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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

EU-NATO obstacles;"Will" on Cyprus;Kosovo fugitive;Merkel on Terror;Cholera,Haiti;Int'l Adoptions;Christians clash,Egypt

When NATO leaders met for dinner last Friday night in Lisbon, there was little opportunity for small talk. Although the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, had persuaded all 28 leaders at the summit meeting to agree to a new Strategic Concept for the Alliance, a U.S. missile shield for Europe and a fresh start between NATO and Russia, there was one unresolved issue that dominated most of the two-and-a-half-hour dinner. That was the relationship between NATO and the European Union. It may seem odd that two organizations based in Brussels with 21 member countries in common should spend so much time worrying about their relationship. But the reality is that NATO and the European Union cannot talk to each other easily. This prevents them from having easy access to each other’s military and civilian resources at a time when both organizations are stretched financially and militarily in peacekeeping and combat missions. There are many walls. When NATO ambassadors and diplomats assigned to the E.U.’s Political and Security Committee, or P.S.C., decide to meet, the agenda is scrupulously drawn up to exclude any reference to military or intelligence issues. This is despite the fact that NATO and the E.U. need to deal with such topics because they work together in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in Kosovo, on the Somali coast and in Afghanistan. Even more worrying for both sides, say diplomats, is the lack of any security arrangements that would, for example, allow NATO forces to rescue E.U. police trainers in Afghanistan if they came under attack. The reason for the deadlock is the divided island of Cyprus, whose northern part Turkey invaded in 1974 and has occupied since. This part of the island is recognized only by Turkey. And Turkey, a leading member of NATO and an E.U. applicant, does not recognize the (southern) Republic of Cyprus as a member of the E.U., which it joined in 2004. Since 2004, when the E.U. reneged on its own principles not to admit Cyprus until the island’s status was resolved, the Cyprus-Turkey dispute has become one of the most debilitating and intractable issues inside and between NATO and the E.U., say diplomats from both organizations. Turkey prevents high-level formal meetings between NATO and the P.S.C. on the grounds that Cyprus does not have any security clearance from NATO. It is a member neither of the alliance nor of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a program of bilateral and security cooperation between individual countries and NATO. Because each NATO member has a veto, Turkey can stop discussions between NATO and the E.U. over military operations and intelligence issues. It can also stop Cyprus from sitting in on these meetings, even though Cyprus is a member of the E.U., and from participating in E.U. peacekeeping missions. Even if Cyprus chose to get around the security clearance issue by applying to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace, Turkey would block it. The retaliations seem endless, say diplomats. They are also damaging NATO as it seeks cooperation with the E.U., whose civilian components, like the police, the judiciary and customs officials, complement NATO’s military resources. They also prevent the E.U. from exploiting the foreign policy and defense potential set out in the Lisbon Treaty.“The Cyprus issue is crippling,” said Mr. Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister. “The key thing is for Cyprus to come together for its own sake. This European nation has been divided for too long,” he added.

Prime Minister George Papandreou met yesterday with Cyprus President Dimitris Christofias and reiterated Greece’s support for Nicosia’a efforts to make progress in peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots while urging Ankara to display the will for a solution. “We back Christofias’s efforts in the hope that the Turkish-Cypriot side will respond to his overture for an honorable solution,” Papandreou said after talks with the visiting Cyprus leader. “It is they who must demonstrate the will to contribute to a serious solution,” the prime minister said, referring to Ankara and the Turkish-Cypriot community. Papandreou reiterated that the Cyprus problem remains “a top priority in Greek foreign policy,” adding that without its resolution, “there can be no full normalization of Greek-Turkish relations.” In comments made in Parliament later yesterday, Christofias stressed that any solution would have to include “an element of compromise.” “We want compromise with the Turkish Cypriots, not occupation,” said Christofias in his first address before Greece’s Parliament. Christofias said that the ideal settlement envisaged by Nicosia remained a “bizonal, bicommunal federation,” but he noted that he and the Turkish-Cypriot leader, hardliner Dervis Eroglu, disagreed about what would constitute this. “Our differences are still on the table,” he said. Christofias added that a solution would have to be based on “the departure of occupying forces from the island and the end of any form of foreign dependence.” Christofias’s visit to Athens followed his three-way talks in New York with Eroglu and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The three men agreed to make efforts to speed up the process of peace talks and to meet again at the end of January in Geneva.

A Kosovo Albanian wanted stateside on charges of conspiracy to provide support to terrorists "lives openly" in a Kosovo town. The United States considers "lumberjack Bajram Aslani" one of its most wanted men but, "because of Kosovo's unusual international status", it is unable to have him extradited and interrogated. Unlike others on the FBI most wanted list, says the report, Aslani is "not hiding out in a distant desert or rugged mountain range". He lives with his family next door to a United Nations building, "and on a typical day prays in a local mosque and greets police officers when he goes shopping". The agency describes Kosovo's legal system as "hybrid and weak", where EU judges deal with major terrorism and war crimes cases. “We continue to seek his prosecution in the United States,” U.S. Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd was quoted. The report adds that a Serbian court sentenced Aslani in absentia in 2009 to eight years in prison for selling weapons to Islamic militants - "a charge he denies". He also denies the U.S. accusations against him, and considers himself "a victim of secret services". Aslani was arrested in June, but EU judges set him free, saying that Americans had not provided sufficient grounds to support their case, and cited the absence of an extradition accord between Washington and Pri┼ítina, Reuters reports.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday said that the terrorist threat facing her country is real, but also called on people to remain calm. Speaking to lawmakers at the Reichstag parliament building, Merkel said that while there is reason to worry, "there's no reason for hysteria." The parliament building was closed down to visitors earlier this week over concerns of a possible terrorist attack. The move came after Der Spiegel magazine reported on the weekend, without citing sources, that an informer claimed to German authorities that al-Qaida planned a possible attack early next year on the parliament building in downtown Berlin. The parliament building was closed down to visitors earlier this week over concerns of a possible terrorist attack. The move came after Der Spiegel magazine reported on the weekend, without citing sources, that an informer claimed to German authorities that al-Qaida planned a possible attack early next year on the parliament building in downtown Berlin.

U.N. officials are calling for a much stronger international response to Haiti's cholera outbreak after new estimates show the epidemic could affect as many as 400,000 people. The U.N.'s humanitarian agency says the new estimate is twice what health officials had earlier projected for how far the outbreak could spread. Health officials say the estimate is a worst-case scenario and could be avoided if prevention and treatment responses can reach enough people. U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos called the estimate a wake-up call and said investment is needed in cholera prevention throughout Haiti along with more treatment centers and more health workers. Earlier Tuesday, it was announced Amos would be visiting Haiti this week to review the humanitarian response to the cholera outbreak that has killed about 1,300 people. Amos will be in the Caribbean nation for two days, meeting with government and U.N. officials as well as representatives of non-governmental organizations. Besides the cholera epidemic, Haiti is still recovering from a January 12 earthquake which killed more than 200,000 people and left about one million others homeless.

Russia and the United States will hold the next round of talks on drafting a child adoption agreement in Washington on December 1-3, a Russian Education Ministry official said on Wednesday. "There is reason to hope that the negotiations will help deal with the remaining issues and ensure the early signing of an agreement," Alina Levitskaya, director of the ministry's Child Education and Socialization Department, said. Russian Children's Rights Ombudsman Pavel Astakhov has said he may push for a freeze on adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens if Russia and the United States fail to seal an adoption agreement by early 2011. Russia is one of the largest sources of adoptions for U.S. families, accounting for about 10 percent of foreign adoptions. The mistreatment of Russian children adopted in the United States has attracted public attention in recent months as a result of a number of highly publicized incidents. In June, a 7-year-old boy was placed alone on a one-way flight to Moscow by his U.S. adoptive mother with a note claiming he was "psychopathic." Following the case, Russia threatened to prohibit child adoptions by U.S. citizens until the countries sign an intergovernmental agreement guaranteeing the rights of adopted children.

Hundreds of Christians clashed with riot police in Cairo in a protest over church construction in which one person was killed and dozens were wounded, witnesses and security sources said. Christian protests on this scale are rare in Muslim-majority Egypt. But sectarian tensions have risen. Analysts say the state needs to address grievances such as those over laws making it easier to build a mosque than a church to prevent an escalation. The Interior Ministry said at least 112 protesters were detained after scuffles in the Giza area of the capital, where the authorities had halted construction of a church although the Orthodox Coptic Christians said they had an official permit. "We will build it, we will build it," chanted some of the protesters near the unfinished church. Some Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's 79 million people, demonstrated near the church and others near the Giza governor's office. The official state news agency estimated that as many as 3,000 people were involved in the protest. A medical source said one Christian was killed. Security and medical sources said some 45 police and protesters were wounded. Scores of police with shields and batons sealed off the area and fired tear gas at protesters. Some police threw rocks back. "Look, this is our government throwing rocks at us. All this because of a church," said 30-year-old Samuel Ibrahim, pointing to officers lobbing stones towards the demonstrators. Giza governor Sayyed Abdel-Aziz said the Christians appeared to have used a permit for a social centre to build a church. The Christians said they had the right permit and would continue to build, even without machinery. Egypt's Christian and Muslim clerics emphasise sectarian harmony, but communal tensions sometimes erupt into violence, often sparked by land disputes or cross-faith relationships. A human rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, reported in April that the number of violent sectarian incidents had risen to 53 in 2009 from 24 in 2008, saying many cases had been insufficiently investigated or ignored.