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Hillary Clinton

United Nations building <em>Picture: Stef74</em>

United Nations building Picture: Stef74

Libyan dictator Colonel Muammar al-Gaddafi, whose forces have been closing in on the rebel capital of Benghazi, has been further isolated by the international community after the United Nations Security Council imposed a no-fly zone over the war-torn country on Thursday night.

The move was hailed by Libyan rebels, and there were wild celebrations in Benghazi, but there were also concerns in some quarters that it had come too late to prevent Gaddafi from regaining control of the country.

The resolution, proposed by Britain, France and Lebanon, was approved by ten votes to nil. China and Russia, which had been expected to use their vetoes, abstained, along with Germany, India and Brazil.

Germany’s abstention came as a surprise, while another NATO member, Turkey – although not on the Security Council – was also known to be against the move.

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Crucially, the resolution was backed by the 22 member states of the Arab League.

The resolution – number 1973 (2011) – demands an immediate ceasefire: “the complete end of violence and all attacks against and abuse of civilians”. Surprisingly, it goes further than imposing a no-fly zone – it also appears to authorise the use of air strikes against Gaddafi’s ground forces.

It stops short of authorising a UN occupation – the Libyan rebel leadership has made it clear that it does not want to see the deployment of foreign troops on Libyan soil.

The resolution also tightens the arms embargo by calling on all member states to “inspect in their territory vessels and aircraft bound to or from Libya”, and widens a freeze on Libyan assets.

In Tunisia, the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton described Gaddafi as “a man who has no conscience and will threaten anyone in his way. It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.”

The United States had been reticent about taking action against Gaddafi, with the US secretary of defence, Robert Gates, warning against any “loose talk” of a no-fly zone. This was due not only to the difficulties of implementing it, but also because the Obama administration feared it could be dragged into yet another protracted conflict.

Although the US decision was described by some as an “about turn”, Washington was clearly swayed by support from the Arab League, which in most people’s eyes gives military action over Libya the legitimacy the invasion of Iraq lacked.

Arab backing for the resolution was also a major factor in the decision by Russia and China to abstain rather than cast their vetoes, which spared the US the embarrassment of defeat in the Security Council vote.

There were mixed messages from the Libyan regime on what it would do next. Libyan government spokesmen said the UN move would simply serve to split the country.

Gaddafi’s troops are expected to set up a siege around Benghazi over the weekend. Instead of a full-scale bombardment of the town of 147,000 people, however, the regime planned to send in security forces to root out the “traitors” and “fanatics”, while allowing safe passage for those who wish to surrender.

It was not clear how long implementation of the no-fly zone will take, although the US, British and French military have been planning such action for some time. There are fears, however, that the move may have come too late to stop Gaddafi’s forces from taking Benghazi. If the town does fall, it will be impossible for UN forces to launch any attack on Gaddafi’s forces without risking the deaths of civilians.

That, including the possible shooting down of any NATO aircraft, as occurred in the Kosovo war, could lead to calls for ground troops to be sent in. That must be avoided, for however strong the moral case for military action in Libya, the revolutions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East have so far been carried out without foreign intervention.

The resolution also sets a precedent: with Saudi forces in Bahrain, helping the regime snuff out its own uprising, many across the Arab world will be watching to see if any action is taken against those countries.

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President Hugo Chávez <em>Picture: José Cruz/ABr</em>

President Hugo Chávez Picture: José Cruz/ABr

“I think it’s very important that this not be a US-led effort, because this comes from the people of Libya themselves. This doesn’t come from the outside. This doesn’t come from some Western power or some Gulf country saying this is what you should do, this is how you should live.” – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (on plans for a no-fly zone over Libya)

“France, as well as many of its partners, is not in favour of any Western military intervention in Libya, which would have absolutely negative effects.” – French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé

“What we are working on is elements of a resolution on a no-fly zone. We are working on that with France at the UN Security Council. That is still contingency planning of course. But clearly it is unacceptable that Colonel Gaddafi unleashes so much violence on his own people and we are all gravely concerned about what would happen if he were to try to do that on an even greater basis.” – Foreign Secretary William Hague

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“No, I would not [invade Libya]. I think it would not necessarily be a way to stop that. In the last analysis these people have to make their own choices.” – former US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on Piers Morgan Tonight

“I have spoken to Gaddafi and he told me that he accepted [the Venezuelan proposal of a peace commission] but that he hoped it would be a United Nations one, so that people can see what is really happening before they condemn and start thinking of invading Libya. The United States wants to kill Gaddafi.” – Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez

“They are accusing him [Gaddafi] 24 hours a day of firing on unarmed citizens who were protesting. Why did they not explain to the world that the weapons and, above all, the sophisticated machinery of repression possessed by Libya, was supplied by the United States, Britain and other illustrious hosts of Gaddafi?

“I strongly oppose the cynicism and lies currently being used to justify the invasion and occupation of Libya. The Revolution in the Arab world so much feared by the United States and NATO is that of those who lack all rights in the face of those who flaunt all privileges, and thus is destined to be more profound than the one unleashed in Europe in 1789 with the storming of the Bastille.” – former Cuban President Fidel Castro

“We all tolerated Gaddafi, both the EU and the United States. One could criticise this as amoral, but it was also realpolitik. He renounced terrorism, which meant that one continuous source of insecurity had been pacified for the time being. And, of course, enormous energy-related interests were part of the motive behind the cooperation with Gaddafi. What’s completely lacking is a long-term plan to foster civil society, both in Libya and also where it is currently coming into existence, namely in Egypt and Tunisia. That should be the EU’s top priority.” – Martin Schultz, head of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, interviewed in Der Spiegel

“With the horrific carnage in Libya, the flames of revolution burning in Yemen and Bahrain, and protests for political change in Jordan and Morocco, there’s a danger that the United States and Europe may lose sight of what still has to be our highest priority in the region: helping the people of Egypt complete their transition to democracy and a new chance at prosperity…

“Whether the Arab Spring succeeds or fails is ultimately up to the peoples of the region. But that is no excuse for the United States and other democratic nations not to help in every way we can. The Egyptian people harbour justified resentment that the United States backed the repressive and often-brutal Mubarak regime for so long; they question our commitment to helping them enjoy the same freedoms that we do. The United States should make sure that we aid the transition now underway so that there is no room for doubt. History will not be kind if we blow this opportunity.” – US neo-conservative Robert Kagan and Michele Dunne, in the Washington Post

“If Gaddafi is insane enough to bomb the oil facilities you could have an environmental disaster of very large consequences.” – US Republican Senator John McCain, speaking on Newsnight

“With [Italy’s] presence and historic ties there is potential for a former colonial power to have a bigger influence. But there is also the disadvantage of being seen as a former colonial ruler and therefore be more exposed to accusations of interference.” – Ettore Greco, Institute of International Affairs, Rome

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<em>Picture: Phil Roeder</em>

Picture: Phil Roeder

It may have looked “awesome” to some people, but to me last night’s garish Superbowl extravaganza between the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers seemed to underline the gap that exists between reality and the way Americans perceive themselves.

It’s all been said before, but to the outsider virtually immune to hype and hip hop, the crass commercialisation of the event and the built-in, stop-start nature of the game itself simply masked the shallowness of what this really was: men in tights and helmets hurling a ball – but mostly themselves – at each other in fitful bursts that seemed to exhaust them, because after a 20-yard run they would always stop for a rest.

At half time, the spectacular, glittering choreography accompanying the Black Eyed Peas (this was obviously designed to shock and awe even the Chinese) almost saved the Peas from the embarrassment of a woeful performance, but it didn’t.

This event had Mission Accomplished written all over it: Look what we’ve done! Well, what exactly?

Outside, in what is supposed to be the real world, the Obama administration seems to be engaging in fantasy diplomacy, designed to hide its ineptitude over its handling of the Egyptian uprising. It is thinking aloud, sending mixed messages, with Obama telling the world (or Fox News at least) that Egypt has changed forever because the people want freedom, while Hillary Clinton warned Egyptians to beware of what they wish for, because while a transition to democracy is desirable, Hosni Mubarak has been a pretty good guy, hasn’t he, and maybe he shouldn’t step down just yet?

From Washington’s perspective, Mubarak has had his uses in maintaining relative stability in the Middle East by acting as an Arab friend to Israel. And if he is persuaded out of office, who might be next? The Saudi royal family? Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev (remember that oil)? When does the Good Muslim, Bad Muslim game end?

Hence the confusion. Like the Black Eyed Peas and those guys in helmets, however, the Obama administration looks tired and jaded already. Forget the sound bites and the razzmatazz: where’s the substance?

Julian Assange. <em>Picture: Jose Mesa</em>

Julian Assange. Picture: Jose Mesa

For those of us who have marvelled (and sometimes quivered) at the truly revolutionary power of the internet, the current Wikileaks phenomenon is the point where all the hype and idealism hits the hard reality of global politics.

The stream of US diplomatic cables, managed into the public realm by respectable news organisations like the Guardian and the New York Times, has freaked the US establishment so much that it’s shaken the network society like a rag-doll. They’ve not just brought cyber-brandnames like Amazon and Paypal to heel, but they’ve even put the squeeze on Visa and Mastercard, in their attempt to choke Julian Assange’s organisational windpipe.

Now the Wikileaks founder is under arrest, we’ll see whether American power extends even further into the extradition procedures of another sovereign state (er, I think we know the answer to that one). But as the circus proceeds, and the adversaries line up on either side – defenders of diplomatic statecraft on one hand, anarchistic unravellers of state power on another – perhaps we can look at all this from another angle.

It’s not just national governments who’ve had to respond to the Net’s x-rays of transparency. Since the heydays of Naomi Klein’s No Logo in 1999, brand-led corporate capitalism has been grappling with motivated activists who want to rub countervailing facts in the face of glowing public rhetoric.

And a decade later, it’s clearly had an effect. Recent consumer surveys have found that only 9% of people trusted companies to act in their best interests (60% said “sometimes”, and 31% said “never”). In the current context, three reasons are often cited. First, the financial crisis was the final act that confirmed consumer cynicism about the worth of corporate governance and the business sector in general.

Secondly, our mobile media allows us to filter our own information, untouched by the gatekeepers of traditional media. And lastly, the social web allows us to prioritise the opinions of our friends, family and peers over the thudding messages of top-down branding.

In this environment, where information about the sharp-dealing or shady practices of a company are easily and speedily circulated, a new philosophy of marketing is emerging. Instead of pushing people into a preferred way of engaging with a product, companies are now beginning to share their problems (and solutions) with consumers.

Instead of promoting a product’s worth, they try to propagate it, encouraging creative use (and even mis-use) of an “adaptive” brand. Instead of business being all about getting straight to the purchase, it should be about participation. In the words of the UK marketing company New Tradition, you “cement a connection with the consumer” through an open platform (like Facebook) “who may or may not purchase a product at a later date”.

Thirdly, branding shouldn’t be about generating loyalty, but about associating your product with like-minded people, or intrinsically interesting ideas, that already have an existing and vibrant following.

It’s easy to get a sense of the old days of business by watching any episode of Mad Men. Here you have a patriarchy of secretive, arrogant image-builders, unremittingly cynical about how they manage the gap between the aspirational images of advertising they pump out, and the sordid reality of poor products and corrupt business practice.

Now, what does that sound like? And how does that map over to our current clash between the world of nation-state diplomacy and statecraft, and the anarchistic information-idealism of Wikileaks and their allies? Pretty well, in many ways. The political classes of the developed West have been largely mistrusted for at least a decade now – and let’s not forget our own local data-driven crisis, the Telegraph‘s drip-feed of information about MP’s expenses.

The street-level disrespect of social media is never-ending, all-pervasive, democratically exhilarating. On a tiny level, I’ve particuarly enjoyed the website featuring four YouTube videos of Nick Clegg implacably opposing tuition fees before the UK General Election – “on a loop for ever and ever and ever”, as the cheeky website owner says.

But as marketer Ian Thomas says, Wikileaks really raises the game here – expanding the ambition of this informational scrutiny from a national to a global level of governance, appropriate to where the real decisions take place.

Yet what does this scrutiny reveal? There’s been a real storm of interpretation of what impact the cables so far released will have. Writers like John NaughtonGlenn Greenwald and Assange himself claim that out of the blizzard of material, we can now see that our leaders have always known that Afghanistan is a hopeless, corrupt, Vietnam-like quagmire – but that they cannot fully face their tax-paying, soldier-expending electorates with that fact.

Added to the Iraq disclosures of a few months ago, this is Wikileaks attempting to lay bare the infernal mechanisms of the “War on Terror”. They regard themselves as a “fifth estate” practising what Assange calls “scientific journalism” – a data dump so comprehensive that it will spur the fourth estate to rise out of its investigative torpor and establishment collusion.

But beyond the bloodthirsty ravings of some members of the American establishment, there is another consistent take on Cablegate – which is that they show an American diplomatic service trying to do their best, as their post-Cold-War empire slowly declines. For them, as Neal Ascherson puts it,”preventing [nuclear] apocalypse has become more important than striving for world leadership… this is a diplomacy clearer about what it doesn’t want than what it does”.

In the aftermath of all this, let’s return to our brand discussion. If we think of Western statecraft and diplomacy as a brand now damaged and tarnished by the demystifications of info-activism – as the Nikes, Gaps and Shell Oils had been in the past – how should they respond?

For one thing, that intriguing netherworld – where politicians and diplomats conduct gentlemanly double-bluffs between the members of unaccountable power elites – will now never be the same. And if they think that any amount of new regulation, individual imprisonment, or coercion of networks will return them to the status quo ante, they are deluded.

So perhaps they should listen to these clever brand marketers. Instead of pushing hard for their right to conduct international double-speak in order to promote the nation’s interests, maybe they should share out those same global problems with all those citizens who may want a voice in the process.

What’s the geopolitical equivalent of the vibrant users’ online forum, where all can go to explore, inquire and test out solutions? How can statecraft tap into the kinds of participative enthusiasm for peace-making, community-building and conflict-resolving that so many netizens already display? Gordon and Sarah Brown‘s new website lauds the activist network Avaaz as exactly this kind of endeavour.

And as large brands now look towards associating the values of their product or service with authentic movements and social groups, perhaps there is a future concordat to be struck between Wikileaks-style organisations and their currently enraged American pursuers?

As Evgeny Morozov wrote in the Financial Times earlier this week, Assange’s movement could become “either a new Red Brigades, or a new Transparency International … But handled correctly, the state that will benefit most from a nerdy network of 21st-century Che Guevaras, is America itself”.

At the very least, we have an immediate branding glitch: Hillary Clinton was making speeches about the power of free information to create healthy societies only a few months ago, but is now squeezing the fibre-optics of the internet like the most enthusiastic Chinese firewall manager.

As Morozov says, better to harness the power of these hackers “as useful allies of the West as it seeks to husband democracy and support human rights” – that is, make them a complement of Western soft power or public diplomacy – than to martyr their main representative and thus radicalise his followers.

The leaked US embassy cables themselves hardly show a steely American empire bent on world domination – more a faltering hegemon, resigned to world mitigation. There’s surely some grounds there for mutual understanding. A YouTube video of John F. Kennedy has been flying around the wiki-sphere. In it, JFK reminds his fellow citizens that the very First Amendment the Founders struck was to guarantee a free press, empowered to investigate and criticise the state

When the current idiocies die down, perhaps the cerebral Obama can channel his great Democratic forbear, and think his way through to a better accomodation with the Wikileakers – whose aim, as Assange has often said, is to make themselves unnecessary. Barack was, after all, Brand No. 1 for a while.

- For more, go to Pat Kane’s ideas-blog, Thoughtland.

<em>Picture: opendemocracy</em>

Picture: opendemocracy

For all the photo opportunities and broad smiles that followed William Hague’s meeting with the US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, the new foreign secretary must know that he has his work cut to convince the US that Britain is still a reliable, major player on the world stage. Its position on Europe will have a lot to do with that.

Britain’s involvement in Afghanistan is the rock on which the “special relationship” currently stands, and Mr Hague, on his first foray into the realms of world power, strongly underlined Britain’s commitment there. But the Obama administration has serious concerns about the very stark ambiguities that exist in Tory foreign policy, which the presence of the Liberal Democrats in David Cameron’s coalition will have done little to assuage, and which Mr Hague will have found impossible to deny.

President Barack Obama has developed a certain disdain for Britain; it can be traced back to the Iraq war, which he opposed, but has been exacerbated by awkward meetings with Gordon Brown and Mr Cameron. Not for Mr Obama the jovial, back-slapping routine the world had to endure as George W Bush and Tony Blair went into battle. The president did not take to Gordon Brown’s brusque manner, dismissed Mr Cameron as “a lightweight”, and despite the gloss put on it by the Tory media, delivered a message of congratulations to the new Prime Minister that was at best perfunctory.

Personality clashes aside, however, it is Tory policy that most concerns the Obama administration.

Mr Hague, who is on record as saying the US lost its moral authority when it set up the Guantánamo prison regime and carried out illegal “extraordinary renditions”, wants Britain’s relationship with the US to be strong, not slavish. But it will be interesting to see how the new British approach pans out: the Tories last year abandoned a long term relationship with the mainstream conservative federalist EPP-ED group in Brussels, which encompasses ruling parties in over half the EU, including Germany and France, to align themselves with central European, anti-federalist, extreme right, and possibly anti-Semitic factions on the fringe of the European Parliament.

Imagine how that went down with the Jewish lobby in Washington. Mr Hague was the driving force behind the Tory shift from right to extreme right in Brussels, and a fly on the wall will have been greatly entertained if Mrs Clinton raised the issue with him at the State Department, as she surely must have.

Nick Clegg, who one would think would have more in common with President Obama than Mr Cameron or Mr Hague would, taunted Mr Cameron over his links with European “nutters”, as he put it, during the campaign debates. Now the deputy prime minister has been left in the uncomfortable position of associating by proxy with the very “nutters” he expressed such contempt for. To further confuse the picture for the Obama administration, the Liberal Democrats are perceived to be anti-Israel, though it is not clear how much influence Mr Clegg will have over foreign policy.

Meanwhile, the new Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, is a hawk who has more in common with George W Bush’s neo-cons than with the Obama administration. His strong pro-Israel stance – he has said that “Israel’s enemies are Britain’s enemies” – might go down well, but still, how to reconcile that with the shift right in Europe, Washington might ask? Mr Fox is pro-NATO and has little time for Europe, and doesn’t seem to understand that the US is ready to move on from the post Second World War order: its refusal to back Britain in its dispute with Argentina over oil exploration off the Falklands should have set the alarm bells ringing.

The Obama administration has been trying hard to repair its relationship with Europe after George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld did so much to destroy it. It wants to engage the EU on issues like Afghanistan. It doesn’t want a Little Britain, sitting on the margins of Europe, pretending to be the great power it once was. Tony Blair once said he wanted to see Britain at the heart of Europe, and that is where the Obama administration would like to see it today, and sooner than later, whatever William Hague and David Cameron want.

Scud missileIt may be just a coincidence, but Israel’s recent charge that Syria is shipping Scud missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon comes just as Barack Obama is trying to engage Damascus in his efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Mr Obama’s nomination of a career diplomat, Robert Ford, as the first US envoy to Damascus in five years, has been given the go-ahead by the Senate foreign relations committee and now awaits approval by the full Senate.

But many Republican and Democrat senators alike are alarmed by recent statements made by Israeli president Shimon Peres and defence minister Ehud Barak accusing the Syrians of shipping missiles to Hezbollah militants. Several senators have written to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, warning her against “engagement for engagement’s sake”. “The Syrian government is one of the world’s worst perpetrators of human rights violations and supporters of terrorism,” they wrote.

If confirmed, the transfer of missiles would be in violation of a UN resolution that brought an end to the devastating Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006.

Syria and Lebanon deny the charges, and Egypt has chimed in describing the Israeli accusations as “laughable”. And while Washington has warned Syria that it risks provoking Israel into retaliatory attacks if it is found to be arming Hezbollah, US defence officials said this week they believed the Israeli accusation was little more than a warning to Damascus.

The Obama administration sees Syria as the key to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli issue. It envisages a two-state solution to the ongoing crisis. In the US view, Syria is less likely to continue to arm Hezbollah guerrillas if Israel can be persuaded to give back the Golan Heights, which it seized from Syria in the 1967 war and formally annexed in 1981.

However, Syria is a secular state, and the US believes that if President Bashar al-Assad can be persuaded to bury the hatchet with Israel (and vice versa) it can be drawn into comprehensive peace negotiations, and Iran will lose influence in the region. However, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has vowed never to return the Golan Heights, and Israel fears an isolated Iran would become even more intent on building nuclear weapons.

Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli newspaper’s security correspondent, Avi Issacharoff, says that an “Israel-Syria peace agreement won’t stop Iran’s efforts to achieve an atomic bomb. On the contrary, it may escalate them. A diplomatically-isolated Iran won’t hurry to pass over nuclear weapons that could save it from an Iraq-like fate.”

The other view is that as long as Israel refuses to return the Golan Heights and Syria continues to live in the shadow of Israeli nuclear weapons, it will seek to strengthen its position in the region by whatever means possible.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Inuit groups have hailed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s criticism of Canada for not inviting aboriginal people and three Scandinavian countries to international talks in Ottawa on the future of the Arctic.

In a stinging rebuke to the Canadian government at the opening of the meeting, Mrs Clinton said she regretted that Canada invited Russia, Norway, Denmark and the US, but not Sweden, Finland, Iceland or the Inuit indigenous people.

Mrs Clinton said all those “who have legitimate interests in the region”, including indigenous peoples, should have been invited to the conference. “We need all hands on deck because there is a huge amount to do, and not much time to do it. What happens in the Arctic will have broad consequences for the Earth and its climate”.

Duane Smith of the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) said he was relieved that Mrs Clinton agreed that aboriginal people should be involved in any discussions that affect their homeland.

Mr Smith said the Canadian foreign minister, Lawrence Cannon, had had “a unique opportunity here to invite ICC Canada to be a part of his delegation to, at the very least, observe the meeting to show that Canada is more inclusive by having us there”.

Mr Smith told the Toronto Star that he suspected that the meeting of Arctic coastal states was an attempt to make the group permanent, possibly to rival the Arctic Council, an eight-nation organisation that includes groups representing the Inuit.

Said the Star: “Cannon should have seen the diplomatic iceberg long before it struck Canada’s hull. The first meeting of Arctic coastal states in 2008 was held in Ilulissat, Greenland, and met by a flurry of diplomatic protest that was only dampened when the three countries left out of the talks were assured it would be a ‘one-off’. The Inuit Circumpolar Council was placated by receiving observer status and being asked to make a presentation to the assembled foreign ministers.

“Not this time around.”

Mr Cannon said the meeting did not intend to “to replace or undermine the Arctic Council”, of which Canada was co-founder.

Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu

Israel’s prime minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, seems to have shot himself in the foot by embarrassing the US vice-president, Joe Biden, last week – he has come under withering attack by the Israeli liberal and right-wing media alike.

The Obama administration is taking a hard line after the Netanyahu government announced plans to expand the Ramat Shlomo settlement in East Jerusalem while Biden was on an official visit to the country in an attempt to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, has told Israel’s top diplomats that US-Israeli relations were now at their lowest ebb in 35 years – which some might see as an indication of the “change” President Barack Obama has pledged to bring to US relations with the world. Mr Oren was referring to a crisis in US-Israeli relations that flared over Israel’s refusal in 1975 to withdraw from the Sinai in its conflict with Egypt.

“Judging by the statements of Benjamin Netanyahu and his associates, even now that the American flamethrower is aimed right at him and Israel, he still believes that everything was a misunderstanding, and if he asks nicely to be forgiven or launches an inquiry into what happened, all his transgressions will be absolved,” said the liberal daily Haaretz in an editorial.  “It would be better to get one common misconception out of the way right now: Israel is not America’s strategic asset, but America is the source of Israel’s strength, and it is essential to rein in the lunacy that threatens to shatter the link between the two countries.

“Washington, as Israel’s best friend, is sending warning signals not only against Netanyahu’s policy of building in the territories and Jerusalem, but also of the greatest danger of all: damage to American support for Israel.”

David Horovitz, writing in the conservative Jerusalem Post, also warned Mr Netanyahu against rubbing the Obama administration the wrong way, saying the United States has “for so long and so often, been Israel’s chief defender against concerted international diplomatic attack. Its unstinting moral and practical support has been central, too, to Israel’s deterrent capability in this most hostile and ruthless of regions”.

He continued: “As Israel well knows, the US does not support building for Jews over the Green Line – even within the boundaries of Israeli-claimed sovereign Jerusalem. Plainly the administration was enraged not only by the timing of the construction announcement, but by its essence – a maintenance of an Israeli policy that defies the US government’s assessment of where both Israeli and American interests lie.”

Horovitz said many Israelis regard Israel, “especially amid the current global battle against Iranian-spearheaded Islamic extremism, indeed to be a client state – to be existentially dependent on its relationship with the United States. Many Israelis, Washington may also gauge, would rather reconsider their prime minister than their ties to the US.”

He added, however that despite the crisis being of Mr Netanyahu’s own making, many Israelis would find it hard to reconcile the Obama administration’s harsh rebuke with its insistence that the “US commitment to Israel is unbreakable, that the partnership is unshakable”.

Haaretz said it had learned that Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, had given Mr Netanyahu a list of four steps Washington expected him to comply with in order to restore trust between the two countries and enable the resumption of talks with the Palestinians.
The list included:

1. Investigate the process that led to the announcement of the Ramat Shlomo construction plans in the middle of Mr Biden’s visit. The Americans seek an official response from Israel on whether this was a bureaucratic mistake or a deliberate act carried out for political reasons. Mr Netanyahu has already announced the convening of a committee to look into the issue.

2. Reverse the decision by the Jerusalem district planning and building committee to approve construction of 1,600 housing units in Ramat Shlomo.

Make a substantial gesture toward the Palestinians, so enabling the renewal of peace talks. The Americans suggested that hundreds of Palestinian prisoners be released, that the Israel defence forces withdraw from additional areas of the West Bank and transfer them to Palestinian control, that the siege of the Gaza Strip be eased and further roadblocks in the West Bank be removed.

. Issue an official declaration that the talks with the Palestinians, even indirect talks, will deal with all the conflict’s core issues — borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security arrangements, water and settlements.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s offer to “publicly” help resolve the dispute between Argentina and Britain over the Falkland Islands may have raised eyebrows in London, but critics of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner were surprsied that she visited Buenos Aires at all.

“We want very much to encourage both countries to sit down [and negotiate],” Clinton said after a meeting with Kirchner at the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires on Monday night. “Now, we cannot make either one do so, but we think it is the right way to proceed.

“So we will be saying this publicly … and we will continue to encourage exactly the kind of discussion across the table that needs to take place”.

Clinton, whose visit to Buenos Aires had been unscheduled, gave no details of how the Obama administration would persuade Britain to negotiate with Argentina over its current oil exploration programme off the Falklands.

Mrs Kirchner said her government was seeking to negotiate “strictly within the framework of UN resolutions. We do not want to move away from that in any letter whatsoever, any comma, of what has been stated by dozens of UN resolutions and resolutions by its decolonisation committee.

“That’s the only thing we’ve asked for, just to have them sit down at the table and negotiate. I don’t think that’s too much, really, in a very conflicted and controversial world.”

The two women are said to be friends, going back a long way, when Kirchner and her husband and predecessor, Néstor Kirchner, were known as the “Clintons of South America” – those were happier times for the K couple, as they are also known these days.

But the Argentine president has criticised US President Barack Obama for not living up to Latin America’s expectations, particularly in his handling of last year’s coup in Honduras. Though Kirchner and Clinton were to have met briefly in Montevideo during Monday’s inauguration of new Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, Buenos Aires was not on Clinton’s itinerary as she embarked on a good will swing through Latin America that was to take in Uruguay, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica and Guatemala.

The conservative Argentine media, which despises Kirchner, had made much of the fact that she was to be snubbed.

So, why the sudden change of plan?

Ostensibly, the visit to Buenos Aires was brought about by the Chilean earthquake. Clinton is to meet Chile’s conservative president-elect, Sebastian Piñera, next, but Piñera and outgoing President Michelle Bachelet are busy working together in the wake of the massive quake that hit the country four days ago.

The stopover in BA set the rumour mill going again. Does the United States have an eye on Falklands oil? Does the “special relationship” between Britain and the United States still exist?

President Obama’s failure to openly back Britain in the dispute has been described as “feeble” by British hawks, and with some form of “change” in the air in Britain, it has not been lost on them that Obama thinks David Cameron a “lightweight”.

What, they wonder, if the United States thinks there are new special relationships to be made, which might lead to a stronger foothold in Latin America? Other countries, including China and Russia, have gained influence in the region after years of neglect by the Bush administration.

Still, Clinton’s visit may have amounted to nothing more than recognition by Washington of the fact that on May 25 Argentines will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the start of the revolution in the United Provinces of the River Plate that led to the overthrow of Spanish rule throughout the Americas. It is a sensitive moment, for all Latin Americans, to be drilling for oil in the South Atlantic.

<em>Picture: Daniella Zalcman</em>

Picture: Daniella Zalcman

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is expecting an Israeli attack in the Middle East in the coming months.

“According to information we have they [Israel] are seeking to start a war next spring or summer, although their decision is not final yet,” the Jerusalem Post quotes Ahmadinejad as saying. “But the resistance and regional states will finish them if this fake regime does anything again.”

The newspaper said Ahmadinjead did not stipulate what country Israel was allegedly planning to attack, but his remarks came only days after he reportedly told Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that Israel “must be resisted” and “finished off once and for all” if it launches an attack on a Middle Eastern country.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was reported to have assured Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Russia would put on hold a decision to sell an advanced air defence system to Iran. The truck-mounted S-300PMU1 (SA-20 Gargoyle) has a range of 93 miles and would help Iran protect its nuclear facilities from any Israeli or US attack.

Russia signed a contract with Iran for the supply of at least five of the systems in 2005. However, there has been no indication of when the contract will be implemented. Earlier this month Tehran said that failure by Russia to deliver the system could provoke ill feeling between the two countries. “All countries should honour their commitments,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said. “Failure to fulfil one’s obligations will leave a negative imprint in the memory of the Iranian public.”

According to the Iranian FARS news agency, Russia’s security council is still committed to the delivery of the air defence systems. “There is the signed contract that we must fulfil, but supplies have not started yet,” the agency quoted Russian Security Council deputy Vladimir Nazarov as saying. “This deal is not restricted by any international sanctions, because these are merely defensive weapons.”

Russia has said sanctions against Iran were still an option if Iran did not co-operate with the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Ahmadinejad has also hit back at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who suggested Iran is becoming a military dictatorship. “If anyone does anything against Iran, then our response won’t be the same as in the past,” he said. “No, we will definitely react and make them regretful.”