US backs down on Iraq nuke first strike
Washington: The United States, reacting to Russian concerns that led President Boris Yeltsin to warn a U.S. attack on Iraq could spark a world war, said Thursday it had no plans for nuclear strike on Iraq to take out alleged biological or chemical weapons sites.
However the State Department reaffirmed Washington's policy of refusing to rule out any of its weapons in responding in defense to an attack by chemical or biological arms despite U.S. media reports that Washington planned to use nuclear weapons to destroy chemical and biological storage facilities in Iraq.
Rubin told a news briefing: "If any country were foolish enough to attack the United States or our allies or our forces with chemical-biological weapons, our response would be swift, devastating and overwhelming."
A top secret directive signed by Clinton in November was part of a contingency plan to consider using atomic bombs on Iraqi weapon sites if Baghdad began a major biological attack on Israel or other neighboring countries. Rubin, asked how Washington would respond if Iraq attacked Israel, said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright had made clear that an attack by Iraq on any of its neighbors, "would be met with a swift and forceful U.S. response".
Yeltsin shook the world on Wednesday by saying use of U.S. military force against Iraq could mean world war. n televised remarks on Wednesday referring to U.S. President Bill Clinton, Yeltsin said: ``We must try at the same time to make Clinton feel that with his actions in Iraq he can lead to a world war.'' He made similar remarks Thursday.
An hour later his spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, said unnamed American media had wrongly reported that Yeltsin had threatened to respond with military force if the United States launched military strikes in Iraq. ``Nervous American journalists immediately reported to their editors: 'Russia will deliver a retaliatory strike if Iraq is attacked,''' Komsomolskaya Pravda reported in a front-page story. ``The world, one supposes, must have become more tense.''
Yeltsin repeated his comments to Russian and Italian journalists on Thursday, according to Itar-Tass news agency. He was quoted as saying: ``The most important thing is that we have stuck firmly to our position of opposing the military option. It is not possible, it would mean world war.''
Yastrzhembsky and Sergei Lavrov, Russia's envoy at the United Nations, played down Yeltsin's remarks on the possibility of world war developing from the Iraq crisis. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Tarasov said on Thursday Yeltsin's intention had been to draw attention to what was at stake over Iraq and to show that persevering with efforts to find a political solution remained the better option.
In Moscow newpapers questioned Washington motivation in Iraq using nuclear arms in some circumstances. Such talk prompted the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to issue a denial on Wednesday that Washington planned a nuclear attack.
The government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta said a hardline U.S. stance in Iraq was motivated partly by an unwillingness to allow Russia to gain economic ground in the region. Komsomolskaya Pravda suggested Clinton was using Iraq to divert attention from sex allegations.
``The opponents of the American president have begun to stir up unhealthy agitation around his sexual actions, crying out the ominous word 'impeachment','' Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote. `What would help in the struggle with internal enemies? An external enemy. And, as in well known, the best means is a small victorious war.''
Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen discussed the crisis with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin in Beijing on Friday, with both sides stressing their opposition to military action. French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine also held talks late Thursday with Russian counterpart Yevgeny Primakov.
Baghdad : Iraq accused Britain and the United States on Friday of being determined to launch an attack and it was only "the odious Tony Blair" who had gone to Washington to discuss a possible strike.
"Each time there are calls for a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the cries of the supporters of aggression in Washington and London are raised with more force and more sadism," said Al-Thawra, the newspaper of the ruling Baath party. "That's not strange because an attack has been planned for a long time, but what is important is that the whole world is united to oppose such an attack and insists on a diplomatic solution," it said.
As the United States and Britain beefed up their military force in the Gulf, US President Bill Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were discussing battle plans. "If Saddam does not comply with the unanimous will of the international community we must be prepared to act and we are," said Clinton at a joint press conference in Washington.
In attempting to set up a war climate Clinton cited a message sent in the midst of the Second World War, from President Roosevelt to Mr. Churchill that said as follows: "When victory comes, we shall stand shoulder to shoulder in seeking to nourish the great ideals for which we fight."
But the Washington talks were taking place amid strong opposition to the use of force by fellow UN Security Council permanent members China, France and Russia.
Defense Secretary William Cohen, testifying Thursday before the House National Security Committee, reiterated that the Clinton administration wants a diplomatic means of compelling Iraq to comply with U.N. weapons inspections that grew out of the truce ending the 1991 war.
The claim faced skepticism from some committee members, who suggested the administration is too eager to escalate the Iraq crisis into all-out war. ``Why are emotions running so high at the White House?'' asked Rep. Stephen Buyer, R-Ind. ``What is the imminent threat?''
Yet Cohen denied a rush to war. ``There is no beating of the tom-toms at the White House,'' he said.
Japan wants Olympic moratorium
Tokyo : Japan has asked the United States to refrain from taking any military action against Iraq during the Winter Olympics, ``the last sports festival of peace this century,'' the Japanese Foreign Ministry said Saturday.
In a telephone conversation Friday night with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Foreign Minister Keizo Obuchi expressed Japan's concern about the possible outbreak of hostilities during the games, according to a statement released by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
Albright said that she understood Japan's position, but asked for Japan's full support in backing a U.S.-led effort to force Iraq to abide by a U.N.-directed weapons inspections, the statement said.
Kyodo News reported Saturday that President Clinton sent a letter to Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto earlier this week that stated the United States would not waver in its resolve to open Iraq to weapons inspection teams. Hashimoto, in return, sent a reply Friday, the contents of which were not disclosed. Obuchi already has conveyed Japan's concerns with his counterparts in Britain and France.
Japan wants its allies to respect a non-binding resolution the United Nations passed in November urging countries to avoid any hostilities with one another during the Olympics.
The International Olympic Committee has asked the Clinton administration
to abide by an Olympic truce during the games, which end Feb. 22.
At the opening tomorrow IOC President Juan Antonio Samaranch is expected
to appeal to the 185 member states of the United Nations to observe the
Olympic truce and use diplomacy to solve conflicts and an indirect reference
to the Middle East conflict which is pitting the United States against
The United States has been increasing the size of its military presence in the Persian Gulf for a possible military attack on Iraq over its noncompliance with U.N. weapons inspections. Clinton has said no decision has been made to attack Iraq, but Defense Secretary William Cohen said the Olympics cannot figure in U.S. military planning.
Butler on UN rack over comments
United Nations: The chief UN weapons inspector was grilled by the Security Council on Thursday for his public remarks that Iraq has enough chemical and biological weapons to ``blow away Tel Aviv,''.
Richard Butler, head of the UN Special Commission monitoring Iraq, spent more than three hours behind closed doors with the council to discuss the status of the inspection program in Iraq. China, France and Russia have complained that Butler was speaking to the press before briefing the Council on important developments. UN chief Kofi Annan also rebuked him for "television diplomacy."
Russian ambassador Sergey Lavrov used the occasion to criticize Butler for remarks published last month by The New York Times which were widely reported in the international media, provoking sharp criticism from Iraq, Arab Americans and Security Council members France, Russia and China. Chinese Ambassador Qin Huasun complained that Butler's comments had alarmed the Chinese population as they had been picked up by Chinese media.
Butler last Thursday wrote to the UN Security Council explaining that the New York Times had slightly taken his remarks out of context, for which the newspaper issued an apology. In a letter to the Times published on Friday, Butler said that he was extrapolating from Iraq's known capability, and that Iraq had the biological weapons capability to "blow away Tel Aviv or wherever." The Australian diplomat claimed that Iraq had "never given a credible account to the United Nations Special Commission or to the Security Council of the special warheads it has had in its possession."
Lavrov chastised Butler and told him to inform the Security Council about UNSCOM suspicions before talking to reporters.Those comments were echoed by diplomats from France and China. Lavrov also told Butler the Special Commission did not have accurate information about the status of Iraqi weapons programs and that the Iraqi government should be presumed to be cooperating unless proved otherwise.
British Ambassador John Weston vigorously defended Butler, saying Britain
had full confidence in him and the Special Commission but the UK backs
the United States' advocacy of force. But Richardson, Washington's ambassador
to the United Nations, was not present as he is visiting eight heads of
state of countries on the Security Council, trying to secure a commitment
to for US strike.
North African summit held in Libya
Tripoli: Libya, Sudan, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad have signed a pact establishing a grouping of Sahel and Sahara states to enhance regional ties, official Libyan television reported on Thursday.
The summit``proclaimed the establishment of the Sahel and Sahara states grouping...and signed a pact establishing it for consultations and action towards economic integration,'' a communique by foreign affairs ministers of the countries involved said. The communique said the six countries have ``huge potential'' and plan to set up a development bank. The summit aimed at increasing regional cooperation summit opened on Wednesday inTripoli.
Libyan television said the pact was signed by country's leader, Moammar Gaddafi, Sudan's Omar al-Bashir, Mali's Alpha Oumar Konare, Niger's Ibrahim Bare Mainassara and Chad's Idriss Deby. Burkina Faso, represented by its environment minister, also signed the pact.
Sudan's Bashir told Libyan television that he hoped other African states would join the grouping which he said would have effects at the economic, political, social and security levels. ``This is an historical realisation for the region's countries...and groups more than 130 million inhabitants,'' he said. He added that the grouping was at ``Gaddafi's call and initiative.''
Gaddafi was chosen chairman of the rotating presidency council and Libyan official Mohamed al-Azhari was appointed secretary general of the grouping, which will have its permanent secretariat in Tripoli.
Tunisia and Egypt, neighbours of Libya who attended the meeting and were represented at a ministerial level, did not sign the pact, diplomats in Tripoli said. Egypt was represented by its minister for manual labor and emigration affairs, Ahmed al-Amawi; Tunisia by its state secretary for foreign affairs, Saddok Fayyala; and Burkina Faso by its minister for water, Salif Diallo
Gaddafi said last August that Libya was ready to open its ports to landlocked African countries such as Niger and Chad to give them access to the Mediterranean. He proposed to cover the Saharan desert with roads but did not say whether his oil-rich country would finance them.
Last September, ministers from Libya, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Sudan and Tunisia met in Tripoli and adopted a draft pact aimed at "establishing an economic and social complementary between the peoples of the region, and reinforce the human and economic capabilities."
The Second African Summit was summoned by Gadhafi to discuss "all the
region's issues and follow up works to boost cooperation to unify the continent
and face the various challenges," a report on Libyan state-run television
Showdown on Melbourne wharves
Melbourne: As the dispute at Melbourne's Webb Dock goes into its 10th day Australian trade union leaders are hopeful for an early resolution of the dispute over union-busting operations on the docks in Melbourne.
In the Industrial Relations Commission Friday they expected to uncover more details about the relationship between Patrick Stevedoring, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) and the clandestine group of former and current SAS soldiers involved in the failed "Dubai industrial mercenary" operation late last year.
The Maritime Union is protesting against Patrick leasing a berth to the NFF for its own non-union stevedoring company. During the night of January 28, 100 security guards contracted from the security firm Chubb, equipped with riot shields, escorted the delivery of equipment to the dock. The Union declared the site black the next day and there has been violent clashes most of the week.
Union concerns have been fuelled by revelations that at least one serving soldier, currently "on leave" from the Army, is directly involved in the effort to set up the non-union operation in Melbourne.
In December last year, a group of 70 Australians including, former and current members of the Australian SAS commando, were flown to Dubai to be trained as dockworkers as part of a secret operation aimed at neutralising the Maritime Union on the Australian waterfront. The union exposure of the operation and warnings by the ITF, which threatened to disrupt maritime traffic to and from Dubai, led the United Arab Emirates to cancel the mercenaries' visas.
Leigh Hubbard, Victorian Trades Hall Council Secretary said,"bringing non-union stevedoring to the waterfront will not provide farmers with cheaper services, as claimed by the NFF."
"The fact is that less than 10 per cent of the total tonnage through Port Melbourne is primary produce, and virtually none is loaded at Webb Dock", Mr Hubbard said.
According to the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), Australia's government is giving its full backing to attempts by big business interests, financed by a secret multi-million dollar fund set up by the National Farmers' Federation and other, as yet unidentified, corporate backers, to destroy the MUA, as part of a wider government campaign to undermine the country's trade union movement.
ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan said "The facts are now coming out about the involvement of the Australian government and business interests in the failed attempt to train soldiers in Dubai and break the MUA by a combination of force and legal sanctions", adding that "the entire international trade union movement is appalled at the use of soldiers and at the determination of the Australian government to break unions, whatever the cost. We will do all we can to help defeat this aggressive, ideological attack on workers' rights to union representation".
The ITF and ICFTU are alerting their affiliates world-wide to the situation and calling for support for the Australian unions. The Geneva-based International Union of Food and agricultural Workers (IUF), has also pledged support to the ITF and its affiliates. According to IUF General Secretary Ron Oswald, "The National Farmers Federation (NFF) in Australia has a history of ideologically-driven anti-worker positions and activities. Its leadership now seems intent on staking out a position as the country's self-appointed chief union buster. The extent to which the extremist positions taken by the NFF leadership are representative of the views of the Australian farming community is in fact highly questionable."
Along with the huge secret fund, Australian unions are being threatened with a range of legal sanctions. These include provisions of the Australian "Workplace Relations Act", which the ACTU and ICFTU claim violates fundamental labour standards, especially Convention 98 of the International Labour Organisation (ILO). A submission on this case has been made to the ILO, which is expected to release its findings in March.