Obama to release secret drone strike memos to Congress
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, February 7, 2013 0:21 EST
In a reversal, President Barack Obama will allow lawmakers access to secret documents outlining the legal justification for drone strikes that kill US citizens abroad who conspire with Al-Qaeda.
An administration official disclosed the move Wednesday on the eve of a Senate hearing on Obama’s nomination of his top White House anti-terror adviser John Brennan to lead the Central Intelligence Agency in his second term.
Some senators had warned they would use Brennan’s confirmation as leverage to force the administration to share more information on the legal and constitutional grounds for the US government killing its own citizens.
The disclosure also comes after NBC News published an unclassified Justice Department white paper covering similar ground, reigniting the debate about the killing of estranged Americans who switched sides in the “War on Terror.”
“Today, as part of the president’s ongoing commitment to consult with Congress on national security matters, the president directed the Department of Justice to provide the congressional intelligence committees access to classified Office of Legal Counsel advice related to the subject of the Department of Justice white paper,” the official said.
Obama aides insist killing Al-Qaeda suspects, including occasionally US citizens, in hotspots like Yemen complies with US law and the Constitution, even when no intelligence links the targets to specific attack plots.
“We conduct those strikes because they are necessary to mitigate ongoing actual threats, to stop plots, to prevent future attacks and, again, save American lives,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Tuesday.
“These strikes are legal, they are ethical and they are wise.”
Among the most controversial of the attacks were the September 2011 killings in Yemen of Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, which stoked concern because the pair were both US citizens who had never been charged with a crime.
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden has been among the most vocal of lawmakers demanding to know details of how the administration interprets its power to take out US citizens who are waging war against their own nation.
He said lawmakers needed to see the information to ensure that such power was subject to the appropriate safeguards and limitations.
“Every American has the right to know when their government believes that it is allowed to kill them,” Wyden said Tuesday.
“I will continue to press the administration to provide Congress with any and all legal opinions that outline the president’s authority to use lethal force against Americans.
“I will not be satisfied until I have received them.”
The white paper published by NBC News offers a more expansive definition of when a drone strike against a US citizen can be justified than has been available in the past.
Extracted from the secret documents that will now be made available to congressional committees with jurisdiction over the war on terror, the memo expands on the concept of self-defense used to justify an attack.
It also states that an attack against the United States or its interests by a targeted person does not need to be deemed as “imminent” for a strike to take place.
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo says.
Instead, an “informed, high-level” official could decide that the target posed “an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States” if he had “recently” engaged in such activities, and there was no evidence he had renounced or abandoned them.
The 16-page memo also says the individual’s capture must be unfeasible, which includes situations where capture would pose an “undue risk” to US personnel.
Some civil liberties groups were dismayed by the memo, arguing that the president was assuming powers to kill US citizens without presenting evidence to a judge or even letting the courts know about an attack after the fact.
Newspapers accused of ‘shameful’ complicity for hiding existence of secret U.S. drone base
By Karen McVeigh, The Guardian
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 19:25 EST
US news organisations are facing accusations of complicity after it emerged that they bowed to pressure from the Obama administration not to disclose the existence on a secret drone base in Saudi Arabia despite knowing about it for a year.
Amid renewed scrutiny over the Obama administration’s secrecy over its targeted killing programme, media analysts and national security experts said the revelation that some newspapers had co-operated over the drone base had reopened the debate over the balance between freedom of information and national security.
On Tuesday, following Monday’s disclosure by NBC of a leaked Justice Department white paper on the case for its controversial targeted killing programme, the Washington Post revealed it had previously refrained from publishing the base’s location at the behest of the Obama administration over national security concerns.
The New York Times followed with its own story on the drone programme on Wednesday, and an op-ed explaining why it felt the time to publish was now.
One expert described the initial decision not to publish the base’s location as “shameful and craven.”
Dr Jack Lule, a professor of journalism and communication at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, said that the national security implications did not merit holding on to the story.
“The decision not to publish is a shameful one. The national security standard has to be very high, perhaps imminent danger,” he said. “The fact that we are even having a conversation about whether it was a national security issue should have sent alarm bells off to the editors. I think the real reason was that the administration did not want to embarrass the Saudis – and for the US news media to be complicit in that is craven.”
The Obama administration has resisted any effort to open up its targeted killing programme to public scrutiny. The White House legal advice on the assassinations program, including the killing of a US citizen, Anwar Al-Awlaki, has been withheld from the public and Congress, despite repeated requests to make it public.
The New York Times is attempting to obtain this memo though the courts, and Margaret Sullivan, the Times’s public editor, used this argument in her piece on Wednesday, which said that the Times was right, at last, to publish details of the Saudi drone base.
However, Lule said that in not publishing the location of the base when it had the information, the newspaper and others has failed in its responsibility to the public.
Lule said: “We have two partners’ participation in the secrecy of the drone programme, the government and the news media. If we are looking to open it up to scrutiny, where do we go?”
“It happened at the top ranks of the media, too. We look to digital media, but they do not have the contacts and the resources to look at this. They should have been leading the pack in calling for less secrecy. For them to give up that post is terrible.”
Jane Kirtley, a professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota, said the Washington Post had a long history of seeking input from government on stories which they felt may have security implications. She cited a column the Post’s former editor Ben Bradlee, written in the 1990s about this issue, which generated a lot of criticism.
“The argument was: what is wrong with going to the government to find out the possible impact so that we can make an informed decision? That is the argument they have made in the past.”
Kirtley said her own view as a lawyer would be: “the default position is to publish”.
Part of the problem, she said, was that the term “national security” could be used as a cover for embarrassing revelations, or information the government does not want in the public domain.
“How to judge national security is the real conundrum. News organisations, as a rule, think about the consequences of their stories. The problem with dealing with national security is that it is so amorphous. Journalists are trained to be sceptical of these types of assertions. The repercussions are not always obvious, compared to, for instance, movement of ground troops in a war zone.
“The comments on the Washington Post story reflect that dichotomy.”
Kirtley said that in such cases it is vital for a news organisation to explain to its readers why the decision was made.
“To public perception, it begins to appear that those decisions were made not for national security reasons but to provide cover for the administration. That is the tightrope that news organisations walk in these situations.
“The whole brouhaha has become so complex over what the implications are for John Brennan, and whether the Post has done this for political reasons. That is why it’s is so important to explain to their readers why a decision was made.”
While the publication of the white paper itself has brought renewed scrutiny to the Obama administration’s insistence on secrecy, Stephen Vladeck, a professor of law at American University who specialises in national security issues, said there was an irony.
“We have a Freedom of Information Act; Britain has none. Britain has an officials secrets act; we have none. But in the last decade we see less and less release of national security information.
“The aftermath of 9/11 has provided a very powerful counter-argument against freedom of information. My suspicion is that, out of western democracies, the US is at the far end of the secrecy spectrum”
Vladeck said that the US press, which has been responsible for some of the most important national security stories in recent years, including George W Bush’s wire-tapping, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, and the existence of the CIA “black site” secret interrogation programme, had shown it could be complicit with the administrations secrecy and pushing against secrecy.
“Every institution in this story has a responsibility. Our courts have been increasingly deferential to the government in FOIA actions – for instance, in the OIC memo about Al-Awlaki.”
Vladeck said that the issue would generate debate but added: “Whether it will generate anything more than debate is up to Congress.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
John Brennan: the drone apologist with the president's ear
Barack Obama's nominee for CIA director portrays himself as a moral force in a messy business
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 6 February 2013 14.41 GMT
John Brennan's bunker is a soundproofed, windowless suite in the White House basement where, as one senator put it, Barack Obama's counter-terrorism chief "decides each day who he's going to execute".
Behind guarded doors, Brennan – the "priestly figure" nominated by Obama to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency – draws together the lists of suspected terrorists for assassination by drone in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. They are signed off by the president on what have become known darkly as "kill list Tuesdays".
It's an unprecedented role for a US president devised by an official who wields greater influence on White House security policy than more senior officials.
Brennan was at the forefront of moulding Obama the election candidate, who in 2008 denounced the CIA's hand in abductions and torture at secret foreign sites under the Bush administration, into Obama the president, who has overseen the rapid expansion of the CIA's legally questionable war by drone.
Brennan's part is all the more striking because four years ago he was forced to withdraw from contention as CIA director over his role in justifying the agency's abuses under George W Bush.
"It's fair to say that John Brennan has been instrumental in getting Obama to where his thinking is today on counter-terrorism," said a former senior intelligence official who declined to be named. "Brennan helped the president to understand he could not turn away from the things that need to be done against the terrorists, and then he helped construct the legal and moral framework so that they sat comfortably with the president's commitments."
Another former senior intelligence official, Mark Lowenthal, an assistant director of the CIA appointed shortly after the 9/11 attacks and vice-chairman of the National Intelligence Council in the Bush administration, said it was Brennan that Obama looked to on security policy. "The president needs someone he can trust deeply and Obama has found an unusually close connection with Brennan. One of the things presidents really value is having somebody down the hall who they call on and rely on and not question why they're there.
"Everybody wants something from the president. To find one of those few people who only want to be there to serve you is valuable. Clearly Brennan will be missed in the White House. I'm hard put to believe that whoever replaces Brennan will have the same level of intimacy."
That role is returning to haunt Brennan as agitated senators threaten to turn his nomination hearing into an examination of the drone policy he forged and, most particularly, the White House's refusal to release the detailed legal justification for the killing of US citizens in strikes by the unmanned aircrafts.
Some senators are so incensed that on Monday they wrote to the president warning that the administration's lack of transparency may jeopardise Brennan's appointment to head the CIA. At the very least, he has now become a lightning rod for congressional suspicion and doubts over the legality of the drones, civilian casualties and whether the target list is cast so widely that many of those killed pose no real threat to the US.
Brennan was born in 1955 to Irish immigrant parents from Roscommon and raised in New Jersey. He joined the CIA as an analyst in 1980 because, he once said, the American war of independence spy Nathan Hale was hanged by the British on his birth date. "There was an ad in the New York Times and it said the CIA was looking for a few good people," he said recently.
Brennan's education at a Jesuit university included a year of Middle East studies and learning Arabic at the American University in Cairo.
After that he earned a masters focused on Middle East studies at the University of Texas.
That set the tone of a career in the CIA where his service overseas was capped as station chief in the politically sensitive posting of Saudi Arabia where, according to agency legend, he once confronted an Iranian spy on the street in Riyadh.
Back in the US, Brennan served as chief aide to the CIA director George Tenet during the Clinton administration and under George W Bush as first chief of the National Counterterrorism Centre, charged with integrating the government's fractured intelligence gathering on terrorism. There he became entwined in aspects of the "war on terror" that returned to haunt him years later.
Brennan quit the CIA in 2005 to run a security consultancy until he was picked up by Obama's first presidential campaign as a consultant on national security and terrorism.
Officials who have observed the two say that early on Obama was impressed by the experience and confidence of the former CIA officer who claimed a moral core, with his condemnations of waterboarding and questioning of the invasion of Iraq – evidently lacking in the agency's leadership under Bush.
But when, as president-elect in 2008, Obama settled on Brennan as his new CIA chief he faced a backlash over the former spy's earlier endorsement of some of the agency's abuses, including the abductions to secret torture and interrogation "black sites" in foreign countries. He has called the abductions, known as renditions, an "absolutely vital tool".
"There has been a lot of information that has come out from these interrogation procedures that the agency has in fact used against the real hardcore terrorists," Brennan told CBS in 2007. "It has saved lives."
Obama backed down out of concern about a fight in congressional confirmation hearings. But he still got his man, appointing Brennan assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, a White House post not requiring Senate confirmation.
That gave Brennan a degree of access to the president he would not have enjoyed as CIA director. Planted in the bowels of the White House, his brief ranged across federal agencies dealing with everything from espionage to law enforcement and natural disasters.
Aside from his central role co-ordinating the administration's anti-terrorism strategy, Brennan became part foreign envoy, dispatched to deliver messages from the White House to Yemen's leaders, and part oversight officer as he kept a watch on sensitive terror-related incidents such as the investigation into the killings of soldiers at Fort Hood by a Muslim officer. Brennan routinely met Obama at least once, and often several times, a day. All the while, he helped open up Obama to some of the more unsavoury aspects of the US's counterterror strategy.
Brennan has portrayed his relationship with Obama as a meeting of minds. "Ever since the first couple of months, I felt there was a real similarity of views that gave me a sense of comfort," he told the Washington Post in October. "I don't think we've had a disagreement."
Kenneth Wainstein, who was counterterrorism adviser to Bush and describes the future CIA chief as someone he "has a lot of respect for", said the relationship between the two men was rooted in Obama's deep confidence in Brennan.
"A person in that kind of position is going to be making decisions that are critical to the security of our nation and that, at times, are decisions of life or death. The president needs someone in that position who has good judgment – someone who will not shirk from tough decisions but at the same time will think through all the ramifications and listen to all sides of an issue," he said. "In the national security context there are very important values at stake.
"There's national security on one hand, civil liberties on the other, as well as important implications for our relations with foreign governments. You want to make sure you've got somebody in that position who's measured, cool-headed and thinks before he acts. The president has that kind of man in John Brennan."
Officially, Brennan answered to the director of National Intelligence (DNI), who was Admiral Dennis Blair for the first year of the Obama administration. But the president never warmed to Blair and Brennan increasingly became Obama's de facto intelligence chief.
Michael Hayden, a former CIA chief, described Brennan as "the actual national intelligence director".
Lowenthal said he agreed with that statement to a point. "Brennan certainly had a lot more sway than most people would have in a similar position. Access is everything, right? And being in the White House, being in the West Wing, is a lot more access than coming in for the briefing.
"It probably was easier when Dennis Blair was DNI because Blair and Obama didn't hit it off. I know Dennis Blair well. The chemistry [with Obama] just didn't happen. And so here you have a guy [Brennan] who clearly does have that chemistry and who the president trusts."
Obama had Brennan assess how a Nigerian al-Qaida supporter came close to blowing up a plane over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009. His conclusions did not sit well with an array of agencies and individuals he accused of failures, including Blair, who was forced out as director of national intelligence.
James Clapper, an air force general, replaced Blair – but the widely held view within the administration was that Brennan was already doing the job, even if he didn't hold the title.
When the US military finally hunted down and killed Osama bin Laden, it was Brennan who gave the official account of the operation – wrongly claiming that the al-Qaida leader died in a shootout hiding behind women.
But it is the role of chief apologist for the drone strategy, and as architect of a framework the administration says gives the killings a legal and moral underpinning, that Brennan has played his most influential role in the White House. Critics say the legal arguments are no more valid than those Bush's justice department came up with to authorise torture.
The ground war in Afghanistan, the Guantánamo prison and trials, and other legacies of the Bush era are not easily pinned on Obama. But the president has taken ownership of the drones strategy, rapidly expanding its use far beyond the last administration's.
For the first time in US history, a president regularly signs off on the killing of named individuals, which has drawn criticism that he is acting as judge, jury and executioner. "Obama has used drones four times as often as George Bush," said Lowenthal. "I think that's a very interesting statistic because the drones allow you to do things but they don't put US lives at risk. In many respects, it fits the way in which Obama likes to approach a lot of his foreign policy problems – to be engaged but not to have too much at risk."
Brennan has been at the forefront of that strategy, and its public defence in the face of unease about the kill lists, the targeting of citizens and civilian casualties.
In 2011, he defended decisions on when to launch drone strikes and who to kill as "carefully, deliberately and responsibly" made and said they were "in full accordance with the law", adding they were "ethical and wise".
"We only authorise a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing," he told a conference at the Woodrow Wilson centre. "This is a very high bar."
Brennan avoided a question about another kind of strike that has more frequently resulted in civilian casualties, launched not against known individuals but men exhibiting a particular form of behaviour which could suggest terrorist activity, such as a group climbing on to the back of a lorry.
Perhaps the most telling part of Brennan'spublic relations offensive was his claim that Obama's counter-terrorism strategy was not very different from Bush's – a situation some attribute to Brennan's considerable influence.
"In many respects, these specific counter-terrorism goals are not new. They track closely with the goals of the previous administration. Yet this illustrates another important characteristic of our strategy. It neither represents a wholesale overhaul – nor a wholesale retention –of previous policies," said Brennan in a 2011 speech. "President Obama's approach to counter-terrorism is pragmatic, not ideological. It's based on what works. It builds upon policies and practices that have been instituted and refined over the past decade."
Brennan's attempts to portray himself as a moral force in a messy business is likely to come under challenge at his Senate confirmation hearing. The American Civil Liberties Union has urged senators to scrutinise his claims.
"The Senate should not move forward with his nomination until all senators can assess the role of the CIA – and any role by Brennan himself – in torture, abuse, secret prisons, and extraordinary rendition during his past tenure at the CIA, as well as review the legal authorities for the targeted killing programme that he has overseen in his current position," said Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office.
Senator Jay Rockefeller, a member of the intelligence committee, which holds the confirmation hearing, said he intended to press Brennan on "the crucial legal, strategic, and oversight considerations pertaining to the CIA's counter-terror operations".
Senator John McCain, an outspoken critic of the CIA's use of torture, said he wants to hear from Brennan on "what role he played in the so-called enhanced interrogation programmes while serving at the CIA during the last administration, as well as his public defence of those programmes".
Wainstein said any CIA chief worth appointing was likely to have a controversial past. "You can't spend time in the high levels of the national security field without having to make tough, sometimes controversial, decisions," he said.
"If we want seasoned professionals in those jobs, then we'll necessarily be looking to people who have made tough decisions during their career. The fact that a candidate has made tough decisions in controversial areas along the way should not be a disqualifier for confirmation. If anything it should be seen as a positive attribute."
Wainstein said Brennan would make a "very formidable director of the CIA". Lowenthal agreed but said agency staff were likely to be in two minds about Brennan.
"The CIA can often treat outsiders like bacilli. Clearly John does not have that problem. The fact that he has access to the president will be seen as a good thing. The concern among some people will be: is he the president's representative to the CIA or the CIA's representative to the president?" he said.
Britain to announce closer military co-operation with Libya
New defence links with Somalia and Burma will also be revealed as part of shift in military strategy
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2013 00.01 GMT
Britain will announce it is has agreed closer military co-operation with Libya, as well as establishing new defence links to Somalia and Burma, as the armed forces begin a significant shift in strategy.
The hope is that fostering better relations in areas where the UK has security and business interests will head off future conflicts, prevent terrorism and give Britain a better foothold in north Africa and the Horn of Africa over the next 20 years.
The UK has agreed to help train the Libyan military, especially its navy and air force, and will also help to establish bomb disposal and defence language schools.
A new defence section is to be opened in the new British embassy in Mogadishu, and a similar office will be set up in Burma. The UK will send a defence attache to the country too.
A defence section has also just been opened in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Ministers will explain the new "international defence engagement strategy" in a Commons statement that will outline how £6m of funding has been set aside for it.
They will emphasise that the agreements fall short of combat operations, but will focus on "those countries that are most important to our national interests".
An MoD source said: "In addition to our own military capability it is right that we also focus resources on upstream capacity building, training and engagement to support our national interests. Closer military engagement and co-operation ahead of time can often stabilise a region and therefore reduce the need for our own direct intervention later on. Working alongside the Foreign Office we are strengthening levels of engagement in areas such as north Africa and the Horn of Africa."
Help with counter-terrorism work, intelligence gathering and training for special forces are all part of the broader defence engagement policy, as is providing the groundwork for developing business interests.
02/06/2013 03:35 PM
Black Bloc: Egypt's Opposition Gets More Radical
By Daniel Steinvorth
Protests against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are becoming increasingly violent. One factor behind this is the founding of the "Black Bloc," a loosely organized group of activists that is not afraid to clash with the government.
They're suspicious -- five young Egyptians in hooded sweatshirts with their faces hidden, arms crossed and bodies in a defensive stance. "The media represents us as thugs," says one. "They say we're killing policemen and setting the country on fire, but we are just defending ourselves. The real aggressor is sitting in the presidential palace."
As Wednesday night turns to Thursday morning, fighting rages in the streets adjacent to Tahrir Square in Cairo -- just as has happened daily for the past week. Security forces and government opponents watch each other furtively, then the first stones are thrown and tear gas canisters fired.
Violence is increasing in the capital, but also in Alexandria, and everywhere else President Mohammed Morsi declared a state of emergency on Sunday of last week: Ismailia, Suez and Port Said. More than 60 people have been killed since Jan. 24, and hundreds have been injured. The protests against Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood have become more radical, and that due in part to a new phenomenon here: the Black Bloc.
The five young men are members of the movement. They know their emergence has fueled speculation, and that the government sees them as terrorists and enemies of the state. Supporters of the deposed regime of Hosni Mubarak have reportedly mixed in with the masked men, government officials claim. Others accuse the government itself of being behind the Black Bloc, using it as a tool to discredit the opposition. But many demonstrators say the organization is simply an answer to the violence exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood and its thugs.
For President Morsi, the protesters in black present the perfect chance to split the opposition. He brought up the issue last week while visiting Berlin, saying there was a "big difference between the revolutionaries and peaceful demonstrators" on the one side and the Black Bloc on the other. Hasn't Germany often suffered from such troublemakers, too, he asked? Morsi added that Egypt's legal system would take care of the problem.
"We aren't criminals," counters 33-year-old Gika, one of the five in masks. "We are free citizens who love this country." He chose his pseudonym because it belonged to a well-known activist who was killed in street fighting with the police last November.
Unified Hate for the Goverment
On Jan. 25, the second anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, the Black Bloc announced its formation on the Internet. A YouTube video showed images of militant-looking youths in Cairo throwing Molotov cocktails. Many of them wear the grinning Guy Fawkes masks that have become the trademark of the hacker group Anonymous.
"The Black Bloc is everywhere where injustice is committed against a people," Gika says. "We started to mask ourselves so the security forces couldn't identify us. And they've masked themselves too ever since we filmed them purposely shooting demonstrators in the eyes."
No one knows how many members the Black Bloc has in Cairo and other cities, Gika says. He says he saw about 300 masked men on Tahrir Square, and that more and more Egyptians are putting black masks over their heads to show their unified hate for the government and the Islamists. Gika's own group, which he says has no hierarchy and no one person calling the shots, primarily coordinates its actions using text messages and Facebook.
When asked what they want to achieve, Gika replies: "To defend the revolution. To protect every revolutionary from attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood and other thugs. Only 5 percent of our actions are acts of revenge."
But actions like setting fire to tires in front of the president's home in Sharkia province or blocking tram lines in Alexandria are, in fact, vengeance. A YouTube video titled "Black Bloc Egypt" shows the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in flames -- a clear threat.
Gika has been unemployed for two years. He says he, like hundreds of thousands of other Egyptians, feels that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have betrayed the revolution. He is not happy with the performance of the opposition and calls them "very weak".
Gika also says he doesn't see stabile politics as necessary for an economic upswing, nor does he want to wait until the Muslim Brotherhood has snatched control of the entire country. He mistrusts the Islamists and isn't afraid to keep on fighting.
"I know it could cost me my life," he says. "I pray to God every day to prepare myself for that."
With additional reporting by Marwa Nasser.
February 7, 2013
Dominant Tunisian Party Rejects Move to Contain Assassination Fallout
By MONICA MARKS and KAREEM FAHIM
TUNIS — Tunisian officials moved quickly Wednesday to contain the fallout after a leading opposition figure was assassinated outside his home. They announced that they would restructure the Islamist-led government and form a national unity cabinet as thousands took to the streets in protests that security forces beat back with tear gas.
But Reuters reported on Thursday that the country’s dominant Ennahda Party had rejected the plan to dissolve the government, as proposed Wednesday by Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali.
“The prime minister did not ask the opinion of his party,” Abdelhamid Jelassi, Ennahda’s vice president was quoted as saying. “We in Ennahda believe Tunisia needs a political government now. We will continue discussions with others parties about forming a coalition government.”
The reported rejection — which was not immediately confirmed — appeared to inject a new element of political uncertainty into an already fraught situation.
The killing of the politician, Chokri Belaid, one of Tunisia’s best-known human rights defenders and a fierce critic of the ruling Islamist party, placed dangerous new strains on a society struggling to reconcile its identity as a long-vaunted bastion of Arab secularism with its new role as a proving ground for one of the region’s ascendant Islamist parties.
The explosion of popular anger, which led to the death of a police officer in the capital, posed a severe challenge to Ennahda, which came to power promising a model government that blended Islamist principles with tolerant pluralism.
Mr. Belaid was shot and killed outside his home in an upscale Tunis neighborhood as he was getting into his car on Wednesday morning. The interior minister, citing witnesses, said that two unidentified gunmen had fired on Mr. Belaid, striking him with four bullets.
The killing, which analysts said was the first confirmed political assassination here since the overthrow of the autocratic leader, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, was a dark turn for the country that was the birthplace of the Arab uprisings of two years ago. It resonated in countries like Egypt and Libya that are struggling to contain political violence while looking to Tunisia’s turbulent but hopeful transition as a reassuring example.
“Confronting violence, radicalism and the forces of darkness is the main priority for societies if they want freedom and democracy,” Amr Hamzawy, a member of Egypt’s main secular opposition coalition, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “Assassinating Chokri Belaid is warning bell in Tunisia, and in Egypt, too.”
The response by Tunisian officials was being closely watched. President Moncef Marzouki cut short an overseas trip to deal with the crisis. Mr. Jebali, the prime minister, called the killing a “heinous crime against the Tunisian people, against the principles of the revolution and the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other.”
Bowing to the outrage, he said cabinet ministers would be replaced with technocrats not tied to any party until elections could be held.
The announcement, which had been expected for months, held out the promise that Tunisia might continue to avoid the political chaos that has plagued its neighbors. Since the uprising, the country has held successful elections, leading to a coalition government merging Ennahda and two center-left parties. An assembly writing the country’s constitution has circumscribed the role of Islamic law, allowing Tunisia to avoid the arguments over basic legal matters that have led to protracted unrest in Egypt.
The struggle over identity here has taken a different form, as hard-line Islamists have pressured Ennahda to take a more conservative path. Secular groups have faulted Ennahda as failing to confront the hard-liners, or for secretly supporting them. The restructuring does not completely loosen Ennahda’s hold on political power.
The killing remained a mystery on Wednesday. The authorities did not announce any arrests, saying only that witnesses said the gunmen had appeared to be no more than 30 years old. Among Mr. Belaid’s colleagues and relatives, suspicions immediately fell on the hard-line Islamists known as Salafists, some of whom have marred the transition with acts of violence, including attacks on liquor stores and Sufi mausoleums.
Mr. Belaid, a leading member of Tunisia’s leftist opposition alliance, criticized the governing party for turning a blind eye to criminal acts by the Salafists, and had received a string of death threats for his political stands, his family said.
In a chilling prelude to his death, in a television interview on Tuesday, Mr. Belaid accused Ennahda of giving “an official green light” to political violence. Separately, he accused “Ennahda mercenaries and Salafists” of attacking a meeting of his supporters on Saturday.
His wife, Besma Khalfaoui, blamed Ennahda and told Tunisia’s state news agency that the authorities had ignored her husband’s pleas for protection during four months of death threats.
In a stunned Tunisia, as news of the killing spread, thousands poured into the streets in the capital and other cities. A crowd gathered in front of the interior ministry, a massive building that is still a hated symbol of Mr. Ben Ali and his security services, to express anger at the new government. “Resignation, resignation, the cabinet of treason,” people shouted.
Riot police officers fired tear gas into the crowds and plainclothes security officers beat protesters, witnesses said, in scenes that recalled the uprising two years ago. In other cities, protesters attacked Ennahda’s offices.
The party vigorously denied any role in the killing, but the damage to its reputation seemed difficult to repair.
Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said the assassination was a blow to the aspirations of Islamist parties taking the reins in democratic transitions in the region, most notably in Egypt and Tunisia. In Egypt, he said, the Islamists have failed to build consensus and trust, relying instead on a narrow majoritarianism. In Tunisia, he said, they built a coalition with liberals but failed to take a stand against more hard-line Islamists competing for support on their right.
“Facing down extremists — Islamists find that very difficult,” Mr. Shaikh said.
In Tunisia, he said, the extremists included not only Salafis but more militant actors closer to Al Qaeda. “They have not been very quiet in terms of their intentions, and yet Ennahda has not taken them on,” he said.
In Tunisia, some hoped that the killing would serve as a warning not just about the dangers of political violence, but also about the authorities’ refusal to confront it. Amna Guellali, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Tunis, said the group had documented numerous attacks on activists, journalists and political figures by various groups, including the Salafis.
“The victims filed complaints to local tribunals, but never heard anything back,” she said. “There is a trend of impunity. This impunity can lead to emboldening” attackers.
“Yesterday, Chokri called for a national dialogue to confront political violence,” she said. “This just adds to the tragedy.”
Monica Marks reported from Tunis, and Kareem Fahim from Cairo. Reporting was contributed by Alan Cowell from Paris, Gerry Mullany from Hong Kong, Mayy El Sheikh from Cairo, David D. Kirkpatrick from Antakya, Turkey, and Brian Knowlton from Washington.
February 6, 2013
As Mali Fighting Persists, France Vows to Exit in Weeks
By SCOTT SAYARE and ALAN COWELL
PARIS — Amid reports of continued skirmishes with Islamist extremists driven out of the main settlements of northern Mali, France renewed a promise on Wednesday that its soldiers would begin returning home within weeks, handing over authority to West African and Malian units charged with keeping the vast desert area under government control.
But French officials acknowledged that, despite their claimed military successes so far, new hostilities had erupted on Tuesday near the northern town of Gao between what were depicted as remnants of the insurgents and French and Malian forces, possibly foreshadowing a new phase in the conflict.
“From the moment our forces, supported by Malian forces, began missions and patrols around the towns which we have taken, we have encountered residual jihadist groups which fight,” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a radio interview. He called the conflict a “real war.”
“We will seek them out,” he said, pledging to bring security to the recaptured areas. “Yesterday there was some rocket fire from residual jihadist groups in the Gao region,” he said, without going into detail.
In an interview published in the newspaper Metro, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France said that, starting in March, “the number of French troops should fall.”
“France has no intention of remaining in Mali,” Mr. Fabius said. “It is the Africans and the Malians themselves to guarantee the security, the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of the country.”
Mr. Le Drian, the defense minister, said the French deployment for the lightning offensive launched last month had reached 4,000 soldiers, “and we won’t go beyond that.”
The deployment is far higher than the 2,500 soldiers France initially projected, and it was bolstered by the arrival over the weekend of 500 more troops.
But the French officials seemed eager to convince their citizens that the country’s armed forces were not being pulled inexorably into a perilous long-term commitment risking higher casualties.
“The progressive transfer from the French military presence to the African military presence can be made relatively quickly,” Mr. Le Drian said. “In several weeks, we will be able to begin to reduce our deployment.”
France intervened after Islamist forces who had controlled northern Mali for months began a sudden drive to the south almost a month ago. After halting the rebel advance with airstrikes, France sent in ground troops who advanced along with Malian units, apparently meeting little resistance as the insurgents seemed to melt back into their hiding places in the rugged northeast of the country.
But the latest reports of skirmishes near Gao seemed to suggest that the insurgents had not completely withdrawn.
News reports on Wednesday said that the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, a rebel movement, had claimed to control a string of small settlements in the northeast. Azawad is the name for the region used by Tuareg separatists.
In a rough tally of the casualties, Mr. Le Drian said the French intervention had killed “several hundred” insurgents, both in airstrikes and in “direct combat” in two towns in the center and north of the country: Konna and Gao.
France has said that it lost one member of its armed forces, a helicopter pilot, while Mali has said that 11 of its soldiers were killed and 60 were wounded in the fighting in Konna last month.
At the United Nations on Wednesday, France formally proposed to the Security Council that it approve a peacekeeping force for Mali in the coming weeks. Both the French ambassador, Gérard Araud, and the head of peacekeeping operations, Hervé Ladsous, said that there had to be a peace to keep before it could be deployed. “I think that we have to wait several weeks before assessing the security environment and taking the decision of deploying a peacekeeping operation,” Mr. Araud told reporters.
Although the force was originally envisioned as an African one with some United Nations backing, the planning is now focused on creating a new United Nations peacekeeping organization, but it would still rely heavily on regional troop contributions. About 2,000 soldiers from countries in the region and another 2,000 from Chad have already deployed to Mali, and they would probably become part of the United Nations force, Mr. Ladsous said. It is about half of the number of peacekeepers envisioned.
The hybrid model — deploying African troops with United Nations financial and logistics support — which was used in Darfur and Somalia, has fallen out of favor because of a lack of sufficient United Nations control over the resources it contributes. A United Nations force is “much more predictable for the actors on the ground, for the troop contributors,” Mr. Ladsous said.
Both the African Union and the regional economic bloc have endorsed the idea, but Mali, whose consent is required, has yet to sign off on the idea. There is some opposition in Mali to the idea that the peacekeeping force would be deployed not just in the north, but in Bamako as well.
February 7, 2013
Clashes Erupt in Damascus as Prospects for Syrian Talks Dim
By HANIA MOURTADA and RICK GLADSTONE
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian insurgents attacked military checkpoints and other targets in parts of central Damascus on Wednesday, antigovernment activist groups reported, shattering a lull in the fighting as prospects for any talks between the antagonists appeared to dim.
In a day of conflicting reports about the severity of the clashes, residents spoke of heavy bombardments of rebel positions by government tank cannons, the thud of mortar fire, roads closed and snipers on rooftops as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad deployed in strength, particularly to protect neighborhoods where wealthy Syrians and diplomats live. Some said the fighting was the most intense in the city since July.
A 50-year-old resident of the upscale Abu Roumana district, who identified himself as Abu Mohammad, said he could hear the sound of fighting nearby. “It is very close and I feel it is next to my house,” he said. If government were unable to contain rebels in heavily guarded neighborhoods like his, he said, “what about other districts and suburbs?”
The outbreak came a week after the opposition coalition’s top political leader first proposed the surprise idea of a dialogue with Mr. Assad’s government aimed at ending the civil war. Frustrated by the government’s failure to respond definitively, the opposition leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, gave it a Sunday deadline.
Some antigovernment activists described the resumption of fighting, which had lapsed for the past few weeks, as part of a renewed effort by rebels to seize control of central Damascus, the Syrian capital, although that depiction seemed highly exaggerated. Witness accounts said many people were going about their business, while others noted that previous rebel claims of territorial gains in Damascus had almost always turned out to be embellished or unfounded.
A 35-year-old rebel fighter who identified himself only as Tarqi said overcast weather had sheltered the insurgents from aerial bombardment. “We got orders today to open all fronts in and around Damascus, to get into it from the northeast, east and south sides,” he said. The rebel strategy, he said, was to “fight the Assad forces on all sides and control more districts closer to the heart of Damascus.” Those claims could be independently verified.
Representatives of the Military Council of Damascus, an insurgent group, said that at least 33 members of Mr. Assad’s security forces in Damascus had surrendered, while others had fled central Al Abasiyeen Square, and that other government forces had erected roadblocks on all access streets to the area to thwart the movement of rebel fighters.
Salam Mohammed, an activist in Damascus, described Al Abasiyeen Square as “on fire,” and a video clip uploaded on YouTube showed a thick column of black smoke spiraling over the area while the sound of shelling could be heard. A voice said the shelling had started a fire. The Local Coordination Committees, an anti-Assad activist network in Syria, reported gunfire in nearby streets.
Firas al-Horani, a military council spokesman, said fighters of the Free Syrian Army, the main armed opposition group, were in control of the square. He also said, “The capital, Damascus, is in a state of paralysis at the moment, and clashes are in full force in the streets.”
It was impossible to confirm Mr. Horani’s assertions or the extent of the fighting because of Syrian government restrictions on foreign news organizations. But Syria’s state-run news media said insurgent claims of combat success in Damascus were false. “Those are miserable attempts to raise the morale of terrorists who are fleeing our valiant armed forces,” said SANA, the official news agency.
Deadly violence was also reported in Palmyra, a town in Homs Province that is the site of a notorious prison where Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, ordered the summary execution of about 1,000 prisoners during an uprising against his family’s grip on power in the 1980s.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a group based in Britain with a network of contacts inside Syria, said two booby-trapped cars exploded near the military intelligence and state security branches, killing at least 12 members of the security forces and wounding more than 20. The observatory said government forces were deployed throughout Palmyra afterward, engaging in gun battles with insurgents that left at least eight civilians wounded in the cross-fire.
SANA also reported an attack but said it was caused by two suicide bombers in a residential part of the town, killing an unspecified number of civilians.
The new mayhem came as discord appeared to grow within the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, the umbrella anti-Assad group, over a proposal made on Jan. 30 by Sheik Khatib, its leader, to engage in talks with Mr. Assad’s government aimed at ending the nearly two-year-old conflict, which has left more than 60,000 people dead.
Although Sheik Khatib’s proposal included a number of conditions, including the release of prisoners, it broke a longstanding principle that Mr. Assad must relinquish power before any talks can begin.
Many of Sheik Khatib’s colleagues grudgingly agreed to go along with the proposal after it had been made, but critical voices have been rising, especially among the coalition’s more militant elements, who have never trusted Mr. Assad and have concluded that any negotiation is a waste of time.
In what appeared to be an acknowledgment of the discord, Sheik Khatib said in an interview with the BBC’s Arabic service from his headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday that his own patience with the Syrian government was running out. Sheik Khatib gave the government until Sunday to release prisoners, especially women, or “the initiative will be broken.”
In a new video uploaded on YouTube, a cleric from the Nusra Front, an anti-Assad Islamist militant group that the Obama administration has classified as a terrorist organization, said that brute force against Mr. Assad and his disciples was the only solution.
“We will cut their heads, we swear to kill them all, and they will see our worst war,” said the cleric, who spoke in Libyan-accented Arabic at a mosque in the contested northern city of Aleppo, holding a sword in his right hand. “No for the negotiations, no for the talks, no retreat in a jihad for God’s sake.”
Hania Mourtada reported from Beirut, and Rick Gladstone from New York. Reporting was contributed by an employee of The New York Times from Damascus, Hwaida Saad from Beirut; Hala Droubi from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; and Karam Shoumali from Antakya, Turkey.
02/05/2013 06:24 PM
Deputy Foreign Minister Mekdad: 'Everyone Should Save Syria from Falling into Hell'
The regime of President Bashar Assad has shown no signs of giving in even as opposition fighters have advanced to the outskirts of Damascus. In an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al Mekdad blames the West for the violence and says Assad has satisfied all opposition demands.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Minister, you have just come back from visits to Iran and Russia. Has the Russian government offered Syrian President Bashar Assad asylum in Moscow?
Mekdad: Why should they? The subject was never addressed. We will prevail. The exile question is just an element of psychological warfare. President Assad has said that he was born here and he will die here, whenever that might be.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even your ally, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, remarked recently that the Syrian government is losing control over more and more territory. What is still giving you hope?
Mekdad: We are optimists and strong enough to overcome this challenge, even against the attack of an alliance of Western countries and Gulf states which claims to be promoting democracy and freedom. Until four months ago, Aleppo was one of the safest cities in the world. So I congratulate the advocates for human rights and democracy on the destruction of the Umayyad Mosque, the historic souks and the old town of Aleppo. On the other hand, we value the Russian position.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Russia is also pursuing its own interests. Tartus is the only Russian port on the Mediterranean, 50,000 Russians live in Syria and the arms trade between the two countries is significant. A good deal of the destruction can be attributed to the regime itself.
Mekdad: I can only warn the Europeans not to go on supporting these groups. These people are not just fighting against Syria, but against the order of all civilized nations, including your country in the future.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Syrian government believes in an international conspiracy. How would the Western states and their allies benefit from the fall of Assad's regime?
Mekdad: Israel and the US would be the winners. Were Syria divided and placed under international control, the Israeli-Arab conflict would be forgotten. Israel could live in peace and keep the Golan Heights and all of Jerusalem and continue to bully the Palestinians. We are the only one of Israel's neighbors that still represents the Arab position.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: This revolution was originally a popular uprising against an oppressive state. Many people have reported that they were arrested for demonstrating peacefully and nearly killed in regime torture chambers.
Mekdad: Why don't you ask other Syrians for their views? These people do not represent the majority. It is striking that the president has responded to the demands of the demonstrators. There's a new constitution, the supremacy of the Baath Party has been ended, parties may be established, elections for a new parliament were carried out, new laws concerning demonstrations were passed. All that is completely ignored, none of it recognized abroad. On the contrary, it was after Assad changed the laws that the escalation really began. What more do these so-called revolutionaries actually want?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Apparently it was too little, too late. The people don't believe in you anymore.
Mekdad: This uprising is for the most part an externally organized, externally funded uprising. The militant groups receive billions of dollars from certain Gulf states. It is a global, multi-billion-dollar mercenary business. President Assad has heard the political demands of his people and he wants to reconcile with them, and indeed with everyone, as he announced in his speech on Jan. 6. If the fighting and the outside support are brought to an end and everyone sits around a table, then we can begin to shape the future of the country.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Foreign powers and the opposition were unimpressed by the president's speech. The fight is for his political end. How can he be the one to invite the parties involved to a round table?
Mekdad: It is not for other countries to decide on the Syrian president. Leave that to the Syrian people and the voting booths. We will not allow anyone to undermine the country's sovereignty. If the president were to give up, there would be nothing here but death and destruction. President Assad is ready to do anything to prevent that, no matter what the cost.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: For a long time, Syria had a good relationship with Turkey and at least not an entirely bad one with Saudi Arabia. Why are you now such a bitter enemy of both countries?
Mekdad: We have long tried to maintain good relations, but we were forced to realize that the Muslim Brother Recep Tayyip Erdogan was pursuing a completely different plan. Namely, he wanted to legally bring the Muslim Brotherhood back to Syria with help from Al-Qaida, the Al-Nusra Front and other extremist religious groups in order to establish a powerful network from Egypt to Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Iraq -- a new Ottoman Empire. Because they now shelter all types of armed groups -- and opened the border with Syria for them -- Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, are personally responsible for the deaths of thousands of Syrians. Why has Turkey not been reprimanded by the UN?
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is the problem between Syria and Saudi Arabia?
Mekdad: Saudi Arabia is under immense American pressure and is therefore supporting certain religious groups that are fighting here. At the same time, the country understands very well that in doing this, it's working against its own interests. Therefore they should free themselves as quickly as possible from American dependency.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why would the Americans want Syria succumb to violence and destruction?
Mekdad: The protection of Israel is the only explanation. It began with sanctions, and now it's come to this. The so-called friends of Syria, who meet in Doha, Istanbul and Marrakesh, are actually the enemies of Syria and under the command of American ambassadors. But now the matter has gotten out of control for them. At least now they've put the Al-Nusra Front on the list of terrorist organizations, but unfortunately not the many others who are here indiscriminately killing my countrymen every day.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is it true, as Syrian propaganda television reports daily, that the armed opposition consists entirely of terrorists?
Mekdad: There are all sorts of groups, including many that are simply misguided. And of course we, the government, have also made mistakes in the socio-economic sphere. Nevertheless, the armed opposition wanted the escalation from the beginning. They took that position from day one. The provocateurs hid among the peaceful demonstrators and shot down police and protesters alike.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Those who took part in early demonstrations have uniformly reported that the regime cracked down vigorously from the beginning. Even doctors and nurses who cared for injured protestors were arrested and disappeared into the dungeons of the notorious Mukhabarat.
Mekdad: That is war propaganda, just like the alleged massacre in Homs that government forces are said to have committed the day before the UN Security Council was meeting about Syria. We eventually arrested the perpetrators. They slaughtered 60 people with knives -- led by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who instigated the attack, precisely one day before the meeting.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The rebels have now advanced to within 600 meters of the Damascus old town. Day and night the people of Damascus hear the pounding of grenades and the fire of Kalashnikovs. How long can you keep this up?
Mekdad: We can hold out as long as the other side wants to go on.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said during his last visit to Damascus that Syria now has the choice between the political process and hell.
Mekdad: We want the political process ...
SPIEGEL ONLINE: ... but only under your conditions…
Mekdad: ... and everyone involved should save Syria from falling into hell.
Interview conducted by Susanne Koelbl in Damascus
Life in a Syrian refugee camp: 'You have to walk over an hour to get bread'
As the Syrian conflict intensifies, thousands of people are fleeing every day for neighbouring Jordan. The Za'atari border camp is now home to almost 90,000 people, a small city of tents, queues and bulldozers scraping up new land for new arrivals. When it rains, the camp becomes a hellish quagmire; when it doesn't, it turns back into dusty, unforgiving desert. But slowly, refugees are adapting to daily life. Here one 18-year-old woman, Raneen, describes daily life in the world's newest refugee cluster
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 7 February 2013 12.36 GMT
My name is Raneen. I'm 18 years old. I live here in Za'atari. There are six of us here: me, my mother and younger sisters and brother. My two older brothers and my father are still in Syria. We live in a small one-room prefab caravan. We don't have a kitchen, just a small space for cooking.
Every day, we wake up at dawn on the call for prayers. The first problem we face is getting water, especially when it is still dark. We have to search for the nearest water tanks to get a supply to wash. We have to take two-gallon containers, walk for some distance in harsh weather conditions and queue for water – the whole thing takes over half an hour. Anything we want to get here requires queuing. Sometimes people get into disputes over queues.
I am responsible for the whole family. My mother looks after the place and my younger sisters and brother so I have to go and get food and drinks as well as everything else they need to live and to study. Mother gave me the responsibility and I believe I am up to it and can protect my family.
I send my younger brother, who is in the fifth grade, to the mosque every day to read and memorise Qur'an verses, thank God. But some mornings, he cries when the water is cold due to no electricity. I calm him down by saying that he should go and do the prayers at the mosque. He complains about the cold water but I try to calm him down.
My mother finds it difficult so I try to make it easier for her. My sisters and brother sometimes help me by going out to get water but it is not always available. The same applies to electricity and we have power cuts most of the time. It is very cold here – the kids got coats but I didn't. I don't mind – seeing my younger sisters and brother getting warm clothes is what matters most.
Breakfast is halaweh (sweets), olives and misabbahe (a mix of chickpeas, olive oil, lemon, garlic and fried bread). My mother or younger brother are responsible for getting breakfast in the morning. I teach my brother how to be reliable. He usually walks for over an hour to get just one pack of bread. It is not always enough but, thank God, we are surviving.
When we arrived, the weather and living conditions were bad. We couldn't adapt to the tents because they were not comfortable. There were no services available. For four months, we had very little to live on. Now, it is better and the camp's authority has provided us with many things – food and drinks and even clothes. Thank God. We feel more settled here now.
I started looking for work straight away after arriving here. After a while, I became a assistant teacher at the Save the Children kindergarten, thank God. I had been registered to study nursing in Syria – it had been both my and my father's wish.
I walk to the kindergarten at 7.30am or 8am. It's a long walk but I enjoy it because I am walking to a place that I like. I bring my younger sister too. At the kindergarten, we sing and play together. I consider the children like my sisters and brothers and look after them. I enjoy working with them and don't get tired.
I get home after 3pm and tidy up – washing the dishes and sorting out the kitchen. My mother is tired after working all day at home and going out to get water or other things for the family. She is tired most of the time. So I sometimes help her with the cooking if we can find gas for the stove.
At the camp there are small shops selling sweets, clothes and toys. Now that I have my salary from Save the Children I can buy nice things and food for the family. My younger sisters and brother are delighted with this.
I help my youngest sister with learning songs for kindergarten. I help my other sister with her homework, and my brother with reading Qur'an verses. Even when school is closed I get them to do homework daily. My sister, who is in the eighth grade, keeps reading her books so that she does not forget what she learned.
We have dinner at 6pm. We have our usual meal: rice and beans with lentil soup. We have to wait until we have power before we can cook. Then I wash the dishes and utensils and sort out the kitchen.
Sometimes someone will visit, like my uncle. He and his family live in the camp too. We have tea and talk and play with their kids. Last night I called my older brothers in Syria and asked about the situation back there. They told me things are still the same with bombings and fighting. I asked them to come to the camp because, as a woman, I need my brothers around. But they said they wouldn't leave Syria. So I told them not to worry because my uncle looks after us here.
We go to sleep early around 9pm because usually we have nothing to do – we have no TV and there are frequent power cuts. It is so bad. Imagine, six people with a mattress each in a small place – a room packed with clothes, food items, boxes, etc.
You can't compare life here to that back in Syria. There, we had everything available at home – water, electricity, gas and so on. Here we have a tent in a camp with one hour of electricity in 10 hours. It's like comparing the sky and the earth.
I wish the whole world would listen to what I have told you. They should know about our suffering. We are refugees living in tents which get flooded when it rains and very hot in summer. The weather is harsh. I wish the world would support us and our families back in Syria. We want to get back soon. I am confident that the world can help us get back home as soon as possible, God willing.
U.S. tightens sanctions on Iran over nuclear program
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 18:26 EST
The United States on Wednesday tightened sanctions on Iran to further choke off its oil income, saying it was necessary to increase pressure on Tehran over its suspected nuclear weapons program.
It also set sanctions against Iranian media organizations and Tehran’s Cyber Police for what it called human rights abuses for censorship.
The US Treasury said that countries continuing to buy Iranian oil would have to retain their payment for the oil, and only allow it to be used for Iranian purchases of goods from them.
That would tighten Tehran’s ability to freely use the money it gets from oil exports, which have already been sharply constricted by international sanctions on the country.
“So long as Iran continues to fail to address the concerns of the international community about its nuclear program, the US will impose tighter sanctions and intensify the economic pressure against the Iranian regime,” said David Cohen, Treasury under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The move on oil revenues came six months after the US said it would deny access to the US financial system to countries buying Iranian oil, with certain countries given exceptions to wind down their trade.
These new rules narrow the exceptions, the Treasury said, and require any country still buying Iranian oil to credit the payment to a domestic account.
“In addition to effectively ‘locking up’ Iranian oil revenue overseas, this provision sharply restricts Iran’s use of this revenue for bilateral trade and severely limits Iran’s ability to move funds across jurisdictions,” the Treasury said in a statement.
“We are working to make the choices for the Iranian leadership as stark as possible,” said a senior US administration official, speaking on background.
“Iran can either meet its international obligations… or it will face increased pressure and financial isolation.”
Iran blasted the new move, as it fends off global pressure over its nuclear program, which it says is for peaceful purposes only.
“This is the latest ring in the series of hostile actions against Iran,” said Iran foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast.
“We are seeking methods to neutralize the new pressure,” he said, quoted by Mehr news agency.
“We could double the trade volume with the countries importing our oil… (for example) we export five, 10, or 20 billion dollars’ worth of oil, and instead we can receive the needed goods.”
The Treasury stressed that the tightening of Iran’s access to foreign trade and foreign exchange would not apply to farm commodities, food, medicine or medical devices
Tehran would be able to tap its accounts held by a bilateral trade partner to purchase such “humanitarian goods” from a third country if necessary.
The United States also placed sanctions on Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, the Communications Regulatory Authority, and the Iranian Cyber Police, citing their extensive efforts to censor news and information flows as well as broadcasting forced confessions of political detainees.
“All of these entities have been involved in the Iranian government’s ongoing attempts to shut their population off from the world through various forms of censorship and intimidation,” the administration official said.
The sanctions forbid US citizens and entities from doing business with those groups, and lock up any assets they might hold in US jurisdictions.
The new US sanctions came ahead of the fourth round of talks between Iran and six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — in Kazakhstan on February 26 on Tehran’s nuclear activities.
US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that Washington hopes for concrete progress in the talks.
“Our hope is that after applying the toughest sanctions we’ve had in international history… that this round will offer a real opportunity for Iran to discuss substance,” she said.
February 6, 2013
Multinational Search in Bulgaria Blast
By MATTHEW BRUNWASSER and NICHOLAS KULISH
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Law enforcement and intelligence officials from several countries are working to find two presumed Hezbollah members, a Canadian and an Australian, both of Lebanese descent, who are believed to be behind a deadly bombing of a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria.
Bulgarian officials have declined to release the names of the men, who they believe were working with a third man who was accidentally killed while trying to stow the bomb in the luggage compartment under the bus. Additional details continued to emerge about the bombing, which killed five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver and wounded dozens more in a parking lot near the Burgas airport last summer.
In an interview Wednesday, the interior minister, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said the three flew from Beirut to Warsaw, then traveled by train to Bulgaria. Mr. Tsvetanov said evidence indicated that the plan was to blow up the bus while it was traveling to a hotel using a remote detonator with a range of 10 kilometers, or 6.2 miles.
“This means that the bus could be easily blown up five to six kilometers away from the airport,” Mr. Tsvetanov said. “Of course, in this case he made a mistake.”
The Bulgarian announcement Tuesday that Hezbollah was believed to be behind the attack put significant pressure on European Union leaders to formally declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization and to crack down on the group’s fund-raising operations on the Continent. It is a move the bloc has long resisted, as countries like France and Germany have preferred to engage with Hezbollah as a political force in Lebanon rather than ban it in connection with terrorist activities.
Hezbollah has denied playing a role in the bombing. The group’s deputy leader, Sheik Naim Qassem, said Wednesday during a meeting with students that “Israel is leading an international intimidation campaign against Hezbollah.” He added that “accusations against Hezbollah will not change anything and do not change the realities and the facts.”
According to Mr. Tsvetanov, after the bomb exploded, the two surviving conspirators escaped by land, heading north into Romania. Investigators discovered a forged driver’s license and a social security card in the village of Tsar Kaloyan. DNA from the dead man was found on the social security card, linking him to the fleeing suspects.
From Romania the two men flew to Turkey before traveling to Lebanon, Mr. Tsvetanov said. He would not say whether the suspects were currently in Lebanon or whether a warrant had been issued for their arrest.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany condemned the attack, her spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Wednesday. “If the evidence solidifies that Hezbollah actually was responsible for this despicable attack, there will have to be consequences,” said Mr. Seibert.
France in particular is concerned about the effect such a determination could have on the stability of Lebanon, especially in light of the ongoing violence in Syria.
“We will consider the consequences in coordination with our European partners,” Philippe Lalliot, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said on Wednesday. “There are various options to study.”
Maja Kocijancic, a foreign affairs spokeswoman for the European Union, said Wednesday that the bloc would “assess the results of the investigation and discuss how to take it forward.” Asked whether declaring Hezbollah a terrorist organization was a possible outcome, she said, “I expect that this will be an option that will be looked at among others.”
Officials in Canada and Australia said they were working with Bulgarian investigators. Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration and multiculturalism, told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday that the Canadian suspect moved to Canada at the age of 8, obtained citizenship a few years later and left when he was 12.
“I understand he may have been back to Canada a few times since then,” Mr. Kenney said.
Australia’s minister for foreign affairs, Bob Carr, said in a statement Wednesday that “the Australian Federal Police has worked with Bulgarian authorities in pursuit of those responsible for the bombing.” Experts from the United States and Israel have been involved in the search for the perpetrators since July 18, 2012, the day of the attack.
Lebanese officials have said they, too, would cooperate with Bulgaria on the case. “Further discussions will be completed soon after receiving all the documents related to this topic from the Bulgarian public prosecutor,” President Michel Suleiman of Lebanon said on Wednesday.
Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Steven Erlanger from Paris, and Ian Austen from Ottawa.
February 6, 2013
Symbol of a Struggle
By JAMES MONTAGUE
MIERCUREA CIUC, Romania — A city of 38,000 on a plateau in eastern Transylvania, Miercurea Ciuc is famous for three things: its status as one of Romania’s coldest places; its brewery, where the country’s Ciuc beer is produced; and its ice hockey team, which has won the last six Romanian league championships.
But the name on the front of the team’s blue-and-white hockey jerseys is not Miercurea Ciuc. It is Szekelyfold, the Hungarian word for the Szekely Land, a former province of the Kingdom of Hungary. Printed on the ice at the Vakar Lajos rink is the Hungarian name of the team: Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda. The fans at the team’s home games chant the Szekely Land anthem in Hungarian.
The Szekely Land, named for a warrior tribe that dates to the Middle Ages, is a Hungarian-dominated area of Romania, covering three counties in the center of the country. The roughly 1.2 million Hungarians represent Romania’s largest ethnic minority, about 6 percent of the country’s population. The fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I marooned millions of Hungarians in what is now Romania, Slovakia, Ukraine and Serbia. The Szekely found themselves cut off and subject to a policy of assimilation, including heavy restrictions on the use of their language, under the former communist leader Nicolae Ceausescu.
But for the past two decades, the region’s ethnic Hungarians have been campaigning for greater autonomy, with Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda in the vanguard. Romania may be a soccer country, but in Csikszereda, ice hockey is the only game in town.
The hockey club functions much like the storied Spanish soccer club Barcelona, which kept alive the flame of Catalan nationalism under the repressive rule of General Franco.
“I can say that this sports club, this ice hockey team, represents the Szekely,” said Papp Elod, the club’s former president, who is now a local politician. “We like to say that ice hockey represents our history as all our ancestors were warriors, and ice hockey needs warriors. There are very few Romanians who play for our club.”
Standing rinkside, Timo Lahtinen, the team’s 65-year-old Finnish coach, said, “Everyone in this town plays hockey and talks about hockey, this is the hockey center of Romania.”
Lahtinen paused, then corrected himself, “Actually, Hungary.”
The success of Csikszereda had caused a problem within Romanian ice hockey. The Romanian national team is almost entirely made up of ethnic Hungarians who play for Csikszereda.
“The whole national team is only my players, and everyone speaks Hungarian,” Lahtinen said.
This anomaly reached a critical point during a 2011 game between Romania and Hungary in Miercurea Ciuc. After the game, almost all of Romania’s players joined with their opponents to sing the Hungarian anthem.
“Some of the paparazzi caught it, and it was a big scandal,” said Attila Goga, Csikszereda’s captain, who has played for the Romanian national team for a decade but holds dual Romanian-Hungarian citizenship. “It’s a little bit strange, but I can see that, too. They don’t understand our situation here.”
There was only one anthem Goga was going to sing.
“Everyone here is Hungarian,” he said. “I feel Hungarian. From a little child I spoke Hungarian. We learn Romanian, too, but Hungarian is my mother language.”
The fall of communism gave some Hungarian minorities the chance to push for greater cultural and political freedoms after years of repression. A move by the Hungarian government in 2010 to grant joint citizenship to its former subjects across Eastern and Central Europe has emboldened old allegiances.
Laszlo Tokes, a former vice president of the European Parliament and one of Romania’s most prominent Hungarian politicians, is campaigning for full Hungarian autonomy within Romania, centered on the Szekley Land, with sports playing an important part.
“Our culture was oppressed,” Tokes said. “So it happened in sport. In Csikszereda that is why it is so important, the role of Hungarian sport life. Hockey sport because it is the people of Hungarian identity. Sport sometimes takes this function and role in a minority.”
Tokes, now a bishop, was a hero of the 1989 revolution that overthrew Ceausescu. When Romania’s secret police attempted to arrest him, his congregation resisted, sparking nationwide protest that brought down the regime.
Tokes called Romanians “very good friends,” but said they did not accept his people as Hungarian.
“Sometimes we are called Romanians speaking Hungarian,” he said. “That is not true. We are full Hungarians in the original sense of the word.”
He added: “Even if we lived on the moon, we would be Hungarian. Even if we are living in Transylvania, Romania, we consider ourselves Hungarians.”
Hoki Sport Club Csikszereda has attracted local businessmen and politicians promoting the Szekely Land. Although its home rink was built in the 1970s, it is well maintained, with a hotel next door to accommodate traveling teams. Inside, the walls are covered with advertisements from local businesses in Hungarian; Ciuc beer is featured prominently. A trophy cabinet heaves with the club’s many honors.
But in Bucharest, the Romanian capital, ice hockey has seen better days. The city’s main rink was partly flooded. On a recent day, a young girl practiced figure skating routines around patches of water pooled on the surface. Stray dogs stalked the perimeter. One stray managed to entangle itself in the hockey nets, until it chewed through the ropes to break free.
“Miercurea Ciuc has a local political and social interest,” said Marius Gliga, the technical director of the Romanian Ice Hockey Federation. “It is a small town. If they want to be seen by the rest of the cities, they have to show something. And they choose sport. The political men in the area use this team to promote themselves.”
Before the revolution, Bucharest was the power center of Romanian ice hockey. Romania’s golden age was in the 1970s and ’80s, when it qualified for the 1976 and 1980 Olympics. Back then, Steaua Bucharest, the team of the army, was the dominant squad.
“They used to take from the best players and allowed them to practice rather than have military service, which was good for the players,” said Gliga, who played center for Steaua his entire career. “They had two years of practice, which was very good for them at 18 to 20. That was good for the national team.”
But the abolition of national service, the supremacy of soccer in Bucharest and the influx of money into Csikszereda from businessmen and politicians eager to further the Szekely Land’s cause switched the balance of power.
Now Steaua is a shadow of its former self, and Bucharest provided little more than the office for the federation and the officials for most matches, including the Romanian Cup final in late December between Csikszereda and Corona Brasov, a team that also hails from Transylvania but whose fans chant in Romanian.
Csikszereda went ahead, 2-0, by the end of the second period, and it appeared that another piece of silverware was about to be added to its trophy cabinet.
The Szekely flag was flying when the third period began, but it did not herald the coronation the home supporters had expected. Brasov stormed back, scoring three times in five minutes. When Csikszereda had a player sent to the penalty box with two minutes left, the match was effectively over. Brasov was crowned champion, the players celebrating wildly in front of their traveling fans.
This time the Csikszereda fans chanted in Romanian, the language of the officials who had crammed into two cars and driven five hours from Bucharest to get there.
“Thieves!” they shouted at the referees.
“Peasants!” they chanted.
“We’re Hungarian and the referees are always Romanian, so we always feel that Romanian referees aren’t fair when it comes to matches,” said Szikszai Laszlo, a 22-year-old fan of Csikszereda.
As the Brasov team members passed the cup among themselves on the ice, Lahtinen stood on the sideline wondering how his team had lost the match. He said one of his players was suspended just a few minutes before the start of the match.
“We were by far the best team and then I guess we got tired as they had more players,” he said.
Csikszereda had lost the final, but the fans had still had the chance to see the club play for a seventh league championship in a row. The rink, and the team, remain a symbol of something bigger than ice hockey.
“In the period of communism, local newspapers couldn’t write Csikszereda; you had to write Miercurea Ciuc,” Laszlo said. “Back then this place was a sanctuary. It was the only place where you could speak Hungarian freely. You can still feel that today to a certain level.”
Alina Totti contributed reporting from Bucharest, Romania.
Croatia-Slovenia: Bridging an irreconcilable divide
6 February 2013
Croatia's accession to the EU, scheduled for July 1, remains suspended until a border dispute and banking row with neighbouring Slovenia are cleared up. The impasse exposes the gap in perceptions of national sovereignty between the EU and the continent’s new independent states.
A little more than 20 years ago Slovenia and Croatia were founded as independent states based on the idea that the only solution to their endless quarrels was to create separate independent states.
The European Union emerged in the 1950s on a diametrically opposed basis. Given the historical experience, which was terrifying to say the least, and the determination to never again fall into the horrors of war, the Union was founded on the idea that surrendering some national sovereignty and integrating with the other states of Europe – not disintegrating, as Yugoslavia did – was the best way to prevent new conflicts.
It was therefore necessary to strip away the ability, the rationale and the power of European countries to generate conflicts, and to create mechanisms to solve them peacefully and by consensus.
The difference between the genesis of the Croat-Slovene argument and that of the European Union, ie between two political philosophies, can be summed up as the difference between the idea of absolute sovereignty and the imperative that all quarrels must be settled rationally and, if necessary, at the cost of some dents to national sovereignty.
Struggling with obstinacy
This contradiction lies at the heart of the Croat-Slovene litigation and the inability (or lack of will, perhaps?) of Zagreb and Ljubljana to resolve it. Slovenia and Croatia are struggling with great obstinacy about matters (the border dispute and the banking row that are preventing the enlargement of the Union and threatening its ability to resolve conflicts.
Paradoxically, Croatia and Slovenia are standing fast on their sovereign rights in their disputes, and this in a political community whose principle is to leave conflicts behind them, though doing so costs its members some of their sovereignty.
The situation is almost comical, considering that the Slovenian and Croat political elites perceive the Union as the embodiment of the racist illusion of European civilisation and its cultural superiority. They imagine it to be something like Vienna's New Year's ball, a showcase for the petty bourgeois and his taste for kitsch. Their own values, which they brought with them into the political arena, are modern values, and diametrically opposed. The sovereignty of their own states they viewed as something sacred, and on that altar they were willing to sacrifice human rights and even lives. Suddenly they feel a little bewildered. Europe, it turns out, is not the Radetzky March, but more like Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with a little of John Lennon's Imagine thrown in.
Risking a betrayal of ideals
A solution of the Croat-Slovene dispute will be positive and beneficial for all concerned. It is highly likely that Brussels will force Ljubljana and Zagreb to a compromise that will trigger the ratification by Slovenia of the Accession Treaty of Croatia.
The Union will demonstrate that it is capable of carrying out its basic function: namely, to force its members to act constructively and rationally, and to cooperate. If the European Union should, unfortunately, fail to discipline the bad-tempered sovereignty of its members, it would betray its own ideals and lose all claim to any higher dignity.
View from Slovenia: Slovenes are in more of a hurry to welcome Croatia than their leaders
Seventy-six per cent of Slovenians are in favour of Slovenia's ratifying the Treaty of Accession of Croatia to the EU, while only 14 per cent are opposed, according to a recent survey published by the Slovenian daily Delo.
Time, though, notes the Ljubljana daily, is running out: the treaty must be ratified by the bloc by April 1, to allow accession to take place as scheduled on July 1. The political crisis in Slovenia and the banking litigation row with Croatia, however, do not bode well for an early ratification. However, notes Dnevnik, Slovenians were able to approve the compromise on their border dispute with Croatia in 2010. “If Slovenian citizens could decide the ratification of the Treaty of Accession, it would be quickly ratified,” Delo concludes.
Portugal: ‘Passos asks Brussels for more than €900m for agriculture’
7 February 2013
Público, 7 February 2013
As Brussels begins tense talks to hammer out a deal for the 2014-2020 EU budget, Portugal’s Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho will push the European Council to increase funding for rural development by €900m, rather than reduce spending by 25 per cent, as is currently proposed. He will argue the country is one of states which benefits lease from Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) handouts.
Portugal’s task will not be easy, since "the environment in which Passos Coelho will try and make his argument that agriculture creates jobs, is one of an increasingly less unified Union".
Poland: ‘Van Rompuy’s Purse’
7 February 2013
Gazeta Wyborcza, 7 February 2013
“This is the last time we may get really big money from the EU to catch up with the West,” says the Warsaw daily at the start of the European Council summit dedicated to agreeing the EU 2014-2020 budget. What the meeting will bring still remains a mystery.
The compromise Council President Herman Van Rompuy will bring to the table – jokingly nicknamed “the budget submarine” by Brussels diplomats, still lies submerged, to avoid it being torpedoed at the beginning of the meeting. Last October Van Rompuy offered Poland €72.4bn as part of the cohesion policy, now Prime Minister Donald Tusk hopes to negotiate 300 bn złoty, or €71.8bn.
Ireland: ‘Debt deal would see IBRC liquidated if agreement secured from Frankfurt’
7 February 2013
The Irish Times, 7 February 2013
Lawmakers in Ireland's parliament voted overnight to liquidate the Irish Bank Resolution Corp, or IBRC, one of its "bad banks", as part of a plan for a new debt-repayment deal with the European Central Bank.
The rushed nature of the legislation followed leaks to news agencies yesterday of “reliable” information that may have affected the markets and “placed between €12bn and €14bn of IBRC assets at risk,” writes the daily.
The government plans to transfer those assets to the NAMA, the other toxic-debt management bank. Politicians had to approve the measure, which will lead to the loss of 850 jobs, before Ireland’s courts opened and creditors could file lawsuits to block the bank’s dismantlement.
European Council: The selfishness waltz
7 February 2013
Le Monde Paris
The EU's 27 leaders are now meeting to discuss the European Union's 2014-2020 budget and will probably reach an agreement. But they will do so by making the usual petty deals that compromise the future, warns Le Monde.
It has become a tradition: the European heads of state and of government meet for a first summit in which differences are noted and which then fails. A second meeting usually allows the necessary compromise to be found in order to move ahead. And so it should be with the European Council meeting on February 7-8, which should agree the Union's 2014-2020 budget after first failing to do so in the autumn of 2012.
But perhaps moving ahead is putting it too strongly. This budget proposal is a relic of the past. Its structure is 20 years old. It represents less than 1 per cent of the Union's wealth. It is dominated by spending on agriculture and development aid to regions while innovative projects suffer variable adjustments.
It is difficult to garner enthusiasm for such an exercise. The French assert that agriculture spending is an investment for the future but their own experience belies this since their agro-business exports are now below those of Germany or the Netherlands.
Future investments sacrificed
The countries of the South and of the East are defending development aid, but they have not shown real efficiency in the face of the euro crisis. As for true investments in the future, they have been sacrificed. Europeans are unable to launch genuine research programmes and their infrastructure projects are a revival of major construction projects proposed by Mr Delors – in 1994.
We have a right to expect much better. Europe is going through the most serious economic and social crisis since the war. Its currency nearly failed. Yet, it is making paltry changes. Although supporters of greater spending have found a just cause in defending the Erasmus university exchange programme, they themselves are not convinced of the value added to the budget.
Cutting their contributions
The result is inevitable: everyone is trying to reduce their contribution. David Cameron has already rescued the British rebate. The Germans, Swedes, Dutch and Austrians are attempting to follow suit. The high point of this horse-trading is that discussions are focused on the spread between promised spending and actual spending to reconcile the donor and beneficiary countries.
This type of bartering is unworthy of Europe. It is time to devise a budget that prepares the future and shows true, federal solidarity for the regions hardest hit by massive unemployment. When they received François Hollande in Strasbourg, the MEPs warned that, as it stands, they will not adopt the budget.
They are not wrong. Europe would not be deprived of its resources because its budget is renewed annually. Europeans must take advantage of the 2014 elections to define their collective budget aspirations. The new parliament and commission would then have a mandate to prepare the future. At last
02/07/2013 11:57 AM
David Miliband Interview: 'We Will Remain at the Center of the EU'
EU leaders are in Brussels debating the bloc's budget -- and future. In an interview, British Labour Party strategist and former foreign secretary David Miliband explains why the UK belongs in the EU, why Brussels needs reform and why Britain will ultimately remain in the union.
British Prime Minister David Cameron is currently steering his country on a confrontation course with Brussels. Driven by the euroskeptics in his Conservative Party, he wants to offer his people an in-or-out vote on European Union membership in 2017. By doing so, he is hoping to force Britain's EU partners to provide the country with further opt-outs from common European regulations. In a not very subtle way, Cameron has threatened that the British people may vote to exit the EU if his demands go unmet.
In negotiations over the European Commission's seven-year budget from 2014 to 2020, the British have also proven to be tough negotiators. In Brussels, the leaders of the 27 EU member states are meeting on Thursday for a special summit that has been convened in response to the collapse of the previous effort to agree on the Commission's long-term financing in November. Together with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Cameron is trying to push through billions more in cuts to the proposed budget drafted by European Council President Herman van Rompuy, the head of the powerful body representing EU leaders that has the final say on many EU policy matters.
Pro-European politicians in Britain are following the undiplomatic approach with concern. Former Foreign Secretary David Miliband of the Labour Party has accused Cameron of lacking strategic abilities. If he alienates his partners, Miliband warns in an interview with SPIEGEL ONLINE, Cameron could undermine his real goal: reforming the EU.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Miliband, is Britain seriously considering leaving the EU?
Miliband: I am sorry that a loud section of the Conservative Party now advocates that position. I trust the good common sense of the British people. The unique thing about this country is that the government has put (the option of an) exit on the table. It is not that they are for an exit, but they have put it on the table alongside reform. I am pro-reform and anti-exit.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Prime Minister David Cameron says the same thing. What's wrong with his plan to increase reform pressure in the EU?
Miliband: Cameron doesn't want to be the prime minister who takes Britain out of the European Union. He's skeptical, not hysterical about the EU. But the problem with his promise of a referendum is that Britain's relationship with Europe in the next few years is going to be defined by the danger of a potential exit, not the positive vision of reform. Also, in order to please his party, the prime minister has to demonize the current European Union. There are certainly faults and problems, but it shouldn't be demonized as this gargantuan beast that is eating up everybody's money. The EU costs the British people £1 (€1.15) per person per week.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why are so many people in Britain so critical of the EU?
Miliband: Britain is not the only country where there is a crisis of confidence in EU leadership. There is a strong sense around Europe that we've got a magnificent institution of the 20th century that needs to be remoulded for the 21st century. Second, Britain's history with the EU has never been a smooth one. It was a difficult pregnancy. Over the past few years, we pro-Europeans have also been very defensive on EU issues. There was a lot of reform when Labour was in power, the common agricultural budget is down from 60 to 40 percent, there is a common foreign policy, (and it is) an environmental union as well as an economic union. These are changes that are good for the EU and good for Britain. But they are often invisible to the people of Britain.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Even the Labour Party sounds increasingly euroskeptic. How can this national mood be changed?
Miliband: The Tories' problem is that many of them are too obsessed with Europe. Labour's issue is that Europe is now agreed policy -- like the EU "acquis." It is in the party DNA to be pro-Europe and pro-reform, so it is not being discussed much. The Labour Party is not euroskeptic. Instead, there is a recognition that social democrats need to be hard-headed reformers.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will Britain hold a referendum in 2017 no matter who is governing?
Miliband: We've always said there will be a referendum once there is a shift of power from London to Brussels. That is the law. At the next election, Labour will set out the details of its position for the next parliament.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What priorities would you set for EU reforms?
Miliband: The Tories say the big issue is repatriation of powers. I say the big issues are innovation, energy, infrastructure and migration -- and, of course, the allocation of the budget matters to a lot of these. Some of the points Cameron makes are appealing to other Europeans. Take the argument that the European Parliament should not travel to Strasbourg. That is common sense. Those small things bring the EU into disrepute and should be addressed. But my fear is that these legitimate interests are getting undermined by the sense that Britain is on the exit road.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How would you rate Angela Merkel's performance in the EU?
Miliband: It is an election year, I am not going to put myself in the center of the domestic political debate. But there is an important German lesson for Britain. The last two years have been some of the most testing times for Germany's leaders in their relationship with the EU. But at every point, both the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats have kept the strategic interests of Germany in the forefront of their minds, whatever the short-term tactical issues. They have never lost sight of the strategic interest in the development of the European Union as a major player in the New World Order. The prime minister's recent speech, on the other hand, was more tactical than strategic. The working time directive is hardly the defining issue of the future of the European Union.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will Britain ever join the euro zone?
Miliband: That is hard to see for the foreseeable future. The core argument for the euro was that it would drive convergence of member economies. That hasn't happened, so I cannot imagine the British public getting convinced. Still, that doesn't mean that we cannot be a major voice on energy reform or foreign policy. A two-tier Europe is not the way we want to go.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: How can Britain avoid being sidelined if the euro-zone countries become even more integrated?
Miliband: Well, we will certainly be sidelined if we walk off the pitch. But you can be a good European without being in the euro. Cameron says he wants to advance the single market for services. It is a good idea, but also one that requires more central control for the European Commission. If you want to advance the single market, you can't get that by devolution of power to London. There needs to be a consistency.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Is the idea of "ever-closer union" still valid?
Miliband: Yes, as a union of peoples. It is true that Britain has become very critical of the EU institutions, but at the same time it has become a very European country. There are more Europeans living here; there are more Brits living and doing business in the rest of Europe. From food to football to political debate, there is more interchange than in the old times of the famous headline: "Fog in the channel -- Continent cut off". That is not the world we live in anymore. That is the paradox: We are more European, but more skeptical of the EU institutions.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: The 27 EU leaders are currently negotiating a new seven-year financial framework for the European Commission for the period between 2014 and 2020. How can one demand further EU integration while at the same time insisting on freezing the budget needed to do that and also cutting salaries for EU civil servants?
Miliband: The idea that a budget round should conclude without more efficiency in the European institutions seems wrong. At times when all people in all countries have to tighten their belts, it is important to be a hard-headed pro-European.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: What is your vision: How will the European Union look like in 10 years?
Miliband: It will be an innovation-oriented, globally open collection of states and people. Britain and Germany, one of them in the euro, the other one out of the euro, will be two pillars of the European construction. This is not to exclude France, because the French-German alliance is special. But in spite of German and British differences, we have a lot of shared perspectives and common values.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: For example?
Miliband: Germany knows what intense global competition is; so do we. Germany knows we need to improve multilateral international diplomacy; so do we. Germany knows that Europe is not to become a country, (that) it is a collection of nation-states. Together we should be pushing for the right kind of reforms. The sadness about the Conservatives' desire to get out of the EU is that it undermines this very vital relationship.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: So Britain will still be in the EU in 10 years?
Miliband: Yes, definitely. We will remain at the center of the EU. And we should remain at the center of the debate about the future of the EU.
Interview conducted by Roland Nelles and Carsten Volkery.