The Taliban claimed responsibility for an attack on the Kabul compound of the U.N. affiliated International Organization for Migration, killing one Afghan police officer, injuring three of the agency's staff members and an employee of the International Labor Organization (IOM), the U.N. announced. Several U.N. and Afghan security officials were also injured.
The incident marked the deadliest attack against a facility associated with the United Nations since Oct. 28, 2009, when armed Taliban militants broke into a U.N. guesthouse in Kabul and opened fire on U.N. personnel and their Afghan guards. Five U.N. personnel died in that incident, including an American, Louis Maxwell, who was killed by the Afghan police who mistook him for a Taliban fighter.
Today's action heightened U.N. concerns about the safety of its workers at a time when the United States and its Western military allies are beginning to draw down in Afghanistan. The United Nations is expected to play a more active role after the United States completes its withdrawal by the end of 2014.
In a statement issued in Kabul, Jan Kubis, the U.N. secretary general's special representative to Afghanistan condemned "today's terrorist attack centered on a compound of the International Organization for Migration. He said the four injured international staffers, including one IOM worker who sustained serious injuries, are receiving medical care. All other U.N. staff members in Kabul have been accounted for, he said.
"The Taliban have claimed responsibility, alleging that their target was a ‘military rest house,'" he said. "The situation is reported to be under the control of Afghan security forces. The mopping up operation continues, with sporadic fire being heard." A Taliban spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters the Taliban forces were targeting a compound used by the CIA. Reuters also reported that the assault began with a car bomb explosion outside the compound housing the IOM.
Following the 2009 attack in Kabul, the United Nations withdrew some staff from the country, relocated others to more fortified facilities, and bolstered their security arrangements, which are provided by Afghan police and Nepalese Gurkhas working under a private contract.
In October 2010, Taliban militants launched an attack on a U.N. compound in the town of Herat, striking the facility's gate with a car bomb to allow suicide bombers disguised as women into the compound. Though Afghan police were injured, the attack was effectively repelled by U.N. guards and Afghan police.
Following today's assault, Kubis expressed "gratitude" for the quick response by "UN security personnel, including Gurkha guards provided by the firm IDG Security, and Afghan forces." He also expressed "sympathies to all the IDG security personnel, Afghan police and security forces injured while bravely responding to this terrorist attack."
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U.S. and European oil and financial sanctions are imposing hardships on the Iranian public, driving up the cost of living, causing shortages of medicine and meat, and fueling popular resentment against the West, Iran’s top economic official told reporters today.
But the official, Iran’s Minister of Economy and Finance Seyed Shamseddin Hoseini, told reporters at the Iranian mission to the United Nations today the long-term impact of the sanctions would be to make Iran’s economy more self-reliant, and that Tehran would never bow to U.S. and European pressure to halt its nuclear program.
Addressing Western reporters at a breakfast of fruit, fried eggs, walnuts, and croissants, Hoseini said that U.S.-backed sanctions targeting the Iranian Central Bank have made it impossible to transfer funds to companies selling even the most basic goods to Iran. For instance, he said, foreign farmers seeking to export beef to Iran have been unable to secure money transfers to conclude the sale.
“So, as a result, our people are consuming a little bit less meat,” he said. “If you were in the shoes of the average Iranian how would you judge the current situation? What, there is no [difference] between a nuclear installation and beef?”
U.S. and European diplomats say that while international sanctions are designed to impede the government’s ability to develop nuclear weapons they acknowledge that some of the measures imposed on Iran’s oil and financial sector may inadvertently harm ordinary citizens.
But they say that they have exempted basic foods and humanitarian goods, including medicines, from a list of sanctioned goods. Tehran, they contend, bears the greatest responsibility for the plight of the Iranian people because it has repeatedly failed to abide by multiple Security Council resolutions demanding it freeze its uranium enrichment program.
Iran maintains that it has no intention of developing a nuclear weapon, and that the program is for peaceful purposes, including the generation of electricity. It has argued that the West’s exemption on the import of medicines and humanitarian goods is meaningless given the refusal of international suppliers to transfer funds to Iranian banks and business out of fear they may be violating U.S. or European financial sanctions.
Hoseini claimed that the true objective of Washington and other European powers was not simply to curtail Iran’s nuclear program, but to prevent it from competing with them in the wider sciences, including aerospace industries, nanotechnology, and the nuclear sciences.
“We believe that the nuclear issue is not the central reason behind these sanctions; this is only a cover,” he said. “These are forbidden frontiers for us to cross into.” Only the big powers and their friends, he added, have “permission to cross that threshold.”
Iran “will continue our scientific progress and programs,” Hoseini said. In the meantime, the Iranian government is exploring ways to endure the sanctions, including providing rations to Iranian citizens and trying to cultivate new trade partners beyond. “Realism forces you to find new ways to get creative,” he said.
“We were continuing on a path and they created obstacles on our path,” he said. But “we will never stop behind the obstacles they put in our path.”
Despite the challenges, Hoseini said that Iran is coping.
“Don’t think for a moment now … there are no pharmaceuticals or medicines in Iran. Do not think that hospitals are unable to perform their daily health care operations or perform needed surgeries.”
Asked to comment on reports that the sanctions were crippling Iranians, doubling the price of basic staples like meat in the past month, he acknowledged that prices of “foodstuffs have increased across the board.” But, he added, “Of course, I don’t know which butcher shop you use in Iran because I have not heard prices of meat having doubled during the past month. They must have given you a raw deal.”
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An independent U.N. human rights researcher this morning announced the opening of an investigation into the use of drone attacks and other targeted assassinations by the United States and other governments.
Ben Emmerson, the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, told reporters in London this morning that the "exponential" rise in American drones strikes posed a "real challenge to the framework of international law," according to a statement issued by his office. Emmerson said there was a need to develop a legal framework to regulate the use of drones, and ensure "accountability" for their misuse.
"The plain fact is that this technology is here to stay," he said. "It is therefore imperative that appropriate legal and operational structures are urgently put in place to regulate its use in a manner that complies with the requirement of international law.
The decision to open a drone investigation drew praise from critics of America's drone policies. "We welcome this investigation in the hopes that global pressure will bring the U.S. back into line with international law requirements that strictly limit the use of lethal force," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project. "To date, there has been an abysmal lack of transparency and no accountability for the U.S. government's ever-expanding targeted killing program."
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones as a more humane alternative to military combat. John Brennan, the White House advisor on counterterrorism and the president's new nominee to lead the CIA, defended the U.S. program as "ethical and just," saying that the targeted nature of the strikes was more humane than traditional military strikes, lessening the prospects that civilians are killed.
Emmerson challenged what he characterized as Brennan's contention that the United States and its allies are engaged in a global war against a stateless enemy which requires the prosecution of war across international borders. Emmerson said that "central objective" of his inquiry is to "look at evidence that drone strikes and other forms of remote targeted killings have caused disproportionate civilian casualties in some instances, and to make recommendations concerning the duty of states to conduct throughout independent and impartial investigations into such allegations, with a view to securing accountability..."
Emmerson said that he has assembled a team of international lawyers and experts, including British lawyer Sir Geoffrey Nice and New York University professor Sarah Knuckey, to help identify cases in which targeted killings may have resulted in civilian casualties. He said they would focus on 25 case studies in Afghanistan, the Palestinian territories, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, to see whether there is a case worthy of prosecution. He said he would present his findings in October.
Emmerson is an independent U.N. rights expert, and his investigation is not sanctioned by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon or the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. But his association with the United Nations is likely to carry greater political weight than those of independent administration critics.
Emmerson first announced plans to look into the American drone program in October, on the eve of U.S. presidential elections, citing frustration with both candidates' positions on drones."The Obama administration continues to formally adopt the position that it will neither confirm nor deny the existence of the drone program," he said at the time. "In reality, the administration is holding its finger in the dam of public accountability," he said according to a prepared copy of the speech.
Emmerson said today that the investigation emerged as the result of a request last June from China, Pakistan, and Russia, to investigate the use of drones in counterterrorism operations.
"The inquiry that I am launching today is a direct response to the requests made to me by states at the human rights council last June, as well as to the increasing international concern surrounding the issue of remote targeted killing through the use of UAV's [Unmanned Aerial Vehicles]," he said. "The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law."
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NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and 28 members of the NATO council today made an unannounced visit to Kabul to underscore the military alliance's commitment to supporting Afghanistan after its fighting forces complete their withdrawal in 2014.
"Our visit today is a clear demonstration of our commitment," Rasmussen said at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that was held to detail NATO plans to maintain a "non-combat" role beyond 2014. "All fifty nations that are part of our coalition remain committed to Afghanistan, now and for the long term."
The high profile tour comes just weeks after the U.N. Security Council cancelled an Afghanistan visit -- planned for next week -- because it was considered too dangerous.
The risk to foreign powers in Afghanistan is undeniable. On Wednesday, a suicide bombed rammed a truck filled with explosives into a joint NATO-Afghan army outpost in eastern Afghanistan, injuring at least 10 Afghan and coalition troops, according to an Associated Press report. And allied forces have come under increasing attack from troops within the Afghan security agencies.
But today's visit raised the question: Why is it safe enough for NATO ambassadors, including U.S. Ambassador Ivo Daalder, to travel there and not for the U.N. Security Council, which planned to travel with a far smaller delegation with nearly half the number of senior ambassadors?
Earlier this month, I reported that the U.N. Security Council had indefinitely postponed its plans to pay a visit to Afghanistan over October 21-25, as well as a side trip to Yemen.
The decision followed an October 2 closed-door briefing to the U.N. Security Council by Gregory Starr -- a former U.S. State Department security chief who currently oversees security matters for the Unite d Nations -- who claimed he had received specific threats, but that maybe the trip could be rescheduled for mid November.
The briefing caught U.N. envoys by surprise, as Starr had informed them just the day before that the trip to Afghanistan was "doable." The U.N. Special Representative Jan Kubis, meanwhile, is said to have agreed, and had hoped the council's visit would underscore the international community's commitment to Afghanistan after the withdrawal of NATO combat forces.
"He said there was new intelligence that wasn't available the day before," according to a U.N.-based diplomat.
The cancellation of the visit, which was being organized by Germany, has infuriated some delegations, particularly Berlin, which privately complained that the Security Council was squandering an opportunity to underscore U.N. support for the mission, according to council diplomats. Diplomats said that the United States, which had expressed concern about security conditions, was behind the decision to postpone the trip, at least until November.
"These are crucial times for Afghanistan: not only are preparations for transition in full swing -- but there are also elections coming up. Both need a strong and active UN presence on the ground with the full backing of the U.N. Security Council," said a U.N. based diplomat. "So if NATO can send this much-needed message, why not the U.N.?
"The very fact that the secretary general of NATO and 28 ambassadors of NATO countries deemed security sufficient for their mission sends an important message of confidence in the Afghani people," the diplomat said.
The United States declined to comment on the dispute.
But a Security Council diplomat defended the decision to postpone the trip, saying that while the U.S. and other council members were prepared to go to Afghanistan, there had been broad agreement in the council to put off the trip following Starr's security warning. "It's unfortunate that some members [of the Security Council] have misrepresented the facts given the broad consensus in the council to postpone the trip," the diplomat said.
This morning, the United Nations defended its decision to hold off the trip. "All we really have to say about it is that we made a recommendation based on the best information available," said Farhan Haq, the spokesman for the United Nations secretary general. "We stand by that recommendation, but will not comment further."
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Kofi Annan, casting around for fresh ideas to stem the violence in Syria, last week proposed inviting Iran to join the United States, Russia, and other world and regional powers seeking to craft a plan for the country's political transition.
The initiative was quickly embraced by Moscow, which proposed hosting this "contact group" for an international conference, and was just as quickly dismissed by the Obama administration, which claimed that Tehran is part of the problem in Syria, not a reliable peace partner.
But why did Annan want Iran inside the peace tent while it is purportedly supporting the Syrian government crackdown, and what impact might Tehran's involvement have on the outcome of the Syrian crisis?
Annan's negotiating team has argued that it would be best to have Iran on its side, rather than seeking to undermine it. "Iran is a key player in this crisis and if you're going to have a group that talks about what can be done to pressure the parties in Syria then you can't neglect the fact that Iran has influence on the Syrian government," Annan's spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, told Turtle Bay.
The decision to try to include Iran was driven by an old-fashioned diplomatic dictum: you need to make peace with your enemy, not your friend. For Annan, that means inviting anyone with the power and influence to spoil the negotiating process into the peace camp, according to U.N. officials.
The United States -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has accepted the need to sit down at the table with the Iranians to address regional conflicts in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Iraq. And U.S. policy makers have entertained talks with the Taliban to pave the way for withdrawal from Afghanistan.
But the prospects for talks in the lead up to the U.S. presidential election may prove awkward, particularly at a time when high-stakes negotiations over Iran's nuclear program appear stalled again. On Monday, the United States expressed its frustration by announcing yet another round of sanctions against Tehran. While the administration has not ruled out the possibility of an Iranian role in the Syrian peace process it has reacted coolly too it.
"There is no question that [Iran] is actively engaged in supporting the government in perpetrating the violence on the ground," Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday. "So we think Iran has not demonstrated to date a readiness to contribute constructively to a peaceful political solution."
The United States and other critics say that Iran's interests run contrary to the U.N.'s goals and that Iran will not support a peace effort that threatens to jeopardize its own interests. "No country in the world stands to lose more from an Assad collapse than Iran. They would lose their only regional ally and their key thoroughfare to Hezbollah," said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Iran's position on Syria is to publicly call for reform and conciliation, while privately financing and arming the Assads to the teeth."
"This is an exercise that is designed to avoid confrontation on everybody's part," Brett Schaefer, who tracks the U.N. for the Heritage Foundation, told Turtle Bay. "I think the Russians, the Chinese, and Iran are going to use every opportunity they can to extend this process out, and that a number of Western countries, including the United States, are willing to go along with this because they are unwilling to step outside the U.N.-centric approach."
For China and Russia, the fate of Syria is inextricably linked to that of Iran, according to Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. They fear that the collapse of President Bashar al-Assad will embolden the West to step up pressure to topple the mullahs in Tehran.
"This is about the strategic position of China and Russia writ large," said Landis. "Syria is the canary in the mineshaft. If Syria is taken down, all eyes will turn to Iran."
By bringing Iran to the peace table, however, Russia would be reassuring Iran that its interests will be taken on board in any peace process. Richard Gowan, a scholar at New York University Center for International Cooperation, said that Annan is right to keep channels open to the Iranians, but that Annan has been too deferential to Syria's foreign backers.
"Annan had already made it known that he was talking to Iran on Syria: emphasizing Tehran's importance at this stage was a tactical public relations error,' he said. "It reinforced the impression that Annan is too reliant on Assad's friends in Moscow and Tehran," he told Turtle Bay. "Annan has arguably not been bold enough in challenging the regime's remaining friends."
For months, U.S. and European officials have accused Iran and Russia of supplying Damascus with weapons. Meanwhile, U.S. allies such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey have reportedly funneled arms to opposition fighters.
An April 12 ceasefire negotiated by Annan, and backed up by a team of about 300 U.N. monitors, is now in tatters. Syrian government forces continue to shell residential neighborhoods, while government-backed militia are suspected of carrying out mass killings in opposition towns. The Free Syrian Army, emboldened by fresh supplies of weapons, has vowed to fight on, saying the U.N.-brokered cease fire has been routinely violated by the government.
"Part of the problem with Syria is that both the Saudis and the Iranians see this as a proxy war for their relative regional ambitions and you can't have one in [the peace process] and the other out without creating a party motivated to subvert the concerted international action," said Jeffrey Laurenti, a U.N. expert at the Century Foundation.
For the United States, sitting down with the Iranians on an election year "is politically awkward, but a wider war around Syria is also a problem. It's not very palatable to Washington but sometimes you swallow hard in order to get a job done."
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Diplomats, by trade, are not naturally funny people.
And the lofty "permanent representatives," as the most senior U.N.-based ambassadors are called, are often among the least funny.
They can come across as a bit too earnest, overly confident, even pompous, and they are usually pitching a cause that doesn't translate well into snappy one-liners. While they may possess masterful negotiating skills they're rarely quick enough on their feet to parry a lethal jab from a hardened comic. And frankly, how does one offer up a riposte when the national honor has been mocked?
But every season, there they are, lining up for appearances on Comedy Central's The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, confident that they can take advantage of a massive audience that could never be reached through a U.N. press conference.
But they commit comedy at their own peril.
Ask Switzerland's U.N. ambassador Peter Maurer, who got skewered by the Daily Show's faux news reporter John Oliver over his country's neutrality during World War II. ("Mr. Ambassador, is that neutral anger, or real anger?") Or Nassir al-Nasser, Qatar's then U.N. ambassador, who got visibly tense when Oliver challenged his pronunciation of "Qatar" and asked him what his country was doing to de-stabilize the Middle East. ("I'll just pause now to gauge the tension. Yep, that's tense; that is very tense indeed.")
Then there's the big screen, where the South Park creators have made a habit of lampooning U.N. officials or diplomats, including Hans Blix, the former U.N. weapons inspectors, who was thrown into a shark tank by Kim Jong Il in Team America: World Police and torn to pieces for a laugh.
But you get the point.
No one is a choicer prey for a comic than a diplomat, particularly one that speaks with a foreign accent, represents a country with a funny name, and can't take a joke.
But not everyone falls victim.
Remember how the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, playing Ali G coaxed the former Egyptian U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali -- "the geezer" he called him -- to say, and spell out, the French word for human excrement -- "merde." But Boutros Ghali prevailed by playing along, offering his opinion on the funniest language -- "maybe Arabic" -- and patiently explaining why Disneyland can't become a U.N. member: "it's not an independent state."
Susan Rice emerged relatively unscathed in her bout with Stephen Colbert, but not before he got in a zinger about the effort to contain Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs. "Excuse me for interrupting you, but I enjoy it," Colbert said. "Iran is still working toward a nuclear weapon. [North] Korea got their nuclear weapon. I'm just as scared of both of these people. How are we stopping them? I mean, I know sternly worded letters are the bread and butter of the U.N. But maybe we should start typing them in all caps to let them know that we are really angry."
Last week, the Palestinian U.N. envoy, Riyad Mansour, tried his hand at sitting with Oliver, in a skit entitled "Who wants to be a member of the U.N.?" Mansourplayed along with the jokeas Oliver set some "preconditions" for the interview. "First this entire interview must be conducted with the 1967 vocabulary. Is that groovy with you?"
"Groovy? It is agreeable with me. Yes," Responded Mansour.
It moved onto a negotiation over who would control the studio's thermostat. (Thanks to Mondoweiss for the transcript.)
John Oliver: "...is it hot in here?"
Riyad Mansour: "It's fine."
John: "So you're not hot? Because I'm definitely hot."
Riyad: "I am not."
John: "OK, look, Ambassador, I think before we do anything, we are gonna have to come to a provisional status agreement on the temperature in this room."
Riyad: "If you want to lower the temperature, it's fine with me."
John: "But who's going to control the thermostat?"
Riyad: "The thermostat ... should be shared by all of us."
John: "Don't even think about dividing this thermostat."
Riyad: "We will not divide the thermostat, but it should be accessed by all those who cherish it and think that it is a holy place that should be accessed to everyone."
John Oliver [voiceover]: "After three and a half hours of laborious negotiations, we finally came to an agreement."
John: "We agree that at an unspecified time in the future, we will announce a summit to discuss the possibility of discussing a negotiation towards an agreement on temperature. Yes?"
John: "Shake hands for the camera. Thank you, Ambassador, this is a historic day."
Riyad: "Yes indeed."
So, how did Mansour fair for the first half of the program? He remained on message, keeping the focus on Palestine's bid for U.N. membership. And he didn't lose his temper. It helped that Oliver went a little easy on him, avoiding any awkward questions about suicide bombers or rockets from Gaza. So, let's see how he did in the game show portion of the interview.
John: "Hi Riyad where are you from, Riyad?
Riyad: "I'm from Palestine."
John: "Palestine? I've never heard of that. Ok, so question number one: What does U.N. stand for?
Riyad: [Long pause] "United Nations."
John: "That's correct. That's correct, Ryad, Congratulations. That's great. So, how do you think it's going so far?
Riyad: "We're doing good."
John: "Ok... It's the bonus round. You've come all this way. Now do you take what you've won so far ... or do you take what's inside the mystery box"
Riyad: "I take what's inside the mystery box."
John: "He's going to go for the mystery box. Ok good luck. [Opens box and removes a card with the verdict.]
John: "Riyad, oh I'm sorry it's a veto from the U.S."
Riyad: "If we're vetoed once well come back again."
John: "That's the spirit. He'll come back again, next time."
Indeed, if there's a comic willing to poke fun at him, he probably will.
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JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
The International Atomic Energy Agency's report on Iran's program constitutes the U.N. nuclear watchdog's strongest case ever that Iran is likely developing a nuclear weapon. But will it be enough to persuade Iran's most stalwart defenders, China and Russia, that its time to ratchet up pressure on Iran with a new round of biting U.N. sanctions?
In recent weeks, China and Russia mounted a pressure campaign of their own, sending top diplomats to meet with the IAEA's general director, Yukiya Amano, to convince him not to release his findings, which they view as too circumstantial and speculative.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement casting doubts about the wisdom of the IAEA's decision to release raw findings before the public, saying they would doom prospects for a resumption of talks between Iran and a group of six major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- over the fate of Iran's nuclear program.
"We have serious doubts about the justification for steps to reveal contents of the report to a broad public, primarily because it is precisely now that certain chances for the renewal of dialogue between the sextet of international mediators and Tehran have begun to appear," according to the statement, which was reported by Reuters.
Amano's report dispenses with the IAEA's traditional caution in assessing evidence suggesting Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. "There are indications," he said plainly, "that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."
"The agency has serious concerns regarding the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," he added. "The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
Iran, which has long denied it is developing nuclear weapons, dismissed the report as a politically motivated attack, and derided the IAEA chief as a U.S. lackey. In a statement in the official Islamic Republic News Agency, the Iranian government derided the report as "a series of false information added to the Amano report under U.S. pressure."
Senior Western diplomats say they see no signs that Iran is any more willing to engage in meaningful discussions over its nuclear intentions than it has been during more than seven years of on-and-off-again talks with the Iranians.
"Frankly, we have tried everything. They have never shown any openness ... to a substantial negotiation," France's U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, acknowledged in a public discussion in September that I moderated at the French Consulate in New York.
Araud said that four rounds of U.N. sanctions are moving closer to harming the "crucial, vital interests" of Iran's trading partners, mostly notably Russia and China, the latter of which is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian oil to meet the energy needs of a rapidly growing economy. "Is it possible to still tighten sanctions? Is it possible to go further, to move further?" he asked. "I doubt it. I really doubt it. Maybe in six months."
Another Western diplomat told Turtle Bay that the latest IAEA report may strengthen the West's hands in securing support for some modest measures, like expanding the number of individuals targeted by a U.N. travel ban and asset freeze, something that has been impossible to achieve since the Security Council last imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010.
But the diplomat said that more biting sanctions, like a ban on Iranian oil or gas trade, would likely trigger a Chinese or Russian veto. It's also unclear whether the United States, Britain, and France, would be keen on running the risk of disrupting an important source of the global oil supply during a period of economic crisis.
In any event, the official said, the Security Council is unlikely to even discuss the Iranian nuclear issue until next month, after the IAEA membership board meets to consider it.
But there is another reason why the Russians may be unwilling to play ball. The latest IAEA report, according to a Bloomberg news item, includes evidence put forward by an unnamed Russian scientist who helped the Iranians try to develop a strategy for boosting the yield on the force of an atomic bomb.
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Ban Ki-moon has prided himself on his willingness to engage some of the world's most unsavory leaders, including Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and Burma's Than Shwe, in a bit of personal diplomacy in the hopes of persuading them to behave well.
But he has never warmed to the Iranian leader, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with whom he maintains a chilly relationship. Almost each year, at the U.N. General Assembly session, the U.N. chief delivers a stern rebuke to the Iranian leader for some provocative statement or refusal to submit to Security Council demands on his government's nuclear program.
This year, Ban scolded the Iranian leader for once against challenging the U.S. assertion that al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks and for launching a fresh attack on "Zionists" (he never says Israel). "The United Nations should be respected as a forum for promoting tolerance, mutual respect and cross cultural understanding and that comments denying or questioning painful historical facts such as the Holocaust and 9/11 are unacceptable."
Ban did say a couple of nice things to the Iranian leader. He welcomed the assistance "the people of Iran" provided to famine-wracked Somalia and welcomed the "release from prison in Iran of the two U.S. nationals Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal on humanitarian grounds."
But he also prodded Ahmadinejad to comply with U.N. resolutions demanding Iran suspend its nuclear program until he can persuade the world that it being used for the generation of energy, not bombs. Ban expressed sadness over the execution earlier this month of a "juvenile offender" in Iran and prodded Ahmadinejad to respect the "fundamental civil and political rights" of his people.
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There was a time when a visit to New York by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the subject of extraordinary curiosity, leading to appearances on the nations' top news shows, including Charlie Rose, and providing fodder for Saturday Night Live skits.
Who can forget the image of the comedian Andy Samberg serenading the faux Iranian leader, dressed in a shoulder-less red dress, on a romantic stroll through Manhattan streets? "I know you say there are no gays in Iran, but you're in New York baby," crooned Samberg.
The controversial Iranian leader still attracts the media elite, with lunches for top editors, broadcast anchors, and TV appearances. And the timing of the release of the two imprisoned American hikers on the eve of his visit has given a boost to his newsworthiness.
But his appearances before the U.N. General Assembly are beginning to have a routine feel to them. The Iranian provocateur mounts an attack on American and European world domination, mixing some awkward truths with patent distortions.
He takes jabs at the Zionists, and then throws out a conspiracy theory for the world to chew on. As if on schedule, the United States and its Western allies, usually represented by junior diplomats, walk out in protest.
Today was hardly different. Ahmadinejad delivered a lengthy speech that revisited a litany of Western offenses, beginning with slavery and U.S. intervention in Korea and Vietnam, and culminating with recent Western-led wars in Afghanistan, Iran, and Libya. "Do these arrogant powers really have the competence and ability to run or govern the world?" he said. "Can the flower of democracy blossom from NATO's missiles, bombs, and guns?"
Ahmadinejad then played the Holocaust card, saying the West has used "their imperialistic media network" to "threaten anyone who questions the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 event with sanctions and military actions."
"If some European countries still use the Holocaust, after six decades, as the excuse to pay fine or ransom to the Zionists, should it not be an obligation upon slave masters or colonial powers to pay reparations to the affected nations?" he asked?
He also rehashed a previous conspiracy theory suggesting that the United States had engaged in a cover-up to shield the true perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. "Who used the mysterious Sept. 11 incident as a pretext to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, killing, injuring, and displacing millions in two countries with the ultimate goal of bringing into its domination the Middle East and its oil resources."
The Iranian leader sharply criticized the U.S. assassination of Osama bin Laden, suggesting that it might be a cover-up. "Why should it not have been allowed to bring him to trial to help recognize those who launched terrorist groups and brought wars and other miseries into the region?" he asked. "Is there any classified information that must be kept secret?"
After the speech, the United States quickly issued a statement denouncing Ahmadinejad. "Mr. Ahmadinejad had a chance to address his own people's aspirations for freedom and dignity, but instead he again turned to abhorrent anti-Semitic slurs and despicable conspiracy theories," said Mark Kornblau, the spokesman for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Human rights groups also weighed in. "While President Ahmadinejad is lecturing the world from the U.N. podium, dissent is still being crushed ruthlessly in Iran and basic rights demanded by millions in the Arab world are brutally denied to Iranians who are demanding the same," said Philippe Bolopion, the U.N. representative for Human Rights Watch. "The world assembly should take with a grain of salt the remarks of a leader who said nothing about the public hanging yesterday of a 17-year-old in his own country."
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In the rarified world of international diplomacy, timing is everything.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stumbled into his five-country Central Asia trip this week at the worst possible time. The Republic of Kyrgyzstan, a key stop on the tour, erupted into chaos, leaving Ban helplessly calling for restraint from the sidelines.
Ban is "shocked by the reported deaths and injuries that have occurred in Kyrgyzstan," his spokesman said hours after the country ignited into violence Thursday. "He urgently calls for dialogue and calm to avoid further bloodshed."
No one has suggested Ban's visit had anything to do with the political ferment in Bishkek, or that he served as an inspiration for the opposition. But the point of Ban's trip -- to raise concerns about poverty, human rights and environmental degradation -- will probably get a bit lost in the fog of violence.
The secretary-general's top political advisor, B. Lynn Pascoe, recently underscored the risks that unforeseen political crises can have on his boss's diplomatic objectives. Pascoe told reporters last month that he had breathed a sigh of relief that North Korea had cancelled plans for a potentially uncomfortable high-level U.N. trip to North Korea on the eve of Pyongyang's decision to launch a series of provocative actions. "Thankfully," the trip was cancelled, he said, "because that was the week they did the missile test."
Only four days ago, Ban was holding court with Kyrgyzstan's president, Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Daniyar Usenov, the two leaders reportedly toppled in Wednesday's uprising. The trip provided a perfect set piece for Ban to burnish his record on human rights, an area where he has been long criticized for going soft on despots.
Human-rights advocates have generally credited Ban with striking the right note in his meetings with Kyrgyz leaders. "All who believe in the United Nations understand that security has many dimensions," Ban told parliamentarians. "It starts with people. Respect for the rights of all people. For the U.N., the protection of human rights is a bedrock principle if a country is to prosper. Quite frankly, ladies and gentlemen, recent events have been troubling, including the last few days. I repeat: All human rights must be protected, including free speech and freedom of the media."
But perhaps Ban also recognized that Kyrgyzstan was ready for change after five years of rule by Bakiev's government. "I have learned that the Kyrgyz people possess a questing spirit, always looking to the next mountain, always with an eye on the farthest horizon," he said in his address to parliament.
For three years, human rights advocates have routinely excoriated U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for failing to hold despots to account in public for oppressing their people. That changed this week after Ban used a high-level visit to Central Asia to scold the region's autocratic rulers.
Rachel Denber, a regional expert at Human Rights Watch, said she was pleasantly surprised to see Ban deliver consistently tough messages to the leaders of Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. "The secretary general gave a high profile place to human rights issues and that was something very much welcome and long overdue," told Turtle Bay. "So far, he's three for three. In every country he visited he has made a strong statement on human rights."
Before the trip, Human Rights Watch urged Ban in a letter to put human rights at the forefront of issues he raised with the region's leaders. The letter singled out Uzbekistan out for "an atrocious" record of abuses, citing the suppression of media and religious freedoms.
Ban today prodded Uzbekistan leader's, Islam Karimov, to allow U.N. human rights researchers into the country, and to fulfill his legal obligations to respect his citizens' human rights. In a speech before university students in Tashkent, Ban credited Uzbekistan with abolishing the death penalty and signing a series of international rights treaties dealing with torture and civil and political rights.
But he also voiced concern that Uzbekistan had not implemented its promises. "It's time to deliver, time to put them fully into practice," he said. Human rights and the rule of law, he added, "are the door to full standing in the broader international community."
Ban's visit is part of a five-country trip, his first as U.N. chief, to Central Asia, where local leaders have used the U.S.-led war on terrorism as a justification for cracking down on political opponents. Ban traveled on to Tajikistan Monday, and he will wrap up his trip in Kazakhstan Tuesday.
Ban intended to use the visit to the region, which is plagued by poverty, environmental degradation, and political repression, to draw attention to the need to meet the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, a series of internationally agreed benchmarks designed to dramatically reduce poverty.
The trip comes less than two weeks after a U.N. human rights committee in New York blasted Uzbekistan for repressive policies and called for a full probe into the 2005 massacre of protesters in Andijan.
Ban made no mention of Andijan, but he called on Uzbekistan to abide by the recent recommendations (pdf) of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, which called for the release of political prisoners and ending harassment of human rights advocates and journalists. Uzbekistan has challenged the veracity of the rights bodies' claims, and refused to comply with its recommendations.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.