Tuesday, December 19, 2006

PANW Dispatch: Bush Silencing Dissent; DPRK Demands; Iraq Defeat; Hamas Boycott

Critic accuses Bush of silencing dissent

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
December 18 2006 23:41

A former senior Bush administration official who has been outspoken in his criticism of US foreign policy accused the White House on Monday of trying to silence him by censoring an article he co-authored that advocated broad engagement with Iran.

Flynt Leverett, a former CIA analyst and director in the national security council, said the White House had threatened him with criminal prosecution if he went ahead and published an opinion piece prepared for the New York Times.

Mr Leverett, an analyst at the New America Foundation, a Washington think-tank, accused the White House of using the pretext of protecting classified information to limit dissent from someone highly critical of its Iran policy.

His allegations come at a particularly sensitive time for the White House, which is under intense pressure to change its whole Middle East strategy following publication of the report of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Mr Leverett told a news conference that the CIA had already cleared the piece in question, which he was required to submit as a former analyst. He said the White House then intervened and excised material that he had already ­published in a recent paper for the Century Foundation, a New York think-tank, and had either been stated in public by US officials or reported by the media.

The offending segments, he said, dealt with Iran’s assistance to the US in ousting the Taliban in 2001 and then helping set up a new Afghan government, and an offer Iran made to the US in 2003 – first reported by the Financial Times – to talk about a “grand bargain” that the Bush administration quickly rejected.

Tony Snow, the White House spokesman, said he knew nothing about the case but denied the administration would “falsely silence critics on national security claims”.

The White House later confirmed it had suggested deletions to the article because it contained classified information, and then returned the piece to the CIA publications review board.

Speaking at a news conference, Mr Leverett accused his former CIA colleagues of being “spineless” in the face of political pressure. He said the CIA review board told him there was nothing of a classified nature in the article but that they had to bow to the White House.

“This is the state of our intelligence community six years into the Bush administration,” he said. He co-authored the piece with his wife, Hillary Mann, also a former official.

Analysts said Mr Leverett was not the only critic to have attracted the administration’s disapproval and that the CIA had tightened up its pre-publication review procedures and threatened other former officials with punishment for stating what was already on public record.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

N Korea lists demands for disarmament

By Anna Fifield in Seoul
December 19 2006 00:09

North Korean diplomats presented a long list of demands to be met before the country considers abandoning its nuclear weapons programme, delegates said on Monday as the long-awaited sixth round of nuclear talks opened in ­Beijing.

Underlining the challenges in reaching an agreement this week, Kim Kye-gwan, the North’s chief negotiator in the talks, said it was “unthinkable” for Pyong­yang to discuss its nuclear programme while sanctions remained. “If [the US] seeks to discuss the nuclear weapons issue at the current stage it is unavoidable to ask for talks on mutual disarmament,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Mr Kim as saying.

The North demanded the lifting of all United Nations sanctions and US financial restrictions, along with energy assistance until a light-water reactor for power generation could be built.

Although broad financial and weapons-related sanctions were imposed after the October nuclear test, Pyong-yang is enraged about the US financial measures that led to $24m being frozen in North Korean-linked accounts at Banco Delta Asia in Macao. These have seen North Korea frozen out of the international banking system. Talks on BDA accounts are due to be held today by a working group on the sidelines.

But Christopher Hill, US chief delegate, said sanctions would remain in place until the North disarmed. “We should be a little less patient and pick up the pace and work faster,” he said.

He said he hoped for progress on implementing the September 19 joint agreement forged last year, under which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programme in return for economic aid and security guarantees. The agreement was soon overshadowed by the financial crackdown.

In Washington, Nick Burns, the US under­secretary for political affairs, also reiterated the need for quick progress. “We’ve always figured that this round of talks would be a couple of days, three or four days,” he said.

Chun Yung-woo, South Korea’s chief delegate, on Monday said he urged the North to take “concrete measures” to dismantle its nuclear programme, but said that North Korea should be encouraged to do so with incentives.

Additional reporting by Caroline Daniel in ­Washington
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

US defence chief warns over Iraq

New US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned that failure in Iraq would be a "calamity" that would haunt the United States for many years.

Mr Gates spoke after taking his oath of office from Vice President Dick Cheney.

Mr Gates, who replaces Donald Rumsfeld, said Iraq was his top priority. He also vowed not to let Afghanistan become "a sanctuary for extremists" again.

He said he intended to go to Iraq soon to hear the "unvarnished"
views of US commanders on how to improve matters.

"All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again," Mr Gates said.

"But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East.

"Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come."

'Commitment made'

Mr Gates warned that progress made in Afghanistan, where the US military has been involved for the past five years, "is at risk".

"The United States and its Nato allies have made a commitment to the Afghan people and we intend to keep it," he said.

"Afghanistan cannot be allowed to become a sanctuary for extremists again."

Mr Rumsfeld, the chief architect of the war in Iraq, resigned last month amid heavy criticism of his policy.

Mr Gates, 63, takes office amid a wide-ranging administration review of its approach to the war.

'Immense challenges'

President George W Bush said last week he would wait until January to announce his new strategy, to give his new defence chief a chance to offer advice.

Speaking after the swearing-in, Mr Bush said Mr Gates was "the right man" for the challenges of Iraq and the wider fight against terrorism.

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Washington says the challenges facing Mr Gates are immense.

As well as advising the president on a new strategy for the war in Iraq, he will have to wrestle with the enormous demands being put on the US military in terms of equipment and personnel, our correspondent says.

He will also have a vital political role, supporting a weakened President Bush in persuading Americans that the war in Iraq is still worth fighting, our correspondent adds.

At a confirmation hearing in the Senate earlier this month, Mr Gates said the US was not winning the war in Iraq, and that he was open to new policy ideas.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has gone further, saying that overstretched US troops are losing the conflict.

Mr Gates served as CIA director from 1991 until 1993, during the administration of Mr Bush's father.

Mr Bush accepted Mr Rumsfeld's resignation after November mid-elections in which the Republicans lost control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Public discontent over the conduct of the Iraq war was seen as a major factor in the defeat.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/19 00:03:40 GMT

Hamas to boycott early elections

The governing Palestinian movement Hamas has said it will boycott early elections called by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said Mr Abbas' action was illegal.

Tony Blair, who is in the region, has backed the poll call. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said "everything should be done" to support Mr Abbas.

A member of Mr Abbas' Fatah movement has been shot dead, putting pressure on a day-old truce with its rival Hamas.

Fatah said the man had been killed during an attempt to free three of its members kidnapped on Monday. Three others were hurt in the gunfight in Jabaliya refugee camp, northern Gaza.

9 Dec - Mr Abbas' suggestion of early polls is backed by PLO leaders; Hamas denounces the idea
10 Dec - Gunmen fire on the convoy of the Hamas interior minister
11 Dec - Three sons of a Fatah security chief are shot on their way to school; both Fatah and Hamas condemn the killings
14 Dec - Hamas PM Ismail Haniya's convoy comes under fire as he returns from Egypt, killing a bodyguard
15 Dec - Hamas accuses key Fatah figure Mohammad Dahlan of being behind the attack on Mr Haniya, a charge he rejects
16 Dec - Mr Abbas announces he will call early elections; Hamas calls the move a "coup"
17 Dec - A truce is called following street battles between Hamas and Fatah supporters in Gaza, in which three people die
Meanwhile, Hamas' Prime Minister Ismail Haniya called on Mr Abbas to withdraw his security forces from Gaza's streets, saying their deployment endangered the truce, Reuters news agency reports.

Efforts are continuing behind the scenes to firm up the fragile verbal truce agreement, negotiated by mediators on Sunday without a meeting between Hamas and Fatah leaders.

Fighting between the two factions has paralysed the administration.

Mr Abbas' call for early elections on Saturday was labelled a "coup" by Hamas, which won a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections in January and controls the government.

The Palestinians have faced an international aid boycott since because of Hamas' refusal to renounce violence or recognise Israel.

Mr Abbas said he had called for early presidential and legislative elections to relieve "the current impasse".

"I felt it was essential to allow the people to have their say on a platform that achieves Palestinian national interests," Mr Abbas said.

But Mr Meshaal - who is based in Damascus - told the BBC that the president's actions were illegal.

"We stand against any step that is against the law and against the constitution," Mr Meshaal said.

"What's needed to address the inter-Palestinian crisis is national agreement, not actions by individuals, especially taken in response to foreign pressure."

There have been a series of clashes between members of Hamas and Fatah in recent days. On Sunday a ceasefire was reported, but outbreaks of violence continued through the night and into Monday.

Mr Meshaal said Hamas would take practical steps to stop early elections taking place, using "peaceful, popular pressure - not with violence".

'Suffering people'

In talks in Ramallah on Monday, Mr Abbas urged Mr Blair, the British prime minister, to lift an aid freeze on the Palestinians and said he was ready to hold "serious" talks with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert.

Mr Blair praised Mr Abbas and urged the international community to back a new push towards peace in the region.

"Your people are suffering," Mr Blair told Abbas. "We don't want anything to stand in the way of helping the Palestinian people."

Mr Blair also told the Palestinian leader he backed his efforts to revive the peace process.

"Nobody should have a veto on progress," the prime minister said.

The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says it appears as if Mr Abbas has called new elections almost out of desperation.

The move is a controversial one, our correspondent adds, but is supported by Mr Blair as, in his view, the only realistic way to achieve a two-state solution in which Israel and the Palestinians work towards mutual recognition.

Speaking at a later news conference with Mr Blair, Prime Minister Olmert said "everything should be done" to support Mr Abbas.

He said he hoped to meet the Palestinian president "very soon".

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/12/18 21:13:06 GMT

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