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Monday, January 15, 2007

Bush's New Iran Policy

POLITICS:Bush's New Iran Policy - War Plan or Propaganda?Analysis by Gareth Porter*

WASHINGTON, Jan 15 (IPS) - President George W. Bush's seemingly aggressive Iran policy of taking direct action against alleged Iranian "networks" involved in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, combined with the deployment of a second carrier group off Iran's coast, triggered speculation that it is related to a plan for an attack. But the revelation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the campaign against Iranian officials had already been in effect for several months before Bush's speech last Wednesday indicates that the new rhetoric is aimed at serving the desperate need of the White House to shift the blame for its failure in Iraq to Iran, and to appear to be taking tough action.

Rice told the New York Times in an interview Friday that Bush had ordered the U.S. military to target Iranian officials in Iraq allegedly linked to attacks on U.S. forces some time last fall. Bush and Rice had previously created the impression that the administration had launched a new initiative against Iran in connection with its proposed increase in troop strength in Iraq. The Bush speech coincided with an attack by an unidentified U.S. military unit on the building used by Iranian consular officials in Erbil and the seizure of six Iranian officials in the compound.

But all indications are that the U.S. military has no real intelligence on any Iranian direct involvement in supplying lethal weapons to insurgents. The statement issued by the U.S. military but clearly written in the White House said the detainees, who were not identified as Iranians, were "suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and coalition forces".

That statement shows that the seizure was not based on any prior evidence of the officials' complicity in insurgent attacks. U.S. troops also seized documents and computers, indicating that the attack was really nothing more than an intelligence operation, launched in the hope of finding some evidence that could be used against Iran. The only other such U.S. military raid came in late December and targeted four Iranian officials visiting Baghdad at the invitation of Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. That operation bore similar evidence of being a fishing expedition against Iranians, based on nothing more than the "suspicion" that they were connected with the Quds force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. Contrary to the impression conveyed by the administration, therefore, it is not targeting those who it knows to be involved in supplying insurgents with weapons but is still trying to find some evidence to justify its tough rhetoric against Iran. The initial rhetoric from Bush suggesting a possible intention to expand the Iraq war into Iran or Syria in response to alleged Iranian and Syrian support for anti-coalition insurgents had been followed by clarifications and new details that point to a very carefully calibrated propaganda offensive aimed at rallying his own political base.

Bush's identification in his Jan. 10 speech of Iran and Syria as "allowing terrorists and insurgents to use their territory to move in and out of Iraq" and the more specific reference to Iran as "providing material support for attacks on American troops" seemed to hint at such a plan to expand the war across the board into Iran. Rice seemed to be dropping even more pointed hints of such a plan in television interviews on Thursday. On the NBC Today show, Rice vowed, on behalf of Bush, "[W]e are going to make certain that we disrupt activities that are endangering and killing our troops and that are destabilising Iraq." And when asked if that meant "attacks inside Iran and Syria" were "on the table", she responded that Bush "is not going to take options off the table..." Rice went on to declare, "The Iranians need to know, and the Syrians need to know, that the United States is not finding it acceptable and is not going to simply tolerate their activities to try and harm our forces or to destabilise Iraq."

Asked in an interview with "Fox and Friends" whether Bush's speech could mean "going over the border to chase down those who are providing the technology and possibly the training", Rice coyly replied, "Well, I don't want to speculate on what kinds of operations the United States may be engaged in," as if to leave that possibility open. Then she added, "But I think you will see that the United States is not going to simply stand idly by and let these activities continue." In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, Rice refused to answer a question from Chairman Joe Biden on whether the president has the authority to conduct military missions in Iran without congressional approval.

That provoked expressions of alarm from both Democratic and Republic senators. Sen. Chuck Hagel, Republican of Nebraska, said this ambiguity reminded him of the Richard Nixon administration's policy toward Cambodia in 1970 during the Vietnam War. Some analysts viewed Rice's rhetoric as evidence of an administration plan to justify an air offensive against Iran on the basis of alleged Iranian complicity in attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, rather than on the more abstract threat of Iranian progress toward a possible nuclear weapons capability. But the careful wording used and the explicit caveats issued by administration officials belied the impression of menace against Iran that Bush and Rice had clearly sought to convey.

Bush's reference to the issue in his Wednesday night speech avoided any actual threat to Iran. Instead he said, "We will seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." That formulation was carefully chosen to limit the scope of U.S. actions. The next day, even though Rice was provoking Congressional fears of a wider war, the whole Bush team was qualifying that rhetoric in remarks to reporters by specifying that U.S. actions to stop the alleged Iranian interference in Iraq will be confined to Iraq itself.

Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is considered a full member of the Bush administration team, limited the threatened aggressive U.S. actions to "those who are physically present trying to do harm to our troops..." He concluded, "We can take care of the security of our troops by doing the business we need to do inside of Iraq." And spokesman for the National Security Council Gordon Johndroe, after repeating the new line that the administration would "not tolerate outside interference in Iraq", went on to say that the actions would be taken only inside Iraq, not across the border.. Secretary of Defence Robert Gates also said on Friday the United States had no intention of going into Iranian territory.

The contrast between the general impression of steely resolve toward Iran conveyed by Bush and the unusual clarity about the limited geographical scope of the response points to a sophisticated two-level communications strategy prepared by the White House. For those who get their news from television, the message conveyed by Rice was one of effective action against the Iranians supposedly causing harm to U.S. troops; for the Congress and the media, the message conveyed to reporters was much more cautious.

The two-level communications strategy suggests, in turn, that the White House was acutely aware that a single message of menace toward Iran could have triggered a negative Congressional response that would have defeated the purpose of the tough rhetorical line.

Ironically, therefore, the net effect of the new tough line toward Iran may actually have been to force the administration to admit, if only tacitly, that it is not free under present circumstances even to threaten to go to war against Iran. *Gareth Porter is an historian and national security policy analyst. His latest book, "Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam", was published in June 2005. ** This article is the first of a two-part series on the escalation of hostile rhetoric and actions toward Iran by the Bush administration. (END/2007) Read more!

NZ prisoner in Cambodia says he faces human rights abuses

The lawyer for a New Zealander serving a 20 year sentence in a Cambodian jail says he is facing serious human rights abuses.

Graham Cleghorn is appealing his sex charge convictions which involve young girls who worked for him.

His lawyer, Greg King, says he has voiced his concerns to Prime Minister Helen Clark if she will ask Dame Silvia Cartwright, who is in Cambodia, to investigate.

He says prisoners are being beaten, shackled and locked in dark 'punishment rooms'. Read more!

China pledges 100 mln USD of loans for Cambodia to build infrastructure

China has pledged to offer 100 million U.S. dollars of preferential loans for Cambodia to build its infrastructure, said Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Hor Nam Hong here on Monday upon his return from the Philippines.

"The loan from China will be used to build National Road No. 10 from Battambang province to Pailin city and the Takhmao Bridge in Kandal province," said Hor, who is also Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.

This finance aims to encourage Cambodia to develop and offer benefits to the rural area, Hor told a press conference at the Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from the ASEAN ( the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) meetings.

Some of the loans will be dedicated to other road and bridge projects, he said, adding that China made this promise during the ASEAN meetings in Cebu, Philippines, in accordance with the Cambodian government's request made in 2006.

The loans were a follow-up to the 200 million U.S. dollars of aids and loans for Cambodia nodded by Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao in April, 2006, when he paid an official visit to the kingdom. Part of them have been earmarked to Cambodia to build bridges and roads.

Prime Minister Hun Sen also returned from the ASEAN summits on Monday evening.

Source: Xinhua Read more!

Roundup: Hub in Sihanoukville re-opened to perfect Cambodia's air travel network

A triangular air travel network over western Cambodia was formed as a world-class airport was re-opened on Monday in seaside resort Sihanoukville to embrace anticipated influx of foreign visitors.

The network can apparently serve to link up the kingdom's major sight-seeing spots in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, so as to provide more selectable travel routes for those curious about this colorful country.

"The re-opening of the airport is really good for our tourism," said Thong Khon, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, adding that it is part of the ministry's strategy to connect Siem Reap and Sihanoukville by airlines to encourage tourists to extend their stay to enjoy the kingdom's sandy beaches after seeing the Angkor temples.

Upon the inauguration of the Sihanoukville International Airport, a former Soviet Union-made Antonov-24 propeller-driven aircraft from Siem Reap landed on the runway in its maiden flight with 11 passengers and four crew members on board.

Currently, flights by domestic airliner PMT have started to shuttle between Sihanoukville and Siem Reap around three times a week, while the beach city's connection with Phnom Penh, some 300 kilometers away, is yet worth of air travel and can be easily handled with automobiles at around three hours' drive on the national road.

Meanwhile, said Thong Khon, there is still another option for non-domestic travelers, who can first reach Sihanoukville by marine route and then transfer to Siem Reap by airlines and, of course, vice versa.

The Societe Concessionnaire des Aeroports (SCA), a French- Malaysian joint firm entrusted to run the hub, is now in talks with several other airliners about using the airport, whose runway will be extended from the current 1,800 meters to 2,200 meters with a further investment of 200 million U.S. dollars to accommodate jet flyers such as Boeing 737 by the end of 2007, said Norinda Khek, SCA's communications and marketing manager.

By then, international routes will also be opened, thus tapping the potential of Siem Reap's already established air links with countries such as South Korea, Thailand and China to expand foreign tourists' access to Cambodia, he said, adding that SCA, a subsidiary of France's biggest construction group Vinci, is licensed to operate the hub until 2040.

The Sihanoukville airport was closed in the early 1980s due to financial difficulties. Renovation by SCA started in June 2006 to preliminarily extend the terminal and the runway suitable for propeller-driven aircraft to land.

According to official statistics, some 280,000 tourists visited Sihanoukville in 2006, up by 30 percent over 2005. Among them 60, 000 were foreigners.

In addition, tourist arrivals in Cambodia jumped more than 20 percent to about 1.7 million in 2006, bringing in 1.4 billion U.S. dollars in revenue for the government.

Each visitor was estimated to have spent some 700 U.S. dollars in Cambodia, while 300,000 local people have found jobs in the industry, according to the Ministry of Tourism, which expects to receive 3 million foreign travelers in 2010.

Source: Xinhua Read more!

Chaotic Streets of Phnom Penh update

Posted by Admin / 14. January 2007, 19:55
Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh is arguably the most chaotic city in south east Asia. The roads, sometimes French style boulevards and at other times dirt tracks with holes, uneasily host a variety of pedal bikes, motor bikes and large jeeps which compete for space at every intersection and set of traffic lights. The motor bikes win if only by sheer force of numbers. There are said to be over a million bikes in a city not yet three times that number in terms of population. It’s certainly the traffic that leaves the most lasting impression on the casual visitor. Over the past 12 months, Phnom Penh has improved slightly from the natives’ point of view. Although the city is host to thousand upon thousand of near destitute people who throng the sea wall areas, free toilet portacabins have started to appear which is an improvement on the health and hygiene front.
Phom Penh traffic is truly chaotic. The building boom in commercial property, housing blocks and hotels is clearly providing more jobs and even the police have smartened up their appearance in terms of their uniforms. However, they are still harassing motor bike drivers at random who aren’t wearing a pair of goggles. For some reason, these are seen as more important than a crash helmet. Visa situation It has never been easy to obtain multi-entry or non-immigrant visas in Phnom Penh at the Thai embassy and that remains the situation today. The most you are likely to get is a single entry tourist visa (60 days) for Thailand and you are likely to be told not to come back for another one. Multiple entry tourist visas in the countries bordering Thailand seem to be decidedly a no-no. For the time being at any rate. We met one man who had secured a single entry non-immigrant “B” visa (90 days) but he was clearly applying for a work permit in Thailand and had a pile of company papers and a registration certificate from the Chonburi labour office to prove the point. A couple of other guys were trying to get multiple entry non-immigrant “O” visas to support their Thai wives. They eventually got a single entry apiece, but were told to apply inside Thailand if they wanted a one year permit. Accommodation A night’s stay in a lodging house can cost as little as US$3 but nobody is suggesting it’s luxurious. You can find a crop of these guest houses in the Independence Monument area or in some streets near to the Central Market. Then there’s a grouping of mid-price hotels for around US$20-50, some of which are located on the boulevard overlooking the estuary. Finally, there are the plush hotels from around US$60-$150 per night which are beginning to abound all over town. The Cambodiana and the Sunway are too of the most popular and can be booked, along with dozens of other choices, on the internet. It’s customary to throw in a free American breakfast, and the best rates seem to be reserved for package tourists, mainly from France and Japan, or for “rack” clients who just walk up to the front desk and ask for a discount.
Restaurants Prices in the eating houses tend to be cheap and excellent value. On the estuary boulevard, the foreign correspondents’ club – which is open to all – serves a variety of wholesome dishes both Asian and European. It’s also Phnom Penh’s main gossip shop although you probably won’t have heard of the guy or gal under the microscope. Nearby, also on the sea front, are a growing number of pubs-with-grub. We enjoyed several meals in the British run Hope and Anchor where a soup, bangers and mash and a beer will leave lots of change from a 10 dollar bill. For some reason nobody seems to understand, the Indian restaurants which number six or seven are amongst the best in Asia. The food in all of them is excellent and main courses start at around three dollars. How much more you pay depends on the surroundings rather than the dishes themselves. The Indian nosheries are also good for vegetarians – the people who don’t fancy eating anything which once had a face – and both north and south Indian cuisine is rich in non meat and non fish choices. Eating in the top class restaurants is expensive even by Thai standards. But many of them put on evening or weekend buffets which can be worth a visit. For example, the Sunway which is located near the recently opened American embassy, has several international buffets a week for a very fair US$18.50. Finally, at the other end of the scale, it’s best to avoid street kitchens and food stalls. They are strictly for the locals and no assumptions should be made about the quality of water used in the washing up or the personal hygiene standards of the operators.
Sight seeing: All the places to go are only a few minutes by motorbike taxi, except the notorious Khmer Rouge “Killing Fields” which require a limousine taxi for the 30 km round trip at about 30 dollars. Many tours start with the downtown, huge temple site Wat Phnom (temple on a hill) and take in the museum near the royal palace, mainly stone artefacts and ruins. It’s as well to remember that Cambodia had an advanced civilization at a time when medieval Brits were going around in the dark and looking for trouble with clubs and knives. Not much has changed.
Ghastly reminder of Cambodia’s pastEveryone has to go and see Toul Sleng, the prison where thousands of men, women and children were tortured and butchered in the era of the Khmer Rouge thirty years ago. Many people have found the visiting experience very moving indeed, perhaps the more so because of the thousands of photos of inmates staring down at you from the walls. Another place worth a quick look is the Russian Market although the piles of marijuana once on sale have disappeared for all time.
Night life: It’s tame by Pattaya standards. There are nightclubs dotted around the central areas including the once famous or infamous Heart of Darkness which attracts the Camodian jet set and their Oddjob type minders. There are plenty of beer houses, Pattaya style, the most popular being on the waterfront or near the independence monument. Keep well clear of the port area where assorted tarts try to entice unwary visitors into tiny shacks and where you are more likely to lose your wallet than your virginity. The only sort-of gay bar is the Salt lounge where foreigners seem to outnumber the locals. If none of the above applies, you could try the Naga casino in the government offices’ district. Most of the floor space is given over to hungry slot machines and to baccarat. Those looking for a blackjack game might be disappointed as there are only two tables, with all the seats mostly occupied by rich locals who never seem to go home. The casino isn’t allowed to advertise and many city guide maps don’t include it. It’s a short distance from the Cambodiana hotel and open 24 hours, 365 days a year. Food and drink is free whilst you are betting.
However, an entertainment complex and luxury hotel are currently being built next to the gambling den. Getting there Bus trips from Thailand are only for the hardy or the foolhardy. The el-cheapo flights start at around 3,000 baht round trip and Thai is currently offering the same for 8,500 baht. Don’t forget that the el cheapos are subject to more delays and amalgamations. The tourist visa on arrival at Phnom Penh airport costs US$20 and the departure tax a steep US$25. Taxis to and from are a set price at US$7. Take US dollars with you for all bills and you’ll receive change in that currency. The local currency, the riel, is only used by tourists for very small transactions under one dollar. There are no coins in use in the country and no ATM machines.
Read more!