Hello !
Recent Appearances... Rantburg

Caribbean-Latin America
Iranian Penetration Posing a Threat in Latin America
I must confess that, after years of closely observing Iran’s strategies abroad, I find its growing presence in Latin America to be the most disturbing geopolitical development the region is facing today. Iran’s presence is Messianic in its goals and relentless in its tactics. It is intimately related to narcoterrorism, both in its own practice and in the groups and activities it sponsors. The key to its expanding reach has been Hugo Chávez.

Recently, a journalist from an important news outlet in Venezuela questioned the importance I attribute to Iranian embassies in Latin America. “They are just embassies,” he told me. To which I answered that our concept of what embassies are, or should be, has little to do with how Iran and its peers conceive of them. For these regimes, an embassy is a platform for terrorism. We need only to remember that two of the most brutal terrorist attacks in recent times in the region were ordered by Tehran and were planned and executed by Iranian agents operating directly from Iran’s embassy in Buenos Aires.

With this background, and with solid evidence that Islamic terrorist networks operate in sensitive areas of the continent, the Iranian regime’s growing interest and presence in Latin America is deeply troubling.

On his part, Hugo Chávez—Venezuela’s autocratic President—is acting as a go-between for Iran’s penetration strategy. He opens the doors to leaders of countries under his influence for the Iranians, like the Bolivian Evo Morales, the Ecuadorian Rafael Correa and the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega. Recently, Chávez made his ninth visit to Tehran. Lately we have learned that Chávez also acts as a front man, facilitating Iranian arms purchases banned by UN sanctions. I refer to the fact, reported in the international press, that while in Moscow recently Chávez publicly announced that he would buy the batteries for the S-300 surface-to-air missiles whose sale to Iran Russia had to cancel in compliance with the new UN rules. This raises suspicion about the massive arms purchases already made by Chávez, in quantities that go well beyond the conceivable needs of any single country like Venezuela.

Given these circumstances, the reaction to Iranian penetration in Latin America on the part of the most responsible and democratic governments in the region has been amazingly passive. But it is nonetheless clear that such penetration poses serious threats to the peace and security of the peoples of the Americas, and ignoring them will not make these threats disappear. It’s time to wake up to the threat represented by the Tehran-Caracas axis and its links to terrorism.

As the close ties that exist between Chávez’s regime and the ETA terrorist organization were uncovered in Spain, judicial authorities there issued a timely reminder that these days Caracas is a hotbed of terrorists, where they find refuge, financing, and training. Spanish judges revealed that two ETA terrorists — Besance and Atistrain — confessed that as recently as 2008 they were trained in all the methods of terror along with Chilean radicals in Venezuelan territory.

The person in charge of receiving, protecting, and organizing their terrorist training was Arturo Cubillas, an ETA member closely linked to the Chávez regime. Cubillas not only is a functionary of the government, which assigned him the position of Chief of Security of an entity belonging to the Ministry of Agriculture, but his wife, Goizeder Odriozoloa, works with none other than the Venezuelan Vice President, Elias Jaua.

The organic links between ETA’s Cubillas with the government of Chávez were revealed in a single act. When the Spanish judges asked for Venezuelan collaboration in arresting and extraditing Cubillas, the first reaction from Chavez’ ambassador in Madrid was to question the proceedings, even hinting that the confessions were obtained under torture. The resulting scandal forced Chávez to deny his claims and that he was protecting ETA and promote, at the specific request of the then Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos, that he would investigate Cubillas and if it was the case [that he trained ETA terrorists] then he would be tried in Venezuela or extradited to Spain. Immediately after, however, the Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega was quick to note that in no case would Cubillas be extradited to Spain, as he held Venezuelan citizenship. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that so far Cubillas has not been arrested or stopped, not even suspended, despite the seriousness of the charges against him and his actions in support of terrorism.

Iran’s Strategy

This is the proper context in which we must place Iran’s extraordinary efforts to establish beachheads in Latin America with Chávez’s help. Those efforts are truly extra-ordinary: they include Iran’s investment of billions of dollars in Venezuela, as well as the promise of millions to be invested in Bolivia and Nicaragua.

In addition, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made numerous visits to several countries in the region in recent years, always with Venezuela as his spearhead. Those same countries have been also frequently visited by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other senior officials of the Iranian government, most notably including those of Iran’s security and intelligence agencies.

A logical, and disquieting, question imposes itself: what justifies such an eagerness toward an area geographically so distant from Iran? This question has been raised even in Tehran, where some have criticized the lack of economic sense in spending astronomical amounts of money in this region. Given the background and present behavior of the Ayatollahs’ regime, it would be a good idea for the countries of Latin America to start asking the same question, before it is too late.

It is widely known that the Iranian regime is looking for diplomatic allies all over the world. Its leaders are intent upon shaking off its status as an international pariah, which it first earned for its behavior as a state sponsor of terrorism and later confirmed with its ostensive quest for nuclear armaments, not to mention its virulent anti-Semitism and its stubborn denial of the Holocaust. Iran views any possible allies that are geographically close to the United States as particularly valuable, since they can be presented as challenges to American influence in the States’ own backyard, something similar to what Ahmadinejad attempted to do in Lebanon.

We must also remember that Ayatollah Khomeini, founder of the Islamic theocracy, always maintained that the Islamic Revolution had to transcend the national level and be exported to other countries, even by imposing it on other Islamic nations with non-theocratic governments. For Khomeini, the constitutional provision “to perpetuate the revolution at home and abroad” implied not only preaching and propagating the Islamic faith, but also engaging in confrontation and armed struggle. It is not surprising then that a regime that is expansionist by definition would, through the years, develops a clear policy of state-sponsored terrorism, directly and indirectly executed through organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

Chávez’s Expansionism

Chávez’s regime shares the same expansionist drive, which translates into a strategic identification with Iran’s theocracy. In effect, while autocracy has been, unfortunately, a relatively common phenomenon in Latin America’s turbulent history, the authoritarianism of Chávez is of an aggressively expansionist nature: for him, it is not enough to ruthlessly impose it in Venezuela (as past dictators limited themselves to doing in this and other Latin American countries); it must also be transplanted to other countries and, if possible, to all the countries in the region.

Chávez is well placed to facilitate Iran’s penetration. His rabidly anti-American agenda has greatly benefited the Ayatollahs. Although Chávez doesn’t have a coherent system of beliefs, his brand of radical populism—inspired by that of his mentor Fidel Castro—finds fertile ground in the poverty, inequality, and corruption that are endemic in Latin America. In addition, Chávez has spent and continues to spend huge amounts of money to export his model of government, transforming other populist leaders in Latin America into his “clients” and acting—one could say—as the head of a regional franchise for radical populism.

Now, behind Chávez’s apparent madness there exists a careful method, thanks to the mentorship of the Castro brothers. For example, the strategy to bring about the expansionist vision of the Bolivarian revolution has three different levels:

· The first level is to establish satellite states;

· The second level is to generate “client states” in places where it is not possible to establish a Chávez-like regime, but where there is an important level of sympathy toward the Venezuelan Lieutenant General;

· The third level, complementary to the other two, is to intimidate the countries that don’t follow the guidelines issued in Caracas, in order to make sure that they keep silent about violations of human and democratic rights committed by the Chávez regime.

Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador are the best examples of satellites of Caracas, although each is in a different degree of progress in the process of becoming a “Chávez-like” regime. It is not by pure coincidence that Evo Morales, Daniel Ortega, and Rafael Correa, have all trampled on Congress and the Judiciary and set the abolishing of presidential term limits as their first priority in order to stay in power. All three have also criminalized their political opponents with all kinds of false accusations and have hounded private companies with expropriations, confiscations, and the imposition of ruinous low prices, among other measures that have no place in a democracy.

Honduras was moving in that same direction under Manuel Zelaya who, as soon as he joined the army of followers of the Bolivarian revolution, tried to bring about the first rule in Chávez’s manual: abolish presidential term limits and remain in power at any cost. As we all know, Zelaya did not achieve this goal, which was in open violation of the Honduran Constitution. Chávez and his acolytes have not yet been able to recover from this setback to their progress in Central America, to the point that they continue to engage in all actions possible to block the normalization of international relations with the freely and democratically elected government of Honduras.

Examples of “client states” abound. They go from the purchase of Argentine bonds, in order to keep the Kirchners afloat during their periodic episodes of fiscal insolvency, to the huge flows of oil and money that keep the majority of Caribbean states in a permanent position of support for Chávez’s whim. Thus, Chávez has managed to create significant blocks of open or subtle support for himself and his friends in international fora and organizations.

Cuba is a special case in terms of relations to Chávez. On the one hand, to Chávez, Cuba is the motherland of knowledge about and guidance for the construction—I would rather say the destruction—of socialism. In turn, Venezuela is for Cuba a generous udder from which it milks billions of dollars a year, a role not that different from the one played by the Soviet Union until its empire collapsed.

One key element of the services that Cuba offers to Chávez is his personal security. In addition, Cuba already has a leading role in Venezuela’s Army, in its police and its intelligence and migration services. There are thousands of Cuban doctors and teachers, infiltrated all throughout the country, who carry out the ideological indoctrination of Venezuelan citizens.

With the unlimited support of Chávez and with his tactics to control countries, earn their support, or silence their criticism, Iran’s diplomatic efforts in the region have borne significant results. Nicaragua, for instance, has expressed its support for the Iranian nuclear program. Venezuela and Cuba, in turn, have confirmed on multiple occasions their opposition to any sanctions imposed on Tehran for its non-compliance with resolutions of the UN Security Council and its Nuclear Agency. Furthermore, Iran’s diplomatic presence in the region has been continually expanding: it has reopened embassies in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, and Uruguay, and it has opened a new one in Nicaragua with a disproportionate number of “diplomats,” in spite the fact that their ties, commercial or otherwise, are utterly insignificant. It is also worth noting that Iranian nationals no longer need a visa to enter Nicaragua.

The support of Brazil, under Lula da Silva’s government, is even more remarkable. Brazil is too too big a country and its economic situation is too solid to be in any way controlled by Chávez. Yet, it is the most glittering trophy in Iran’s showcase of diplomatic triumphs in the region. Lula da Silva legitimized Ahmadinejad when he received the Iranian president in Brasilia in November of last year. But Lula has also legitimized Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which he insists on characterizing as “peaceful,” although it is known beyond any reasonable doubt that Iran’s aims are clearly military in nature.

What prompts Lula to provide such useful diplomatic services to Tehran? His motivations are, in part a winning move in the leftist gallery of his political party, and in part sheer ego and vanity. The tight financial and monetary policies with which Lula governed Brazil have distanced him from the leftist orthodoxy of his party about domestic policy. In order to neutralize intra-party criticism, he resorts to those leftists gestures in foreign policy. Lula also has the ambition to go down in history as the president who earned Brazil international recognition and status as a superpower. This encourages him not only to challenge the United States as much as possible—in order to “show” his independence—but also to assume flamboyant positions that call attention to Brazil on the international scene. In both cases, Lula’s gestures of support for Iran are perfectly consistent with his strategy; they create problems for others at a limited domestic cost to himself.

Dangerous Liaisons

The danger here is that the ties to the Ayatollahs entail much more than what the countries in the region may be expecting. We must remember that Iran is considered “the most active state sponsor of terrorism.” Thanks to Chavez’s ties to Iran, Hamas has opened offices in Caracas, as has the terrorist group Hezbollah, which Tehran finances with over 120 million dollars a year.

As the Los Angeles Times has reported, Western government officials fear that Hezbollah “may be using Venezuela as a base for its operations.” An official involved in the fight against terrorism told the Times that the relation between Venezuela and Iran “is becoming a strategic association.” How to explain otherwise the regular flights between Caracas and Tehran, for which no tickets are sold and no immigration or customs inspections are required?

We must not forget that Hezbollah has carried out not one, but two horrible terrorist attacks in the region, both in Buenos Aires. The first one, in 1992, against the Embassy of Israel, killed 42 people and wounded 242. The second one, two years later, against the headquarters of the largest Jewish Community Center in the city, left 82 people dead and 300 wounded. The official report from the Argentine authorities confirmed the direct responsibility of Iran and Hezbollah in both attacks. The report pointed out that Hezbollah had “followed orders issued directly by Tehran’s regime.” The Argentine Justice issued arrest warrants against former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Foreign Minister Ali Ar Velayati, former Intelligence Chief Ali Fallahijan and four other Iranian nationals, as well as against Imad Mugniyah, head of Hezbollah´s external security apparatus. It is worth noting that, in spite of Iran’s strong protests Interpol confirmed Argentina’s report and issued international warrants for the arrest of six Iranian suspects.

Besides this bloody record, police authorities know that Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda have sought refuge and raise funds in the Triple Frontier area, shared by Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, as well as in Venezuela’s Margarita Island and the Caribbean. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been channeled to parent organizations in the Middle East through their operatives in those areas, extending thus the worldwide network of support for terrorism in the region.

Although it is well known that al Qaeda and Hezbollah come from different, and inimical, branches of Islam, this is not an obstacle for the two organizations to form alliances of convenience seeking to reach common goals against a “common” enemy, the United States. The infamous “tri-border” region has a trait that makes it particularly inviting to Tehran. Most Muslims in the Americas are Sunnis, in line with their proportion in the world’s population. But the Shiites constitute almost half of all the Muslim residents of Foz do Iguaçu, the Brazilian city with the largest Islamic community in the Triple Frontier, just one bridge away from Ciudad del Este, which has the largest Islamic community in Paraguay with an equal high proportion of Shiites. We should all be concerned that Iran may aim at infiltrating these communities in order to manipulate them.

All this has moved the U.S. Treasury Department to freeze assets belonging to Hezbollah members in the tri-border area as well as prompted Canadian intelligence to point out that its “reports indicate that resources are regularly sent to Middle East groups, including Hamas, by support groups [in the Triple Frontier].” The threat of Islamic terrorism in the Triple Frontier is serious enough to have brought the three countries involved to create, with the support of the United States authorities, a tripartite command center (the 3 + 1 Group) in order to consolidate their police efforts in the area.

There is also evidence that Islamic terrorists have active links with drug traffic and money laundering in several countries in the region, as was revealed in Colombia by the dismantling of a group composed of Hezbollah operatives and a Colombian drug cartel that had generated hundreds of millions of dollars to finance Hezbollah’s terrorist activities.

The drug cartels are expanding their reach in our countries, as has been shown by diverse police operations. The proven links between the Islamic terrorists and the drug cartels significantly increase the security risks in the region. In this respect, several Central American countries suffer the assaults of “maras” (gangs). These “maras” are tightly linked to drug trafficking and all kinds of highly violent criminal acts as well as to gangs in the United States; they are also instrumental in the illegal infiltration of this country. Security experts worry that these gangs’ expertise could be put at the service of terrorists who want to enter the United States without being detected.

Necessary Actions

It is time that Latin American countries open their eyes to these risks. In view of the active presence, among others, of Hezbollah, Hamas, and al Qaeda in the region, it is also important to strengthen the institutional capacity of Latin American countries to prevent, research, and prosecute terrorist activities of any kind. There are excellent hemispheric tools available for that purpose, like the Inter American Convention Against Terrorism (CICTE), established by the Organization of American States. In close cooperation with United States authorities and with Spain’s support, CICTE works to strengthen the countries anti-terrorism legislation and to train the appropriate officers and personnel. It also promotes the improvement of security and immigration controls and the development of special training programs in the control of financial flows and money laundering, based in actual cases, as well as in matters of cyber-security.

At the same time, the U.S. Southern Command has sustained solid relations of military collaboration with its counterparts in the region in order to fight the threat of terrorism, which reaffirms that hemispheric cooperation is a crucial asset in this area.

An important additional step would be to raise the funds devoted to the program of anti-terrorist cooperation provided to Latin American countries in order to improve their capabilities in areas such as the handling of airport security, bomb detection and deactivation, and the fight against the financing of terrorist activities. In spite of its significance, this State Department program has been assigned very limited resources, and these have been mostly spent in support, first, of Colombia and, presently, of Mexico. This program is an effort that could and should be considerably strengthened, given the urgency of bolstering the anti-terrorist capabilities of Latin American countries.

Finally, although nothing can replace the countries’ determination to pay due attention to the risks of Iranian penetration in the region, it is clear that the Iranians have used to their own advantage the void that the United States has created by dedicating its attention to other regions in the world and markedly neglecting the relations with its neighbors.

I must say in all honestly that the United States does not possess a clear and consistent policy towards Latin America. Some decades ago, a perceptive former Latin American President said that it was hazardous to be a friend of the United States, because it wasn’t a trustworthy ally. It is a fundamental responsibility of American politicians from both parties to remedy this situation. In the face of the threat of Iran’s penetration in the region and its ties to international terrorism, it is essential for the United States to maintain a fruitful and continued dialogue with the countries of the hemisphere. Whoever ignores this does so at their own peril.

Africa Horn
Spain to turn Somali pirates into fishermen
[Al Arabiya] Spain will help Somalia to develop its fishing industry in an effort to fight piracy off the African country's lawless coast, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Tuesday.
They'll keep the Europeans from fishing out Somali waters? Good luck with that. Besides, until the cost of going a-pirating substantially exceeds the profits, there's no reason for the pirates to change careers.
"The goal is to turn pirates into fishermen," he told a news conference at the end of a two-day meeting in Madrid of the U.N.-backed International Contact Group on Somalia. "We believe that Spain, with its great fishing tradition and capacity to provide training, can help Somalia recover a key sector that is fundamental to the country's future."

Spain's environment ministry would work with Somalia's central government to identify pilot projects that can help develop the African nation's fishing industry, the minister said.

The waters around the Horn of Africa, especially off the Somali coast, have become a hub for piracy, making the busy shipping routes to the Suez Canal among the most dangerous in the world. The pirate gangs that operate from towns along Somalia's coast demand and often receive ransoms that in some cases have reached five million dollars.

Moratinos said Madrid would also contribute €3 million ($4 million) to Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, which is struggling to fight piracy and an offensive by Shabab Islamic hard boys. "If we want to eliminate the pirates we have to consolidate the control, stability and development of Somalia," he said.
And giving money to that incompetent bunch advances those objectives how, exactly?

Abbas says ready for direct talks with Israel
Autoedited by Rantburg
[Al Arabiya Latest] The ineffectual President Mahmoud Abbas said on Monday he was ready for direct negotiations with Israel, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's accusations that the Paleostinians are avoiding the talks.

"We are ready to hold direct peace negotiations with Israel," Abbas told reporters after talks with Jordan's King Abdullah II in Amman. "We have negotiated with Israeli governments before, more than once. Why would we avoid such talks? We are not."

Netanyahu told the parliamentary committee on foreign affairs and defense earlier on Monday that the Paleostinians were trying to sneak out of direct negotiations while Israel was ready to start them "immediately."

"We have an understanding with the Americans that we need to move now, without any delay, to direct negotiations, but in response, we have a clear Paleostinian attempt to avoid this process," Netanyahu said. "They are trying to stall and to sneak away from direct negotiations and to cause the Arab League to shackle the talks."

Israel, he said, was ready to start direct negotiations "immediately." "We are ready to start as early as next week," he said.

Netanyahu's remarks were made just days ahead of a meeting in Cairo between the ineffectual Mahmoud Abbas and the Arab League at which the Paleostinian leader will discuss the indirect talks with Israel, which began in May, and will also address the pressing question of a shift to direct negotiations.

Abbas has repeatedly said he would not move to direct talks without tangible progress on the key issues of borders and security, and without a complete freeze on Jewish settlement building on occupied Paleostinian land.

Although Israel has been observing a temporary freeze on new settlement construction in the West Bank, that moratorium runs out on September 26.

Meanwhile Abbas is due to meet Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos on Tuesday in Amman before flying to Cairo.

Netanyahu is under pressure to renew the freeze in order to build trust between the two parties. But until now, the hawkish Israeli leader has studiously avoided any such pledges -- with some of his closest allies vowing to begin building as soon as the moratorium expires.

U.S. President Barack Obama said during a meeting with Netanyahu at the White House earlier this month that he hoped direct Middle East peace talks would start before the end of September when the freeze runs out.

Africa North
France's Sarkozy says will punish Qaeda killers
[Al Arabiya Latest] President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed on Monday to punish al Qaeda's north African wing after confirming the death of a 78-year-old French hostage kidnapped in Niger.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said on Sunday it had killed Michel Germaneau in response to a raid by France and Mauritania against the group last week.

French commandos, acting with Mauritanian troops, had tried to free Germaneau, a retired engineer kidnapped on April 20, but had not found him when they raided a desert al-Qaeda camp in Mali, Sarkozy said.

"Convinced that he was condemned to a certain death, it was our duty to try to save him from his captors. Unfortunately Michel Germaneau was not there," Sarkozy said in a live televised statement.

"Far from weakening our determination, his death must reinforce it," the president said.

He urged French citizens to avoid travel to the Sahel region and vowed: "This crime will not go unpunished."

Sarkozy said France had received no sign since May that Germaneau was alive, and had intervened after AQIM threatened on July 11 to kill him within two weeks unless Paris arranged a prisoner exchange.

Spain, which also has two hostages held by another al-Qaeda faction in the region, condemned the killing of Germaneau and said it would continue with efforts to free its citizens.

"The Spanish government wants to transmit to the French government its full solidarity and support in the face of this brutal crime," Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in a statement.

Spread Fear
Security analysts said the group would use the raid as an excuse to target French interests in the region, though probably not on French soil.

"Looking at the way al-Qaeda made the threat, I think they will try and take further revenge against French interests, in other words do something in addition to having killed the French hostage," said Camille Tawil, an author and expert on north African militant groups.

"They don't have the capability to do something in France. If they had it, they would not have hesitated to act. They would be more likely to act against French interests in Africa," he said.

Domestically, the failed raid seemed unlikely to dent Sarkozy's standing, although the Socialist mayor of Germaneau's hometown, Olivier Thomas, questioned the use of force, saying the French tradition was to negotiate hostages' freedom.

Paris negotiated the release of another hostage, Pierre Camatte, who was released in February after Mali agreed to free four Islamist prisoners it was holding.

Defence Minister Herve Morin, justified the government's decision to participate in the raid saying AQIM had no intention to negotiate.

"We are facing a group that is completely determined in pursuing a holy war and had refused all direct or indirect means to initiate any dialogue with us," Morin told public radio France Inter.

Islamists in the Sahara have so far not staged any large-scale attacks, and experts say they have concentrated largely on collecting revenues from ransom payments and the smuggling of goods, including cocaine.

But, fearing these groups could become too powerful in vast desert zones governments have little sway over, Western nations led by France and the United States have stepped up involvement in the region and are seeking to forge better coordination.

Noman Benotman, a Libyan analyst based in Britain who is a former associate of Osama bin Laden, said AQIM will do its utmost to inflict further punishment on France.

"They will want to send a message of being tough, of spreading fear," Banotman said.

The same AQIM wing killed British captive Edwin Dyer last year after Britain refused to give in to its demands.

Sarkozy said he was sending Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to Mali, Niger and Mauritania from Monday evening to discuss increased security measures for French nationals in the region.

Libya and EU patch up Schengen visa dispute
Libya lifted a visa ban on citizens of 25 European countries on Saturday after EU president Spain said a Swiss-instigated visa blacklist against 188 Libyans in those countries had been scrapped. The end to the visa ban and the Schengen zone blacklist will likely defuse a crisis that has threatened to damage growing business ties between Europe and oil exporter Libya.

"In the interests of strengthening its cooperation with the European Union, Libya lifts the restrictions it earlier imposed on the citizens of the Schengen zone," Libya's Foreign Ministry said in a communique carried by JANA, the state news agency.

Spain's foreign ministry had earlier issued a statement announcing the visa blacklist had been torn up and expressed regret as part of a diplomatic drive by EU leaders.

"Libya expresses its appreciation at the European Union for this move," JANA quoted the Foreign Ministry statement as saying. "This is a defeat for Switzerland by means of collective European action. Libya accepts the EU decision..."

Libya stopped issuing visas to citizens from the Schengen borderless travel zone in retaliation for Switzerland, a Schengen member, barring entry to 188 Libyan citizens including the country's leader Muammar Gaddafi and members of his family.

The Spanish statement was issued after Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos arrived for talks in the Libyan town of Sirte, where Gaddafi is this weekend hosting a summit of the Arab League.

"All the names of the Libyan citizens included in the list of the Schengen information system have been removed," the ministry said in a statement which it said came from Spain's EU presidency. "We regret and deplore the trouble and inconvenience caused to those Libyan citizens. We hope that this move will not be repeated in the future."

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- whose country has some of Europe's closest business ties to Libya and who has criticized the Swiss visa blacklist -- was also in Sirte on Saturday as Gaddafi's guest.

Switzerland has been locked in a diplomatic dispute with oil exporter Libya since July 2008, when police in Geneva arrested Hannibal Gaddafi, a son of the Libyan leader, on charges of mistreating two domestic employees. The charges were swiftly dropped and Hannibal Gaddafi was released, but Libya stopped oil exports to Switzerland and withdrew millions of dollars from Swiss banks.

The Swiss government is pushing for the release from prison of Max Goeldi, a Swiss businessman who was barred from leaving Libya soon after Hannibal Gaddafi's arrest. He is serving a four-month sentence for breaking immigration rules. Libyan officials deny any connection between Goeldi's prosecution and Hannibal Gaddafi's arrest.

A senior Libyan official, who did not want to be identified, told Reuters on Friday that Goeldi would be freed "very soon." Goeldi's lawyer said if his client was to be released early it would happen after the summit ends on Sunday.

Spain predicts Israeli annexation of entire West Bank
[Iran Press TV Latest] Madrid has warned that, if continued at the current rate, the Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian lands would bring about the annexation of the entire occupied territories.
The Hockey Stick is true, too. All will end in 2012!!!!!!!!
Good lord -- some people really are capable of believing five impossible things before breakfast.
Spain's Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos cautioned that the advancement would claim the entire Palestinian territories in the West Bank, should the current rate of acquisition survive for another two years, AFP reported on Saturday.

"Until now, it's not too late, but if we wait for more than two years it will be too late," he said.

The comments came after the Israel interior ministry approved the construction of 1,600 housing units for Jewish settlers in Jerusalem (al-Quds).

Tel Aviv has been denounced for seeking insidious annexation of the territories under the guise of refurbishing the Jewish residences, resettling the Arab dwellers and promoting tourism among other "self-serving" excuses.

Israeli authorities refuse to meet the Palestinian condition for recommencement of the Middle East peace talks by enforcing a permanent and complete freeze on the expansion.

The resulting long-standing standoff in the negotiations was compounded by Israel's December 2008-January 2009 offensives against the Gaza Strip, which claimed the lives of more than 1,400 Palestinians.

Also on Saturday, the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged prompt formation of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement. "We need a negotiated peace settlement, it needs to happen quickly and now," she said.

Spain: FM met with Gadhafi over spat with Swiss
A Spanish official says the country's foreign minister has met with President Moammar Gadhafi to try to resolve a simmering diplomatic dispute between Libya and Switzerland. The official told AP Tuesday that Miguel Angel Moratinos came away from Monday's meeting in Tripoli feeling there was hope for ending the conflict.

Africa North
French hostage survives al-Qaeda deadline
[Maghrebia] One day after the expiration of an al-Qaeda deadline for his life, kidnapped Frenchman Peter Camatte was reportedly still alive in northern Mali, AFP quoted a Malian negotiator as saying on Sunday (February 21st). "We have had the assurance of those who hold him," the negotiator confirmed.

Four prisoners, whose release was demanded by AQIM in exchange for Camatte, were freed Thursday by a Bamako court. The two Mauritanians, a Burkinabe and an Algerian were still in custody on Sunday, according to a source quoted by AFP. Along with Camatte, three Spanish aid workers and an Italian couple kidnapped in Mauritania remain held by al-Qaeda.

In other developments Monday, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos called on the media to exercise discretion regarding coverage of the Spanish hostages. Asked at a press conference about rumours that Spain had paid a $5 million ransom, Moratinos refused to comment, saying only that the Spanish government would continue working on the case.

Israel not serious about peace, says Syria
[Iran Press TV Latest] Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says Israel is not serious about achieving peace since all facts point out that Tel Aviv is pushing the region towards war.

"Israel is not serious in achieving peace and that everything shows it is working towards a war," SANA news agency quoted Assad as saying in a meeting with visiting Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos in Damascus on Wednesday.

Moratinos, for his part, pointed out that resolution of crises in the Middle East is a priority to the European Union. He also expressed appreciation over Syria's positive role in establishing security and stability in the region.

Syria maintains that Israel's withdrawal from Golan Heights is the prerequisite for peace between Damascus and Tel Aviv. Israel captured the Golan Heights following the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed the Syrian territory in 1981.

Further raising Damascus' ire, Israeli warplanes destroyed Syria's al-Kibar site in 2007 blaming the country of harboring a nuclear reactor there -- a claim rejected by Syria.

Under the auspices of Turkey, Israel and Syria last May launched peace talks aimed at reaching a comprehensive peace agreement, but the negotiations reached a deadlock in September 2009.

Syria then withdrew from the talks in protest at Israel's all-out military strike against the Gaza Strip -- in December 2008 and January 2009 -- where at least 1,400 Palestinians lost their lives to the three-week carnage.

Africa North
Spain seeks media discretion regarding abducted aid workers
[Maghrebia] The three aid workers held by al-Qaeda in Mali are reportedly faring well, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said Thursday (January 21st) on Spanish television channel Cuatro. Speaking at a press conference later in the day, Moratinos called for "maximum discretion" from the media as negotiations to free the hostages proceed.

Albert Vilalta, 35, Alicia Gamez, 35, and Roque Pascual, 50, were abducted in Mauritania last November. They work for a Catalan "solidarity caravan" that transports humanitarian aid to Mauritania, Morocco, Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.

Spain to seek Palestinian state as EU president
Spain's foreign minister has vowed to work on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state when his country takes over the European Union presidency next year.

"My idea, and my dream, and my engagement, is to work for having in 2010, finally, a Palestinian state that could live in peace and security with Israel," Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said in Brussels on Friday.
I'm sure Israel would be thrilled if Spain could achieve such a thing, though they'd settle for a Palestinian state not actively murderous, nor teaching Palestinian children to hate Juices.
"We are all in the international community defending the two-state solution. Why should we wait for a Palestinian state? We have Israel as a state, we want its neighbor, the Palestinians, to have the same status," he added.
Clearly Minister Moratinos' mother never taught him that patience is a virtue.
Moratinos who was laying out the priorities of Spain's six-month term at the EU's helm starting on January 1, said an independent Palestinian state could only come about through negotiations.

"It's not going to be easy, but I think it's needed. We need a Palestinian state, the sooner, the better, and that is going to be our objective," said the foreign minister.

Earlier this month, European Union foreign ministers agreed on the recognition of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem Al-Quds as its capital.

They adopted a text agreeing that Jerusalem Al-Quds should provide "the future capital of the two states," as part of a negotiated settlement.

The negations, suspended during the Gaza war last year, have been blocked due to Israel's refusal to freeze settlement construction in the occupied lands including east Jerusalem Al-Quds.

The regime claims the holy city as its "eternal, indivisible" capital, while the Palestinians want at least the implementation of the UN resolutions which give control of the eastern part of the city to them.
Oh -- "the regime" means the Israeli government, not the PA as I thought at the beginning of the sentence. The PressTV-Iran writer wants a bit more practice before appearing in print again.

In which Judge Baltasar Garzon breaks my heart
Yeah, I know. I wuz warned.
A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said Saturday.

Human rights lawyers brought the case before leading anti-terror judge Baltasar Garzon, who agreed to send it on to prosecutors to decide whether it had merit, Gonzalo Boye, one of the lawyers who brought the charges, told The Associated Press.

The ex-Bush officials are Gonzales; former undersecretary of defense for policy Douglas Feith; former Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington; Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee; and Pentagon lawyer William Haynes.

Yoo declined to comment. A request for comment left with Feith through his Hudson Institute e-mail address was not immediately returned.

Spanish law allows courts to reach beyond national borders in cases of torture or war crimes under a doctrine of universal justice, though the government has recently said it hopes to limit the scope of the legal process.

Garzon became famous for bringing charges against former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in 1998, and he and other Spanish judges have agreed to investigate alleged abuses everywhere from Tibet to Argentina's "dirty war," El Salvador and Rwanda.

Still, the country's record in prosecuting such cases has been spotty at best, with only one suspect extradited to Spain so far.

When a similar case was brought against Israeli officials earlier this year, Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos assured his Israeli counterpart that the process would be quashed.

Even if indictments are eventually handed down against the U.S. officials, it is far from clear whether arrests would ever take place. The officials would have to travel outside the United States and to a country willing to take them into custody before possible extradition to Spain.
Kinda like extraordinary rendition, without the Chloroform.
Boye said he expected the National Court to take the case forward, and dismissed concerns that it would harm bilateral relations between the two countries. He said that some of the victims of the alleged torture were Spaniards, strengthening the argument for Spanish jurisdiction. "When you bring a case like this you can't stop to make political judgments as to how it might affect bilateral relations between countries," he told the AP." It's too important for that."

Boye noted that the case was brought not against interrogators who might have committed crimes but by the lawyers and other high-placed officials who gave cover for their actions. "Our case is a denunciation of lawyers, by lawyers, because we don't believe our profession should be used to help commit such barbarities," he said.

Another lawyer with detailed knowledge of the case told the AP that Garzon's decision to consider the charges was "a significant first step." The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

There was no immediate comment from Garzon or the government.

The judge's decision to send the case against the American officials to prosecutors means it will proceed, at least for now. Prosecutors must now decide whether to recommend a full-blown investigation, though Garzon is not bound by their decision.

The proceedings against the Bush Administration officials could be embarrassing for Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who has been keen to improve ties with the United States after frosty relations during the Bush Administration Zapatero is scheduled to meet President Barack Obama for the first time on April 5 during a summit in Prague.
Time to go to the barricades, like Bashir's constituents. Anyone want to chant some "anti-Spanish court" slogans with me?

-12 More