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Commercial colonization of Africa: The new wild West

(African farmers-file photo)

by GRAHAM PEEBLES, source

Dancing to the tune of their corporate benefactors, governments of the ruling G8 countries are enacting complex agriculture agreements delivering large tracts of prime cut African soil into the portfolios of their multinational bedmates.

Desperate for foreign investment, countries throughout Africa are at the mercy of their new colonial masters – national and international agrochemical corporations, fighting for land, water and control of the world’s food supplies. Driven overwhelmingly by self-interest and profit, the current crop of ‘investors’ differ little from their colonial ancestors. The means may have changed, but the aim – to rape and pillage, no matter the sincere sounding rhetoric – remains more or less the same.

Regarded by her northern guides as agriculturally underperforming, Sub-Saharan Africa is seen, The African Centre for Bio-diversity (ACB) relate, as a “new frontier”, a place to “make profits, with an eye on land, food and biofuels in particular”. Africa, then, is the new Wild West; smallholder farmers and indigenous people are the natives Indians, the multi nationals and their democratically elected representatives – or salesmen – the settlers.

Various initiatives offering what is, indisputably much needed ‘support and investment’ are flowing north to south. Key amongst these is The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in Africa (NAFSNA), designed by the governments of the eight richest economies, for some of the poorest countries in the world. The New Alliance was born out of the G8 summit in May 2012 at Camp David and, according to, WoW, “has been modelled on the ‘new vision’ of private investment in agriculture developed by management consultants McKinsey in conjunction with the ABCD group of leading grain traders (ADM, Bunge, Cargill and Louis Dreyfus) and other multinational agribusiness companies.”(Ibid) It has been written in honourable terms to sit comfortably within the Africa Union’s Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP), bestowing an aura of international credibility.

The New Alliance… In Land and Seed Appropriation

At first glance, The New Alliance, with its altruistically-gilded aims, appears to be a worthy development. Who amongst us could argue with the intention, as reported by the United Nations (UN), to “achieve sustained and inclusive agricultural growth and raise 50 million people out of poverty over the next 10 years”. The means to achieving this noble quest however, are skewed, ignoring the rights and needs of small-holder farmers and the wishes of local people – who are not consulted during the heady negotiations with government officials local and national, and the multi zillion $ corporations who are swarming to buy their ancestral land. Alliance contracts and deals-done favour wealthy investors, revealing the underlying, unjust G8 initiatives objective, to “open up African agriculture to multinational agribusiness companies by means of national ‘cooperation frameworks’ between African governments, donors and private sector investors”, WoW report.

Poverty reduction (the principle stated aim of the Alliance), will be achieved we are told, not by rational methods of sharing and re-distribution, but USAID 18/05/2012 reveal, by “aligning the commitments of Africa’s leadership to drive effective country plans and policies for food security”. ‘Plans and policies’, drafted no doubt in the hallowed meeting rooms of those driving the ‘New Alliance’: the G8 governments and their cohorts including The World Bank and, pulling the policy strings, the agriculture companies sitting behind them, nestling alongside the pharmaceutical giants and the arms industry magnates. With African governments anxious to eat at the head table, or at least be invited into the cocktail chamber they have little choice but to sign up to such unbalanced ‘plans and policies’.

To date, nine African countries (from a continent of 54 nation states), have committed to The New Alliance. First to sign up were, Tanzania, Ghana and the West’s favoured ally in the region Ethiopia – where wide ranging human rights violations, including forced displacement and rapes have reportedly accompanied land sales, and where over 250,000 people in Gambella have been forced into the Orwellian sounding ‘Villagization Programmes’. Then came Burkina Faso, Mozambique and Cote d’Ivoire, followed by Benin, Malawi, and Nigeria. It is an agreement dripping with strings that promise to entangle the innocent and uninformed. After “wide-ranging consultations on land and farming”, with officials from potential partner countries, the results of which were “ignored in the agreements with the G8”, deals “between African governments and private companies were facilitated by the World Economic Forum”, behind, The Guardian report, firmly closed doors.

Conditional to investment promised by The New Alliance, African leaders, USAID tell us are ‘committed’ – forced may be a better word – “to refine [government] policies in order to improve investment opportunities”. In plain English, African countries are required to, change their trade and agriculture laws to include ending the free distribution of seeds, relax the tax system and national export controls and open the doors wide for profit repatriation (allowing the money as well as the crops to be exported). In Mozambique, as elsewhere across the continent, local farmers have been evicted from their land under land sales agreements, and The Guardian 10/06/2013 report, “is now obliged to write new laws promoting what its agreement calls “partnerships” of this kind”. A polluted term, disguising the real relationship between African governments and the multi-national ‘investors’, which is closer to master and maid than equal collaborators.

The Alliance offers a combination of public and private money to African countries willing to take the G8 plunge into international political-economic duplicity, with, ACB relate “the large multinational seed, fertiliser and agrochemical companies setting the agenda … and philanthropic institutions (like AGRA and others) establishing the institutional and infrastructural mechanisms to realise this agenda”. Britain has pledged £395 million of foreign aid whilst, according to the UN “over 45 local and multinational companies have expressed their intent to invest over $3 billion across the agricultural value chain in Grow Africa countries [a Programme of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) established by the African Union in 2003.].”

In order to get their hands on some of the corporations billions however, African nations are required to “change their seed laws, trade laws and land ownership in order to prioritise corporate profits over local food needs”, Mozambique e.g. is contracted, The Guardian tell us to “systematically cease distribution of free and unimproved seeds”, and is drawing up new laws granting intellectual property rights (IPR) of seeds, that will “promote private sector investment”. In other words, laws are being written that allow foreign companies – ‘investors’ (a word used to mislead and bestow legitimacy) – to grab the land of their African ‘partners’, patent their seeds and monopolise their food markets. In Ghana, Tanzania and Ivory Coast, similar regulations sit on the table waiting to be rubber-stamped.

The re-writing of seed laws, along with the fact that these unbalanced deals allow “big multinational seed, fertiliser and agrochemical companies such as Yara, Monsanto, Syngenta and Cargill to set the agenda”, is a major concern expressed by environmental NGO’s and campaigners, Reuters 20/06/2013 report. These are concerns that the initiating G8 governments, were they at all troubled by the impact of their meddling, should share.

The wide ownership, by a small number of huge agro-chemical companies of the rights to seeds and fertilisers, is creating, the UN in their report on the Right to Food, state: “monopoly privileges to plant breeders and patent-holders through the tools of intellectual property”. This growing trend, facilitated through the support of the G8 governments is placing more and more control of the worldwide food supply in their hands, and is causing, “the poorest farmers [to] become increasingly dependent on expensive inputs, creating the risk of indebtedness in the face of unstable incomes.” India is a case in question where farmers strangled by debt are committing suicide at a rate of two per hour.

Share the Land, Seeds and Water

African farmers, and civil society along with 25 British campaign groups including War on Want, Friends of the Earth, The Gaia Foundation and the World Development Movement, have declared their objections to the New Alliance and asked that the government withhold the £395 million so generously pledged by Prime Minister Cameron. The African civil society see clearly that “opening markets and creating space for multinationals to secure profits lie at the heart of the G8 intervention”, they “recognise the New Alliance is a poisoned chalice, and they are right to reject it”, asserts Kirtana Chandrasekaran of Friends of the Earth (FoE).

Having made a continental mess of their own countries’ economies, not to mention the environmental mayhem caused by their policies, It is with unabashed colonial arrogance that the G8 governments deem to tell African countries what to do with their land and how best to do it. Not only do they have no genuine interest in Africa, save what can be gained from it, but they have “no legitimacy to intervene in matters of food, hunger and land tenure in Africa or any other part of the world”, WoW make clear. The New Alliance, according to David Cameron, is “a great combination of promoting good governance and helping Africa to feed its people”. He and the rest of the G8 sitting comfortably club, are, FoE state, “pretending to be tackling hunger and land grabbing in Africa while backing a scheme that will ruin the lives of hundreds of thousands of small farmers”, the New Alliance is “a pro-corporate assault on African nations”.

The ‘investment and support‘ opportunities are laid at the door of investors, to further expand their corporate assets and with the support of participating governments, obliged to provide a selection box of state incentives.

The ending of hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, India and elsewhere, will not be brought about by allowing large tracts of land to be bought up by corporations whose only interest is in maximizing return on investment and, as ACB report these governments believe. The Alliance, far from providing investment and support for the people of Africa, is a mask for exploitation and profiteering: True investment built on relationships, is investment in the people of Africa; the smallholder farmers, the women and children, the communities across the continent. It involves working collectively, consulting, encouraging participation, cooperating instead of competing, and crucially sharing. Sharing of knowledge, experience and technology, sharing the natural resources – the land, food and water, the minerals and other resources equitably amongst the people of Africa and the wider world. Such radical, commonsense ideas would go a long way to creating not only food security but harmony, trust and social justice which just might bring about peace – the ultimate security.

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Illusions of growth: Empty talk from the G8

by Dave Brown

by VIJAY PRASHAD, source

WHEN the Group of Seven (G7) was formed in 1974, its charge was to provide confidence to a global population uncertain about the major structural features in the world. The members of the G7 were Canada, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and West Germany. They came together at a time of grave economic trouble, with unemployment rates skyrocketing, labour unions becoming restive and economic policies unable to control haemorrhaged growth and inflation. The then U.S. President, Gerald Ford, told a private meeting of the heads of government in Rambouillet (France) that they must “ensure that the current world economic situation is not seen as a crisis in the democratic or capitalist system”. A British Foreign Office report on that first summit noted: “The participants were conscious that they had to make a convincing and demonstrative gesture of solidarity.” Little has changed since 1974.

President Barack Obama left the May 18-19 Camp David conclave of the G8 to say that things were “so far so good”. He underlined the “emerging consensus that more must be done to promote economic growth and job creation, right now”. Behind him was the newly elected French President, Francois Hollande, who had run on a platform of growth over austerity. With Hollande was Britain’s David Cameron, who hoped, as Financial Times put it, “to repair strained relations with Mr Hollande by supporting his growth plan”. On the surface, it looked as if the growth wing had won out over the austerity wing. But this was an illusion.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel appeared isolated, but she did not bend from her commitments. “Budget discipline” in deficit countries remained high on her agenda. There was to be no public deal with Greece before its second election. Before the G8 meeting, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had placed high odds that Greece would leave the eurozone, and the Fitch Ratings agency had reduced Greece to the level of junk (CCC grade). Talk of growth in the public forums and in the first line of the Camp David Declaration (“Our imperative is to promote growth and jobs”) seemed hemmed in by more fleshed out obligations. A few lines down, the G8 took the Merkel or neoliberal view that governments had to push for “reforms to raise productivity, growth and demand within a sustainable, credible and non-inflationary macroeconomic framework”. The declaration mentioned the importance of “confidence” and “fiscal responsibility” to strengthen economic recovery. All this verbiage (sustainable, credible, confidence) masked the policy of austerity. What it means is that the financial markets must have confidence that their investments will be protected and bailed out and that the governments must balance their budgets responsibly.

The main difference between the forces of growth (Obama, Hollande) and austerity (Merkel) are not strategic but tactical. Obama had the U.S. economy in mind, not the Greek people, when he promoted growth in Europe. The U.S. was worried that a second collapse of the European banking system would adversely threaten U.S. banking institutions. U.S. banks have already reduced their exposure to the Greek financial system by 40 per cent. A Greek exit from the eurozone might infect the rest of southern Europe (Italy and Spain), in whose financial markets the U.S. banks are more heavily leveraged both directly and indirectly. A Europe-wide collapse would devastate the U.S. financial firms. In order to prevent this outcome, Obama was insistent that the European Central Bank create a cushion for a credit crunch and provide “confidence” to investors not to abandon the Euro. This is less about a growth agenda for Europe than a firewall to prevent a financial tsunami that mimics the one that took hold after Lehman Brothers closed down in 2008.

The Camp David Declaration dwelt at length on the importance of intellectual property rights and on hunger in Africa. Nothing was said of the major social crisis that had overtaken much of the world. The question of intellectual property rights is a parochial one for the interests of the Atlantic world, which has converted its intellectual property into one of its major sources of revenue. “Africa”, on the other hand, has become a symbolic way for the G8 to appear concerned about poverty. At the 2005 Gleneagles (Scotland) summit, the group launched the Make Poverty History campaign, which was a celebrity- and non-governmental-organisation-driven circus tagged onto the Millennium Development Goals. There was little about it that was serious. If the G8 was serious about some of the trials of Africa, it would suspend its insistence upon intellectual property rights and allow pharmaceutical companies to produce off-patent drugs. These drugs would be able to enter countries in Africa where their current patent-driven prices make them unaffordable. But “Africa” in the G8 is not about the real people of the continent. It stands as a proxy to show that the G8 is not heartless.

THE JOBS PROBLEM

Everyday life has become difficult, something that seemed off the G8 radar. The urgent situation is for the youth. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) released a report on May 22 entitled “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012”. The findings are stark. Seventy-five million young people cannot find jobs, four million more than in 2007. These numbers do not tell the full story, as the ILO concedes. “Discouraged by high youth unemployment rates,” the ILO notes, “many young people have given up the job search altogether, or decided to postpone it and continue their stay in the education system.” More than six million young people withdraw from the labour force every year. Where they have been able to find jobs is in the temporary labour market. One in three youth surveyed said that having been unable to find a permanent job, they had to take temporary work and internships.

Such “precarious” work leads to exploitation of the workers and at the same time wariness about joining a union. “A young person who enters a company with a precarious contract and hopes to be taken on permanently one day does not naturally think of joining a union,” says Thiébaut Weber, a youth leader in the European Trade Union Confederation. These young people are not reassured by the G8 Declaration, which soothingly notes, “The global economic recovery shows signs of promise.” There is little indication of that in the unemployment centres.

The jobs problem is acute in the G8 and in the wider G20. A study finds that the G20 countries will need to conjure up 42 million jobs a year to absorb their youth. Unemployment is not a symptom of the financial crisis. It is a major crisis in itself. There is no plan on the table that will directly address this question of jobs. Neither Hollande’s commitment to growth nor Angela Merkel’s pledge to austerity has anything that speaks to those young people who will be systemically set outside the circuits of accumulation.

There is no public stimulus on offer that could underwrite an employment programme along the grain of the ILO’s Global Jobs Pact. The declaration was hesitant on commitments of public money for jobs. “Investment initiatives can be financed using a range of mechanisms,” the G8 noted, “including leveraging the private sector.” Public money will once more be used as insurance for private investment, rather than put to work by itself to create jobs.

A few days before the G8 summit opened, the France-based market research firm IPSOS released its Economic Pulse of the World. The firm conducted surveys in 24 countries, asking people how they saw their economy and how they anticipated its future. Only 14 per cent of those surveyed felt that their economy would be stronger six months hence. Southern Europe was gloomy, with Spain and Italy leading the pack. Britain was not far from the despondency. Elections in France, the Netherlands, Greece and Serbia and in the German provinces delivered a mandate against austerity in the run-up to the G8 meeting. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the left-wing Syriza coalition in Greece, told CNN that if his country followed the bailout agreement “we are going directly to hell. To save Europe we need to change direction.” The pressure from below could not be clearer.

Gloom about the future did not translate into voter apathy and malaise. Electoral contests continued to bring out the voters, so that the French presidential election saw 73 per cent of voters at the polls, while 66 per cent of the Greek electorate came to deliver an anti-austerity mandate. The lines outside polling booths were matched by large anti-austerity demonstrations across Europe. The Greek anti-austerity protests began in 2010 and continue to date, with the Indignant Citizens Movement (Kínima Aganaktisménon Politón) as the spur. They echoed the Spanish indignados, whose protest began on May 15, 2011 (from which they took the name 15M) and then spiralled into manifestations in the centres of Spanish cities and a people’s march in the summer of 2011. The dynamic for the protests spread outward from southern Europe. The Occupy movement in the U.S. took inspiration not only from Tahrir Square but also from the Spanish.

When the powers that be announced that they would hold the G8 and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) summit in Chicago in mid-May 2012, a massive protest was forecast against both austerity and warfare. Hastily, the Obama administration moved the G8 to the more secluded site of Camp David. They feared the protest, which brought tens of thousands of people nonetheless to march against NATO and austerity in Chicago on May 20. The anarchist slogan defined the atmosphere, “A….Anti….Anticapitalista”.

In Quebec, over a hundred thousand people took to the streets against a pig-headed policy over protests and against the implications of austerity. In Frankfurt, despite the police’s attempt to constrain the demonstrations, 20,000 people gathered for the Blockupy protests. The organisers said that Blockupy sent a “clear and visible signal of international solidarity against the authoritarian crisis management and the poverty inducing policies of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund”. The message could even be simpler: those in charge had no idea what they were doing. Their attempt to appear united and confident seemed illusiory. If it worked in 1974, it was not working in 2012.

Libya: NATO proceeds strikes on Tripoli, Russia recants on Gaddafi

Another blast heard in Libyan capital

Press TV

Another explosion has rung out in the center of Libyan capital, Tripoli, a day after leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) urged that Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi should step down.

The explosion took place on Saturday in Bab Al-Aziziya district where Gaddafi’s residence is located, AFP reported.

The blast follows a series of NATO-led airstrikes on Tripoli. Powerful explosions have rocked the city center near Gaddafi’s residence for the fourth consecutive day.

Earlier, Libya’s official news agency reported that civilian sites south of Tripoli were hit by NATO jets…

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NATO Proceeds Strikes on Tripoli, Russia Recants on Gaddafi

Al Manar

NATO launched fresh airstrikes on Libyan capital Saturday, a day after G8 world powers intensified the pressure on strongman Muammar Gaddafi to step down, with Russia finally joining calls for him to leave.

For the fifth successive night, Tripoli has been rocked by a series of NATO air strikes. A number of explosions were heard throughout the night into Saturday, and at least one of the blasts was said to be near a compound used by Gaddafi.
Columns of smoke were seen rising over the skyline of the city and loud booms could be heard. State television said the overnight NATO raids also caused “human and material” damage near Mizda, to the south.

RUSSIA’S SURPRISE

On the other hand and in a dramatic shift, Russia called on the Libyan leader to resign.
Gaddafi “has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go”, Sergei Ryabkov, the deputy Russian foreign minister said.
“We think that Gaddafi has stripped himself of his legitimacy and it is necessary to help him leave,” Ryabkov went farther.

Russia also made an offer for mediation in the Libyan crisis. President Dmitry Medvedev’s “partners in all bilateral meetings called on Russia to assume a mediation mission in Libya,” the Russian president’s spokeswoman, Natalia Timakova, told reporters.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

Medvedev held bilateral meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy during the G8’s annual summit.

Obama told the summit that the U.S. and France were committed to finishing the job in Libya.

“We are joined in our resolve to finish the job,” Obama said after talks with French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit of industrialized democracies in the French resort of Deauville.

But he warned the “UN mandate of civilian protection cannot be accomplished when Gaddafi remains in Libya directing his forces in acts of aggression against the Libyan people.”

For his part, Cameron said the NATO mission against Gaddafi was entering a new phase with the deployment of helicopter gunships to the conflict.

G8 leaders from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the US called in their final statement for Gaddafi to step down after more than 40 years, in the face of pro-democracy protests turned full-fledged armed revolt.

“Gaddafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy. He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go,” it said.

LIBYA REJECTS RUSSIAN MEDIATION

But the Libyan regime rejected the call and said any initiative to resolve the crisis would have to go through the African Union.

“The G8 is an economic summit. We are not concerned by its decisions,” said Libya’s deputy foreign minister, Khaled Kaaim.

Tripoli also rejected Russian mediation and will “not accept any mediation which marginalizes the peace plan of the African Union,” he said. “We are an African country. Any initiative outside the AU framework will be rejected.”

Kaaim said it had no confirmation of a change in Moscow’s position after Medvedev toughened Russia’s stance.
African leaders at a summit in Addis Ababa on Thursday called for an end to NATO air strikes on Libya to pave the way for a political solution to the conflict.

The pan-African bloc also sought a stronger say in resolving the conflict.

Kaaim meanwhile confirmed the visit on Monday of South African President Jacob Zuma, without indicating whether the exit of Gaddafi from power would be discussed as the South Africans have claimed.

On Thursday, the Libyan regime said Tripoli wanted a monitored ceasefire.

But NATO insisted it would keep up its air raids in Libya until Gaddafi’s forces stop attacking civilians and until the regime’s proposed ceasefire is matched by its actions on the ground.

Forbidden fruit

July 4, 2009, source

Israel is pushing ahead with settlements, defying Obama to punish Adam, prophesies Khalid Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

In brazen defiance of American demands for freezing Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has decided to build hundreds of additional settler units. On Monday, the government approved the expansion of the Adam colony, north of Jerusalem, despite repeated American and international calls for a total freeze of settlement expansion.

The approval, which okayed the building of at least 50 settler units, was made in coordination with settler leaders as well as the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. According to Defence Ministry sources, as many as 1,450 settler units were being planned in the Adam settlement alone. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot said that at least 3,200 settler units were under construction in the West Bank by the end of 2008.

This means that Israeli settlement expansion is still going at full speed irrespective of the Obama administration’s policy. The audacious decision to defy the Obama administration came hours before Defence Minister Ehud Barak was due to meet in New York with US Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell in an apparent effort to reach a “compromise formula” with the Obama administration. According to Israeli sources, the formula would allow Israel to keep up the building, though at a reduced pace.

Israeli commentators described the decision to build hundreds of fresh settler units as a “feeler” to test the American resolve vis-à-vis the settlement issue. “They wanted to see if the US is serious about halting the settlement expansion and to what extent the Obama administration will be willing to go to assert its resolve on this issue,” says Roni Shakeid, a noted Israeli commentator.

Shakeid pointed out that the current Israeli government was trying to get the American government to grant Israel “a time-out” that would allow Israel to examine its choices. “Barak is now Netanyahu’s left hand, and he is trying to reach a temporary settlement with Obama administration over the settlement freeze. At the same time, the hardcore rightwingers, people like Beny Begin and Moshe Yaalon are waiting to see what Barak is capable of doing to neutralise the crisis with Washington.”

Prior to his departure for Washington, Barak suggested that a way out of the “current crisis with Washington” could take the form of incorporating the settlement issue into a wider context. “Within this framework, it is possible to have effective and practical negotiations with the Palestinians, and within this framework it is also possible to find an appropriate solution to the issue of settlement construction.”

Meanwhile, it has been reported that Barak was likely to propose to Mitchell a certain freeze of settlement expansion for three months in return for receiving American consent for continued building in large Jewish settlements such as Maali Adomim and other colonies in and around East Jerusalem.

However, it seems that there is stiff opposition to this proposal from rightwing ministers who are arguing that a temporary freeze of settlement construction would create a precedent and might become permanent According to Haaretz, three hawkish cabinet ministers (Avigdor Lieberman, Moshe Yaalon, and Benny Begin) insisted that Israel must not propose any temporary freeze without “a similar and equal concession” by the Palestinian Authority and Arab states.

It is unclear what these ministers mean by “similar and equal concession” from the Palestinians. In the past, rightwing Israeli leaders had the audacity to urge the Israeli government to prevent Palestinians from building homes in their own towns and villages in order to maintain the “demographic balance”.

It is uncertain though whether the Obama administration will enter into a confrontation with Israel over the settlements even if Israel keeps up settlement expansion against the wishes of the American government. So far, the Obama administration has given conflicting signals as to how it will deal with the Israeli refusal to terminate settlement expansion.

Last week, Mitchell refused to meet with Isaac Molho, an envoy dispatched by Netanyahu to the US to prepare for the American envoy’s meeting with Barak. The seemingly calculated affront led to the cancellation of a planned meeting between Netanyahu and Mitchell in Paris.

On the other hand, the Israeli media has been quoting unnamed American officials as indicating that they don’t rule out that Israel and the Obama administration will reach a “compromise” on the settlement freeze issue.

In the meantime, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials continued to insist that Israel must freeze all settlement expansion, including the so-called natural growth, as a precondition for any resumption of peace talks with Israel. This week, PA President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying that the time for “prevarication and verbal juggling was over. We will not agree to renew peace talks with Israel unless Israel brings all settlement activities, including the so- called natural growth, to a complete halt.”

Abbas’s remarks came as a growing number of Palestinians were losing hope in the ability of the American administration to force Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

According to an opinion survey published this week, a solid majority of Palestinians said they were not optimistic about President Obama’s chances of forcing Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and allow for the creation of a viable Palestinian state
.
Earlier this week, Abbas received good news from the Middle East Quartet which urged Israel to stop all settlement activity to pave the way for the resumption of the peace process. The group, which includes the US, EU, Russia and the UN, made the call on the sidelines of the G8 meeting of foreign ministers in the Italian city of Triest Saturday.

The call also stressed that the freeze must cover all settlement constructions, inside and outside existing settlements. The G8’s call was particularly disappointing for Israel since it was endorsed by some of Israel’s staunchest allies such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Italians protest US base expansion, G8

Sun, 05 Jul 2009, Press TV

Several thousand Italians, protesting against a planned expansion of an airport and a US military base in Vicenza, have clashed with police forces.

A 500-million-dollar expansion plan would make the US military base one of the biggest in Europe.

Riot police fired teargas at protesters who were trying to cross a bridge leading to the US military base at the Dal Molin airport in the northern city of Vicenza.

The demonstrators, wearing motorcycle helmets and carrying plexiglass shields, lit firecrackers, threw bottles and rocks towards the riot police but were pushed back. Six policemen were injured.

The demonstrators were later allowed to continue their march, which broke up peacefully.

The protest was launched against the expansion plans that would make the US base one of the biggest in Europe, and more generally against the July 8-10 G8 summit of the world’s richest nations, which Italy chairs.

The leaders of the United States, Japan, Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia, together with those of major emerging economies, will hold talks in the central Italian city of L’Aquila focusing on the state of the world economy, financial regulations, climate change and trade and development.

Such protests have also been planned at different sites, starting with the one in Vicenza – where locals oppose the doubling of the size of the US base, home to 3,000 soldiers of the 173rd Airborne Brigade.

The Italian government has approved the construction of a new 6,000 square meter base on the site of the old Dal Molin airport on the city’s outskirts. But Vicenza residents have rejected the base expansion in a referendum.

Reasons behind Iran absence in G8 meeting

Thu, 25 Jun 2009, Press TV

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi has explained why Iran will not take part in a meeting of the eight industrialized nations (G8) on Afghanistan.

According to Qashqavi, based on earlier preliminary agreements between Iran and host Italy, certain preparations had to be made including expert talks between delegates from both sides to ensure the optimum level of achievement in the conference. The groundwork, however, was not laid forth, Qashqavi explained.

The spokesman went on to say that Iran had not spared any effort to help restore peace, security and stability in Afghanistan and has fully collaborated with the international community in reconstructing the war-torn country.

Italy announced earlier that Iran will not take part in the meeting in the Italian city of Trieste in June. Iran had to confirm its participation by Monday.

“With three days to go, I still do not have a reply: I must consider that Iran has declined the invitation,” Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said. “Obviously there are rules in international diplomacy: When you invite somebody, that somebody has to respond.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was invited to attend the meeting aimed at reviewing means of bringing stability to Afghanistan.

Earlier, Iran had agreed to consider attending the conference after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated that Iran would be included at a conference.

“There are a lot of reasons why Iran would be interested,” she said. “So they will be invited. Obviously it is up to them to decide whether to come.”