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  Nation 2  


US concerns over Iran ‘shared by neighbours’

MANAMA (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said American concerns over Iran’s suspected atomic weapons programme are shared by the Islamic republic’s neighbours.
Speaking to journalists about talks due to start between major powers and Iran tomorrow, Clinton said, “There is no debate in the international community, and perhaps the Iranians will engage seriously ... on what is a concern shared by nations on every continent, but most particularly right here in the region.
“Because obviously if you’re the neighbour of a country that is pursuing nuclear weapons, that is viewed in a much more threatening way than if you’re a concerned country many thousand of miles away. But the concern is the same and we hope that Iran will respond.”
Clinton is in Bahrain to open the annual Manama Dialogue organised by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies, which this year draws prime ministers, defence ministers, military officials, intelligence chiefs and private sector heads from across the region.
The meeting, billed as the “most important regional security meeting in the Middle East and an excellent anchor for regional security diplomacy,” comes as US diplomacy reels amid a storm of anger from foreign governments scrutinised in State Department cables published by WikiLeaks.
Some of the most prominent headlines highlighted widespread fears among Arab countries in the Gulf about Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme and their calls to nip it in the bud.
Perhaps most famously, Saudi King Abdullah was quoted in a cable saying the US should “cut off the head of the snake”.
And this weekend’s host, Bahrain’s King Hamad, told US General David Petraeus the Iranian “programme must be stopped ... The danger of letting it go on is greater than the danger of stopping it.
Iran, which has downplayed the WikiLeaks disclosures and said they will not affect relations with its neighbours, has adopted a tough and uncompromising stance ahead of new nuclear talks with world powers.
After months of stalling, it will resume talks in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday with the so-called P5+1 grouping UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States with Germany.
The Security Council has called on Iran in six resolutions -- four of which impose sanctions -- to halt its controversial atomic work, as part of the international community suspects Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons capability.
Tehran denies the charge, insisting its nuclear programme is solely aimed at peaceful ends and energy production.
Western powers “have used all the capabilities at their disposal, like passing resolutions, imposing sanctions and piling on political pressure but they did not gain anything,” said chief negotiator Saeed Jalili, who will represent Tehran in Geneva.
“They have (now) resorted to assassination, which shows their desperation and the dead end they have reached,” said the negotiator.
That was a reference to the murder on Monday of a senior Iranian nuclear scientist, that Tehran blamed on the United States and Israel.
World powers have not reacted to Iranian accusations.
It took Iran and the P5+1 grouping one month to agree on a date and venue for the talks, but the two sides have yet to agree on an agenda.
The world powers want to focus on Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, but Tehran wants a wider discussion that includes regional security issues and archfoe Israel’s alleged possession of nuclear arms.
To make things more complicated, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated this week that uranium enrichment, which is the main issue of concern over Iran’s nuclear activities, was “non-negotiable” and that pressure “will not bear any results.”
And Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran’s presence in Geneva “does not mean that we will make concessions or retreat from our principled position”.


MPs ‘misled’ over US cluster bombs
LONDON: The British government “misled” parliament by withholding a loophole allowing America to continue to store its cluster bombs on UK territory despite a ban under the Convention on Cluster Munitions to which Britain is a signatory, according to classified diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.
The information withheld from MPs related to an agreement granting America, which has not signed the Convention, temporary exemptions from the ban. A leaked cable reveals that the Foreign Office wanted the decision, agreed in principle by the then Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, to be kept secret in order not to “muddy” a parliamentary debate on ratifying the Convention.
In a cable, dated May 21, 2009, the head of security police at the Foreign Office, Nicolas Pickard, is quoted telling American diplomats it would be better to delay formalising the agreement until after the Convention was approved.
The cable quotes him as saying: “It would be better for the USG [US government] and HMG [Her Majesty’s government] not to reach final agreement on this temporary agreement understanding until after the CCM ratification process is completed in Parliament, so that they can tell parliamentarians that they have requested the USG to remove its cluster munitions by 2013, without complicating/muddying the debate by having to indicate that this request is open to exceptions.”
The cable also shows that most of the American cluster bombs are stored on its ships off the British island of Diego Garcia, apparently to circumvent the ban. It says that Pickard “reconfirmed that off-shore storage on U.S. ships would still be permitted”.
The Foreign Office denied deliberately misleading parliament.
“We reject any allegation that the FCO deliberately misled or failed in our obligation to inform Parliament,” it said.
Leaks ‘hurt diplomatic business’

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The massive leak of diplomatic cables has put a chill on US diplomatic contacts at a time when President Barack Obama’s administration is trying to rebuild world trust in its foreign policy, experts said.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senator John Kerry and former State Department officials all stressed the need for US diplomats to have candid conversations with foreign interlocutors without fear of public exposure.
“Every country, including the US, must be able to have honest, private dialogue with other countries about issues of common concern,” Clinton said.
But the chief US diplomat also said she was confident “the partnerships the Obama administration has worked so hard to build will withstand this challenge” posed by the dump of documents by the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks.
James Collins, a former US ambassador to Moscow, was not so sure.
“It’s certainly going to complicate the ability to build trust,” Collins said.
“It’s hard to say yet whether it’s going to undermine it or not. But it’s certainly going to undermine the ability of people to have confidence that what they talk about in confidence will stay that way,” he said.
Collins, who heads the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Russia and Eurasia programme, said the leaks will put a chill on talks with foreign powers and deny Washington a source of information on which to build policy.
“It will also deprive them (foreign policy makers) of the ability to get candid advice from our people in the field,” he added.
He said it will complicate the US ability to conduct multi-party negotiations on sensitive topics, such as efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions on Iran and North Korea or to stabilise Afghanistan.
“If you’re conducting negotiations, are these going to be confidential or not?” Collins said. “Our partners are just not going to know.”
On Iran, the US works with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. On North Korea, it works with Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
He said he could not tell whether the leaks would undercut the Obama administration’s policy to “reset” relations with Russia which hit a low during the administration of former president George W. Bush.
Nor could he tell whether it will undermine understandings with partners on Iran.
Wendy Chamberlin, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, told AFP that a “great deal of damage” had been done to the conduct of diplomacy, adding that foreign interlocutors “will be constrained to talk to us if they know it will go immediately into the press and to their publics.”
Richard Haas, a former director of policy planning at the State Department, said the massive leak “does not appear to constitute a national security crisis,” but causes both immediate and long-term problems for the United States and its partners.
“The longer term damage may be more real,” wrote Haas, the Council on Foreign Relations president.
“Foreign governments may think twice before sharing their secrets or even their candid judgments with American counterparts lest they read about them on the Internet,” he said.
Haas said the WikiLeaks revelations may also create some immediate security problems.
“Counterterrorism efforts in Yemen might also be set back as the leadership there might well feel the need to distance itself from the United States,” he said.
In January talks with US General David Petraeus, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh admitted lying to his own people by pretending that US military strikes against Al-Qaeda are carried out by Yemeni forces, according to a leaked document.
“If you look at something like Yemen, it may make them unwilling to cooperate with respect to terrorism,” US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters.
“It’s an outrageous, counter-productive effort and I think that prosecution is what ought to happen,” he said.


Europe debt crisis still serious, says IMF chief
NEW DELHI (AFP) - The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the debt crisis in Europe was still serious but he tipped Ireland to recover after its weekend bailout.
Last Sunday, the European Union and the IMF announced an 85-billion-euro (111-billion-dollar) rescue package for Ireland to shore up its banking sector and enable the country to meet its debt obligations.
The comments by IMF managing director Dominique Strauss-Kahn came as the European Central Bank, holding a policy meeting, was expected to signal action to fight the eurozone debt crisis, notably with help for banks.
“The crisis in Europe is still strong” with some European countries at the “cliff-edge,” Strauss-Kahn said in a speech to business leaders and ambassadors in New Delhi.
But he said the Irish rescue “should fix the problems” and the country’s economy “will come back on on track rather rapidly,” adding the IMF stood poised to assist other nations if needed.
The IMF bailout of Ireland has calmed fears about the Irish economy but led to intensified speculation that fellow eurozone debt-ridden financial stragglers Portugal and Spain could also need help in the future.
Greece, another eurozone laggard with chronic public finance problems, received a 110 billion euro-joint bailout in May from the EU and IMF.
Strauss-Kahn contrasted Asia’s economic vitality with the sluggish recovery in Europe and the United States, which are still struggling from the effects of the global financial crisis.
A number of European countries needed to reduce their public spending deficits to avoid running into trouble, he said, adding that even small economies “may create a lot of damage”.
During and after the global financial crisis, all major world powers stimulated their economies to increase demand and to counterbalance the effects of the economic shock caused by the banking sector meltdown.
In most developed countries, this spending was financed through borrowing, leading to large deficits that have begun to worry investors.
“Global recovery is moving along, but is still emerging and fragile,” said Strauss-Kahn, who is under pressure to run for the French presidency and whose one-day visit to New Delhi came days before an official trip by French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
“In parts of world, in Asia, South America and parts of Africa, growth is going well,” Strauss-Kahn added, paying tribute to India which he said has “become an economic superpower”.
Berlusconi in Russia amid revelations of US concern

MOSCOW (AFP) - Silvio Berlusconi met Russian President Dmitry Medvedev amid revelations from leaked US cables of growing anxiety in Washington about the Italian prime minister’s ties to Moscow.
The talks were to be the seventh between Berlusconi and a Russian president, most of which came during Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s two terms as head of state.
And it was Berlusconi’s relations with his close personal friend Putin that appeared to spark the greatest US concern in documents revealed this week by WikiLeaks.
The anxieties were expressed both by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the US embassy in Rome. One cable lists a set of questions she forwarded in a document titled a “request for information on Italy-Russia relations.”
Clinton asked about the basis of the leaders’ friendship and whether the Italian government had “made decisions to benefit Italian business or commercial interests at the expense of political concerns about energy policy.”
That question appeared aimed at ENI, the partially state-owned Italian energy giant that has been picked as a partner by Russia for lucrative natural gas projects, including the South Stream pipeline rivalling the US-backed Nabucco plan.
One US cable said that “ENI’s presence in Russia exceeds that of Italy’s understaffed embassy.” It added that “What is unclear is how much coordination occurs between ENI and the Russian political structures.”
The Kremlin said energy and economic cooperation would be high on Friday’s agenda and that South Stream would feature prominently in the talks.
The two sides were also expected to discuss Russia’s missile shield proposal for Europe that has been championed by Berlusconi but looked on with scepticism by both Washington and NATO.


‘Eyes of a killer’

MOSCOW (AFP) - The European Union’s former external affairs commissioner Chris Patten once said that Vladimir Putin had the eyes “of a killer” when talking about Chechnya, a confidential US cable showed.
Released by WikiLeaks, the 2004 dispatch from the US embassy in Brussels described a conversation Patten had with US officials a week after holding talks with then-president Putin in Moscow.
Patten’s visit to Moscow came in the closing stages of Russia’s second war in the predominantly Muslim republic, a campaign that Putin spearheaded and described as an “anti-terrorist operation”.
“He seems a completely reasonable man when discussing the Middle East or energy policy, but when the conversation shifts to Chechnya or Islamic extremism, Putin’s eyes turn to those of a killer,” the cable quoted Patten as telling a top embassy official.
Patten cautioned, “I’m not saying that genes are determinant,” but noted that “Putin’s grandfather was part of Lenin’s special protection team, father a Communist party apparatchik, and Putin himself decided at a young age to join the KGB,” the dispatch to Washington said.
Putin joined the KGB as a foreign intelligence agent, serving briefly in Dresden, which was then part of Communist East Germany.
Russia’s offensive in Chechnya has been repeatedly criticised for human rights violations while Putin has used colourful language to describe the Chechen insurgents, at one stage vowing to “waste them in the outhouse”.