Thursday, March 31, 2011

North Africa: In a spate of Libyan defections to the West, D'Escoto (Libya's new UN ambassador), who had denounced his US citizenship, can not return to US

Al Jazeera

There are unconfirmed reports that more people have left the inner circle of Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, following the high level desertion of Moussa Koussa, Libya's foreign minister, who arrived in the UK on Wednesday.

It is understood a group of top officials who had headed to Tunisia for talks have decided to stay there.

Some Arabic newspapers said Mohammad Abu Al Qassiim Al Zawi, the head of Libya's Popular Committee, the country’s equivalent of a parliament, is among the defectors.

Nazanine Moshiri, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tunis, said that Abu Zayed Dordah, Libya's prime minister from 1990 to 1994, has also been mentioned.

On Thursday, a second top official confirmed that he would not serve in Gaddfai's regime.

Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister and UN general assembly president, had been named to represent Libya at the UN after a wave of defections early in the uprising.

Treki, who is currently in Cairo, said in a statement posted on several opposition websites that he was
not going to accept that job or any other.

"We should not let our country fall into an unknown fate," he said. "It is our nation's right to live in freedom, democracy and a good life."

'Crumbling from within'

William Hague, Britain's foreign minister, said that Koussa had not been offered immunity from prosecution and is "voluntarily talking" to authorities.

Koussa was staying in a safe and secure place and engaged in ongoing discussions with British diplomats, including some who worked at the now-shuttered embassy in Libya, Hague said.

"His [Koussa's] resignation shows that [Muammar] Gaddafi's regime ... is fragmented, under pressure and crumbling from within," he said.

Hague said Koussa had been his contact with the regime in recent weeks and that he had spoken with him several times.

"One thing I gathered between the lines of my telephone calls ... was that he was very distressed and dissatisfied" by the regime's response to protests, Hague said.

Hague said the British government encouraged others around Gaddafi to abandon him and "embrace a better future for Libya."

A Libyan government spokesman confirmed on Thursday that Koussa had resigned but said that Gaddafi still enjoyed the support of his people.

Moussa Ibrahim said that Koussa's decision was personal and "other people will step in and do the job".

Ibrahim said Koussa had been given permission to go to Tunisia because he was sick with diabetes and high blood pressure.

He said the goverment did not know he would go to London.

'Tight security'

Many Libyan government figures have resigned since the uprising against Gaddafi began on February 15.

Interior minister Abdel Fattah Younis and justice minister Mustafa Mohamed al-Jalil have both left, as have numerous ambassadors around the world.

Most high-level Libyan officials are trying to defect but are under tight security and having difficulty leaving the country, a top Libyan diplomat now supporting the opposition said on Thursday.

Ibrahim Dabbashi, Libya's deputy UN ambassador, said that Libya's UN mission, which now totally supports the opposition, knew two days in advance that Koussa planned to defect on Wednesday.

He said the mission had been waiting for about 10 days for Thursday's defection of Ali Abdessalam Treki, a former foreign minister selected by Gaddafi to be the new UN ambassador.

"We know that most of the high Libyan officials are trying to defect, but most of them are under tight security measures and they cannot leave the country," said Dabbashi.

"But we are sure that many of them will benefit from the first chance to be out of the country and to defect.

"I don't think it is easy. But anyway, who has the will, he will find the way.''

'Status reviewed'

Before Koussa's defection, the Nicaraguan government said he sent a letter appointing Miguel D'Escoto Brockmann, a former priest who served as Nicaragua's first foreign minister after the 1979 Sandinista revolution, as Libya's new UN ambassador.

A news conference with D'Escoto, scheduled by Nicaragua's UN mission, was postponed from Thursday to Friday and then postponed again, with no future date announced.

The mission gave no explanation for the delays.

Farhan Haq, a UN spokesman, said the UN had not officially received any letter from Libya regarding a change of credentials involving D'Escoto.

He said the UN did receive a copy of a note from Nicaragua addressed to all UN missions which attached a copy of Koussa's letter to the secretary-general, but he stressed that the UN had never received that letter.

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, said on Wednesday that D'Escoto needed a G-1 visa, the US visa required for diplomatic representation, if he wants to represent Libya.

If he tries to do so on the tourist visa he now holds, she warned, "he will soon have his visa status reviewed".

Although D'Escoto was born in Los Angeles, California, and once held dual citizenship, Rice said he has renounced his US citizenship.

Lockerbie questions

Scottish authorities said on Thursday that they wished to interview Koussa over the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

"We have notified the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that the Scottish prosecuting and investigating authorities wish to interview Mr Koussa in connection with the Lockerbie bombing," Scotland's crown office said in a statement.

"The investigation into the Lockerbie bombing remains open and we will pursue all relevant lines of inquiry."

The bombing over the Scottish town in 1988 killed 259 people, mostly Americans, on the plane and 11 on the ground.

Last month, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, the former Libyan justice minister and leader of the rebel's interim national council, said that Gaddafi ordered intelligence officers, including the convicted bomber Abdel Baset al Megrahi, to carry out the bombing.

Jim Swire, whose daughter Flora was among those killed, said Koussa's arrival in Britain was an opportunity to finally shed some light on the bombing.

"Koussa was at the centre of Gaddafi's inner circle. This is a guy who knows everything," he said.

"I think this is a fantastic day for those who seek the truth about Lockerbie. He could tell us everything the Gaddafi regime knows."

Al Jazeera and agencies

Israel: Report of a secret US - Saudi plan to oust Assad?


Why did website linked to Syria regime publish U.S.-Saudi plan to oust Assad?
A regime-linked Syrian website reports on a U.S.-Saudi plan to foment unrest and oust Bashar Assad through killings, mass demonstrations and arson, not unlike what is happening now.
By Zvi Bar'el

The heavy blackout imposed by Syria on coverage of the deadly demonstrations there, including the number of casualties and the extent of the serious damage caused to Ba'ath Party offices in a number of cities, is not hindering another kind of reporting.

The media there are seeking out details of involvement of "foreign elements" they say are trying to foment a revolution in Syria. These reports impart information about kinds of vehicles these "elements" have used, the weapons in their possession and the means by which they have recruited demonstrators.

The Syrian media have never been as open as they are now in describing the subversives. The sunshine reached new levels with a recent expose by the Champress Internet site, which has close ties to the regime, on a secret Saudi-American plan to topple the government of President Bashar Assad, presented in full.

According to the report, the plan, which was first broadcast on the Iranian Arabic-language television station Al-Alam, was formulated in 2008 by the Saudi national security advisor, Prince Bandar bin Sultan and Jeffrey Feltman, a veteran U.S. diplomat in the Middle East who was formerly ambassador to Lebanon and is currently the assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs.

The plan as reported divides Syria into large cities, towns and villages. It proposes establishing five recruitment networks: The "fuel" made up of educated and unemployed youths; the "thugs" comprised of criminals, "preferably non-Syrians"; the "ethnic-sectarian" network of young people from ethnic groups who are no older than 22; the "media" network, which will be joined by journalists or activists in civil organizations funded by European countries but not by the United States; and a "capital" network of businesspeople from the large cities.

Each network would be provided with slogans suited to the type of its activity and will go through training aimed at preparing them for street actions and violence.

Thus, for example, the thugs would be trained in sniper fire, arson and "murdering in cold blood." The members of the ethnic network would act to advance interests of their communities, show proof of ethnic discrimination and incite against the regime.

The journalists would operate the network by means of satellite telephones that can't be monitored, would be depicted as human rights activists who are demanding not the regime's fall, but civil society in Syria and they will receive additional training in operating social networks as a means for recruitment.

As for the businesspeople, the plan reportedly proposes "Holding luxurious parties to be attended by businessmen and during which exclusively Arab Gulf deals and investments are to be made and threatening them with certain sexual relations that are filmed for later blackmailing them."

After the recruitment and training phases, which would be funded by Saudi Arabia for about $2 billion, they would be given suitable communications equipment and when about 5,000 activists had been recruited in the large cities, 1,500 in the towns and 500 in the villages, they would begin to act in public.

The plan also offers answers to revolt-refusers. For example, "If someone says there is a change, the response must be: 'There is no change at all. This is all a lie.' If he says change is coming, then the response must be: 'We have heard this for more than 40 years.'"

Activists would have to come to central places to create a suitable backdrop for TV and cell phone cameras.

The "shouters" would have to prepare for two situations. If the security forces start dispersing the assembled demonstrators, their helpers who have hidden in the surroundings must gather quickly and tell the security forces to leave them alone, and if the security forces do not show up then the helpers must create a provocations as though it is they who are dispersing the demonstrators.

If the security forces start beating up the shouters or any of their supporters, it would have to be filmed for full exploitation.

It is necessary to prevent any attempt by the regime to reach a compromise by burning the Ba'ath Party offices and damaging symbols of the regime like smashing statues and destroying pictures of Hafez and Bashar Assad.

The plan also suggests igniting ethnic tensions between groups around the country to stir unrest.

The formulators of the plan assume President Assad will immediately have to deal with calming the inter-ethnic confrontations and will send senior representatives to the cities and towns, thereby emptying Damascus itself of leadership. Then it will become the capital's turn to boil over and foment ethnic demonstrations while the "businesspeople" network will have to convince the military leadership to disassociate itself from Assad and establish a new regime.

The hoped-for outcome is the establishment of a supreme national council that will run the country and terminate Syria's relations with Iran and Hezbolah.

Al-Alam names the Dot and Com company headquartered in Jordan as the element behind the recruitment of the demonstrators against the regime and claims this is a company managed by Saudi intelligence, which is subordinate to Bandar bin Sultan. It is perfectly clear why the Iranians took the initiative to publish this detailed plan, as there is nothing like the situation in Syria to provoke a rift between Syria and Saudi Arabia and/or expose American-Saudi collaboration against the backdrop of Saudi military involvement in Bahrain.

However, why did a semi-official Syrian media outlet decide to publish the plan? Does Damascus fear Saudi involvement in Syria or has someone dropped the ball?

UK: Obama: Energy needs and proposals

PJ: Perhaps this article can shed some light on why the US is losing the green energy race.

The Economist

Reheated proposals

FOR 40-odd years now, Barack Obama lamented earlier this month, American politicians have banged on endlessly about the evils of America’s dependence on imported oil, without doing very much about it. It was time, he declared, to change that. Today he unveiled a package of initiatives that would cut America’s oil imports by a third within a decade, according to the White House. Unfortunately, however, Mr Obama’s latest initiative seems doomed to go the same way as all the brave talk from his predecessors.

Mr Obama’s plan has four main strands: increasing domestic production of oil, boosting output of biofuels as a substitute, encouraging the use of natural gas as a transport fuel, and making vehicles more efficient. He also chucked into the mix his “clean energy standard”, a scheme to promote less polluting forms of electricity generation, even though it has nothing to do with oil imports.

None of this is new. The clean energy standard was first wheeled out in his state-of-the-union address, and is anyway only a rehashed version of a much older proposal to promote renewable energy, with nuclear power and natural gas bolted on to broaden its appeal. The administration was already working on a fresh series of ever more demanding fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles for when the current lot runs out, in 2017 2016. Mr Obama had also previously pledged to nurture the current growth in domestic oil production, to counter Republican cries of “Drill, baby, drill.” The government has been subsidising biofuels for decades, and the Department of Energy is already lending money to the sort of high-tech but handout-dependent plants that the president wants more of. Even talk of encouraging natural-gas vehicles is nothing new: T Boone Pickens, an irrepressible oilman, has buttonholed half of Congress, and anyone else who will listen, on the subject.

Worse, those parts of the president’s plan that need congressional approval—the clean energy standard, more subsidies, extra funding for research on whizz-bang energy technology—will never receive it. The Republicans who control the House are dead-set against anything that smacks of greenery, not to mention anything that would add to spending at a time when they’re trying to take an axe to it. They have already ruled out the president’s signature energy policy: a cap-and-trade scheme to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. They are also trying to rein in the Environmental Protection Agency. The best the president can hope to do is hold the line, and preserve the EPA’s existing authority. So it is hard to see his half-baked, reheated list of proposals as anything more than a reassurance to the environmentally-minded, and to Americans fretting about rising fuel prices, that the president feels their pain—unlike those nasty Republicans.

Russia: Opinion: Looking at similarities between Russian revolution and Middle East unrest

PJ: This opinion piece focuses on Russia's history but in reading it I was reminded of another country that was formed by fighting against an oppressive government, namely, the United States of America.

The Moscow Times


Russia Inspired Arab Protesters
31 March 2011
By Boris Kagarlitsky

Several weeks ago, Russia celebrated the 150th anniversary of Tsar Alexander II's abolishment of serfdom, and historians are quick to mention that his reforms failed to create a full-fledged civil society. One thing that the 1860s reforms did accomplish, however, is the formation of an intelligentsia marked by political radicalism and anti-capitalist ideas.

This new intelligentsia were young people — "commoners" if you will — without ties to the traditional elite who felt strong enough to oppose the government and to offer what in modern language would be called "alternative strategies for modernization." There was no place for them in the stagnating Russian Empire, and they responded by creating Russia's first-ever political party, the moderate socialist Land and Freedom party. But when the authorities responded to peaceful protests with repressive measures, they formed Narodnaya Volya, or the People's Will, a left-wing terrorist party that killed both Tsar Alexander II and his era of reforms.

Today's intellectuals rarely refer to this heritage, although it was these common citizens who ultimately formed the identity and culture of the intelligentsia. But, as always happens, history repeats itself, and not always in the form of a farce. Speaking at a round-table discussion on the recent revolutions in the Middle East, Arab expert Grigory Kosach noted that the key element of the movements that overthrew the leaders in Tunisia and Egypt was the "new commoners." These people are united in their opposition to the "old elite," to the traditional ruling groups — both those promoting Western values and those attempting to control the masses through fundamentalist Islamic ideology. They are patriots whose patriotism consists not in idolizing the ruling regime, but in protesting its backwardness and oppression.

The parallels between the earlier Russian commoners and new intelligentsia during the mid- and late 1800s and today's Arab protesters are striking. In the same way that Russian populists rejected disputes between pro-Western Russians and Slavophiles as meaningless, today's Arab protesting youth have turned the confrontation between Islamists and supporters of the Western course into an anachronism. Like the Slavophiles of the past, Islamists do not see democracy as reflecting their traditional values. In addition, pro-Westerners — both those of 19th-century Russia and the 21st-century Arab world — admire European freedoms but consider them dangerous and premature for their own countries. By contrast, the Russian populists and today's Arab protesters demand democracy here and now, linking it to specific social rights.

Russian populists were not far out of touch with the masses, who showed their capacity for political action during the two Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. Elevating the masses of the largest country in the world understandably took a lot of time. The Arab protesters are more fortunate. They live in a society where a significant portion of the population moved to the cities a long time ago. They live in a world of the Internet and cell phones. They are able to gain political influence and success much faster than their Russian predecessors.

But the success of the new Arab commoners reminds us of Russia's history, of its meaning and value. Russia has a proud heritage and traditions, and its democratic tradition is one of its most important and heroic of them all.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.

UK: Identifying a 'Presidential Finding'

The Telegraph

Libya: what is a presidential 'finding'?
Barack Obama signed a secret order called a presidential 'finding', authorising covert US government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, according to reports.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorise secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. The White House press secretary declined to comment.

People familiar with US intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorisation for a range of potential US government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorisation – for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces – the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.

Former officials say these follow-up authorisations are known in the intelligence world as "'Mother may I' findings."

In 2009 Mr Obama gave a similar authorisation for the expansion of covert US counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.

Because US and allied intelligence agencies still have many questions about the identities and leadership of anti-Gaddafi forces, any covert US activities are likely to proceed cautiously until more information about the rebels can be collected and analysed, officials said.

According to an article speculating on possible US covert actions in Libya published early in March on the website of the Voice of America, the US government's broadcasting service, a covert action is "any US government effort to change the economic, military, or political situation overseas in a hidden way."

The article, by VOA intelligence correspondent Gary Thomas, said covert action "can encompass many things, including propaganda, covert funding, electoral manipulation, arming and training insurgents, and even encouraging a coup."

Members of Congress have expressed anxiety about U.S. government activities in Libya. Some have recalled that weapons provided by the US and Saudis to mujahideen fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s later ended up in the hands of anti-American militants.

There are fears that the same thing could happen in Libya unless the US is sure who it is dealing with. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Rep. Mike Rogers, said on Wednesday he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi "at this time."

"We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them," Mr Rogers said in a statement.

India: To arm or not to arm

The Times of India

To arm Libya rebels or not? US debates
By Mark Landler, Elisabeth Bumiller & Steven Lee Myers, NYT News Service

WASHINGTON: The Obama administration is engaged in a fierce debate over whether to supply weapons to the rebels in Libya, senior officials said on Tuesday, with some fearful that providing arms would deepen US involvement in a civil war and that some fighters may have links to al-Qaida .

The debate has drawn in the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon, these officials said, and has prompted an urgent call for intelligence about a ragtag band of rebels who are waging a town-by-town battle against colonel Muammar Gaddafi, from a base in eastern Libya long suspected of supplying terrorist recruits. "Al-Qaida in that part of the country is obviously an issue ," a senior official said.

Fears about the rebels surfaced publicly on Capitol Hill when the military commander of Nato admiral James Stavridis, told a senate hearing that there were "flickers" in intelligence reports about the presence of Qaida and Hezbollah members among the anti-Gaddafi forces. While eastern Libya was the center of Islamist protests in 1990s, it is unclear how many groups retain ties to al-Qaida .

The French government, which has led the international charge against Gaddafi, has placed mounting pressure on the US to provide greater assistance to the rebels. The question of how best to support the opposition dominated an international conference about Libya on Tuesday in London.

In a reflection of the seriousness of the administration's debate, Obama said that he was keeping his options open on arming the rebels. "I'm not ruling it out, but I'm also not ruling it in," Obama told NBC News. "We're still making an assessment partly about what Gaddafi's forces are going to be doing. Keep in mind, we've been at this now for nine days."

But some administration officials argue that supplying arms would further entangle the United States in a drawnout civil war because the rebels would need to be trained to use any weapons, even relatively simple rifles and shoulder-fired anti-armor weapons. This could mean sending trainers.

China: US agents face attacks in Mexican drug war

PJ: I always find it interesting to read what other people read about the US as it gives insight into their beliefs about people and places. It's no wonder that many around the world view the US as a violent society and Mexico is a dangerous country when violence is often the focus of the news that they read. This particular story was highlighted under world news.

People's Daily

U.S., Mexico offer rewards over shooting of U.S. agents

The governments of the United States and Mexico on Wednesday offered respective rewards for information relating to the shooting of two U.S. agents in Mexico last month.

In the United States, the Departments of Justice, State and Homeland Security jointly announced a reward of up to 5 million dollars for information "leading to the arrest and/or conviction of individuals allegedly responsible" for the murder of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Jaime Zapata and the attempted murder of another ICE special agent Victor Avila.

The pair were ambushed in Mexico on Feb. 15, as they were traveling in their U.S. government-issued vehicle from the state of San Luis Potosi to Mexico City. The incident added to the heightened tensions between the United States and Mexico arising from the latter's anti-drug war efforts.

The U.S. State Department said that Mexican authorities had detained several individuals in connection with this incident and the investigation is continuing.

It said the FBI, in conjunction with ICE, has established a 24- hour tip line based in the United States to process the information. Individuals in the United States with information are encouraged to call 1-866-859-9778, while those in Mexico can provide information by calling +001 800-225-5324, or by visiting

The Mexican government on Wednesday also announced a reward of up to 10 million pesos (about 8.3 million U.S. dollars) for information over the incident, calling on individuals to call (55) 53-46-15-44 and (55) 53-46-00-00 with extension 4748 in Mexico City, and those outside of Mexico City to call 01-800-831-31-96 or go to to provide information.

Source: Xinhua

Australia: Secret order to aide Libya rebels

PJ: This story has been reported by numerous media outlets internationally.

The Sydney Morning Herald

Obama signs secret order authorising covert support for Libyan rebels

President Barack Obama has signed a secret order authorising covert US government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, say government officials.

Obama signed the order, known as a presidential "finding", within the last two or three weeks, according to government sources familiar with the matter.

Such findings are a principal form of presidential directive used to authorise secret operations by the Central Intelligence Agency. This is a necessary legal step before such action can take place but does not mean that it will.
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"As is common practice for this and all administrations, I am not going to comment on intelligence matters," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement. "I will reiterate what the president said yesterday -- no decision has been made about providing arms to the opposition or to any group in Libya."

The CIA declined comment.

News that Obama had given the authorisation surfaced as the President and other US and allied officials spoke openly about the possibility of sending arms supplies to Gaddafi's opponents, who are fighting better-equipped government forces.

The United States is part of a coalition, with NATO members and some Arab states, which is conducting air strikes on Libyan government forces under a UN mandate aimed at protecting civilians opposing Gaddafi.

Interviewed by US networks on Tuesday, Obama said the objective was for Gaddafi to "ultimately step down" from power. He spoke of applying "steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means" to force Gaddafi out.

Obama said the US had not ruled out providing military hardware to rebels. "It's fair to say that if we wanted to get weapons into Libya, we probably could. We're looking at all our options at this point," he told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer.

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton insisted to reporters that no decision had yet been taken.

US officials monitoring events in Libya say neither Gaddafi's forces nor the rebels, who have asked the West for heavy weapons, now appear able to make decisive gains.

While US and allied airstrikes have seriously damaged Gaddafi's military forces and disrupted his chain of command, officials say, rebel forces remain disorganised and unable to take full advantage of western military support.

People familiar with US intelligence procedures said that Presidential covert action "findings" are normally crafted to provide broad authorisation for a range of potential US government actions to support a particular covert objective.

In order for specific operations to be carried out under the provisions of such a broad authorisation -- for example the delivery of cash or weapons to anti-Gaddafi forces -- the White House also would have to give additional "permission" allowing such activities to proceed.

Former officials say these follow-up authorisations are known in the intelligence world as "'Mother may I' findings."

In 2009 Obama gave a similar authorisation for the expansion of covert US counter-terrorism actions by the CIA in Yemen. The White House does not normally confirm such orders have been issued.

Because US and allied intelligence agencies still have many questions about the identities and leadership of anti-Gaddafi forces, any covert US activities are likely to proceed cautiously until more information about the rebels can be collected and analysed, officials said.

"The whole issue on (providing rebels with) training and equipment requires knowing who the rebels are," said Bruce Riedel, a former senior CIA Middle East expert who has advised the Obama White House.

Riedel said that helping the rebels to organise themselves and training them how use weapons effectively would be more urgent then shipping them arms.

Sending in weapons would arguably violate an arms embargo on Libya by the UN Security Council imposed on February 26, although British, U.S. and French officials have suggested there may be a loophole.

Getting a waiver would require the agreement of all 15 council members, which is unlikely at this stage. Diplomats say any countries that decided to arm the rebels would be unlikely to seek formal council approval.

An article in early March on the website of the Voice of America, the U.S. government's broadcasting service, speculated on possible secret operations in Libya and defined a covert action as "any U.S. government effort to change the economic, military, or political situation overseas in a hidden way."

The article, by VOA intelligence correspondent Gary Thomas, said covert action "can encompass many things, including propaganda, covert funding, electoral manipulation, arming and training insurgents, and even encouraging a coup."

US officials also have said that Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose leaders despise Gaddafi, have indicated a willingness to supply Libyan rebels with weapons.

Members of Congress have expressed anxiety about US government activities in Libya. Some have recalled that weapons provided by the US and Saudis to mujahedeen fighting Soviet occupation forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s later ended up in the hands of anti-American militants.

There are fears that the same thing could happen in Libya unless the US is sure who it is dealing with. The chairman of the House intelligence committee, Mike Rogers, said on Wednesday he opposed supplying arms to the Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi "at this time."

"We need to understand more about the opposition before I would support passing out guns and advanced weapons to them," Rogers said in a statement.


Middle East: Opinion: Tarnishing the US image in Arab world

Al Jazeera


Zenga zenga, Mr Obama
Obama's selective intervention in Libya is tarnishing the American image even more in the Arab world.
By Mark LeVine and Reza Aslan

As president Obama took to the airwaves two nights ago to explain the reasons behind his launching of Operation Odyssey Dawn in Libya, he might have mentioned that the mission began on the 8th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.

And while that is a coincidence the United States would very much like to ignore, the long term consequences of the Iraq war have never been more relevant than now.

However noble and justified the United States' intentions may be in launching an attack on a dictator who has murdered his own people and supported international acts of terrorism, the hypocrisy and inconsistently with which the Obama administration has dealt with the so-called "Arab Awakening" risks generating as much ire in the region as did the invasion of Iraq, especially among the young people who have led the pro-democracy revolutions that have inspired the world.

If there is one thing that the Arab world's "Facebook Generation" does not suffer, it is hypocrisy, either by its own governments or by its foreign allies and patrons.

Yet it is impossible not to recognise the rank hypocrisy in supporting the rights of anti-government protesters in Libya, while turning a blind eye to the same in Bahrain, where government troops have massacred dozens of unarmed civilians; in Yemen, where the regime of president Ali Abdullah Saleh has been firing live ammunition into peaceful crowds; in Saudi Arabia, whose military has been sent into neighbouring countries to brutally suppress people's demand for the most basic rights and freedoms; in the Palestinian territories, where non-violent demonstrations for an end to Israeli settlements have been completely ignored by an American administration who, until recently, vowed that a settlement freeze would form the basis of its Middle East policy.

In announcing the military strikes against Colonel Gaddafi, Obama declared that the United States "cannot stand idly by when a tyrant tells his people that there will be no mercy, and his forces step up its assault on innocent men and women [who] face brutality and death at the hands of their own government."

He reiterated this theme in his latest speech.

Does the president not recognise the irony of those words, which could be applied to any one of America's dictatorial allies in the Middle East?

Surely he must, and yet he refused to address this issue head on, even though it has come to define the way the people of the region view his credibility.

They may applaud his vow that "the dark forces of civil conflict and sectarian war will have to be averted, and difficult political and economic concerns addressed."

But they cannot help but question his continued support of dictatorial allies in the region whose leaders are actively fomenting the very same sectarian divisions.

Such inconsistency – what reporters and opinion writers alike are openly describing as "cynical realpolitik" – will inevitably cause permanent damage to the United States' standing in the new Middle East.

Mr. Obama's speech did nothing to address the inconsistencies in America's response to the so-called "Arab Spring".

And at the meeting of "allies" behind the no-fly zone in London, secretary of state Clinton's declaration that, "it is obvious to everyone that Gaddafi has lost the legitimacy to lead" betrayed irony and hypocrisy in equal measure, since by any reasonable definition of "legitimate" few if any leaders in the Arab world have "legitimacy to lead".

At the same time, by refusing to become a party to the International Criminal Court, the United States undermines the legitimacy of the ICC as a venue for trying Gaddafi for crimes against his people, as allies like Britain have suggested.

Overall, it seems that the United States is still playing by a now outdated script, in which adversaries can be invaded for actions which friends are allowed to continue more or less with impunity. That is no way to run a 21st century foreign policy.

In our frequent travels across the region, we have heard repeatedly from activists and ordinary people alike that they cannot accept American military intervention in one country and acquiescence and perhaps tacit support for crackdowns in others.

Activists in Egypt wait in vain, as Clinton was pointedly told in Cairo in her recent trip, for the US to speak up about the continuation of arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, torture, and emergency rule.

The Shia (as well as their Sunni compatriots) who are struggling for democracy in Bahrain are waiting for some recognition from the United States of the legitimacy of their demands.

The people of Yemen are waiting for the US to stop supporting an unpopular authoritarian president in the name of national security, as are their neighbours to the north, in Saudi Arabia.

Even as those concerned about humanitarian suffering in Libya have cause to hope that the US-led intervention will continue to prevent a major bloodbath, time is quickly running out for US policy more broadly.

The legacy of the Obama administration, and the position of the United States in the world, depend in good measure on whether American foreign policy can align with the peoples of the region and their fundamental human and political rights, which are a far surer guarantor of America's long-term national security than military or petroleum alliances with venal and autocratic leaders.

And whatever his actions in Libya, it seems that Mr. Obama has yet to grasp this very basic fact.

Reza Aslan is founder of and author of No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam.

Mark LeVine is a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine and author, most recently, of Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (Random House 2008) and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009).

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Middle East: Veiled currency criticism voiced by US

Al Jazeera

US raises currency concerns at G20 meeting
Treasury chief calls tightly managed currencies a flaw of the global economy in veiled criticism of meeting hosts China.

The United States treasury secretary has told a G20 meeting that countries should have flexible exchange rates in a thinly veiled attack on China which Washington says is using tight currency controls to gain an economic advantage.

Addressing finance ministers and central bankers in the Chinese city of Nanjing, Timothy Geithner said controlled exchange rate regimes were the flaw of international monetary system.

He called for countries to permit free flows of capital to be major players in the global currency order.

Geithner offered a straightforward diagnosis. While major currencies moved freely and most emerging economies were well along that path, there were still some with little exchange rate flexibility, he said.

He added that this asymmetry fuelled inflation risks in the economies whose exchange rates are undervalued, magnified currency appreciation in others and also generated protectionist pressures.

"This is the most important problem to solve in the international monetary system today. But it is not a complicated problem to solve," Geithner said, according to the prepared text of his remarks.

"It does not require a new treaty, or a new institution. It can be achieved by national actions."

Without mentioning China directly, he said there were still countries that had very tightly controlled currencies.

The Chinese government told participants at the seminar not to mention specific currencies in their speeches and to keep their focus on broader questions in the global monetary system, according to a source attending the meeting.

But Geithner's comments follow accusations levelled by Washington against Beijing of manipulating the yuan by keeping it artificially low in order to give Chinese exporters an unfair advantage.

Broader global problem

The G20 seminar, coming after last October's summit on currency wars in the South Korean city of Gyeongju, was spearheaded by France, which is pushing a reform agenda in its year-long presidency of the group.

The seminar was meant to be focused on ills in the monetary system.

The US has long called on China to let its currency rise more quickly, and last year threatened to expose China as a currency manipulator in its reports released annually by the treasury on currency practices by its major trading partners.

In recent months, Geithner has taken to casting the Chinese currency as a broader global problem, saying that it is making life difficult for other developing economies.

India and Brazil, among others, have agreed, saying that a cheap yuan has undermined their competitiveness.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, weighed in by urging that the yuan should become an international reserve currency.

"It is clear that we must evolve toward a more flexible exchange rate system that will allow us to withstand shocks," Sarkozy said.

There is also a need, he said, for rules and supervision to ensure countries are protected from the excess volatility that can come with liberalised currency trading.

"Now that the crisis is past, the temptation to not act is very strong. If we lose the impetus that we achieved during the crisis then the world will slide inexorably back into instability and crisis."

Washington and other trading partners view China's restrictions on trading in the yuan as a key factor in global economic imbalances such as the large trade and current deficits of many Western nations.

But just before the Nanjing seminar, Beijing signalled its own frustrations with US economic stimulus policies, which the Chinese in turn say are fanning surges in commodity prices.

The Federal Reserve was accused of trying to devalue the dollar when it decided last November to buy $600bn in US government debt.

The move sought to revive an ailing economy by encouraging more borrowing and spending through a policy known as quantative easi

UK: The right's critique of Obama's speech

PJ: Interesting comments from the right...Joe Scarborough's criticism of the left is a little bit like apples and oranges as he insists that the invasion of Iraq was the same as intervening in Libya. What he fails to recognize is that while both Gaddafi and Hussein were brutal dictators, Hussein was not firing on peaceful protesters and threatening a door to door massacre of his own people. During the build up to the Iraq invasion, there was not general unrest in the middle east nor was there an impending refugee crisis that would impact European allies. The Iraq war was built on the false accusation of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" that were being readied to use against Israel and Europe.

And then there's Sarah Palin's comments (recorded here minus the "squirmish"). Having this woman comment on anything of this magnitude is insulting...this is a woman who's shallow understanding of international affairs is so severe that during the 2008 presidential election she did not know what a Bush Doctrine was (even though her running mate and all other Republican presidential contenders gave their take on the Bush Doctrine during a televised Presidential debate only a couple of months earlier).

The most surprising comments came from William Kristol, a conservative who rarely has any words of praise for the President and his policies.

The Guardian

An Obama doctrine or the Bush doctrine by another name?

Obama's arguments for US action in Libya draws scorn from Sarah Palin and comparisons with Bush's foreign policy

Did the world witness the birth of an "Obama doctrine" in the president's speech on Libya? Or is it just a thinly disguised version of George Bush's doctrine?

"It is stunning how similar in tone this speech is to George W Bush's Iraq speeches," was the response of former Republican congressman and TV anchor Joe Scarborough. Later, Scarborough accused Obama's supporters on the left of hypocrisy:

How can the left call for the ouster of Muammar Qadhafi for the sin of killing hundreds of Libyans when it opposed the war waged against Saddam Hussein?

Erick Erickson, the influential Republican blogger, derided Obama's justifications for military action. "Here comes the 'I am George Bush, but I don't want you to think I am George Bush' line," Erickson tweeted mid-speech. But otherwise Erickson was unimpressed:

Obama's doctrine or lack thereof is the foreign policy equivalent of being a little bit pregnant. Wants Gaddafi gone, but no regime change.

Steven Metz, a professor at the US Army War College, heard echoes of Bush's defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Obama's arguments for international participation. "Rumsfeld believed that if the United States minimised its role in the stabilisation and reconstruction of Iraq, other nations would step up," Metz wrote in the New Republic, explaining:

Initially Bush was only addressing the September 11 attacks. The big ideas and the doctrines came later. Only time will tell whether an Obama Doctrine will emerge following this pattern.

Defining the Obama doctrine proved more difficult. Aaron David Miller, a Middle East peace negotiator in the Clinton administration, told the New York Times:

The Obama doctrine is the 'hedge your bets and make sure you have a way out' doctrine. He learned from Afghanistan and Iraq.

On the more immediate question of whether the speech would win support for Obama's action, the president found himself with some unusual supporters.

One was the neoconservative cheerleader William Kristol, editor of the right-wing Weekly Standard, one of a small group of commentators Obama spoke to before his speech:

The president was unapologetic, freedom-agenda-embracing, and didn't shrink from defending the use of force or from appealing to American values and interests. Furthermore, the president seems to understand we have to win in Libya. I think we will.

On the fringes of the Republican party Obama's speech got qualified support from his 2008 opponent, Senator John McCain. But McCain is regarded with deep suspicion by many Republicans, and the party's congressional leaders instead aimed criticism at Obama's actions, saying he hadn't explained the extent and costs of the US's role and failed to gain approval from Congress.

Sarah Palin represented a more mainstream Republican opposition, accusing Obama of a "dodgy" strategy. It was, Palin told Fox News, "full of chaos and questions":

[Obama] did not make the case for this intervention. US interests have got to be met if we are going to intervene. And US interests can't just mean validating some kind of post-American theory of intervention wherein we wait for the Arab League and the United Nations to tell us 'thumbs up America, you can go now, you can act', and then we get in the back of the bus and we wait for Nato, we wait for the French to lead us. That's not inspirational.

At the National Review, unofficial house organ of the Republican right, the discomfort of America's neocons was on display. While they liked military intervention against Gaddafi, they couldn't rush to support a political opponent.

"On paper, I agree with a lot of what Obama is saying," said National Review commentator Jim Geraghty. "But he's stringing together a lot of pretty-sounding phrases without really getting at the questions most skeptical Americans have: why intervene here and not in other places?"

Marc Lynch, director of George Washington University's Institute for Middle East Studies, had an answer: "The fact that Cote d'Ivoire is awful is a terrible reason to oppose intervening to save Libyans from slaughter in Benghazi."

UK: Even with the Senate's March 1st unanamous vote for intervention, many US lawmakers unhappy with intervention

The Guardian

US politicians unhappy with Libya policy despite PR offensive

Briefings from Hillary Clinton and other officials fail to satisfy Congressional critics who want more detail on costs and aims

A private briefing on the US's role in Libya from senior US officials – including secretary of state Hillary Clinton and defence secretary Robert Gates – failed to satisfy critics in Congress, complaining that the administration remained vague about its plans and aims.

Others said after the closed-door meeting that the White House showed no interest in seeking congressional backing for the US military action in Libya, despite the mounting cost and open-ended commitment.

Asked if the president needed Congressional approval for its use of the military – under the terms of the constitution and the War Powers Act – Hillary Clinton is said to have replied that the administration's lawyers didn't think it was necessary, and that the administration had no plans to do so.

Members of the House of Representatives also said they were not told anything about the president's order to allow covert action in Libya – as news of the order was broken by Reuters – during the meeting, which included Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and James Clapper, director of national intelligence, who compared the rebel forces to a "pick-up basketball team".

Dan Burton, a Republican member of the House foreign affairs committee, wasn't reassured after the briefing.

"[If] we get rid of Gaddafi, who's going to lead? Who's going to be in charge over there? Is it going to be people who have been against us from the outset? Are we supporting people like the Muslim Brotherhood or al-Qaida or the Taliban?" Burton told journalists.

Despite persistent questions from the politicians, the officials refused to say when a decision to supply arms to the anti-Gaddafi forces might be made.

Adam Smith, a Democratic congressman from Washington and a member of the House armed services committee, said the briefing did not contain much information about the future in Libya.

"The main question I have is going forward, do we arm the rebels, what happens if Gaddafi holds on, what is our next move," Smith told the Associated Press. "I think we have to figure out who exactly we would be arming. There are a lot of different rebel groups. I think we need greater intelligence on who is on the ground."

Earl Blumenauer, a Democratic representative from Oregon, said the meeting was told that the military action would cost the US about $40m a month, on top of the $550m the US has spent so far, but could go higher.

"They're absolutely committed to keeping the US role limited. Nobody is making guarantees we'll be out in two weeks," Blumenauer said.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Middle East: Opinion: Brazil takes exception to US Libya role

Al Jazeera


Brazil stares down the US on Libya
Tensions over Middle East policy are increasing, despite Barack Obama's recent visit to Latin America.
By Greg Grandin

At some point in the run-up to Barack Obama’s just concluded tour of Latin America, which included stops in Brazil, Chile, and El Salvador, the US press decided that coverage of the trip would focus on expected friendly meeting with Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's recently inaugurated president.

The Washington Post, the New York Times, and National Public Radio, along with a host of other newspapers, cable news commentators, and blogs, all predicted that Obama, the US's first African American president, and Rousseff, Brazil's first woman leader, would find common ground, reversing the deterioration of diplomatic relations that had begun under Rousseff's predecessor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

The bad blood started, or so the story went, when Lula refused to listen to the administration of George W. Bush and isolate Venezuela's populist leader, Hugo Chávez. Before long, Brasilia was opposing or, worse, offering alternatives to Washington's position on a growing number of issues: climate change, opposition to the 2009 coup in Honduras, Cuba, trade and tariffs.

Lula declined to criticise Iran and opened up a separate negotiating channel, outside of Washington's influence and much to its annoyance, with Tehran to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Differences on Middle East

The former Brazilian president also welcomed the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas to Brazil, leading the rest of Latin America to recognise the Palestinian state and calling for direct talks with Hamas and Hezbollah.

Various explanations were posited in the US press for Lula's behavior, which, for a Latin American leader, was unprecedented considering the historically subservient role Latin America has long played to Washington. At times it was described as a personality disorder, a striving for attention on the world stage; at other moments it was explained away as Lula's need to play to his party's rank and file, which, apparently, always enjoys a good tweaking of the US's nose.

In any case, Obama's visit just after Dilma's election offered a chance for a reset. Rousseff, it was reported, would be eager to use the trip to distance herself from her political patron, Lula. Though she was a member of a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla organisation opposing a US-backed dictatorship during her youth in the 1970s, Brazil's new leader had, according to the Washington Post, a "practical approach to governance and foreign relations after eight years of the flamboyant Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva".

"She's a different person and has a different style," remarked the chairman of Goldman Sachs asset management.

She was "warm" and would welcome Obama cordially (has it really gotten to the point where the US, which for decades presided imperiously over the international community, is today just happy that foreign leaders aren’t rude when its presidents come calling?). Nearly all major news and opinion sources thought that she would be more accommodating to Washington's concerns than her predecessor, in Latin America but especially in the Middle East.

Unfortunately for Washington the reality has departed from the narrative. Brazil, under Rousseff, continues largely to follow its own diplomatic lights.

Libya and the UN

Even before Obama landed in Rio, Brazil, as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, joined with China and Germany to abstain from the vote authorising "all necessary measures" against Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

Since then, its opposition to the bombing has hardened. According to the Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), Brazil's foreign ministry – still, for the most part, staffed by the diplomats who charted Lula's foreign policy – recently issued a statement condemning the loss of civilian lives and calling for the start of dialogue.

Lula himself has endorsed Dilma's critical position on Libya, going further in his condemnation of the intervention: "These invasions only happen because the United Nations is weak," he said. "If we had twenty-first-century representation [in the Security Council], instead of sending a plane to drop bombs, the UN would send its secretary-general to negotiate."

His remarks were widely interpreted to mean that if Brazil had been a permanent member of the Security Council – a position it has long sought – it would have vetoed the resolution authorising the bombing rather than, as it did, merely abstaining from the vote.

These comments were the first indication that the ex-president, still enormously popular and influential in Brazil, planned to continue to openly weigh in on his successor’s foreign policy.

Argentina and Uruguay likewise have voiced strong disapproval of the intervention. On one level, this censure reflects Latin America's commitment to the ideal of non-intervention and absolute sovereignty. But on another, less elevated and more commonsensical level, it reflects a belief that the diplomatic community needs to return to a standard in which war is the last rather than the first response to crisis.

"This attack [on Libya] implies a setback in the current international order," IPS reports Uruguayan President José Mujica as saying. "The remedy is much worse than the illness. This business of saving lives by bombing is an inexplicable contradiction."

Social inclusion vs IMF demands

On other important issues as well, Brazil continues push back against Washington.

The US-controlled International Monetary Fund (IMF), for example, is demanding that Brazil, one of the world's fastest growing economies, calm bond market concerns about inflation by reining in social spending.

Dilma's economic team has so far balked. It argues instead that inflation can be controlled by government regulation of "hot money," that is, the ability of foreign capital to place speculative bets on, and reap enormous profits off of, Brazil’s currency.

This might sound a bit technocratic, but it is in fact a big obstacle to the IMF's bid to restore its lost role as what economist Mark Weisbrot has described as a "creditor’s cartel" in Latin America, the chief mechanism through which Washington imposes "discipline" on economies, like Brazil's, that shows too much independence.

Likewise, Brazil continues to be the main obstacle to jumpstarting the Doha Round of the world trade talks, demanding that the US and Europe lower tariffs to the products and commodities of the developing world. While graciously hosting the US president, Rousseff nonetheless strongly criticized Washington’s ability to preach free trade while practicing protectionism, demanding that the US open its markets to Brazilian imports such as ethanol, steel, and orange juice.

However "warm," "practical," or "cordial" Dilma, Brazil’s first woman president, may be, she'll be no push over when it comes to matters of war, peace, and economics.

Greg Grandin is a professor of history at New York University and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of a number of prize-winning books, including most recently, Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City (Metropolitan 2009), which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in History, as well as for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Middle East: Lebanon: Time for Obama to talk with Hezbollah


Time for Nassrallah and Obama to talk?
“Just maybe!” hints the latest National Intelligence Estimate (NIE)
By Franklin Lamb

An experienced Washington Post columnist, David Ignatius, to his credit not among the most biased Israeli Hasbara spewers from the Zionist daily, dropped by our Hezbollah neighborhood known as Dahiyeh the other day. During a hour meeting with Hezbollah Foreign Relations Officer Ammar Mousawi and his brilliant assistant, and friend to many Americans, English Literature scholar Hussein Haider, the WP reporter came away apparently impressed with the quality of the discussion with the Lebanese political party that Israeli President Shimon Peres claims “is now Lebanon!” Visiting Westerners are regularly surprised to learn firsthand that Hezbollah, the new majority party in Lebanon whose imprimatur will be stamped on all major Lebanese government decisions, including, enshallah (God willing), without any more nonsense, the internationally mandated civil right to work and to own a home for Lebanon’s quarter million Palestinian refugees, bears no resemblance to the past quarter century of Zionist Fox News- US Main Stream Media portrayal.

But then, western epiphanies in Dahiyeh are old news.

Like many observers of Lebanon’s new majority, Ignatius apparently wondered about the possibility of some sort of high level direct dialogue between Hezbollah and the Obama administration given the continuing US skid and waning influence in the region and the dramatic rise of Hezbollah and its allies against the backdrop of the Islamic-Arab Awakening that may be in just its early stages. So, as seems to happen every couple of years recently, an alert journalist makes contact with the US Intelligence Community and grist is offered for an intriguing column that the US might anoint for dialogue the ”political wing” of Hezbollah as distinct from the “military wing” since the Party does not act much like a “terrorist organization” should.

The “separate wings” concept is a fiction of course as there is no totally separate political-military command division within Hezbollah. There are many departments and units that do specialized work on health care, education, urban and environmental planning, post war reconstruction and fourteen other social service focused tasks. Specialized units keep an eye on the blue line and prepare to confront Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The party is generally unified in its decision making following sometimes freewheeling “best expert argument wins” debates as part of its almost Leninist ‘democratic centralism’ model with the buck stopping with the 7 member Shura or Executive Council. The Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah has significant power but he acts for and answers to the Shura and lacks the typical absolute authority of collapsing Arab despots.

The “good wing-bad wing” pretense is favored by some in the US Intelligence Community as it allows political cover for desired engagement much as was the case for other ‘terrorist’ groups such as the PLO, the ANC and the IRA. For that reason John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism adviser recently discussed the new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Hezbollah that is nearing completion, with ‘draft ideas’ being circulated to key Members of Congress and AIPAC.

According to Congressional sources, the White House, has zero interest in attacking Iran and believes that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah is someone the US “can do business with.” Given Nasrallah’s admirers in Tehran, and his mass popular appeal in this region, some of the NIE drafters and White House staffers think Nasrallah could help with at least some US-Iranian antagonisms.

As Israel and its Arab collaborators quake as Iran ascends in the region, the future determinate of Middle East Peace will be US Iranian relations”, according to a US Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, who added: “Many in Washington think we can work with Iran and Nasrallah could perhaps help both of us immeasurably.”

The same source opined that the White House appears split down the middle whether to seek direct contact with Hezbollah with some close Obama aides arguing that times are changing in the Middle East and maybe US policy should too following a decade of trillion dollar a year wars with nothing but carnage and US economy ruining deficits to show for them. Obama aids are said to favor a regional approach that has already led to two U.S.-sponsored meetings on Afghanistan that included Iranian representatives – one in Rome last year and one in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 3/3/11.

Opposed to this view is the Foreign Policy establishment which, committed to Israel, does not care much who is president as they always stay in power and exist in the form of the Council on Foreign Relations and other non-elected, self-appointed and auto-replenished guardians of American foreign policy. Their view, expressed this week by Tommy Vietor, the National Security Council spokesman, is still mired in: “on the political level, there can be no dialogue with Hezbollah because it is a terrorist organization creating instability in the Middle East.”

Dialogue with political adversaries is a well-known hallmark of Hezbollah and some have suggested that Hassan Nasrralah and Barack Obama might have a fascinating private tete a tete given many shared life experiences and outlooks including work as community organizers, inclusive outreach advocates, multiculturalists, bright and broad minded progressive thinkers not much attracted to acceptance of stereotyping or political shibboleths.

Truth claimed, Congressional sources report that Obama, and his friend US Senate Foreign Relations Committee John Kerrey (D-Mass.) are fascinated with Nassrallah. On the other hand, having been publically humiliated three times by Israel’s Netanyahu, Obama reportedly finds the latter intransigent, lacking any interest in a just peace in Palestine and fixated only in building illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land. At the same time finding Netanyahu personally obnoxious. Nasrallah might agree.

Some of the 16 Intelligence Agencies that comprise the US Intelligence Community are discussing the prospects, in the context of the expanding Middle East uprising, that the single obstacle to normalizing relations between the US and the Middle East, the continued occupation of Palestine by the 19th Century Zionist Colonial Enterprise, may be resolved, perhaps sooner than later. Some Israeli leaders reportedly concede privately that with the rising youth fuelled rebellions toppling US-Israeli backed despots the freedom tsunami might not ebb until Palestine is restored.

There remains some heavy baggage around potential “let bygones be bygones” discussion between Dahiyeh and Washington. During its 29 year history Hezbollah has had multiple indirect contacts with US administrations via Lebanese politicians, PLO figures, and European diplomats and even today, with Western countries queuing for dialogue with Hezbollah, understanding mutual US-Lebanese resistance problems is no mystery. The issues are clear.

While conceding that White House-Dahiyeh talks, based on mutual respect, could be historic, nevertheless neighborhood contacts suggest that there is a de facto condition precedent to meaningful dialogue. It includes a political ceasefire from Washington.

Since the 1992 Lebanese elections when Hezbollah decided to participate in governing Lebanon, but even before, the American administration has waged with Israel, a continual campaign against the Lebanese resistance for one reason. Hezbollah’s opposition to the theft of Palestine and the movements pledge to help return Palestine to its rightful inhabitants. The same pledge millions of American and Western human rights advocates have taken and continue to pursue with increased solidarity during this Arab Spring.

Hezbollah has been incessantly targeted by Washington accusing it, without proof of “terrorism” and sometimes, even conceding US errors such as the admitted March 8, 1985 CIA ordered assassination of the erroneously identified “Hezbollah leader”, the late humanist, Mohammad Hussein Fadallah. Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah escaped death, but more than 60 Lebanese civilians were slaughtered and more than 250 wounded outside his Hussayneyeh (Mosque) near my current home.

After more than half the past decade of launching various anti-Hezbollah schemes, the Jeffrey Feltman team has made clear that its pressure on Lebanon’s new majority is just getting started. Analyst’s across the political spectrum in Lebanon claim they have never witnessed such intense sectarian strife and vitriol as has been unleashed since the collapsed of the pro-US March 14 government last January.

Last week the US Treasury Departments reminded Lebanon of its skill at interfering with international banking and sent a warning that Lebanon’s banks were “on limits for scrutiny.” It hinted that a run on the banks from Gulf money could be expected. Among those it seeks to intimidate is Lebanon’s richest businessman, Nijab Miqati who Hezbollah helped choose for Prime Minister. Washington claims that some Lebanese banks laundry money for Hezbollah and allow Iran to avoid US sanctions while helping to fund the Resistance. Current US Ambassador Maury Connelly told the media that the US actions “were part of the U.S. Treasury's global effort, under Section 311 of the Patriot Act to protect the U.S. financial sector from illicit activities. Lebanon's Central Bank Governor, Riad Salameh Central Bank fired back that Lebanon’s banks abide by all national and international regulations and that the US should offer proof otherwise if it has any.

The Feltman teams: “It’s us or Nasrallah-it’s the US or Iran running Lebanon!” attitude has been exposed yet again by the publication of a bundle of Wilklikeaks Beirut Embassy cables, this past week.

The diplomatic cables confirm is that the US Embassy functioned as a virtual Israeli operations center during the July 2006 war and has saturated Lebanon with more intelligence and political penetrations than perhaps any country in the region, except Iraq.

During the July 2006 war, US embassy staff, led by Feltman who functioned as a kind of ‘godfather’ for Hezbollah’s detractors, received countless pro-Israeli consigliere as they executed plans how to best manage the war for Israel while protecting their own business and sectarian interests.

On the degree to which some Arab leaders, in this case Bahrain, and its ambassador, Houda Ezra Nonoo, are collaborating with Israel while publicly pledging brotherly support for the Arabs “ central cause”, Palestine, a recent report is instructive

Feltman, the cables make plain, personally instructed Washington to tell Israel not to bomb bridges in what he derisively called “Maronistan areas” because that would weaken Christian support for Israel and affect logistics for US Embassy “staff” in Awkar. Embassy Beirut apparently had no problem with Israel carpeting bombing south Beirut, with American weapons, endangering Shatila and Burj al Barajneh Palestinian Camps around the Bir Hassan neighborhood which includes the ‘little Tehran’ neighborhood with Iranian media outlets and the Iranian Embassy.

Five days after the July 2006 war was launched Embassy cables to Washington which were immediately passed to Israel document: “The Ambassador asked Jumblatt what Israel should do to cause serious damage to Hezbollah. Jumblatt replied that Israel is still in the mindset of fighting classic battles with Arab armies. “You can’t win this kind of war with zero dead,” he said. Jumblatt finally said what he meant; Israel will have to invade southern Lebanon. Israel must be careful to avoid massacres, but it should clear Hezbollah out of southern Lebanon”. (July 17, 2006)

On August 5, Assistant Secretary David Welch and Ambassador Feltman met with a more than a dozen Christian leaders from the anti-Syria March 14 movement, The Embassy cable read: “While claiming to be fully supportive of Prime Minister Siniora’s call for a ceasefire, they are troubled that the current conflict might leave Hezbollah in a stronger position within Lebanon than at the beginning. The Lebanese government will need to be in a position of strength to deal with Hezbollah once the conflict is over, the leaders argued. To this end, they would support a continuation of the Israeli bombing campaign for a week or two if this were to diminish seriously Hezbollah’s strength on the ground….Claiming to reflect PM Siniora’s private thoughts, several of the assembled leaders urged that Hezbollah be given a “real pounding” by the Israelis to the point that the group would be “soft enough to listen to reason.” According to Boutros Harb, ( Ed: one of the anti-Palestinian Cabinet Ministers who prevented Palestinians from obtaining the internationally mandated Right to Work and Home Ownership on August 17, 2010) “if we are convinced that Israel can finish the job, then we can allow a few more weeks,”( Ed: of slaughter) though the consensus seemed to rest between seven to ten days. If on the other hand Hezbollah were to emerge emboldened with a perceived sense of victory, “that would be a disaster.” (August 7, 2006)

Another leaked Embassy Beirut cable: “Asking that his comments be kept close-hold, Saad Hariri whispered that, “We need to remove Lahoud, (LAF commander Michel) Sleiman, and (Head of the G2 army intelligence) George Khoury. They are in bed with Syria. They are in bed with Hezbollah.” While Hariri hopes to eventually recruit Nabih Berri’s critical support to achieve this, he asked that international pressure on Iran and Syria continues unabated.” (August 12, 2006)

This close coordination with Israel during its July 2006 War on Lebanon which slaughtered more than 1,400 and wounded thousands, represented a rogue US government view of “noninterference in the internal affairs of Lebanon.” These strategy sessions, and a long list of other actions by some claiming to represent the American people in Lebanon has raised serious questions about the diplomatic status of Embassy Beirut and whether Embassy Beirut serves the American people or Israel. According to Lebanese Human Rights Ambassador Ali Khalil, “Israel has an Embassy in Lebanon representing its interests. The American people do not.”

Yet another serious allegation that the Feltman team corrupted the Special Tribunal of Lebanon has been leveled by As Safir a Lebanese daily in its 3/23/11 edition. According to its investigative report, the US sought to use the indictment of the STL to back Caretaker Premier Saad Hariri after his government was toppled by the Hezbollah-led alliance, and to bring Hariri back to power while sidelining Hezbollah. The US plan was to have the STL issue the indictment after STL Prosecutor Daniel Bellemare filed an amended indictment earlier in the month for confirmation by pre-trial judge Danial Fransen. But developments in the Arab world, including the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's regime “thwarted the US plan to issue the indictment as a prelude to a change in the political balance of power in Lebanon with Feltman’s team concluding that the release of the indictment at this stage would have made it ineffective amid the ongoing Arab Awakening turmoil. Moreover, western diplomats informed March 14 officials that any STL indictment and Lebanon are currently at the bottom of their priority list, hinting that the release of the charges could be delayed for several months.

If true, this latest US action alone would destroy any remaining STL credibility as such a political corruption fundamentally violates UNSCR 1757.

Perhaps it is the above described US government campaign that is one of the reasons that Hezbollah contacts, in principle, genuinely interested in dialogue, feel the timing is not yet quite right.

Hassan Nassrallah, speaking on 3/19/11 to our neighborhood gathering in support of the Arab Spring Awakening, repeated Hezbollah’s position: “We will have something constructive to talk about and call for normalizing relations with the Americans once the US administration changes its policy on Palestine. We will reevaluate our stance on the United States' policies when it changes its stance on Palestine."

One neighbor, a fan of Kenny Rodgers as Jeffrey Feltman is said to be, put it this way to me: “We in Hezbollah know when to hold em and when to fold em. For now Hezbollah best hold our cards. There will be time enough for talking when the dealings done.”

* Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and can be reached c/o\2011\03\03-28\zopinionz\960.htm&dismode=x&ts=28-3-2011%2017:11:54

China: China rising as science power, overtaking US

PJ: Hence the reason for President Obama's education initiatives?

The People's Daily

China 'to overtake US on science' in two years
China's surge in progress could soon overwhelm the US, say experts

From BBC report----

China is on course to overtake the US in scientific output possibly as soon as 2013 - far earlier than expected.

That is the conclusion of a major new study by the Royal Society, the UK's national science academy.

The country that invented the compass, gunpowder, paper and printing is set for a globally important comeback.

An analysis of published research - one of the key measures of scientific effort - reveals an "especially striking" rise by Chinese science.

The study, Knowledge, Networks and Nations, charts the challenge to the traditional dominance of the United States, Europe and Japan.

The figures are based on the papers published in recognised international journals listed by the Scopus service of the publishers Elsevier.

In 1996, the first year of the analysis, the US published 292,513 papers - more 10 times China's 25,474.

By 2008, the US total had increased very slightly to 316,317 while China's had surged more than seven-fold to 184,080.

Previous estimates for the rate of expansion of Chinese science had suggested that China might overtake the US sometime after 2020.

But this study shows that China, after displacing the UK as the world's second leading producer of research, could go on to overtake America in as little as two years' time.

"Projections vary, but a simple linear interpretation of Elsevier's publishing data suggests that this could take place as early as 2013," it says.

Professor Sir Chris Llewellyn Smith, chair of the report, said he was "not surprised" by this increase because of China's massive boost to investment in R&D.

Chinese spending has grown by 20% per year since 1999, now reaching over $100bn, and as many as 1.5 million science and engineering students graduated from Chinese universities in 2006.

"I think this is positive, of great benefit, though some might see it as a threat and it does serve as a wake-up call for us not to become complacent."

The report stresses that American research output will not decline in absolute terms and raises the possibility of countries like Japan and France rising to meet the Chinese challenge.

"But the potential for China to match American output in terms of sheer numbers in the near to medium term is clear."

The authors describe "dramatic" changes in the global scientific landscape and warn that this has implications for a nation's competitiveness.

According to the report, "The scientific league tables are not just about prestige - they are a barometer of a country's ability to compete on the world stage".

Along with the growth of the Chinese economy, this is yet another indicator of China's extraordinarily rapid rise as a global force.

China: Libyan rebels plead for Western help

People's Daily

Libya rebels shout: 'Sarkozy, where are you?'

Libyan rebels, desperate to oust Moammar Gadhafi from power but facing stronger firepower from Libyan government forces, appealed for more air support from its NATO allies.

The Associated Press reported Colonel Gadhafi's forces were hammering rebels with tanks and rockets, forcing rebel forces to flee the battlefield. Rebel fighters pleaded for air strikes as they fled Bin Jawwad where artillery shells exploded thunderously yesterday.

There are reports overnight indicating the rebel forces were fleeing from Brega and Ras Lanouf. Aspiring for air support from its foreign allies, some rebels were heard shouting: "Sarkozy, where are you? "— a reference to French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the strongest supporters of using air power against Colonel Gadhafi.

Paris also was the first foreign government to admit legality of the Libyan rebel government, set up in the eastern coastal city of Benghazi.

Meanwhile, NATO's leaders meeting in London agreed that Gadhafi should step down from power but have yet to decide what additional pressure to put on him, The AP report said.

"Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to lead, so we believe he must go," said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

France Defense Minister Gerard Longuet told France-Inter radio that Paris and London believe that the NATO's military campaign in Libya "must obtain more" than stopping Gadhafi's loyalists from "shooting at civilians".

And, British prime minister David Cameron and France's Sarkozy urged Gadhafi loyalists to abandon him and side with the rebels — effectively pinning hopes on a palace coup to oust Gadhafi.

The rout of the rebels Tuesday illustrated how much they rely on international air power, said The Associated Press report.

Only a day earlier, they had been storming westward in hopes of taking Sirte, Gadhafi's hometown in central Libya. They reached within 100 kilometers of the city before they were hit hard by barrages of rocket and tank fire from Colonel Gadhafi's government forces.

"If they keep shelling like this, we'll need air-strikes," said Mohammed Bujildein, a 27-year-old rebel fighter. He was gnawing on a loaf of bread in a pickup truck with a mounted anti-aircraft gun, waiting to fill up from an abandoned gas tanker truck on the eastern side of Ras Lanouf.

With international strikes, he boasted, "we'll be in Sirte tomorrow evening."

And, Chris Stevens, former U.S. envoy to Tripoli, will travel to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the coming days to establish better ties with rebel groups seeking to oust Gadhafi, The AP report said.

By People's Daily Online

Mexico: US commited to Drug War

The News

Feeley: US will not quit

John Feeley, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the United States Embassy to Mexico, said on Tuesday that the U.S. government would not abandon the fight against drug trafficking and organized crime.

“We are doing a lot. Obviously, the dimension of the problem is great, but we will not give up and we will continue working closely with the (Mexican) government,” Feeley said.

He said that Mexico lost a great friend when Carlos Pascual resigned his position as ambassador, but this situation will not affect the bilateral relationship.

Regarding the Merida Initiative, Feeley said that this strategy was not a U.S. plan, it was a joint plan stemming from President Felipe Calderón’s decision to tackle criminal organizations.

Feeley said the United States has not stopped fighting organized crime. Furthermore, the U.S. government has been fighting members of Mexican cartels “who are distributing drugs and poisoning the youth” in at least 230 U.S. cities

Mexico has also played its part by launching actions against human trafficking and by guaranteeing the human rights of immigrants, Feeley added.

UK: The Obama Doctrine

PJ: In the first paragraph of this article, the author highlights a common criticism facing the President in that he did not seek the approval of Congress before committing the US to military intervention in Libya. What the author fails to note, and what the critics fail to remember, is that the US Senate voted unanimously in support of a resolution calling for a no-fly zone as well as UN intervention on March 1, 2011 (weeks before President Obama and the multinational coalition took action). You can read more about that resolution here:

and watch a quick video about the criticism and resolution here: .

The Economist

The birth of an Obama doctrine
Mar 28th 2011, 23:37 by Lexington

"Born, as we are, out of a revolution by those who longed to be free, we welcome the fact that history is on the move in the Middle East and North Africa, and that young people are leading the way. Because wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States. Ultimately, it is that faith – those ideals – that are the true measure of American leadership."

THUS President Barack Obama tonight, speaking to the American people directly for the first time since launching Operation Odyssey Dawn and unleashing American missiles in Libya. He had received a great deal of criticism—for “dithering”, for failing to consult Congress, for going too far and doing too little. Now he has answered back—and provided, at the same time, the clearest explanation so far of an “Obama doctrine” of humanitarian military intervention.

Far from “dithering”, goes the White House line, pushed subtly in the speech and explicitly in briefings by senior officials, Mr Obama’s handling of the Libyan crisis has been “relatively extraordinary”. He has in a mere 31 days since the protests started imposed powerful sanctions, frozen Colonel Qaddafi’s assets, secured a robust Security Council resolution, organised an international coalition, executed a near-flawless military campaign, rolled Colonel Qaddafi’s forces back to the west, taken out the colonel’s air defences and knocked out a good deal of his ground forces. All this has been done without having to put American boots on the ground, without American military casualties and with precious few Libyan civilian casualties. Better still, with all this now done, America’s own contribution can decline, NATO can assume command (under an American general but with a Canadian deputy) and the European allies will take on more of the burden. Compare that, say senior administration officials, to the years it took to intervene in Bosnia in the 1990s.

To those hyper-realists who ask why it was necessary for America to entangle itself in Libya at all, the president’s answer appears to run as follows. First, he will never hesitate to use military power, unilaterally if necessary, in defence of the nation’s core interests. No such core interests were at risk in Libya, but some interests were. For example, the unrest in Libya might have disrupted the far more consequential democratic revolutions in Tunisia and especially Egypt, where America has a good deal more at stake. Moreover, it would not have been right to turn a blind eye to the possibility of Colonel Qaddafi carrying out his blood-curdling threats to show “no mercy” to the inhabitants of Benghazi. In such cases, however, it makes powerful sense, when possible, for America to share the burden with allies under the authority of the United Nations. This is how he put it in his speech:

"It is true that America cannot use our military wherever repression occurs. And given the costs and risks of intervention, we must always measure our interests against the need for action. But that cannot be an argument for never acting on behalf of what’s right. In this particular country – Libya; at this particular moment, we were faced with the prospect of violence on a horrific scale. We had a unique ability to stop that violence: an international mandate for action, a broad coalition prepared to join us, the support of Arab countries, and a plea for help from the Libyan people themselves. We also had the ability to stop Qaddafi’s forces in their tracks without putting American troops on the ground. To brush aside America’s responsibility as a leader and – more profoundly – our responsibilities to our fellow human beings under such circumstances would have been a betrayal of who we are. Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. The United States of America is different. And as President, I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action."

To critics on the opposite side of the argument, who ask why Mr Obama does not just finish the job by killing the colonel himself, the White House’s answer is that this would not only exceed the mandate of UN Resolution 1973, which calls only for protecting the civilian population, but risk splintering an artfully assembled alliance. That would leave America “owning” the resulting mess. The administration acknowledges that the denouement in Libya is likely to be messy anyway, but would prefer an internationalised mess to one for which America alone is held responsible. Might this American restraint enable Colonel Qaddafi to hang on for months, even longer, in spite of all the other efforts to squeeze and isolate him? Perhaps: but even if he holds out in some bunker in Tripoli, surrounded by human shields, the White House does not see how he could continue to govern Libya in any practical sense.

Another criticism of Mr Obama is that his policy is inconsistent. Why batter Colonel Qaddafi and not intervene on the side of the opposition in Yemen, Bahrain, perhaps even Syria? Mr Obama is thought to be preparing another speech, some time in the next month or two, that will set out his broader thinking on what the Arab awakening means to Arabs and the wider world, and spell out how America might be able to help nudge it in a favourable direction. Yet the president plainly believes that there are so many variables in the present fast-moving circumstances that it is not possible to adopt a single doctrine that fits each case. Bahrain has cracked down forcibly on the opposition but not in the manner of a Qaddafi—and both America, with its naval base, and Saudi Arabia have a powerful strategic interest in the country. Ditto Yemen, a hodge-podge of tribes and factions with a dangerous al-Qaeda presence.

Until Mr Obama gives his larger speech on the significance of the Arab awakening, much of the White House’s focus will continue to be on developments on the ground in Libya. The next tactical steps are supposedly to be decided by the wider alliance talks taking place this week in London. But senior White House officials say that they will continue to push for military action against the colonel’s military forces whenever they can be construed to be posing a threat to the civilian population. The United States is already in direct contact with the opposition forces, who will also be represented in London. Though not yet ready to recognise them as the Libyans’ legitimate government (as the French already have), it is edging in this direction. Crucially, the administration does not think that Resolution 1973 prevents outsiders from arming the opposition. Mr Obama described the next steps like this:

"As the bulk of our military effort ratchets down, what we can do – and will do – is support the aspirations of the Libyan people. We have intervened to stop a massacre, and we will work with our allies and partners as they’re in the lead to maintain the safety of civilians. We will deny the regime arms, cut off its supply of cash, assist the opposition, and work with other nations to hasten the day when Qaddafi leaves power. It may not happen overnight, as a badly weakened Qaddafi tries desperately to hang on to power. But it should be clear to those around Qaddafi, and to every Libyan, that history is not on his side. With the time and space that we have provided for the Libyan people, they will be able to determine their own destiny, and that is how it should be."

It is a good case—and it was a good speech. If Colonel Qaddafi is swept quickly from power, or reduced to impotence in some bunker, nobody will care very much about the manner in which Mr Obama put together his alliance and campaign. It might indeed be remembered as an extraordinary foreign-policy success. After the rescue of Kuwait in 1991, however, the first President George Bush also expected Saddam Hussein's regime to collapse in short order. Mr Obama's team says the circumstances this time are entirely different. They had better be right.

Middle East: World considers sending arms to Libya rebels


Libyan rebels scatter, world mulls sending arms

Loyalist forces overran the Libyan oil town of Ras Lanuf on Wednesday, scattering outgunned rebels as world powers debated arming the rag-tag band of fighters seeking to oust Muammaer Gaddafi.

Reporters quoting rebel fighters said Gaddafi's troops swept through Ras Lanuf, strategic for its oil refinery, blazing away with tanks and heavy artillery fire soon after dawn.

Panicked rebels fled in their hundreds through Uqayla, 20 kilometres (12 miles) east of Ras Lanuf, calling for coalition air strikes on Gaddafi's forces.

"We want the French to bomb the (Gaddafi) soldiers," said fighter Ali Atia al-Faturi, as the sound of shelling and gunfire grew louder. Hundreds of cars and pickup trucks sped from Uqayla towards Brega, the next main town, some 240 kilometres (150 miles) south of the rebel stronghold Benghazi.

"We are facing a big problem. We are pulling back," said another one fighter, Salama Dadida

"Gaddafi's troops are firing rockets and tank shells," he said.

On Tuesday the rebels came within 100 km of Sirte, the strongman's hometown, before encountering fierce resistance which reversed an advance launched when Britain, France and the United States started UN-mandated air strikes on March 19.

Under barrages of artillery fire, rebel fighters stampeded down the coastal road in clouds of dust, many fleeing aboard pickup trucks.

They huddled down in Ras Lanuf overnight but soon after dawn Gaddafi's forces launched their onslaught.

Paris has not ruled out arming the rebels and Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said at a London conference on Tuesday that France is prepared to hold discussions on the issue.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday said Moscow believed that foreign powers did not have the right to arm the rebels under the mandate approved by the UN Security Council.

"Recently, the French foreign minister said France was prepared to discuss with its coalition partners the supply of arms for the Libyan opposition," Lavrov told reporters in reference to Tuesday's London conference on the crisis.

"Immediately thereafter, the NATO Secretary General Fogh Rasmussen declared that the operation in Libya was being staged to protect the population and not to arm it -- and here, we completely agree with the NATO Secretary General."

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that although UN sanctions prohibit the delivery of arms to Libya, the ban no longer applies.

"It is our interpretation that (UN Security Council resolution) 1973 amended or overrode the absolute prohibition on arms to anyone in Libya, so that there could be a legitimate transfer of arms if a country should choose to do that," she said.

A spokesman for the rebel Transitional National Council, Mustafa Ghuriani, told reporters in the Benghazi "it would be naive to think we are not arming ourselves" to match the weaponry deployed by Gaddafi loyalists.

But he declined to confirm or deny that France and the United States were offering to supply arms, saying only that unspecified "friendly nations" were backing the rebels.

NATO's top commander revealed that there was no alliance representative on the ground in Libya to work with rebel forces and that he had no orders to supply the opposition with weapons.

Admiral James Stavridis also said the alliance was working to get a clearer picture of the opposition, amid intelligence reports showing "flickers" of a possible Al-Qaeda presence.

US President Barack Obama, who has laid out a moral imperative for protecting Libyan civilians caught in the battle, also said he did not rule out arming the rebels.

"I'm not ruling it out. But I'm also not ruling it in. We're still making an assessment partly about what Gaddafi's forces are going to be doing," Obama said.

Obama said the "noose" was tightening around the Libyan strongman, but noted that Gaddafi did not appear to be seeking to negotiate an exit from Libya yet, despite the bombardment of his forces.

But he added he believed Gaddafi would eventually quit.

"Our expectation is that as we continue to apply steady pressure, not only militarily but also through these other means, that Gaddafi will ultimately step down," he said.

Loud explosions rocked the Libyan capital Tripoli late Tuesday close to Gaddafi's tightly guarded residence and military targets in the suburb of Tajura were also hit, a correspondent reported.

Western powers have called for Gaddafi to go, angering the eccentric leader, who issued a defiant letter likening the NATO-led strikes to the military campaigns launched by Adolf Hitler during World War II.

"Stop your barbaric, unjust offensive on Libya," he said in the letter. "Leave Libya for the Libyans. You are committing genocide against a peaceful people and a developing nation."

But opening the London talks, Cameron said the air strikes were helping to protect civilians from "murderous attacks" by Gaddafi's forces especially in the western rebel-held town of Misrata.

"Gaddafi is using snipers to shoot them down and let them bleed to death in the street," Cameron told the conference.

Tanks and troops loyal to Gaddafi stormed Misrata on Tuesday, firing shells as they attacked Libya's third city, 214 kilometres (132 miles) east of Tripoli, a rebel spokesman said. He warned of a "massacre" ahead.

A doctor in the city said 142 people had been killed and 1,400 wounded since March 18.

More than 40 nations and organisations gathered in London agreed to create a contact group to map out a future for Libya and to meet again as soon as possible in the Arab state of Qatar.

A rebel envoy, Mahmud Jibril, met on the sidelines with western foreign ministers.

"A consensus has been reached, participants at the meeting unanimously said that Gaddafi must leave the country," Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said.

Cameron and Clinton said the allied air strikes would go on until the Libyan leader met UN demands for a ceasefire.