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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Russia

LIBYA: U.S. pushes U.N. resolution to unfreeze Libyan assets

U.S. officials plan to present a draft resolution to the United Nations Security Council Wednesday asking members to unfreeze $1.5 billion in Libyan assets, a council diplomat told Reuters.

The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he did not expect a vote on the resolution on Wednesday.

“It's for urgent humanitarian needs in Libya,” the diplomat said.

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BATTLE FOR KADAFI'S COMPOUND

The diplomat said the decision to submit a draft resolution came after the Security Council's Libya sanctions committee failed to act on a similar request by U.S. officials earlier this month.

A diplomat told Reuters that South African officials had objected to the unfreezing of Libyan assets. Another diplomat said U.S. and South African officials were discussing the issue. A third diplomat said South Africa was not alone in objecting to the release of Libya's assets, that Russia and others had reservations about the proposal to aid the rebel government, whose forces claimed to control most of Tripoli Wednesday.

"People want to make sure that the money isn't going to be used by one side for military action," the diplomat told Reuters.

The committee works on the basis of consensus, which means all 15 members have a virtual veto. By presenting a resolution to the council, the United States would bypass the committee. Council resolutions need nine votes and no vetoes from the five permanent council members to pass.

If the committee members' objections remain, the U.S. delegation could call for a vote on the resolution Thursday or Friday, a diplomat told Reuters.

The United States hopes to be able to announce the release of up to $1.5 billion to the rebels on Thursday, when Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns attends a meeting in Istanbul of members of the Libyan Contact Group, a U.S. official told Reuters.

"We are not quite there yet at the [Security] Council but I understand we are making progress," said the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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WEST BANK: Russian president’s visit boosts Palestinian morale

Westbank-medvedev

Palestinians received a badly needed morale boost on Tuesday from the leader of a superpower, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

At a time when Palestinian morale was very low with the stalemate in the peace process and a feeling of abandonment from the Obama administration, Medvedev came to the rescue.

First, Medvedev made a special visit to the Palestinian territories, coming this time from Jordan, not Israel. Previously, visitors coming to Israel spend two or three days in the county meeting all kinds of officials and visiting all kinds of places. And while they are in Israel, visiting officials usually pay a complimentary and very short visit to the Palestinian areas meeting only with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his office for two or three hours.

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ISRAEL: Poor diplomacy strikes foreign relations

Israel's foreign relations are suffering these days from an outbreak of poor diplomacy. Not necessarily bad; just poor.

Ladies_tailors_strikers Foreign Ministry employees say they are just that, poor. Their basic salaries have been devalued by about 40% since last being updated in the early 1990s, and many of them rely on help from welfare services, say activists from the ministry workers' union.

The diplomats have years of experience, a stack of academic degrees and high motivation to serve. They also have families to feed and pensions to fund, and say neither is doable on their paychecks, which some revealed on a popular news site. Only an idealist or a fool would join the foreign service under these conditions, they said. Finance Ministry officials said the paychecks didn't reflect considerable extras.

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ISRAEL: Appearance of new antitank weapon in Gaza raises concerns as border heats up

Kornet The Gaza-Israel border has been heating up in recent weeks, with an increasing number of incidents on the fence, and rocket and mortar fire from the strip into Israel sharply on the rise.

Alongside calculated retaliation including airstrikes on tunnels, militants and -- for the first time since the military operation known as Cast Lead nearly two years ago -- hitting Hamas targets, Israel is keeping a close eye on things and assessing the rationale for the recent escalation.

Most rocket fire is carried out not by Hamas but by smaller, more radical organizations in Gaza, Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said this week, estimating that the smaller, more radical organizations opposing Hamas are trying to drag it into renewed conflict with Israel.

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GEORGIA: Leaked memos fuel debate over who started war with Russia

Georgia1

More than two years after Russia and Georgia clashed in South Ossetia, the fog of war continues to hover over Tbilisi and Moscow.

According to diplomatic cables from the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, released by the Wikileaks website, Russia was doing everything it could -– including reportedly arming South Ossetian separatists with Grad missiles and spreading nasty rumors about the Georgian president's sanity -– to provoke and destabilize Georgia, long before the two countries clashed in August 2008. One of Russia's primary goals seems to have been to oust Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili.

This leaked confidential information is not a game-changer -– it's certainly not new to any Russian or Georgian who owns a television -– but it does add fodder to a still-heated debate about which nation started the war in the first place, and who is to blame for the fallout.

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EGYPT: Fears of a food crisis after Russia's wheat export ban

Art-egypt-bread-apRussia's decision to ban grain exports is fueling anxiety among Egyptians that an international wheat crisis could lead to massive food shortages in the Arab world's most populous country.  

Egypt is the world's top wheat importer, annually buying 6 million to 7 million tons from the international market. About 50% of that comes from Russia. However, record high heat, accompanied by wildfire and drought, has forced Moscow to abandon its commitments on wheat exports in order to protect Russian needs. That means Egypt will not receive 540,000 tons of wheat that was scheduled for delivery by Sept. 10.

Nomani Nomani, head of the General Authority for Supply Commodities, has tried to downplay concerns of a potential food shortage. Nomani said Egypt has a four-month stockpile of wheat for local markets, and that the government will purchase an extra 60,000 tons a month from other countries.

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IRAN: Russia backtracks on S-300 missile systems for Tehran

S-300

After a mysterious delay and a public challenge by Tehran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov appeared to backtrack on Russia's pledge to supply S-300 surface-to-air missile systems to Iran, telling  Moscow's official state news agency on Wednesday that Russia "has never taken actions that could cause the destabilization of certain regions."

"There are issues that need to be resolved before [the contract] is executed," he said, referring to a deal that was signed in 2005. "We hope that all countries supplying arms, and not only defensive ones but also those that are killing our peacekeepers, will treat this issue in the same way."

Russia has been under pressure by the U.S. and Israel not to sell weapons to Iran, which has been accused of supplying arms to militant groups abroad as well as posing an existential threat to Israel with its nuclear program.

The S-300 system is capable of hitting aircraft up to 90 miles away and tracking 100 targets at a time, and could be used in case of an Israeli air attack on Iranian nuclear sites.

But last week, Russia announced it would delay the shipment due to "technical problems" just one day after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Moscow.

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LEBANON: Nuclear material removed

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog days ago removed a stockpile of radioactive material from Lebanon.

According to an announcement today by the International Atomic Energy Agency, a cargo plane carried 36 Cobalt-60 "sources" from Lebanon to Russia for safe storage about 11 days ago. 

Just one of the Cobalt-60 sources, as small as a paintbrush, could kill someone directly exposed within minutes, the announcement said. 
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ISRAEL: Prime Minister Netanyahu's secret trip to...where?

So, where was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week?

Standing up journalists and canceling other appointments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disappeared from the press' radar for about 14 hours Monday, sparking a brush-fire of rumors.

Persistent queries and theories produced the first version of the explanation that evening. The prime minister spent the day visiting a "security installation" in central Israel, where meetings had run longer than expected, said a statement, curiously issued by his military secretary, Gen.  Meir Kalifi, and not his usual news media advisers. That's one long meeting. You can drive from the border with Lebanon to the border with Egypt and back twice in that time.

The next day a Palestinian newspaper chimed in, reporting that he had visited an Arab country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel and that he had taken Kalifi and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad with him. The agenda was said to be Iran.

This was one step closer. Kalifi and Arad evidently did join the magical mystery tour -- but to a different destination. Wednesday, Israeli news reports said that Netanyahu had made a flash visit to Russia. Yes, he had visited a security installation, but proceeded from there to the airport, where he had leased a private plane from an Israeli tycoon to avoid attention and flew to Russia with Kalifi, Arad, a select security detail --  and according to one report, another senior person. The lot of them returned at 3 a.m. 

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IRAN: Caspian Sea states shut Tehran out of summit

Iran-caspian

Iran is peeved at its northern neighbors over a decision to exclude the Islamic Republic from a meeting of Caspian Sea states on Thursday. 

Iran's top diplomat, Manouchehr Mottaki, said today he was outraged that Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan plan to meet in the Kazakh city of Aktau without Iran, according to the website of Iran's state-owned English-language Press TV satellite news channel.

"In our view the meeting runs contrary to Iran's national interests," Mottaki said.

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IRAN: Russia urged to hedge bet on Ahmadinejad

Iran-putin

An influential Russian newspaper recently published an article urging Moscow to "adjust" its policy toward Iran so as not to catch too much flak if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad goes down. 

According to an Aug. 6 piece published by the privately owned Nezavisimaya Gazeta, it's time to give the divisive president the heave-ho.

"It appears that recent events in Iran, when the opponents of Ahmadinejad shouted slogans of 'Death to Russia,' indicate that Moscow's defense of Ahmadinejad's government has not been met with approval among a considerable portion of the Iranian population," the editorial said.

"It appears that the idea that Iran is a regional power which Russia could use as a trump card in relations with the West has turned out to be mistaken," the editorial says. 

"As a matter of fact, it has turned out that Iran is using Russia to polarize the Group of Six," the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany, over Iran's nuclear program.

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IRAN: Will Tehran get Russian weapons or not?

Confusion reigned over reports that Russia might sell Iran sophisticated antiaircraft weapons despite a pledge not to.

It's no secret that Iran wants the S-300s, mobile long-range defensive weapons that could thwart potential missile or aircraft strikes on its controversial nuclear facilities.

Under Israeli pressure, Russians have promised not to make the sale.

But the chatter continues.

Today, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman was cagey. Hassan Qashqavi told reporters that he had not "received any report" regarding the missiles from "relevant" officials.

"You know we have cultural, economic and political as well as defense cooperation with Russia," he said. "I cannot confirm or deny the news. You all know that we have several agreements with Russia. Some of the agreements have been implemented, some not."

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