29 November 2007

Romania pushes Saudi investment in country

Saudi investors have made total investments of $2.2 billion in Romania up to date, the country's ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ion Dobreci told the press on Wednesday in Riyadh.

Dobreci said his country is all set to boost ties in different sectors with the kingdom and other Gulf states following its entry into the EU. Romania became a member of the EU at the beginning of this year.

The ambassador highlighted the success of the recent acquisition of a 63% stake in Romania's Electroputere Craiova by the Saudi Al-Arrab Contracting Company (ACC).

ACC, part of Mada Group, an industrial and commercial investment vehicle of the wealthy Al-Rajhi family, bought the controlling stake in the Romanian manufacturer of train engines, generators and electrical transformers in June for $174 million.

Mada intends to invest $1 billion through ACC to modernise the existing facilities of Electroputere Craiova and to turn it into a profitable company by 2009.

Mada is one of the four qualified consortiums working on the $4 billion cargo railway project in Saudi Arabia, and it is also working on the $5 billion high speed passenger railway project between Mecca and Medina, the two holly Muslim cities of Saudi Arabia.

Dobreci said the move to buy a majority stake in Electroputere was significant because Saudi Arabia intends to develop its railway infrastructure and the company's engines will help in achieving this.

Doberci said that $64 million debts Electroputere carries forced it to look for investors outside of Romania like ACC to bail it out.

There are many poor-performing state-owned companies like Electroputere in Romania that have been sold to foreign investors and seen their fortunes turn around.

Five years ago an Austrian-based bank bought Casa Agricola, a struggling state-owned Romanian bank, for $45 million and invested about $250 million in its modernisation. Today analysts estimate the bank could be sold for $2.5 billion.

Dobreci also said that the Saudi Zamil Group and Amiantit are also working to invest in Romania’s steel and pipe projects. He said a major housing project of 25,000 units in Romania is being developed by a Saudi-Romanian joint venture.

The economic growth and reforms made by Romania in the last two years have been praised by the World Bank.

The World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) ranked Romania 55th out of the 178 economies in its Doing Business 2007 Index, mainly due to the significant changes Romania made to its taxation system.

The IMF, the World Bank’s sister institution, however, warned that Romania is becoming too attractive to the extent that its economy might overheat.

Foreign investors have piled into Romania, attracted by its market of 20 million, Eastern Europe’s second largest after Poland, and opportunities to establish low-cost export bases.

The privatisation of state-owned enterprises helped in attracting foreign direct investment last year that exceeded 10 billion euros, the region’s highest.

The ambassador said Saudi businessmen can benefits from a flat tax rate with greater incentives offered by Romania.

Dobreci said that Romania’s large market, cheap labour and cheap utilities, as well as economic and political stability, were good reasons why Saudis should increase their investments in the country.

According to the embassy figures, the bilateral trade between Saudi and Romania stands at about $200 million annually.-(arabianbusiness)

25 November 2007

A plan to attack Iran swiftly and from above

Massive, devastating air strikes, a full dose of "shock and awe" with hundreds of bunker-busting bombs slicing through concrete at more than a dozen nuclear sites across Iran is no longer just the idle musing of military planners and uber-hawks.

Although air strikes don't seem imminent as the U.S.-Iranian drama unfolds, planning for a bombing campaign and preparing for the geopolitical blowback has preoccupied military and political councils for months.

No one is predicting a full-blown ground war with Iran. The likeliest scenario, a blistering air war that could last as little as one night or as long as two weeks, would be designed to avoid the quagmire of invasion and regime change that now characterizes Iraq. But skepticism remains about whether any amount of bombing can substantially delay Iran's entry into the nuclear-weapons club.

Attacking Iran has gone far beyond the twilight musings of a lame-duck president. Almost all of those jockeying to succeed U.S. President George W. Bush are similarly bellicose. Both front-runners, Democrat Senator Hillary Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani, have said that Iran's ruling mullahs can't be allowed to go nuclear. "Iran would be very sure if I were president of the United States that I would not allow them to become nuclear," said Mr. Giuliani. Ms. Clinton is equally hard-line.

Nor does the threat come just from the United States. As hopes fade that sanctions and common sense might avert a military confrontation with Tehran - as they appear to have done with North Korea - other Western leaders are openly warning that bombing may be needed.

Unless Tehran scraps its clandestine and suspicious nuclear program and its quest for weapons-grade uranium (it already has the missiles capable of delivering an atomic warhead), the world will be "faced with an alternative that I call catastrophic: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran," French President Nicolas Sarkozy has warned.

Bombing Iran would be relatively easy. Its antiquated air force and Russian air-defence missiles would be easy pickings for the U.S. warplanes.

But effectively destroying Iran's widely scattered and deeply buried nuclear facilities would be far harder, although achievable, according to air-power experts. But the fallout, especially the anger sown across much of the Muslim world by another U.S.-led attack in the Middle East, would be impossible to calculate.

Israel has twice launched pre-emptive air strikes ostensibly to cripple nuclear programs. In both instances, against Iraq in 1981 and Syria two months ago, the targeted regimes howled but did nothing.

The single-strike Israeli attacks would seem like pinpricks, compared with the rain of destruction U.S. warplanes would need to kneecap Iran's far larger nuclear network.

"American air strikes on Iran would vastly exceed the scope of the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak nuclear centre in Iraq, and would more resemble the opening days of the 2003 air campaign against Iraq," said John Pike, director at Globalsecurity.org, a leading defence and security group.

"Using the full force of operational B-2 stealth bombers, staging from Diego Garcia or flying direct from the United States," along with warplanes from land bases in the region and carriers at sea, at least two-dozen suspected nuclear sites would be targeted, he said.

Although U.S. ground forces are stretched thin with nearly 200,000 fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the firepower of the U.S. air force and the warplanes aboard aircraft carriers could easily overwhelm Iran's defences, leaving U.S. warplanes in complete command of the skies and free to pound targets at will.

With air bases close by in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan, including Kandahar, and naval-carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, hundreds of U.S. warplanes serviced by scores of airborne refuellers could deliver a near constant hail of high explosives.

Fighter-bombers and radar-jammers would spearhead any attack. B-2 bombers, each capable of delivering 20 four-tonne bunker-busting bombs, along with smaller stealth bombers and streams of F-18s from the carriers could maintain an open-ended bombing campaign.

"They could keep it up until the end of time, which might be hastened by the bombing," Mr. Pike said. "They could make the rubble jump; there's plenty of stuff to bomb," he added, a reference to the now famous line from former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld that Afghanistan was a "target-poor" country.

Mr. Pike believes it could all be over in a single night. Others predict days, or even weeks, of sustained bombing.

Unidentified Pentagon planners have been cited talking of "1,500 aim points." What is clear is that a score or more known nuclear sites would be destroyed. Some, in remote deserts, would present little risk of "collateral damage," military jargon for unintended civilian causalities. Others, like laboratories at the University of Tehran, in the heart of a teeming capital city, would be hard to destroy without killing innocent Iranians.

What would likely unfold would be weeks of escalating tension, following a breakdown of diplomatic efforts.

The next crisis point may come later this month if the UN Security Council becomes deadlocked over further sanctions.

"China and Russia are more concerned about the prospect of the U.S. bombing Iran than of Iran getting a nuclear bomb," says Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Tehran remains defiant. Our enemies "must know that Iran will not give the slightest concession ... to any power," Iran's fiery President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday. For his part, Mr. Bush has pointedly refused to rule out resorting to war. Last month, another U.S. naval battle group - including the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry S Truman with 100 warplanes on board and the Canadian frigate HMCS Charlottetown as one of its screen of smaller warships - left for the Persian Gulf. At least one, and often two, carrier battle groups are always in the region.

Whether even weeks of bombing would cripple Iran's nuclear program cannot be known. Mr. Pike believes it would set back, by a decade or more, the time Tehran needs to develop a nuclear warhead. But Iran's clandestine program - international inspectors were completely clueless as to the existence of several major sites until exiles ratted out the mullahs - may be so extensive that even the longest target list will miss some.

"It's not a question of whether we can do a strike or not and whether the strike could be effective," retired Marine general Anthony Zinni told Time magazine. "It certainly would be, to some degree. But are you prepared for all that follows?"

Attacked and humiliated, Iran might be tempted, as Mr. Ahmadinejad has suggested, to strike back, although Iran has limited military options.

At least some Sunni governments in the region, not least Saudi Arabia, would be secretly delighted to see the Shia mullahs in Tehran bloodied. But the grave risk of any military action spiralling into a regional war, especially if Mr. Ahmadinejad tried to make good on his threat to attack Israel, remains.

"Arab leaders would like to see Iran taken down a notch," said Steven Cook, an analyst specializing in the Arab world at the Council on Foreign Relations, "but their citizens will see this as what they perceive to be America's ongoing war on Islam."


Building tension

The confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program has been simmering for more than five years. These are some of the key flashpoints.

August, 2002: Iranian exiles say that Tehran has built a vast uranium enrichment plant at Natanz and a heavy water plant at Arak without informing the United Nations.

December, 2002: The existence of the sites is confirmed by satellite photographs shown on U.S. television. The United States accuses Tehran of "across-the-board pursuit of weapons of mass destruction." Iran agrees to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

June, 2003: IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei accuses Iran of not revealing the extent of its nuclear work and urges leaders to sign up for more intrusive inspections.

October, 2003: After meeting French, German and British foreign ministers, Tehran agrees to stop producing enriched uranium and formally decides to sign the Additional Protocol, a measure that extends the IAEA's ability to detect undeclared nuclear activities. No evidence is produced to confirm the end of enrichment.

November, 2003: Mr. ElBaradei says there is "no evidence" that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. The United States disagrees.

February, 2004: An IAEA report says Iran experimented with polonium-210, which can be used to trigger the chain reaction in a nuclear bomb. Iran did not explain the experiments. Iran again agrees to suspend enrichment, but again does not do so.

March, 2004: Iran is urged to reveal its entire nuclear program to the IAEA by June 1, 2004.

September, 2004: The IAEA orders Iran to stop preparations for large-scale uranium enrichment. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell labels Iran a growing danger and calls for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.

August, 2005: Hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is installed as Iranian President as Tehran pledges an "irreversible" resumption of enrichment.

Jan. 10, 2006: Iran removes UN seals at the Natanz enrichment plant and resumes nuclear fuel research.

February, 2006: The IAEA votes to report Iran to the UN Security Council. Iran ends snap UN nuclear inspections the next day.

July 31, 2006: The UN Security Council demands that Iran suspend its nuclear activities by Aug. 31.

Aug. 31, 2006: The UN Security Council deadline for Iran to halt its work on nuclear fuel passes. IAEA says Tehran has failed to suspend the program.

Dec. 23, 2006: The 15-member UN Security Council unanimously adopts a binding resolution that imposes some sanctions and calls on Iran to suspend its uranium-enrichment activities and to comply with its IAEA obligations.

March 24, 2007: The Security Council unanimously approves a resolution broadening UN sanctions against Iran for its continuing failure to halt uranium enrichment. Iranian officials call the new measures "unnecessary and unjustified."

April 10, 2007: Iran's Minister of Foreign Affairs says Iran will not accept any suspension of its uranium-enrichment activities and urges world powers to accept the "new reality" of the Islamic republic's nuclear program.

May 23, 2007: The IAEA says in a new report, issued to coincide with the expiration of a Security Council deadline for Tehran, that Iran continues to defy UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment and has expanded such work. The report adds that the UN nuclear agency's ability to monitor nuclear activities in Iran has declined due to lack of access to sites.

Oct. 24, 2007: The United States imposes new sanctions on Iran and accuses the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps of spreading weapons of mass destruction.

Sources: BBC, Reuters, Financial Times, Radio Free Europe


Target: Iran

Despite continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States has ample air and naval power to strike Iran. In addition to nuclear installations, other likely targets include ballistic missile sites, Revolutionary Guard bases, and naval assets.


Syria: Earlier this year, Israel bombed a site in Syria's Deir ez-Zor region that it suspected was part of a nascent nuclear program.

Osirak: Israel in 1981 had its aircraft bomb Iraq's nuclear reactor before it became operational.

Natanz: Believed to be Iran's primary uranium-enrichment site and a key target of any attack.


B1: A supersonic, intercontinental bomber, capable of penetrating deep into defended airspace and dropping more than 50-tonnes of conventional bombs on a single mission.

B2: America's biggest stealthy long-range bomber, capable of flying half-way around the globe to deliver up to 23 tonnes of bombs on multiple targets.

F-117: The original stealth fighter, almost invisible on radar, was used to drop the first bombs in both Iraq invasions.

F-18: Carrier-borne fighter-bomber capable of many roles from air combat to bombing missions.

EGBU-28: The newest of the U.S. "bunker busters," it uses a GPS guidance system and can penetrate six metres of concrete to deliver four tonnes of high explosives.-(ICH)

War Costs

The War in Iraq Costs

Political Chaos in Lebanon

Beirut - At the stroke of midnight last night, pro-Syrian Lebanese
President Emil Lahoud, his extended term finally at an end, walked out
of the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace and waved goodbye to the
assembled photographers and journalists.

What he left behind was political chaos that threatens to engulf the country in civil war.

That’s because the majority government forces in parliament led by
Said Hariri, son of the beloved ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri who was
murdered in 2005 and the opposition led by the terrorist group
Hezbollah have been unable to reach agreement on a consensus candidate
to replace him:

Lebanon woke up Saturday a state without a president, a government
termed “illegitimate” by the Hezbollah-led opposition and an army
guarding social order with consent of the feuding parties.

Foreign powers called for calm and speed up of efforts to elect a
new head of state, while Iran cautioned that Lebanon is “so close to
civil war.”

Former Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud left the hilltop Baabda
Republican Palace at midnight Friday, ending a controversial term of
nine years in office after Parliament failed to elect a successor
hurling the nation into power vacuum.

“Lahoud’s term end to a republic without a president,” the daily
an-Nahar headlined its front page. “Political and security guarantees
govern the transition era,” it added in the eight-column double
headline. “Lahoud walked out,” shouted al-Moustaqbal daily, which is
affiliated with MP Saad Hariri, leader of the largest parliamentary
bloc that opposed Lahoud.

“A republic without head .. protected by organized vacuum,” outlined as-Safir in its front-page banner.

That “organized vacuum” protecting the “republic without a head” is
the Lebanese army. Just prior to his vacating office, President Lahoud
transferred the responsibility for security to the army. And while
Prime Minister Siniora has rejected this move as unconstitutional, both
sides for the time being seem content with the idea that neither
controls the troops in the streets:

lebanon celebrates - lahoud out 10.jpgAn
air of organized vacuum was evident in the streets of Beirut late
Friday evening where partisans of Hariri’s al-Moustaqbal Movement
celebrated the end of Lahoud’s term with fire crackers and chants of
“Lahoud out, out” in Tarik Jedideh district while supporters of
Hezbollah and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s AMAL movement maintained
calm in the adjacent district of Barbour.

An army captain in charge of checkpoints along the Kourniche Mazraa
thoroughfare, which separates the two neighborhoods, told reporters:

“Things are under control. Both sides know that we are here and we will not tolerate disturbances.”

Businesses and public institutions were open for normal services
Saturday as calm prevailed over Lebanon, amidst calls by the United
States, The European Union and the United Nations to maintain calm and
speed up efforts to elect a new head of state.

The only difference observed, however, was that Lahoud’s pictures
have been removed from offices of some government institutions in areas
traditionally hostile to the ex-president and the pro-Syrian

It is just one manifestation of a highly volatile and dangerous situation. Who controls the army?

At issue is the presidency who by law is elected by a 2/3 majority
in parliament. Failing to achieve that super majority, parliament by
law can then elect the president by simple majority. However, the March
14th forces who control parliament have been reluctant to take that
latter step because the opposition has made it known that they would
view any president elected by simple majority as illegitimate. Hence,
the strenuous efforts to find a consensus candidate who would enjoy the
support of both sides.

However, as the weeks and months dragged on, it became apparent that
Hezbollah was not interested in consensus but rather chaos. They have
rejected every plan, every formula, every candidate offered by the
majority as well as those offered by respected, non partisans like the
Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir. Hezbollah will have it all or
nothing when it comes to the choice for president.

What next? More negotiations, more of the same. Eventually, most
observers believe that the March 14th forces are simply going to have
to bite the bullet and elect a president by simply majority. At that
point, Hezbollah may very well name their own president who would, in
turn, name a prime minister and cabinet.

Two governments backed by two factions - a recipe for civil war.

The future is dark and unknowable in Lebanon at the moment. The
people are on edge - hugely disappointed in their politicians who they
blame for the impasse. But perhaps their anger should be directed
toward Damascus where President Assad sits, spinning his webs of
intriuge and confusion, all designed to maximize Syrian influence in
that tiny, divided nation.

24 November 2007

Lahoud Packs

Emile Lahoud packed the sack and evacuated the hilltop Baabda Republican Palace at midnight Friday, leaving behind a record of two Syrian-sponsored constitutional amendments that placed him in office … and kept him there for nine years.

A cheerful crowd took to the streets of Beirut's Tarik Jedideh district to celebrate the end of Lahoud's term in office chanting "Lahoud out."

Lahoud, 71, also has a long list of leftovers: Four military aides behind bars, 12 unsettled political crimes, a split nation struggling to avoid renewed civil strife and a vacant presidential office waiting for the election of a new head of state who can patch up a people that cannot agree even on one answer to a simple question: Who is the enemy?

In 1998, Syrian President Hafez Assad sponsored a constitutional amendment that allowed Army Commander Lahoud to run for Lebanon's top post.

The Syrian-controlled parliament responded, not only by adopting the Assad-inspired constitutional amendment, but also by unanimously electing his chosen candidate to Lebanon's top post.

Blessed by "the father", Lahoud enjoyed another constitutional amendment inspired by the late Syrian President's son-heir Bashar Assad in 2004 that kept him in office for three years more.

Shortly after Lahoud received the second Assad Blessing, Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh survived a car-bomb attack on Oct. 1, 2004 and the list of serial killings rolled:

Ex-Premier Rafik Hariri, Minister of Economy Basel Fleihan, columnist Samir Qassir, former leader of the Communist Party George Hawi, TV journalist May Chidiac, Defense Minister Elias Murr, MP Jibran Tueni, Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, MP Walid Eido and MP Antoine Ghanem.

The Assassination of ex-MP Elias Hobeika in 2002 also remains a mystery.

No coincidence, all the victims were prominent opponents Lahoud, or both Lahoud and Syria's dominance over Lebanon.

"We want vengeance from Lahoud and Bashar," the angry crowds chanted in the mass Hariri Funeral in February 2005. Syrian troops rolled out of Lebanon two months later, leaving Lahoud guarded by Hizbullah … to the last minute of his term.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah has labeled Lahoud "Zalami", colloquial for man, and Hizullah-sponsored billboards in the suburbs of south Beirut describe him as "God's Grace."

The head of Hizbullah's parliamentary Bloc, Mohammed Raad, visited Lahoud on Thursday and declared in advance that whatever decision taken by the president before his term runs out would be "legitimate," thus approving, in advance, any procedure that the Syrian-backed head of state might adopt to guard against possible attempts by the March 14 majority alliance to elect a head of state who is not controlled by either Assad or Nasrallah.

Lahoud evacuates the Baabda Palace while his four generals-aides remain jailed for alleged links to the Hariri murder.

Former directors of the General security and Internal Security Force, Jamil al-Sayyed and Ali Hajj, as well as former commander of the Republican Guards Brig. Gen. Mustafa Hamdan and former Director of Military Intelligence Brig. Gen. Raymond Azar have been described by Nasrallah as "political prisoners" who should be set free.

"You come from the people's agony" goes a song by which Lebanon's famous composer-entertainer Milhem Barakat greeted Lahoud's election nine years ago.

Disappointed by Lahoud's performance, Barakat later apologized to the nation for the song.

Nine years later, Lahoud evacuates the Baabda Palace leaving a people in agony after predicting risks of an emergency state that does not exist.-(naharnet)

23 November 2007

Scenarios for Lebanon as president leaves office

Beirut - Dr. Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces has declared that if a president is not elected by midnight then article 74 of the constitution stipulates that the parliament should immediately meet .

Similarly Deputy Parlaiment Speaker Farid Makari told the parliament that since the new president will not be elected before Lahoud 's term expires then the parliament members have an open invitation to come to the parliament and should meet after midnight . "The parliament no longer needs to wait for Berri to call for a session. Each and every member should assume his/her responsibility in protecting the Lebanese constitution.

Lebanon steps into the political unknown on Friday when pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud leaves office at midnight as the presidential spokesman has said earlier confirmed with no agreement among divided leaders on who will replace him.

French-led mediation effort led by their Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner failed to reach a deal between pro- and anti-Syrian leaders on Lahoud's successor.

Parliament was due to convene on Friday to elect the new head of state but the opposition boycotted the session, denying the 128-seat chamber a two-thirds quorum. The vote has been postponed for the fifth time and the new date is set for November 30.

Here are some scenarios on how the political crisis could unfold.

Rivals continue to seek consensus president

The Hezbollah-led opposition and the Western-backed governing coalition choose to contain the crisis by holding more talks aimed at agreeing on a new president. This would leave the post of president vacant until a deal. The opposition would hold off taking any action while the rivals seek a president acceptable to both sides.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a leading opposition figure, called for a new session on November 30, showing not all bridges had been burnt between both camps. Discussion would likely focus on new names for the presidency, which is reserved for a Maronite Christian according to Lebanon's sectarian power-sharing system.

The governing coalition says Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet should assume presidential powers in the absence of a new head of state. That view is supported by Western and Arab states. But the opposition has disputed the legitimacy of the Siniora government since all of its Shi'ite Muslim ministers quit a year ago. The opposition rejects Siniora's right to assume Lahoud's powers. Government will remain paralyzed.

Maronite leaders will protest against leaving the post vacant, arguing that it undermines Lebanon's Christians.

Governing coalition moves to elect president unilaterally

Some members of the governing coalition say the majority has the right to elect a new president without two-thirds of the legislators in attendance. On this basis, the governing coalition could call its politicians to gather to elect a president. The coalition has an absolute majority of three.

The election would have to be convened outside parliament because only Berri has the authority to call sessions in the chamber. The opposition has said such a move would be tantamount to a coup. It would respond, but has yet to declare what it would do. Opposition sources say such a move could lead to large-scale confrontations on the streets.

Lahoud takes action before leaving office

Lahoud, who also disputes Siniora's legitimacy, has said he will take action before leaving office unless there is a deal. He has yet to say what he would do. He may entrust some responsibilities to the army in a symbolic gesture designed to avoid escalation.

Alternatively, he previously floated the idea of appointing army chief General Michel Suleiman to head a new cabinet. The governing coalition has said such a move would be unconstitutional. Such a move would deepen the crisis. Lebanon would have one administration recognized by the West and another backed by Syria and Iran, mirroring the landscape of Palestinian politics.

According to analysts, Lahoud will abide by what Syria tells him to do ...he is Bashar el Assad's man after all ...If Syria intends to continue to destabilize Lebanon, then he could be told to take an action that could aggravate the situation, otherwise he could be told to leave peacefully.

Prospects of violence

The rival sides have accused each other of arming and training followers and the United Nations has expressed concern that they have been preparing themselves in case of a constitutional vacuum. Many Lebanese fear a further escalation in the tension would quickly spill into the streets. The army has warned against violence and deployed to guarantee security.-(yalibnan)

20 November 2007

Lebanese parliament likely to delay vote

BEIRUT, Lebanon—Lebanon's parliament appeared likely Tuesday to postpone a key session to elect a president until later this week because the deeply divided factions have failed to find a compromise candidate.

Meanwhile, army and police reinforcements were sent to Beirut, fearing a volatile power vacuum.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa, in Lebanon to mediate between the rival parties, was downbeat, saying talk of postponement of the session "so far is true."

"It is not right to despair," Moussa said after meeting with President Emile Lahoud, whose term ends Friday night. "There is still hope, although there are still difficulties."

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's office denied a decision had been made to postpone the session. "This is not true. ... If there is a change, it will be announced."

The new security measures came as Moussa and France's foreign minister continued their mediation, meeting separately with leaders of the U.S.-backed government and Syrian- and Iranian-supported opposition.

The two sides have been deadlocked for weeks over choosing Lahoud's successor.

They seem entrenched in their positions, despite guarded optimism in recent days that a consensus candidate could be chosen. Several politicians and newspapers also predicted the session would be postponed until Friday.

Failure to elect a successor to Lahoud could worsen Lebanon's year-old political crisis and bring about a power vacuum. This could lead to the formation of two rival administrations and increase the risk of street violence.

The uncertainty has worried the Lebanese, with many reportedly stocking up on food and putting daily life on hold to await the outcome of the mediation.

Education Minister Khaled Kabbani, who was mulling whether to suspend schools and universities as a precaution, said they would open as usual Wednesday. But he summed up the mood of the country.

"The Lebanese are confused about what's happening," he told Voice of Lebanon radio. "What should we tell them if there is no presidential election?"

In Beirut, random police and army checkpoints were set up Monday night, with troops searching cars and inspecting travelers' documents on major intersections and the suburbs.

About half of Lebanon's 4 million people live in the greater Beirut area.

Security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with standing government regulations, said the military and police were put on alert and leaves were canceled.

A total of 20,000 members of the security forces were covered by the security measures, 6,000 of them in Beirut itself, the official said.

Also, security at government buildings was reinforced and troops were also to be sent to Central Bank offices and other institutions.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he hoped Lebanon will overcome the political deadlock. He spoke after talks Tuesday in the Russian capital with visiting Saad Hariri, head of Lebanon's parliamentary majority.

In New York on Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern, saying he is "more cautiously optimistic" than when he visited Beirut last week.

If there is no election, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's government would take executive powers under the constitution.

But Lahoud has said he would not hand over executive powers to the Cabinet, because he does not recognize the Saniora's government after the resignation last year of all five Shiite Cabinet ministers.

The militant Hezbollah opposition has called on Lahoud to take unspecified measures to prevent Saniora from taking power.

Possible scenarios reported in the media include Lahoud handing over power to the military chiefs or even declaring a state of emergency.

The army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, echoed the sense of urgency as he spoke to the troops ahead of Lebanon's Independence Day on Thursday and called on them to ignore the politics and "and listen to the call of duty."

"Any breach of security is national treason, and every weapon turned on the (Lebanese) ... is a treacherous one," he said. "The nation is at stake and you are its defenders. Do not be lenient and do not be inactive."-(elpasotimes)

Recent Amiantit orders from Kingdom, Spain and Poland top €34.5m

With a network of 33 manufacturing facilities strategically spread around the world, the Amiantit Group is reaping rich rewards from the ever increasing global demand for pipe systems for both municipal and industrial infrastructure projects, with recent orders from three countries alone adding up to more than €34.5m.

The two biggest orders are for projects in Saudi Arabia exceeding €18m. Both projects are using GRP pipes for seawater cooling systems produced by AFIL which is the largest fibreglass pipes and tanks manufacturer in the Middle East. The largest project has been awarded to Amiantit Fiberglass Industries Limited (AFIL) by Al Marafiq project in Jubail with a price tag of €11m. The second largest, valued at €7.4m, has been also awarded to (AFIL) for GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) pipes and fittings for the seawater cooling system at Desalination Plant located at Ras Al Zawr, north of Jubail.

The third contract award has gone to Amiantit Polyolefin Piping Systems Company (APPSCo) and is for High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes for Al-Jazea Establisment projects in Jizan and Qassim. Worth €5.6m the order is the biggest in the history of APPSCo.

"Globalization is resulting in increased prosperity in regions as far apart as Asia and Latin America, while the huge spike in the price of oil is fuelling a new boom in the producing countries," said Eng, Fareed Al-Khalawi, President & CEO of the Amiantit Group.

"Everywhere, nations have money to spend and are investing it in massive municipal and industrial development projects that invariably call for pipe systems for applications ranging from domestic drinking water supply and sewage disposal to industrial seawater cooling systems and agricultural irrigation. Amiantit's global expansion in recent years was to enable the Group's manufacturing facilities and sales offices to win orders on the basis of their local presence and we are now seeing the highly successful results of our strategic forward planning."

Amiantit Group manufacturing facilities in Spain and Turkey are doing especially well, and while figures for the biggest Turkish orders cannot be revealed due to contract confidentiality clauses, Amitech Spain has announced three recent contract awards totalling €8 million. The two biggest of these are for GRP pipes for irrigation projects in Leon and Catalunya and both orders were won on the basis of the project owners' satisfaction with previous contracts fulfilled by Amitech Spain. The third order is for GRP pipes for a brine sewer line that crosses the Llobregat River, which crosses the Barcelona metropolitan area.

Amitech Poland Is another of the Amiantit Group's GRP manufacturing facilities that is benefitting from municipal investment in public services and has recently commenced deliveries of GRP pipes for the extension of a new wastewater treatment plant in Gdansk. The total value of the order is €2.5mn.-(ameinfo)

19 November 2007

Elections in Lebanon vs. World Intervention

Amiantit orders from three countries top €34.5M

DAMMAM, -- With a network of 33 manufacturing facilities strategically spread around the world, the Amiantit Group is reaping rich rewards from the ever increasing global demand for pipe systems for both municipal and industrial infrastructure projects, with recent orders from three countries alone adding up to more than €34.5 million.

The two biggest orders are for projects in Saudi Arabia exceeding €18 million. Both projects are using GRP pipes for seawater cooling systems produced by AFIL which is the largest fiberglass pipes and tanks manufacturer in the Middle East. The largest project has been awarded to Amiantit Fiberglass Industries Limited (AFIL) by Al Marafiq project in Jubail with a price tag of €11 million. The second largest, valued at €7.4 million, has been also awarded to (AFIL) for GRP (Glass Reinforced Plastic) pipes and fittings for the seawater cooling system at Desalination Plant located at Ras Al Zawr, north of Jubail.

The third contract award has gone to Amiantit Polyolefin Piping Systems Company (APPSCo) and is for High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) pipes for Al-Jazea Establishment projects in Jizan and Qassim. Worth €5.6 million the order is the biggest in the history of APPSCo.

"Globalization is resulting in increased prosperity in regions as far apart as Asia and Latin America, while the huge spike in the price of oil is fuelling a new boom in the producing countries," said Eng, Fareed Al-Khalawi, President & CEO of the Amiantit Group. "Everywhere, nations have money to spend and are investing it in massive municipal and industrial development projects that invariably call for pipe systems for applications ranging from domestic drinking water supply and sewage disposal to industrial seawater cooling systems and agricultural irrigation. Amiantit's global expansion in recent years was to enable the Group's manufacturing facilities and sales offices to win orders on the basis of their local presence and we are now seeing the highly successful results of our strategic forward planning."

Amiantit Group manufacturing facilities in Spain and Turkey are doing especially well, and while figures for the biggest Turkish orders cannot be revealed due to contract confidentiality clauses, Amitech Spain has announced three recent contract awards totalling €8 million. The two biggest of these are for GRP pipes for irrigation projects in Leon and Catalunya and both orders were won on the basis of the project owners' satisfaction with previous contracts fulfilled by Amitech Spain. The third order is for GRP pipes for a brine sewer line that crosses the Llobregat River, which crosses the Barcelona metropolitan area.

Amitech Poland Is another of the Amiantit Group's GRP manufacturing facilities that is benefiting from municipal investment in public services and has recently commenced deliveries of GRP pipes for the extension of a new wastewater treatment plant in Gdansk. The total value of the order is €2.5 million.-(waterworld)

Lebanese fibreglass manufacturer eyes DIFX

(FT.com)-- Future Pipes Group, the Lebanese-owned global fibreglass pipes manufacturer, is planning an initial public offering on the Dubai International Financial Exchange, providing further evidence that the lacklustre bourse is gearing up for takeoff.

Chairman Fouad Makhzoumi, who is also a politician in his Lebanese homeland, said the offering, on the DIFX and also in London, would be substantial but did not reveal its prospective size or the value of Future Pipe, which has a focus on the oil-rich Gulf, with operations as far afield as the US, the Far East and Europe.

Mr Makhzoumi says the family-owned business has become the largest fibreglass manufacturer over its 35-year history, with growth powering ahead thanks to the oil price boom and increasing domestic investment into infrastructure across the region. The oil and gas focused firm is now seeking extra cash from the IPO to make more acquisitions, he said.

"The market is ready – it has matured and there is plenty of liquidity," Mr Makhzoumi told the Financial Times. His family-owned group had considered an IPO during the Gulf stock market bubble of 2005, ahead of its crash in 2006, but the firm decided not to float. "The DIFX is also picking up," he added, saying the roadshow and listing would happen "soon".

Dubai ports operator DP World is set to list on DIFX later this month, providing an anchor for the exchange, creating a high-profile name that the government hopes will drive traders to the underutilised bourse, owned by the Dubai International Financial Centre.

"We are essentially based in Dubai and believe we should support the system," said Mr Makhzoumi, whose firm, as a major provider to the general construction industry, is also benefitting from the region-wide real estate boom.

The businessman-turned-politician, says his firm has increasingly turned to Dubai as a business base since Lebanon started to slide into what appears to be another civil war in the making. He says his offices in Beirut have been attacked and threats been made to the business there.

The firm has yet to decide if its dual listing will be on the London Stock Exchange or the LSE's junior market, AIM.

But Mr Makhzoumi says his firm will continue to chart its global expansion after the IPO. "Twenty years ago no one thought the composites [made by Future Pipe] would have a real role – now it is a multi-billion-dollar industry," he said.-(FT.com)

18 November 2007

Dubai will disappear if climate change fails to be addressed

Beirut - The Palm and the World projects in Dubai will disappear underwater in 50 years if the issue of climate change fails to be addressed by governments, Sir Richard Branson has warned delegates at day one of Leaders in Dubai.

"Over the next 50 years we will see the Palm projects( pictured right) and the World flooded by water and disappear if the issue of climate change is not addressed by global governments," the Virgin Group chairman said. "We are continuing to create this blanket of carbon that is getting thicker and thicker every year and which will ultimately heat up to such an extent that every fish will die and the earth will become uninhabitable."

Sir Richard has committed $3 billion of Virgin's own profits to developing clean energy and has offered $25 million to anyone who can eradicate carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Asked whether running an airline and a space tourism company was hypocritical while at the same time championing the need to reverse climate change, Branson said: "We can either sell our planes to British Airways or Emirates and watch their shareholders reap in the profits or we can carry on and take 100% of our profits and put them into trying to develop a fuel that will change the environment."
Story continues below â†"

In June 2008 Virgin will launch the world's first biofuel run Boeing 747 plane with 20% of the plane's fuel will be made up of biofuels.

Sir Richard warned other Gulf countries by saying that oil reserves were fast depleting and that they should follow the example set by Dubai. "In five years time Dubai will run out of oil, but it has diversified its assets and interests enough with 95% of its income derived from tourism, property and music shops," he joked. "Other countries in the region should learn from what Dubai has done and they should beware that conventional fuel will begin to decline in the next five to 10 years."

The charismatic entrepreneur added that "every company" should join the fight against climate change by employing a "green ambassador".

"In the Middle East you have the sun. I can see a time in the future where whole countries are powered by the sun and the wind. I have two islands in the Caribbean and next year we'll become carbon free for the first time. I have asked the Virgin Islands and the Dominican Republic government whether we can make them carbon free as well."

Sir Richard added that his Virgin Galactic space flights, that are scheduled to launch either in late 2008 or early 2009, would fly from Dubai to Sydney in 30 minutes in 10 to 20 years. "We will fly you out and back into the atmosphere using energy efficient fuel easily beating NASA's current effort of wasting two weeks energy supply of New York City each time it launches a Space Shuttle."

On whether companies should invest in Lebanon Branson said: "Lebanon is and was a beautiful country and people must invest in Lebanon. It would be too sad to see it go back to the tragedies of the past. If you go to the top of our restaurant on the roof of our music store there you can see the wastelands of Lebanon and what it once was. ( In reference to Hezbollah tents right in the center of the city ). We should do all we can to rebuild the country and make sure that Lebanon doesn't become an acceptable risk."

Meanwhile Branson hinted at the Virgin Group's potential purchase of troubled UK mortgage lender Northern Rock that has lost over $6 billion and its CEO in this year's credit crisis. "We put in the proposal yesterday to take it over and turn it into the Virgin Bank in order to give the Big Four UK banks a run for their money and well know in a few weeks whether or not we've been successful."

Lebanon enters decisive week in presidential crisis

BEIRUT - Lebanon enters a decisive week Monday as the term of President Emile Lahoud is set to expire with political leaders still unable to agree on his successor despite intense international pressure.

As foreign dignitaries converge on Beirut ahead of a planned vote in parliament on Wednesday, many fear the pro-Western ruling coalition and the Syrian-backed opposition may miss a final November 23 deadline to elect a new president, plunging the country into chaos.

There is also concern that the dispute could lead to two rival governments, echoing the final years of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war when two competing administrations battled for control.

"We need a miracle because the political leaders are so far apart, it is hard to imagine that they would agree on something," said Ousama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies.

"But even if they elect a new president, the paralysis will continue because there will still be the issue of the make-up of the new government," he said.

The crisis has three times forced the postponement of a parliament session to elect successor to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, and there are fears that the last-ditch vote on November 21 could meet the same fate.

The deadlock has prompted foreign dignitaries, including UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the foreign ministers of France and Italy, to visit Lebanon in recent weeks for talks with Lebanon's feuding leaders.

Maronite cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir, who heads Lebanon's largest Christian community from which the president is chosen, injected fresh momentum into the search for a solution on Friday, when he drew up a list of candidates.

French charge d'affaires Andre Parant, whose country is leading international efforts to end the crisis, said Sfeir submitted the list on Friday to parliamentary majority leader Saad Hariri and parliament speaker and opposition leader Nabih Berri.

The names on the list has not been revealed, but Beirut newspapers said they included politicians from both feuding camps, in addition to independent technocrats.

Safa said Lebanon will continue to suffer instability as regional tensions were expected to continue over the next year, "so a technocrat may be elected president because he would not scare or threaten anyone."

"It will be a president for crisis management," he said.

A two-thirds majority is required for a candidate to be elected by parliament in a first round of voting. In the event of a second round, an absolute majority suffices.

The parliamentary majority, with 68 MPs in the 127-seat house, has threatened to go ahead on its own with a presidential vote if no consensus candidate is found.

Lahoud himself has threatened to appoint an interim military government if no agreement is struck, raising fears of civil conflict in the multi-confessional country.

"If a new president is elected by a simple majority, (the opposition) may take to the streets, grab some ministries," Safa said.

"But this is a very costly option for everybody. There will not be civil war because it is not in anyone's interest, but there may be clashes and incidents here and there that would keep the country in instability," he said.

Lebanon has been mired in political crisis, with pro- and anti-Syrian camps engaged in a power struggle since the 2005 assassination of Saad Hariri's father, former billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

Hariri's murder triggered international and domestic protests that forced Syria to end 29 years of military domination in Lebanon.

The Western-backed government has been paralysed since the opposition, which includes factions backed by Syria and Iran, withdrew its six ministers from the cabinet in November last year.-(afp/ktimes)

GCC states likely to abandon dollar peg

DUBAI — Economists are seeing that the UAE and other GCC states will move away from US dollar peg to a basket of currencies, although no "dramatic impact" is expected, as they are gearing towards a stronger economic integration.

"I don't see any choice but perhaps to move to a basket of currencies," said Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Asset Investments, at the opening of the one-week DIFC Economic Forum. "With its booming economies, the region is moving towards a basket of currencies."

Also yesterday, Nasser Saidi, chief economist of Dubai International Financial Centre Authority, stressed that the six member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are moving towards robust economic integration, what with their increased multilateral trade, high GDP growth and increasing international reserves.

He said the GCC would have $365 billion in gross official reserves by end-2007, almost half of the $776.6-billion reserves forecast for the whole Middle East and North Africa (MENA). By next year the GCC would post $455 billion in reserves while the MENA region would have $967.5 billion.

"We're living in an 'economic renaissance' in the region," he said referring to MENA including the GCC states.

He added that MENA recorded an average real GDP growth of 6.2 per cent between 2003-07 as compared to 3.8 per cent in 1998-2002. He also stressed that the region, especially the GCC, has benefited so much from various projects resulting from public-private partnerships.

He said the value of oil wealth of the Middle East exporters has increased to $30 trillion from 1995 to 2007. He added that the GCC's oil reserves now stand at 484.3 billion barrels and natural gas reserves at 41.4 trillion cubic metres, or 40.3 per cent of the world's oil and 23 per cent of natural gas respectively.

The Gulf states, he said, should no longer be looked at as oil-based countries but rather as asset-based economies. He said the income from assets and net foreign asset of GCC states will exceed their income from oil.

He said the GCC can now better handle negative economic shocks from the rest of the world because it is more asset-based and has higher levels of liquidity than previous oil price booms.

He also said that there will be more derivatives, or financial instruments such as contracts whose value is derived from the value of something else, by next year. He added that big GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia would have to allow big investors to come to further regional growth.

The chief economist and head of economics and strategy at Gulf Investment Corporation, Soliman Demir, said the GCC must invest heavily to meet the world's future demand for oil.

He said that massive spending for construction projects especially in the Dubai is very much welcome since this benefits the tourism industry, the oil sector is more important with regard to the diversification of capital.

"We have to selectively think of diversification rather than focusing on the property market," he told participants in the forum, which runs until November 23, at the Gate Village, DIFC.

In his opening speech, DIFC Governor Omar bin Sulaiman challenged the speakers and financial experts to show how to convert various economic outlooks into action plans, or couple them with roadmaps for practical implementations.

Philip Khoury, head of research and member of the executive committee at investment banking firm and asset manager EFG-Hermes, said the region's currencies de-pegging from the dollar is a question of "when, not if".

"But we do not expect it to be dramatic; maybe by a few percentage points, but there will be no dramatic impact on the states," he said referring to the changes that would result in the currency value of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the UAE and Oman.

Kuwait has abandoned the dollar-peg of its dinar for a basket of currencies since the third week of May, citing the greenback's slide against other currencies.

The chief economist of Gulf Finance House, Ala'a Al Yousuf, downplayed the debate on the dollar-peg saying that while the issue is important, the GCC countries have "more important" issues to deal with such as adopting a common currency, the strengthening of financial institutions and better statistical policies.

"We will have to take it and solve it [dollar-peg issue], then let's focus on more important things," he said expressing optimism that the issue will be resolved before or during the 28th GCC Summit, in Doha on December 3-4.

The leaders will deal with security, development and political and economic challenges facing the six GCC member states. They are expected to also talk about regional issues including the situation in Iraq and Iran's nuclear ambition and its occupation of the three islands of the UAE.

The founder and head of Lebanon's National Dialogue Party, Fouad Makhzoumi, said he doesn't expect any foreign invasion of Iran citing the counter-productivity of such in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Makhzoumi, who is also chairman of Future Pipe Industries Group, said that while Teheran has indeed shown interests in having a major role in controlling the global oil industry, it has likewise taken important steps to engage with the outside world such as making available to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency some information on its nuclear plan

Yousuf also expressed optimism that the Islamic financial sector will expand saying that Shariah-compliant products and services have been gaining significant growth.

Robert Shiller, Stanley B Resor Professor of Economics at Yale University, stressed that the extraordinary success of emerging markets, such as India, China, Brazil and the former Soviet republics, among others, have been driving the world economy.

Tetsuro Sugiura, senior managing executive officer and chief economist, Muzuho Research Institute, said that India is a more preferred market over China in terms of trade and investment because of its improved infrastructure, more transparent policies and democratic government.

Stephen Roach, Chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, said emerging economies will be hurt by any slowdown in the US economy which is expected to happen by next year.

"If the US consumer spending slows in a material way, it is mathematically impossible for China and India to fill the void," he said. "The key question for the global outlook and for export-dependent countries in the fate of the US consumer."

He was arguing against the theory of a decoupling of emerging economies from those of the US and Europe.-(ktimes)


DIFC Week, World foremost financial thinkers & strategists meet on 17 to 23/11/2007.

Fouad Makhzoumi, Chairman, Future Pipe Industries Group, and Founder and Head, National Dialogue Party (Lebanon) "Oil is still the most productive sector of the GCC region. World Energy Outlook confirms that OPEC and this part of the world are going to play a more important role to supply energy needs for a world that is energy hungry."

17 November 2007

The Lobby

"ICH" -- -- Experts in the West and ordinary people in Arab lands have understood for many years that the United States does not have an independent policy toward the Middle East. President Jimmy Carter, a man of good will, tried to use American influence to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the source of dangerous instability in the Middle East. However, Israel was able to block Carter's attempt, while blaming Yasser Arafat. Carter's plan would have given rise to a Palestinian state. Israel did not want any such state, because obvious military aggression is necessary in order to steal the territory of an official state with defined borders. It is much easier to steal land from a non-state.

By preventing the rise of a Palestinian state, Israel has been able to continue with its theft of the West Bank. Palestinians who have not been driven out have been forced into ghettos, cut off from schools, hospitals, water, and their olive groves and farmlands. In a recent book, President Carter called the existing situation "apartheid." Carter was demonized by the Israel Lobby for his use of this word, but some experts consider Carter's choice of words to be an euphemism for the continuation of what I. Pappe and N. G. Finkelstein call "the ethnic cleansing of Palestine."

That the vast majority of Americans know nothing of this is testimony to the power of the Israel Lobby.

A number of writers have exposed Israel's misbehavior and the power of the Lobby, but until now, the Lobby has been able to marginalize its critics by smearing them as "anti-semites," "nazis," and "Jew-haters." In a new book, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt have broken the Israel Lobby's power to suppress truth by demonizing and intimidating all who would criticize Israel.

Mearsheimer and Walt are distinguished scholars holding distinguished appointments at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, two of America's most distinguished universities. Their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, published by the distinguished American publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is a masterpiece of scholarship and documentation. Footnotes comprise 23 percent of the book's pages.

Mearsheimer and Walt easily succeed in making their case that neither strategic nor moral grounds can explain U.S. support for Israel. Only the power of the Israel Lobby can explain the juxtaposition of a dwindling moral and strategic case with ever-increasing U.S. backing for Israel, even to the disadvantage of U.S. national and strategic interests. Indeed, both executive and legislative branches are so completely compromised by the Lobby that the different elements of U.S. Middle East policy
"have been designed in whole or part to benefit Israel vis-a-vis its various rivals."

Chapter by chapter, Mearsheimer and Walt demonstrate the deleterious effects the Lobby has had on U.S. relations with Palestinians, Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Lebanon. The two scholars conclude:

"The lobby's influence helped lead the United States into a disastrous war in Iraq and has hamstrung efforts to deal with Syria and Iran. It also encouraged the United States to back Israel's ill-conceived assault on Lebanon, a campaign that strengthened Hezbollah, drove Syria and Iran closer together, and further tarnished America's global image. The lobby bears considerable, though not complete, responsibility for each of these developments, and none of them was good for the United States. The bottom line is hard to escape, although America's problems in the Middle East would not disappear if the lobby were less influential, U.S. leaders would find it easier to explore alternative approaches and be more likely to adopt policies more in line with American interests."

There is nothing anti-semitic about this book. Mearsheimer and Walt do not challenge Israel's right to exist or the legitimacy of the Israeli state. They believe the U.S. must defend Israel from threats to its survival. They even regard AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, as a legitimate American lobby and not as an unregistered agent of a foreign state.

The motives of the two scholars, apart from respect for truth and the obligation to speak it, are to further Israel's and America's legitimate interests. Mearsheimer and Walt agree with numerous Israeli historians and commentators that Israel's policy toward Palestine and the Arabs, together with the Lobby's suppression of critics, have been "directly harmful to Israel." The inflexibility that Israel has imposed on U.S. foreign policy has America mired in wars--now a half decade or more old--in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even as Muslim rage threatens to engulf America's puppet in Pakistan, vice president Dick Cheney, Israel and its neoconservative allies strive to initiate war with Iran.

This is a high price to pay for Israeli territorial expansion even if the U.S.-Israeli policy of war and coercion succeed. If military aggression fails to bring the Middle East under the hegemony of the U.S. and Israel, the dangers to energy flows and Israel's existence could result in the use of nuclear weapons. It is literally insane for the United States to expose the world to such risks for the sake of Israel's misguided policy toward Palestine.

Other scholars, especially those whose sense of justice is offended by the cruel oppression Palestinians suffer at the hands of Israel, are more critical than Mearsheimer and Walt. The latter do Israel and the Lobby a service by defining the issue as one of U.S. and Israeli legitimate national interests rather than casting it as a case of crimes, inhumanity, and injustice.

Instead of legitimate national interests, James Petras, Bartle Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, sees "a level of crimes parallel to those of the Nazis in World War II" (The Power of Israel in the United States, 2006). Petras writes that "the architects of the Iraqi war planned a series of aggressive wars of conquest based on the principle of domination by violence, torture, collective punishment, total war on civilian populations, their homes, hospitals, cultural heritage, churches and mosques, means of livelihood and educational institutions. These are the highest crimes against humanity."

"The worst crimes," Petras writes, "are committed by those who claim to be a divinely chosen people, a people with 'righteous' claims of supreme victimhood."

It remains to be seen how much more blood and treasure Zionist fanaticism will extract from Americans. But one thing is certain: the Israel Lobby is far too powerful for America's good and Israel's.

Forty years ago the Lobby was sufficiently powerful to force President Lyndon Johnson to cover up the intentional Israeli attack on the USS Liberty that resulted in 34 Americans dead and 174 wounded. Admiral Thomas Moorer, Chief of Naval Operations and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared: "No American President can stand up to Israel."

Forty years later the Israel Lobby is able to reach into Catholic universities and to overturn tenure decisions. The courageous scholar Norman Finkelstein was denied tenure at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois, because he is an effective critic of Israeli policies.

In America today academics and intellectuals who fail to toe the Lobby's line are unlikely to receive support from conservative or liberal foundations. Even Mearsheimer and Walt's article, "The Israel Lobby," commissioned by the Atlantic Monthly and from which their book evolved, had to be published overseas in The London Review of Books when the Atlantic Monthly's editors' courage failed them.

American patriots who glorify in their country's status as the "sole superpower" have much to learn about the subservience of their country's foreign policy to a tiny state of five million people. There is no better place to begin than with Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby.

Paul Craig Roberts wrote the Kemp-Roth bill and was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Contributing Editor of National Review. He is author or coauthor of eight books, including The Supply-Side Revolution (Harvard University Press). He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair in Political Economy, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He has contributed to numerous scholarly journals and testified before Congress on 30 occasions. He has been awarded the U.S. Treasury's Meritorious Service Award and the French Legion of Honor. He was a reviewer for the Journal of Political Economy under editor Robert Mundell. He is the co-author of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He is also coauthor with Karen Araujo of Chile: Dos Visiones – La Era Allende-Pinochet (Santiago: Universidad Andres Bello, 2000).-(ICH)

15 November 2007

Lebanese-born former C.I.A. officer pleads guilty

Beirut / Washington - A Lebanese-born C.I.A. officer who had previously worked as an F.B.I. agent pleaded guilty on Tuesday to charges that she illegally sought classified information from government computers about the radical Islamic group Hezbollah.

The plea agreement by the defendant, Nada Nadim Prouty ( pictured with lawyer as they leave court) , appeared to expose grave flaws in the methods used by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct background checks on its investigators.

Ms. Prouty, 37, who also confessed that she had fraudulently obtained American citizenship, faces up to 16 years in prison.

Court papers do not specifically say why Ms. Prouty sought information about Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militant group that is based in southern Lebanon, from the F.B.I.’s computer case files in June 2003, the month she left the bureau to join the C.I.A.

There is no accusation in the documents that she passed information on to Hezbollah or any other extremist group.

The plea agreement noted, however, that Ms. Prouty’s sister and her brother-in-law attended a fund-raising event in Lebanon in August 2002 at which the keynote speaker was Sheikh Muhammed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual leader of Hezbollah. Sheikh Fadlallah has been designated by the United States government as a terrorist leader.

The plea agreement said that in 2003 Ms. Prouty specifically went searching for computerized case files maintained by the F.B.I.’s Detroit field office in an investigation that centered on Hezbollah although she “was not assigned to work on Hezbollah cases as part of her F.B.I. duties and she was not authorized by her supervisor, the case agent assigned to the case, or anybody else to access information about the investigation in question.”

The C.I.A. would not describe Ms. Prouty’s duties at the agency, apart from describing her as a “midlevel” employee, nor would it say if she traveled abroad as part of her duties or had been considered undercover.

Government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of the investigation with reporters, said Ms. Prouty was an “operations” officer at the C.I.A., meaning she was involved in some way in basic espionage work, not as an analyst or translator.

As part of the plea agreement, she agreed to resign from the C.I.A. and give up any claim to American citizenship.

“It is fitting that she now stands to lose both her citizenship and her liberty,” Kenneth L. Wainstein, assistant attorney general, said in announcing the guilty plea, which was entered in Federal District Court in Detroit.

Mr. Wainstein, who runs the Justice Department’s national security division, said Ms. Prouty “engaged in a pattern of deceit to secure U.S. citizenship, to gain employment in the intelligence community and to obtain and exploit her access to sensitive counterterrorism intelligence.”

She pleaded guilty to one count each of criminal conspiracy, which has a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine; unauthorized computer access, which has a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a $100,000 fine, and naturalization fraud, which has a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

In her plea agreement, Ms. Prouty, who lived mostly recently in Vienna, Va., close to the C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va, acknowledged that her crimes began shortly after she entered the United States from Lebanon in June 1989 on a one-year student visa.

She acknowledged that after overstaying her visa, she had illegally offered money to an unemployed American man to marry her in 1990, which allowed her to remain in the United States as his wife, although the couple never lived together.

She then submitted a series of false and forged documents to obtain American citizenship, which she was granted in 1994. She obtained a divorce the next year and worked in a series of jobs, including as a waitress and hostess in a chain of Middle Eastern restaurants in the Detroit area owned by her brother-in-law.

In 1997, she was hired as a special agent of the F.B.I., which has been under pressure for years to hire more agents and other employees who speak Arabic for terrorism investigations. She was assigned to the bureau’s Washington field office, given a security clearance and placed in “an extraterritorial squad investigating crimes against U.S. persons overseas,” the Justice Department said in a statement to reporters.

Ms. Prouty acknowledged two sets of illegal computer searches at the F.B.I. The first, in September 2002, involved case files that contained her name, her sister’s name or her brother-in-law’s name. The second, in June 2003, involved files from a national-security investigation of Hezbollah that was being conducted in Detroit, which has one of the nation’s largest Arabic-speaking communities.

The court papers say Ms. Prouty’s crimes first became known to the F.B.I. in December 2005 and have been under investigation for nearly two years. The documents suggest that she came under scrutiny as part of an investigation of her brother-in-law, Talal Khalil Chahine, in a scheme to funnel millions of dollars from his restaurant to people in Lebanon. Mr. Chahine is a fugitive from tax evasion charges filed in Michigan.-(nyt,yl)

14 November 2007

Former FBI, CIA Lebanese Woman Obtains Information on Hizbullah

A Lebanese-born woman pleaded guilty Tuesday to having paid an American to marry her so she could get U.S. citizenship and then later obtain jobs at the FBI and CIA, the Justice Department said.
In a case which bared weaknesses in the US vetting of staff for its key law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Nada Nadim Prouty, 37, also pleaded guilty to having illegally obtained from FBI computers information on her relatives and Hizbullah, branded a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

According to a Justice Department statement on the case, filed in Detroit, Michigan, Prouty was helped in gaining U.S. citizenship by former Detroit restaurant owner Talal Khalil Chahine, her sister's husband who is now wanted in the United States on tax evasion, bribery and extortion charges.

The statement linked Chahine, now a fugitive believed in Lebanon, with Hizbullah leader Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, designated by Washington as a "global terrorist."

According to the statement, Prouty defrauded the United States by paying an unemployed man in 1990 to marry her after her student visa ran out. She then used the marriage to obtain US citizenship in 1994, and a year later divorced her husband.

In April 1999 she was hired by the FBI to work in its Washington office as a special agent working on crimes against U.S. citizens overseas.

The charges said that in 2000 and 2003 she probed FBI computers for records on herself, her sister and Chahine, and on a Detroit FBI investigation into Hizbullah.

She left the FBI in 2003 to join the CIA, from where she resigned earlier this month.

The statement said that she had agreed to cooperate fully with prosecutors as a part of a plea agreement.

The most severe charge, naturalization fraud, could bring up to 10 years in prison and a 250,000 dollar fine, as well as removal of her citizenship.

"This case highlights the importance of conducting stringent and thorough background investigations," said U.S. Attorney Stephen Murphy.

"It's hard to imagine a greater threat than the situation where a foreign national uses fraud to attain citizenship and then, based on that fraud insinuates herself into a sensitive position in the U.S. government."(AFP/naharnet)

13 November 2007

Ameron Announces Adoption Of New Shareholder Rights Agreement

(RTTNews) - Monday, Ameron International Corporation (AMN | charts | news | PowerRating) said that it has entered into a Shareholder Rights Agreement designed to deter the use of coercive or abusive takeover tactics, as well as to generally assist the Board in representing the interests of all shareholders in connection with takeover proposals. It replaces a similar shareholder rights agreement, which expired by its terms on December 16, 2006.

One "Right" will be issued for each share of Ameron common stock outstanding as of November 16, 2007. Once exercisable, each Right represents the right to purchase a unit consisting of 1/100th of a share of Ameron's preferred stock at a per unit price of $150. The Rights would be triggered by, among other things, a person acquiring or announcing an intention to acquire 20% or more of Ameron's voting stock, or upon the consummation of a transaction in which Ameron is not the surviving entity.

The Rights will expire on November 11, 2008, unless Ameron's shareholders extend the Rights, in which case, the Rights will expire on November 11, 2010. Subject to certain exceptions, the Rights are redeemable by action of the Board at a nominal price per Right.

12 November 2007

LAPD defends Muslim mapping effort

The LAPD's plan to map Muslim communities in an effort to identify potential hotbeds of extremism departs from the way law enforcement has dealt with local anti-terrorism since 9/11 and prompted widespread skepticism Friday.

In a document reviewed Friday by The Times, the LAPD's Los Angeles Police Department's counter-terrorism bureau proposed using U.S. census data and other demographic information to pinpoint various Muslim communities and then reach out to them through social service agencies.

LAPD officials said that it is crucial for them to gain a better understanding of isolated parts of the Muslim community. Those groups can potentially breed violent extremism, the LAPD said in its plan.

"This is not . . . targeting or profiling," Police Chief William J. Bratton said Friday in defending the program. "It is an effort to understand communities," he said.

But the effort sparked an outcry from civil libertarians and some Muslim activists, who compared the program to religious profiling.

Others noted that the effort faces enormous practical difficulties. The U.S. Census Bureau is barred by law from asking people for their religious affiliation. As a result, there is no scientific data on the size of the nation's Muslim population, let alone its location, with estimates of the population nationwide ranging from about 1.4 million adults in a Pew Research Center study this year to the 7 million or more claimed by some community organizations.

Census data on ancestry also would not yield accurate Muslim estimates, because significant numbers of ethnic Iranians are Jewish and many ethnic Lebanese, Palestinians and Syrians are Christians.

"It's not realistic to think you are going to be able to find out where all the Muslims are," said Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Anaheim said the LAPD project seemed based on the European experience of isolated and often-distressed Muslim enclaves -- a model that doesn't apply to the United States, where the Muslim population is far more dispersed.

American Muslims differ from their European co-religionists in several other respects. A Pew survey of 1,050 adult American Muslims nationwide found them to be "largely assimilated, happy with their lives and moderate." Although two-thirds are immigrants, most respondents said Muslims should integrate into U.S. society rather than isolate themselves.

The survey found striking differences between American Muslims and their European counterparts, with more in the U.S. rejecting extremism and supporting coexistence with Israel. Only 2% of American Muslims were low-income, compared with rates of 18% and higher in the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Spain.

The LAPD's proposal differs substantially from the way federal counter-terrorism authorities have dealt with Southern California's Muslim community.

Stung by decades of controversy over its monitoring of antiwar and civil rights groups, the FBI has been wary of post-9/11 initiatives that would draw criticism that its anti-terrorism efforts are based on racial profiling of Muslims.

As a result, its counter-terrorism efforts have been largely driven by informants, intelligence reports or specific incidents that direct attention to a particular group or community.

"We learned our lesson early on," one retired FBI counter-terrorism official said Friday.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, questioned the logic of the mapping program, reasoning that the wholesale plotting of Muslim communities -- rather than zeroing in on suspected extremists -- could drain counter-terrorism resources and alienate Muslim residents at a time when they are crucial to law enforcement efforts.

Al-Marayati and others who gathered for Friday prayer at the Islamic Center of Southern California questioned the premise of the mapping project. There were no clearly defined Muslim neighborhoods in Southern California, he said.

Some neighborhoods are known for large Middle Eastern populations, but often their residents are not Muslim. Beverly Hills, for example, has a sizable and well-known Iranian population, but many of them are Persian Jews.

Mosque member Omar Ricci, offspring of a Pakistani Muslim mother and Italian American Catholic father, said he has more Armenian Christian neighbors than Muslims on his street in Glendale.

Maher Hathout, an Egyptian native and retired physician, who is a spokesman for the Islamic Center, said his neighborhood in Arcadia is an ethnic and religious polyglot; he said he was more familiar with his Christian next-door neighbor than the Muslims who live a few doors away. The mosque is on Vermont Avenue in Koreatown.

The backlash against the program was intense enough Friday that LAPD's planned partner in the project, USC's National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, said it was carefully studying whether to join the endeavor.

"I realize that there are many concerns with a potential mapping project related to profiling, privacy and civil liberties," center Director Detlof von Winterfeldt said in a statement.

But LAPD leaders stood behind the proposal.

Hoping to defuse the controversy, Bratton said Friday that the LAPD's plan is in its early stages and extended an invitation to meet with critics to hear their suggestions on how to advance what he described as a "community engagement effort."

In outlining the program last week before a congressional committee, Deputy Police Chief Michael P. Downing, who heads the counter-terrorism operation, said the department's plan was designed to minimize the radicalization of Muslims in Los Angeles. Instead of relying on experts, he said, the mapping would produce a "richer picture" of the community and guide future strategies.

"While this project will lay out geographic locations of many different Muslim populations around Los Angeles, we also intend to take a deeper look at their history, demographics, language, culture, ethnic breakdown, socioeconomic status and social interactions," he said. "It is also our hope to identify communities, within the larger Muslim community which may be susceptible to violent ideologically based extremism and then use a full spectrum approach guided by intelligence-led strategy."

On Friday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa defended the LAPD's efforts.

"Chief Downing has good intentions here," said Villaraigosa, who added that he had only learned of the new program through newspaper articles and at a short briefing.

But some Muslims fear that the police intervention in their communities could have the opposite effect from what officials intended.

"Anytime the administration talks about attacking Iran, anytime they start to float ideas like these, we are pushed more toward extremism," Mohammed Abdul Aleem, 49, of Culver City said. "Every time our president opens his mouth, there are more people joining Al Qaeda."

To Aleem, the LAPD's plan to map out the city's Muslim community will do nothing more than "fuel the fire."

"It's making it harder and harder for the moderate Muslims," he said.

Times staff writer Jean-Paul Renaud contributed to this report.

Waterboarding Republicans vs. Supporting Our Troops

11/09/07 "ICH" -- -- You cannot honestly say you are supporting American soldiers if you support the use of torture techniques like waterboarding. By any objective definition, waterboarding is torture. The technique is a type of simulated drowning of a prisoner who has their limbs bound.

The use of simulated drowning is not new. The Nazis used it in World War II. The Iranian secret police used it under the Shah. It was used in the Vietnam War. Dictators in South America have used this kind of torture. It causes severe psychological damage in most cases and has caused deaths. The Bush Administration claims that it is not torture but the claim is false.

The Bush Republicans defending the use of waterboarding are being dishonest with the American people. Torture usually produces very poor quality information. People will say anything to stop torture. Prisoners will confess to crimes they did not commit. They will implicate innocent people. They will invent fictional plots, fictional conspiracies and fictional dangers. In military and national security terms, torture is not effective. Morally, it is simply wrong.

Torture between international combatants has been outlawed by international law and treaties. Use of torture makes the user a war criminal. The United States has long supported this position to prevent American soldiers from being tortured. American government policies, under Bush, concerning the use of torture put American soldiers at grave risk. We will have great difficulty prosecuting enemies who torture our soldiers if we engage in torture ourselves.

For those Republicans (or Democrats) who defend waterboarding as something less than torture, I have a proposal. Whenever a Bush Administration official is called before the House or Senate to testify, they should be waterboarded the entire time they are testifying. The technique, according to the Bush Republicans, elicits honest answers and does not amount to torture. According to these Bush Republicans, waterboarding does not cause any lasting damage.

Personally, I do not believe the Bush Republicans are correct in their position about waterboarding. However, if the Bush Republicans are sincere in their stated beliefs, we should give them an opportunity to prove it. Cabinets officers, White House staffers, Republican Senators, Bush, Cheney, Rove, Bush appointees like Mukasey and other Bush Administration personnel should all be given personal opportunities to prove that waterboarding is not torture and is effective in providing honest answers to questions.

I think it is a much better idea to waterboard Bush Republican leaders (who support waterboarding) in order to prove that waterboarding is not torture than it is to put our soldiers at risk of being tortured. I think all of them would quickly conclude that waterboarding is torture, illegal, dangerous and ineffective.

In the Dark Ages, they had a version of waterboarding. It was called "dunking." It was a sadistic kind of torture. Naturally, this type of sadistic, ineffective torture still has a strong appeal to certain types of barbaric Republicans!-(ICHouse)

U.S. Aid to Musharraf is Largely Untraceable Cash Transfers

11/09/07 "TPMmuckraker" -- -- After Pervez Musharraf declared martial law this weekend, Condoleezza Rice vowed to review U.S. assistance to Pakistan, one of the largest foreign recipients of American aid. Musharraf, of course, has been a crucial American ally since the start of the Afghanistan war in 2001, and the U.S. has rewarded him ever since with over $10 billion in civilian and (mostly) military largesse. But, perhaps unsure whether Musharraf's days might in fact be numbered, Rice contended that the explosion of money to Islamabad over the past seven years was "not to Musharraf, but to a Pakistan you could argue was making significant strides on a number of fronts."

In fact, however, a considerable amount of the money the U.S. gives to Pakistan is administered not through U.S. agencies or joint U.S.-Pakistani programs. Instead, the U.S. gives Musharraf's government about $200 million annually and his military $100 million monthly in the form of direct cash transfers. Once that money leaves the U.S. Treasury, Musharraf can do with it whatever he wants. He needs only promise in a secret annual meeting that he'll use it to invest in the Pakistani people. And whatever happens as the result of Rice's review, few Pakistan watchers expect the cash transfers to end.

About $10.58 billion has gone to Pakistan since 9/11. That puts Pakistan in an elite category of U.S. foreign-aid recipients: only Israel, Egypt and Jordan get more or comparable U.S. funding. (That's only in the unclassified budget: the covert-operations budget surely includes millions more, according to knowledgeable observers.) While Israel and Egypt get more money, Pakistan and Jordan are the only countries that get U.S. cash from four major funding streams: development assistance, security assistance, "budget support" and Coalition Support Funds. Pakistan, however, gets most of its U.S. assistance from Coalition Support Funds and from budget support. And it's those two funding streams that have minimal accountability at best.

The "budget support" package is the lion's share of U.S. economic assistance to Pakistan -- and it's not spent in conjunction with any U.S. agency. "It's a cash transfer," says Lisa Curtis, a South Asia analyst at the Heritage Foundation who used to work on the South Asia desk at the State Department and for Sen. Richard Lugar (R-ID). "That goes directly to the Pakistani treasury." It totalled around $200 million each year until earlier this year, when Rep. John Tierney (D-MA) plucked $75 million of out of it and put it in an education fund for USAID to administer. In theory, budget support is supposed to free up the treasuries of the four countries that receive it for investing in their national infrastructure. But in practice, recipients can do with it whatever they like. "The notion is it gives them greater flexibility on how to use the money," explains Craig Cohen, vice president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "The trade-off is accountability."

In Pakistan's case, the only oversight is an annual agreement, known as the Shared Objectives statement, whereby top State Department and Treasury Department officials receive from Musharraf deputies -- usually Prime Minister Shawkat Aziz -- an explanation of how Musharraf intends to spend the money. The agreement is reached entirely in secret. "A good question is what are the objectives we're basing this budget support on," Cohen says.

Accountability also suffers in the Coalition Support Funds. According to Rick Barton of CSIS, who spearheaded perhaps the most comprehensive report on the murky world of U.S.-Pakistan ties, Pakistan has gotten over $6 billion in Coalition Support Funds since 9/11, with disbursements rising to total about $100 million a month. This, too, is a direct cash transfer. "The Coalition Support funding is basically a sort of a handshake deal between militaries," Barton says. "We don't have good sense where it goes. ... we don't ask a lot of questions, and we don't have a lot of record-keeping. "

Only about ten percent of the $10.58 billion since 9/11 has gone toward development aid and humanitarian assistance, according to the CSIS report -- even after Pakistan suffered a devastating earthquake in October 2005. "Close to 90 percent goes to the military-led government," Barton says. "Some of it is directly into the military, and the other pieces go into the Musharraf government."

In Pakistan, the military runs not just the government, but major sections of the economy as well. Joshua Hammer recently reported for The Atlantic that the Pakistani military owns large stakes in the country's "banks, cable-TV companies, insurance agencies, sugar refineries, private security firms, schools, airlines, cargo services, and textile factories." Mainlining largely untraceable money into the Pakistani treasury helps this system perpetuate itself -- even as widespread public discontent, from both moderates and radicals, boils over. It also sends the signal that the U.S. prefers to have relations with Pervez Musharraf rather than the Pakistani people.

"The whole orientation of policy and assistance provided since 9/11 is that he's the indispensable leader," says Cohen. "And the money runs through the central government and that leader."-(ICHouse)

11 November 2007

Hezbollah turns up the pressure in Lebanon crisis

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanon's Hezbollah on Sunday called on incumbent President Emile Lahoud to take action if rival political leaders are unable to agree on a consensus president in next week's election.

Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah did not say what he wanted the president to do and his call seemed likely to further complicate efforts to elect a president.

But the powerful leader appeared to be backing a suggestion that pro-Syrian Lahoud could form a parallel government if there was no agreement on the presidential election.

Lebanon's presidential election has been postponed from November 12 to November 21 to give the anti-Syrian majority coalition and the Hezbollah-led opposition more time to break a deadlock over a compromise candidate. Lahoud's term expires on November 23.

But there has been little progress towards an agreement and the majority, backed by the United States, has said it would elect a president on its own if there was no deal.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would consider any such president as an "usurper of power" and labeled the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora "a bunch of thieves and murderers" backed by the United States and Israel.

"From here, we appeal to his excellency President Emile Lahoud to do what his conscience and national responsibility stipulates... and take a step or a national salvation initiative to stop the country from (sliding into) a vacuum," Nasrallah said in a live televised address to a crowded Hezbollah rally.

The majority says Lahoud does not have the constitutional right to take any measures without the approval of the government.

Lahoud's six-year term was extended in 2004 by another three years at the behest of Syria, a step that enraged the international community.

Lahoud has largely been shunned since then and Syria ended its three-decade-long military presence in Lebanon in 2005 in the wake of widespread outcry after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Damascus has denied any links to Hariri's killing.

The parliamentary session to elect a president had already been postponed twice. The impasse has pushed Lebanon into its worst political crisis since the 1975-90 civil war and many Lebanese fear a failure to reach a deal could lead to more bloodshed amid reports that all factions are arming themselves.

Hezbollah, which fought a 34-day war with Israel last year, is by far the strongest military force.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, announced the delay in the presidential vote on Saturday. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner is expected in Beirut later this week.

France is leading international efforts to ensure a smooth election, seen as vital to resolving the year-old political dispute that has paralyzed the country.-(yahoo/reuters)

Bush Loyalist Now Sees a White House Dangerously Soft on Iran and North Korea

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 — The White House's effort to challenge Iran's nuclear ambitions has been hobbled by "four and a half years of failed diplomacy." Its policy regarding North Korea is a dangerous fraud. It is pursuing an improbable Palestinian-Israeli peace at the expense of its stance against proliferation in the Middle East.

And that from a longtime Bush loyalist: John R. Bolton, the conservative lawyer who until less than a year ago was President Bush's proudly unwavering ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bolton, long viewed by liberal critics as a villain on the Bush team, has since emerged as the administration's most outspoken critic from the right, rebuking his former boss in interviews, in op-ed articles and now in a book. For a man who rushed to Florida in 2000 to join the Bush campaign's legal fight during the disputed vote recount, the disappointment sounds personal.

"I didn't spend 31 days in Florida," he said, "to end up where we are now."

Mr. Bolton's criticisms reflect a growing unease among some conservatives that a weakened White House chastened by the war in Iraq is abandoning core principles in pursuit of a more moderate policy of negotiations.

"You see this at the end of every administration," said Representative Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, who criticized the administration's talks with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

With Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, another staunchly conservative Republican, he recently wrote an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal, calling on the administration to disclose information about a reported Israeli airstrike in September against a site in Syria that was suspected of being a nuclear facility that North Korea was equipping.

"I'm going to watch very carefully what they do in North Korea," Mr. Hoekstra said in a telephone interview. "I'm going to watch what they do with the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Syrians."

Mr. Bush's turn to a more pragmatic policy coincided with the departure of some of the administration's most hawkish officials and the ascendancy of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. Now, some of the debates that once occurred behind the administration's closed doors are taking place in public. "I thought the policy had been moving in the wrong direction for quite some time," Mr. Bolton said of his decision to leave when his recess appointment expired with the last Congress at the end of December. (The White House discussed keeping him on, though it was clear that the Senate would never confirm him as ambassador.)

"Not only was it moving in the wrong direction, it was going to continue in the wrong direction no matter what I did," he continued during a recent interview at the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative perch to which he returned. "So in the cost-benefit calculus of being in the government, I just felt that on policy terms I could do more outside the government than within."

When Mr. Bolton stepped aside, Mr. Bush called his departure a disappointment, and for an administration sensitive about criticism, it has turned out to be one. When Mr. Bolton's name came up in a recent conversation, an administration official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly recalled, the president curtly responded, "Interesting guy," and changed the subject.

Mr. Bush's press secretary, Dana Perino, would say only, "He has a huge amount of respect for John Bolton."

On the foreign policy crisis of the day, the state of emergency in Pakistan, Mr. Bolton argued that Mr. Bush was naïve to call on Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, to hold elections. He said elections in Pakistan would risk instability — perhaps even an Islamic government with a nuclear arsenal.

"While Pervez Musharraf might not be a Jeffersonian democrat, he is the best bet to secure the nuclear arsenal," he said.

Mr. Bolton's book — "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Threshold Editions) — is no kiss-and-tell screed against Mr. Bush and his team, though he recounts with relish his conflicts with colleagues and rivals at the United Nations and in the State Department.

He describes disputes that pitted his conservative faction against the "high minded," those who, in his view, have seized control of not only the media, Congress, the State Department and the United Nations, but now also of the White House.

"They picked up some allies among Bush's political appointees, distracted a few, and seduced others," Mr. Bolton writes about Mr. Bush's decision to negotiate with North Korea.

"They whispered to the press against the infidels in the new administration who advocated a harder line. They even watched a few of their own go over the side, but they always persisted. And in the Seventh Year, Bush and his team rested. The bureaucracy's persistence prevailed so overwhelmingly that Bush himself did not even realize it."

Mr. Bolton, who served first as the State Department's chief arms control official, argues that the administration has abandoned the unilateralist strategy it followed at the beginning when it bolted from the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement that limits the emissions of greenhouse gases from most industrialized countries; "unsigned" the agreement that created the International Criminal Court and abrogated the Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

He says that only a fundamental change in government, not negotiations, will divert Iran and North Korea from the nuclear path.

"They are not going to give up their nuclear weapons voluntarily," Mr. Bolton said in the interview. "They might be forced to give up their nuclear weapons, but that is not the policy that we're pursuing. So the consequence of the policy is that it won't achieve the stated objective and it will have the effect of legitimizing and reinforcing two fundamentally illegitimate regimes."

He said North Korea's apparent assistance to Syria in the construction of what analysts and officials said was a nuclear reactor showed that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, was already violating its pledge in February to dismantle its nuclear weapons program even though the administration points to a recent trip by Americans to a North Korean nuclear reactor to begin disabling the facilities.

In the case of Iran, Mr. Bolton said: "I think this is a very difficult question that has to be very carefully thought out. The choice is not between the world as it is today and the use of force. The choice is between the use of force and Iran with nuclear weapons."

Mr. Bolton's disenchantment mirrors that of fiscal conservatives who publicly questioned the White House's budget policies, especially before Mr. Bush began to veto spending bills approved by the Democratic-controlled Congress.

One of those conservatives, Bruce Bartlett, an economist who wrote a book called "Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy," said that criticism from the right had the effect of making the administration seem more moderate. But it also makes Mr. Bush seem more isolated.

In the current presidential campaign, the leading candidates for the Republican nomination are, arguably, even more hawkish than Mr. Bush on a host of issues, especially Iran.

Mr. Bartlett suggested that on the most pressing issues — terrorism and the war in Iraq — Mr. Bush had not yet lost the core of the Republican Party but that criticism like Mr. Bolton's reflected an intraparty struggle as the Bush presidency neared an end.

"I don't think you can transform support for Iraq into support for a more aggressive response to Iran," Mr. Bartlett said. "People like John are trying to make that happen."-(steven lee myers)

Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.