|Southwest Asia News Digest
Diplomat Debunks Claims UK Sailors Were in Iraqi Waters
Craig Murray, the former Head of the Maritime Section of the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, in a March 28 posting on his website, cited two "colossal" problems: First, "The Iran/Iraq maritime boundary shown on the British government map does not exist. It has been drawn up by the British Government. Only Iraq and Iran can agree on their bilateral boundary, and they never have done this in the Gulf, only inside the Shatt because there it is the land border too. This published boundary is a fake with no legal force." Second, "Accepting the British coordinates for the position of both HMS Cornwall and the incident, both were closer to Iranian land than Iraqi land."
Murray laid out the matter of the non-existence of the maritime boundary in a March 23 posting, and noted that the British forces had no lawful right to board any vessels in the area: "The U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea carries a heavy presumption on the right of commercial vessels to 'innocent passage,' especially through straits like Hormuz and in both territorial and international waters." On March 26 he returned to this point, stating, "For the Royal Navy to be interdicting shipping within the twelve mile limit of territorial seas in a region they know full well is subject to maritime boundary dispute, is unnecessarily provocative. This is especially true as apparently they were not looking for weapons but for smuggled vehicles attempting to evade car duty. What has the evasion of Iranian or Iraqi taxes got to do with the Royal Navy?"
In his most recent posting, on March 29, titled, "Both sides must stop this mad confrontation, now," Murray concludes his remarks, "The British people must break out of the jingoism created by their laudable concern for their servicemen and woman, and realise that this is just a small part of the madness of our policy of continual war in the Middle East. That is what we have to stop."
In addition to his post in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Murray was the UK Ambassador to Uzbekistan, but, according to IRNA, was dismissed in 2004 after disagreeing with his government's foreign policy. In one posting on his website, he characterizes himself as "an Africanist."
Rice's Trip to Southwest Asia a Failure, as Arab Regimes Know
A well-placed Arab source told EIR on March 28 that U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's March 24-27 trip was a complete failureshe is looked upon as a joke in the Arab world, with no power at all, and no ability to implement a peace plan even if she really wanted to. Deputy National Security Advisor and top neo-con Elliott Abrams was at her side during the whole trip to Egypt, and Israel, and Jordan, and her presence was barely tolerated. The U.S. is clearly seen as having no serious intent to force Israel to the negotiating table to bring about a peace settlement in the Palestine-Israel conflict.
At the same time, the Arab nations agree that the first thing on the agendaas reported in the Baker-Hamilton reportis settling the Palestinian occupation crisis, with a plan for Palestinian state. This contact also sees the danger of a U.S. war on Iran becoming more intense, with the British playing a significant role in the context of the conflict over the Iranian capture of their sailors.
White House Slams Pelosi Plan To Visit Syria
On March 30, a Congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) took off for the Middle East on a trip which includes a planned stop in Syria. A spokesman for Pelosi said she discussed her travel with plans with George Bush, who, she said, did not object, but on March 30, White House deputy spokesman Dana Perino accused Pelosi of not informing the White House of her plans, and said, "We don't think it's a good idea. We think that someone should take a step back and think about the message that it sends." Brendan Daly, Pelosi's spokesman, dismissed warnings about the trip from the State Department, and said the Speaker was following the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group's recommendations to "discuss a wide range of security issues" with Middle East governments, including Syria.
Ironically, a separate group of Republicans, led by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), and including Congressmen Joe Pitts (Pa.) and Robert Aderhold (Ala.), arrived in Syria prior to Pelosi, and held talks with President Bashar Assad.
Pelosi's delegation includes Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Nick Rahall (D-W.V.) and David Hobson (R-Ohio).
Bush Administration Campaign To Isolate, Embarrass Syria
The Bush Administration has launched a campaign to isolate and embarrass Syria, which some insiders fear is an Elliott Abrams-trademarked effort at destabilization or "regime change."
"It's the new Cubano language is too tough," said one official. Sources also connect it to the harsh State Department criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's scheduled Syria trip.
Some officials who are aware of the campaign say they fear its real aim is to weaken or even overthrow President Assad, and to prevent him from thwarting the creation of an international tribunal to investigate the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
One goal is to discredit Syria's forthcoming April elections. A classified government document which surfaced in February, proposed a covert election-monitoring effort under State's Middle East Partnership Initiative, formerly headed by Dick Cheney's daughter Elizabeth. It named the government-funded International Republican Institute as a potential partner in the effort. U.S. officials confirmed the existence of the document, which was first reported by Time magazine.
Several Internet sites have been created to monitor and discuss the elections, and the Bush Administration has orchestrated meetings of Syrian opposition figures under the auspices of the Aspen Institute's Berlin offices, as McClatchy Newspapers reported last year.
Arab Summit Message: It's Either Peace or War
Speaking at the heads of state summit of the Arab League in Riyadh March 28, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said Israel should accept the Arab Peace Initiative. "If Israel refuses," Saud said, "that means it doesn't want peace. Then (the conflict) goes back into the hands of the lords of war."
Hamas Leader and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, in an interview to Reuters just before the conference, expressed confidence that the summit would not compromise the rights of the Palestinians, especially the right of return. Haniyeh said, "I expect the Arab summit meeting in Riyadh to reiterate the Arab countries' commitment not to compromise in any way on the Palestinian refugees' right of return under any circumstances."
At the summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon warmly endorsed the Arab peace initiative, which was first put forward in 2002. "The Arab peace initiative is one of the pillars for the peace process," Ban told Arab leaders at the conference. "This initiative sends a signal that the Arabs are serious about achieving peace.... When I was in Israel, I urged my Israeli friends to take a new look at the initiative. Here in Riyadh, I also urge you, my Arab friends, to benefit from this initiative and reiterate your commitment to it, because the situation is dangerous."
Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, responding to demands from Israel that the initiative be changed, said, "The Israeli response was to ask for an amendment. We tell them to accept it first. We are at a crossroads; it is either we move towards a real peace or see an escalation in the situation."
For more on EIR's evaluation of the summit, see InDepth, "Brits Drive World War III Provocations in Gulf."
Israeli Chief of Staff Forecasts Summer Offensive in Gaza
Israeli Chief of Staff Maj. General Gabi Ashkenazi told a parliamentary committee that the military will launch a Summer offensive in the Gaza Strip to crush Palestinian resistance groups, according to aljazeera.com on March 30. Speaking before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee of the Knesset March 29, Ashkenazi warned that "the strengthening process of the terror organizations in the Gaza Strip will have to be confronted." Palestinian groups responded that they are prepared to defend Gaza.
Khalilzad Wants to Change Iraqi Constitution He Pushed
Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad gave an interview to the March 26 New York Times in which he said that Iraqi Shi'ites and Kurds will have to consider revising the constitution and rolling back the de-Ba'athification purge of Sunnis from the Iraqi government. Others say that Khalilzad and his colleagues rushed through a flawed Constitution, which angered Sunnis, who overwhelmingly rejected it, because they were fixated on meeting the Bush Administration timetable to hold elections in Iraq by the end of 2005. (Others have pointed out that the constitution, by decentralizing power in the regions, created an inherently unworkable arrangement.)
Khalilzad also said, in the first official acknowledgment of this, that he held talks last year with Sunni insurgent groups, including the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, in an unsuccessful effort to bring about Sunni participation in the central government.