACE OR LAKE OF TROUBLE? by Pepe Escobar Asia Times, 23rd May BAKU (Azerbaijan) and TEHRAN When Azerbaijani President Haydar Aliyev a gruff ex-KGB commander met with the always unflappable Iranian President Mohammad Khatami in Tehran recently, one might reasonably have expected the defusing of a key time bomb in the New Great Game. Khatami diplomatically told a press conference that both countries believed that the Caspian "is a sea of peace and security and that it belongs to the five littoral states". For the moment, though, the Caspian remains a sea of trouble for those five countries - Iran, Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. And as far as Iran is concerned, the source of the trouble is none other than Washington, which Tehran suspects is interfering in the crucial Caspian issue. Mohamad Reza Jalili, a professor of international relations at Geneva University, analyzes the Caspian dispute between Iran and Azerbaijan in terms of Baku moving ever closer to Washington, while Iran is engaged in an anti-US policy. Pro-reform Iranian journalist Ahmad Zeidabadi says, "Since the US special envoy regarding Caspian Sea affairs visited Azerbaijan before Aliyev's visit to Iran, it is quite evident that Tehran will face difficulties in coming to terms with Baku on finalizing the Caspian legal regime." The "difficulties" remain. A new technical meeting scheduled for June is supposed to solve the bitter bilateral dispute between Iran and Azerbaijan at odds since 1991 despite their common historical, cultural, social and religious bonds. Sadeq Zibakalam, a Tehran University professor of political science, denies that Aliyev had a message regarding Iran-US relations. He says, "The Americans do not have any message to send to Iran. If they want to do so, they can convey their message through their interest section office in Tehran." Iranian Information Minister Ali Younesi also denies any secret talks currently being held between Tehran and Washington - in Cyprus or elsewhere. Younesi stresses that "even dissident groups and those opposed to the Islamic system believe that in this climate of US intimidation any talk will be against national dignity and interest". While Tehran and Washington seem to be in a political deadend at the moment, Azerbaijan itself is at a political crossroads. Pressured through history by Russian and Turkish influence, among the new Caucasian nations it is now the most intimately incorporated to the evolution linking Central Asia to Turkey and Iran. And of course, it has already been defined as the new Kuwait. All five littoral Caspian states have earth-shaking differences on how to divide the sea (or lake), a matter that involves not only the fabulous oil and gas wealth, but rich caviar stocks. The Caspian an area the size of California used to be regulated by agreements between the extinct Soviet Union and Iran dating back to 1970. It holds an estimated 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. Oil will only come out by 2005. The total output may be 10 times less than the Middle East but this remains the last unexplored petro-region on earth, now being cleaned up of major impediments such as Chechen guerrillas, Kurdish traffickers and hardcore Islamic wild cards. Oil executives expect the Caspian to be pumping 3.8 million barrels of oil a day by 2010. Russia and Kazakhstan reached a bilateral deal at the beginning of May, evenly dividing the wealth on the northern shores of the Caspian: Tehran was outraged because it was not consulted. Azerbaijan is poised to sign similar deals both with Russia and Kazakhstan later this year. Of the five Caspian states, Iran and Azerbaijan are the furthest from reaching an agreement. In an ideal world, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan would like to explore their part of the wealth without interference from Russia or Iran. Naturally, this is out of the question. Technically, the Caspian Sea (Darya-ye Khazar in Persian) is the world's largest lake or a salt sea, about one-third as salty as sea water. For Iran and also for Russia, as well as Turkmenistan the Caspian is a lake. For Azerbaijan and also for Kazakhstan the Caspian is a sea. If the Caspian is considered a lake, it is to be divided equally among the five states. If it is a sea, each country should receive territorial waters according to its coastline. In this case, Iran would not get 20 percent, but only 13 percent. The official Iranian position is to battle for its 20 percent at all costs. Kazakhstan is forced to export its riches through Russia that's why it had no choice but to reach an agreement with Moscow. Turkmenistan is allied with Iran in the sense that both countries are claiming parts of the southern shores of the Caspian, which Baku says should be controlled by Azerbaijan: to the chagrin of Tehran and Ashkhabad, American multinationals have already been signed to develop the oil and gas on these shores. Of all the littoral states, Azerbaijan is the most open to the West meaning American oil giants. Washington's game as everybody in the region knows is black and white: to allow the construction of many pipelines to prevent a monopoly by any particular nation; to allow at least one going through Russia; to allow not a single one to pass through Iran. It is an absurd policy because the Iranian route is the cheapest. Iran as its diplomats are fond of saying has "its hands on the Caspian and its feet in the Persian Gulf". At the Rajin' Cajun bar in Baku where Texas meets the Caucasus - an American executive, between two burritos, does not mince his words: "If I could, I would sign right now with Iran. They are the most trustworthy partners in the region. To talk about terrorism is nonsense: they would never sabotage their own pipelines." This position is still absolute anathema in Washington. Until recently, the holy grail of the New Great Game at least for Washington was the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline crossing Georgia and the Caucasus. Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan should also export their oil through this pipeline. Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan agreed to build it, at a meeting in Istambul in November 1998. But the pipeline a partnership of Bechtel with GE Capital will cost a fortune, more than US$4 billion, and it simply cannot be finalized before 2005. Turkey displaying enormous regional ambition for years has been a crucial player in the New Great Game: it wants at all costs to impose itself as the main export route for the riches of Central Asia. But in practice Iran holding the world's second-largest gas reserves after Russia, and 93 billion proven barrels of oil wins by a knockout. Iranian oil officials stress that the Iranian route for Central Asian oil is "the easiest, the safest, and the cheapest. Its cost, for us, would not be more than $300 million. You cannot compare that with the $4 billion for a pipeline going to Turkey." Russia, of course, is not sitting idly by. Everybody in the Caucasus and Central Asia knows that the Chechen war, the war between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and internal conflicts in Georgia were influenced or directly exacerbated by the Kremlin to secure routes for its pipelines. Turkey has intimate historical, cultural and ethnic links with four of the Turcophone republics of Central Asia; besides, Azerbaijan and ethnic minorities of the Russian Federation speak Turkish dialects. Turkey dreams of a pan-Turkism swathe from the Bosphorus to western China. Iran, for its part, has deep economic and geopolitical interests in Central Asia and the Trans-Caucasus. Of all these players, Azerbaijan is arguably in the most vulnerable spot: its relations are tense with all the big players, especially Iran. Many observers are puzzled by the fact that Shi'ite Iran has a pact with Christian Armenia, which occupies 9 percent of the territory of an also Shi'ite Azerbaijan, while at the same time an enormous population of Azerbaijanis live in northwest Iran. The new rounds of the New Great Game are bound to be fiercer than ever. It is unlikely that Baku and Tehran will solve their differences by divine intervention. For Tehran, Baku's foreign policy is totally subservient to the US to the extent that it overshadows Azerbaijan's national interests. Tehran simply cannot admit the obsession fuelled by the US - with the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, which is indeed a financial and technical nightmare, according to the majority of oil analysts. And Tehran also suspects that old KGB Aliyev's visit to Tehran is part of the overall American strategy to seek maximum advantage in the Caspian for its client regime Azerbaijan and American oil giants. Let the games begin. http://atimes.com/c-asia/DE24Ag04.html * IRAN DIARY, PART 1: SEA OF PEACE OR LAKE OF TROUBLE? Part 2: Knocking on heaven's door by Pepe Escobar Asia Times, 24th May QOM - The Grand Ayatollah Saanei's office in Qom - the second holiest city in Iran after Mashhad and the heartland of the Islamic revolution - is a shrine in itself. In a city that welcomes Shi'ite scholars and students from all over the world, and where every single woman is dressed in a head-to-toe black chador, to be received by the Grand Ayatollah is as auspicious an occasion as a visit to the fabulous Hazrat-e Masumeh, the shrine where Fatemah, sister of Imam Reza, the 8th century Shi'ite imam, is buried. The Hazrat-e Masumeh is a dazzling complex, with an enormous tiled dome, beautiful minarets and large prayer rooms leading to Fatemah's shrine - a mesmerizing jig-saw of carved mirrors. To give a measure of its importance, acccording to a famous hadith (saying) - enunciated with pleasure by the guardians of the shrine - we learn that "our sixth imam, Imam Sardeg, says that we have five definitive holy places that we respect very much. The first is Mecca, which belongs to God. The second is Medina, which belongs to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the messenger of God. The third belongs to our first imam of Shia, Ali, which is in Najaf. The fourth belongs to our third imam, Hussein, in Kerbala. The last one belongs to the daughter of our seventh imam and sister of our eighth imam, who is called Fatemah, and will be buried in Qom. Pilgrims and those who visit her holy shrine, I promise to these men and women that God will open all the doors of Heaven to them." Ayatollah Khomeini started opening the doors of the Islamic revolution in Qom in 1979 - which, appropriately enough, means "uprising". He lived in a simple brick house still standing not far from the Hazrat-e Masumeh. He had had plenty of time to build his power base among Shi'ite clerics before being forced into exile in 1963, first to Turkey and then to Najaf in Iraq. In the small waiting room of Grand Ayatollah Saanei's office, pilgrims from as far as Xinjiang in western China come with questions sealed in envelopes, ayatollahs memorize parts of the Koran for further debate, students arrive for their classes, and a dignified waiter serves endless glasses of tea. In more intimate surroundings than the Hazrat-e Masumeh, this is also an extraordinary place to monitor the power of Shi'ite faith in action. In the absence of Khomeini, the Grand Ayatollah Saanei occupies the Everest of the Shi'ite theological scale. Khomeini's words on him are framed with two photos above the place where he receives pilgrims and students alike: "I have raised him as my grandson ... I was always very delighted with his words and his knowledge. I believe that he is considered to be one of the most prominent characters among the clergymen. He is a learned man, devoted and diligent." When the Shah's regime was trying by all means to cast doubt on Khomeini's position as a Marja'a (a top religious authority), Aayatollah Saanei's academic weight was a decisive counteractive factor. He knows absolutely everything on Khomeini's principles of doctrine and views on jurisprudence. And he is also a supreme authority on the issuing of fatwas (religious rulings). On music, for instance, His Eminence has stated that "any sound and lyric and music which does not promote laxity and immorality and does not misguide human beings or blemish the visage of Islam is not forbidden." On infidels, he has stated that "antagonists who fight Muslims because of their adherence to Islam or their belief in Islam [and not for any other reason] are deemed adversaries in religion who, like a few of the infidels that having gained certainty of the validity of Islam continue to deny it, are bound to be unclean". Grand Ayatollah Saanei has been a member of the Majlis (parliament), and was chief of justice in the 1980s. Now he is most of all a teacher. A private audience with him obviously does not fall into the parameters of a Western-formatted interview: it's more like a theological-philosophical exposition, in a very relaxed manner, intermediated with those endless glasses of tea. He spends a long time methodically clarifying main Islamic principles - justice, no discrimination among human beings and most of all "social human rights". This latter concept is essential and is now being confronted with the concept of "religious civil society" - proposed by the heirs of the revolution who are not clerics. The Grand Ayatollah states that "Islamic law does not allow any discrimination on the basis of race, sex or ethnicity, and in terms of human rights." He adds that "all human beings are sons of Adam and Eve". How, then, do we explain the antagonism between Sunni and Shi'ite, between, for instance, wahhabism and the Shi'ite faith as practiced by nearly 90 percent of Iranians? "The antagonism exists in the way of thoughts, not in the roots and fundamentals of the religion." So it is all a problem of intepretation. "Some of the theologists do not agree with my thoughts, and some, regarding to laws, want to regulate something other than what is mentioned in the constitution. The constitution will prevent them." He does not say, though, whether he would be in favor of modifying the present constitution, arguing that this is a political matter. The Grand Ayatollah says, "There is only one difference between men and women. In Islam, we believe we should respect women as well as men, in the same measure. The differentiation regards inheritance. The son will inherit two times in relation to a daughter. In other laws, there is no difference." This means that when a man is married, he has to split his income with a woman, while a woman's income from work should belong only to herself, according to the Holy Koran. But the fact remains, says the Grand Ayatollah, that "the principle of ownership in Islam is based upon equality". An explanation of tajavoz-e farhangi - a concept that can be defined as "cultural aggression" or "cultural invasion" is also crucial. "By cultural invasion, I mean incorrect and improper cultures that are full of loss, not profitable to human beings. Those who know this take the means to shape a culture against those who are ignorant. These kinds of improper and incorrect issues definitely originate unclear benefits and disadvantages. The agressor knows that and takes advantage of the ignorance of those who are not informed." But who defines what is improper or incorrect? Theologists, of course. "If a foreign aggressor wants to impose a culture war on the people, this is considered to be an injustice." To fight "a culture which is wrong and improper, we should provide thoughtful information and knowledge". The Grand Ayatollah acknowledges that "the superpowers have advantages to impose culture and thoughts against oppressed peoples. We consider this as manipulation of thoughts." He evokes the Islamic principle of "fraud" and this aggression is also considered to be "a sin and a crime". Although refraining from any political judgement during his talk, Ayatollah Saanei remarks that "history shows great powers do not do much for the benefit of the people". Khomeini once said that "the profession of the prophets is politics, and religion is the same as that kind of politics which arouses the people and leads them to what is in the interest of the nation and the public". So one cannot help asking the Grand Ayatollah about his reaction to the inclusion of Iran in George W Bush's axis of evil. "If he means by axis of evil our nation, then our nation will say he is exactly the truest example of evil, not us. If he means our politicians and government bodies, then they will answer him in a straightforward manner, not me, because I'm not a politician." The Grand Ayatollah makes a point to tell "all human beings that in the Islamic Republic of Iran the aggression of human rights did not exist before and does not exist now. Any superpower which is willing to help our country should learn to respect the freedom of the people and their destiny, and to execute the divine ethics of God." The Grand Ayatollah bids farewell to his visitor with a message of peace and an invitation for further discussions. "We hope that all mankind will be very aware of all our human rights." Maybe the invitation should be formally extended to Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, et al. http://independent-bangladesh.com/news/may/24/24052002pd.htm#A3 * TIME TO END COLD WAR WITH CUBA by Eric S. Margolis The Bangladeshi Independent, 24th May It has often been said that Jimmy Carter is the best ex-President the US ever had. This week, he traveled to Cuba to meet Fidel Castro. In a dramatic live broadcast on national TV, Carter, speaking in Spanish, called for free speech, democratic elections, and an end to America¹s punishing trade embargo of the island nation of 11.2 million. Castro, who has ruled Cuba as a dictator since 1958, sat silently as Carter told Cubans it was time to join the democratic world. If anyone represents the moral side of America, it is Jimmy Carter. He has devoted his post presidential years to working for human rights. Many people, myself included, used to sneer at him as a naïve do-gooder, but over the decades he has quietly soldiered onwards, reminding the world that America is about much more than controlling other people¹s oil, or exporting violent films and predigested fast food. Carter¹s humble decency is in sharp contrast to the bellicose, unilateralist Bush Administration, which is increasingly viewed abroad as the reborn Ugly Americans of the 1960¹s, men who combined missionary zeal with arrogance and ignorance. In a disgraceful, clumsy attempt to embarrass President Carter during his Cuban trip, the Administration claimed Cuba was developing biological warfare weapons and selling them to rogue¹ states. President Bush sought to further embarrass Carter by announcing further restrictions on American travel to Cuba. But when asked for proof that Cuba was exporting germ weapons, the Bush Administration quickly down, lamely claiming Cuba might¹ have biowarfare capability because of its advanced pharmaceutical research. So might Canada, Sweden, or Iraq. There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the contentious Cuban question. Castro is an old style communist dictator who presides over a totalitarian police state that violates human rights. Thanks to four decades of tropical socialism, Cubans today have a lower living standard that Chinese, though Cuba¹s education and health care are of high quality. I remember Cuba before Castro: back in the 1950¹s, it was the most developed, best educated, most cultured nation of the West Indies. Havana is a century older than New York City. Republicans insist ending sanctions and travel restrictions will only aid Castro¹s dictatorship. They have a point. Canada engaged¹ Cuba with trade and tourism in hope of liberalizing the Castro regime. The effort failed miserably; in fact, as calls for political liberalization grew, the Castro regime become more repressive. But, as Democrats point out, the US is in bed with all sorts of ugly, anti-democratic regimes, most recently, the communist dictatorships of Central Asia. The US trades with communist China and Vietnam. Why not tiny, bedraggled Cuba? Two reasons. First, Fidel Castro has openly defied the mighty United States for over forty years. Empires do not like being challenged. Castro¹s insolence and audacity have long enraged Americans, and emboldened anti-American elements in Latin America. Castro has battled against US influence in the Americas and Africa. He was a loyal ally of the Soviet Union. During the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, Castro even begged Moscow to launch nuclear missiles against the USA. If ever the US had an enemy, it is Fidel Castro, yesterday¹s Osama bin Laden. Second, because of the influence of ardently anti-Castro Cuban-American voters in the key swing states of Florida and New Jersey. Bush¹s current anti-Castro rhetoric is clearly aimed at Cuban-American voters in this fall¹s tight Congressional elections. In an editorial this week, the august New York Times¹ opined that many are tired of having American foreign policy hijacked by anti-Castro activists in a key electoral state¹ meaning Florida, where the president¹s brother Jeb is governor. Speaking of hijacking, in the Times¹ view, it¹s perfectly acceptable for Israeli-Americans in key states to control US Mideast policy through their powerful Israel lobby, which has reduced Congress to clapping circus seals, but not, it seems, for Cuban-Americans to do the same. As I reported from Cuba in 1999, an overpowering sense of fin du regime¹(end of regime) hangs over Havana, reminiscent of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union before the fall of communism in 1989-1991. Cuba¹s communist system is unlikely to survive Fidel Castro, who is now 76. Castro remains more a venerated national father figure than typical Marxist dictator. As a Cuban said to me, we are a totalitarian state with high morals.¹ This is true. Most supporters of Cuban see it as a paragon of social justice while ignoring its brutal abuse of human and political rights, or spreading corruption among the pampered communist elite. In spite of recent criticism of Castro¹s record by Mexico, he is still widely respected across Latin America for machismo¹(manliness) in standing up to the bullying gringos(North Americans).¹ He retains a reputation as a man of honesty and principal qualities sadly lacking among most Latin American dictators or democratic politicians. http://argument.independent.co.uk/commentators/story.jsp?story=298681 * THERE IS A FIRESTORM COMING, AND IT IS BEING PROVOKED BY MR BUSH by Robert Fisk Independent, 25th May So now Osama bin Laden is Hitler. And Saddam Hussein is Hitler. And George Bush is fighting the Nazis. Not since Menachem Begin fantasised to President Reagan that he felt he was attacking Hitler in Berlin his Israeli army was actually besieging Beirut, killing thousands of civilians, "Hitler" being the pathetic Arafat have we had to listen to claptrap like this. But the fact that we Europeans had to do so in the Bundestag on Thursday and, for the most part, in respectful silence was extraordinary. I'm reminded of the Israeli columnist who, tired of the wearying invocation of the Second World War to justify yet more Israeli brutality, began an article with the words: "Mr Prime Minister, Hitler is dead." Must we, forever, live under the shadow of a war that was fought and won before most of us were born? Do we have to live forever with living, diminutive politicians playing Churchill (Thatcher and, of course, Blair) or Roosevelt? "He's a dictator who gassed his own people," Mr Bush reminded us for the two thousandth time, omitting as always to mention that the Kurds whom Saddam viciously gassed were fighting for Iran and that the United States, at the time, was on Saddam's side. But there is a much more serious side to this. Mr Bush is hoping to corner the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, into a new policy of threatening Iran. He wants the Russians to lean on the northern bit of the "axis of evil", the infantile phrase which he still trots out to the masses. More and more, indeed, Mr Bush's rhetoric sounds like the crazed videotapes of Mr bin Laden. And still he tries to lie about the motives for the crimes against humanity of 11 September. Yet again, in the Bundestag, he insisted that the West's enemies hated "justice and democracy", even though most of America's Muslim enemies wouldn't know what democracy was. In the United States, the Bush administration is busy terrorising Americans. There will be nuclear attacks, bombs in high-rise apartment blocks, on the Brooklyn bridge, men with exploding belts note how carefully the ruthless Palestinian war against Israeli colonisation of the West Bank is being strapped to America's ever weirder "war on terror" and yet more aircraft suiciders. If you read the words of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the ridiculous national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, over the past three days, you'll find they've issued more threats against Americans than Mr bin Laden. But let's get back to the point. The growing evidence that Israel's policies are America's policies in the Middle East or, more accurately, vice versa is now being played out for real in statements from Congress and on American television. First, we have the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee announcing that Hizbollah the Lebanese guerrilla force that drove Israel's demoralised army out of Lebanon in the year 2000 is planning attacks in the US. After that, we had an American television network "revealing" that Hizbollah, Hamas and al- Qa'ida Mr bin Laden's organisation have held a secret meeting in Lebanon to plot attacks on the US. American journalists insist on quoting "sources" but there was, of course, no sourcing for this balderdash, which is now repeated ad nauseam in the American media. Then take the "Syrian Accountability Act" that was introduced into the US Senate by Israel's friends on18 April. This includes the falsity uttered earlier by Israel's Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards "operate freely" on the southern Lebanese border. Now there haven't been Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon let alone the south of the country for 18 years. So why is this lie repeated yet again? Iran is under threat. Lebanon is under threat. Syria is under threat its "terrorism" status has been heightened by the State Department and so is Iraq. But Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister held personally responsible by Israel's own enquiry for the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1,700 Palestinians in Beirut in 1982, is according to Mr Bush "a man of peace". How much further can this go? A long way, I fear. The anti-American feeling throughout the Middle East is palpable. Arab newspaper editorials don't come near to expressing public opinion. In Damascus, Majida Tabbaa has become famous as the lady who threw the US Consul Roberto Powers out of her husband's downtown restaurant on 7 April . "I went over to him," she said, "and told him, 'Mr Roberto, tell your George Bush that all of you are not welcome please get out'." Across the Arab world, boycotts of American goods have begun in earnest. How much longer can this go on? America praises Pakistani President Musharraf for his support in the "war on terror", but remains silent when he arranges a dictatorial "referendum" to keep him in power. America's enemies, remember, hate the US for its "democracy". So is General Musharraf going to feel the heat? Forget it. My guess is that Pakistan's importance in the famous "war on terror" or "war for civilisation" as, we should remember, it was originally called is far more important. If Pakistan and India go to war, I'll wager a lot that Washington will come down for undemocratic Pakistan against democratic India. Across the former Soviet southern Muslim republics, America is building air bases, helping to pursue the "war on terror" against any violent Muslim Islamist groups that dare to challenge the local dictators. Please do not believe that this is about oil. Do not for a moment think that these oil and gas-rich lands have any economic importance for the oil-fuelled Bush administration. Nor the pipelines that could run from northern Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast if only that pesky Afghan loya jirga could elect a government that would give concessions to Unocal, the oddly named concession whose former boss just happens to be a chief Bush "adviser" to Afghanistan. Now here's pause for thought. Abdelrahman al-Rashed writes in the international Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat that if anyone had said prior to 11 September that Arabs were plotting a vast scheme to murder thousands of Americans in the US, no one would have believed them. "We would have charged that this was an attempt to incite the American people against Arabs and Muslims," he wrote. And rightly so. But Arabs did commit the crimes against humanity of 11 September. And many Arabs greatly fear that we have yet to see the encore from the same organisation. In the meantime, Mr Bush goes on to do exactly what his enemies want; to provoke Muslims and Arabs, to praise their enemies and demonise their countries, to bomb and starve Iraq and give uncritical support to Israel and maintain his support for the dictators of the Middle East. Each morning now, I awake beside the Mediterranean in Beirut with a feeling of great foreboding. There is a firestorm coming. And we are blissfully ignoring its arrival; indeed, we are provoking it. THE PRAGUE CONNECTION http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,53349,00.html * Saddam, Atta and Sept. 11 by Kenneth Adelman Fox News, 22nd May [Fluff and bluster from a man who refuses to draw any distinction between thinly supported suspicion and established fact. But try this one out: Adelman says the Atta/al-Ani meeting stands because the Czexch interior minister confirms it. At least confirms the Czech story which can go no further than to say that in April, the Iraqi agent al-Ani met someone who, according to the memory of operatives who had no interest in Atta at the time, looked like Mohammad Atta. But Adelman¹s colleague William Safire goes several degrees better. In an article in the News York Times, 18th March (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/18/opinion/18SAFI.html?pagewanted=print&posi tion=top), which I seem to have missed, he claims that ŒThe F.B.I. has car-rental and other records that Atta left for Prague on April 8, 2001, and returned on April 11.¹ If that is true then the case becomes very strong. So why doesn¹t Adelman mention it? He could hardly not know about it. Could it be that he knows by now that it isn¹t true? And what possible evidence can he produce for his statement that: ŒPolls even today show high support among the European public for the move¹ (war against Iraq)?] My occasional breakfast-mate, CNN's Bob Novak, gets it right most of the time. But last week, he got it all wrong on the most important issue facing our national security. Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross shocked the world by saying: "We can confirm now that during his trip to the Czech Republic" in April 2001 (his second such trip there), Sept. 11 terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta "did have a contact with an officer of the Iraqi intelligence, Mr. Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani." But recent reports in The Washington Post and its sister publication Newsweek called that assessment into question. This prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to profess "I don¹t know" when Novak asked him whether or not Atta flew to Prague to meet with an Iraqi agent before the Sept. 11 attacks. Novak then used Rumsfeld¹s remarks to justify his own longstanding opposition to the United States attacking Saddam Hussein and removing him from power [see "A Must Meeting for the Attack-Iraq Crowd," Washington Post, May 13]. But in doing so, the ace reporter got it all wrong. So Rumsfeld's unsure whether mastermind Atta was, or was not, in Prague a few months before Sept. 11. That's no big deal. It is a big deal that: ‹ Evidence of such a meeting does exist, according to the most credible source for such a meeting; ‹ Other evidence links Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks (contrary to Novak's assertion that Atta's "alleged presence in Prague is the solitary piece of evidence that could link Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime to the carnage at the World Trade Center"); ‹ Other reasons exist for us to attack Iraq ‹ and soon ‹ besides any direct involvement of theirs in Sept. 11. Let's take the last point first, as it's the most important. We need to remove Saddam Hussein from power, not (only) because of the last massive terrorist attack, but because of the next. His well-documented pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction ‹ which he could hand off to any number of willing terrorist groups ‹ makes more likely a horrific day that would render Sept. 11 small potatoes in comparison. Plus, what about Saddam's link to terrorism generally? He gassed his own people and Iranians by the tens of thousands; he ordered his goons to assassinate ex-President Bush, 41, (has any other head of state ever ordered an assassination of an ex-president of the U.S.?); he generously doles out cash to the families of today's homicide bombers. There's plenty more evidence of the Iraq-to-terrorism link, too. Novak asks rhetorically why "ardent attack-Iraq advocates outside the government," like me, "cling to" the fiction of that Prague meeting? He answers himself: Otherwise, the U.S. "would be alone in the world if he (President Bush) ordered the attack without an Iraqi connection to Sept. 11." Wrong again. Britain, Turkey, Israel, Kuwait and, most of all, the Iraqi people would join us. Lots more European states would surely come around if the president was clear and strong. Polls even today show high support among the European public for the move, in contrast to the moaning and groaning of their elites. Eventually, public opinion affects policy, even in Europe. Now, back to that Atta meeting. Doubts about it actually happening grew out of leaks and contradictory press articles, but rather than walk through all the gyrations ‹ as the crack investigator Edward Jay Epstein does on his Web site ‹ I'll give the punch line. Early this month ‹ after the Post and Newsweek cast doubt on the Iraq/Atta connection ‹ the same Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross offered the same assessment of the same event. To wit, the official in charge of Czech intelligence says the Atta-Iraqi meeting happened in Prague, just as he had said. That The Washington Post and Newsweek question this conclusion doesn't faze the interior minister. He reacts dryly: "I believe the counterintelligence services more than journalists." He relies on the finding of his agents "and I see no reason why I should not believe it." When asked repeatedly if they had received new evidence over these past months to undermine that belief: "They did not." He hoped now to end any confusion: "Therefore, I consider the matter closed." As Ed Epstein points out, this is the man in the know ‹ the one running the Czech intelligence agents, the only such service in the world that apparently monitored that meeting. And what about Novak's claim that the Atta meeting "is the solitary piece of evidence that could link Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime to the carnage at the World Trade Center"? That, too, is tough to digest. After all, what about Saddam's key role in the World Trade Center near-miss bombing of 1993 (the mastermind of that Twin Towers attack now resides in Baghdad)? What about photos of a commercial airplane fuselage in the terrorist training camp south of Baghdad? What about Saddam's praising of the Sept. 11 mass murderers? In his lovable way, Novak closes his article with a flourish that the Atta-in-Prague ploy is needed to justify a new U.S. attack on Iraq. That's why, Novak claimed, "national security expert Ken Adelman insisted April 29 on CNN's Crossfire that Atta 'went 7,000 miles to meet with one of the Iraq intelligence officers in Prague.' Even if it never happened, the meeting is essential to justify a U.S. attack on Iraq." Bob, you got it precisely backwards: Yes, the meeting did happen. But no, it's not essential to justify a U.S. attack on Iraq. Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of TechCentralStation.com. IRAQI/UN RELATIONS http://unfoundation.org/unwire/util/category_search.asp?objCat=peacekeeping * IRAQ: Von Sponeck Calls Smart Sanctions "Tiny Step In The Right Direction" by Jim Wurst UN Wire, 22nd May UNITED NATIONS -- The former head of the humanitarian aid office in Iraq, Hans von Sponeck, said yesterday that the new "smart sanctions" regime for Iraq "will be a tiny step in the right direction, but not what is advertised. It will not lead to a fundamental change in the conditions under which Iraqis are living." U.N. Security Council Resolution 1409, which was adopted unanimously May 14, instituted the first change in the sanctions regime against Iraq since 1996. Dubbed "smart sanctions," supporters say the revised embargo guidelines will make it easier for civilian goods to enter the country, while maintaining tight restriction of military-related materials. Contracts for goods that have some kind of military application, especially for weapons of mass destruction, would have to be approved by a committee of the council, while all other imports not contained in a 300-page "goods review list" would not require approval. Von Sponeck, who resigned as the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Iraq in 2000 in protest over the effect sanctions were having on Iraqi civilians, said the resolution "must be welcomed, but Š it is a very small step toward improvements for the Iraqi people." The U.S.-British view "that this is a fundamental change is wrong," he said. "It is politically very clever to argue like that, but it is not correct. You cannot say, 'I divest myself of all that hurts the Iraqi civilian population from now onwards. If they continue to suffer, it is entirely the fault of the brutal dictator in Baghdad.'" He said there is a need to overcome "two wrong conclusions that one can draw from the Iraq discussion." It is wrong to say the devastation "facing the Iraqis is purely a function of sanctions Š but in the reverse, it is also wrong to say that there is only one villain," meaning President Saddam Hussein. "It is the lethal combination of those two things" that have caused the problems, he added. Von Sponeck listed "three options for peace as an alternative to what is now on the drawing boards in the [U.S.] State Department and maybe more so in the Department of Defense." According to von Sponeck, these "opportunities for dialogue" are: between Iraq and the United Nations; within Iraq between the minority Kurdish population and Baghdad; and within the Arab League. Von Sponeck said the Arab League summit in Beirut in late March "shows that there is a process of reconciliation between different Arab governments." Von Sponeck made the comments at a briefing organized by nongovernmental organizations including the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quaker U.N. Office and the Global Policy Forum. These NGOs are preparing a paper called Iraq Sanctions: Humanitarian Implications and Options for the Future. The current draft recommends that all sanctions be lifted, except on military goods, and foreign aid and investment be allowed. The report also calls for U.N. observers to be assigned to Iraq to monitor weapons laboratories and Baghdad's compliance with human and minority rights agreements. http://www.iht.com/articles/58802.html * UN anxious to forestall U.S. strike against Iraq by Somini Sengupta, International Herald Tribune (from The New York Times), 24th May 24, 2002 [Although ŒThe United States is alone among the 15 Security Council members in leaning toward a military route¹ it seems that UN Security Council diplomats are working frantically to persuade Iraq to allow unlimited access to enemy spies to prevent a US strike. Which without UNSC approval would be illegal, if we take the UNSC system of Œinternational law¹ seriously (admittedly I don¹t). So why aren¹t they devoting all that frantic effort to dissuading their resident rogue elephant from performing this illegal act?] UNITED NATIONS, New YorkDiplomats on the Security Council, including the United States' European allies, are working quietly but persistently to head off U.S. military action against Iraq by trying to persuade Saddam Hussein's government to reopen the country to arms inspectors. President George W. Bush told Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany on Thursday in Berlin that he did not seek war with Iraq and had "no war plans" on his desk. But privately, the UN diplomats say they are constantly and keenly aware of the threat of U.S. military action, which a diplomat described as hanging like a sword of Damocles over their discussions. A failure to persuade the Iraqis to allow the inspectors back in, they say, will only strengthen the hand of those within the Bush administration who favor war, led by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The United States is alone among the 15 Security Council members in leaning toward a military route. Many believe that if Iraq once again allows inspections it may create a substantial diplomatic obstacle between Bush administration hawks and an Iraqi invasion. At the same time, they say, it may also exploit divisions within the Bush administration and bolster those, like Secretary of State Colin Powell, who favor diplomacy. "The move is to help Colin Powell over Rumsfeld," said a European diplomat on the council. "Maybe we are wrong. But the idea is that if you deploy hundreds of inspectors throughout Iraq and they do a good job, and they are not prevented from doing a good job by the Iraqi authorities - so there are a number of ifs - then it will be very difficult for the Pentagon to justify that military action is justified and the choice will be in hands of President Bush." The inspectors are charged with the task of making sure that Iraq is stripped of weapons of mass destruction, which the Bush administration fears Baghdad could pass to terrorist groups. The Bush administration appears willing to invade Iraq to guarantee that cannot happen. The inspectors left in December 1998, on the eve of U.S. and British air strikes, after years of stonewalling and standoffs by Iraqi officials. Their return now, diplomats hope, would make a U.S. assault unnecessary. It is in any case a precondition for lifting the economic sanctions that Iraq has lived under since it invaded Kuwait in 1990. The Security Council members recently agreed to modify those sanctions, in a step that the United States hoped would increase pressure on Saddam to live up to his obligations by making it harder for him to claim that ordinary Iraqis are being unduly punished by the sanctions. UN officials have already held two meetings with the Iraqis in recent months to discuss the details of the arms inspectors' return. A third meeting is likely to take place in early July in Vienna, Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office said Tuesday. No date has been set for such a meeting, which will include Annan as well as the agency's chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix. The optimism of some Security Council members notwithstanding, it is impossible to predict whether Iraq is ready to let the monitors return. But without Iraq's assent, diplomats say, there may be little prospect of holding off what would undoubtedly be a massive U.S. assault. That in itself may be cause enough for Baghdad to reconsider its stand. For the moment, however, the goal, as diplomats say, is "unity of the council." "The more the Security Council remains united on forcing Iraq to fulfill its obligations completely in accordance with Security Council resolutions," said another European official, "the more the hands of the doves are strengthened in Washington." Senior U.S. officials say they will continue to operate on two tracks. They will use international pressure, diplomacy and the sanctions to tighten the noose on Baghdad. But they will also keep alive the military option to topple Saddam. _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. To unsubscribe, visit http://lists.casi.org.uk/mailman/listinfo/casi-discuss To contact the list manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org All postings are archived on CASI's website: http://www.casi.org.uk