Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Chilling Effect on U.S. Counterterrorism

Fred Burton and Scott Stewart
April 29

Global Security and Intelligence Report

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been carefully watching the fallout from the Obama administration’s decision to release four classified memos from former President George W. Bush’s administration that authorized “enhanced interrogation techniques.” In a visit to CIA headquarters last week, President Barack Obama promised not to prosecute agency personnel who carried out such interrogations, since they were following lawful orders. Critics of the techniques, such as Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have called for the formation of a “truth commission” to investigate the matter, and Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has called on Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to launch a criminal inquiry into the matter.

Realistically, those most likely to face investigation and prosecution are those who wrote the memos, rather than the low-level field personnel who acted in good faith based upon the guidance the memos provided. Despite this fact and Obama’s reassurances, our contacts in the intelligence community report that the release of the memos has had a discernible “chilling effect” on those in the clandestine service who work on counterterrorism issues.

In some ways, the debate over the morality of such interrogation techniques — something we do not take a position on and will not be discussing here — has distracted many observers from examining the impact that the release of these memos is having on the ability of the U.S. government to fulfill its counterterrorism mission. And this impact has little to do with the ability to use torture to interrogate terrorist suspects.

Politics and moral arguments aside, the end effect of the memos’ release is that people who have put their lives on the line in U.S. counterterrorism efforts are now uncertain of whether they should be making that sacrifice. Many of these people are now questioning whether the administration that happens to be in power at any given time will recognize the fact that they were carrying out lawful orders under a previous administration. It is hard to retain officers and attract quality recruits in this kind of environment. It has become safer to work in programs other than counterterrorism.

The memos’ release will not have a catastrophic effect on U.S. counterterrorism efforts. Indeed, most of the information in the memos was leaked to the press years ago and has long been public knowledge. However, when the release of the memos is examined in a wider context, and combined with a few other dynamics, it appears that the U.S. counterterrorism community is quietly slipping back into an atmosphere of risk-aversion and malaise — an atmosphere not dissimilar to that described by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (also known as the 9/11 Commission) as a contributing factor to the intelligence failures that led to the 9/11 attacks.

Cycles Within Cycles

In March we wrote about the cycle of counterterrorism funding and discussed indications that the United States is entering a period of reduced counterterrorism funding. This decrease in funding not only will affect defensive counterterrorism initiatives like embassy security and countersurveillance programs, but also will impact offensive programs such as the number of CIA personnel dedicated to the counterterrorism role.

Beyond funding, however, there is another historical cycle of booms and busts that can be seen in the conduct of American clandestine intelligence activities. There are clearly discernible periods when clandestine activities are deemed very important and are widely employed. These periods are inevitably followed by a time of investigations, reductions in clandestine activities and a tightening of control and oversight over such activities.

After the widespread employment of clandestine activities in the Vietnam War era, the Church Committee was convened in 1975 to review (and ultimately restrict) such operations. Former President Ronald Reagan’s appointment of Bill Casey as director of the CIA ushered in a new era of growth as the United States became heavily engaged in clandestine activities in Afghanistan and Central America. Then, the revelation of the Iran-Contra affair in 1986 led to a period of hearings and controls.

There was a slight uptick in clandestine activities under the presidency of George H.W. Bush, but the fall of the Soviet Union led to another bust cycle for the intelligence community. By the mid-1990s, the number of CIA stations and bases was dramatically reduced (and virtually eliminated in much of Africa) for budgetary considerations. Then there was the case of Jennifer Harbury, a Harvard-educated lawyer who used little-known provisions in Texas common law to marry a dead Guatemalan guerrilla commander and gain legal standing as his widow. After it was uncovered that a CIA source was involved in the guerrilla commander’s execution, CIA stations in Latin America were gutted for political reasons. The Harbury case also led to the Torricelli Amendment, a law that made recruiting unsavory people, such as those with ties to death squads and terrorist groups, illegal without special approval. This bust cycle was well documented by both the Crowe Commission, which investigated the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings, and the 9/11 Commission.

After the 9/11 attacks, the pendulum swung radically to the permissive side and clandestine activity was rapidly and dramatically increased as the U.S. sought to close the intelligence gap and quickly develop intelligence on al Qaeda’s capability and plans. Developments over the past two years clearly indicate that the United States is once again entering an intelligence bust cycle, a period that will be marked by hearings, increased controls and a general decrease in clandestine activity.

Institutional Culture

It is also very important to realize that the counterterrorism community is just one small part of the larger intelligence community that is affected by this ebb and flow of covert activity. In fact, as noted above, the counterterrorism component of intelligence efforts has its own boom-and-bust cycle that is based on major attacks. Soon after a major attack, interest in counterterrorism spikes dramatically, but as time passes without a major attack, interest lags. Other than during the peak times of this cycle, counterterrorism is considered an ancillary program that is sometimes seen as an interesting side tour of duty, but more widely seen as being outside the mainstream career path — risky and not particularly career-enhancing. This assessment is reinforced by such events as the recent release of the memos.

At the CIA, being a counterterrorism specialist in the clandestine service means that you will most likely spend much of your life in places line Sanaa, Islamabad and Kabul instead of Vienna, Paris or London. This means that, in addition to hurting your chances for career advancement, your job also is quite dangerous, provides relatively poor living conditions for your family and offers the possibility of contracting serious diseases.

While being declared persona non grata and getting kicked out of a country as part of an intelligence spat is considered almost a badge of honor at the CIA, the threat of being arrested and indicted for participating in the rendition of a terrorist suspect from an allied country like Italy is not. Equally unappealing is being sued in civil court by a terrorist suspect or facing the possibility of prosecution after a change of government in the United States. Over the past few years, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers who are choosing to carry personal liability insurance because they do not trust the agency and the U.S. government to look out for their best interests.

Now, there are officers who are willing to endure hardship and who do not really care much about career advancement, but for those officers there is another hazard — frustration. Aggressive officers dedicated to the counterterrorism mission quickly learn that many of the people in the food chain above them are concerned about their careers, and these superiors often take measures to rein in their less-mainstream subordinates. Additionally, due to the restrictions brought about by laws and regulations like the Torricelli Amendment, case officers working counterterrorism are often tightly bound by myriad legal restrictions.

Unlike in television shows like “24,” it is not uncommon in the real world for a meeting called to plan a counterterrorism operation to feature more CIA lawyers than case officers or analysts. These staff lawyers are intricately involved in the operational decisions made at headquarters, and legal issues often trump operational considerations. The need to obtain legal approval often delays decisions long enough for a critical window of operational opportunity to be slammed shut. This restrictive legal environment goes back many years in the CIA and is not a new fixture brought in by the Obama administration. There was a sense of urgency that served to trump the lawyers to some extent after 9/11, but the lawyers never went away and have reasserted themselves firmly over the past several years.

Of course, the CIA is not the only agency with a culture that is less than supportive of the counterterrorism mission. Although the prevention of terrorist attacks in the United States is currently the FBI’s No. 1 priority on paper, the counterterrorism mission remains the bureau’s redheaded stepchild. The FBI is struggling to find agents willing to serve in the counterterrorism sections of field offices, resident agencies (smaller offices that report to a field office) and joint terrorism task forces.

While the CIA was very much built on the legacy of Wild Bill Donovan’s Office of Strategic Services, the FBI was founded by J. Edgar Hoover, a conservative and risk-averse administrator who served as FBI director from 1935-1972. Even today, Hoover’s influence is clearly evident in the FBI’s bureaucratic nature. FBI special agents are unable to do much at all, such as open an investigation, without a supervisor’s approval, and supervisors are reluctant to approve anything too adventurous because of the impact it might have on their chance for promotion. Unlike many other law enforcement agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI rarely uses its own special agents in an undercover capacity to penetrate criminal organizations. That practice is seen as being too risky; they prefer to use confidential informants rather than undercover operatives.

The FBI is also strongly tied to its roots in law enforcement and criminal investigation, and special agents who work major theft, public corruption or white-collar crime cases tend to receive more recognition — and advance more quickly — than their counterterrorism counterparts.

FBI special agents also see a considerable downside to working counterterrorism cases because of the potential for such cases to blow up in their faces if they make a mistake — such as in the New York field office’s highly publicized mishandling of the informant whom they had inserted into the group that later conducted the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. It is much safer, and far more rewarding from a career perspective, to work bank robberies or serve in the FBI’s Inspection Division.

After the 9/11 attacks — and the corresponding spike in the importance of counterterrorism operations — many of the resources of the CIA and FBI were focused on al Qaeda and terrorism, to the detriment of programs such as foreign counterintelligence. However, the more time that has passed since 9/11 without another major attack, the more the organizational culture of the U.S government has returned to normal. Once again, counterterrorism efforts are seen as being ancillary duties rather than the organizations’ driving mission. (The clash between organizational culture and the counterterrorism mission is by no means confined to the CIA and FBI. Fred’s book “Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent” provides a detailed examination of some of the bureaucratic and cultural challenges we faced while serving in the Counterterrorism Investigations Division of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service.)

Liaison Services

One of the least well known, and perhaps most important, sources of intelligence in the counterterrorism field is the information that is obtained as a result of close relationships with allied intelligence agencies — often referred to as information obtained through “liaison channels.”

Like FBI agents, most CIA officers are well-educated, middle-aged white guys. This means they are better suited to use the cover of an American businessmen or diplomat than to pretend to be a young Muslim trying to join al Qaeda or Hezbollah. Like their counterparts in the FBI, CIA officers have far more success using informants than they do working undercover inside terrorist groups.

Services like the Jordanian General Intelligence Department, the Saudi Mabahith or the Yemeni National Security Agency not only can recruit sources, but also are far more successful in using young Muslim officers to penetrate terrorist groups. In addition to their source networks and penetration operations, many of these liaison services are not at all squeamish about using extremely enhanced interrogation techniques — this is the reason many of the terrorism suspects who were the subject of rendition operations ended up in such locations. Obviously, whenever the CIA is dealing with a liaison service, the political interests and objectives of the service must be considered — as should the possibility that the liaison service is fabricating the intelligence in question for whatever reason. Still, in the end, the CIA historically has received a significant amount of important intelligence (perhaps even most of its intelligence) via liaison channels.

Another concern that arises from the call for a truth commission is the impact a commission investigation could have on the liaison services that have helped the United States in its counterterrorism efforts since 9/11. Countries that hosted CIA detention facilities or were involved in the rendition or interrogation of terrorist suspects may find themselves exposed publicly or even held up for some sort of sanction by the U.S. Congress. Such activities could have a real impact on the amount of cooperation and information the CIA receives from these intelligence services.


As we’ve previously noted, it was a lack of intelligence that helped fuel the fear that led the Bush administration to authorize enhanced interrogation techniques. Ironically, the current investigation into those techniques and other practices (such as renditions) may very well lead to significant gaps in terrorism-related intelligence from both internal and liaison sources — again, not primarily because of the prohibition of torture, but because of larger implications.

When these implications are combined with the long-standing institutional aversion of U.S. government agencies toward counterterrorism, and with the difficulty of finding and retaining good people willing to serve in counterterrorism roles, the U.S. counterterrorism community may soon be facing challenges even more daunting than those posed by its already difficult mission.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mediators and Observers meet on Transnistria conflict

Press Release
April 28

Ambassador Charalampos Christopoulos, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, released the following statement today on behalf of the Mediators and Observers in the Transnistria settlement process (the "3+2"):

"The Mediators and Observers in the Transnistria settlement process (the Russian Federation, Ukraine, OSCE, the United States and the European Union), meeting in Vienna on 28 April under the chairmanship of Ambassador Charalampos Christopoulos, Special Representative of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, noting the recent situation in Moldova, reiterated the relevant statements made previously by their respective authorities, and agreed on the necessity of the early renewal of political negotiations in the Permanent Conference on Political Issues in the Framework of the Transnistria Settlement Process (the "5+2").

The Mediators and Observers stressed the importance of further direct contacts between the Sides at all levels, including in the Joint Expert Working Groups on Confidence-building Measures, and called for the re-activation of the work of these groups. They supported a prospective seminar on Confidence- and Security-Building Measures in the Military Field to be organized by the OSCE Mission to Moldova and the Greek OSCE Chairmanship.

The Mediators and Observers looked forward to visiting the region and meeting with the leaderships of the Sides in the coming months."

For PDF attachments or links to sources of further information, please visit:

For further information contact:

Martin Nesirky - Spokesperson
Press and Public Information Section
Wallnerstrasse 6
1010 Vienna
Tel.: +43 1 514 36 6150 (office) +43 664 859 08 26 (mobile)
Fax: +43 1 514 36 6105

EU Foreign Ministers Discuss Growing Eastern Instability

Ahto Lobjakas
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
April 27

Benita Ferrero-Waldner is expected to tell EU foreign ministers that the bloc has no choice but to seek closer ties with its neighbors.

Keeping its eastern neighbors on the path to stability and prosperity has become a formidable test for EU foreign policy in recent months.

As she unveiled an annual review of the bloc's European Neighborhood Policy, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner told the 27 EU foreign ministers it has been a "difficult year" -- particularly in the east.

But Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, who chaired the meeting, said the EU is resolved to push on with its Eastern Partnership initiative, which is designed to forge closer ties between the bloc and six eastern neighbors.

"We believe that sending a strong message to the six partnership countries -- Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan -- is very important in the light of the recent developments in the region, and that we need to engage with our neighbors more closely in order to promote good governance, the rule of law, and transparency," he said.

Brutal Crackdown

One need look no further than this month's unrest in Moldova to know that this will not be easy.

That country is still recovering from a brutal crackdown on mass public protests in the capital, Chisinau, following a landslide win for the ruling Communists in parliamentary elections. In the wake of the violence, the country's increasingly Russian-leaning president, Vladimir Voronin, pointedly accused neighboring Romania -- an EU member -- of fomenting the unrest.

Moldova then expelled the ambassador to Romania and imposed a summary visa regime on Romanian visitors. And sources in Brussels say Voronin told Kalman Miszei, the EU special envoy, that Moldova has "friends elsewhere."

Now, at Romania's request, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg discussed Moldova during talks over lunch -- a setting usually reserved for issues of particular concern.

The EU adopted a declaration saying it has "serious concerns" about developments in the country, and Czech Foreign Minister Schwarzenberg said Moldova "poses a challenge" for the EU.

"The current tensions in the country pose a challenge for the European Union. Our task is now to find a proper way to strengthen our policy of bringing Moldova closer to our standard," he said. "We expect Moldova to behave in a European way, not only vis-a-vis the European Union and its members, but first of all, of course, internally."

But, Schwarzenberg stressed, the Eastern Partnership initiative remains "no doubt the right tool" to bolster reforms in Moldova.

Cutting Some Slack

Czech Prime Minister Miroslav Topolanek, who was in Chisinau last week representing the EU Presidency, reported that neither the government nor the opposition appears to have the political will to meet the other side for talks -- a key EU wish.

Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin (right) meets with Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek in Chisinau on April 22.

The Netherlands is the lone advocate of a tougher EU stance on Moldova (and another problematic partnership member, Belarus). But Germany and Poland head the EU's mainstream in arguing that Moldova must not be isolated and needs greater EU support.

The country's economy is seen by many in the EU to be on the brink of collapse.

Moldova's decision to slap visas on Romanians is, however, likely to have repercussions. The European Commission has called the measure unacceptable in light of EU-Moldova visa facilitation talks and is likely to raise it at an EU-Moldova meeting in a few days.

Moldova's partner on the EU lunch agenda was neighboring Ukraine, where there has been no public unrest but where mounting political and economic paralysis increasingly threatens the country's viability.

Again, Germany and Poland appear to be closely coordinating policy, with the two countries' foreign ministers reported to have addressed a joint letter to the EU's Czech presidency last week expressing concern at the economic and political situation in Ukraine.

The two ministers are said to have floated the idea of an EU assistance mission to Ukraine to facilitate dialogue among all political leaders. However, it is generally feared that a resolution to the political crisis in Ukraine is improbable before the 2010 presidential elections.

The EU's foreign-policy chief, Javier Solana, said after the meeting that the EU would now study ways of stabilizing the country. "After the discussion today we will see how we can help prior to the elections and after the elections, the presidential elections, to see how we can arrange the economic situation and the political situation," he said.

Is Lukashenka Coming?

The EU foreign ministers on April 27 will also discuss the agendas and guest lists of two important upcoming summits.

On May 7, representatives of Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan have been invited to attend a summit in Prague on its Eastern Partnership, which is meant to extend special benefits to the EU's eastern neighbors.

Much speculation is circulating over whether Belarus's authoritarian president, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, will attend. The invitations to the summit are not personal, giving every country's leader the choice of whether to turn up in Prague in person. Many EU nations expect Lukashenka to send a stand-in.

A joint declaration signed by the 27 EU member states and the six partner countries is planned for the summit. The text of the document is still being discussed with the partners and is expected to be finalized a week in advance of the summit.

On May 8, the EU will hold another summit in Prague, dedicated to what has become known as the Southern Corridor of energy provision.

This meeting will be conducted under the auspices of the EU "troika" of Topolanek, Solana, and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso. The three will face officials representing Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.

Six 'Observers'

Together, the five countries represent the EU's main hope of securing significant amounts of natural gas deliveries without resorting to Russian supplies or mediation.

Six "observers" have also been invited -- Iraq, Egypt, and Uzbekistan as potential supplier countries; and Russia, Ukraine, and the United States as other major interested parties.

The presence of the last three has been the subject of some controversy within the EU. Germany led a long-established group of countries -- including France, Italy, and Spain, among others -- which overcame resistance from others and secured an invitation for Russia.

The Southern Corridor is explicitly defined by the EU as a direct link to energy resources in the Caspian Sea region bypassing Russia.

A draft summit declaration, seen by RFE/RL, breaks new ground for the EU by saying the bloc intends to "give strong political support" to the construction of the Southern Corridor -- including the "trans-Caspian link."

This is a planned gas pipeline running from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan which would link Central Asia directly with the Nabucco pipeline projected to run from Baku to Europe, circumventing Russia.

'I Am Dr. Realist'

The bottom is still a year off, says the economist who warned of the plunge.

Lally Weymouth
April 24

Most other economists rolled their eyes when Nouriel Roubini warned in a September 2006 speech to the International Monetary Fund that the global bubble was going to burst. They nicknamed him "Dr. Doom"—and then the hard times hit. As finance ministers and central bankers from the world's major economic powers gather in Washington this weekend, they might consider listening to what Roubini has to say now. The New York University professor told NEWSWEEK's Lally Weymouth why he sees more trouble ahead and what the recovery will look like. Excerpts:

Weymouth: What do you believe is happening to the economy today?
The rate of economic contraction you have seen in the last two quarters—6 percent annualized—is going to slow down. The optimists are already talking about the "green shoots" of spring, about economic activity becoming positive. [They say] we will have positive growth in the third quarter, and in the fourth quarter we will grow 2 percent over the previous quarter. They expect that next year, growth will go back to above 2 percent.

Compared with this optimistic consensus, I believe that the rate of economic contraction is going to slow from minus 6 percent in the last two quarters to minus 2 percent by the fourth quarter. Next year, I believe that the growth rate is going to be 0.5 percent for the U.S. average. Even if we are technically out of a recession, we are going to feel like we are in a recession. The bottom of the economy is not going to be in three months, but rather toward the beginning or middle of next year.

So you are still Dr. Doom?
No, I am not Dr. Doom. I am Dr. Realist. I don't believe we are going to end up in a near depression. Six months ago I was more worried about an L-shaped near depression. Today, after the very aggressive policy actions taken by the U.S. and other countries, the risk of that near-depression L has been reduced from 30 percent to 15 or 20 percent. We are instead in the middle of a U.

You think the Obama administration is on the right track?
I have to give credit to the administration. Within 30 days of coming to power, they did an $800 billion stimulus package, a new program to deal with mortgages and foreclosures, and also a bank plan that when Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner came with details, made the markets rally sharply. Each one of these three programs has some flaws. The fiscal stimulus could have been more front-loaded. For the mortgages, eventually you are going to need a reduction of the face-value principal of the mortgages. And on the banks, I believe after the stress tests it is going to be obvious that even some of the largest banks are so fundamentally in trouble that you cannot buy their toxic assets. You need to take over these banks on a temporary basis, clean them up and then sell them back to the private sector.

You have to nationalize these banks?
Yes. If you do not like the dirty N word, you can call it a "temporary takeover."

How about the deficit the banks are building up?
In the short term I am supportive of it, because if we didn't have these fiscal deficits, the recession would become a depression. On the other side, I do agree that this is not a free lunch. We are going to add trillions of dollars to our public debt, which is going to go from 40 to 80 percent of the GDP. There are only a few ways in which you can finance that extra public debt. If you rule out default and a capital levy on wealth, you either have the "inflation tax" or you have to painfully cut spending or raise taxes, and either one is not going to be politically palatable.

What is going to fuel the next growth cycle?
That is a difficult question. The periods of high growth in the United States in the last 25 years have been characterized by an asset and credit bubble. Whatever the future growth is going to be, this time around it needs to be sustainable and not bubble-prone because we are running out of bubbles to create. We had the real-estate [bubble], tech bubble, housing bubble, hedge-fund bubble, private-equity bubble, commodities bubble, even the art bubble—and they are all bursting.

What makes you different from the other economists?
We think usually that crowds—on average—can be wiser than individuals. In this case, most people got it wrong because whenever we are in an irrational, exuberant bubble, people fail to think correctly.

Do you believe this is a bear-market rally or do you think it is the market anticipating an economic recovery?
As we reach newer lows, we may be closer to a level of the market that is fundamentally right. A year ago we were not as close to a true bottom. Today we are closer to it. As we become closer to the bottom of the economy, the stock market looks ahead and sees the light at the end of the tunnel and rallies. In spite of these caveats, I would argue that even the latest market rally is a bear-market rally.

Do you worry about China getting tired of holding our bonds?
In the short run, China has no option but to accumulate more reserves and dollar reserves. Why? Because if they stop doing that, their currency would appreciate sharply while their exports are plunging. So in the short run, they are going to keep on accumulating. But I have seen a huge number of new initiatives in the last month that suggest [the Chinese] are pushing for the yuan to become an international currency and a reserve currency. They are doing bilateral deals with countries like Argentina and half a dozen others in yuan, not in dollars.

They are moving away from the dollar?
Yes, slowly they will. First they have to establish their own currency as an international currency. That will take years, but already in a month they have done more than in the last 10 years.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine Flu Hits Europe With First Confirmed Cases in Britain, Spain

Craig Whitlock

Washington Post

April 27

As the first cases of swine flu outside North America were confirmed Monday in Spain and Scotland, European health officials issued a series of contradictory public warnings and vacillated over whether it was safe to travel to the United States or Mexico.

In Luxembourg, Androulla Vassiliou, the European Union's health commissioner, told reporters she was "not worried at this stage" about a global pandemic spreading to Europe but nonetheless urged all travelers to avoid the United States and Mexico "unless it is very urgent for them."

The statement prompted a rebuke from U.S. health officials, who said there was no need to impose a ban on travel to the United States, where 40 cases of swine flu -- none of them fatal -- have been diagnosed. Richard E. Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, called the E.U. travel warning "quite premature."

Vassiliou later backtracked and said she was simply advising Europeans to avoid "unnecessary travel" to areas in North America where there have been "serious outbreaks" of swine flu in humans.

"People should use their common sense," she told the BBC. "It's unreasonable to ban traveling, or to even advise travelers not to go to, let's say, Chicago or other places where there are no outbreaks. It's only that people should be more careful before they leave."

The European Union said it would hold an emergency meeting of health ministers from its 27 member countries to coordinate a response to the spread of swine flu. The meeting, however, is not scheduled to occur until Thursday.

Meanwhile, individual European countries have issued a melange of travel and health advisories, with some warning against travel to Mexico but others playing down the risk.

Robert Madelin, the European Union's director-general for health and consumer protection, said it was imperative for European countries to fashion a united response.

"If we do not coordinate, individual regions and countries take measures which are inconsistent and create huge economic and personal costs," he told reporters in Brussels.

In Germany, the foreign ministry issued an advisory Monday against nonessential travel to Mexico. It urged the public to monitor conditions in the United States but did not warn against travel there.

Two large German tourism companies, TUI and Thomas Cook, canceled flights to Mexico City until at least next week. They told customers it was still safe to travel directly to Mexican beach resorts, for the time being.

Officials at Frankfurt and Munich international airports, two of Europe's busiest, distributed swine-flu informational leaflets and instructed employees to watch for passengers who might be infected.

"I think we can assume that we will see the virus here soon," Michael Pfleiderer, a German government virologist, told Bavarian radio. "But that does not mean that we should paint the whole picture dark or even black." He said that normal hygiene measures were sufficient to guard against the virus and that local health agencies were well prepared.

In Spain, health officials confirmed that a 23-year-old university student who returned from Mexico last week had tested positive for the virus. The patient has been isolated in a hospital ward in the town of Almansa since Saturday, but his condition is not serious, said Trinidad Jimenez, the Spanish health minister.

Spanish officials said they were treating 20 other suspected but unconfirmed cases, all involving people who recently traveled to Mexico. Suspected cases were also reported in France, Sweden, Germany and Switzerland.

In Scotland, Health Secretary Nicola Sturgeon said late Monday that two people who returned Friday from Mexico had tested "conclusively" for swine flu. Officials said the two patients were being kept in isolation in a hospital in the town of Airdrie and were expected to recover.

Seven people who had been in contact with the travelers have displayed mild flu symptoms but are not being hospitalized, Sturgeon said. "We remain very encouraged by the fact that outside Mexico everyone who has contracted swine flu has experienced mild symptoms only," she said.

British officials said a Canadian tourist visiting Manchester also was suspected of having swine flu after a general test for influenza came back positive. Health officials are investigating 14 other cases involving people with flu-like symptoms who recently traveled to the United States or Mexico. None are hospitalized, however, as they undergo further tests.

British Health Secretary Alan Johnson told the House of Commons that the government had a stockpile of 33 million doses of flu vaccine, enough for about half the United Kingdom's population. He said the government had been building up stockpiles against a potential flu pandemic for the past five years.

Johnson said the government had stepped up health checks for passengers arriving in the United Kingdom. Passengers on planes from Mexico have been questioned by a doctor before being allowed to leave the aircraft.

Correspondent Kevin Sullivan in London contributed to this report.

Statement of the World Health Organization and details about the pandemic alert

Obama's First Hundred Days and U.S. Presidential Realities

George Friedman
April 27

Graphic for Geopolitical Intelligence Report

U.S. presidential candidates run for office as if they would be free to act however they wish once elected. But upon election, they govern as they must. The freedom of the campaign trail contrasts sharply with the constraints of reality.

The test of a president is how effectively he bridges the gap between what he said he would do and what he finds he must do. Great presidents achieve this seamlessly, while mediocre presidents never recover from the transition. All presidents make the shift, including Obama, who spent his first hundred days on this task.

Obama won the presidency with a much smaller margin than his supporters seem to believe. Despite his wide margin in the Electoral College, more than 47 percent of voters cast ballots against him. Obama was acutely aware of this and focused on making certain not to create a massive split in the country from the outset of his term. He did this in foreign policy by keeping Robert Gates on as defense secretary, bringing in Hillary Clinton, Richard Holbrooke and George Mitchell in key roles and essentially extrapolating from the Bush foreign policy. So far, this has worked. Obama’s approval rating rests at 69 percent, which The Washington Post notes is average for presidents at the hundred-day mark.

Obama, of course, came into office in circumstances he did not anticipate when he began campaigning — namely, the financial and economic crisis that really began to bite in September 2008. Obama had no problem bridging the gap between campaign and governance with regard to this matter, as his campaign neither anticipated nor proposed strategies for the crisis — it just hit. The general pattern for dealing with the crisis was set during the Bush administration, when the Treasury Department and the Federal Reserve Board put in place a strategy of infusing money into failing institutions to prevent what they feared would be a calamitous economic chain reaction.

Obama continued the Bush policy, though he added a stimulus package. But such a package had been discussed in the Bush administration, and it is unlikely that Sen. John McCain would have avoided creating one had he been elected. Obviously, the particular projects funded and the particular interests favored would differ between McCain and Obama, but the essential principle would not. The financial crisis would have been handled the same way — just as everything from the Third World debt crisis to the Savings and Loan crisis would have been handled the same way no matter who was president. Under either man, the vast net worth of the United States (we estimate it at about $350 trillion) would have been tapped by printing money and raising taxes, and U.S. assets would have been used to underwrite bad investments, increase consumption and build political coalitions through pork. Obama had no plan for this. Instead, he expanded upon the Bush administration solution and followed tradition.

The Reality of International Affairs

The manner in which Obama was trapped by reality is most clear with regard to international affairs. At the heart of Obama’s campaign was the idea that one of the major failures of the Bush administration was alienating the European allies of the United States. Obama argued that a more forthcoming approach to the Europeans would yield a more forthcoming response. In fact, the Europeans were no more forthcoming with Obama than they were with Bush.

Obama’s latest trip to Europe focused on two American demands and one European — primarily German — demand. Obama wanted the Germans to increase their economic stimulus plan because Germany is the largest exporter in the world. With the United States stimulating its economy, the Germans could solve their economic problem simply by increasing exports into the United States. This would limit job creation in the United States, particularly because German exports involve automobiles as well as other things, and Obama has struggled to build domestic demand for U.S. autos. Thus, he wanted the Germans to build domestic demand and not just rely on the United States to pull Germany out of recession. But the Germans refused, arguing that they could not afford a major stimulus now (when in fact they have no reason to be flexible, because the U.S. stimulus is going to help them no matter what Germany does).

Germany’s and France’s unwillingness to provide substantially more support in Afghanistan gave Obama a second disappointment. Some European troops were sent, but their numbers were few and their mission was limited to a very short period. (In some cases, the European force contribution will focus on training indigenous police officers, which will take a year or more to really have an impact.) The French and Germans essentially were as unwilling to deal with Obama as they were with Bush on this matter.

The Europeans, on the other hand, wanted a major effort by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The Central European banking system, largely owned by banks from more established European countries, has reached a crisis state because of aggressive lending policies. The Germans in particular don’t want to bail out these banks; they want the IMF to do so. Put differently, they want the United States, China and Japan to help underwrite the European banking system. Obama did agree to contribute to this effort, but not nearly on the scale the Europeans wanted.

On the whole, the Europeans gave two big nos, while the Americans gave a mild yes. In substantive terms, the U.S.-European relationship is no better than it was under Bush. In terms of perception, however, the Obama administration managed a brilliant coup, shifting the focus to the changed atmosphere that prevailed at the meeting. Indeed, all parties wanted to emphasize the atmospherics, and judging from media coverage, they succeeded. The trip accordingly was perceived as a triumph.

Campaign Promises and Public Perception

This is not a trivial achievement. There are campaign promises, there is reality and there is public perception. All presidents must move from campaigning to governing; extremely skilled presidents manage the shift without appearing duplicitous. At least in the European case, Obama has managed the shift without suffering political damage. His core supporters appear prepared to support him independent of results. And that is an important foundation for effective governance.

We can see the same continuity in his treatment of Russia. When he ran for president, Obama pledged to abandon the U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployment in Poland amid a great show made about resetting U.S. Russia policy. On taking office, however, he encountered the reality of the Russian position, which is that Russia wants to be the pre-eminent power in the former Soviet Union. The Bush administration took the position that the United States must be free to maintain bilateral relations with any country, to include the ability to extend NATO membership to interested countries. Obama has reaffirmed this core U.S. position.

The United States has asked for Russian help in two areas. First, Washington asked for a second supply line into Afghanistan. Moscow agreed so long as no military equipment was shipped in. Second, Washington offered to withdraw its BMD system from Poland in return for help from Moscow in blocking Iran’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles. The Russians refused, understanding that the offer on BMD was not worth removing a massive thorn (i.e., Iran) from the Americans’ side.

In other words, U.S.-Russian relations are about where they were in the Bush administration, and Obama’s substantive position is not materially different from the Bush administration’s position. The BMD deal remains in place, the United States is not depending on Russian help on logistics in Afghanistan, and Washington has not backed off on the principle of NATO expansion (even if expansion is most unlikely).

In Iraq, Obama has essentially followed the reality created under the Bush administration, shifting withdrawal dates somewhat but following the Petraeus strategy there and extending it — or trying to extend it — to Afghanistan. The Pakistani problem, of course, presents the greatest challenge (as it would have for any president), and Obama is coping with it to the extent possible.

Obama’s managing of perceptions as opposed to actually making policy changes shows up most clearly in regard to Iran. Obama tried to open the door to Tehran by indicating that he was prepared to talk to the Iranians without preconditions — that is, without any prior commitment on the part of the Iranians regarding nuclear development. The Iranians reacted by rejecting the opening, essentially saying Obama’s overture was merely a gesture, not a substantial shift in American policy. The Iranians are, of course, quite correct in this. Obama fully understands that he cannot shift policy on Iran without a host of regional complications. For example, the Saudis would be enormously upset by such an opening, while the Syrians would have to re-evaluate their entire position on openings to Israel and the United States. Changing U.S. Iranian policy is hard to do. There is a reason Washington has the policy it does, and that reason extends beyond presidents and policymakers.

When we look at Obama’s substantive foreign policy, we see continuity rather than changes. Certainly, the rhetoric has changed, and that is not insignificant; atmospherics do play a role in foreign affairs. Nevertheless, when we look across the globe, we see the same configuration of relationships, the same partners, the same enemies and the same ambiguity that dominates most global relations.

Turkey and the Substantial U.S. Shift

One substantial shift has taken place, however, and that one is with Turkey. The Obama administration has made major overtures to Turkey in multiple forms, from a presidential visit to putting U.S. anti-piracy vessels under Turkish command. These are not symbolic moves. The United States needs Turkey to counterbalance Iran, protect U.S. interests in the Caucasus, help stabilize Iraq, serve as a bridge to Syria and help in Afghanistan. Obama has clearly shifted strategy here in response to changing conditions in the region.

Intriguingly, the change in U.S.-Turkish relations never surfaced as even a minor issue during the U.S. presidential campaign. It emerged after the election because of changes in the configuration of the international system. Shifts in Russian policy, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and shifts within Turkey that allowed the country to begin its return to the international arena all came together to make this necessary, and Obama responded.

None of this is designed to denigrate Obama in the least. While many of his followers may be dismayed, and while many of his critics might be unwilling to notice, the fact is that a single concept dominated Obama’s first hundred days: continuity. In the face of the realities of his domestic political position and the U.S. strategic position, as well as the economic crisis, Obama did what he had to do, and what he had to do very much followed from what Bush did. It is fascinating that both Obama’s supporters and his critics think he has made far more changes than he really has.

Of course, this is only the first hundred days. Presidents look for room to maneuver after they do what they need to do in the short run. Some presidents use that room to pursue policies that weaken, and even destroy, their presidencies. Others find ways to enhance their position. But normally, the hardest thing a president faces is finding the space to do the things he wants to do rather than what he must do. Obama came through the first hundred days following the path laid out for him. It is only in Turkey where he made a move that he wasn’t compelled to make just now, but that had to happen at some point. It will be interesting to see how many more such moves he makes.

Diplomatic confusion

From today's Washington Times, "Embassy Row" section:

Foreign Visitors in Washington this Week

Iulian Fota, national security adviser to President Traian Basescu of Moldova, who addresses the German Marshall Fund of the United States on "realities and repercussions of unrest in Moldova."

A couple of observations:
Traian Basescu is the president of Romania. The president of Moldova is Vladimir Voronin. According - at least -to the UN, Republic of Moldova and Romania are two different countries.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Clinton on surprise visit to Lebanon

April 26

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Sunday made an unannounced visit to Lebanon where she was to meet with President Michel Sleiman.

The visit was widely publicised on Lebanese television.

Clinton's visit, her first to Lebanon since taking office, comes as the tiny Mediterranean country prepares for June legislative elections that could see the militant group Hezbollah emerge victorious.

Washington is a staunch backer of the national unity government in Lebanon, which is led by a Western-backed prime minister, and has expressed concern at the possibility of Hezbollah and its allies, which are supported by Syria and Iran, winning the June 7 vote.

Lebanon Arrests 3 on Charges of Spying for Israel

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The authorities in Lebanon arrested three men on Saturday on charges of spying for Israel, the latest chapter in a long-running intelligence war between the countries that has led to the arrests of at least nine people here over the past year.

The three men arrested Saturday, two Lebanese and one Palestinian, do not appear to have worked together, said a Lebanese security official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. He identified the Lebanese men as Ali Mantash and Robert Kfoury, and the Palestinian as Mohammad Awad.

Lebanon considers Israel, which carried out a major bombing campaign here during the 34-day war with Hezbollah in 2006, an enemy state. If convicted, collaborators could receive the death penalty.

The arrests on Saturday were based on information from Adeeb al-Alam, a retired Lebanese general who was arrested this month and charged with spying for Israel for over at least a decade. Mr. Alam traveled regularly to Europe to meet with Israeli officials, and at their behest he set up a business that brought women to Lebanon to work as maids to help disguise his activities, Lebanese security officials said.

Mr. Alam’s wife and nephew were also arrested and accused of spying with him.

It is not clear how long the three men arrested Saturday were believed to have spied for Israel.

In many cases, Hezbollah has discovered and captured spying suspects before handing them to the authorities in Lebanon. Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group, whose political wing has strong representation in the Parliament and cabinet, is the most powerful military force in Lebanon, and it is also widely thought to have the best intelligence network.

This year, Hezbollah captured Marwan Faqih, a businessman in Nabatiye who is believed to have sold dozens of cars to Hezbollah officials with tracking and listening devices inside them, on behalf of Israeli intelligence. Mr. Faqih was handed over to the authorities in Lebanon and charged with collaborating with Israel.

Last year, Hezbollah captured Ali al-Jarrah, a Lebanese man who was later charged with spying for Israel for 25 years. Lebanese prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Mr. Jarrah.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has said repeatedly that the group would retaliate against Israel for the 2008 killing of Imad Mugniyah, a top Hezbollah military commander.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

Hezbollah win in Lebanon poll would be big upset

With quiet campaigning and moderate talk, Hezbollah is building its strength for Lebanon's June 7 parliament elections — and the militant Shiite Muslim group and its allies stand a good chance of winning.

That could mean a stunning shake-up for one of the Middle East's most volatile countries, replacing a pro-U.S. government with a coalition dominated from behind the scenes by Hezbollah, the political movement and guerrilla group widely seen as the proxy of Iran and Syria in Lebanon.

The U.S. and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization, and their biggest fear is that a win by the group and its allies would increase the sway of Iran and Syria. The U.S. ambassador in Beirut has already expressed concern, and Hezbollah's opponents warn the consequence may be the West isolating Lebanon and Washington reducing its millions in aid.

But Hezbollah, whose name means "Party of God," has taken the strategy of a low-key election campaign with a moderate message, aiming to show that a victory by its coalition should not scare anyone.

Hezbollah's leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has even said that if the coalition wins, it would invite its opponents to join in a national unity government to ensure stability. His deputy, Sheik Naim Kassem, says the West will have to accept the election results.

Kassem said foreign diplomats are already approaching Hezbollah, "some wanting to open a new page." Britain has said it is willing to talk to Hezbollah's political wing and a Hezbollah member of the current parliament recently traveled to London.

The moderate tone is in part because Hezbollah does not want to suffer the same fate as its Palestinian militant ally Hamas, which won legislative elections in 2006 but was boycotted by the West and crippled by an Israeli-led closure of the Gaza Strip.

"There are pitfalls for winning or losing," said Hezbollah expert Amal Saad-Ghorayeb. "They (Hezbollah) see the dangers of winning."

Nevertheless, a Hezbollah win would almost certainly mean changes that would dismay the West and Israel. It would mean less pressure from Lebanon's government to rein in Hezbollah's arsenal of rockets pointed at the Jewish state, which it employed in its 2006 war with Israel, and more backing for efforts to change Lebanon's electoral system to solidify Shiite power further.

Israel's worry is "whether Iran and Syria will succeed in adding Lebanon to their bloc," said Israeli political analyst Barry Rubin. "It would be a huge defeat for the West."

So far, Hezbollah has campaigned quietly, with none of its trademark fiery anti-Israel rallies. Its 11 candidates have been holding town hall meetings in Shiite villages, focusing on promises to root out corruption and improve government performance, and stressing government by consensus.

By contrast, leaders from the U.S.-backed majority have held three splashy rallies since February before several thousand people in a Beirut hall, with balloons, confetti and speakers projected on a giant screen.

Nasrallah says Hezbollah knows that trying to dominate Lebanon's politics would destabilize the country, which in the past four years nearly tumbled into a repeat of the 1975-90 civil war as the pro-Syrian and pro-U.S. camps struggled for the upper hand.

"In such a sectarian system, it is in the interest of Lebanon and its stability that there is understanding and partnership among Lebanese in running their country's affairs," he said in a recent televised speech.

Under Lebanon's complex political system, no group can rule alone. The 128-member legislature must be half Christian and half-Muslim, with the Christians divided among Orthodox and Catholic parties and Muslims among Shiite, Sunni, Druse and Alawite sects. Moreover, in any government, the prime minister must be a Sunni, so Hezbollah would need allies from that sect.

Lebanon's 4 million population is roughly divided in thirds between Christians, Sunnis and Shiites, with smaller sects mixed in. The exact numbers are unknown because a census would be too politically risky — the last one was held in 1932.

The pro-U.S. bloc — largely Sunnis with Christian allies — holds 70 seats in the 128-member parliament, so a handful of races could tip the balance.

Hezbollah is running 10 candidates — one less than it has in the current parliament after withdrawing from one constituency to give a seat to an allied party. All the Hezbollah candidates will likely win easily given the movement's overwhelming support among Shiites.

Its coalition of pro-Syrian, Shiite and several Christian parties now has 58 seats in parliament. About 30 seats — from both camps — are reported to be a toss-ups. But some political analysts believe Hezbollah's coalition has a strong chance of winning a majority because smaller electoral districts created since the 2005 election favor its candidates. There are no reliable independent polls in Lebanon.

The leader of the pro-U.S. bloc, Sunni billionaire Saad Hariri, has said a Hezbollah win would "put Lebanon into very difficult times," threatening its economic growth.

In an interview with Beirut's Naharnet news Web site, U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison warned that American relations with Lebanon — and future U.S. aid — "will be evaluated in the context of the new government's policies and statements." Since 2006, the United States has committed over a billion dollars to Lebanon, including $410 million to the country's security forces.

A victory by the pro-Syrian coalition would likely see Hezbollah pushing to fulfill its campaign promise to eliminate the sectarian distribution of parliament seats, which would boost the power of the growing Shiite population. Hezbollah would also see a win as a mandate for its opposition to U.S. Middle East policies and its strong anti-Israeli line.

Associated Press writer Matti Friedman contributed from Jerusalem.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Barack Obama's Weekly Address: Calling for Fiscal Discipline

White House

This week the President reiterates a theme that has been a hallmark of his career, namely that "old habits and stale thinking" will simply not help us solve the new and immense problems our country faces. Listing off several specific changes he intends to bring, he describes his guiding principle: "To help build a new foundation for the 21st century, we need to reform our government so that it is more efficient, more transparent, and more creative. That will demand new thinking and a new sense of responsibility for every dollar that is spent."

Cuba 'less sure' after Obama overture: WHouse

April 24

Cuban leaders seem "a little less sure of themselves" after US President Barack Obama's lifted travel and money transfer restrictions on Cuban-Americans, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Friday.

Gibbs was asked by reporters about Obama's reaction to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro's remark in Cuban newspapers Wednesday that Obama had "misinterpreted" his brother Cuban President Raul Castro's words on possible changes for political prisoners and human rights in Cuba.

"It's a bit amusing that in order to keep what they have, the leadership in Cuba seems a little less sure of themselves based on some of the actions that the president took," Gibbs said.

"I don't see what that leadership has to fear with the travel of people -- of Cuban Americans back to Cuba or the sending of money or the transmission of words and signals over our airwaves," he added.

"And I think if the Cuban government is serious about reform, then they know the actions and the steps they should take," Gibbs said.

Obama said Raul Castro's talk offer was "a very welcome overture," but Fidel ruled out any prisoner release in Cuba and said Obama showed arrogance in dismissing his offer to exchange some political prisoners for five jailed Cuban spies.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday said Fidel Castro's comments denoted some difference of opinion between the Castro brothers, showing that the communist regime was coming to an end.

"You can see there is beginning to be a debate, I mean this is a regime that is ending. It will end at some point," Clinton told lawmakers at a hearing in Washington.

Early signs of win for Iceland's left-wing parties

Iceland's leftist government was headed for a strong victory in the country's general election, according to preliminary results late Saturday.

Early results showed that a left-wing coalition made up of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement has won 35 out of the 63 seats in parliament.

The two parties are part of a caretaker government that took office in February after public protests about Iceland's economic collapse toppled the previous conservative administration. The left-wing coalition is led by interim Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir.

The results are an overwhelming rejection of the conservative, pro-business Independence Party, which headed a coalition government last fall when the banking system failed.

The Social Democratic Alliance has won 22 seats in parliament with 33 percent of the votes counted, while the Left Green Movement has 13 seats with 19.9 percent of votes, early results showed. The Independence Party has 15 seats with 22.5 percent of votes.

The centrist Progressive Party has nine seats with 12.8 percent of votes and the Citizens Movement has four seats with 8.2 percent of the vote. Around 38 percent of all votes have been counted so far.

The global financial crisis washed up hard on the shores of this volcanic island of 320,000 people. After racking up massive debts during years of laissez-faire economic regulation and rapid expansion, the country's three main banks collapsed within the space of a week in October.

The government sought a $10 billion International Monetary Fund-led bailout and the country's currency, the krona, has plummeted.

Unemployment and inflation have spiraled and the IMF has predicted that the economy will shrink by about 10 percent in 2009, which would be Iceland's biggest slump since it won full independence from Denmark in 1944.

Iceland's election commission announced the early results Saturday night shortly after polls closed around the country.

Clinton urges Iraqis to overcome divisions

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Saturday urged Iraqis to overcome their divisions as a spate of suicide bombings revived fears of a renewed sectarian war when U.S. troops withdraw.

Making a brief visit to Baghdad, her first since becoming secretary of state, Clinton sought to reassure Iraqis of U.S. support as Washington prepares to withdraw all its troops by the end of 2011.

The top U.S. diplomat arrived on a military transport plane a day after two female suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a Shi'ite Muslim shrine in Baghdad, killing 60 people in the deadliest single incident in Iraq in more than 10 months.

It was the third major attack in two days, bringing the death toll since Thursday to at least 150 people.

The attacks have fanned fears of a resurgence in violence as the United States prepares to pull its combat troops out of Iraqi cities by the end of June, to end all combat missions in August 2010 and to bring all forces home by the end of 2011.

At a meeting Clinton held with about 150 Iraqis at the U.S. embassy, an Iraqi journalist bluntly said many Iraqis were afraid of what would happen when U.S. troops left, and that people did not trust Iraqi security forces.

"There is nothing more important than to have a united Iraq," Clinton replied. "The more united Iraq is, the more you will trust the security services. The security services have to earn your trust but the people have to demand it."


The sectarian warfare and insurgency unleashed by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion have receded sharply over the past year, but Iraqi security forces still face huge challenges as they take on policing and military operations from the United States.

A national election scheduled for the end of the year has also heightened apprehension as political parties and armed groups jostle for dominance of the oil-producing nation.

Asked Friday if the latest bloodshed could rekindle sectarian warfare, Clinton replied: "I see no signs of that at this time.

"I think the suicide bombings ... are, in an unfortunately tragic way, a signal that the rejectionists fear that Iraq is going in the right direction," she told reporters in Kuwait before flying to Baghdad Saturday.

In a whirlwind visit, Clinton met Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and was briefed by Gen. Ray Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq.

Zebari said he found Clinton's message of continued U.S. support reassuring and said the relationship between the two countries would evolve to one of more normal, economic dealings from one been based on security and military concerns.

"There is no doubt that there are serious security and economic challenges that are facing Iraq. We will continue to rely on ... U.S. commitment and support," he said.

Clinton also made time to meet ordinary Iraqis invited to the massive, heavily fortified U.S. embassy, speaking privately to a group of Iraqi women, some of whom were widowed in the last six years of strife.

In her public meeting there, she answered question after question from Iraqis about what the United States could do to help them with everything from education and agriculture to the empowerment of women and the rights of minorities.

At one point, Clinton said she knew that it would not be easy to knit together Iraqi society.

"I know how hard this will be," she said. "My own country has struggled for many years with all kinds of divisions and yet, as you know, we have just elected an African American president, someone who is leading all Americans, not just one group or another group."

Moldova's 'Twitter revolutionary' speaks out

April 25

The Moldovan capital, Chisinau, was rocked by protests earlier this month amid claims that an election which returned the Communist Party to power was rigged.

The BBC's Oana Lungescu spoke to Natalia Morar, the journalist accused of masterminding Moldova's "Twitter revolution" - so dubbed because many demonstrators were alerted to the protests by text and social networking tools.

Natalia Morar, 25, smiled broadly when I met her on Friday night in a park in central Chisinau.

"I never felt that just a walk in the park could be such a big happiness," she told me. "It feels great!"

Just hours before, she had been under house arrest. For the previous 10 days she had had no access to internet and was not allowed to talk on the phone.

"It was really terrible because I was absolutely cut off from all sources to find out what happened to my friends, who were with me in the street."

Officially charged with helping organise mass disturbances, she faces 15 years in prison, but strongly denies any involvement in the violence.

Spontaneous protest

The authorities, she says, have shown her no photos, videos or any other evidence to substantiate the charges against her.

It all started in a Chisinau cafe, when Ms Morar and a handful of friends decided to hold a peaceful protest against the Communist victory in what they thought was a rigged election.

"It just happened through Twitter, the blogosphere, the internet, SMS, websites and all this stuff. We just met, we brainstormed for 15 minutes, and decided to make a flash mob [internet-organised spontaneous public gathering]...

"In several hours, 15,000 people came out into the street."

Youth 'unhappy'

Although she was amazed by the size of the protests which started peacefully on 6 April, she thinks the reason was sheer frustration pent up in Europe's poorest country.

"None of us could imagine that such a thing could happen," Ms Morar told me, "but it shows there exists a very big protest inside society and within young people.

"Moldovan youth are not pleased with what is happening in Moldova. Liberty is a great thing for us and we don't want to live in a Soviet kind of society," she says vehemently.

The protests, which turned violent on 7 April, were dominated by young people who grew up after Moldova declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Thousands have studied in neighbouring Romania, an EU member, and hundreds of thousands have had to seek work abroad.

Ms Morar dismisses allegations that either Romanian or Russian secret services were behind the protests.

Two years ago, she was expelled from Russia for writing about a money-laundering scandal allegedly involving the Kremlin and Russia's security service.

Now, she tells me, she plans to quit journalism and work full-time with a youth foundation called ThinkMoldova she helped set up last year to bring democratic change to her native country.

But does she consider herself a dangerous woman? The question makes her laugh.

"I'm just a young woman with an active [interest in my country], nothing else. I'm just a free person and I want to be free."


Most of the 200 people arrested during the protests have now been freed.

Three died during the protests in suspicious circumstances.

In an apparent breakthrough, after two high-level EU visits to Chisinau this week, the EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana announced that the authorities had agreed to start a political dialogue with the opposition parties and include them, together with international experts, in a commission due to investigate the unrest.

After talks with Mr Solana, the veteran communist President Vladimir Voronin said Moldova had emerged from the political crisis. But a senior EU diplomat described it more cautiously as "a good start."

The EU envoy for Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, will work out the details in the next few days, together with officials from the Council of Europe.

EU foreign ministers will also discuss the situation in Moldova on Monday, in a flurry of diplomatic activity that shows Europe's troubled eastern border remains under close watch.