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Farewell Tom, a nice guy on the front line

July 15, 2007 Leave a comment

We salute Tom Walker, the Sunday Times foreign correspondent who died from cancer last week aged 44

Published on the Sunday Times on July 15 2007

In all that was the madness of the Balkans in the mid to late 1990s, there was no better companion to help steer you through the demented chaos than Tom Walker. As we covered the final death throes of Yugoslavia and the anarchy that gripped Albania, Tom’s calm and sunny disposition smoothed our way through checkpoints at gunpoint, torched villages and ethnic cleansing.

War correspondents always have different ways of dealing with stress – not unlike movie stars and top athletes, I suppose – but with Tom as your soul mate, sanity and survival were assured by his laughter and unfailing good humour.

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Backlash Feared to U.S. Funding in Iran

June 15, 2007 Leave a comment

by Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Guy Dinmore
The Financial Times
June 15, 2007

The survival of Iranian non-governmental organisations is being threatened by the US administration’s continuing attempts to fund the country’s civil society, leading activists have warned. Prominent NGOs say the US funding, and Iranian suspicions that the money is designed to create the conditions for a “soft revolution”, have helped President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad justify a crackdown on their activities.

The recent arrests of four Iranian-American dual citizens – two on charges of espionage – have sharpened what was already a fierce debate in Tehran and Washington on whether the lack of transparency in identifying the recipients of US funding makes local activists vulnerable to action by the regime. The US State Department denies any of the four had funding from its programme.

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US under fire over Afghan poppy plan

May 25, 2007 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Rachel Morarjee in Kabul

Published: May 25 2007

The US is proceeding with plans for a big crop-spraying programme to destroy opium poppies in Afghanistan, in spite of resistance from the government of President Hamid Karzai and objections from some senior US military officers who fear it will fuel the Taliban insurgency.

A US delegation will soon leave for Kabul to persuade Mr Karzai that glycophate, a herbicide that is widely applied by US farmers, is safe to use and that trial ground-spraying should begin for the first time since the US ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.

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US under fire over Afghan poppy plan

May 25, 2007 Leave a comment

by Guy Dinmore in Washington and Rachel Morarjee in Kabul
Published: May 25 2007

The US is proceeding with plans for a big crop-spraying programme to destroy opium poppies in Afghanistan, in spite of resistance from the government of President Hamid Karzai and objections from some senior US military officers who fear it will fuel the Taliban insurgency.

A US delegation will soon leave for Kabul to persuade Mr Karzai that glycophate, a herbicide that is widely applied by US farmers, is safe to use and that trial ground-spraying should begin for the first time since the US ousted the Taliban regime in 2001.

But controversy over the proposed spraying is causing rifts within the Nato alliance. Some governments, including Germany, want nothing to do with the eradication programme and are threatening to reconsider their posture in Afghanistan, diplomats say. Afghan security forces trained by Dyncorp, a private US defence contractor, are to carry out the spraying. Read more…

General Wesley Clark – Legitimacy: First Task for American Security

May 16, 2007 Leave a comment

Hosted by: Center for Politics and Foreign Relations, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), The Johns Hopkins University

…….

questions:

Guy Dinmore: Thank you very much General. It’s very nice to see you. I don’t know if you remember but I was actually the FT correspondent in Belgrade in those days in ’99…

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Thank you.

Guy Dinmore: …and occasionally we used to chat over the phone with the General in preparing for the bombardment and me in Belgrade also preparing.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Sorry to have interrupted your tea time a couple of times there.

Guy Dinmore: Um, this question of legitimacy is a very complicated subject and I’m going to ramble slightly, then I’m going to ask a very hard question at the end so wait for the punchline. But first of all on Milosevic, I remember there was actually no UN resolution when NATO started bombing Serbia. In that sense there was a lack of, you might call, international community legitimacy. I mean, it did follow later, but it was not there. Um, I think Milosevic is an interesting example. I mean Milosevic, like Saddam, eventually went on trial for war crimes and they were the losers. Um, you have enumerated a list of what a lot of people would count as crimes in this administration’s conduct of the Iraq war. You’ve accused them of deliberately, um, distorting intelligence, leading this country to war under false, um, premises, breaking international laws. You have called for justice. And there is one single act that this country could do which would actually restore its legitimacy, whatever that is exactly in the eyes of the international community. Quite simply, and I will get on to that in a moment…a few weeks ago, Dennis Kucinich was here and he spoke very eloquently. Um, he’s a man who is trying to impeach Dick Cheney but we all know that this is not really the American way, is it? The American way is that a president comes in, like Gerald Ford, and he pardons his predecessor. The American way, on the whole, as we will probably see with Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank, is ask the man to quietly go and then give him a large sum of money. So, General, if you were the president, and you come to office, would you pardon Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush for their actions or would you put them on trial for war crimes? Thank you.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: Well, I could hardly stand the suspense as you went through the thing. And you have sort of approached it from different…let me just answer a question you didn’t ask first and then I’ll come to the question you did.

Guy Dinmore: No, no, no, no, no…

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK: I want to make…I want to be very clear because I’m asked this occasionally, especially by some of my friends in the Tory party in the UK. They say ‘well look, I mean, here you are citing all these things about Iraq, but you went to war in Kosovo without a UN resolution’ and I want to take just a second and say that the two cases are exactly the opposite. In Kosovo, there was every effort made for diplomacy first. We used force only as a last resort. We used minimum force. We gradually escalated it only when it was clear that minimum force wouldn’t work. We were scrupulously careful to try to avoid civilian casualties. We fully accounted for the civilian casualties that occurred and when the fighting was over, we rushed in a force that already had plans and did everything it possibly could to protect property and they’re still there today guarding these Serb monasteries and other things. So it’s exactly the opposite of the case of Iraq.

Now, with respect to the consequences for those who led the nation.

I think that…I think that it’s premature to talk about these kinds of issues – impeachments and pardon. But I don’t think it’s premature to call for a thorough inquiry and I think that is the American way. We have something here which simply can’t be washed away and covered up. I’ve met with too many parents who’ve lost their children. I’ve met with too many foreign leaders whose faith in America has been damaged. I’ve met with too many military leaders who are struggling to come to terms with what they felt were the pressures and orders from above and what they knew in their hearts and had reservations about as a consequence and tried to resolve it.

This doesn’t…this is not an issue that’s going to go away so I think it needs to be followed step-by-step and I think the way to begin is to first finish the Senate investigation that was promised on whether or not the administration properly used the intelligence information that was available. No point in having everybody write his own memoirs on it – we’ve just had George come out with his – and…let’s get the facts out. We have a Congress in place that is not of the same party as the executive branch in the American system. That normally means that you could provide greater trust and reliance on the adversarial system of inquiry that’s in place.

Let’s have it…let’s have it done. And then let’s go back and find out about those memos written in the Executive branch. What exactly did they mean when they said…when they say the Geneva Convention was an anachronism, when they redefined the definition of torture, when they indicated that…what was going through the Secretary of Defense’s mind when he was talking about how we needed more information, not more people in Iraq? And what did he think that meant to the people on the ground? Where did the abuses at Abu Ghraib come from? What are the secret findings that are out there in the intelligence community? Why are these rumors still surfacing of people being beaten up and abused and conduct that’s just not…and what did the President in a signing statement in the 2006 Act on Military Commissions and the 2005 Act on detainee treatment? What have been the actual consequences of those signing statements?

These are legitimate matters of public inquiry and in our political system, we have a lot of people in office who do have political courage and I have confidence that our leaders will ask these tough questions because it’s the only way we can move our country forward and regain the trust and good faith of others in the world.

Darfur pressure builds on Buffett

April 30, 2007 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: April 30 2007

Warren Buffett is known for hanging on to profitable stocks long term. This week, however, at the annual general meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway company, the “sage of Omaha” will hear an unusual case from shareholders who want him to sell his huge holdings in a well-performing Chinese oil company – to help stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The AGM, which last year drew 24,000 people, will provide an extraordinary platform for a growing divestment movement in the US even if, as generally expected, Mr Buffett stands by his insistence he will not sell his stake in PetroChina, valued at some $3bn (€2.2bn, £1.5bn) or 11 per cent of outstanding shares.

In a recent note to shareholders Mr Buffett, the world’s second richest man, agreed that conditions in Darfur were “deplorable” and empathised with those who wanted change.

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Investors press Buffett over Darfur

April 29, 2007 Leave a comment

By Guy Dinmore in Washington

Published: April 29 2007

Warren Buffett is known for hanging on to profitable stocks long term. This week, however, at the annual general meeting of his Berkshire Hathaway company, the “sage of Omaha” will hear an unusual case from shareholders who want him to sell his huge holdings in a well-performing Chinese oil company – to help stop the genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The AGM, which last year drew 24,000 people to Omaha, will provide an extraordinary platform for a growing divestment movement in the US even if, as generally expected, Mr Buffett stands by his insistence that he will not sell his stake in PetroChina, valued at some $3bn (€2.2bn, £1.5bn) or 11 per cent of outstanding shares.

But he added: “We do not believe that Berkshire should automatically divest shares of an investee because it disagrees with a specific activity of that investee.”

Jerry Porter is not deterred. He and his wife Judith, whose Jewish grandparents were killed by the Nazis in Latvia, are tabling a broadly worded resolution at the AGM on Saturday that would have Berkshire divest from foreign companies engaging in businesses that US companies are barred from because of presidential executive orders.

“We think Mr Buffett is an ethical person and he can help end the genocide,” Mr Porter told the FT. “If Warren Buffett was to announce Berkshire Hathaway was divesting from shares in PetroChina it would have a huge effect on other shareholders. Are we talking about China or Sudan? Both. Genocide has continued because of China’s support of Sudan.”

Mr Buffett says he has seen no evidence that PetroChina, which is listed in New York and Hong Kong, has any operations in Sudan. He concedes that China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), its state-owned parent company which has a majority holding, does work in Sudan, but he asserts that PetroChina has no influence as a subsidiary.

The Sudan Divestment Task Force this month released a report alleging that PetroChina has an “intimate, opaque and symbiotic relationship” with its parent. It also notes that, primarily through CNPC operations, Sudan exports 50-80 per cent of its oil to China, which in turn is Sudan’s largest arms supplier and its protector in the UN Security Council.

The Porters, from Pennsylvania, will present the motion and the floor will be open to debate. The Save Darfur campaign is planning a publicity blitz outside Omaha’s vast Qwest convention centre.

Shareholders appreciate that, whatever his motives, Mr Buffett is giving space for a debate likely to receive national exposure, noting that he could have excluded it from the agenda.

The airing of China’s role in Sudan comes at a crucial moment, notes Bennett Freeman, senior vice-president for social research and policy at Calvert, which runs “socially responsible” funds and helps the divestment movement.

“Buffett is providing a timely and important platform that I hope will be heard in Beijing and Khartoum,” he said. He agreed with US officials who say China appears to be responding to international pressure and had played a role in persuading Sudan to move towards accepting a UN-African Union peacekeeping force, although it has not yet agreed to full deployment.

Adam Sterling, speaking for the divestment campaign, stresses the goal is to have Mr Buffett engage PetroChina in an effort to influence the activities of its parent company and, failing that, then divest.

Various divestment campaigns – mainly targeted at Sudan and Iran – are building momentum in the US. Several states have passed divestment legislation on Sudan, as has Harvard University’s endowment, which sold PetroChina stock.

Last Friday the Florida Senate unanimously passed legislation that would lead to divestment of its $150bn pension fund from foreign companies investing in Sudan and Iran’s energy sector. US companies are already barred from Iran and Sudan by law or executive order.

“Just as Florida acted to help abolish apartheid in South Africa, we must use our economic power to stand up to Sudan and Iran today. There truly is no time to waste,” Senator Ted Deutch, sponsor of the legislation, said, noting that Florida would be the first to take action aimed at Iran.

He told the FT that pressure to follow suit would be applied to funds, such as Berkshire Hathaway, if held by the Florida pension fund.

The campaign has raised the hackles of the US business community, which is responding with lawsuits. The administration of President George W. Bush appears divided over the issue and has largely remained silent.

Bill Reinsch, head of the National Foreign Trade Council, which is suing the state of Illinois and would consider suing Florida, says states are acting unconstitutionally and making bad policy. “It’s chicken soup diplomacy,” he said. “Makes you feel good but doesn’t actually do any good.”

On Iran, he echoes recent testimony of administration officials before Congress who argued that forced divestment would counteract the efforts of Mr Bush to take a multilateral approach with allies against Tehran’s nuclear programme.