Daily Archives: February 6, 2012

Ginsburg to Egyptians: I wouldn’t use U.S. Constitution as a model

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Published February 06, 2012
FoxNews.com

As Egyptian officials prepare to send to trial 19 American democracy and rights workers, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg visited Cairo last week where she suggested Egyptian revolutionaries not use the U.S. Constitution as a model in the post-Arab Spring.

“I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” Ginsburg said in an interview on Al Hayat television last Wednesday. “I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, have an independent judiciary. It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done.”

As Egypt prepares to write a new constitution, Ginsburg, who was traveling during the court’s break to speak with legislators and judges in Egypt as well as Tunisia, spoke to students at Cairo University, encouraging them to enjoy the opportunity to participate in the “exceptional transitional period to a real democratic state.”

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U.N. nuclear talks in Tehran: frustrated hopes

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By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA | Mon Feb 6, 2012 12:01pm EST

(Reuters) – After two days of rare and intensive talks in Tehran, senior U.N. nuclear officials may have felt they were finally making headway towards getting Iran to address suspicions that it is bent on developing the ability to make atom bombs.

Then, on the evening before the third and final session of last week’s meetings in the Iranian capital, the visiting U.N. nuclear watchdog delegation was handed an envelope that dealt a blow to any hopes of substantive progress.

According to one Vienna-based diplomat briefed on the discussions, it contained a procedural “new work plan” at odds with the nature of the discussions until then, in which the U.N. experts had tried to focus on concrete steps required by Iran.

In the view of Western officials, the Iranian move was further proof of the kind of stalling tactics Tehran has often used during the decade-long dispute over its nuclear program.

“It is delay. It is talks about talks,” a senior Western envoy said about the Iranian negotiating strategy.

The team from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, headed by Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, was forced to use much of the last day of the January 29-31 meeting to push back against the Iranian initiative.

“The agency had to spend a great deal of time getting over Iranian obfuscation,” said another diplomat. “It wasted a lot of time, at least a day.”

Neither Iran nor the IAEA have commented on the Iranian proposal or given details about it.

But it evoked memories among Western diplomats of an ultimately doomed plan agreed between the IAEA and Tehran in 2007 to resolve “outstanding issues” that failed to allay international doubts about Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

By putting forward a new such proposal, they suspect, Iran was trying once again to drag talks out while pressing ahead with nuclear work Western powers fear is aimed at acquiring the means and technologies needed to build atomic bombs.

“The Iranians kept trying to push that ‘work plan’ and the agency was not going to go there. They had some very frank engagement,” the senior envoy said.

Iran’s mission to the IAEA was not reachable for comment. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has described the meeting with the IAEA as “very good,” without elaborating.

A second round of talks has been slated for later this month but Western diplomats hold out little hope that the February 21-22 meeting in Tehran will fare much better than the previous round.

One diplomat said the January negotiations ended with a draft “discussion paper” listing the main points the IAEA wants Iran to answer, especially allegations about possible military dimensions to its uranium enrichment program.

The talks coincide with soaring tension in the long-running row, with the United States and European Union adopting sanctions targeting Iran’s oil exports and the Islamic Republic threatening retaliation by closing the main Gulf oil shipping lane.

IRAN UNDER PRESSURE

The outcome of the IAEA’s meetings in Tehran will be scrutinized in Washington, European capitals and Israel for signs of whether Iran’s leadership may finally be prepared to give ground after a decade of pursuing shadowy nuclear development goals, or whether it remains as defiant as ever.

Many fear a downward spiral towards military conflict and rocketing oil prices if diplomacy and sanctions fail to change the Islamic state’s nuclear course.

The Vienna-based IAEA, tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear arms in the world, is pressing Iran to be transparent.

It wants Iran to explain intelligence findings, detailed in an IAEA report in November, about research and development work pointing to nuclear weapons aims, and grant access to sites, documents and people relevant for its investigation.

Iran has indicated readiness for the first time to answer the agency’s questions but also repeatedly dismissed the allegations as baseless and forged.

It says its drive to stockpile enriched uranium is entirely peaceful and aimed at generating electricity using a future network of nuclear power plants.

The deadlock over the IAEA’s suspicion that Iran is looking into “weaponizing” its nuclear activity dates back over three years.

Nackaerts and his team specifically asked last week for access to the Parchin military site near Tehran, without receiving a clear answer from the Iranian side, diplomats said.

The secretive U.N. agency would not comment on the visit beyond a formal statement in which Director General Yukiya Amano said: “The agency is committed to intensifying dialogue. It remains essential to make progress on substantive issues.”

The IAEA said it explained to Iran its “concerns and identified its priorities, which focus on the clarification of possible military dimensions.”

“The IAEA also discussed with Iran the topics and initial steps to be taken, as well as associated modalities,” it said.

Western diplomats said the statement made clear that there had been little progress on substance, but also raised pressure on Iran to deliver tangible results in the next meeting.

Tehran is in the “game of gaining time,” one of them said.

But at least it would be clear who was to blame if the talks failed, he added: “It is going to be Iran’s responsibility.”

The IAEA may also hope that the Iranian side next time will send senior officials such as Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, to the talks.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was the main counterpart in the January meeting. While he is a senior nuclear official, the U.N. agency frequently sees him in Vienna.

“There was nothing achieved on this visit and in fact the agency could not get Iran to engage on possible military dimensions questions at all,” the senior Western envoy said.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Obama-appointed US trade adviser linked to illegal deal in Congolese gold

UN report says Kase Lawal knew he was dealing with the wanted warlord Bosco Ntaganda

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Congolese warlord Bosco Ntaganda has been wanted by the international criminal court since 2006. Photograph: Reuters

A US trade adviser appointed by Barack Obama orchestrated a deal to buy gold worth millions of dollars from a wanted Congolese warlord, according to a UN report.

Kase Lawal, a Nigerian-born US oil tycoon, transferred millions of dollars to the notorious rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda between December 2010 and February 2011 as part of the deal, the report by the UN’s Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) states.

If true, this would be a contravention of UN resolutions banning individuals or organisations from financing illegal armed groups in the wartorn eastern DRC.

The UN report says Lawal, the chairman and chief executive of the Houston-based oil firm Camac, was aware he was paying Ntaganda.

Obama put Lawal on the US advisory committee for trade and policy negotiations in September 2010, just months before the deal with Ntaganda.

All efforts to reach Lawal failed. Camac said it had no comment on the allegations, but said: “Camac is a law-abiding company and we disagree with the representations made in the report.” The White House did not respond to a request for comment.

Ntaganda has been wanted by the international criminal court (ICC) since an arrest warrant was issued in 2006. He funds his exploits by smuggling natural resources in the mineral-rich country, and faces allegations of recruiting child soldiers and presiding over mass rapes and murder of civilians by his troops in the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP).

The CNDP militia has since integrated into the Congolese national army but its soldiers continue to obey rebel command structures.

Ntaganda, like many rebel leaders in eastern DRC, funds his activities by smuggling natural resources.

The UN says “gold is among the sources of financing most readily available to armed groups”.

According to the report, while Lawal was initially under the impression that he was buying gold from an owner in Kenya, he did not abort the deal when he learned Ntaganda was the true owner.

Instead, the UN report says Lawal merely “appeared relieved to finally be engaging directly with the true owner of the gold”.

The report says Lawal financed the deal while Edward Carlos St Mary, a Houston businessman and friend of Lawal’s, carried out the transaction in DRC. The deal was proposed to the two men by Dikembe Mutombo, a Congolese former NBA player with the Houston Rockets, and three of his relatives.

Despite paying, Lawal never received the gold. St Mary flew to Goma in DRC to finish the deal in a Camac-leased jet, but the passengers were arrested by Congolese presidential security officers as they tried to take off with the gold in February 2011.

St Mary and two Camac employees were charged with money-laundering and illegal transport of a banned material, because at this time the Congolese government had banned mining of gold, tin and coltan in the provinces where the minerals trade was affected by illegal armed groups. The three men were released in late March after Camac’s Kinshasa representative paid $3m (£1.9m) in fines.

Substantial sums of money were involved from the start. The report says Lawal told St Mary he had lost “$30m as a result of the whole ordeal, including transport fees, fines, bribes” and the payments for the gold.

Jason Stearns, a former Group of Experts co-ordinator, said: “This is a fine example of the rank disregard of international law by major international companies and businessmen.

“Lawal knew Bosco Ntaganda was involved in the deal, so he was knowingly doing business with a man wanted by the ICC. On top of that, there was a Congolese mining ban in place at the time. And finally, he’s probably violating a UN arms embargo on the region.”

A source close to the UN who asked to remain anonymous said: “The whole thing was a scam. It’s likely the Congolese were always going to arrest [St Mary and the others] and keep the money and the gold. The charge of illegal transport of a banned material was a pretext for the arrests.

“In reality, the Congolese authorities and Ntaganda worked together to ensure full payment was made for the gold, that the gold never left the DRC, and that the arrested men would have to pay a series of heavy fines to secure their release.”

St Mary agrees. Speaking to the Guardian from Houston, he said that at one stage he nearly pulled out of the deal, only to be put on the phone to Zoé Kabila, the president’s brother, who reassured him the gold dealers were “legitimate”. That was before he knew Ntaganda was involved.

Later, in Goma, St Mary said Ntaganda was arguing with Joseph Kabila, DRC’s president, on the phone. “They were arguing over how to split the cash,” he said. “Even when I first met Ntaganda, he told me he’d just spoken to Kabila and that we’d be able to leave with the gold with no problem.”

When the story first broke in early 2011 Lawal tried to pin the blame on his friend St Mary. Since then, relations have soured between the two men, yet St Mary defends Lawal’s decision to push ahead with the deal. “Mickey [Lawal – Kase Lawal’s brother, also in Goma] and I told [Kase] Lawal that the owner of the gold was Bosco [Ntaganda].

“But by the time we found that out I think our lives were in jeopardy. To try to pull out then could have cost us our lives. In those circumstances, what else can you do? There was no out.

“There was only one way to go: try to do a deal and get the hell out of there. The problem was the authorities and Bosco were partners in this, and we didn’t know that until it was too late.”

Conflict persists in eastern DRC, despite a 2003 peace agreement to end a bloody war. Numerous rebel groups and militias operate in the region and there are regular attacks on civilians, including massacres and mass rapes.

Collaboration between Kabila and Ntaganda during the recent presidential and legislative elections lends weight to the accusations.

“Bosco and the CNDP have allegedly been involved in election fraud while campaigning for Kabila’s Majorité Présidentielle [coalition],” said Stearns. “Allegations include ballot-stuffing, stealing people’s identities and intimidation. It’s all been happening in CNDP-controlled areas.”

A Goma resident who wished to remain anonymous said: “Bosco and his men are a very visible presence … they put a lot of pressure on people to vote for their favourite candidates.”

Fraud was so rife that the Congolese electoral commission annulledelection results in some areas.

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Analysis: Bulgaria’s Shale Gas and the Wider Geo-Economic Game

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In mid-2011, the Bulgarian government announced it would provide shale gas exploration licenses to Chevron for the Northern part of the country.  Under the terms of the agreement the company would pay around $30 Million USD in order to begin its project. Initial findings pegged assumed reserves anywhere from 300 BCM up to 1 TCM. These prospects presented for shale gas were quite significant, not just for Bulgaria but for the whole of Europe.  It should be noted that reserves likely extend to the neighboring state of Romania, which is just a few kilometers from the country’s Northern borders.

Nevertheless, soon NGO‘s and various environmental and citizen’s groups started campaigning against shale gas exploration, citing the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking). These campaigns took the form of street protests, Internet broadcasts and intense lobbying of local councilors and politicians, which eventually forced the government to retreat from its original plans that spoke of making Bulgaria the shale gas champion in Europe.

The Center Left party (Socialist) in Bulgaria that is often perceived by outsiders as pro-Russian took a leading role in opposing shale gas research. In the Bulgarian Parliament two judicial initiatives were submitted with regards to this.

The first was drafted by three members of parliament of the Socialist party that proposed a complete ban on research and exploitation of any shale gas reserves in the country. The second initiative was drafted by the incumbent government and called for a moratorium on the exploration of shale gas until a new environmental-friendly method is found.

Media reports from Bulgaria have often mentioned the initiatives both by the Socialists and the environmental NGO’s to be linked to the interests of Russian gas companies, namely Gazprom. In fact the Minister for Economy and Energy, Traicho Traikov, went as far as saying in public that behind all protests, powerful energy import interests are to be found, indirectly pointing the finger at the Russians.

It is important to note that Ivaylo Kalfin, a leading Socialist politician, organized the local movement against shale gas in Northern Bulgaria where Chevron was to explore. Moreover, two out of the three Socialist MP’s that drafted the judicial initiative against shale gas had signed in the past when they were in government important energy deals with Gazprom. The third MP has business collaborations with a consultancy that supports the construction of the Belene thermonuclear power station, which was awarded to the Russian company, but has been “frozen” as a project over the past two years.

Furthermore, it is widely known that the current Bulgarian government is seen as anti-Russian under Premier Boyko Borizov, who has effectively frozen many bilateral agreements with Moscow, ranging from Burgas-Alexandroupoli oil pipeline to the South Stream pipeline gas project to the Belene nuclear station. Thus, the question arises: why did the Bulgarian government decide to stop a project that may eventually lead to the diversification of its energy dependence from Russia?

The answer is that Bulgaria has already started a whole range of initiatives in order to decrease its dependence by interlinking its system with that of Greece and Turkey and by bidding for a pipeline route in the Southern Corridor through its territory. Also, Russia exerts considerable influence in Bulgaria and it is likely that Borisov’s government decided that it is the best not to oppose Russia any further, bearing in mind that the opposition against shale gas exploration in the country was not solemnly coordinated by Moscow and really had strong domestic social support against it.

A third answer is that strong domestic energy interests, that are anti-Russian but also pro-natural gas, have played their role in undermining shale gas explorations. These interests are in favor of importing natural gas from markets such as Azerbaijan, thus they viewed shale gas as their opponent as they have traditionally viewed Gazprom as well.

The story though does not end in Bulgaria alone. On the 26th of January, Borislav Sandov, one of the leaders of the opposition against shale gas, made statements in the Bulgarian media and supported protests against shale gas exploration in Romania as well. There was a protest at the Romanian Embassy in Sofia and it seems that Bulgarian and Romanian NGO’s are coordinating their activities. In parallel, the government in Romania is battered by an ongoing wave of protests by state unions and workers against its economic policies, and the ability of Bucharest to resist yet another campaign against its policies is decreasing. Lastly, the especially harsh winter period in both Bulgaria and Romania with temperatures in major cities reaching minus 32 degrees Celsius and with a considerable number of casualties, has increased significantly the natural gas imports from Gazprom, which seems in any case to be the only sure winner from all of these developments and the current failure of shale gas explorations in these particular countries.

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