Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"

What more is there to say than this?

Apparently, there is only “little risk” to the international space station — not no risk, just a little one.

Remember the fuss about space debris when China deliberately shot down one of its “weather” satellites (apparently to try to focus attention on China’s belief that it is urgent to negotiate a new disarmament treaty? [See our earlier posts here, and here.]
Continue reading “Experts call collision of orbiting US and Russian satellites "catastropic"”

Rice: "We have a breakthrough document on missile defense for the Alliance"

In Bucharest today, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley indicated they were very pleased by the support they feel the U.S. has gotten from the NATO alliance for its missile defense proposals in Europe.

Rice told journalists: “…we have a breakthrough document on missile defense for the Alliance. Again, I remember going to that first summit, when I think the President talked about missile defense, and perhaps only two allies gave even lukewarm support for the notion of missile defense. But now it is clearly understood in the Alliance that the challenges of the 21st century, the threats of the 21st century make it necessary to have missile defense that can defend the countries of Europe; that this is important to NATO, and we will take that work ahead. The NATO allies also asked Russia to stop its criticism of the Alliance effort and to join in the cooperative efforts that have been offered to it by the United States”.

In the same briefing, Hadley told the press: “there has been, over 10 years, a real debate as to whether there is a ballistic missile threat. And I think that debate ended today, when, in the Alliance document there’s a recognize that it is a threat that threatens the Alliance. Secondly, there has been a debate as to whether what we are working on with the Polish — with Poland and the Czech Republic is part of, and accepted by NATO as part of, the defense, as a contribution to protecting NATO countries from missile defense. That also got answered today in the affirmative”.

The transcript of the remarks by Rice and Hadley was released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary, and received by email.

After the meetings, and the press briefing, the Associated Press reported, perhaps overly optimisitically, that “No matter how much Russia hates it, the U.S. now has a clear track to build its long-range missile defense system in Europe. The crucial go-ahead came Thursday from the Czech Republic, where a vital radar site would be located. NATO leaders added their unanimous backing for the idea at a European summit, all but sealing the controversial deal just before President Bush’s weekend meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has harshly criticized the proposed system, portraying it as a threat to Russia, virtually on its doorstep. Beyond the immediate dispute, the Czech accord and the NATO endorsement marked an important moment in the long history of U.S. efforts to persuade allies of the merits of missile defense … The intent is to combine the U.S. system, which is meant to shoot down long-range missiles, with one run by NATO that could defend against shorter-range missiles that are more of a worry to countries like Turkey, Greece, Romania and Bulgaria. Because of geography, they face a nearer-term threat from Iranian missiles … The Czech radar would be linked to a set of 10 interceptors that the U.S. wants to place in Poland. The Poles have not yet agreed. Poland has insisted on U.S. military aid as part of an agreement, and Bush recently indicated that was possible. The Pentagon wants to have the Polish and Czech sites in running order by about 2012 … The Czechs agreed to host an American radar that would be used to track the flight of missiles headed toward Europe from the Middle East. It would, in effect, be a set of eyes needed to guide missile interceptors to their target — long-range ballistic missiles of the sort Washington believes Iran is developing. Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg said a related question — whether the Russians would be allowed to station personnel at the site to monitor the radar’s use — was a matter that his government would handle alone.
The Czechs had been upset when the Bush administration, hoping to ease Russian opposition, initially floated the idea of allowing Russian monitors last fall. Schwarzenberg’s choice of words seemed to indicate some residual anger.
‘It is something which we will talk to the Russians about ourselves — not to be there as translators for the Americans’, he said. ‘It is entirely up to us’ … At their meeting scheduled for Sunday in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi, Bush and Putin are expected to agree that missile defense is one of many high-priority topics for their successors. But it appears unlikely that Putin, who steps down in May, will suddenly embrace a project he considers to be provocative … The Russians, despite their heated rhetoric, seem to have come to accept that they are unlikely to stop it the system. They said as much during talks last month in Moscow with Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who have been pushing a series of proposals intended to make the project more palatable for the Russians. But this does not mean Moscow’s misgivings will stop being an irritant in U.S.-Russian relations, nor does it guarantee that the defensive shield for Europe will be the answer to missile threats. After decades of development, at a cost exceeding $100 billion, the missile defense system now in place in America — mainly at bases in Alaska and California — is unproven and unpopular in Congress. It began as a way to stop long-range missiles launched in a doomsday scenario during the Cold War years when the United States and the Soviet Union targeted each other with thousands of nuclear missiles. Today’s is more modest, designed to stop a limited attack by North Korea”. This AP report can be read in full here .

New U.S. envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation

The U.S. State Department announced today that “At the request of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Ambassador Jackie Wolcott has agreed to serve as Special Envoy for Nuclear Nonproliferation. In this capacity, Ambassador Wolcott will work with counterparts in other countries to develop international cooperation to strengthen the nuclear nonproliferation regime. Consistent with the priorities established by the President, among the tasks she will undertake is the implementation of the Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation issued by President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 3, 2007. The Declaration reflects a shared vision of support for expansion of the use of nuclear energy worldwide in a way that reduces the risk of nuclear proliferation“.

Ambassador Jackie Wolcott worked as the U.S. representative to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva for several years, and knew well what was going on there.

Does her appointment — and the wording of the announcement — indicate any movement in the direction of dealing with Iran’s long-standing invitation to the West to witness the uranium enrichment efforts that it says it will never abandon, and for which it has been willing to absorb three UN SC sanctions resolutions, so far?

Russia makes a move – expresses suspicion about U.S. plans to shoot down falling satellite

According to a report from the Associated Press, “Russia said Saturday that U.S. military plans to shoot down a damaged spy satellite may be a veiled test of America’s missile defense system. The Pentagon failed to provide ‘enough arguments’ to back its plan to smash the satellite next week with a missile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. ‘There is an impression that the United States is trying to use the accident with its satellite to test its national anti-missile defense system’s capability to destroy other countries’ satellites’, the ministry said”.

The AP story also reported that “The Bush administration says the operation is not a test of a program to kill other nations’ orbiting communications and intelligence capabilities. U.S. diplomats around the world have been instructed to inform governments that it is meant to protect people from 1,000 pounds of toxic fuel on the bus-sized satellite hurtling toward Earth. The diplomats were told to distinguish the upcoming attempt from last year’s test by China of a missile specifically designed to take out satellites, which was criticized by the United States and other countries … Left alone, the satellite would likely hit Earth during the first week of March …The operation to shoot down the dead satellite could happen as soon as next week”. This AP report is posted here.

Later, China expressed concern, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Sunday, according to a Reuters report from Beijing, that the government “is considering what ‘preventative measures’ to take … ‘The Chinese government is paying close attention to how the situation develops and demands the U.S. side fulfill its international obligations and avoids causing damage to security in outer space and of other countries … Relevant departments in China are closely watching the situation and studying preventive measures,” Liu said in a brief statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site (www.fmprc.gov.cn)”.

Reuters added that “It will be the first time the United States has conducted an anti-satellite operation since the 1980s. Russia also has not conducted anti-satellite activities in 20 years. China launched a ground-based missile into an obsolete weather satellite in January 2007, drawing international criticism and worries inside the Pentagon that Beijing has the ability to target critical military assets in space”. This AP report from Beijing is posted here.

At the time, the U.S. characterized China’s action as “a matter of concern,” since it indicates a possible threat to America’s own satellites, as well as those of other countries. And the Center for Defense Information (CDI), a Washington-based think tank, condemned the Chinese test as “provocative and irresponsible,” saying it “should be roundly condemned” and adding that “the deliberate creation of persistent space-debris in a highly-used orbit is simply unacceptable behavior in space.” The CDI also noted that “some observers have suggested that the ASAT [anti-satellite] test could have been a strategic move by the Chinese to bully the United States into actually discussing such a [Chinese-desired outer space disarmament] treaty.” The CDI went on to warn that: “The United States and the international community need to take the time to finally have the difficult discussion about what actions are acceptable in space, and, more importantly, which ones are absolutely unacceptable.” If no country took China to task, the think tank said, “space will become the new Wild West; a situation … guaranteed to put everyone’s space assets even more at risk.”

Shortly after China’s action was reported last year, China confirmed to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva that it had indeed conducted an anti-satellite test in outer space. China’s disarmament ambassador to the CD, Cheng Jingye told diplomats that, “as everybody was aware,” China had long been advocating for the launch of talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Ambassador Cheng, who was speaking at the 2007 CD session’s second meeting, also noted that China and the Russian Federation had already submitted to the Conference some suggested points to be included in a draft treaty that they want to begin to negotiate. Such a treaty would be aimed at banning the deployment of weapons in outer space, as well as preventing the use, or threat of use, of weapons against space objects.

The U.S. is the chief objector — and it has the usual support from its friends.

China in particular has been very put out that the U.S. will not agree — the U.S. says, among other things, that the 1972 Outer Space Treaty is perfectly adequate, and that there is no arms race in outer space. China believes that the U.S. does indeed have a space weaponization program, which grew out of the Reagan Star Wars semi-bluff, and which involves the use of satellites in at least targetting and guiding missiles and other weapons.

In January 2007 China shocked the world by successfully shooting down one of its own weather satellites with a ground-launched missile, in a not-too-subtle demonstration of the clear need to negotiate some new rules.

Russia has surprised everybody by sticking with China on this, and Russia now has its own issues with the U.S., related to the stated U.S. intention to deploy part of its “missile shield” in eastern European countries bordering Russia. The two countries have recently submitted a slightly revised proposal that they hope will permit the launch of negotiations.

One way out of this antagonism would be for the U.S. to agree to the start of PAROS talks in Geneva — what is the harm in talking??? China does not want just talks, of course, it wants an eventual treaty — but what’s the harm of another treaty??? China says it has been willing to make concessions, and to accept the start of talks on a Fissile Material cut-off (at least, of production — no one is talking yet about eliminating stockpiles), which is the U.S. top disarmament priority, so long as the U.S. will also recognize and move on China’s top priority, which is PAROS.

Russia and China would view the U.S. as less controlling (and deceptive) and more open and cooperative, if only it would agree to the space talks.

The problems related to this falling U.S. satellite offer the U.S. a way to make this concession that they have fought for years — which will unblock the disarmament stalemate, and defuse the tensions between the world’s major nuclear powers.

First China, now U.S. may shoot down its own space satellite

China shot down one of its own “old” space satellites in January 2007 — apparently with hopes of influencing debate at the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva, where China has been fighting for years to see work begin on a treaty on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS).

The U.S. has refused, so far.

Russia has continued supporting China, to the amazement of many diplomats (particularly European), and Russia and China are pursuing their efforts to open discussions on the situation in space.

The two countries apparently fear that the “Star Wars” idea first launched by former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is somehow still behind both the U.S. efforts to deploy an international “Missile Defense Shield”, and the American refusal to discuss this in a disarmament forum.

As condemnation of China’s actions last year coalesced around outrage at the creation of space debris and pollution, China confirmed to Geneva’s Conference on Disarmament that it had indeed conducted an anti-satellite test in outer space, and said that a ground-based medium-range missile was used to destroy an ageing Chinese weather satellite. At the time Germany’s Arms Control and Disarmament deputy commissioner Ambassador Rudiger Ludeking, speaking on behalf of the European Union, told the Conference on Disarmament that the EU “is very concerned about the recent test of an anti-satellite weapon. Such a test is inconsistent with international efforts to avert an arms race in outer space.”

One of the amazing things about last year’s Chinese “test” is that was the first time that a ground-based missile was successfully launched to destroy an orbiting satellite, as Asia Times reported at the time.

Now, in a scenario that could be as much a retort to the Chinese “test” last year as the basis for a thrilling disaster movie, U.S. President George W. Bush has apparently given the order to try to shoot down a faltering U.S. satellite that will fall to earth in the coming weeks. The intention, U.S. officials say, is to help avoid a serious accident. But, it also appears that the U.S. cannot resist the chance to try to meet — if not beat — what the Chinese accomplished by their “test” last year

CNN has just reported that “The U.S. military may try within days to shoot down a failed satellite using a missile launched from a Navy ship, officials announced Thursday. Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters at the Pentagon that the window to accomplish the mission could begin in three to four days, and remain open for seven to eight. While much space trash and debris have safely crashed to Earth after burning up in the atmosphere on re-entry, authorities said what makes this 5,000-pound satellite different is the approximately 1,000 pounds of frozen toxic hydrazine propellant it carries. Without any intervention, officials believe the satellite would come down on its own in early March. If it came down in one piece, nearly half the spacecraft would survive re-entry and the hydrazine — heated to a gas — could spread a toxic cloud roughly the size of two football fields, Cartwright said. Hydrazine is similar to chlorine or ammonia in that it affects the lungs and breathing tissue, the general said. The option of striking the satellite with a missile launched from an Aegis cruiser was decided upon by President Bush after consultation with several government and military officials and aerospace experts, said Deputy National Security Adviser James Jeffrey. ‘After further review of this option and, in particular, consideration of the question of saving or reducing injury to human life, the president, on the recommendation of his national and homeland teams, directed the Department of Defense to carry out the intercept’, Jeffrey said. The goal is to hit the satellite just before it enters Earth’s atmosphere and blast it apart so that the hydrazine tank explodes. The smaller debris would be more likely to burn up in the atmosphere. NASA Administrator Michael Griffin said there’s nothing the military can do to make the outcome worse. ‘If we miss, nothing changes. If we shoot and barely touch it, the satellite is just barely in orbit’ and would still burn up somewhat in the atmosphere, Griffin said. ‘If we shoot and get a direct hit, that’s a clean kill and we’re in good shape’, he added. Experts said that with three-quarters of Earth covered in water, there’s a 25 percent chance the satellite’s remnants will hit land — and a 1 percent chance they will hit a populated area…” This CNN story is posted here.

Another really interesting part about all this is that CNN reported earlier that “A U.S. official confirmed that the spy satellite is designated by the military as US 193. It was launched in December 2006 but almost immediately lost power and cannot be controlled. It carried a sophisticated and secret imaging sensor but the satellite’s central computer failed shortly after launch. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is classified as secret … The satellite includes some small engines that contain a toxic chemical called hydrazine — which is rocket fuel. But Renuart said they are not large booster engines with substantial amounts of fuel. Video images of the satellite captured by John Locker, a British amateur satellite watcher, show it to be about 13 feet to 16.5 feet across. He believes it weighs a maximum of 10,000 pounds. Locker calculated its size with data on its altitude and location provided by other amateur satellite watchers, using the International Space Station as a yardstick. Satellite watchers — a worldwide network of hobbyists who track satellites for fun — have been plotting the satellite’s degradation for a year. They estimate it is now at an altitude of about 173 miles, and Locker believes it is dropping about 1,640 feet a day. Where it lands will be difficult to predict until the satellite falls to about 59 miles above the Earth and enters the atmosphere. It will then begin to burn up, with flares visible from the ground, said Ted Molczan, a Canadian satellite tracker. From that point on, he said, it will take about 30 minutes to fall”. This CNN story is posted here.

So, this satellite — an advanced spy satellite with a “sophisticated and secret imaging sensor” — was launched just weeks before the Chinese “test”. Hmmm, could there have been any link between these events?

The U.S. is taking a risk — but greatly increasing the entertainment value — by announcing its plans in advance. What if the U.S. fails (where China succeeded)??? And, even if the U.S. does manage the “kill”, what about all the space debris for which China was so roundly berated?

AP is reporting that “The military will have to choose a time and a location that will avoid to the greatest degree any damage to other satellites in the sky. Also, there is the possibility that large pieces could remain, and either stay in orbit where they can collide with other satellites or possibly fall to Earth … [O]fficials familiar with the situation say about half of the 5,000-pound spacecraft is expected to survive its blazing descent through the atmosphere and will scatter debris — some of it potentially hazardous — over several hundred miles. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.” This headline AP story is posted here.

For comparison purposes, the earlier CNN report says that “In January 2007, China used a land-based missile to destroy a 2,200-pound satellite that was orbiting 528 miles above Earth. But the impact left more than 150,000 pieces of debris floating above Earth, NASA estimates. The space agency characterizes nearly 2,600 pieces as ‘large’, meaning greater than 4 inches across, which pose a potential threat to satellites and spacecraft. China is responsible for 42 percent of all satellite debris in orbit as of January 1, most of it from that Fengyun-C meteorological satellite. NASA has called it the worst satellite breakup in history”. This CNN story is posted here.

Russia's FM to present proposal for treaty to prevent weaponization of outer space

The very useful Reaching Critical Will newsletter (a project of the Women’s international league for Peace and Freedom) is reporting that “During the 25 January plenary [of the Conference on Disamament in Geneva], Russian Ambassador Valery Loshchinin announced that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be visiting the CD in February to submit a proposal for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of outer space, the elements of which were ‘proposed by Russia and China together with a group of co-sponsors back in June 2002’. Loshchinin noted it would ‘constitute yet another multilateral measure in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and thus would be a real contribution to strengthening the NPT regime’. The story was picked up by Reuters, in an article that explained the proposal has been circulated to some senior diplomats. Donald Mahley, acting US deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, reportedly said, ‘We see nothing in the new proposal to change the current U.S. position…. Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies’. While the proposals is not yet available to the public, it is said to be based on previous joint statements and working papers made by Russia and China in the CD”. For the texts, see the Reaching Critical Will CD archives here.

Inexorable logic — either the U.S. downsizes (and keep its anti-missile program away), or Russia will upgrade

Reuters has picked up a report on the Itar-Tass news agency quoting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying on Friday that Russia must achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States: “Military potential, to say nothing of nuclear potential, must be at the proper level if we want … to just stay independent … The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have parity they will talk to us in a different way“.

Reuters reported, from Tass, that Ivanov told veterans and members of Russia’s military-industrial commission that “every year Russia would be now commissioning six or seven of its newest ‘Topol-M’ nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missiles — the first developed by Russia after the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union — can carry up to six warheads and are mounted on mobile launcher vehicles”. The Reuters report can be seen here.

Russian irritation with U.S. postures has been evident and growing in recent years, but the U.S. has appeared to be surprised by this — and continues not making concessions to Russia’s views and positions, within the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva, and elsewhere.

Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva

The very useful CD (Conference on Disarmament) Report put out by the excellent ReachingCriticalWill project reports on the conclusion of this year’s CD work by implying that there might have been a very slight movement forward.

Reading this CD Report, however, one gets the distinct impression that what is being viewed as progress is a mobbing situation, where constant attempts are made to isolate and blame China for causing the difficulties in the CD.

China has insisted that it can only agree to start work on negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which the U.S. wants, if China’s top priority, which is the Prevention of An Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), is also given some attention.

China has been given critical support by Russia — though Western European diplomats have been watching with relish and malicious glee for any possible weakening in Russia’s position (though this has not happened so far).
Continue reading “Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva”

Why are Iranian officials so relaxed these days?

Iranian officials are not showing any of the consternation that might be appropriate, considering the fact that UN Security Council sanctions might be tightened and increased on Iran in the coming week or so, because of Iran’s nuclear (but not weapons, Iranian officials insist) program.

You could hardly tell, from most press coverage, that Iranian officials are so relaxed.
Iran’s Foreign Minister tells the Conference on Disarmament that Israel and U.S. are the biggest threat to regional peace and stability, the news services report. Israel and U.S. diplomats walk out, in perfect imitation of the past behavior of diplomats representing totalitarian regimes during the Cold War.

Israel’s UN Ambassdor in Geneva, Yitzhak Levanon, even told journalists that people noticed his walk-out, because he made “a little noise” to show his displeasure and disagreement with the Iranian Foreign Minister’s remarks.

According to an Associated Press report, the U.S. mission later confirmed the walk-out”, saying that it was done because they found Mr. Mottaki’s remarks “outrageous and divisive”. Really!

Some people who were in the room at the Conference on Disarmament meeting say that they did not see any “walk-out”, and some are beginning to suspect that it might just be a disinformation campaign, kicking up a bit of dust.

But it would not be normal for the U.S. would like about something like a “walk-out”.

Two comments made by the Iranian Foreign Minister in a long press conference with journalists at the UN’s Palais des Nations in Geneva were striking:
1.) the Foreign Minister said he saw no reason to expect a war over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, and
2.) his statement that for the last month, all parties has been pushing for a purely diplomatic solution.

One reason that might explain Iran’s defensive intransigence about its nuclear program — particularly about IAEA insistence that it must be enabled to reconstruct the entire history of Iran’s efforts in the nuclear field — is that it was the present Iranian government’s arch-enemies, the Iranian resistance group known as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, which leaked details about the program to Western countries (i.e., primarily to the U.S. and the U.K.), and to the IAEA, which has eventually led to the imposition of prelimininary sanctions by the UN Security Council on 23 December.

That is just too galling for the present Iranian government!

Now, the Iranian Foreign Minister has made a proposal that serious negotiations could start, if there were direct talks in an “official round of discussions”. And, his starting offer says that Iran’s nuclear file should be removed from the UN Security Council, and returned to the IAEA (where the ruling Board of Governors is composed of the same states as the UN Security Council, plus some others who have also hardened their position against Iran over the past year). How could this be? Do Iranian officials have their heads in the clouds? Are they simply using the same failed tactic used by Saddam Hussein before the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003? Are the Iranians — as many Arab governments seem to believe — just stalling for time, while they busily work, full speed ahead, on their nuclear programs?

Nah, I don’t really think so — this would seem to be too simple a hypothesis. The Iranian government is not misinformed (as Saddam apparently was, because some top Iraqi officials were afraid to give him bad news). The Iranian Government is generally not so stupid, whatever else one might say.

One reason for the Iranian Foreign Minister’s apparent calm and relaxed — even apparently optimistic — behavior, could be this report that was published in the Washington Post today about the Mujaheddin-e Khalq (who were responsible, four years ago — just after the U.S. occupation of Iraq, in fact — for telling the U.S. and the IAEA about Iran’s secret nuclear program, three or four years ago. Has Iran been given assurances, in last Saturday’s “neighbors” meeting in Baghdad, that there will be a clamp-down on this group?

Iraq Intensifies Efforts to Expel Iranian Group“:
“Though Labeled Terrorist, MEK Has Updated U.S. on Tehran’s Nuclear Program” —

“BAGHDAD — For three years, thousands of members of a militant group dedicated to overthrowing Iran’s theocracy have lived in a sprawling compound north of Baghdad under the protection of the U.S. military. American soldiers chauffeur top leaders of the group, known as the Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, to and from their compound, where they have hosted dozens of visitors in an energetic campaign to persuade the State Department to stop designating the group as a terrorist organization. Now the Iraqi government is intensifying its efforts to evict the 3,800 or so members of the group who live in Iraq, although U.S. officials say they are in no hurry to change their policy toward the MEK, which has been a prime source of information about Iran’s nuclear program. The Iraqi government announced this week that roughly 100 members would face prosecution for human rights violations, a move MEK officials contend comes at the request of the Iranian government. ‘We have documents, witnesses’,”Jaafar al-Moussawi, a top Iraqi prosecutor, said Monday, alleging that the MEK aided President Saddam Hussein’s campaign to crush Shiite and Kurdish opposition movements at the end of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. Moussawi said the criminal complaint would implicate MEK members in ‘killing, torture, [wrongful] imprisonment and displacement’. The group denied involvement in [Saddam] Hussein’s reprisals…’This organization has always destabilized the security situation” in Iraq, said Mariam Rayis, a top foreign affairs adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, adding that the MEK’s continued presence ‘could lead to deteriorating the relationship with neighboring countries’. MEK leaders dispute the prosecutor’s allegations. They contend that Iran has infiltrated Iraq’s political leadership while also supporting militant groups in an effort to keep the United States in a quagmire in Iraq. They also say the Iranian government wants to forestall a U.S. attack on Iran. ‘The Iranian regime wants very much to prevent the winds of change’ Behzad Saffari, a spokesman for the group, said in a recent interview at a Baghdad hotel. ‘Instead of fighting the Americans in Iran, [the Iranian government] is fighting them in Iraq. If we have to leave Iraq, it means the Americans are defeated. It means Iran has prevailed’. Maliki told officials from neighboring countries during a meeting in Baghdad on Saturday that Iraq should not become a battleground where other nations attempt to settle their disputes…” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/03/13/AR2007031301782.html?nav=hcmodule

Reaching Critical Will is an NGO that puts out an email newsletter about the Conference on Disarmament. They generally have someone in the room to witness all the meetings, and they sent a summary of yesterday’s meeting, with this on Iran’s statement (and apparently confirming the walk-out):
“Iran, which is facing a second round of sanctions from the Security Council as a result of concerns over its nuclear program, discussed its position in the CD. It also said that ‘the misuse of the non-proliferation principle as a political tool could in no way lead to the elimination of nuclear weapons’, and called the US war against Iraq ‘clear evidence of the failure of such a policy’. When Iran called on the international community to address Israel’s nuclear weapons as the real threat to international peace and security, Israel and the US walked out of the CD. Iran said the issue could be resolved through negotiations ‘without preconditions’ [meaning without them suspending uranium enrichment]. It then said that if the Permanent Five members of the Security Council and Germany ‘refer back Iran’s nuclear issue from the Security Council to the IAEA’, Iran would “be prepared to offer the necessary guarantees in order to create confidence regarding the non-diversion of its nuclear programme’.”

SG BAN releases letter proposing splitting Peacekeeping department – annexes not published

UN SG BAN stubbornly went ahead, pushing his proposal to split the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) into two parts – each to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General.

Ban wrote, in a letter that he asked be circulated as a document of the UN General Assembly, that he hoped the members would expeditiously express its approval, in principle, of the proposals.

Within a matter of weeks, he said, he would submit “a report further elaborating the proposals … and providing further details”.

He said he intended the proposals to be “resource neutral” — meaning, apparently, he would try to move resources around within the Organization rather than ask for new funding.

However, BAN indicated, there may be a need for additional resources to strengthen “the new Department of Peace Operations and Department of Field Support” referred to the “latest wave of growth in peacekeeping activity in the field as mandated by the UN Security Council”.

BAN also said he intended “to revitalize the disarmament and non-proliferation” agenda, and that he would “propose that the Department for Disarmament Affairs be constituted as a separate office in the secretariat, with a separate budget section, headed by a High Representative”. Does he mean, by this, that there would be efforts to secure additional “voluntary funding” for this “office”? This proposal also gives rise to a question about how much of his own time does BAN intends to devote to disarmament matters.

The UN News Centre [the UN uses British English spelling] reports that this proposal “at first glance might appear as a downgrade but which in fact will give the portfolio stronger impact, flexibility and a direct line to Mr. Ban himself”.

While the disarmament proposal make offer some advantages (there are competing fiefdoms here that could probably be well done away with), splitting the UN Peacekeeping Department into two essentially competitive fiefdoms looks like a recipe for chaos.

The UN News Centre reports that: “ ‘The number of peace operations is at an all-time high with almost 100,000 personnel in the field. It appears that the figure will rise still further in 2007’, he said, noting that reforms in 2000 had aimed to equip DPKO with sufficient capability to launch one new multidisciplinary mission per year. ‘Yet, the past 36 months alone have seen the start-up or expansion of nine field missions, with three additional missions currently in active start-up. Over the course of the next year, the number of personnel in UN peace operations could increase by as much as 40 per cent’, he added … Under the plan, the new Department of Peace Operations would consolidate all factors dealing with strategy, planning and deployment while the Department of Field Support would take on the responsibility of the current ‘impossibly overstretched’ management. ‘Taken together, these measures would bolster and improve the assistance that Headquarters provides top field missions and to field personnel contributed by Member States’, Mr. Ban said. ‘It would mean more and better policy guidance from a dedicated department of Peace Operations; enhanced responsiveness from a Department of Field Support properly equipped and specialized to address mission support needs; and, by equipping the department expeditiously with the human, material and financial resources they need to do their jobs, a better way to ensure the safety and security of personnel and the prospects of successful mandate implementation’.” http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=21601&Cr=restructuring&Cr1=