Tag Archives: European Union

United Nations, Iran and the Atomic Bomb

Top U.N. inspectors in Iran talks on atom bomb accusations

By Parisa Hafezi | Reuters

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Senior U.N. inspectors arrived in Iran on Monday to push for transparency about its disputed nuclear program and several European states halted purchases of Iranian oil as part of Western moves to pile pressure on a defiant Tehran.

Iran denies Western accusations that it is covertly seeking the means to build nuclear weapons and has again vowed no nuclear retreat in recent weeks, but also voiced willingness to resume negotiations with world powers without preconditions.

The five-member International Atomic Energy Agency team, led by chief IAEA inspector Herman Nackaerts, planned two days of meetings in another attempt to get answers from Iran regarding intelligence suggesting its declared civilian nuclear energy program is a facade for researching ways to make atom bombs.

Nackaerts said on departure from Vienna that he wanted “concrete results” from the talks. His delegation was expected to seek, among other things, to question Iranian nuclear scientists and visit the Parchin military base believed to have been used for high-explosive tests relevant to nuclear warheads.

But Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi dampened speculation about increased IAEA access when he told the student news agency ISNA that the agency officials would not be going to any nuclear sites. “No. Their work has just begun,” Salehi said.

DIPLOMATIC IMPACT

Diplomats doubted that the talks would bring a breakthrough.

“I believe most are rather skeptical concerning the outcome because, well, Iran had a chance at the last meeting and didn’t seize it,” a senior Western official said, referring to the last trip by the senior IAEA team to Tehran at the end of January.

Referring to last week’s announcements by Iran of new nuclear advances, he said: “They send out the wrong signals that Iran is really willing to cooperate… We will wait and see what will come out of this meeting but we should be prepared that Iran might try some technical steps … to appear cooperative without really providing the necessary cooperation.”

The outcome of the discussions will have diplomatic repercussions because it could either deepen a stand-off that has stoked fears of war or provide scope to reduce tensions.

In a sign of Iranian concern about possible, last-resort air strikes by arch-enemies Israel or the United States, Tehran on Monday began a four-day military exercise in protecting its nuclear sites, according to Iranian media.

“(It) will practice coordination between the Revolutionary Guards and regular army and air defense units in establishing a defense umbrella over our vital centers, particularly nuclear facilities,” the labor news agency ILNA said.

The European Union enraged Tehran last month when it decided to slap a boycott on its oil from July 1. On Monday, the European Commission said Belgium, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands had already stopped buying Iranian oil, while Greece, Spain and Italy were cutting back on their purchases.

In retaliation for oil sanctions, Iran, the world’s fifth-largest crude exporter, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for a third of the world’s seaborne oil, and the United States signaled it would use force to keep it open.

On Sunday, Iran’s oil ministry announced a retaliatory halt in oil sales to French and British companies, although that step will be largely symbolic as those firms had already greatly reduced purchases of Iranian crude.

The spiking tension over Iran’s nuclear activity, which Iranian officials say is solely for electricity generation, has put upward pressure on oil prices.

Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani suggested the Western crackdown would backfire, saying that in targeting Iranian oil the West had achieved only a surge in crude prices from $103 a barrel to $120, “and it will reach $150”.

In remarks carried by the official news agency IRNA on Monday, Qalebani also said that if other EU states continued “their hostile behavior towards Iran, we will cut our oil exports to those countries … Fortunately demand for Iran’s crude has not decreased. Instead it has increased.”

But the EU could cope with an abrupt halt by Iran of its oil exports as buyers of Iranian oil are already adjusting to the EU’s forthcoming ban on Iranian shipments, an International Energy Agency (IEA) official said on Monday.

China, in rare criticism of one of its major oil suppliers, rebuked Iran over the move to bar sales to Britain and France.

“We have consistently upheld dialogue and negotiation as the way to resolve disputes between countries, and do not approve of exerting pressure or using confrontation to resolve issues,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing when asked about the matter.

China buys around 20 percent of total Iranian oil exports.

Debt-ridden Greece is most exposed to Iranian crude disruption among EU countries. [ID:nL5E8DJ088]

MILITARY ACTION?

Iran says its nuclear program is wholly peaceful but its refusal to curb uranium enrichment, which can have both civilian and military ends, while shifting a key part of it to a remote mountain bunker protected from air strikes and continuing to restrict IAEA access, has raised suspicions. [ID:nL5E8D33E6]

The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to rein it in, and there has been intense public discussion in Israel about whether it should attack Iran to stop it “weaponizing” enrichment.

The top U.S. military officer said on Sunday that a military strike would be premature as it remained unclear whether Tehran would put its nuclear capabilities to developing a bomb, saying he believed the Tehran government was a “rational actor”. [ID:nL2E8DJ0IG]

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong said using force would be the wrong answer. “Attacking Iran militarily would only worsen the confrontation and lead to further upheaval in the region,” he said.

Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, who also holds the intelligence portfolio, said the sanctions regime had been toughened to the point of causing “hysteria” in Iran.

“All this shows the pressure which this regime is under, but they have not yet decided to shut down their nuclear effort, so the struggle is on,” Meridor told reporters in Jerusalem. “I think there is a chance of success (for sanctions) if it they are done with determination, persistence and leadership.”

The West has expressed some optimism at the prospect of new talks with Tehran, particularly after it sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton last week promising to bring “new initiatives” to the table with six world powers without stating preconditions. [ID:nL2E8DH6UT]

“In these negotiations, we are looking for a way out of Iran’s current nuclear issue so that both sides win,” Iranian TV quoted Foreign Minister Salehi as saying on Sunday. The last round of talks collapsed in January last year.

Oil is a pillar part of Iran’s export revenues and an important lifeline for its increasingly isolated economy. Tehran has little refining capacity and must import about 40 percent of its gasoline needs for domestic consumption.

Tighter sanctions, combined with high inflation, have squeezed the ability of working-class Iranians to feed themselves and their families, and this uncertainty will cloud a parliamentary election on March 2.

“Everything’s become so expensive in the past few weeks,” said Marjan Hamidi, a shopper in Tehran. “But my husband’s income stays the same. How am I going to live like this?”

(Additional reporting by Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran, Susan Cornwell in Washington, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Crispian Balmer in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/iran-halts-oil-sales-uk-france-eve-talks-030432361.html


Libya’s transitional leader declares liberation, sets Islamist tone for future

By The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

BENGHAZI, LibyaLibya‘s transitional leader declared his country’s liberation on Sunday, three days after the hated dictator Moammar Gadhafi was captured and killed.

He called on Libyans to show “patience, honesty and tolerance” and eschew hatred as they embark on rebuilding the country at the end of an 8-month civil war.

The transitional government leader Mustafa Abdul-Jalil set out a vision for the post-Gadhafi future with an Islamist tint, saying that Islamic Sharia law would be the “basic source” of legislation in the country and that existing laws that contradict the teachings of Islam would be nullified. In a gesture that showed his own piety, he urged Libyans not to express their joy by firing in the air, but rather to chant “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great. He then stepped aside and knelt to offer a brief prayer of thanks.

“This revolution was looked after by God to achieve victory,” he told the crowd at the declaration ceremony in the eastern city of Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising against Gadhafi began. He thanked those who fell in the fight against Gadhafi’s forces. “This revolution began peacefully to demand the minimum of legitimate rights, but it was met by excessive violence.”

Abdul-Jalil said new banks would be set up to follow the Islamic banking system, which bans charging interest. For the time being, he said interest would be cancelled from any personal loans already taken out less than 10,000 Libyan dinars (about $7,500).

He also announced that all military personnel and civilians who have taken part in the fight against Gadhafi would be promoted to the rank above their existing one. He said a package of perks would later be announced for all fighters.

“Thank You, thank you to the fighters who achieved victory, both civilians and military,” he said. He also paid tribute to the Gulf Cooperation Council, a six-nation alliance led by Saudi Arabia, The Arab League and the European Union. NATO, which aided the anti-Gadhafi fighters with airstrikes, performed its task with “efficiency and professionalism.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/libyas-transitional-leader-declares-liberation-sets-islamist-tone-163539334.html


Turkey, EU nations criticize veto of UN resolution vs Syria, call for more sanctions

By Suzan Fraser, The Associated Press | The Canadian Press

ANKARA, Turkey – European countries criticized Russia and China on Wednesday for vetoing a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatened sanctions against Syria if it didn’t halt its crackdown on civilians.

Turkey’s prime minister said his nation and others would respond by imposing more sanctions of their own against Syria.

Russia and China on Tuesday vetoed what would have been the first legally binding Security Council resolution against Syria since President Bashar Assad‘s military began using tanks and soldiers to attack pro-democracy protesters in mid-March. The U.N. estimates the crackdown has led to more than 2,700 deaths.

Russia and China both said they oppose the crackdown but that sanctions wouldn’t help resolve the crisis. The U.N. vote was 9-2 with four abstentions — India, South Africa, Brazil and Lebanon.

On Wednesday, Germany, France, Britain, Denmark and the EU joined Turkey in denouncing the veto, with French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe sounding outraged.

Juppe denounced Assad as a “dictator who is massacring his people” and vowed support for Syrians trying to overthrow the head of the former French colony. Juppe’s strongly worded English-language statement was highly unusual.

The EU and the U.S. have imposed several rounds of sanctions against Assad and his regime, including a ban on the import of Syrian oil. Most of Syria’s oil exports had gone to Europe. Now Damascus is forced to look for buyers in the east.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a speech in South Africa on Wednesday to say that Turkey and other nations would press ahead with sanctions.

“Turkey and either some or all of the European Union nations, and who knows which others, will take steps,” the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan as saying. “It won’t stop our sanctions.”

Germany sharply criticized the veto by Russia and China, with Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle saying it was a “really sad day for international law and for human rights, too.”

Westerwelle said Western nations would maintain pressure on Assad and that European countries are preparing an eighth package of sanctions against Syria.

At the U.N. on Tuesday, the European sponsors of the resolution tried to avoid a veto by watering down the language on sanctions three times, to the point where the word “sanctions” was taken out entirely. But that failed.

“We have absolutely no understanding for the fact the U.N. Security Council was unable to agree in New York, even on a very much weakened statement,” Westerwelle said in Berlin.

“We will — not just in Europe, but also with our partners — not only keep up the pressure on the Assad regime, but increase it further if the killing and violence against peaceful demonstrators continues,” he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague told a rally of his governing Conservative Party in that Beijing and Moscow were wrong to oppose the proposed resolution.

“The decision of Russia and China to veto this resolution and to side with a brutal regime rather than the people of Syria is deeply mistaken,” Hague said in England.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said through her spokesman that the bloc would now work to increase international pressure on Assad’s regime.

Denmark’s new foreign minister, Villy Soevndahl, said: “The Assad regime’s assault on civilians and brutal violation of basic human rights is utterly unacceptable.” He said the international community must find a way to speak in a single voice to maintain pressure on Assad and his government.

Turkey already has imposed an arms embargo on Syria, and Erdogan is expected to announce new sanctions on the neighbour country later this week when he visits camps near the border where some 7,500 Syrians have sought refuge from Assad’s brutal crackdown.

“Out of necessity our package of sanctions will come into effect,” Erdogan said. He did not provide details, but Turkish leaders have said that the measures would punish Syria’s leadership, not its people.

Turkey is an important trade partner for Syria, and Erdogan had cultivated a close friendship with Assad. But Turkish leaders have grown increasingly frustrated with Damascus over its refusal to halt the crackdown on the opposition protests.

The military has announced eight days of exercises in Hatay province, which borders Syria, starting Wednesday, to test the armed forces’ mobilization capability and communication among various state organizations. The military has described the drills as routine, but analysts said they were intended to increase pressure on Syria.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/russia-china-veto-security-council-resolution-threatening-un-223526752.html


Europe and U.S. step up pressure on Gaddafi to go

By Michael Georgy and James Mackenzie | Reuters

TRIPOLI/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Europe and the United States stepped up diplomatic pressure on Muammar Gaddafi to quit, while on the ground his forces used their superior strength to press their advantage against rebels.

President Barack Obama said on Friday the United States and its allies were “tightening the noose” around Gaddafi and European Union leaders meeting in Brussels said they would consider all options to force the Libyan leader to step down.

However, the 27 leaders meeting in Brussels stopped short of endorsing air strikes, a no-fly zone or other military-backed means to achieve that goal. Libyan rebels said their three-week-old insurrection could fail without a no-fly zone.

The summit sidestepped a British and French initiative for a U.N. Security Council resolution that would authorize a no-fly zone.

They also would not back French President Nicolas Sarkozy‘s call to follow his lead and recognize the National Libyan Council as the country’s legitimate authority, or his call for “defensive” air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces if they used chemical weapons or warplanes against civilians.

Libya suspended diplomatic relations with France.

Obama, accused by critics of reacting too slowly, told a news conference he believed international sanctions, an arms embargo and other measures already in place were having an impact but also said a no-fly zone remained an option.

“Across the board we are slowly tightening the noose on Gaddafi. He is more and more isolated internationally,” he said. “I have not taken any options off the table.”

Soon after he spoke, the Treasury Department said it had extended a freeze on assets to Gaddafi’s wife, four of his sons and four senior officials in his government.

TANKS AND AIR POWER

Gaddafi’s forces, with air supremacy and a big advantage in tanks, appeared to be maintaining the momentum on the ground.

The sound of explosions and small arms fire came from the oil port of Ras Lanuf on Friday as government troops landed from the sea, backed by tanks and air power.

Rebels had advanced to the town of Bin Jawad about 60 km (38 miles) west of Ras Lanuf a week ago, but have been driven back across the strip of desert and scrub. Though out-gunned, they have kept up stiff resistance.

“Ras Lanuf is a ghost town. There are skirmishes between rebels and Gaddafi forces going back and forth,” said rebel captain Mustafa al-Agoury, adding that rebels were positioned on the east and Gaddafi’s forces on the west of the town.

Neither side had full control. Libyan state television said the town was cleared of “armed gangs” opposed to Gaddafi and a spokesman for the rebel movement, Hamid al-Hasi, told Al Arabiya that Ras Lanuf was back in rebel hands.

Gaddafi’s warplanes were carrying out air strikes seemingly unhindered by insurgent anti-aircraft guns mounted on pick-up trucks.

Many rebels were angry at international inaction.

“Where is the West? How are they helping? What are they doing,” shouted one angry fighter.

In Tripoli, Libyan security forces used teargas and fired in the air to disperse worshippers near a mosque before they could even attempt any protest, a Libyan man said, citing witnesses.

It was impossible to verify reports about what was happening in the Tajoura district of Tripoli because foreign journalists were prevented from reporting from the area and local anti-Gaddafi activists were not answering phone calls.

The revolt in Zawiyah, 50 km (30 miles) west of Tripoli and held by rebels for days against fierce attacks, appeared to have been crushed.

Foreign journalists brought to the city center by government forces on Friday saw buildings scorched, patches of fresh paint and loyalists chanting “I love Gaddafi.”

HOTEL BURNED OUT

A hotel on the square that had been the rebel command center stood burned out, now guarded by Gaddafi militiamen. Facades not covered by large cloths were pockmarked by bullets from days of battles around the space the rebels called Martyrs’ Square.

“There were bad guys inside. There were 35-40 guys there yesterday with Kalashnikovs and big guns,” said Waleed, one militiaman, pointing toward the building’s ruined facade.

“We cannot live without Gaddafi. He is the king of Africa, not just Libya.”

The only town holding out in western Libya was Misrata, about 200 km (125 miles) east of Tripoli. It was calm on Friday, but rebels said they were expecting an attack in the near future.

Libya’s insurgent leader said any delay in imposing a no-fly zone could let Gaddafi regain control.

“We ask the international community to shoulder their responsibilities,” Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, head of the rebels’ National Libyan Council, told the BBC.

“The Libyans are being cleansed by Gaddafi’s air force. We asked for a no-fly zone to be imposed from day one, we also want a sea embargo,” he said.

About 15,000 worshippers gathered outside the courthouse that has become the council’s headquarters in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

“Help us to become a democratic country,” said one banner strung between lampposts and written in English and Arabic.

The Arab League will discuss the no-fly zone and the idea of extending formal recognition to the rebels at a meeting on Saturday, but experts said divisions among them will likely preclude agreement, disappointing the EU which had been looking to the grouping to help guide their next steps.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/million-libyans-aid-uk-france-seek-no-fly-20110307-195811-643.html

 


International reaction to crisis in Egypt

By London World Desk

Protesters have intensified their campaign to force Egypt‘s President Hosni Mubarak to quit as world leaders struggled to find a solution to a crisis that has torn up the Middle East political map.

Following are official comments on the crisis from around the world:

Finland’s Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb told Reuters ahead of a European Union meeting to discuss policy on Egypt and Tunisia, among other issues:

“The big picture is that there is something big, something historic happening in the Arab world.

“The genie is out of the bottle and I don’t know whether anyone is able to or wants to put it back in. I know I don’t.

“It’s too early to say whether this is the Berlin Wall moment, or the 1989 moment, because there are of course huge differences between Europe and the Arab world and there are huge differences within the Arab world countries.

“There is, however, one general trend that I think we can all agree on: those countries which are not doing economically well, where people do not feel that their welfare is taken care of, that they don’t have an equal opportunity to prosper, those are the ones that have a tendency to start moving.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron told BBC TV:

“It’s very important that if it’s President Obama or whether it’s me, we’re not saying who should run this country or that country.

“It’s sensible to say that you do have a choice here, this repression, if you opt for that, that will end badly for Egypt, badly for the world. It’s the wrong choice to make.”

Germany’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said at a regular news conference:

“We are asking that the current president respect the freedom of opinion of the people and their other civil rights, not to resort to force under any circumstances — that would only help extremists. We are not going to say anyone should step down or someone else should take office.

“That’s something the Egyptians need to decide and where we clearly request from the Egyptian government that all those who want to stand for election can do so.

“Those conditions have to be created and we hold the Egyptian government accountable on that but we won’t ask anyone to step down.”

Middle East peace envoy and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Sky News from Jerusalem:

“What is inevitable is there’s going to be change, the question is what change and how do you manage it.

“What is necessary, and this is where I think the western governments, America, the European Union, have got to get themselves into position where they can not merely commentate on this situation but help partner that process of change.”

“I’ve said for years, this is a region in transition. The question is where is it transiting to?

“It can transit to a concept of society and the economy and politics that is 21st century. Or it can be taken backwards into a very reactionary form of religious autocracy, we don’t want that.”

Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said on Austrian radio:

“There is nothing better we can do at the moment. At the end of the day this is a revolution … and (we know) from past examples we have to wait and see how it ends.

Asked if EU foreign ministers would adopt a united front at meeting today: “What I expect is that we agree on the steps, on the procedure that we will use together. With our national foreign policies we all have to pull in the same direction as the European Union.”

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/factbox-international-reaction-crisis-egypt-20110131-034028-523.html

 


Most powerful man in the world??!!

EU names Belgian PM Van Rompuy as first president

By Darren Ennis and Timothy Heritage

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders named Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, who is little known outside his own country, as the bloc’s first president on Thursday to lead efforts to make it more influential on the world stage.

They also chose Baroness Catherine Ashton, a Briton little known even in her own country, as EU foreign affairs chief under a deal that kept out more established figures such as Tony Blair, and raised questions about how the bloc plans to lift its profile.

The appointments are intended to bolster the EU’s standing and help it to match the rise of emerging powers such as China following the global economic crisis, but neither Ashton nor Van Rompuy is a familiar figure outside Europe.

“I believe my experience will speak for itself. Am I an ego on legs? No I’m not. Do I want to be seen to be out there saying everything all the time? No I don’t. Judge me on what I do and I think you’ll pleased with the outcome,” Ashton told reporters.

Von Rompuy promised to move “step by step” to help Europe out of “exceptionally difficult times, a period of anxiety, uncertainty and lack of confidence.”

Van Rompuy, 62, and Ashton, 53, are compromise candidates who plan to use quiet diplomacy and consensus. At least initially they will not have the weight in foreign capitals that a better-known figure such as Blair, a former British prime minister, would have had.

Agreement on the positions took weeks, undermining efforts to present the bloc as a united force, partly because Britain had demanded Blair should be president.

The breakthrough came when Prime Minister Gordon Brown dropped that demand and backed EU Trade Commissioner Ashton as foreign affairs chief and vice-president of the EU’s executive European Commission instead.

POLITICAL BALANCE

The role of president of the council of EU leaders was created under the Lisbon treaty, which takes effect on December 1 and creates a diplomatic corps to be headed by Ashton. She replaces Spaniard Javier Solana.

The White House said Washington had no stronger partner than Europe in advancing security and prosperity around the world.

“These two new positions, and related changes to take effect on December 1 as a result of the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, will strengthen the EU and enable it to be an even stronger partner to the United States,” it said.

EU leaders had sought a political balance to satisfy member states and the European Parliament, whose approval is needed for Ashton. This was achieved by appointing a center-right president and a center-left high representative for foreign affairs.

Van Rompuy, who will not need the assembly’s approval, won plaudits for holding together Belgium’s fragile coalition government after becoming prime minister less than a year ago.

Ashton, a former member of the House of Lords, Britain’s upper house of parliament, has little foreign affairs experience. But she has made a good impression as trade commissioner.

“I’m one of those people that believe that characters can grow into jobs,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.

Blair had long been the front-runner but many other states wanted a candidate more likely to lead by consensus, and Germany and France joined forces to block his candidacy.

They remain powerful forces in the EU although they have none of the top jobs which also include a Portuguese, Jose Manuel Barroso, as European Commission President.

Barroso will now complete the line-up of the Commission under him and Ashton. Deals are sure to have been made on some of the jobs during the consultations on the top jobs led by Sweden, which holds the EU presidency for the rest of this year.

EU diplomats said it was now all but certain that former French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier would be commissioner for the EU’s internal market, one of the most powerful and most sought-after positions in Barroso’s team.

Failure to agree on the top jobs would have highlighted divisions in a bloc representing nearly 500 million people, and undermined the goal of boosting the EU’s image abroad.

In backing Ashton, the leaders also answered calls by many EU officials for a woman to have one of the Union’s top posts.

http://ca.news.yahoo.com/s/reuters/091119/world/international_us_eu_president