Monthly Archives: January 2014

American Israel Public Affairs Committee

IPS – Right Web | January 27, 2014

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Billing itself as “America’s pro-Israel lobby,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most influential lobbyist groups in the United States. According to its website, “AIPAC is a 100,000-member grassroots movement of activists committed to ensuring Israel’s security and protecting American interests in the Middle East and around the world. AIPAC’s priority is to ensure that both America and Israel remain strong and that they collaborate closely together.”

The organization was founded in the early 1950s by Si Kenen, a Canadian-born writer. “Kenen was a tireless advocate for Israel in the 1950s and early 1960s, when it had to claw for dollars and votes against a powerful and determined lobby of oil interests, Arab-oriented diplomats, and lawmakers such as J. William Fulbright, who saw support for the fledgling Jewish state as a serious mistake that threatened regional stability,” wrote the Washington Post’s Glenn Frankel.[1]

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Although it states on its website that it “receives no financial assistance from Israel,” AIPAC generally promotes the policy objectives of the government currently in power in Israel. This has led critics to bemoan its undue influence on Washington, arguing that what is best for Israel is not necessarily what is best for the United States.

Despite the criticism, both liberal and conservative politicians actively court the group. Reflecting on AIPAC’s clout, former AIPAC lobbyist Steven J. Rosen reportedly once slipped a napkin to “pro-Israel” journalist Jeffrey Goldberg and quipped, “You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”[2]

However, in late 2013 and early 2014, AIPAC suffered a series of high-profile defeats that led some observers to question whether the group would retain its influence in coming years. Notably, after failing to marshal support for a U.S. military strike on Syria and to head off renewed nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers, AIPAC was forced to back down from its 2013-2014 bid to pass new sanctions legislation while talks were underway when it failed to persuade enough Democrats to sign on. Critics in and outside of government accused the bill’s supporters of trying to sink the negotiations and foment a war. “AIPAC and other hard-line groups remain a potent force in guaranteeing generous U.S. aid to Israel and hamstringing U.S. efforts to achieve a two-state solution,” said Harvard Professor Stephen Walt, “but their clout declines when they advocate a course of action that could lead to another Middle East war.”[3]

Iran

Iran has long been a key target of AIPAC’s lobbying efforts. The group claims on its website that “Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terror and is racing toward a nuclear weapons capability. Through its proxy armies of Hizballah in southern Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Iranian regime is supporting terrorists that have carried out attacks on American troops and Israeli civilians.”

Among its objectives has been to get the United States to impose ever-tighter sanctions on Iran. In a June 2012 “Issue Memo” titled “While the World Talks, Iran Enriches; More Pressure Needed,” AIPAC argued that talks between Iran and the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1) were failing to produce results and that “crippling economic sanctions must be accelerated to prevent Tehran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.” The memo also dismissed any consideration of “containing” Iran and added that “the United States must make clear that it will prevent Iran from developing or acquiring nuclear weapons and that Iran will not be allowed to acquire the capability to quickly produce a nuclear weapon at a time of its choosing.”

AIPAC maintained its support for tightening sanctions even into late 2013, when the P5+1 powers—including the United States—reached an interim agreement that would see Iran restrict its enrichment activities in exchange for minor sanctions relief while a final agreement was negotiated. While a November 2013 AIPAC memo acknowledged that the agreement did limit Iran’s abilities to enrich, the lobby complained that Iran was allowed to enrich uranium at all and called for Congress to preemptively pass new sanctions in the event the agreement failed.[4] That same month, the hawkish “pro-Israel” Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) revealed that he was working with AIPAC and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ). to push new sanctions even as talks were underway, defying calls from the Obama administration to give the talks a chance.[5] The Kirk-Menendez sanctions package ultimately floundered after AIPAC failed to muster enough Democrats to secure a veto-proof majority and Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to bring the bill to the floor.[6]

Among the key sanctions AIPAC has promoted was the 2009 House-passed Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which according the Congressional Research Service could prevent the United States “from providing credit, insurance, or guarantees to any project controlled by any energy producers or refiners that contribute significantly to Iran’s refined petroleum resources.”[7]

According to AIPAC, the bill represented “landmark sanctions legislation that would reinforce American diplomatic efforts with Iran with the threat of tougher sanctions if Iran rejects U.S. overtures and continues to enrich uranium.”[8] However, other observers countered that the bill would “hurt the Iranian people while having little effect on the leadership [the] sanctions are supposed to put pressure on; undermine the Obama administration’s attempts at engagement with Iran under a multilateral negotiating framework; and isolate the U.S. by antagonizing crucial allies in the UN Security Council.”[9]

Syria

Another key AIPAC target has been Syria, which the lobby views as a threat to Israel, in part because of Syrian support for Hezbollah. After the start of the opposition uprising in 2011, AIPAC released a number of issue memos lambasting the Syrian regime for committing human rights abuses and supporting terrorism. Although it steered clear of calling for direct U.S. military engagement, the lobby pressed for increased sanctions on the country.

A July 2011 issue memo called for tightening sanctions and international pressure. “The United States must hold Syria accountable for its destructive behavior and fully implement sanctions on Damascus as authorized under the Syria Accountability Act,” it said. “The Treasury Department should sanction Syrian banks and businesses facilitating Damascus’ illicit activities.”

By September 2013, AIPAC was unabashedly supporting a U.S. strike on the country, launching a lobbying blitz on Capitol Hill aimed at convincing U.S. lawmakers to authorize an attack and warning that any failure to act would embolden Iran.[10] Connecting AIPAC’s interest in the Syrian civil war to its position on Iran, AIPAC critic MJ Rosenberg argued that “AIPAC joined the battle to win Congressional approval because resolving the Syria crisis through any means other than war would set a terrible precedent for Iran: resolving the Iran nuclear issue diplomatically.” But with U.S. popular opinion deeply opposed to U.S. involvement in the war, Rosenberg noted that “AIPAC’s big lobbying day for war with Syria changed no votes. Not one.”[11]

AIPAC had stepped up its campaign against Syria many years before the uprising began. Shortly after President George W. Bush declared “mission accomplished” in Iraq in May 2003, AIPAC began pushing for passage of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act,which allowed for U.S. sanctions against Syria. Reported the Deutsche Presse-Agentur, “In his speech this month about the need for the Middle Eastern countries to move toward democracy, U.S. President George W. Bush won some praise but his words were also met with apprehension among Arab countries in the region. The basis for such worries was that Bush’s speech was preceded by suggestions from the so-called neoconservatives. They were the spearhead of the drive that led to the invasion of Iraq. For example, one of them, Richard Perle, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, talked (while in Israel) about the Syrian government’s failure to stop infiltration of guerrillas into Iraq. He coupled that with the observation that Syria’s military strength was feeble. This occurred at the same time that the Israeli lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, was using its muscle on the U.S. Congress to pass the Syria Accountability Act. This would impose U.S. sanctions on Syria unless Syria ended its occupation of parts of Lebanon, cut its ties to Palestinian groups the United States regards as terrorists, and stopped its alleged development of chemical and biological weapons.”[12]

In an October 2009 policy brief, AIPAC argued that despite the sanctions that had been imposed since passage of the Syria Accountability Act, little had changed.It also dimly criticized the Obama administration’s efforts at negotiation, stating: “While the Obama administration has renewed sanctions imposed under the Syria Accountability Act, it also has sought to improve relations between Washington and Damascus through a series of high-level visits to Syria that have largely focused on persuading Syria to clamp down on the influx into Iraq of foreign fighters who have directly contributed to the instability of the new Iraqi government and the deaths of American soldiers.”[13]

The Influence of the “Israel Lobby”

The apparent ability of the “Israel Lobby” to influence the direction of U.S. policy has been hotly debated for years, particularly since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, as many key champions of the war in the Bush administration—including Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith—seemed to be motivated by their views on Israeli security. However, many elements of the lobby—including inside AIPAC—were not immediately supportive of the neoconservative desire to go to war with Iraq.

In their hotly contested 2006 paper on the lobby, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt helped fan debate when they seemingly conflated neoconservatism with the Israel lobby. They wrote: “Although neoconservatives and other Lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not. In fact, Samuel Freedman reported just after the war started that ‘a compilation of nationwide opinion polls by the Pew Research Center shows that Jews are less supportive of the Iraq War than the population at large, 52% to 62%.’ Thus, it would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on ‘Jewish influence.’ Rather, the war was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neoconservatives within it.”[14]

But as the Washington Post‘s Glenn Frankel reported, AIPAC “took no official position on the merits of going to war in Iraq. But, like the Israeli government, once it was clear that the Bush administration was determined to go to war, AIPAC cheered from the sidelines, bestowing sustained ovations on an array of administration officials at its April 2003 annual conference and on Bush himself when he attended the following year.”[15]

Few would dispute the influence of groups like AIPAC and its spinoff, the Washington Institute for Near Policy. However, analysts who criticize this influence are often accused of anti-Semitism, as was the case with Walt and Mearsheimer when they released their working paper. Remarks made by Alan Dershowitz, the well-known lawyer and Harvard professor, were typical of much of the criticism. Dershowitz lambasted the paper as being full of “bigoted comments” and that it had the “the smell of singling out Jews and singling out Israel.”[16] The two authors foresaw the criticism, arguing in the paper: “No discussion of how the Lobby operates would be complete without examining one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-Semitism. Anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy—an influence that AIPAC celebrates—stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite. In fact, anyone who says that there is an Israel Lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism, even though the Israeli media themselves refer to America’s ‘Jewish Lobby.’ In effect, the Lobby boasts of its own power and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it. This tactic is very effective, because anti-Semitism is loathsome and no responsible person wants to be accused of it.”[17]

According to some estimates, there are about 500 national and local organizations that collectively make up the Israel lobby. And of those, AIPAC arguably carries the most weight—Newt Gingrich once called it “the most effective general interest group over the entire planet.” As Walt and Mearsheimer reported: “In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People (AARP), but ahead of heavyweight lobbies like the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington ‘muscle rankings.'”

Extremely active in securing weapons deals for Israel, in lobbying for sanctions against the country’s Middle East rivals, and in promoting the political agenda of whatever government happens to be in power in Israel, AIPAC has long played a highly public role in American policymaking in the Middle East. It has also been active in pushing U.S. intervention in the region.

AIPAC was in the thick of things during the lead up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. According to press reports, AIPAC membership jumped nearly 50 percent, to some 70,000, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, in part through ties the group had made with the Christian Right, which reflected a key strategy promoted by many neoconservatives and foreign policy hardliners during the 1990s. In late 2002, as talk about war heated up in Washington, AIPAC held a “national summit” in Atlanta to discuss the possible war and to strategize with supporters. Among the conference speakers were Wolfowitz, Tom Ridge, and Ralph Reed, the former head of the Christian Coalition.

AIPAC lists “preparing the next generation of pro-Israel leaders” as one of its goals, casting its net far beyond Jewish circles. “In the last few years, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has broadly expanded beyond its Jewish membership base reaching out to Hispanics, African-Americans, and Christian activists,” reported the Religion News Service.[18]

On AIPAC’s diverse array of supporters, Walt and Mearsheimer reported: “The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives. They believe Israel’s rebirth is part of Biblical prophecy, support its expansionist agenda, and think pressuring Israel is contrary to God’s will. In addition, the Lobby’s membership includes neoconservative gentiles such as John Bolton, the late Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, former UN Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and columnist George Will.”

AIPAC has long been a force in shaping U.S. political attitudes toward the Middle East. Its efforts to persuade U.S. lawmakers to go after Iraq date back to the first Gulf War. In an interview shortly after the 1991 Gulf War began, Thomas Dine, then president of AIPAC, told the Wall Street Journal that his organization had been busy behind the scenes building support for the war. “Yes, we were active,” said Dine. “These are the great issues of our time. If you sit on the sidelines, you have no voice.”[19]

According to press reports, in 1990 alone pro-Israel groups gave nearly $8 million in campaign contributions. Of those on the Democratic side of the aisle who received PAC cash and later supported the decision to go to war was Sen. Harry Reid, who had received $150,000 from pro-Israel PACs during his Senate election bid. A dozen years later, in 2002, Reid again supported the use of force against Iraq. Other Democrats who voted for the 1991 Gulf War resolution and received lobby cash included Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada and Sen. Howard Heflin of Alabama. According to the Wall Street Journal, the entire Alabama delegations in both the House and Senate voted for the resolution. Although at first glance “this can be ascribed to the conservative, pro-military character of the state,” opined the Journal, it is clear that “pro-Israel PACs have also cultivated Democrats [in the state] in recent years.”

A key AIPAC supporter at the time who actively worked to get congressmen on board the Gulf War resolution was Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-NY). Solarz, who later became a supporter of various Project for the New American Century (PNAC) initiatives (he signed the notorious September 20, 2001 PNAC letter calling for war against Iraq “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack”), personally lobbied Sen. Al Gore, who voted for the resolution, as well as several other fence-sitters among the Democrats, whom Solarz accused of being “tragically shortsighted” in their view of the Israeli-American relationship. Solarz also pushed AIPAC to play a more public role in supporting the use of force, as well as several other pro-Israel lobbies, including the Reform Jewish Movement.

Once the first Gulf War was under way, AIPAC set about capitalizing on the growing U.S. public support for Israel in the wake of Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks on Israel. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), by the end of January 1991, AIPAC had rushed off a letter to its supporters outlining a post-war campaign. Reported WRMEA: “Counting on the American public’s newfound understanding of Israel’s vulnerability, AIPAC will press for a new package of security aid for Israel far larger than any previous package. Second, the lobby will encourage the United States to strengthen its friendship with Israel and avoid ‘pandering toward Arab states hostile to the West and Israel.’ Third, it will request millions of dollars more in housing loan guarantees to settle Soviet Jews. And finally, it will work to ensure that any diplomatic efforts to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict will be based on ‘close cooperation and trust between the United States and Israel.'”[20]

Within a few short months, however, newspapers were reporting that AIPAC and the rest of the pro-Israel lobby had suffered a “damaging reversal” and that Israel was “no longer an automatic ally.” It seems that the administration of President George H. W. Bush was more interested in maintaining relations with other Arab states and pushing for a comprehensive Middle East peace deal than it was in keeping the lobby happy.

AIPAC has also lobbied heavily for U.S. funding of various Israeli weapons programs, including Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. The AIPAC website explains: “Since 1990 the Israeli Ministry of Defense and the U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization have cooperated to develop missile defense technology to counter the threat of long-range missiles, which are being developed by countries such as North Korea and Iran. This military cooperation between the United States and Israel has resulted in the deployment of the Arrow missile defense system, and the continuing development of the Tactical High Energy Laser.”

After the Senate voted in 2002 to include money for the Arrow system and other Israeli military priorities in a defense spending bill, AIPAC proudly reported, “In a vote of 95-3, the Senate last week passed the fiscal year 2003 Defense Appropriations bill, which provides substantial funding for U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation. The Arrow Missile Defense Program received $80 million above the administration’s request for a total of $146 million. Additional funding includes the following: $23.5 million for the Mobile Tactical High Energy Laser; $64.9 million for the Litening II Targeting Pod; $35 million for Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles; $22 million for the Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicle; and $20 million for the Improved Tactical Air-Launched Decoy.”

Several high-profile Bush administration officials have had financial interests in many of the weapons systems pushed by AIPAC, including Jay Garner, the former “mayor of Baghdad.” Garner is a past president of SY Coleman Technology, which produced parts for the Arrow missile system. Garner also has strong ties to the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

Walt and Mearsheimer highlighted U.S. support for Israel’s weapons procurement as one of the many signs of the many “special deals” the pro-Israel lobby has helped the country seal. “The United States has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems like the Lavi aircraft that the Pentagon did not want or need, while giving Israel access to top-drawer U.S. weaponry like Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets. Finally, the United States gives Israel access to intelligence that it denies its NATO allies and has turned a blind eye toward Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

Lawrence Franklin Controversy

Normally operating behind the scenes in political and lobbyist orbits, AIPAC was forced into the public spotlight over a controversy involving two of its (now former) employees that erupted in 2005.

In May 2005, the FBI arrested Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst, for disclosing government secrets. According to an FBI affidavit, Franklin shared information about possible attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq with AIPAC staffers Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman during an FBI-monitored lunch in June 2003. Franklin was allegedly upset that his hardline stance on Iran was being overlooked, and he hoped AIPAC would be able to attract attention to his views. According to the New York Times, supporters of an “influential circle in the Pentagon” (whose members have long-standing ties to AIPAC and were leading advocates for war in Iraq) blame the FBI’s investigation on “the continuing struggle inside the administration over intelligence.”[21]

Several months after Franklin’s arrest, the Department of Justice issued an indictment against Rosen and Weissman. According to the indictment, the pair passed the information Franklin gave them to a journalist and an Israeli diplomat, leading to charges that they had conspired to violate the 1917 Espionage Act.

Although Franklin pleaded guilty to his charges and was sentenced to 12.5 years in prison, Rosen and Weissman were never prosecuted. In May 2009, the Justice Department asked that charges against the two be dropped, citing court decisions that would have forced disclosure of classified information and reduced successful prosecution.

Sources

[1] Glenn Frankel, “A Beautiful Friendship,” Washington Post, July 16, 2006.

[2] Jeffrey Goldberg, “Real Insiders,” New Yorker, July 4, 2005.

[3] Jim Lobe, “Top Israel Lobby Group Loses Battle on Iran, But War Not Over,” Inter Press Service, January 24, 2014, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/top_israel_lobby_group_loses_battle_on_iran_but_war_not_over.

[4] Josh Gerstein, ” AIPAC urges new Iran sanctions,” Politico, November 25, 2013, http://www.politico.com/politico44/2013/11/aipac-urges-new-iran-sanctions-178352.html.

[5] Eli Clifton and Ali Gharib, “GOP senator unloads in private call,” Salon, November 21, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/11/21/exclusive_gop_senator_unloads_in_private_call/.

[6] Jim Lobe, “Top Israel Lobby Group Loses Battle on Iran, But War Not Over,” Inter Press Service, January 24, 2014, http://rightweb.irc-online.org/articles/display/top_israel_lobby_group_loses_battle_on_iran_but_war_not_over.

[7] Eli Clifton, “U.S.: ONE STEP CLOSER TO UNILATERAL SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN,” Inter Press Service, December 9, 2009.

[8] AIPAC, “Take Action: Pass Tougher Iran Sanctions,” http://www.aipac.org/694.asp#24473 (accessed February 1, 2010).

[9] Eli Clifton, “U.S.: ONE STEP CLOSER TO UNILATERAL SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN,” Inter Press Service, December 9, 2009.

[10] Manu Raju, ” AIPAC to go all-out on Syria,” Politico, September 5, 2013, http://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/aipac-syria-96344.html.

[11] MJ Rosenberg, “The AIPAC Collapse,” MJayRosenberg.com, September 2013, http://us4.campaign-archive2.com/?u=855aabd7ccd7a77e987004677&id=c76c952fc3&e=8108fff07f.

[12] “Was Syria Next on the U.S. List?” Deutsche Presse-Agentur, November 14, 2003.

[13] AIPAC, “Is Syria Ready for Peace?” October 6, 2009, http://www.aipac.org/Publications/AIPACAnalysesIssueBriefs/Syria.pdf

[14] John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” working paper, March 2006, Harvard Kennedy School of Government, http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011.

[15] Glenn Frankel, “A Beautiful Friendship,” Washington Post, July 16, 2006.

[16] Glenn Frankel, “A Beautiful Friendship,” Washington Post, July 16, 2006.

[17] Glenn Frankel, “A Beautiful Friendship,” Washington Post, July 16, 2006.

[18] Rachel Pomerance, “Pro-Israel Lobby Seeks Christian, Campus Allies to Broaden its Base,” March 10, 2006, Religion News Service.

[19] “Pro-Israel Lobbyists Quietly Backed Resolution Allowing Bush to Commit U.S. Troops to Combat,” Wall Street Journal, January 28, 1991.

[20] WRMEA, March 1991, page 67.

[21] David Johnston and Eric Lichtblau, “Analyst Charged with Disclosing Military Secrets,” New York Times, May 5, 2005.

Steven J. Rosen

Right Web | January 27, 2014

John Ashcroft

Right Web | January 24, 2014

Bernard Lewis

Right Web | January 21, 2014

Dan Blumenthal

Right Web | January 17, 2014

Kenneth Weinstein

Right Web | January 15, 2014

Russia to supply HEU to research reactors abroad

On January 27, 2014 Russian president issued a decree that eased some restrictions on ownership of fissile materials by changing the list of fissile materials that could be exclusively owned by the federal government. Among other changes, the new version of the list excludes highly-enriched uranium (with enrichment of 20% and higher) “that is to be transferred to the territory of a foreign state according to a decision of the Government of the Russian Federation for the purposes of manufacturing nuclear fuel for research reactors.” Other changes mostly exclude small quantities of various materials from the list.

The HEU change opens a way for Rosatom to supply HEU for research reactors abroad. Under one agreement of this kind, reached in September 2013, Russia will supply HEU for the Jules Horowitz reactor in France. If HEU remained on the federal property list, such a transfer could only take place if it was covered by a bilateral treaty or if Russia were to manufacture fuel elements for the reactor (HEU supplies agreed on in 1990s were not covered by these provisions). From now on, the bar for HEU export is substantially lower, as it would only require a decision by the Russian government. Also, HEU could now be exported in bulk form.

Russia is not the only country that is exporting HEU – the United States has been providing the bulk of HEU for research reactors in Europe. The United States, however, sets a commitment to conversion to LEU (however distant) as a condition of supply and indicated that it would not continue to supply HEU to some reactors (e.g. FRM-II in Germany). It is not clear if Russia will be requiring a similar commitment from its customers or whether it intends to provide HEU to those operators who could not secure HEU from the United States.

Hundreds file lawsuit against makers of Fukushima nuclear plant

RT.com | January 30, 2014

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An aerial view of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station is seen in Fukushima Prefecture in this photo taken by the Air Photo Service on March 24, 2011. (Reuters//Air Photo Service)

About 1,400 people have filed a joint lawsuit against three companies that manufactured Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, saying they should be financially liable for damage caused by its 2011 meltdowns.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, who are seeking compensation of 100 yen ($1) each, say the lawsuit is meant to set a new legal precedent on current regulations, which give big corporations immunity from liability in the event of nuclear accidents.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday at the Tokyo District Court, AP reported.

The plaintiffs, comprised of Fukushima residents and some 400 other petitioners from around the globe, say the manufacturers — GE, Hitachi and Toshiba — failed to make the necessary safety adjustments to the reactors at the Fukushima plant, which was first commissioned in 1971.

The operator of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), has been the only company held accountable for the nuclear accident, the largest such event since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster and the second (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

Although no short-term radiation-related fatalities were reported, about one-third of the 160,000 people forced to evacuate the region following the triple meltdown at the nuclear plant continue to live in temporary housing units. In November, the number of people in Fukushima who have died from illnesses related to prolonged evacuation rose to 1,539, which is nearing the region’s tsunami death toll of 1,599, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, ongoing seepage of contaminated water used to cool the damaged reactors continues to hamper cleanup efforts, which are expected to last for many years.

This month, Yoshitatsu Uechi, who worked at the devastated nuclear power plant between July 2 and December 6, 2012, revealed shocking cost-cutting measures, such as using duct tape to seal leaking pipes at the plant.

Uechi also said that wire nets were used instead of reinforcing bars during the placement of concrete for storage tank foundations.

“I couldn’t believe that such slipshod work was being done, even if it was part of stopgap measures,” Uechi told the Asahi Shimbun.

Has Obama Abandoned the Pivot to Asia?

Obama’s 2014 State of the Union address implies that the Asia-Pacific is not a priority for his administration.

The Diplomat | Shannon Tiezzi | January 30, 2014

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama gave the traditional State of the Union address, wherein he laid out his vision for U.S. policy in the next year (a transcript can be found here). Such speeches are intended for a domestic audience (although they are also scrutinized all over the world) and typically focus more on domestic issues. Still, as Dan Lamothe at Foreign Policy wrote, this year Obama’s State of the Union speech “was notable for how little time he devoted to foreign policy — and how little he said that amounted to anything new.”

What Obama Did Say

It was obvious that, as pundits had predicted, Obama’s main focus was on his success rebuilding the US economy, and his plan to continue doing so. He spent the bulk of his speech laying out his “proposals to speed up growth, strengthen the middle class and build new ladders of opportunity into the middle class.”

Accordingly, Obama’s few mentions of China were economic in nature. As usual, China mostly featured in Obama’s speech (along with Europe) as a competitor that should push the U.S. to make necessary reforms. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines, and neither should we,” Obama said at one point, arguing for additional money to fund research and innovation. The use of China as a measure of comparison didn’t go unnoticed by Chinese media. South China Morning Post made the lede of their article Obama’s “bold” declaration that “for the first time in over a decade, business leaders around the world have declared that China is no longer the world’s number one place to invest; America is.”

When Obama did talk about foreign policy, his focus was on the broader Middle East. With regards to Afghanistan, he spoke proudly of the fact that “we will complete our mission there by the end of this year, and America’s longest war will finally be over.” There was little discussion of the uncertainties regarding the future of U.S. troops in the country, a topic my colleague Ankit has covered numerous times. Obama promised to continuing working to combat terrorism “in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, [and] Mali” and made a vague promise to ”support the opposition” in Syria. Finally, he praised the role of “American diplomacy” in reaching agreements over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and Iran’s nuclear program, in addition to U.S. efforts to mediate Israel-Palestine talks. Europe and the Asia-Pacific were granted a mere paragraph apiece.

What Obama Didn’t Say

As with many speeches, what Obama didn’t talk about is just as important as what he actually said. By avoiding or ignoring issues, Obama sent a message about his administration’s priorities for the upcoming year. For those who support increased U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific, the message wasn’t pretty.

With all Obama’s focus on the U.S. economy, it was a perfect time for him to make a high-profile push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), especially given foot-dragging in Congress over granting the necessary trade promotion authority to move the pact along. Yet the TPP was notably absent from Obama’s address, other than a quick, throw-away mention of “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific” being able to create new jobs. As TPP negotiations reach the final, critical stage, public support from Obama in his most widely covered speech of the year would have been extremely valuable. That he couldn’t make room for even a sentence in his speech speaks volumes.

In broader terms, Obama missed a clear opportunity to restate one of his signature foreign policy initiatives, the U.S. “rebalance” (previously dubbed the “pivot”) to Asia. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was seen as an important economic aspect of the rebalance; its absence from the State of Union reflected the speech’s neglect of the whole region. There was no mention of the rebalance, just a general promise to “continue to focus on the Asia-Pacific, where we support our allies, shape a future of greater security and prosperity and extend a hand to those devastated by disaster.” Obama flubbed the chance to clearly articulate his vision for the United States’ role — economic, diplomatic, and military — in the region, an issue that still causes a great deal of head-scratching across the globe.

By neglecting to mention any of the on-going issues in the Asia-Pacific, from the dangerous tensions between China and Japan to larger concerns over maritime disputes and the potential for an arms race, Obama sent a signal. Whether purposeful or not, his neglect of these issues in the State of Union brings the rebalance to Asia into question. There have already been mounting questions over whether or not the U.S. will remain committed to the region despite budget cuts. Obama’s speech, with its foreign policy vision monopolized by the Middle East, Iran, and Afghanistan, only lends credence to those who believe the U.S. will devote its resources elsewhere.

The Brookings Institution, an influential DC thinktank, recently released its annual set of policy recommendations for the president. The recommendations for Asia policy, penned by Jonathan Pollack and Jeffrey Bader, suggested four steps: ensuring that budget cuts don’t affect the U.S. rebalance to Asia, completing the TPP negotiations, encouraging China’s economic reforms, and nudging U.S. allies (especially Japan and South Korea) to take steps to promote regional security. Pollack and Bader concluded that “strengthening the administration’s commitment to the Asia-Pacific region is a welcome and necessary development.”

Apparently Obama missed the memo. Not one of these policy initiatives — which mesh with similar recommendations from many U.S. Asia watchers — was affirmed (or even mentioned directly) during the speech. Through what he said, and what he neglected to say, Obama’s State of the Union gave more ammunition to those who say the rebalance is dead.

Chameleonic Opposition to an Iran Deal

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Lobe Log | January 30th, 2014 | by Guest Paul Pillar, via The National Interest

In the long story of the evolving Iran nuclear issue, we naturally tend to focus on whatever is the chapter immediately before us. Right now that mainly involves the negotiation-subverting Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, which President Obama in his State of the Union address explicitly threatened to veto if Congress passed it. But we also ought to keep a longer-term view of how opponents of an agreement with Iran have kept changing their tune and changing their arguments as their earlier arguments have become inoperative.

Back when the Iranian president everyone loved to loathe, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was still in office, the go-to tactic for opponents was to cite whatever was the most recent outrageous rhetoric that had come out of Ahmadinejad’s mouth, whether or not it had anything to do with the substance of the nuclear issue. That tactic did not work so well after Hassan Rouhani replaced Ahmadinejad, although there still seems to be little hesitation in repeatedly going to the well of mistranslated vintage Ahmadinejad “wipe Israel off the map” comments. The emphasis has now become less on what Iranian leaders say than on what nefarious intentions supposedly lurk behind what they say—hence Benjamin Netanyahu’s “wolf in sheep’s clothing” formulation.

There also once was much doubt expressed about whether the Iranian leadership would ever want to negotiate seriously. Then when serious negotiations got under way last fall, there was doubt expressed about whether Iran would make significant concessions about its nuclear program. Then when Iran made major concessions in the Joint Plan of Action concluded in November, opposition tactics had to be adjusted again.

The tactics in the wake of the JPA have taken several forms. One is outright misrepresentation about this preliminary agreement, including talk about its unbalanced and disproportionate nature—which is true, except that it was Iran that made disproportionately large concessions. Another is sabotage disguised as support for negotiations, which is what the Kirk-Menendez bill is all about. Another tactic is the moving of goalposts, and in particular the deal-killing demand to end totally any Iranian enrichment of uranium. Yet another is in effect to change the subject and to pretend that the question is not the pros and cons of a prospective nuclear agreement but instead a popularity contest about the Iranian regime—and anything else it may be doing that we don’t like.

Netanyahu provided in a speech this week [4] a particularly vivid example of complete abandonment of a previous argument that has been negated by accomplishment at the negotiating table. His centerpiece imagery used to be the famous cartoon bomb he displayed before the United Nations General Assembly. That cartoon would be an excellent prop for describing what has been achieved with the Joint Plan of Action, with its end to 20 percent enrichment of uranium and elimination of existing stocks enriched to that level. Except that the lines on the cartoon are moving down, not up. As Joseph Cirincione has put it, the Joint Plan of Action “drained” Netanyahu’s bomb.

So Netanyahu is now arguing that what matters is not the level to which Iran is enriching, but instead the sophistication of its centrifuges. And he has changed his imagery to railroads. Netanyahu puts it this way: “What the Iranians did, and this is what the agreement determined, is that they would return the train to the first station, but at the same time, they are upgrading the engine and strengthening it so that they will be able to break through all at once, without any stations in the middle, straight to 90%.” Boris and Natasha have been replaced by Thomas the Tank Engine.

Several lessons should be drawn from all this argumentative shape-shifting. One is that those making the arguments have repeatedly been proven wrong. Another is that much of what we hear from them does not reflect genuine views or any analysis but is simply flak shot up to try to impede or kill the process at whatever place it happens to be at the moment. Yet another lesson is that the opposition will never end, no matter the terms of an agreement, because the opponents want no agreement at all. If it’s not one thing we are hearing about, such as enrichment levels, it will be something else, such as the particular models of centrifuge.

And if it’s not nuclear weapons, it will be other things disliked about Iran. If a final agreement based on the terms of the Joint Plan of Action gels, making it harder than ever to argue against the concept that such an agreement is the best way to preclude an Iranian nuclear weapon, expect to hear more about how, with or without a nuclear weapon, the Islamic Republic of Iran is so bad that it must be kept pressured and ostracized. Netanyahu laid some groundwork for such a future position in his speech when he said, “Now of course the Iranian threat is not just an unconventional threat.”

One of the unfortunate effects of the endless opposition is that it constitutes another form of sabotage. The Iranians may be understandably reluctant to make more concessions knowing there are elements on the other side determined to destroy any deal no matter what the terms, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what new arguments have to be conjured up.

 

Israel Needs to Learn Some Manners

The New York Times | Op-Ed | AVI SHLAIM | JAN. 30, 2014

“Mr. Netanyahu are trying to foist on their senior ally: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, to confront Iran, to protect Israel’s nuclear monopoly, and to preserve its regional hegemony solely by military means.”

OXFORD, England — On Jan. 14, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, told the daily Yediot Aharonot, “Secretary of State John Kerry — who arrived here determined, who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism — can’t teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians.” Even by Israeli standards, Mr. Yaalon’s comments were rather rude. Mr. Kerry’s crime was to try to broker Israeli-Palestinian peace talks that began last July and to stipulate a nine-month deadline. This is the kind of talk that gives chutzpah a bad name.

The episode also reveals a great deal about the nature of the much-vaunted special relationship between the United States and Israel. It suggests that this relationship is a one-way street, with America doing all the diplomatic heavy lifting while Israel limits its role to obstruction and whining — repaying Uncle Sam’s generosity with ingratitude and scorn.

Israeli leaders have always underlined the vital importance of self-reliance when it comes to Israel’s security. But the simple truth is that Israel wouldn’t be able to survive for very long without American support. Since 1949, America’s economic aid to Israel amounts to a staggering $118 billion and America continues to subsidize the Jewish state to the tune of $3 billion annually. America is also Israel’s main arms supplier and the official guarantor of its “quantitative military edge” over all its Arab neighbors.

In the diplomatic arena, Israel relies on America to shield it from the consequences of its habitual violations of international law. The International Court of Justice pronounced the so-called “security barrier” that Israel is building on the West Bank to be illegal. All of Israel’s civilian settlements on the West Bank violate the Fourth Geneva Convention, but Israel continues to expand them.

Since 1978, when the Camp David Accords were brokered by President Jimmy Carter, the United States has used its veto power on the Security Council 42 times on behalf of Israel. The most shocking abuse of this power was to veto, in February 2011, a resolution condemning Israeli settlement expansion that had the support of the 14 other members of the Security Council.

Some Americans, especially those of the neoconservative persuasion, favor the strongest support for Israel on the grounds that the interests of the two allies coincide in the Middle East. An argument can be made that the occupation of the West Bank serves Israel’s security interests even if it erodes the foundations of Israeli democracy and turns Israel into an international pariah.

There is no rational argument, however, that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank serves America’s national interest. On the contrary, as General David Petraeus told a Senate committee in 2010, the occupation foments anti-American sentiment throughout the Islamic world and hinders the development of America’s partnership with Arab governments. A resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is therefore a major, if not vital American interest.

America poses as an honest broker, but everywhere it is perceived as Israel’s lawyer. The American-sponsored “peace process” since 1991 has been a charade: all process and no peace while providing Israel with just the cover it needs to pursue its illegal and aggressive colonial project on the West Bank.

The Quartet, which consists of the United States, Russia, the United Nations and European Union, came up in 2003 with an excellent road map for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel by the end of 2005. But the Quartet cannot act independently of the United States to pressure Israel. Its record suggests that it is little more than a clever American device for wasting time.

Mr. Kerry is to be commended for the energy and commitment that he has displayed in pursuit of peace in the Middle East and for the 11 trips he has made to the region in his first year in office. But his peace mission was doomed to failure from the start. The Kerry-hating Mr. Yaalon and his hawk-infested Likud party are committed to the geopolitical status quo on the West Bank at almost any price. Their real aim is to terminate the peace talks and blame the Palestinians.

In a normal country a defense minister who played fast and loose with such a crucial bilateral relationship would have been thrown out on his ear. But Israel is not a normal country.

The reason that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not disown his defense minister is that what Mr. Yaalon said is what Mr. Netanyahu thinks. The real problem is not Mr. Yaalon’s bad manners but the policy that he and Mr. Netanyahu are trying to foist on their senior ally: to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state, to confront Iran, to protect Israel’s nuclear monopoly, and to preserve its regional hegemony solely by military means. This program is diametrically opposed to America’s true national security interests.

America gives Israel money, arms and advice. Israel takes the money, it takes the arms, and it rudely rejects the advice.

The fundamental problem with American support for Israel is its unconditional nature. Consequently, Israel does not have to pay a price for acting unilaterally in a multilateral world, for its flagrant violations of international law, and for its systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights.

Blind support for the Jewish state does not advance the cause of peace. America is going nowhere in the Middle East until it makes the provision of money and arms conditional on good manners and, more importantly, on Israeli respect for its advice.

Avi Shlaim is an emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford University and the author of “The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World.”

depleted uranium particles

New study finds that depleted uranium particles are long-lived in environment

New research from the UK has found that DU particles can persist in the environment for 30 years and that short-term studies cannot accurately predict the corrosion of penetrators.
30 January 2014 – ICBUW

Campaigners have long argued that DU residues from conflict present a long-term risk to civilians. Not only is this due to the rate of radioactive decay from the isotopes in DU – and indeed DU gets more radioactive for thousands of years due to the in-growth of decay products – but also because of the rate at which DU dust particles and intact or fragmentary penetrators corrode.

Two new studies from the UK have now shed more light on the processes that impact on DU’s environmental persistence. The studies were undertaken at the UK’s two DU firing ranges, Kircudbright in Scotland, where DU rounds are fired into the sea, and Eskmeals in England, where DU was fired into hard targets to examine its effectiveness against different types of armour.

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Entrance to the Eskmeals range, now operated by Qinetiq, Cumbria, UK.

The testing at Eskmeals produced considerable quantities of DU dust, some of which was found to have spread 6km from the site to the nearby village of Milom. Researchers took samples of DU particles from the site and subjected them to analysis to assess how they had changed over the 30 years since they were produced. Given the high rainfall and oxidising conditions at the site, surprisingly the researchers found that:

“The persistence of U oxide phases such as U3O7 and U3O8 reflects the low solubility and mobility of the primary species in surface soils at the Eskmeals site. However, the presence of primary impact particles results in the persistence of health risks associated with inhalation, should these particles be disturbed.”

In other words, the uranium oxides particles that had been produced by the testing were found to be highly resistant to corrosion and as a result, 30 years after firing the particles would still present an inhalational hazard if resuspended. This finding fits with the results of a study around a former speciality metals factory in Colonie north of New York. Researchers there showed that particles produced between the 1960s and 1980s were still intact and present in the environment. In that case the particles had been produced through the incineration of DU, not by its use in weapons. However this new study demonstrates that DU residues from munitions use are similar in composition and persistence.

That these particles can survive for so long in the comparatively wet conditions of the UK and northern US suggest that particles in the arid conditions of Iraq may be even more long-lived.

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30mm DU penetrator exhibiting yellow oxide ‘rust’.

Meanwhile a second study, this time of fragments of DU, has again highlighted the significant gaps in our ability to predict the future behaviour of solid contamination. During test-firing at Kircudbright, intact or partially intact DU rounds have ended up in the sea but also on the range due to firing malfunctions. It was therefore felt necessary to study the behaviour of DU in soils and the marine environment. The results showed that DU corrosion is highly complex:

“The experiments highlight that the corrosion of DU is controlled in the environment by a number of factors that are not fully understood. It is therefore difficult to undertake laboratory experiments to truly replicate the conditions in real corrosion environments.”

While the researchers were more confident about predicting the behaviour of DU in the marine environment, where chemical conditions are less variable, predicting the behaviour of DU in soils was shown to be far more difficult.

The findings support ICBUW’s view that attempts by the UK and US government to downplay concerns based on the findings from a limited number of contaminated site assessments in the Balkans are not supported by the available science. ICBUW has long argued that the variability of conditions at different sites requires that each is individually assessed and the risks they may pose to civilians and the environment calculated.

Following its assessments in the Balkans, the UN Environment Programme suggested that intact or fragmentary penetrators in soils may have completely corroded in 25 years. These new studies suggest that the actual picture may be far more complicated than originally assumed.

Notes:Microanalytical X-ray Imaging of Depleted Uranium Speciation in Environmentally Aged Munitions Residues: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es403938d

The corrosion of depleted uranium in terrestrial and marine environments: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24315120