29 October, 2006

British Deputy PM in Malaysia to Learn About Religious Co-Existence

British Deputy PM in Malaysia to Learn About Religious Co-Existence

By VOA News

British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is visiting Malaysia to learn about its approach to peaceful co-existence between communities of different religions.

In a letter published Saturday in a Malaysian newspaper, Prescott praises the country for becoming "a successful multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-cultural society in a rapidly changing world."

Malaysia is a mainly Muslim country that is 60 percent ethnic Malay, but also is about 25 percent Chinese and eight percent Indian, with large numbers of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Taoists.

Prescott says there is a lot of discussion in Britain about how to create harmony amid increasing disputes between the Muslim community and the rest of the country. In a recent controversy, some British politicians criticized Muslim women who wear veils.

The deputy British leader says the answer to such disputes is to have an open and respectful debate and to be sensitive to differences that arise from religious beliefs.

Prescott is visiting the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur Sunday for a dialogue session with Muslim scholars. He will have talks with Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak Monday

Go ahead and criticise me, says Abdullah

Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has never been free of criticism.

The prime minister has been criticised in Cabinet meetings, the Umno supreme council and Barisan Nasional meetings.

This was because they sometimes held views that differed from the prime minister’s.

But Abdullah said yesterday that such differences of opinion were resolved through consensus.

"We discuss and express our views before reaching an agreement.

"When a decision is made, it’s a collective decision. That makes it easier for us to implement... This is my way," he said at the state Hari Raya Aidilfitri open house at the Melaka International Trade Centre in Ayer Keroh yesterday.

"If anyone wants to criticise me, go ahead," he said in commenting on a statement yesterday by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that he was criticising Abdullah as no one else was able to do so.

Dr Mahathir had claimed that Cabinet members and others holding government and party posts were not allowed to criticise Abdullah.

He had also alleged that the media was muzzled in the matter while the Internet and websites were bugged to enable action to be taken against those who criticised the prime minister.

On his two-hour meeting with his predecessor on Sunday, he said he had maintained silence during the first 1½ hour as he wanted to give Dr Mahathir a chance to express his feelings on the administration of the government and his leadership.

"I wanted to reply but I didn’t want to interrupt because eventually he would say that I’m wrong. So I waited for him to stop talking before commenting one by one on the issues ranging from the police state, Umno, family interference and the economy and finally on the crooked bridge.

"I was satisfied that Tun had expressed himself. However, I am slightly disappointed as I had many things to say and to reply to what Tun had expressed but I had to stop because of the limited time."

Abdullah also touched on the fifth annual Reporters Without Borders worldwide Press freedom index, which indicated that the freedom of Press in Malaysia was better compared with several Asean countries, including Singapore and Thailand.

"This is the view of outsiders who are constantly assessing us in terms of competitiveness, quality, human rights and Press freedom."

It was reported in the media yesterday, that Malaysia ranked 92 in a poll carried out in 158 countries on Press freedom. Malaysia was ranked 113th last year.

Earlier, Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam said the country, its leaders and people were happy that Dr Mahathir and Abdullah had met to resolve various issues but unhappy with the outcome.

"We were all hoping that things would have been different with Tun during this auspicious month. Our hopes were high that he would have a change of heart and together we could work towards developing the nation.

"But it looks as if Tun has let us all down. We know how it feels like for Abdullah and we share his sentiments and promise to support him in his endeavours for the nation’s good."

Euphoria of hope fizzles out
By Joceline Tan (The Star)

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s gleaming black Mercedes-Benz glided out of the Prime Minister’s official residence a little after 5pm.

Dr Mahathir had arrived and left on the dot, leaving the media who had been milling about since early afternoon empty-handed.

As such, it was a very hungry media, desperate for news about the highly anticipated meeting between Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and Dr Mahathir, that decided to head for his Mines Resort City home about 20 minutes drive from Putrajaya.

They got through the security at the gate with surprisingly little fuss and even managed to park their cars near the porch, next to a posh Bentley.

They were even more surprised when the former premier agreed to see them although he was due at his eldest son Datuk Mirzan’s house for buka puasa.

It had been a long day and his voice was soft and a little hoarse but he answered most of their queries. It was not a very long interview and reporters were still popping questions as his other two sons Datuk Mokhzani and Datuk Mukhriz ushered him to the car after about 30 minutes.

But what an impact it made when aired over primetime news that night on the main TV channels.

It was not only what he said but the way he said it that suggested the meeting had not had the desired consequence, at least as far as Dr Mahathir was concerned.

Bera MP Datuk Ismail Sabri remembered feeling rather stunned on hearing the news.

“When they agreed to meet we thought, good, they really want to settle the whole thing. But after the meeting he is still attacking Pak Lah. I’m really disappointed, I think my friends in Umno feel the same,” said Ismail.

The following day, Dr Mahathir held a packed press conference in the inner courtyard of his house where, responding to questions, he elaborated on what he said the day before plus a few well-aimed opinion statements.

By then, it was crystal clear that the meeting had not changed his stance about anything. He seemed no less frustrated about the issues he had been talking about nor did he seem anywhere close to appeasement.

Dr Mahathir was still on the warpath. Dr Mahathir’s second son, Mokhzani, has made a loyal effort to defend his father in the face of criticism.

“My father saw the meeting as an opportunity to state the facts without adulteration. What he said on Monday was what he said during the meeting. It’s not fair to say that Tun has renewed his attacks on Pak Lah,” said Mokhzani.

But the point is that Dr Mahathir’s indomitable spirit ruled the day and there was quite little that anyone, his sons included, could do to dilute his mood.

Some have been blunt, calling the meeting a flop, even a disaster.

Others remained optimistic, saying that, “Dr Mahathir will be Dr Mahathir,” and that things could still work out between them.

But mostly, people felt let down by Dr Mahathir’s tell-all about the meeting.

They thought it did not reflect the spirit in which the meeting was arranged, that the senior man had been too exacting, even disparaging. They felt the senior man could have exercised some restraint in the spirit of Ramadan and Aidilfitri.

Besides, as Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar pointed out, the underlying principle of a four-eyed meeting is confidentiality and discretion.

“There’s been so much negative comment which I think is a great pity after what he has done for the country. It should not have come to this,” said Syed Hamid for whom some of the issues raised by Dr Mahathir have struck close to home.

Also, the fact that Dr Mahathir had walked in with a tape recorder was hint of the lack of trust and confidence about how the meeting was going to turn out.

Many, especially Umno members, had hoped that Sunday's face-to-face would lead to further meetings.

But the prospect of another meeting seems rather remote, as things stand now.

The Prime Minister has described his predecessor's post-meeting criticism as “stronger doses of venom” and was clearly riled that Dr Mahathir had chosen to go public without waiting for his response.

Going by the point-blank manner with which he rebutted some of the offensives, it looks like Abdullah may have come to the end of his tether or, as his friend Tun Musa Hitam would say, the end of his elegant silence.

According to Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Azalina Othman Said: “No one likes to negotiate or budge under pressure. You can’t have someone dictating to the sitting PM. He will listen but he can’t do everything you say.

“That is not the way to deal with Pak Lah. He may seem soft but he’s hard to budge when he believes he is on the right lane. Most of all, you’ve to remember he is a man of faith.”

But more stunning was the statement by the Johor Sultan on the first day of Hari Raya. After prayers on Tuesday, the Tuanku told those congregated that Dr Mahathir should not interfere in the government and asked Johoreans to rally behind Abdullah.

It was a brief but momentous royal remark. After all, the aborted Johor-Singapore bridge was a central issue in Dr Mahathir’s offensive against the Abdullah administration.

Since then Dr Mahathir has stepped up the tempo, claiming that the police were harassing his family members and that there was a climate of fear in the country.

The former premier, an Umno official noted, is pushing the Government against the wall.

“Dr Mahathir wants things done his way and he will only rest if Pak Lah follows his instructions,” said Umno supreme council member Datuk Shahrir Samad. He said there was no need debate Dr Mahathir, much less dance to his tune.

“However, the PM has to make sure that his policies are implemented and deliver on his promises. He has to think about the hopes of the people and the changes they expect him to make. He has to correct mistakes and do it fast.

“He also has to keep tabs on the mentris besar and ministers so that they carry out his policies of transparency, improving human capital, public delivery system and so on. If they don’t perform, he has to change them. The faster he gets his team going in the right direction the better.

“I’m glad he’s beginning to use and involve the Umno political bureaus. Issues involving his family also have to be addressed. I believe he has the courage to act on complaints about his family and to draw the line between family and Government. That will win him immense respect and boost his image,” said Shahrir.

The point that Shahrir, who is also Johor Baru MP, is trying to make is that the endurance of Abdullah’s administration does not depend on submitting to all of Dr Mahatir’s demands but it lies in fulfilling the people’s expectations.

“Ultimately, what’s important is how successful we are in addressing the demands and dissatisfactions of our constituency. When the constituents are contented, Dr Mahathir’s attacks will grow irrelevant,” said Shahrir.

But what now between the present and the ex-prime minister?

The Mubarak group that mooted last week’s meeting has not abandoned hope of bringing them together again despite the bitter exchange of words.

“We are not giving up so easily, we want to organise more meetings. But we appeal to Dr Mahathir to be less confrontational. Some of the issues take time to resolve and he should give some time to the PM,” said Kelantan Mubarak head Datuk Rozali Isohak.

Rubbishing a 'sampah' statement
(Rafidah Abdullah-The Sun)

What is 'sampah'?

Sampah is Malay for rubbish, garbage, things to be thrown away. According to the Kamus Dewan, sampah also means something or someone that is useless or of no value.

And why're we talking about 'sampah'?

This word has cropped up quite a bit lately, largely in relation to the infamous Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute's Centre for Public Policy Studies (CPPS) report titled Corporate Equity Distribution: Past Trends and Future Policy. The report asserted that bumiputra-owned equity in Malaysia could be as high as 45%, far exceeding the government's target of 30%.

Immediately, there was uproar among Umno politicians, condemning the report as "inaccurate" and, yes, sampah. There were accusations of a hidden agenda behind the report; some claimed that the report was intended to "incite anger" and "confuse the Malays".

Under pressure to retract the report and "admit" its flaws, CPPS director Dr Lim Teck Ghee resigned on principle. The whole debacle made news headlines for weeks.

But anyway, back to sampah. In the midst of the brouhaha, the report was not the only thing to be given that auspicious title. When interviewed about the CPPS report (Mingguan Malaysia, Oct 8), Umno vice-president and Minister of Agriculture Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin was asked this question: If the Malays are no longer assisted, what would happen in the future?

His answer? Melayu akan jadi 'sampah' dalam masyarakat.

I take it you are not happy with that response?

I am absolutely livid! How insulting is that statement? Is he saying that the Malays are so weak that they could not possibly survive without the government's help? Conversely, is he not implying that other races are superior, because they can succeed without help no matter what their circumstances? Can we Malays then blame them if they look down on us as weak and dependent?

It is because of this mentality that I have lived my life in constant irritation.

Let me get one thing straight - my parents were not born with silver spoons in their mouths. One of my grandfathers was a policeman and the other, a fisherman. Neither had a high education. Yet my parents rose above their circumstances by the time-tested method of working hard. Fast forward to me finishing secondary school and asking my dad to sign loan/scholarship application papers for my university education. My dad flatly refused, saying: "We can afford it. Let the money go to people who need it."

I remember being annoyed with him, knowing full well that there are Datuks and Tan Sris whose children are educated on public funds. Yet, looking back now, I can appreciate his wisdom and it is a source of pride to me that I never took the government's money.

I'm sorry, how is that living life in constant irritation?

I'm getting to that! So, I entered Universiti Malaya, funded by my parents. For the most part, this fact was of no consequence, except for the resigned and sometimes snide remarks that came from some of my fellow students who were non-Malay. They seemed to think that Malays had it easy, and it was no wonder that I had parents who could afford to pay for my education - after all, the Malays received so much help!

This was, for me, a surprise and an eye-opener. All this while, I had been socially conditioned to think that the Chinese were the loaded ones, but for the first time I was meeting Chinese who were poor, struggling, and under the impression that Malays were the ones with money!

And I soon discovered that this was not the only misconception they had about Malays. They were also surprised to

discover that I entered the university with Form Six qualification. But why? they asked. Form Six is tough; it's for people who have no other choice. You are Malay, why didn't you take the matriculation course or a diploma in ITM?

I didn't know how to answer. I had never thought about it. Wasn't Form Six the natural progression from Form Five?

Not satisfied, they asked me about my STPM results. They were completely convinced that, by virtue of the quota system which required far less of Malays than of other races, I had managed to get into the prestigious law faculty by the barest minimum. I told them my results. Seventy-six out of 80 points, which qualified me quite comfortably regardless of skin colour. They were awed. "Wow," they said, "You're really smart for a Malay."

For a Malay.

That remark annoyed me at that time, yet, not nearly as much as the minister's sampah comment annoys me now. Can I really blame a bunch of non-Malay students for having such views when one of our own leaders seems to have no faith in the ability of the Malays?

So are you saying that the government should stop giving help to the Malays?

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that ALL poor people, regardless of ethnicity, should be helped, not only because this will avoid resentment, not only because it's the right thing to do, but also because I pay taxes and I should be allowed to express my opinion on how to spend the money.

But the bigger part of what I'm saying is that it is irresponsible of the minister to make such a statement because it conditions the Malays to think that if they don't receive government help, they will amount to nothing. It conditions the Malays to think that on a level playing field, they will surely lose. Even the best athletes, if conditioned to rely on a

particular product, will become mentally vulnerable regardless of their true capabilities.

Surely the minister realises all this. What then is his motive in making such a sampah statement?

Dr M's Criticism Of PM Akin To His Own Era, Says Zam

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 28 (Bernama) -- Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's criticism of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is akin to criticising his own era, including from the aspect of "Malays forget easily", says Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin.

"Dr Mahathir has forgotten or had purposely chose to forget his ways in implementing freedom of the press, in politics and economy when he was the prime minister.

"It cannot be denied that his success in practising democracy had shown firmness and authoritativeness. Although he allowed freedom of expression and forgived his friends who were his political foes, in the process of enhancing his power, he has built his own era which made him not only to be respected but also feared," he told reporters.

Zainuddin said the former prime minister might not have realised this when he was the prime minister but it was very much felt by the people who dealt with him then, especially cabinet ministers.

"What Dr Mahathir is doing now to Pak Lah (Abdullah) is the same as what Tunku Abdul Rahman (Putra Al-Haj) (Malaysia's first prime minister) did to him (Dr Mahathir) to the extent that Tunku supported the Opposition and Tunku was used by the Opposition in the elections...only the ways are different.

"Tunku was more diplomatic but Dr Mahathir is more aggressive," he added.

Datuk Joseph Salang said "Criticism On Pak Lah No Impact On M'sia's Image Abroad"

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's persistent criticism of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi's leadership has no impact on Malaysia's image overseas, says Deputy Foreign Minister Datuk Joseph Salang.

He said neither it had any bearing on Malaysia's ties with other countries.

Salang said leaders of countries whom he had met so far are not worried over the misunderstanding between the two leaders.

"To them the spat between the two are personal matters," he told reporters after attending a dinner to raise funds to renovate and extend the St John's Anglican Church here last night.

Salang said: "This is the Foreign Ministry's view. As far as the leaders are concerned Abdullah's position as prime minister is not threatened since he has been duly elected and won the last general election with overwhelming majority."

In fact, many foreign leaders praised Malaysia for its political stability, he said.

Also, foreign investors did not feel insecure over the latest development in the country, he said.

"Nevertheless, the sooner the spat can be resolved between the two leaders, the better it is for the country in a lot of ways.

"It is among Malaysians that the criticisms are evoking all kinds of thoughts and reactions.

"But we must remember they need to stop as we all need to focus on our unity, energy and resources to successfully implement the Ninth Malaysia Plan and equally important to achieve the Vision 2020 goals," he said.


After the UN-imposed sanctions Cracks in the anti-Pyongyang front

South Korea in contrast has been reluctant to give up its “sunshine policy” of rapprochement with the isolated communist regime or to take economic actions that could cause the collapse of its impoverished neighbor.
North Korea has called the sanctions a “declaration of war” and warned of a “merciless” response to anyone who undermines its sovereignty.
Senior US officials said a key message Rice would give South Korean leaders is that Washington would not seek to impose the UN sanctions in a way that would further destabilize the situation.
“We’ll make clear to the Koreans that the United States has no interest in ratcheting up tensions”, said one senior official accompanying her.
The UN resolution bans trade with North Korea related to its development of nuclear arms, ballistic missiles and other weapons of mass destruction, and imposes financial controls to starve the North Korean military of funds.
But the most controversial measure calls for the inspection of cargo to and from North Korea, aimed at preventing its cash-strapped government from selling material for an atomic bomb or other illicit weapons to terrorists.
Rice met with President Roh Moo-Hyun and then held a trilateral meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon and his Japanese counterpart Taro Aso -- the first such three-way ministerial encounter in more than a year.
Her visit came amid reports that North Korea could try to test another nuclear weapon, and as a senior US official revealed that a high-powered Chinese delegation was in Pyongyang Thursday in a bid to talk them out of it.
“I’m pretty convinced that the Chinese will have a very strong message about future tests”, the official said.
“My understanding is that [the delegation’s trip] would be part of Chinese efforts to convince the North Koreans to comply with [UN] Resolution 1718, as well as the other relevant Security Council measures that are out there”, State Department Tom Casey noted.
The delegation was also expected to press North Korea to return to six-party negotiations involving China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
The six reached an agreement in September 2005 under which North Korea would give up its nuclear program in return for security guarantees and a massive influx of aid. But Pyongyang walked out of the talks last November to protest at US sanctions aimed at locking it out of the international banking system.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the delegation was led by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, a former foreign minister, and included “all the Foreign Ministry’s point people on North Korea”.
Before going to North Korea, Tang met the previous week with US President George W. Bush in Washington and Russian leaders in Moscow, though he did not discuss his plans for the Pyongyang trip with American officials.
The outcome of the talks was expected to be discussed when Rice visited Beijing on Friday, but Washington officials downplayed suggestions of an immediate breakthrough.
China is North Korea’s oldest ally and biggest trading partner and has been reluctant to impose sanctions on its neighbor.
But the State Department official said there had been a “dramatic shift” in China’s policy since North Korea test-fired a series of ballistic missiles in July and then carried out last week’s nuclear test.
“China is very concerned about the development of nuclear weapons on its border, the proliferation of those weapons and the possible transfer of those weapons”.
In Seoul, Rice discussed South Korea’s participation in efforts to track and inspect North Korean shipping, aimed at preventing it from trafficking in nuclear materials or weapons of mass destruction, US officials said.
The Americans were also pressing South Korea to curb or end a large tourist complex it finances at Mount Kumgang which provides North Korea with tens of millions of dollars in hard currency each year.
But they cautioned that Rice was unlikely to seek any specific commitments from the South Koreans at this time.
While in Tokyo, Rice warned North Korea that the United States would respond with the full range of its military might to any attack on its allies as it called for the swift implementation of UN sanctions.
Rice issued the warning in Tokyo on the first stop of her regional tour, triggered by the crisis over Pyongyang’s first atom bomb test and amid fears the North might carry out a second test.
“The role of the United States is to make certain that everybody, including the North Koreans, know very well that the United States will fully recognize and act upon its obligations under its mutual defense treaty” with Japan, Rice said.
“The United States has the will and the capability to meet the full range, and I underscore the full range, of its deterrence and security commitment to Japan”, she said after talks with her Japanese counterpart, Taro Aso.
Rice said the United States and Japan, which has taken a tough line on North Korea, wanted all countries to comply with a UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the North.
“The foreign minister and I pledged we will work together and with other states for the swift implementation and the effective implementation of all of the measures” under the resolution”, Rice said.
North Korea has denounced the sanctions resolution as a “declaration of war” and promised to inflict “merciless blows without hesitation” on any countries enforcing them.
Such bellicose rhetoric has prompted calls in Japan for debate on the long-taboo option of developing its own nuclear weapons since North Korea tested its first atom bomb, triggering fears of a regional arms race.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ruled out acquiring atomic weapons in Japan, the only country to have suffered nuclear attack. But others in his ruling party have said the option should be at least discussed.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned that more countries are likely to go nuclear unless the international community acts cohesively to stop them.
“There is at least a reasonable likelihood that some other countries will decide that they need to have nuclear weapons”, Rumsfeld said in a speech to a military audience at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
“And... in a relatively short period you could have two, four, six other countries decide that”.
The effect would be “exactly the opposite of what the international community wants to have happen. A lower nuclear threshold, more countries with nuclear weapons, a greater likelihood that one of the countries or more might transfer those weapons to a non-state entity”.
Rumsfeld’s comments came 10 days after North Korea detonated its first nuclear explosion.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey confirmed that a senior Chinese official was visiting North Korea amid fear Pyongyang may conduct another nuclear test.
China is North Korea’s leading political ally and trading partner and is believed to have the most leverage over the reclusive communist state.
UN Resolution 1718, unanimously approved on October 14 by the Security Council, calls on North Korea to return to negotiations about its nuclear program and imposes sanctions on the state.
Although China supported the resolution, which imposed tough sanctions on North Korea, it has shown mixed feelings about a key measure for countries to search North Korean cargo ships.

Japan, US step up work on missile shield

Japan and the United States agreed in top-level talks last week to strengthen their military alliance and step up work on missile defense.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a conservative who took office last month, backed a tough line on North Korea as he met with Rice.
“Japan will make an effort to strengthen the Japan-US alliance, including on missile defense”, Abe told Rice, according to Abe’s adviser Hiroshige Seko, who also attended the meeting.
Rice in turn said that “strengthening and modernizing the US-Japan alliance will be a base of responding to this situation” with North Korea, Seko said.
US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Abe and Rice “talked about the importance of cooperative defense measures such as intelligence-sharing and missile defense”.
More than any other country, Japan feels a direct threat from North Korea, which fired a missile over its main island in 1998.
That incident led the United States and Japan to team up to build a missile defense shield. The American military also installed Patriot surface-to-air missiles in Japan after North Korea test-fired seven missiles in July.
Abe, who rose to popularity by campaigning against North Korea, has championed a greater military role for Japan, which was forced by the Allies to renounce the right to wage war after its defeat in World War II.
American and Japanese officials said Abe and Rice agreed on the need to enforce sanctions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council.
“North Korea must understand that things will get worse if it fails to respond to the international community’s concerns”, Abe was quoted by Seko as telling Rice.
North Korea’s nuclear test last week has raised US fears of a nuclear arms race in East Asia and led to calls in Japan to debate the long-taboo idea of building its own atomic weapons.
Rice reaffirmed to Abe that “the United States regards Japan’s security as US security”, Seko said.
“She said that North Koreans should not believe they can change the security environment and that the Japan-US alliance has an ability to respond to their challenge”.
Hiroshi Suzuki, the deputy cabinet secretary for public relations, played down the attention given to the calls to debate the nuclear option.
“Despite many reports inside and abroad suggesting that there could be a possible review, the Japanese government strictly upholds and adheres to its three non-nuclear principles” of not producing, possessing or allowing entry of nuclear weapons onto its territory, Suzuki said.
Rice was the first high-ranking US official to meet Abe since he took office last month, succeeding his mentor, Junichiro Koizumi, who was one of US President George W. Bush’s closest foreign allies.
Abe asked Rice to tell Bush that he is “looking forward to” holding their first summit on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Vietnam in November.
In a meeting with Aso, Rice praised Abe for visiting China and South Korea the previous week in a bid to improve ties that were tense under Koizumi, according to another Japanese official at the talks.

‘A second test would show North Korea has the bomb’

North Korea is eager to conduct a second atom bomb test to erase any doubts after a first attempt on October 9 that it truly is capable of producing nuclear weapons, according to Western arms experts.
A new test could be imminent simply “because the first one failed”, argues Joseph Bermudez, a researcher at Jane’s Defense Weekly in Britain.
Many experts worldwide have suggested that the underground explosion that took place earlier this month was too small to have been a successful nuclear explosion.
Which is why, Bermudez said, “it is likely that the North Korean scientific community wants” to try again, he said.
“If you look at what Pakistan did in 1998, the initial explosion had failed”, Bermudez said by way of precedent. “It didn’t get to full yield -- it didn’t have full explosive power -- so they... carried on a series of follow-up tests validating their design”.
North Korea, he said, could be facing a similar situation.
“Until you actually test it -- using your manufacturing capabilities, your equipment, and your fissile material -- you can never know if the design was good or if the computer models you used were good”.
Whether North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il will be discouraged from conducting such a test for political reasons, he mused, was another matter.
Japanese and South Korean officials have cited information of possible preparations for a second test, triggering warnings from around the world and an immediate call for restraint from China, Pyongyang’s closest ally.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has urged North Korea to heed concerns and take a “rational decision” that would lead to talks.
Thérèse Delpech, director of strategic affairs at the French Atomic Energy Commission, agrees that something did not go as planned during North Korea’s first attempt to detonate an atomic device: “If the explosion on October 9 was nuclear test, then it was a failure”, yielding a force of less than one kiloton, she said.
The mid-air blast that devastated Hiroshima at the end of World War II was between 12 and 16 kilotons, according to most estimates.
While North Korea has not yet proven its ability to make and detonate an atom bomb, it is certainly close to that goal, according the François Gère, director of the French Institute for Strategic Analysis.
“They are in the process of conducting experiments that will allow them to produce a real atomic weapon within three months, perhaps six”, he said. It would probably not, he added, be more sophisticated than the plutonium bomb dropped over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.
The test North Korea conducted earlier this month might, in fact, be a “very advanced form of laboratory experiment” designed to test the fuses and the explosive material used to trigger the nuclear reaction.
Technically speaking, “they are moving in the right direction, but until we have the results of the test and we know exactly what they wanted to test”, Gère said, “we cannot know whether it was a failure or not”.
From a strategic standpoint, “if North Korea really wants to show the world that it has a nuclear weapon, and to improve its program”, opined Pascal Boniface, director of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations, “one can understand that it would conduct several tests.”
“One can say with certainty that North Korea has a nuclear capacity, but we don’t know its degree of sophistication or to what extent it has been perfected”.
South Korea has stepped up its monitoring, although a spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff told journalists there were no signs yet of a second test.
But experts said Pyongyang’s announcement indicated the North was ready for a further trial.
South Korean and Japanese officials cited information of possible preparations for another test, triggering a plea for restraint from China, but arms experts say North Korea may want to go ahead and prove itself

'Russia bending to China’s will on North Korea’

Russia’s cautious approach to supporting sanctions against North Korea reflects a growing desire to please China rather than any fondness for the hard-line leadership in Pyongyang, analysts in Moscow say.
Pragmatism seems to have been the name of the game when Russia set strict pre-conditions before eventually supporting the US-sponsored resolution on Pyongyang’s nuclear program in the United Nations Security Council.
“China is a more important player in this field and we’re sort of allies... Here we coordinated with China and didn’t stick out on our own”, Moscow-based defense analyst Pavel Felgenhauer indicated.
In particular, any nostalgia for the friendship between the Soviet Union and North Korea in the early years of its independence has long ago been overtaken under President Vladimir Putin by hard-nosed realism, analysts say.
This partly derives from a visit to Pyongyang by Putin in 2000 which led to the Russian president being humiliated by his host, President Kim Jong-Il.
The visit -- extremely rare for a world leader -- ended with Putin telling Western leaders that Kim had promised to give up his nuclear ambitions, but only days later Kim announced that he had been joking.
Putin “strongly hates” Kim Jong-Il because of the incident, Felgenhauer explained.
Return visits by Kim in 2001 and 2002 have done little to cement ties, prompting instead bewilderment at his decision on the first visit to spend weeks traveling by train from North Korea to St. Petersburg and back again.
In the view of Anton Khlopkov, deputy director of the Moscow-based research group PIR, Russia has genuine reasons to be cautious about being more aggressive towards North Korea, as increased pressure could have dangerous consequences.
“It’s hard to predict their reaction to sanctions and they don’t impinge on the leadership but the people”, Khlopkov said, referring to the North Koreans. “They would resort to any lengths to protect their regime”.
But others say that Russia’s reluctance to impose stronger sanctions reflects a lack of serious concern about the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, which shares an 18-kilometer border with Russia’s Far Eastern province of Primorsky.
“I don’t think Russia is seriously worried about North Korea’s nuclear program. The conventional wisdom is that North Korea wants nuclear weapons not to attack Russia or anyone but to have a symbol of power”, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.
Others are disturbed by Russia’s willingness to follow the lead of China, which has sought closer ties with Moscow on issues ranging from energy to defense.
Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama research center, sees a growing anti-Americanism in Russia’s caution on the North Korea issue.
In part Russia fears any international approval for forceful regime change because it was deeply shaken by the bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he says.
“Russia is very afraid of America... Russia feels the only guarantee that it will not be punished itself is its nuclear weapons and having allies like China, Iran, North Korea and Libya”, Pribylovsky indicated.
Moscow’s desire to maintain the status quo in North Korea and follow China’s lead has been sharply criticized by Asia specialist Alexander Lukin, of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Warning that “anti-Americanism can’t become the hub of Russian foreign policy”, he argued in the Kommersant newspaper that going soft on nuclear proliferation threatened regional stability, while also de-valuing Russia’s advantage as a nuclear-armed state.
A change of leadership in North Korea would lead to reunification of the peninsula, which in turn would be in Russia’s interest, he argued.
“Russia should support more severe sanctions... and should advise Beijing to do the same.
“For Russia, which also has some tricky problems in relations with Japan and for which a powerful China is also a strategic challenge, a united Korea could turn into a geopolitical partner”, Lukin said.

Doomsday clock counts down to nuclear Armageddon
amid North Korea talks

Just steps from the birthplace of nuclear power, the Doomsday Clock is counting down to nuclear Armageddon and North Korea could push it closer to midnight.
The Korean Peninsula is not even pictured on the map etched onto the flat copper clock: only the Americas, Europe and Africa are shown. But it will dominate the discussion when a group of leading experts meet in Chicago next month close to the site where nuclear fission was first achieved to discuss the global nuclear threat.
“What we are concerned about is the domino effects from the test”, said Kennette Benedict, executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which has kept the clock since 1947 as a reminder of the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
First set at seven minutes to midnight -- a phrase that has become part of pop culture -- the clock has been moved 17 times in response to global events.
The most recent shift was in 2002 when it moved two minutes forward because the United States withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and terrorists were known to be seeking nuclear and biological weapons. It now stands back at seven minutes to midnight, the closest to danger since the end of the Cold War.
“The North Korean test will be important for the cascading events that can happen and the incentives it provides for other countries, and other people, to acquire them”, Benedict told reporters on a rainy afternoon in the book-lined conference room that houses the Doomsday Clock.
There is “every reason to believe” that an impoverished and isolated North Korea will sell bombs or the technology to develop them in order to raise much-needed capital, Benedict said, noting that Al-Qaeda has declared its desire for a nuclear bomb.
Beyond the black market threat, however, is the impact of further proliferation: should North Korea escape punishment, there will be little disincentive for other states with nuclear ambitions, such as Iran, to follow suit. It could also stimulate an arms race in Asia, she suggested.
While North Korea’s fulfillment of its nuclear ambition is a frightening development, there is still an opportunity for diplomacy to win out, Benedict said.
“Other countries have shut down their nuclear weapons programs: Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Libya. We’d like to give the players a chance to have those options acted upon before we move the clock hastily because of the test that has taken place”.
And ultimately, North Korea’s possession of a nuclear bomb does not radically tip the nuclear balance.
There are currently about 27,000 nuclear warheads in the world, down from around 70,000 at the height of the Cold War, and a thousand of them are ready to launch within 30 minutes, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Nuclear Notebook.
About half of Russia’s 16,000 warheads are not properly secured, Benedict said, adding that “there are still places with just a padlock on a fence”.
Meanwhile, the global network of illicit trade in nuclear technology developed by Pakistani scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan remains active and tensions in along the Pakistani borders with Afghanistan and India remain high, she added.
“In an odd way, even though the numbers of weapons are down, because the political dialogue and the diplomacy that’s going on is so limited, we actually -- I think all of us -- have a sense of foreboding and that’s what makes this time so much more difficult than others”, Benedict said.
A short walk from the three-story brick house used as the Bulletin’s offices, the University of Chicago has erected a monument to nuclear power at the site where nuclear fission was first achieved on December 2, 1942.
It’s a bronze sculpture by Henry Moore of a mushroom cloud. As world leaders struggled to convince North Korea to “take a different course”, a small blackbird lay dead at its base, wings stretched out in the rain.
(Monday Morning Com)

Bush & Blair: two leaders searching for a way out of Iraq, and finding none

Their credibility undermined, their moral authority shot, their populatrity in tatters, yet still they fight on. Rupert Cornwell on the bleakest week of the bloodiest month for the war leaders (Independent News)

Their faces alone said everything. At his press conference on Wednesday, in the sumptuous setting of the White House East Room, George Bush was grim, bemused and aged. In the House of Commons 3,000 miles away, Tony Blair stood rooted to the same political spot he has occupied for more than three years. Two leaders, mesmerised and transfixed by the enormity of the crisis they face, searching for an exit and finding none.

In the bleak recent history of Iraq, this last week may have been the most despairing for them, when the converging disasters set in motion by their misconceived invasion of March 2003 became impossible to deny and the gap between their aspirations for Iraq and the reality on the ground there became a chasm.

Events have now acquired a terrible momentum of their own. This month alone the insurgency has claimed more than 1,000 lives, to add to the tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of lives already lost. Another 1.3 million Iraqis are now refugees. The American and British armies are stretched to breaking point. The cost of the war, for America alone, now tops $300bn (£158bn). The moral authority of both countries has been grievously damaged.

Never in modern history has the solution to one problem resulted in the creation of so many larger problems, especially since the initial "problem", Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, turned out to be non-existent.

It was a fitting irony that the week's most lapidary judgement on the disaster of Iraq came from Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, scornfully thrust aside by London and Washington in the rush to war. "Iraq is a pure failure," Dr Blix told the Danish newspaper Politiken. "If the Americans pull out, there is a risk that they will leave a country in civil war. At the same time it doesn't seem that the United States can help to stabilise the situation by staying there."

The news from the battlefield yesterday only proved his point. Two more US soldiers were killed, 11 Iraqi police were captured at a fake checkpoint; at least two roadside bombs went off in Baghdad, killing and wounding dozens. At least six bodies bearing signs of torture were found on roads south of the capital. And that is only a sampling.

The pressures on Mr Bush and Mr Blair are now immense. The sheer scale of the bloodshed and chaos their invasion unleashed - coupled with the dissembling that preceded it - has undermined their credibility and destroyed their popularity. The latest US polls show only one in five Americans believes Washington is winning in Iraq, a figure halved since December, while two out of three oppose the war.

The level of scepticism in Britain is even greater, as Mr Blair next week faces the first parliamentary debate on Iraq in two years. Mr Bush's domestic problems however run much deeper than an uncomfortable afternoon in the Commons. It is his troops that are enduring their heaviest death toll in a year. As of yesterday, 98 American soldiers have already died since 1 October, the most in a single month since January 2005. It is his Republican Party that faces defeat in the mid-term elections in nine days' time, and the probable loss of the absolute control of Congress he has enjoyed for the past four years.

Hence the frenzy of activity last week. Mr Bush conferred with his top military commanders, while Mr Blair reassured Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister that Britain would not "lose its nerve". Generals and ambassadors held forth; military operations were intensified.

There are now 20,000 more US troops in Iraq than in early summer. In Baghdad, American forces have moved into the Shia stronghold of Sadr City in their hunt for a kidnapped soldier. But each patrol, each air strike, carries risks of yet another US soldier being killed, or of terrible mistakes that only further alienate the civilian populace.

On Tuesday, for instance, American soldiers shot dead four innocent Iraqi firemen; yesterday in Ramadi, capital of Anbar province, three women and two children were killed by an errant American bomb.

Both leaders know (though they cannot admit) that, short of their committing every available soldier and turning Iraq into an occupied state like post-war Germany, events are largely beyond their control. Both want nothing more than to extricate themselves from the crisis. Their goal must be, somehow, to declare "victory" and bring the troops home - a retreat camouflaged by some fig-leaf of achievement.

But it will be desperately difficult. Britain and America are damned for staying in Iraq, but they will be damned if they leave. An overhasty departure would not only be irresponsible, but also an acknowledgement that the invasion was a blunder. There are only two possible exit scenarios: either when some sort of peace settlement (however short-lived) is achieved, or if the Iraq government asks the coalition to leave. Neither looks likely.

"For some time to come we will need the support of the international community," Barham Salih, Iraq's Deputy Prime Minister, said after his visit to Downing Street.In the holy month of Ramadan alone, 300 Iraqi security forces were killed, while civilian casualties have been four times that.

Last week both Mr Bush and Mr Blair were at pains to point out that "cut and run" is not on the agenda. "One thing we will not do," the President said. "We will not pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete." Mr Blair's language was almost identical. To do otherwise, he said, would be a "complete betrayal of the Iraqi people". And, once again, Mr Bush endorsed his much-criticised Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

But on both sides of the Atlantic, political reality is forcing change. Desperation is prodding diplomacy in hitherto untested directions. US officials are said to be holding talks in the Jordanian capital, Amman, with leaders of the insurgency, including representatives of Saddam's banned Baathist party - none other than Mr Rumsfeld's famous "regime remnants". An amnesty, a prisoner release, and even possible disarmament, are apparently on offer.

"There's been a change in the position of the Americans," says Jabr Hadeeb Jabr, Shia politician and member of the Baghdad government's Council for Reconciliation. No change is greater than the readiness to contemplate the involvement of Syria and Iran in the search for a solution.

The Foreign Office and Condoleezza Rice are interested in the idea, but Mr Bush, Mr Rumsfeld, and Vice-President Cheney thus far will have none of it.

There is also ongoing debate about some level of devolution to Sunni, Shia and Kurdish regions. The idea has been publicly aired by the Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, but dismissed by Gordon Brown (for once, the Chancellor is presumed to be speaking for Mr Blair).

Just how far Washington is prepared to go in thinking the previously unthinkable may be clearer when the bipartisan commission chaired by James Baker, former secretary of state to Bush the elder, reports after the mid-term elections. Mr Baker is known to support an approach to Iran and Syria.

But there are huge, possibly insuperable obstacles to any solution in Iraq. The most immediate is the strength of the insurgency and of the militias. True, Kurdistan and the southern state of Muthanna are broadly peaceful, while Iraqi security forces have enjoyed success in Tikrit and Najaf. But the massacres of Sunnis earlier this month in Balad, north of Baghdad, and the brief militia takeover of Amara in the south, tell another story.

On Monday, Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, announced a crackdown to tackle the armed violence.Events gave him the lie, even as he spoke. In Amara, militiamen loyal to an anti-US cleric re-emerged, hunting down and killing four policemen from a rival militia. Almost simultaneously, the rival Badr Brigades fighters beheaded the kidnapped nephew of the slain Mahdi army commander.

The Iraqi army set up a few roadblocks but did not interfere in the movement of Muqtada al-Sadr's fighters, after police had fled the streets. Nonetheless, Mr al-Maliki's deputy, Barham Salih, was still saying Iraqi forces could be in control of eight of the 18 provinces by the end of the year.

General George Casey, the top US commander in Iraq, does not share this optimism. "We are about 75 per cent of the way through a three-step process in building those [Iraqi] forces," Gen Casey said on Tuesday. It would take "another 12 to 18 months or so" until Iraqi security forces were "completely capable" of taking over, albeit "still coupled with some level of support from us".

Then there is the disconnect between the US government and the Shia-dominated administration in Baghdad. On Tuesday, Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador, said that Iraqi leaders had agreed to a timetable of security measures, including a new law on oil revenue sharing, "in a way that unites the country"; a timeline for dealing with the militias; and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing democratic rights and equality for all Iraqis.

But within 24 hours, Mr al-Maliki - absent from the previous day's press conference - distanced himself from the plan, especially the "timeline" for eliminating death squads. "If anyone is responsible for the poor security situation in Iraq, it is the coalition," he noted tartly. By Friday, ambassador and Prime Minister had finally met. Mr al-Maliki seemed to move towards the US position, not least on "timelines". But yesterday, the premier was hedging again: "I am America's friend, but not America's man in Iraq."

Most intractable is the sectarianism that has grown in three years from a politically repressive, but secular, society. In the post-invasion chaos, long-suppressed poisons have bubbled to the surface. More visibly than at any time in a half century, Iraq stands as the artificial construct that emerged from three Ottoman provinces after the First World War. That now comprises the oil-rich Shia south, with 60 per cent of the population, a predominantly Sunni centre with next to no oil, and the Kurdish north, also oil rich.

The two national elections of 2005 solidified sectarian and ethnic divisions and helped set the stage for the drive the country towards all-out civil war.

Mr al-Maliki's Shia alliance controls 130 of the 275 parliament seats, but it is divided among several factions, two of which - the largest of them headed by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, head of the biggest faction, and that of Muqtada al-Sadr - severely constrain his room for manoeuvre. Both men control armed militias; between them they command more seats than Mr al-Maliki's faction, so any move against the militias without their would threaten the al-Maliki power base.

Meanwhile, US-backed plans to create autonomous regions with varying access to Iraq's oil wealth threaten only to make the problem worse, inflaming the dynastic struggles among Shia Muslim clerics who dominate the politics of Iraq as they do in neighbouring Iran.

The scheduled provincial elections next year - ahead of the possible formation of new federal regions in 2008 - will bring those struggles to a head, several officials said.

So what now?Once the 7 November elections are out of the way, Donald Rumsfeld may or may not lose his job. But not only is this President loyal to a fault; to fire the architect of his war would be seen as an admission that his entire Iraq policy has failed. That fact, however, has kept Mr Rumsfeld in office, against all the odds, for the past year.

Last week, in short, was the week when everything changed - and nothing changed at all.



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