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June 2010 Country Archive


America's Unfortunate Wars

Our IRAQ monthly report, the 86th we have made since the commencement of hostilities, once again reports the failure to name a cabinet and form a government, after the incumbent Prime Minister Maliki being frustrated in his attempt to disqualify (after the event), some of the already elected members of his rival, former PM Allawi, leader of the mixed non-religious/Sunni alliance. Maliki is now using the religious card seeking to unite the Shi’ites from other coalitions, to prevent the fairly elected Allawi group from taking office - and he may well succeed.

This all militates towards the situation we have long dreaded and forecast, that once the remaining US military is withdrawn and their diplomats in Baghdad have that much less clout, the paper-thin veneer of democracy will finally crumble and open up the reality of years of religious war - Beirut style.

If there isn’t a better answer, the probability is that after the departure of the US soldiers, some Iraqi general will take over, restore order (to public acclamation) – and then full circle - we are back to Saddam et fils.

The intervention of the US, the UK and others in IRAQ seven years ago, ostensibly to remove Saddam Hussein and those illusory WMDs, has not finally plumbed the depths of the disaster – but now it’s really getting close. The sectarian nature of the conflict is what remains, with al Qaeda in Mesopotamia using Sunni resentment against the Shia majority in a program of maximum violence. The car bombings are hardly news outside that country, but less reported have been a series of shrewdly targeted assassinations of what might be termed ‘opponents of al Qaeda’, which includes Sunni moderates as well as Shia notables and politicians. This month’s IRAQ report gives more detail, but the horror of the IRAQ story is clearly far from over. The US neo-con experiment in forcing democracy through the barrel of a gun, remains a disaster, even though Obama’s script read that Iraq would by now, have gracefully exited the scene, allowing full military and diplomatic attention to be focused on AFGHANISTAN. IRAQ is in a terrible mess and shows every sign of deteriorating further. The opposition clearly had been encouraged and tried to use democratic measures in the election, but the government having been defeated, just wouldn’t go. They have used the administrative power vested in them to hold illegally on to that power

We have long argued that IRAQ should be a federal state with much power devolved and the central government run from a Washington DC type enclave in Baghdad. This would at least reduce the lethal religious aspect in both north and south Iraq, whilst the centre would need more sub-division into ethnic cantons, apart from the federal capital. This was broadly the Joe Biden view we noted, but our great concern, once western troops are withdrawn, as we describe in our PRESCRIPTION for IRAQ is of the fearful danger of a two-way religious massacre on the lines of the India-Pakistan break-up in 1947.

President Obama must find that it is all very inconvenient when all available resources : military, financial and diplomatic, are needed to try and get something right in the other mess - AFGHANISTAN.

AFGHANISTAN is different, but there at least there were legitimate war aims for the NATO countries. The invasion - strictly speaking support for the Northern Alliance - was the counter blow to the 9/11 attack and subsequent bombings in Madrid and London, whilst al Qaeda’s High Command was being sheltered by the then Taleban government.

It was determined that whilst the NATO allies were at the main task of destroying al Qaeda, they would also clean up once and for all the narcotics trade, since this nation has become the worlds largest supplier of illegal opiates. In addition in best neo-con (and to be fair, liberal) concepts, the country would be introduced to democracy involving clean elections, freedom of the media, justice in the courts, human rights, and the once-and- for-all end to corruption.

This month’s AFGHANISTAN report is our 100th and the deeply depressing summary is that after eight years, none, not one of these objectives, has been attained. We have come to the conclusion that not only are they not going to be achieved - not by additional troops, nor international aid, but also we point out that the war has anyway skewed away from its original objective of finding and destroying the al Qaeda high command.

We have since the outset of hostilities persevered in our support for the US / NATO project, primarily because we saw western security itself requiring international terrorism based in Afghanistan, to be expunged, once and for all.

Al Qaeda’s leaders are not to be found in Afghanistan anymore and a consensus presumes them, if still in South or Central Asia, to be somewhere in some remote part of Pakistan’s untamed mountainous territory. Certainly, outside of what passes for the rule of law in either Afghanistan or Pakistan, in a location perhaps known to western security agencies, perhaps not.

Apart from special forces, the US/ NATO military effort is no longer directed against them, the villains of 9/11, but against the Taliban, who are in many ways indistinguishable from other Afghan patriots, the various tribesmen who will continue to unquestioningly follow their traditional chieftains and religious leaders of various sects. As to the secondary objective, that of imposing democracy at the point of a gun, we realise that we have been inconsistent in our observations on AFGHANISTAN since we long ago condemned this neo-con approach in IRAQ. It seems clear that democracy can only come from within a society that demands it, inevitably involving heroes and martyrs. In order that the objectives should be rooted in the popular culture, there needs to be a mass demand for clean courts, for open justice, honest reporting, for civil rights & human rights; for the prevention or punishment of public corruption. From the leadership down, these conditions do not exist in AFGHANISTAN.

Just as the western military, since they were not there as conquerors, have proved unable to stop Afghanistan becoming a narco-economy (which it was not in the time of Taleban rule), neither in the foreseeable future are the foreign soldiers able to advance any of the desirable democratic outcomes.

But it is the military project that has prompted our change of approach. That this war is not winnable has surely been demonstrated by now. Why then continue? The answer, our answer too, has long been to ensure that the war must end in a peace being achieved where the rulers themselves prevent the establishment of training camps, of a safe haven for the hierarchy of al Qaeda, or any other international terror group – all of which remains highly desirable.

But we cannot ignore the fact that the intellectual input of planning terror strikes, which as in the case of 9/11 surprised everybody, including the western agencies whose province it was to prevent such outrages, does not hinge nor depend in any way on the culprits being established in the wilds of Afghanistan, or any other remote territory.

Al Qaeda has a global spread of local copycats, its ‘conceptual franchisees’, as well as its corporate offshoots. They will remain a police and intelligence concern, no matter what the outcome in AFGHANISTAN. The intelligence communities and special forces will surely continue to consider responsibility for the three thousand plus 9/11 deaths, to be unfinished business where the existing Al Qaeda leadership are concerned. But ground forces, no. It is time to reconsider.

If this argument prevails, the place for the fundamental re-evaluation of the Afghan situation that we have now come to see as necessary, is the Council of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. That is the appropriate forum. There is clearly an obligation to seek to leave some sort of order behind, particularly a well trained and numerous Afghan army and police. Moreover there is a need for NATO allies to act in concert, rather than that individual member states should ‘cut and run’.

Hiding behind France’s skirts
The world has grown accustomed to the state of Israel defying UN resolutions as a matter of course and then sheltering behind America, when the criticism for non-compliance reaches the point of the Security Council requiring action. That then is customarily vetoed by Israel’s particular friend, the good old dependable US of A. Little known until recently is that France has played a similar role with regard to the kingdom of Morocco and its restless colony of the Western Sahara. ‘Independent Diplomat’ the freelance diplomatic advisory group, has publicised this story about ‘the UN’s least effective mission, MINURSO’, the UN mission in Western Sahara established nineteen years ago in 1991, to monitor a ceasefire between the Polisario and Moroccan forces.

The UN set out via MINURSO to organise a referendum of the people of Western Sahara, to enable them to determine their own future. It hasn’t happened! Mainly, because Morocco has employed ingenious delaying tactics which when challenged, have been adopted by France, their protectors in the Security Council, with the objective of resisting international monitoring, at any cost.

Meanwhile, over 100,000 Sahawaris languish in desert camps in neighbouring Algeria, Sahawari human rights campaigners suffer arbitrary detention and torture in the occupied territory, and even after nearly twenty years, the referendum is no closer.

We wonder whether many democratic Frenchmen and women are even aware of this shameful stance of their delegation at the UN?

King of the Kazakhs
We recently (17th March 2010) published a study of the astonishing former First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party Nursultan Nazarbayev, who without interruption has followed that regressive role with several consecutive stints as President, his re-elections usually unopposed. We described Kazakhstan’s situation as the “Khanate Revived.”

The context of that report was that as a result of Nursultan Nazarbayev’s astute lobbying, his fief had been awarded for this year of 2010, the leadership of the libertarian international institution OSCE, which seemed a little odd when looking at KAZAKHSTAN’s recent history as a former Soviet republic. Now we hear that his loyal minions in the Kazakh parliament, all the members of which belong to the same (his) party, are petitioning him to accept the title “leader of the nation” and with it the right to veto laws, even after his retirement. ‘Kazakhbashi’ has been suggested, if slightly ‘tongue in cheek’, based on the precedent of the late Saparmurat Niyazov, formerly dictator of Turkmenistan and self-named ‘Turkmenbashi’ –father of the Turkmen. Of course (as though anybody would dare), this move includes enhanced immunity from prosecution. The act has been passed and now only requires the formal assent of the great man. They haven’t yet figured a way of his running the country from the afterlife, but that need may be superseded by the confident assumption that one or another of his family will succeed him, which is no doubt the plan. But there may be competition between them, and since the President has two daughters, it is the ambitious sons-in-law to whom the Kazakhs will look at that time. They are on past behavioural form, not unlike the wayward progeny of Saddam Hussein and should continue to provide many column inches for the western press, entertaining for their readers, if a grim prospect for the Kazakhs.

United Kingdom Election Surprise
All the Kings horses and all the Queens political experts failed to forecast the outcome of the long awaited British elections. The Labour Party had ruled for thirteen years and to their credit steadily invested more than ever before in the Health and Education sectors. But their final years culminated in the horrific economic crisis that still engulfs much of the world. Despite this, with an unpopular Prime minister; two wars (one of which with Iraq, was clearly illegal); and the unflagging support of the Murdoch media (Rupert owns 40% of the UK media), plus many other newspapers cheering them on, the remodelled Conservative opposition which had enjoyed a giant lead in the opinion polls, was unable on the day to get even close to winning a majority of the members of parliament.

The principal reason was that British politics has become a three-way split, with the Conservatives scoring 10.7 million votes (36%); Labour 8.6 million (29%); and the Liberal Democrats 6.8 million (23%). That does not mathematically translate into MP’s due to the antiquated electoral system, but the outcome was that no political party could form a government, the key test for which simply involves having a majority of the seats and therefore votes, in the House of Commons. Our special report “The Election the Parties Lost but the Country Won,” gives much more detail.

For once the infamous British ‘attack dog press’ was left speechless – they largely still are - because the leader of the Conservatives got together with the leader of the Liberal Democrats, both highly intelligent and personable 43 year-olds, and together, after some rapid negotiations between their experts, formed a centrist common policy, a cabinet, and a coalition of elected members to implement this. Policies, it should be said, which offer a far more progressive program than the tired Labour Party could come up with, despite the overarching priority for any new government to pay down the horrendous budget deficit. Labour may have to wait five years to get back into shape for another contest, if the coalition holds. Their first task is to elect a new leader by this September.

It does seem a valid prediction that 21st century politics in the UK may well continue to be like this, with no single party being able to alone command a majority, thus a coalition resulting. It is after all the way most of the world’s democracies are governed and for a highly successful European model, the UK can look to Germany, Europe’s largest nation and most powerful economy.

The unrivalled influence of Israel’s lobbyists
This month’s SYRIA report illustrates how Israel’s lobbyists, primarily in the US, have intervened in what seemed to us as we reported it, a healthy change in US policy towards SYRIA. President Obama seemed to be leading the charge to break up the policy of permanent inaction in establishing a State of Palestine, as was required by the UN compromise sixty years ago, when setting up the State of Israel. As our report observes, Israeli media scare stories, about SYRIA shipping Scud missiles to Hezbollah in the Lebanon without any demonstrated evidence, resulted in individuals in the Congress, both the Senate and the House in double-quick time, moving new pro-Israel funding to combat this new ‘threat,’ the nature of which we coolly assess. In November last year it may be remembered, the threat then ‘revealed’ was that Katyusha rockets had been forwarded by SYRIA, which appropriately fizzled out. With regard to the lethal interception of the Turkish ‘aid’ ships heading for Gaza on 31st of May, we can be sure that the mighty publicity machine of the Israeli lobby will have sped into action, although since the primary complaint is the lack of proportionality of the Israeli commandos using automatic weapons against protestors wielding clubs, they have a hard job to sound like the underdog in that situation.

Now we observe that RUSSIA might become a player on the Arab-Israeli scene and since this is no Soviet Union with world domination theories, on consideration, this might objectively be a good thing. It might be useful have another interested power involved since the US is so often largely unable to act in matters relating to Israel. It is effectively neutered by the impact of the potentially menacing and reactive Israeli lobby on US domestic politics.

A leading Saudi prince at the time of Israel’s flagrant development of illegal settlements in the face of US admonishments, asked as if bewildered: “Which was the superpower, the US or Israel”? The answer would be in our view, that in all matters excluding Israel, it is the US that is undoubtedly the superpower, but in relation to the small state of Israel, then there is “no contest.” Under Bush whatever was Israeli policy became US policy - there was a daily ‘phone call between Israeli PM Sharon and US Vice- President Cheney.

As an example, the Israelis undoubtedly have a nuclear arsenal, more evidence of that surfaced in relation to an uncompleted deal to sell a nuclear weapon to South Africa many years ago, which has recently come to light from the archives of that nation. But whilst IRAN, which does not have a nuclear weapon is excoriated and sanctioned, Israel says nothing, and is never called to sign international nuclear agreements, or join any agreements limiting their use or proliferation, which in the case of any other nation the US would flatly insist upon, or otherwise call upon the UN to sanction.

President Obama and US National Security Strategy
The US with the best will in the world, and we do believe that Obama is sincere, is frequently at a disadvantage in dealing with some Israeli politicians who are not of the highest integrity and who ignore Washington, expecting to get away with it, whenever it suits them to do so. RUSSIA is now accepted as a new friend, certainly not a satellite and has no identifiable ideology other than that of all nation states, to look out for their own interests. They are making friends of significant nations in strategic regions as our SYRIA report makes clear. But the self-interest that implies does not exclude, as the US knows full well, sometimes doing that which is right, because it is right! None of this is to threaten Israel which enjoys the full weight of US protection, which generations of US leaders have been keen to articulate on all possible opportunities, as well as its own formidable military resources (not excluding the A-Bomb).

President Obama has himself just confirmed in his newly published National Security Strategy, that the US seeking to preserve US leadership in the world, ‘cannot go it alone;’ as he quite properly says, “the burdens of a young century cannot fall on US shoulders alone.

How appropriate then that there might be other nations that seek to intervene, diplomatically at least, in the Israeli –Palestine predicament, which expands to include SYRIA. Moreover, how to respond to NORTH KOREA clearly needs China’s involvement, which is pivotal in the circumstances, and then there are the ongoing problems with IRAN. There has been criticism of Brazil and TURKEY for getting involved, (not without other support, including SOUTH AFRICA), as though to stride upon the world stage was reserved for others. It reminds us of the time that George.W.Bush complained about IRAN ‘interfering’ with its next door neighbour IRAQ, when unprovoked, the might of the US military had travelled some 7,000 miles to do rather more than ‘interfere’ with that same distant nation.

Iran and Sanctions
The Security Council’s ‘Big Five’ – those with vetoes - reached an agreement in May on a draft UN resolution to expand sanctions against IRAN. Our June report on that nation considers the measures agreed and the different attitudes of the Chinese and Russians, that now seem to be on board.

There is an obvious irony in that last October the hottest prospect of dealing with the nuclear problem was to persuade the Iranians to ship 50% of their enriched uranium stockpile to be further enriched abroad, but to a level below weapons grade. It was only ever expected to delay the Iranian march towards weapons grade, but it somehow failed to happen . Suddenly TURKEY and Brazil entered the arena, as a result of which IRAN signed a new deal sending uranium stocks via next door neighbour TURKEY. Our report gives a critique, but it is hard to believe that what was to have been unalloyed good news just a few months ago, is now seen as irrelevant and possibly mischievous.

Again we cite President Obama’s very practical comments in the National Security Strategy (see above para) about sharing the burden. There is something else. In the process of being elected and in contradistinction to the George W Bush government, Barack Obama pledged to have direct talks with the ‘awkward squad’ of nations – at that time referring to NORTH KOREA and IRAN. It just hasn’t happened. North Korea is a separate problem as our reports make clear, but was the prospect of discussions with IRAN scuttled by the ‘devil’ of preconditions? Was this perhaps regarded as Mrs Clinton’s turf? History has shown examples of bold, top level discussions achieving breakthroughs in formerly unpromising situations. Is it too late to take such an initiative? Whatever, the prospect of direct talks was an exciting and potentially game-changing way forward. Few can believe that sanctions of a kind that RUSSIA and China would agree to, will do the business, which is to ensure that IRAN goes along the road of civil nuclear energy and not that of nuclear weapons.

South Africa’s World Cup fever
We resume our reports on S Africa which for June are heavily weighted by the upcoming world event: the first Soccer World Cup ever to be hosted by an African nation.

The fever referred to includes the last minute organisational worries for this vast event which is expected to bring conservatively, a quarter of a million visitors from overseas, for many of whom it will be the first time there. Our reports give a flavour of what they might expect.

But being S. Africa there is important economic news as well - the bottom line of which is that the economy is improving. Politically President Zuma is in trouble with his Parliament for non-disclosure of his financial interests. Given his remarkable survival of an apparently career-killing corruption charge which we have reported in past issues, and his risible declaration on his election that his “government would pursue corruption in public life”, his continuing failure to comply with parliamentary rules on disclosure has brought hard words from the opposition parties.

Meanwhile Washington will have noticed if few others have, that SOUTH AFRICA is supporting TURKEY and BRAZIL’s initiative in their intervention regarding IRAN’s nuclear stocks, which seems to have annoyed the State Department, (see the above article “IRAN and Sanctions”).

North Korea
Remote NORTH KOREA unusually grabbed the world headlines when a South Korean naval vessel was sunk in a sneak attack in South Korean waters close to the North Korean demarcation line. South Korean experts assisted by international experts from the US and Australia have studied the wreckage and the remains of a torpedo, and concluded that the ship was, as suspected, destroyed by a North Korean torpedo.

It was an act of war, yet the two Koreas are not at war and it remains generally not understood as to why this attack took place. Pyongyang furiously denies responsibility and makes the bizarre claim the South Koreans must have done it to themselves (killing 46 naval personnel), to create an incident. On the contrary there has been a general confusion both in Seoul and Washington about the appropriate reaction, which is not yet determined. In earlier times it would have provoked a commensurate military response, escalating perhaps to full-scale war, making the loss of 46 men a tiny proportion of the final casualties. Democracies are fortunately less inclined to go to war than dictatorships.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has made fierce speeches, the South Koreans have cut off most contacts with the North. The Chinese are being inscrutable and have not commented other than to call for calm, there are of course major issues for all parties. These matters are described in our June report.

Saudi Women are fighting back
The long oppressed ‘female of the species’ in Saudi Arabia, are making some kind of progress and this month’s report is devoted to that issue. They are undoubtedly being supported by the top Saudi Royals, specifically the King and the Crown Prince. King Abdullah seems to have decided that he wishes his reign to be remembered for having advanced the cause of his female subjects- so long oppressed by the religious establishment. Needless to point out perhaps, that at the end of the sixth century CE when the prophet was pronouncing, the world was still 1300 years away from the automobile so the prophet had nothing to say on that topic. Nevertheless the 20th / 21st century Wahhabi religious establishment was not prepared to countenance women driving automobiles. But under this elderly monarch, the world may yet witness the first legal women drivers on the Saudi highways.

India groans at Pakistani Courts decision
Our INDIA report this month sees another example of how high level Pakistani terrorists escape justice, whilst the foot soldiers get themselves killed. So it was regarding the massacre in Mumbai when in 2008 there was an indiscriminate attack on civilians by terrorists trained by Lashkar-i-Taiba, as was admitted by the only survivor from the subsequent Police and Army counterattack.

In late May the Pakistani High Court freed Hafuz Saeed, founder and ruling authority of that terror group, they say for lack of evidence. The impact of this release has played very badly in INDIA and at a time when efforts were being made by both sides to ameliorate the differences between them, and to generally improve their relationship. Our report looks at the detail of the steps towards a rapprochement between the two South Asian states.

Philippines: election results
Filipinos have voted for reform and clean government with the election of Beningo ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino, son of beloved former president Corazon Aquino, who won with a wide margin. But will they get what they voted for? Outgoing President Arroyo has been elected to the congress and has reassumed leadership of a powerful coalition. Clearly she intends to make the most use of that to limit the new president’s freedom of manoeuvre. She remains president for a further month and already she has shamelessly pre-empted her successor, by just appointing no less than a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court – all the others owe their appointments to her. At another level, this being the Philippines, her personal manicurist is appointed to a senior board position on a government corporation. A full report in this month’s issue on the PHILIPPINES.

India and Turkmenistan talk of TAPI
We have reported in earlier monthly issues from the perspective of IRAN, PAKISTAN and TURKMENISTAN, the prospects for the Central Asian FSU republic of TURKMENISTAN supplying gas to INDIA, which report this month takes up the story. But now it’s moved on. The original TAPI plan as its initials suggested was of a gas pipeline from Turkmen fields through AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN, thence to INDIA. Now we read of the possibility of bypassing not only turbulent AFGHANISTAN – hardly likely to recommend itself to international financiers, and PAKISTAN for similar reasons, as the pipeline, of necessity, would have to traverse the dangerous tribal lands along the Pak-Afghan frontier. Now the prospect to be further examined is a sub-sea pipeline similar to the Russo-Italian pipeline across the Black Sea from RUSSIA to TURKEY, or the Russian sub-sea pipeline to Germany via the Baltic, where deep water pipeline technology has been proved. TAPI has not been abandoned, but it is clear INDIA could do without brigands or terrorists rupturing their supply, which trans-Afghan and trans-Pakistan pipelines would be subject to. The reports both of TURKMENISTAN and INDIA include the story from a different perspective.

Libya and the Return of Pragmatism?
Our report this month looks closely at the signs of a returning pragmatism accompanying an apparent upsurge in the fortunes of Saif-ul-Islam Al-Qadafi. In doing so we consider the question of the succession for when eventually the Colonel his father, stands down. Saif’s great asset is that he speaks a common-sense language which reflects the aspirations of many ordinary Libyans.The current up-swing in attitudes towards the outside world, that large oil industry investors, or just potential tourists welcome, is seen as largely due to Saif’s influence. First, he has become visible again – he holds no state office – and is audible again in the encouragement of common sense in the affairs of his country- not a trait that LIBYA is famous for.

Russia, unquestionably an international player
Despite the ups and downs of relations between RUSSIA and the West, this month’s update once again reminds us that the days of the cold war are over. This was symbolised by the sight of soldiers from the US, Britain, France and Poland, marching alongside Russian troops through Moscow's Red Square on May 9th, the anniversary of the surrender of the Nazis. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among some two dozen world leaders attending the 65th anniversary.

Currently, President Obama is being forced to come to terms with RUSSIA by events in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel. Russia accepted the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq but will not accept further NATO encroachment or a US invasion of Iran. There is a return to what was traditionally known as detente, most notably the signing of the renewed START treaty and the ongoing Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty conference in New York.

Russia’s relationship with UKRAINE is also undergoing a profound change. The recent election of President Viktor Yanukovych ended a five-year pro-Western period under Viktor Yushchenko, during which Ukraine under the Orange leadership attempted to move closer to the West. Yanukovych came to power on a pro-Russian ticket, pledging to restore closer relations with Moscow.

At the time of the break-up of the Soviet Union we noted that the Russian Foreign Ministry had as a number one objective, to consolidate under Russian leadership the newly independent Slav former Soviet republics, with UKRAINE at the top of the list.

In just three months, the Russian and Ukrainian governments have signed agreements in the economic, military, aviation and nuclear spheres. Yanukovych has also made it clear that his country has no interest in joining NATO, reversing a policy pursued by his predecessor. Now Moscow has upped the stakes in dramatic fashion.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian Prime Minister, has proposed a merger between Russia’s state run gas company, Gazprom, and its Ukrainian counterpart, Naftogaz. At a time when the Ukrainian government agreed to extend the lease of the Russian Black Sea fleet in the Crimea, Mr Putin’s suggestion demonstrates the extent to which relations between Russia and Ukraine have been repaired since Ukrainian President Yushchenko was returned to power.

Central Asia
Our update on TURKMENISTAN shows that the possible merger between the Russian and Ukrainian gas companies, Gazprom and Naftogaz, will have the most profound repercussions for Turkmenistan. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on May 18 he did not exclude the possibility of natural gas transit from Central Asian states to Ukraine via Russia. UKRAINE purchased gas directly from Turkmenistan up to 2006 but deliveries to Ukraine were stopped by the then-Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko. Ukraine currently only buys Russian gas. However, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, newly elected has said he would like the issue of Turkmenistan's gas supplies through Russia to be discussed in the future. TURKMENISTAN’s gas is also of interest to INDIA where this month negotiations are reported, with some possibility of a sub-sea pipeline to avoid transit through unstable AFGHANISTAN and PAKISTAN.

In Central Asia, UZBEKISTAN hosted the meeting of the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) member-states, ahead of a key meeting of their heads of state in June. The SCO is a most important organisation that could decide the destinies of Eurasia. It consists of the two giants, China and Russia, plus Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Turkmenistan is not a member. It has four very important observer states that may well join, India, Mongolia, Pakistan and Turkmenistan. Iran wishes to join, but is debarred by its defiance of UN resolutions against its nuclear programme. The SCO, initially regarded in the west as a Sino-Russian counter to NATO, could clearly develop into a powerful force for peace across its vast expanse, but with a few exceptions its members and observers tend to have authoritarian governments. It developed out of concerns in China and RUSSIA that the US was using the AFGHAN war to create permanent military bases in their Central Asian ‘backyard’. At a preparatory meeting, the heads of delegations expressed their concerns about KYRGYZSTAN in the current difficult situation. Clashes between rival ethnic groups killed at least two people and hurt 50 on May 19th, raising fears of a new cycle of violence as this Central Asian nation struggles to restore order after the bloody revolt in April.

The Balkans
In the Balkans, the rapprochement between SERBIA and CROATIA continues, after the conflict of the 1990’s, as Yugoslavia broke up. The Serbian Prime Minister has proposed that Croatia should drop its lawsuit against Serbia over alleged acts of genocide, in order to improve relations between the two countries. In return Serbia would end a counter-suit against Croatia. He said: "CROATIA and SERBIA are important states in the Western Balkans, and the speed of the entire region's EU integration, which is the strategic goal of both countries, hinges in great part on our cooperation.” He also called for improved trade relations between the two countries in order to assist both sides during the current economic downturn.

The economic downturn is badly affecting ROMANIA, little reported in the west whose media have instead homed in on Greece. A crowd of 40,000 protestors marched through Bucharest on May 20. Civil servants and pensioners blocked traffic in the city centre, as they demonstrated outside government offices. The Economy Minister was booed and pelted with water and stones.

The unions have threatened a general strike if wage and pension cuts go ahead. The government has proposed wage cuts of 25% and pension cuts of 15% in order to reduce the country's budget deficit. The economy shrunk more than 7% last year and it needed an IMF bail-out in order to meet its payroll. The IMF says it needs to implement new austerity measures to qualify for the next instalment of the 20bn-euro ($25bn) IMF loan.

Turkey’s pivotal role
Our update on TURKEY shows the pivotal role it plays in the complex politics of the Middle East. Turkey is not anti-Israeli, or at least not normally, although with the May 31st night attack of Israeli commandos on their flotilla of small ships carrying protestors and supplies to Gaza, Israel has quite a price to pay in terms of public goodwill. It is anyway very anti-Netanyahu and his policy of expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Also Netanyahu stopped the Syria –Israel negotiations, under Turkish brokerage, on the Golan Heights, conducted by Netnayahu’s predecessor as Israeli prime minister.

The Iranians have agreed a deal with Turkey whereby Ankara accepts the enrichment of Iran's low enriched uranium in Turkey for nuclear fuel. The Iranian initiative is likely to complicate issues for world powers looking to rein in Iran's nuclear programme. As one official put it: "It is going to be much more difficult for the United States or the Europeans to reject this arrangement because it's no longer just about Iran, which is a much easier situation to manage". There is no doubt that this deal has upset the pattern of Middle Eastern politics and the thrust of US diplomacy on the Iranian question. The original idea was a western ploy to physically move out of
IRAN the stocks of nuclear material and when returning it duly enriched (but not weapons-grade), taking another quantity out for enrichment. It was more an alleviation than a solution but it then foundered as a project.

Better news on TURKEY’s relationship with Greece. President Erdogan, went to Athens, in early May to mend fences. Improving relations between Greece and Turkey could lead to arms reduction in both countries, Erdogan said. "The development of relations between Greece and Turkey will boost the climate of trust and stability (and) ultimately the natural consequence could be arms reduction”. Reciprocal commitments to reduce arms would be welcome in Greece, which is among the biggest defence spenders in Europe and is struggling to control a debt crisis. With Greece forced to go to the EU and IMF for a multi-billion-dollar bail-out package that has entailed harsh austerity measures, cuts in military spending are under review. Our update on GEORGIA shows Turkey attempting to improve its relations in the Caucasus.

We look at President Ma and analyse his relationship, and that of his Kuo MinTang TAIWAN government with mainland China.

Clive Lindley

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