Palestinian Investigation Ctte says Swiss + Russian lab reports confirm Arafat was poisoned – but by what? Investigation continues…

At the Ramallah Muqata’a press conference Friday morning, the Palestinian Committee Investigating the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said there’s no doubt Arafat was poisoned — but they don’t know what substance, exactly, was used to kill him.

The head of the Palestinian Investigation Committee Tawfik Tirawi  said that two reports have now been received — one from Switerland and the other from Russia.

Tirawi said that both reports show that: 1.) “Abu Ammar” [Arafat] did not die from age, 2.) or from a disease, and 3.) it was not a natural death.   “The reports provide scientific points” to support the argument, he said.

Dr. Abdullah Bashir, a Jordanian medical doctor originally hired by the Yasser Arafat Foundation, said that both reports concluded that Arafat had died of  “illness as a result of a poisonous substance”.

But the Swiss + Russian labs + experts came to different conclusions about the Polonium they each found. Swiss conclusion: their test results “moderately support” the possibility of  Polonium poisoning.  But Russian experts concluded there’s not enough evidence.

Dr. Bashir told journalists that the Russian Federal Biomedical Agency had looked at their results, and compared them with the development of Arafat’s symptoms + illness, which resulted in the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to say that it was Polonium that had poisoned Arafat.

He said that both Swiss + Russian reports confirmed that Arafat’s illness and death had been caused by some “toxic substance” — which was either not examined at the French hospital in 2004 — or,  if it was tested, the results have not been revealed.

Tirawi said, however, that “other toxic substances” were found in forensic testing of Arafat’s remains + “new facts” had been discovered that require more study.   He did not identify them.

“We know our people need to know” about Arafat’s martyrdom, Tirawi said, and they “need and have a right to know the complete truth”. Tirawi reported the arrival of the two reports to Fatah’s powerful Central Committee [of which he is a member] on Thursday, and the Central Committee asked the Investigation Committee to give the press conference as soon as possible.

After the exhumation of Arafat’s body and the forensic sampling for testing in late November 2012, the samples were taken out of Ramallah and to Europe by French diplomatic valise, the Palestinian committee said in the press conference.

Dr Abdallah Bashir, head of the medical sub-committee of the Palestinian Investigation noted, twice, that French authorities were supposed to keep Arafat’s biological samples for 10 years, but didn’t.

Tawfik Tirawi, Chairman [Abbas-appointed] of the Palestinian Investigation Committee said, however: “the French hospital + French Government know the complete truth and all the details about the martyrdom of Yasser Arafat”.

This is one of the few points on which Tirawi and Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher seem to agree.

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 7 Nov
French officials know what killed #Arafat [See here … via @Le_Figaro

The French know everything, Tirawi said suddenly, with intensity, but “Israeli is the basic + only one to be accused + we continue to investigate all details”.

He then waved a document that he said was a collection of all Israeli + even American statements about getting rid of and killing Arafat…

Tirawi said that he had been conducting his own investigation [away from the spotlight] for years, and had questioned  hundreds of Palestinians + non-Palestinians inside + outside the occupied Palestinian territory. He seemed confident that his investigation will find the culprit[s], adding “we must find not only the substance but also the tool”.

Continue reading “Palestinian Investigation Ctte says Swiss + Russian lab reports confirm Arafat was poisoned – but by what? Investigation continues…”

EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting

It was the European Union — and not just Russia, as earlier reported — that blocked a U.S. move in the last Quartet meeting (a dinner in Washington on 11 July) to back, and impose on Palestinians, a statement that would have endorsed two of Israel’s main recent demands (Palestinian acknowledgement of Israel as a Jewish state, and accomodation of major Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory) according to a report by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media Communicatons Center (JMCC) today.

The U.S. also reportedly tried — but apparently failed — to get the Quartet to disapprove of any Palestinian move to upgrade the status of their representation at the United Nations in September.

The JMCC report, published here, contains a twice-translated citation of the wording of the U.S. proposal that was not accepted by the Quartet, which it added to other material partly based on a report in today’s Haaretz, here.

According to the Haaretz report, “senior European diplomats” told Haaretz that “responsibility for the failure of the meeting lies with the United States, which proposed to the other Quartet members – the EU, the UN and Russia – a one-sided wording for an announcement that favored Israel and which had no chance of being accepted by the Palestinians. The U.S. version did include mention of negotiations being based on the 1967 borders with an exchange of territory, however, it also included portions of the [2004] letter of President George Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which noted that the border changes would reflect the demographic changes on the ground since 1967. This implies the annexation of the settlement blocs to Israel…”

Continue reading “EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting”

Quartet Statement on "indirect" Israeli-Palestinian talks + East Jerusalem

Russia has wanted to host an international conference on Middle East Peace since the start of the Annapolis process of direct negotiations in late November 2007.

It wasn’t exactly a full international multilateral conference, but today the Quartet of Middle East negotiators (US, Russia, European Union + UN) met in Moscow — with their Special Representative Tony Blair — and issued a statement on proposed U.S.-brokered “indirect” talks which is being billed as “strong”:

[In the statement’s last line, it says that “The Quartet reaffirms its previous statements and supports in consultation with the parties on international conference in Moscow at the appropriate time, concurrent with direct negotiations”.]

Most of the specifics in this Quartet statement were addressed to Israel – in particular, to the position expressed by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and others in his government about East Jerusalem.

But, there is not much in it that would encourage the Palestinians – many of whom remain unconvinced that the proposed U.S.-mediated “indirect talks” between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators will do anything good.

The Quartet statement called for an Israeli freeze on settlement expansion — and for Israel “to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem”.

And, the Quartet said, “Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the Government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem. The Quartet reaffirms its intention to closely monitor developments in Jerusalem, and to keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground. The Quartet recognizes that Jerusalem is a deeply important issue for Israelis and Palestinians, and for Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and believes that through good faith and negotiations, the parties can mutually agree on an outcome that realizes the aspirations of both parties for Jerusalem, and safeguards this status for people around the world”.

What is it like in East Jerusalem these days? Here are two instructive videos:

(1) Filmed on 15 March – Hagit Ofran, who documents settlements for Peace Now, has posted this encounter at the entrance to the Old City of East Jerusalem on her new Eyes on the Ground in East Jerusalem Blog, here:

(2) Filmed one month earlier, on 14 February – this video taken by International Solidarity Movement volunteers was posted showing participants in a bus tour for Jewish groups visiting the homes built by the UN in the mid-1950s in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem to house Palestinian refugees. Four of these homes have been evacuated by Israeli court orders over the past 18 months, and handed over to Jewish settlers. This video was made in the entryway to the home of Rivka Kurd — the front wing of her house, built apparently without proper permit, was the most recent property turned over to Jewish settlers. The family property was tossed out on to the front lawn that these visiters mill around it. The family, who sits in a tent from where this video was made, say that it is ironic that the part of their house built without a proper permit was declared illegal for them to live in, but legal for the Jewish settlers:

Is it really enough for the Quartet to express the intention to “closely monitor” developments — and maybe even to “keep under consideration additional steps that may be required to address the situation on the ground”?

Continue reading “Quartet Statement on "indirect" Israeli-Palestinian talks + East Jerusalem”

New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"

U.S. President Barack Obama presided over the UN Security Council meeting today that adopted Resolution 1887, which notes, among other things, that “enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder”. That is a nice, consensus phrase — and one directed specifically at Iran, which is claiming the right to a full enrichment cycle of uranium for nuclear fuel, but which is accused of not having reported the development of its program in a timely manner.

The SC meeting, and agreement on the resolution, is a very major diplomatic achievement for Obama.

The resolution says that the main aim is, eventually, “a world without nuclear weapons”, which would be a total reversal of the doctrine of Mutually-Assured Destruction that is believed to have kept the Cold War from developing into a hot war.

Resolution 1887 also “Calls upon all States that are not Parties to the NPT to accede to the Treaty as non-nuclear-weapon States so as to achieve its universality at an early date, and pending their accession to the Treaty, to adhere to its terms”. Israel is one of the countries most affected by this clause — as are also India and Pakistan (and apparently also now North Korea). These are countries which were regarded as “threshhold” countries when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was adopted in 1967, but which have since reportedly become nuclear weapons states (though Israel maintains its policy of “nuclear ambiguity”). The only states recognized as nuclear powers by the NPT are the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council — pure coincidence, if you believe some of these council members …

Most of these former-threshhold states are not likely to be happy at the prospect that they can only join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapons states.

In any case, it was a rare UN Security Council summit, with 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members represented by their Heads of State and/or Government — and only Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi was absent (though he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York earlier this week, and Libya is currently one of the non-permanent members of the UNSC).

Instead, this SC meeting was addressed by Libya’s UN ambassador, Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgam, who told the meeting that Israel’s nuclear sites should be subject to international oversight, or “Otherwise, all the states of the Middle East will say, `We have a right to develop nuclear weapons. Why Israel alone?’ “. Israel has not ratified the NPT, and thus cannot be accused of having violated its provisions. John Bolton, when he was in charge of disarmament matters for the American State Department, said when pressed by a journalist once in Geneva that the U.S. does believe Israel should join the NPT — but eventually, in the far distant future. Another American official later added that this would have to be as a “non-nuclear-weapon State”. This does not, apparently, mean that the former “threshhold” states would have to eliminate their arsenals, but rather that they would not be allowed to assume the title (or perquisites) of nuclear weapons powers.

As remote as they may seem, major documents such as this often become the basis and the justification for major future international policy moves.
The Associated Press counted, and reported that the resolution contains 2,300 words.

It is a document full of nuance.

It was promoted by the U.S., and adopted in a UNSC meeting chaired by the President of the U.S., which calls for all states to “sign and ratify” the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), “thereby bringing the treaty into force at an early date”. The CTBT was, in fact, promoted by the U.S., and which then-U.S. President Bill Clinton did sign in 1996 (after the text of the treaty was finally agreed in international negotiations in which the U.S. actively participate) did not even try to take to the U.S. Congress for approval in 1999, because Republican opposition to curbs they said would be imposed on U.S. sovereignty so clearly indicated that the move would have been defeated.

This resolution also calls for the negotiation of a treaty limiting the production of fissile material — this has been the chief U.S. goal in the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament for years, but it has been held up because the U.S. has not agreed to deal with China’s main concern, which is the prevention of an arms-race in outer-space. The Conference on Disarmament works on consensus, and China’s position has been backed by Russia. Other countries have also objected to other aspects of this proposal, including the fact that the proposed new Fissile Ban treaty would only limit future production of the fissile material needed to make nuclear explosions — meaning that the big and powerful countries would be able to keep the large stockpiles they already have of fissile material, while all others would be left as “have-nots” (just as with nuclear weapons themselves, which is the basis of the objections to the NPT from some countries, including those former “threshhold” countries who have since become self-declared nuclear weapons states, as India did in 1998. This self-definition has now officially been shot down in this new UNSC resolution adopted today).

The UN press release providing coverage of the meeting stated that: “Unanimously adopting resolution 1887 (2009) in its first comprehensive action on nuclear issues since the mid-1990s, Council members emphasized that the body had a primary responsibility to address nuclear threats, and that all situations of non-compliance with nuclear treaties should be brought to its attention … The meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 11:30 a.m”. All of this, within two hours.

The UN press release also reported that “the Security Council had before it a concept paper conveyed in a letter dated 15 September 2009 (document S/2009/463) from the President of the Security Council [this month, it’s the U.S] and addressed to the Secretary-General [which said that] the Security Council will focus broadly on nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament and not on any specific countries, with the goals of underscoring the global reach of proliferation threats; the broadly shared obligation to respond; the positive steps taken to reduce nuclear dangers; and the Council’s essential role in addressing growing and pressing nuclear threats … According to the paper, the summit is intended as an opportunity to build support for fissile material cut-off treaty negotiations; the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol; ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty; and strategic arms control, including new negotiations over the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START)”.

While the U.S. said that the focus would be broad rather than on any specific countries, the individual statements made by world leaders in the UN SC meeting Thursday did name names — especially Iran and North Korea …

A group of countries including Western Europeans and the U.S. are due to meet again on 1 October with an Iranian delegation in Geneva, Switzerland for “Geneva Talks Two”, a continuation of a day-long meeting held in Geneva in July 2008.

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Continue reading “New UNSC resolution on nuclear disarmament: "enjoyment of the benefits of the NPT by a State Party can be assured only by its compliance with the obligations thereunder"”

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"”

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva calls for investigation in Gaza

The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva strongly condemned ongoing Israeli military operations in Gaza, on Monday, and also condemned Israel’s “grave violations” of the human rights of the people of Gaza, in an emergency session that began last Friday. The resolution also called for the urgent dispatch of an international mission to Gaza and called on Israel to cooperate with it. according to a report by Reuters.

The vote in the 47-member Human Rights Council was 33 countries in favor, with one NO vote (Canada), and 13 abstentions (European countries, Japan, and South Korea).

Russia, China, Latin American and members of the Organization of Islamic Conference countries supported the resolution.

This Reuters report was published in Haaretz here .

Correspondent Gideon Levy wrote today in Haaretz that “When the cannons eventually fall silent, the time for questions and investigations will be upon us. The mushroom clouds of smoke and dust will dissipate in the pitch-black sky; the fervor, desensitization and en masse jump on the bandwagon will be forever forgotten and perhaps we will view a clear picture of Gaza in all its grimness. Then we will see the scope of the killing and destruction, the crammed cemeteries and overflowing hospitals, the thousands of wounded and physically disabled, the destroyed houses that remain after this war. The questions that will beg to be asked, as cautiously as possible, are who is guilty and who is responsible … The public, moral and judicial test will be applied to the three Israeli statesmen who sent the Israel Defense Forces to war against a helpless population, one that did not even have a place to take refuge, in maybe the only war in history against a strip of land enclosed by a fence. Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak and Tzipi Livni will stand at the forefront of the guilty”. This article can be read in full here.

There are already IDF solidiers who have refused to enter the Gaza Strip to take part in Operation Cast Lead, in protest of the killing of Palestinian civilians, according to another report n Haaretz. “On Monday it emerged that [one] soldier has been jailed for 14 days in a military facility. He was the first soldier to be tried for refusing orders since the beginning of the operation. Attorney Michael Sfard, the legal adviser of Omets – a non profit organization for judicial and social justice – said that since the beginning of the Israeli offensive on December 27, eight reservists have sought his advice upon being drafted in the emergency reserves call-up…” This report can be read in Haaretz here.

And, in a letter published in The Sunday Times of London, a group of international law professors — including the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Richard Falk, who was recently barred from entry into Israel and then deported from Ben Gurion airport — wrote that “ISRAEL has sought to justify its military attacks on Gaza by stating that it amounts to an act of ‘self-defence’ as recognised by Article 51, United Nations Charter. We categorically reject this contention. The rocket attacks on Israel by Hamas deplorable as they are, do not, in terms of scale and effect amount to an armed attack entitling Israel to rely on self-defence. Under international law self-defence is an act of last resort and is subject to the customary rules of proportionality and necessity … For 18 months Israel had imposed an unlawful blockade on the coastal strip that brought Gazan society to the brink of collapse. In the three years after Israel’s redeployment from Gaza, 11 Israelis were killed by rocket fire … Throughout this time the Gaza Strip remained occupied territory under international law because Israel maintained effective control over it … As things stand, its invasion and bombardment of Gaza amounts to collective punishment of Gaza’s 1.5m inhabitants contrary to international humanitarian and human rights law. In addition, the blockade of humanitarian relief, the destruction of civilian infrastructure, and preventing access to basic necessities such as food and fuel, are prima facie war crimes … Israel has a right to take reasonable and proportionate means to protect its civilian population from such attacks. However, the manner and scale of its operations in Gaza amount to an act of aggression and is contrary to international law, notwithstanding the rocket attacks by Hamas”. This letter was published here .

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 .

Russia chairs UN Security Council in March

Russian Federation Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation will assume the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of March, the UN Spokesperson told journalists on Friday.

This is interesting.

A vote that the U.S., Britain and France wanted to have either on Friday or on Saturday (in other words, before the Russian presidency in the Security Council) has been again postponed. The Associated Press reported that the sponsors were trying “to get more support for the resolution”. This AP report is published here . The reports about needing more support for the draft resolution refer to four non-permanent members of the Security Council who have concerns(reportedly South Africa, Libya, Indonesia and Vietnam).  So far, only Libya has indicated it might actually vote against the resolution.

. Even if all of them voted no, the resolution could still be expected to pass, because it would only need the assent of 9 out of the SC’s 15 members — including all five of the Permanent Members of course (U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France).

In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors will start meeting in Vienna on Monday — the meeting should last about a week — and one of the big items on the agenda will be the latest IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program.

Perhaps diplomats are hoping that the IAEA Board of Governors will take a position on Iran’s compliance with its requests before the matter is formally put to the UN Security Council …

Cautious update – satellite shoot-down reduces risk from hazardous chemical

Not 24 or even 48 hours after the satellite shoot-down by a (ballistic) missile fired from a U.S. Navy ship in the Pacific some 130 miles up into space at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour, but days later, there is a qualified statement of success.

The AP reported that “The Pentagon said Monday it has a ‘high degree of confidence’ that the missile fired at a dead U.S. spy satellite in space destroyed the satellite’s fuel tank as planned. In its most definitive statement yet on the outcome of last Wednesday’s shootdown over the Pacific, the Pentagon said that based on debris analysis it is clear that the Navy missile destroyed the fuel tank, ‘reducing, if not eliminating, the risk to people on Earth from the hazardous chemical’. The tank had 1,000 pounds of hydrazine, a toxic substance that U.S. government officials believed posed a potential health hazard to humans if the satellite had descended to Earth on its own. The presence of the hydrazine was cited by U.S. officials as the main reason to shoot down the satellite — described as the size of a school bus — which would otherwise have fallen out of orbit on its own in early March … ‘By all accounts this was a successful mission’, Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in the Pentagon statement Monday. ‘From the debris analysis, we have a high degree of confidence the satellite’s fuel tank was destroyed and the hydrazine has been dissipated’. The Pentagon statement said a space operations center at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is tracking fewer than 3,000 pieces of satellite debris, all smaller than a football”. This AP report is published here.

There has still been no reaction from Russia.

Is Russia upping the ante on Kosovo? Is the EU? NATO? The UN?

The Associated Press is reporting just now that ” Serbia’s minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, crossed the border Monday to visit Serb communities in Kosovo. The top UN official in Kosovo, Joachim Ruecker, said he allowed Samardzic into Kosovo on the condition that he issue a public statement ‘making it very, very clear that he distances himself from violence and the visit is about ensuring peace and calm with the Kosovo Serbs’. Ruecker said he also insisted on meeting with Samardzic to ‘tell him what we think of some of his recent statements’ — but said later that he was not satisfied with some of the Serbian official’s answers. Samardzic said he told Ruecker that the Serbian government ‘will do everything to maintain peace in the regions of Kosovo it controls, where the Serbs live‘.” This AP story (datelined Kosovska Mitrovica, KOSOVO) is posted here.

So, the top UN official is being un-diplomatic, and the Serbs say they will continue to control areas of Kosovo that are populated by Serbs.

Is a real fight in the works?

The Russian Foreign Minister has weighed in: ” ‘We actively support Belgrade’s demand … to restore the territorial integrity of Serbia, restore the country’s sovereignty’, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on state-run Vesti-24 television. Lavrov claimed NATO and the European Union, which plans to deploy a 1,800-member police and justice mission to Kosovo, were considering using force to keep ethnic Serbs from leaving Kosovo. ‘The question of using force to hold back Serbs who do not want to remain under Pristina’s authority … is being seriously discussed’, Lavrov said in the broadcast, without offering any evidence. ‘This will only lead to yet another “frozen conflict” and will push the prospects for stabilizing Europe — and first of all for stabilizing the Balkans — far to the side’. The EU did not immediately respond to Lavrov’s remarks. But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said earlier that the bloc’s mission would cover all of Kosovo, including the northern parts where Serbs are concentrated.“, the AP reported.