Rice approved waterboarding of Al-Zubayda


It emerged last week that in July 2002, then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice had authorized waterboarding of al-Zubayda, a Palestinian-born suspected member of al-Qayda captured in Pakistan in March 2002 — who then may have implicated “the mastermind of 9/11” under torture, while recalling something he had watched on Al-Jazeera television.

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney was also apparently involved, while “then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell were largely left out of the decision-making process” according to a report from Washington by the McClatchy newspaper group that looked into a “narrative” to explain its memos (dated 2002-2005) to the CIA authorizing such techniques, and posted Wednesday on the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Web site.

The McClatchy report stated that “Cheney couldn’t be reached for comment. Rice, through an aide, declined to comment”. The report can be reached in full here.

According to a report from the AP late on Saturday, “After Rice provided the critical authorization, formal legal approval for Zubayda’s waterboarding came a few days later in an Aug. 1, 2002, Justice Department memo … Days after that, the waterboarding of Abu Zubayda began. He would undergo the technique, now deemed torture by Attorney General Eric Holder, 83 times that month“.

The Pentagon has photos of the interrogation sessions in which tactics that appear to be torture were used. The Washington Post reported that some of the photos will apparently be released by the end of May (see below for more).

Continue reading Rice approved waterboarding of Al-Zubayda

Talks with Iran in Geneva

Some people actually expected a breakthrough.

One reason was the presence of the “number three” ranking U.S. State Department official, William Burns — which the State Department spokespersons explained as “underscoring the U.S. commitment to diplomacy”, showing that the U.S. “is commited to finding a diplomatic solution”. The State Department spokespersons also said, however, that it was a “one-time deal”, an “idea that we generated”. It was a “signal”, the American spokespersons said, “but it’s not a change of substance”. It “serves to clarify the choices that the Iranian regime faces” — although “they [already] understand very clearly the cost to them for their continued defiance of the international community”.

Because “the central pivotoal point at the heart of our [U.S.] policy is that the Iranians [must, or should] take the step of suspending their uranium enrichment program. That is at the heart of the two-track policy”.

So, it was hard to see how the diplomats could stretch to make a bridge between the positions of the Americans, who continue to say that they will not negotiate with Iran unless it freezes its nuclear program (which it already did once, in 2004, without any positive results), and Iran’s position that they have a right to a peaceful national nuclear program.

Iran has repeatedly denied that it would ever develop nuclear weapons.

UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Observer newspaper in Britain have both now called the talks “inconclusive”.

UPDATE: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said to journalists on board her plane en route to Abu Dhabi on Monday that “I think the fact that we went may have been a bit surprising to the Iranians, and they didn’t react in a way that gave anyone any confidence in them. And so what it did was to serve to reinforce the unity of the P-5+1. And I’m not in the least surprised that the Iranians weren’t serious. They haven’t been serious to this point, and I’m not in the least surprised. But we gave them an opportunity, and they have thus far demonstrated again why there are three Security Council resolutions that are isolating Iran and making their isolation deeper and deeper … We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians, but as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious. And so Javier Solana decided to say to them two weeks. I think they had a little conversation about it among themselves at the P-5+1. Seems fine to me. But I thought that Solana was absolutely firm and clear that it’s time for the Iranians to give a serious answer. And from all reporting, the unity of the P-5+1 has never been greater than it was in that meeting or at this moment. And I do believe that it is, in part, because the United States showed its seriousness in backing this proposal with Bill’s physical presence. But it was also a very strong message to the Iranians that they can’t go and stall and make small talk and talk about culture, that they have to make a decision. And I think it’s also very clear that there are going to be consequences if they don’t”.

Rice was asked by a journalist: “Is that what they did? They talked about Iran’s wonder – culture? Is that what you heard back?” She replied: “I understand that it was, at times, meandering”. Was that a charitable expression, or an euphemism, she was asked, and she replied “I’ll just leave it at meandering”.

In comments that may satisfy our colleague from Iranian TV who was at the talks in Geneva on Saturday, Rice said, in answer to a question asking for “a bit of background on how you came to send Bill Burns to Geneva? Did you approach the President? And what did Dick Cheney say about this?”, that
SECRETARY RICE: “Well, again, I’m not going to talk about internal deliberations. But this was something that everybody understood the need for and thought that, as a tactic, it was fine. And this is a tactic. We – the strategy is to get Iran to accept the package or to have great enough unity in the P-5+1 to bring consequences if they don’t. That’s the strategy. And accepting the package means suspending enrichment and reprocessing and negotiating with us. So that’s the strategy. Now, the tactic of sending Bill Burns was the bookend tactic to my signing the letter, so that the Iranians who sometimes sit and tell our European colleagues we don’t really believe that the Americans are behind this offer — they actually say that — now, they can’t say that. And so, we talked it through among the Security Council – among the national security council principals and people were comfortable with it. And yes, of course, it was the President who made the decision”.

In a further exchange, Rice was asked: “When you signed the letter and when it was transmitted, was this being considered — sending Burns to go?” And she replied: “It came up at the time among the allies. But I thought that signing the letter was enough. And again, we always want to be vigorous on the diplomacy, but both parts of it. And by being vigorous on the part of it that demonstrates American commitment, you can also be vigorous on the side of consequences. And so that was the point. But it came up during that period of time. We decided not to do it. It came up with the Europeans, not so much in our counsels. I made the determination in London that the signature was enough … I think we’ve done enough to demonstrate that the United States is serious, and to assure our partners that we’re serious, and to show the Iranians that we’re serious. I think we’ve done enough”.

UPDATE: Israel’s Debkafile website is reporting on 21 July that “DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Operational Brimstone, starting Monday, July 21, aimed at giving military teeth to the two-week ultimatum the six world powers gave Iran in Geneva Saturday to accept the suspension of uranium enrichment or face harsh sanctions and isolation. After warning of punitive measures against Iran, Condoleezza Rice met the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq in Abu Dhabi. First she was briefed by Under Secretary of State William Burns. The penalty of withholding refined oil products from Iran would be exercised by means of a partial international naval blockade of its Gulf ports. Taking part in the 10-day exercise in the Atlantic Ocean are more than a dozen ships, including the US carrier strike group Theodore Roosevelt and expeditionary strike group Iwo Jima; the French submarine Amethyste, and the British HMS Illustrious Carrier Strike Group, as well as a Brazilian frigate … The exercise is scheduled to end July 31, two days before the US-European ultimatum to Iran expires. Immediately after the Geneva talks ended in failure, the US State Department issued a statement giving Tehran the option of ‘cooperation or confrontation’. A partial blockade of Iran’s shores, a key element of the new sanctions, would be limited to withholding from Iran supplies of benzene and other refined oil products – not foodstuffs or other commodities. Short of refining capacity, Iran has to import 40 percent of its benzene consumption and will be forced to react to the stoppage. … Addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday, July 21, British prime minister George Brown said: Iran must ”suspend its nuclear program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations’.’ Brown’s spokesman said the premier did not rule out ‘extended sanctions in some form on the oil and gas sector’ in Iran. Sources said that could involve sanctions on spare parts for Tehran’s fairly limited domestic oil refining capacity.”

Yes, the idea now appears to be to blockade refined oil from reaching Iran, one of the world’s major oil producers, which has not restored its own refining capacity since it was badly damaged by Iraq in the early days of the Iran-Iraq war.

Why Iran has not restored its own petroleum oil refining capacity is not clear — when it is risking nearly everything to insist on its right to have its own indigenous uranium enrichment capacity to run at least one and maybe eventually up to twenty nuclear reactors to provide power for civilian consumption….

In any case, the day before the talks that the Swiss government hosted in Geneva on Saturday (19 July) — at the request of both the EU and Iran, the Swiss said — Iranian officials said they wanted to discuss whatever common points could be found in the proposals submitted from the EU in mid-June, and in their counter-proposal.

Iranian officials also expressed the hope that the Americans would not repeat “past mistakes”.

A Western diplomat wearing a badge saying EU 3+3 talks (and NOT P5 plus 1) said before the meeting that there could be various degrees of “positive” that could emerge in the talks. Who would judge? It would be done by consensus, he said, among the six.

He explained that the wording on the badge reflected a preference to recall the original format of the talks, which involved three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — before the addition of the U.S., Russia and China, which made the group a representation of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Then, just after the arrivals (when there was a detectable whiff of hope) and the opening photo-op handshake between the EU High Representative Javier Solana and Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, (where Jalili seemed stiff and uncomfortable), followed by a subsequent rush of camerapersons through a single door to take pictures of the delegations seated in the Hotel de Ville’s famous Alabama Room – where post U.S. Civil War negotiations between the U.S. and Britain resulted in payment of millions of dollars in British reparations (for building and outfitting Confederate warships), considered the birth of international arbitration and international law — then, just then, the Iranian Ambassador to the Swiss capital Berne told the Associated Press that Iran would never give up its right — or its program — to enrich uranium.

That news story rattled around the world.

During a mid-day break, the EU High Representative Javier Solana, and the Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili went to lunch together, while the other delegations dined separately.

Solana and Jalili came back from lunch separately. The police radios said that the Iranians were going to pray in the Salle des Pas Perdus …

As another journalist said, nobody looked very happy

Not too many press were present, but most of those who were there had followed the issue for years.

A journalist from Iranian TV who came with his delegation kept asking if the Americans were serious about the talks. “Are the American people behind these talks?”, he asked. “But what did the Administration mean when it said that the talks were just a ‘tactic’?”

At the end of the day, at a closing press conference, only Solana and Jalili were present, along with a Swiss representative. At once, Solana set the tone: “We did not get a clear answer. There was no ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.,, no straight ”

Sonala repeated this several times — and each time, Jalili looked very pained. Even, crucified…

Solana said that the meeting had been “substantive” with a “constructive atmosphere”.

A Western diplomat who was present at the talks in Geneva’s historic town hall (Hotel de Ville) said after the meeting that things were not as bad in the meeting as they seemed in the post-meeting press conference.

The Western diplomat said later that Jalili definitely did not state in the meeting that “No, we will not freeze our uranium enrichment program” …

Solana reminded journalists that the EU proposal offered to refrain “from any new UN Security Council sanctions” (while the three sets already in place would apparently remain) in exchange for Iran refraining from any nuclear activity “including the installation of new centrifuges”.

The acoustics in the press conference were terrible — the AP’s expert correspondent George Jahn, who came from Vienna where he covers the IAEA to the Geneva talks heard Solana say that Iran should agree to refrain from any NEW nuclear activity, but I did not hear that qualifier — what I heard was say “any nuclear activity”.

Both Solana and Jalili used a similar vocabulary in one respect — they mentioned “cooperation” and “commitments” — but they apparently meant different things.

Solana says that he hopes to get a clear answer from Iran very soon — in the next couple of weeks, or in about two weeks, he said alternatively — either telephonically or in person.

So, war will not break out tonight.

Still, some journalists hyped this up: “Iran has two weeks to agree to freeze its nuclear program” — or else, they wrote. Maybe they are right.

But it seems clear that Solana and Jalili want to keep on talking. And Iran appears to want to avert outright conflict.

Apparently the Iranians brought a new “non-paper”, in which, Solana’s spokeswoman indicated, Iran has “reorganized the phases”, but, she said, “they do not coincide with our phases”. She did not want to say more.

[The Israel project had earlier mentioned, mysteriously, that a revised EU proposal had been or was going to be presented to Iran. Then, my colleague and friend in Geneva Robert James Parsons sent a link to an article by Gareth Porter also suggesting that the EU proposal was modified due to objections by the U.S.: “According to an E.U. source with direct knowledge of Solana’s meetings with Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and nuclear negotiator Jalili, on Jun. 14, however, what Solana presented was different from the ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal that had been discussed among the six powers. The source was not authorized to explain the difference between the two proposals, but it now appears that Solana could not present the original freeze for freeze proposal on behalf of all six powers because the most important actor of all — the United States — had objected. When State Department spokesman McCormack was first asked about an EU ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal on Jul. 3 and whether it was acceptable to the United States, he twice avoided addressing it altogether. But
when a reporter asked in regard to the proposed informal talks, ‘You do it then via the EU-3 [Britain, France and Germany], right, not the P5+1?’ McCormack answered, ‘Via Mr. Solana’ …” The full Gareth Porter analysis, apparently written for IPS, is published here . However, the evidence is not yet totally clear.]

In the post-meeting press conference, Jalili twice mentioned his hopes that there can be a “discussion of our shared worries and concerns” — but based on what he called a “collective obligation” [another Iranian diplomat called it a “collective commitment”, but noted that he was not sure what Jalili meant. His interpretation, he said, was that the each of the parties in the region — and he mentioned Iraq — should make commitments, not just Iran alone…]

In any case, the Western diplomat said after the meeting and the press conference that Solana made a presentation in the meeting, after which the “political directors” of all 6 of the EU 3 + 3 (as they were called on their badges) spoke in support of Solana’s remarks — including Burns.

(The U.S. representative was not, as predicted in advance, totally silent.)

The Western diplomat said that of course, each of the six used his own words.

This diplomat said that he felt it was important and useful that Burns spoke in the meeting, and that the Iranians would now have to think about it …

Both Jalili and Solana mentioned the EU proposal presented in Tehran in mid-June — which was apparently signed by all six of the foreign ministers who have been consulting on what they want to do about Iran’s nuclear program — including Condoleeza Rice, which was regarded as a very big deal, as Leonard Doyle wrote brilliantly in a piece in the Independent last week.

But, after the Saturday talks, the American line tightened up again:

Iran has to make a clear decision to cooperate — it will face greater and greater international isolation, they are now saying, again.

Rice has left Jerusalem

It was Rice’s eighth visit to Jerusalem-Ramallah, and her third in six weeks, or her second in two weeks, depending on perspective. There are reports of still one more visit to come, by mid-November.

Kol Israel, citing Reuters, reports this morning that “A senior US official says the Annapolis peace summit is likely to take place in the last week of November. Reuters quotes the official as saying that participating countries will be represented [in Annapolis] at the ministerial level”.

Yesterday, in Ramallah, it was a small treat to watch Rice’s convoy pass. The first clue was the unusual deployment of olive-uniformed Palestinian security (the police wear blue). They refused to allow cars to park on the street in front of the Wataniya building, where the Palestinian Peace Coalition [the Palestinian team working on the Geneva Initiative] used to be housed, until their funding dried up. The building houses the Swiss, Japanese, and Irish consulates, and Royal Jordanian Airlines offices – clearly a dangerous lot. The security forces were quite suspicious, but not really nervous. At the last minute, it was possible to emerge into the sunlight just in time to see the action — like watching the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in NYC.

Rice, at about 11:30 am, was apparently coming from the office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and going to the Muqata’a to see Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen).

Traffic was cut off a few minutes before the convoy approached. Then, a white pickup truck approached at high speed from the opposite direction, and made a U-turn, waiting in position to lead the convoy on. A smaller bright mid-blue vehicle (the color of some police cars was next, then, after a pause, a police motorcyclist with a rotating light on a pole perched at the back of his vehicle signalled the arrival of the convoy itself: Another blue police van. Closed vehicles loaded with Palestinian olive-uniformed security personnel. Then about 8 black vans, with tinted windows (closed). In the second row of seats, suited security personnel, one man fully facing each side of the street, anxious faces scanning the facades of the buildings on both sides. What would they do if they actually saw something dangerous — a rifle sticking out of an upper floor window, like at the Texas Book Repository? It might be too late by then … In the back of these black vans, at least two rows of seats, facing each other, forming a conversational grouping. Calm reigned.

The convoy moved at a clip, but didn’t break the sound barrier.

At the back, another group of six to eight white vehicles. These seemed to be more security, probably including Israeli security. These white vehicles, in fact, might be all Israeli, at least Israeli-provided. At the end, two white vehicles with a printed sign in the window: Press. The windows in these vans were clear, allowing a perfectly clear view of the well-dressed and clearly well-mannered travelling press corps, and perhaps other local journalists being assisted to attend the event. Sitting ducks.

At the end of their meeting, sometime around 1:30 or 2:00 pm, Rice and Abbas gave what was latter called an “upbeat” joint press conference at the Muqata’a, where local (Palestinian) journalists had been asked to be in place from 10:00 — for security reasons.

Abbas and Rice were pleased, apparently, from comments made at a gala meeting of the “prestigious” Saban Forum on Sunday evening by Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert — two of the most important of which were (1) “We will not bargain about the right of the Palestinian people to their own state”, and (2) “It should be remembered that the Roadmap sets out a series of steps for the State of Israel. These steps, like the obligations of the Palestinians, have yet to be implemented. We will not concede to the Palestinians on any of the obligations outlined in the Roadmap, and we will not avoid fulfilling our own obligations to the letter”.

For a fuller account of Olmert’s hailed remarks, see the post “The Day after Annapolis?“, on Palestine-Mandate.com, here.

For an informal poll of Palestinian man-on-the-street reactions to the present process, see the post on Palestine-Mandate.com, “There will be an Annapolis meeting, it seems“, here.

Rice did not visit the nearly-completed Yasser Arafat memorial, that is nearly completed, in lovely light-pink stone, around his gravesite in a corner of the Muqata’a — the building where his health declined after two years of being quite literally under seige, facing regular public Israeli threats to finish him off. Arafat was evacuated by helicopter and taken via Jordan to a hospital in France, where he soon died. Arafat’s body was returned from France via Egypt, and then helicopter to the Muqata’a, where it was unable to land for a very long time due to the press of mourners on the ground.

Historical footnote: at least three Western journalists, all women, were recalled by their news organizations as a result of Israeli protests at their emotional [i.e. “unobjective”] reporting of Arafat’s final days, including his helicopter evacuation — a much weakened-man in an overcoat and woolen cap, over his pyjamas — from the Muqata’a.

Rice has arrived back in Jerusalem

Condoleeza Rice has arrived back in Jerusalem on Sunday and will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, according to Kol Israel Radio.

Rice, Olmert, and Blair are due to address the Saban Forum (a production of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, financed by Los Angeles-based philanthropist Haim Saban; the Saban Forum meets annually to strengthen U.S-Israeli relations) in Jerusalem on Monday evening, after which there will be a gala dinner.

Rice aides Stephen Hadley and David Welch have been conducting meetings with Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams in the days since Rice’s last visit here.

Speaking with journalists on board her plane travelling from Turkey to Israel yesterday, Rice said, according to a U.S. State Department transcript of her remarks, that “They’re still working. And like with anything of this kind, you know, they’re going through some knotty discussions. And I think those knotty discussions are going to continue for a while, but I will go out and see if there is anything that I can do to help move this along”.

Rice met Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, Haaretz reports. Rice’s team, if not Rice herself, are due to travel to Amman during the day on Sunday to brief or to consult with King Abdallah II on the Arab peace intitiative (according to the Saban Center’s press release). The Jerusalem Post says that Rice will join Olmert for a working lunch on Sunday, and will see Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak during the day.

Rice is due to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Monday,

Rice is coming back in ten days …

The U.S. State Department announced last night that “Secretary Rice will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah November 4-6 to continue her discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support their ongoing bilateral dialogue and the serious effort underway to draft a joint document that could lay the foundation for negotiations. [n.b., notice the qualifiers] The Secretary will follow up on her recent discussions with the parties on the need for progress on phase one commitments under the Roadmap both to improve conditions on the ground and to build confidence between the parties …

What does that mean? That Israel must remove a few roadblocks in the West Bank, which it has promised to do for months (while reportedly putting into place a few more…)? And that the Palestinians must do what? Ensure (Israeli) security???

Israeli officials say almost unanimously these days that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is too weak to deliver peace.

So, what do they want? A 100-year truce, many Israelis say, to see if the Palestinians are really serious about making peace.

Some say they agree with the U.S. Administration’s reported intention to force Abbas to appoint the (relatively) young and widely-despised Mahmoud Dahlan as Abbas’ deputy — though they say they would not try to leverage this themselves, having learnt from having been burned by meddling in Palestinian internal affairs in the past (!)

[And, by the way, the reason Dahlan is so hated, these Israeli officials say, is not because he grew rich during the last 12 years while most of the rest of the population has been dumped into poverty; and not because his men have bullied and tortured many other Palestinians; and not because he has consistently been described in the press as the American (and also C.I.A.) choice, and photographed cozying up with Israeli officials who have said and done brutal things against the Palestinians. No, it is none of those reasons. Dahlan is hated, these Israelis say, because he is rich, and “sleeps every other night in hotels in Tel Aviv, and wears Dolce and Gabbiano suits”. The Palestinians only notice those who are rich, these Israelis say, but they are just jealous. In fact, they are overwhelmed by jealousy … In fact, by the logic of these arguments, you could think that it was a brilliant strategy on Dahlan’s part to grow rich — a brilliant stratagy by a natural leader — because that’s what puts him into a position to assume power.]

Gaza, they say, will always be ruled by Hamas — Salam Fayyad was completely wrong to say that Hamas was alien to Palestinian culture — and thus Gaza will not be part of the Palestinian State, as Condoleeza Rice has been bravely trying to insist. [They say that Israel tried to give Gaza back to Sadat as part of the 1979 Camp David treaties, but that Sadat was too smart to take it…]

Arafat could control Hamas, they say, but Abbas cannot. [Arafat was constantly making deals with Hamas’ Sheikh Ahmad Yassin — that is, until Yassin was murdered by an Israeli air strike that hit him in his wheelchair as he left a mosque in Gaza following the dawn prayers in the spring of 2004…and then Arafat took a sharp turn for the worst and died after being evacuated from the Muqata’a in Ramallah by helicopter and transferred via Jordan to a hospital in Paris.]

But, these Israelis say, perhaps a little coup within Hamas might be just what’s needed — to put the moderates on top, and distance (if not disable) the militants.

That, these Israelis say, could lead to a very comfortable modus vivendi...

So, how is Condoleeza Rice going to deal with this?

Rice tells US Congress — ???

US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is testifying today to the U.S. Congress on the state of preparations for the Middle East Peace Conference (or “meeting”) that is still expected to be held in Annapolis by the end of the year.

In her opening statement at the hearing called by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rice said: “The United States has enduring national interests in the Middle East: economic, geopolitical, security and moral values. For more than six decades, over the course of many administrations, American leaders of both parties have worked for peace and security in the region, not always perfectly, but consistently. The Middle East is now and will remain one of the most strategically important parts of the world for our national interest and for international security. Therefore, the United States will never retreat from our commitments in the Middle East. The goal we seek is a secure and peaceful region. But for that peace and security to be lasting, not false stability, it must be rooted in what President Bush calls the “non-negotiable demands of human dignity” — the rule of law, limits on state power, free speech, religious liberty, equal justice, property rights, tolerance of difference and respect for women. These values are a source of success for nations across the world and they are the only ideas that can give people in the Middle East a future of modernity with dignity. This, we believe, will ultimately defeat the ideology of violent extremism and thus ensure our security”.

Hopefully, she will explain all this a bit more in response to the Committee members’ questions …

UPDATE: Rice told the Congressmen that the peace conference should happen by the end of the year, though it still isn’t scheduled yet. She said that the “window of opportunity” would close unless there were real progress towards the establishment of a Palestinian state, and she explained that the U.S. Administration was taking a higher profile and making more of a hands-on effort to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators together because, in part, Iran was causing difficulties through its support of Hamas. According to the Associated Press, Rice added that “the policies of Iran constitute perhaps the single greatest challenge for American security interest in the Middle East and possibly around the world …”

Yes, a woman with her hands painted red to look like blood came right up to Rice and shouted that Rice was a war criminal, but Rice remained calm…

Rice – does she know what she's doing?

Here below is the U.S. State Department transcript of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s remarks to journalists travelling with her from Israel to London, where she was due to meet Jordan’s King Abdallah II.

Major questions that come immediately to mind:

(1) Since when is this the beginning of the process?

(2) What exactly does she mean when she says that phase one roadmap obligations must be carried out now, IN ADVANCE of any meeting?

(3) Does she really believe the explanation given to her by Israeli officials about the land from four Palestinian villages that is being confiscated between East Jerusalem and the huge Maale Adumim settlement in the West Bank to build a bypass road for Palestinian use — that this is being done from a good motive, that is, to help increase Palestinian mobility?

(4) Why has she so completely swallowed the Israeli position that the document the Israeli and Palestinians are supposed to be negotiating will only be a statement of intent — and will not be specific on the issues?

(5) Why has she backed off from her firmness about it now being the time to move toward a Palestinian state? And why is she saying so many “ifs” – as in, “If Israel is going to be asked to withdraw from the West Bank at some point in time” … “If a Palestinian state is ever going to come into being”?
Continue reading Rice – does she know what she's doing?

Rice visits Jesus' birthplace – Bethlehem

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem this morning — reputed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

The visit was described as “a break from peacemaking” — but she must have whispered a prayer or two, to help her efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian negotiators closer to agreement.

It was later reported that Rice lit a candle in the Church of the Nativity.

Reuters added, “The smell of incense wafted through the air of the hushed church as Rice visited the grotto revered as the birthplace of Jesus”.

Rice told journalists, according to a State Department transcript, that “being here at the birthplace of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has been a very special and moving experience. I was saying earlier that I think I could spell Bethlehem before I could spell my name because it was so often in the stories that children follow to learn about the life of Jesus Christ, and it all started here in Bethlehem. It is also, I think, personally for me a reminder that the Prince of Peace is still with us and still with me and with all of us, but that also these great monotheistic religions that have inhabited this land together have an opportunity to overcome differences, to put aside grievances, to make the power of religion a power of healing and a power of reconciliation rather than a power of division. And that is what these great holy sites remind us of is that the three great religions indeed share a common vision of peace and a common vision of our humanity. And that is what I ultimately take away from this trip“.

It was reported that Rice also exchanged words with Palestinian residents of Bethlehem, but details on that are still coming in.

Reuters observed that the route was apparently not lined with cheering spectators: “Residents of Bethlehem, in the West Bank just outside Jerusalem, looked on with seeming indifference as Rice’s motorcade swept into the city with sirens blaring … Unemployment in the town is estimated at about 65 percent. More than 3,000 Christians, about 10 percent of the community in Bethlehem, have left the city since 2000, according to United Nations statistics”.

Rice also had to pass, again, through The Wall. Reuters drily recorded that: ” ‘Peace Be With You’, read an Israeli Tourism Ministry sign on a high concrete wall section of the West Bank fence Israel has constructed near the entrance to the city of Jesus’s birth”. The Reuters report on Rice’s visit to Bethlehem is published in Haaretz here.

That enormous and grotesque sign is nearly the full height of The Wall, at least 25 feet high, at that place, and is painted in bright colors in three languages – Arabic, Hebrew, and English.

entrance to Bethlehem  - photo by Rev. Julie Roweh

(Photo by Rev. Julie Rowe, a Lutheran Minister who lives and works in Jerusalem)

Continue reading Rice visits Jesus' birthplace – Bethlehem

Rice is up against The Wall – it's crunch time in Palestine

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was still looking polished, well-groomed, nice and disciplined yesterday and today in Jerusalem — but it’s now crunch time in Palestine.

A story by the Associated Press says that after Rice’s meeting with Israeli officials on Sunday — over two hours with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, then another meeting with Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister, as well as one of the richest men in Israel) Ehud Barak, who was leaving for his own trip to Washington immediately afterwards — a “U.S. State Department official” indicated to journalists that the American-proposed Middle East Peace Conference (or, now downplayed, “meeting”), that was supposed to take place in November, might be postponed “because of gaps between the sides”.

The AP is reporting that: ” ‘This is going to take some time’, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity to describe the private conversations. ‘This is going to require a lot of hands-on American diplomacy. These are really tough issues’.”

The issues are tough, but not as tough as the Israelis.

The AP says that Barak, after meeting Rice, “later issued a statement saying the [Israeli] military’s freedom of movement in the West Bank was a ‘fundamental principle that must be demanded in the future as well’.” The AP noted drily that these comments “came despite long-standing Palestinian demands for a reduced Israeli presence in the West Bank”.

On Monday, Rice went to Ramallah to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. AP reports that there was a “security scare”: “Her trip was briefly delayed by what turned out to be a false security alert. Her convoy stopped at an Israeli fire station after Israeli police said they spotted a suspicious vehicle near a crossing point into the West Bank. The convoy moved on after 15 minutes”. The AP report on Rice’s last two days in the Mideast is here.

This “false security alert” could have been just a good bit of theatre — setting the scene, and atmospherics.

I wonder if Dr. Rice has ever seen The Wall — up close and personal? It would be nice if she decided to take a little tour while here … Seeing it in person is like getting hit, hard, in the solar plexus. It generally has a quite transformational impact.
Continue reading Rice is up against The Wall – it's crunch time in Palestine

Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice arrived in Jerusalem Sunday after being profoundly shocked in Moscow by Russian President Putin’s anger. Will she be profoundly shocked here?

En route to Moscow three days ago, Rice was asked by journalists about her reaction to the revelation that the Israeli military had confiscated land from four Palestinian villages in order to construct a Palestinian bypass road around the enormous Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, located in the West Bank, west of Jerusalem:

“QUESTION: Israel announced this week the confiscation of Palestinian land between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim in West Bank, which appears to be a fait accompli before your arrival. What are you going to do about that?

“SECRETARY RICE: Well, I called the Ambassador to — their Ambassador to the United States yesterday and asked for a clarification. I’m awaiting one …”

UPDATE: Rice told journalists en route to Tel Aviv this morning that she did get some official Israeli clarification. Here is her exchange with journalists on the topic, according to a transcript later released by the U.S. State Department:

“QUESTION: Madame Secretary, did you get an answer from the Israelis about this confiscation of Palestinian land?

SECRETARY RICE: I did. What I’ll do is I’d prefer to have the Israelis say precisely what they — their clarification. But let me put it this way: it was a clarification concerning the timing of such a — the actual timing that anything would happen, saying that it was not imminent and also that it was to improve Palestinian mobility. We’ll continue to have discussions about this. But the point that I’ll be making is we have to be very careful as we’re trying to move toward the establishment of a Palestinian state by actions and statement that erode confidence in the parties’ commitment to a two-state solution”.

In her meeting with journalists on board her plane, Rice also said: “I think the goal now is to paint as concrete a picture as possible of the — of a Palestinian state, to demonstrate that the international community, the region and most importantly the parties themselves believe that one can indeed be established, and then to invite all who have any — who have the interests of the Palestinian people at heart to join that consensus“.
Continue reading Rice is in Jerusalem to check on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations