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[casi] News, 18-25/5/02 (2)

News, 18-25/5/02  (2)


*  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]


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

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

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

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.

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

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.

* 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.

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 was maintained on the list of alleged sponsors of terrorism in the
latest annual State Department report published Tuesday.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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,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
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

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

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.

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

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

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


*  IRAQ: Von Sponeck Calls Smart Sanctions "Tiny Step In The Right
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.

*  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.

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