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Newsline - February 2, 2006

Mikhail Sukhachev, a spokesman for Russia's Rosoboroneksport state arms trader, told reporters in New Delhi on 2 February that his company wants to build a new air defense system for India based on a modified version of Russia's S-300 system, Russian news agencies reported. Vyacheslav Dzirkalin, the deputy director of the Federal Military-Technological Cooperation Service, said at the same press conference that the two countries are negotiating weapons supply contracts worth $10 billion. India has been second only to China as a buyer of Russian weapons in recent years. PM

Former President Boris Yeltsin told Channel One television on 1 February that he does not approve of what he called Washington's "unipolar policy," Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 1 February 2006). He called instead for a "multipolar world," adding that he wants "every country to [help] deal with problems that come up.... It is wrong to put [so much power] into American hands so that they can dictate terms [to others]." Yeltsin said that "there was a war in Afghanistan first, then a war in Iraq, and now they are aiming at Iran.... This is not democracy.... It is unacceptable." He believes that "Russia was the first to warn 10 years ago that the problem of terrorism was imminent. We, the civilized countries, should join together to fight this evil. Nobody listened to us, until 11 September. Only then did the world start moving." Yeltsin added that terrorism "remains the number one threat today. It will take a long time for Islam to forgive the Americans for what they're doing, for destroying Iraq, and for the fact that the war there is still going on." PM

Sergei Kiriyenko, who heads the Federal Atomic Energy Agency, said in the Siberian city of Zheleznogorsk on 1 February that Russia needs to build about 40 additional nuclear reactors in order to raise the share of nuclear power in total energy production from the present 16-17 percent to 25 percent, "The Moscow Times" reported. He added that two reactors must be built each year starting in 2011 or 2012 to meet this goal. Kiriyenko also repeated President Vladimir Putin's recent call for restoring the kind of nuclear energy ties between Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine that existed in the USSR, but based on market lines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 31 January 2006). Russia currently has 31 nuclear reactors, many of which are old. PM

Police detained 15 human rights activists in Moscow on 1 February for holding a protest rally after being denied permission to do so, Russian news agencies reported. About 50 activists from nongovernmental organizations gathered near the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (FSB) to protest recent FSB allegations that Russian NGOs had received funds from alleged British spies. Activists say the allegations are part of a government campaign to discredit NGOs and gain support for a controversial new law restricting their activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 1 February 2006). PM

A military court fined Vladimir Kontonistov, a deputy commander of a division of the Strategic Rocket Forces in the Novosibirsk region, over $2,100 on 2 February for renting out soldiers to local businesses as laborers, Interfax reported. Meanwhile in Yekaterinburg, a criminal case has been launched against an unspecified number of military personnel in connection with the recent beating of a conscript, RIA-Novosti reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 1 February 2006). PM

Chechenpress on 1 February confirmed Russia media reports that Lechi Eskiyev, commander of the Northern Front, was killed on 30 January during a gun battle with Russian forces in the town of Khasavyurt in northern Daghestan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). LF

Ingushetia's Supreme Court handed down sentences on 1 February of 17 years' imprisonment to four young men accused of taking part in the multiple attacks on police and security facilities in Nazran on 21-22 June 2004, reported. At least 18 young men have received similar sentences of between eight and 23 years' imprisonment in two previous trials; relatives of some of those men claim that they confessed and pled guilty under torture (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 and 18 August 2005). LF

In a statement released late on 31 January, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) condemned ballot-box stuffing and the artificial inflation of turnout figures during the 27 November referendum on a package of draft amendments to the Armenian Constitution, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on 1 February. The statement said media reports of those irregularities and first-hand observations by members of the PACE ad hoc committee that traveled to Armenia to monitor the vote "cast doubt on the credibility of the official results," according to which more than 65 percent of all eligible voters cast ballots, with 93 percent endorsing the proposed changes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 November 2005). The PACE statement expressed satisfaction at the passage of amendments intended to curtail the powers of the president and enhance those of the judiciary in line with Armenia's pledges to the Council of Europe, but added that "the end does not justify the means." LF

The French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE Minsk Group arrived in Baku on 31 January and held behind-closed-door talks the following day with Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and with President Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijani media reported. In a break with customary procedure, the co-chairmen did not hold a press conference before departing for Yerevan. The presidential press service reported only that the discussion focused on the current stage of talks aimed at resolving the Karabakh conflict, reported. Aliyev is scheduled to meet near Paris next week with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian to discuss, and possibly formally approve, what are described as "fundamental principles" that could form the nucleus of a formal peace settlement (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 27 January 2006). Also on 1 February, President Aliyev affirmed at a cabinet meeting that he will never sign any Karabakh peace agreement that does not preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, reported. "The territorial integrity of Azerbaijan is not and never will be the subject of negotiations," he said. And in an implicit rejection of the referendum that is rumored to be a key component of the hoped-for peace settlement, Aliyev continued: "No decision will be taken that would make it possible, either today or in 100 years, to remove Nagorno-Karabakh from the composition of Azerbaijan." LF

Mikheil Saakashvili met on 1 February in Berlin with Georgia's ambassadors to 20 European countries, Caucasus Press reported. He warned them that Georgia faces a "strong, experienced and wealthy" opponent, meaning Russia, that "regards a united Georgia as a threat and does its best to prevent Georgia from becoming stronger." Saakashvili encouraged the ambassadors to do more to secure European support for Georgia's strategic goals of integration with NATO and the EU. Until recently, Europe has ranked a poor second to the United States in Saakashvili's strategic thinking: he has never once met with outgoing EU Envoy for the South Caucasus Heikki Talvitie in the numerous times Talvitie has visited Tbilisi over the past two years. LF

Speaking at a press conference in New York on 1 February, Revaz Adamia, who is Georgia's ambassador to the UN, accused the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia of engaging in genocide and ethnic cleansing during the 1992-93 war, and he condemned the participation in that conflict of Russian mercenaries and regular troops, according to a UN press release. He also repeated earlier Georgian allegations that Abkhazia harbors terrorists and condones money laundering and arms smuggling. On 2 February, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh denied Adamia's genocide allegations, saying he has "a warped imagination," Caucasus Press reported. Adamia also expressed concern at last week's decision by the UN Security Council to renew the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) for only two months, rather than for six months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2006). Adamia further described as "worrisome" Russian President Vladimir Putin's proposal during his 31 January press conference that "universal principles" be applied in resolving the Kosova conflict that could be extended to other conflicts in the CIS, including Abkhazia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2006). Adamia argued that the situation in Kosova differs fundamentally from that in Abkhazia. LF

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 2 February expressing concern over the meeting that took place in Moscow the previous day between Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and Eduard Kokoity, president of the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. At that meeting, Karasin and Kokoity stressed the need for continued talks between Georgia and South Ossetia and condemned the deployment to the conflict zone late on 31 January of some 500 Georgian troops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2006). South Ossetian Interior Minister Major General Mikhail Mindzaev called on 1 February for a meeting with his Georgian counterpart Vano Merabishvili to discuss the implications of that deployment, Interfax reported on 2 February. Meanwhile, Ambassador Roy Reeve, who heads the OSCE Mission in Georgia, said in Tskhinvali on 1 February that the OSCE supports "openly and energetically" proposals for a meeting between Kokoity and Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Noghaideli. Kokoity has turned down that proposal, saying he is ready to meet only with President Saakashvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 19 December 2005). LF

Nursultan Nazarbaev issued a decree on 1 February appointing Zhanseit Tuimebaev Kazakhstan's ambassador to Russia, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Tuimebaev has been the president's chief of protocol since 2001, and a presidential adviser since 2004. Nazarbaev appointed Bauyrzhan Baibek chief of protocol, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Nazarbaev also appointed Aitkul Samakova a presidential adviser and chairwoman of a national commission on family and gender. DK

Feliks Kulov met with the leadership of the Interior Ministry, including Interior Minister Murat Sutalinov, in Bishkek on 1 February to discuss crime-fighting measures, reported. Sutalinov raised material considerations, saying, "For 1,500-2,000 soms [a month] ($36-48), an officer won't face bullets." Kulov said that 22 major organized criminal groups are active in Kyrgyzstan, noting that both preventive and proactive measures should be used to dismantle them, Kabar reported. Rank-and-file officers also addressed the meeting, explaining that they lack equipment, vehicles, and other material resources to fight crime, reported. Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov also attended the meeting; similar issues are on the agenda for a 9 February Security Council session. DK

Prime Minister Kulov issued a resolution on 31 January dismissing Kapar Mukeev from his position as the head of Kyrgyzstan's penitentiary system while an investigation is being conducted, reported. The resolution was based on a finding by a special prosecutor. A criminal charge of negligence has been filed against Mukeev. DK

Germany's "Der Spiegel" reported on 30 January that Uzbekistan's Foreign Ministry has informed the German government that Germany could lose its base in Termez, Uzbekistan, if it fails to make substantial investments in local infrastructure. The report said the Uzbek authorities are asking Germany to embark on projects that will cost a total of 20 million euros (about $24 million), including the construction of a hotel and hospital. German officials, who have already invested 12 million euros in the region and pay the Uzbek government 240,000 euros a month to house 300 German troops at the base, are unenthusiastic about the request, "Der Spiegel" reported. A German delegation is slated to visit Tashkent in February to discuss the issue. After the Uzbek government's decision to evict the U.S. air base in July 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 August 2005), Germany's base in Termez, which supports operations in Afghanistan, is the only remaining NATO facility in the country. DK

Switzerland has moved to join the sanctions the European Union imposed on Uzbekistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 November 2005) after the Uzbek government refused to allow an independent investigation of massacre allegations in Andijon, the BBC's Uzbek Service reported on 31 January. The sanctions include an embargo on arms sales and a visa ban for 12 high-ranking officials. Rita Baldegger, spokeswoman for the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, told RFE/RL's Uzbek Service on 1 February, "We are very strongly against internal repression, and this is a way of showing that and, of course, hopefully a way of making the [Uzbek] government think about their actions." Baldegger added, "These sanctions do not mean that our relationship with Uzbekistan is indefinitely harmed. It just means that we really want to uphold the civil rights, human rights." DK

Uta Zapf, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, told journalists in Minsk on 1 February that the OSCE is planning to send 400 short-term observers to monitor the 19 March presidential election in Belarus, Belapan reported. Zapf added that a long-term mission of 14 OSCE observers is expected to get down to monitoring the presidential race as early as 6 February. Meanwhile, Urdur Gunnarsdottir, spokeswoman for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, told Belapan the same day that a 40-strong mission of OSCE observers is expected to arrive in Minsk next week to start the long-term observation of the ongoing presidential race. JM

The opposition Belarusian Party of Communists has received an official warning from the Justice Ministry over its appeal to the local authorities to allow political parties to be represented in territorial election commissions, Belapan reported on 1 February. The Justice Ministry claims the party interfered in the work of governmental agencies and officials. This is the second warning that the party has received since the fall of 2005. It may result in the suspension of the party's activities or its closure following the country's presidential campaign. Moreover, on 30 January police in Zhlobin, Homel Oblast, seized nearly 700 copies of the party's weekly "Tovarishch." The issue reportedly contains articles about the election campaign of opposition candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich. JM

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 1 February went to Moscow to attend celebrations to mark former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's 75th birthday, Belapan reported. "It is a pleasure to express deep gratitude to you, the first president of the Russian Federation, who was one of those behind the beginning of Belarusian-Russian unity," Lukashenka said in a greeting message to Yeltsin. In the past Lukashenka repeatedly slammed Yeltsin for signing an agreement in the Belavezha Forest in 1991 with then Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and then Belarusian speaker Stanislau Shushkevich on the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The last time he did so was in November 2005 when Lukashenka told Russian journalists that the dissolution of the USSR was a "tragic mistake," adding that "very big money" was paid for this deed. "A [special-task] Alfa group should have gathered those [three] signatories in the Belavezha Forest and should have closed them with barbed wire in order to allow them to call and report to Bush Senior [former U.S. President George Bush] on what they were signing there. They were sitting and drinking [vodka with Belavezha bison grass]," RIA-Novosti quoted Lukashenka as saying. JM

Low temperatures burst two heating mains in the city of Alchevsk, Luhansk Oblast, on 22 January, leaving hundreds of buildings, including schools and hospitals, cut off from the heating system, Ukrainian media reported. The Emergency Situations Ministry has said the breakdown was primarily the result of long-term neglect of Alchevsk's heating pipes, which are more than 25 years old. "About 70 percent of Ukraine's heating system is worn out and needs to be renovated, while about a quarter of it is in critical condition and must be replaced immediately," the 2 February issue of the "Kyiv Post" quoted Vasyl Kvashuk from the Emergency Situations Ministry as saying. President Viktor Yushchenko visited Alchevsk on 30 January and said the need for reform in the housing and communal sector has become an urgent issue, adding that Alchevsk will be the "starting block" for the reform. The government has decided to move some 4,500 children from the freezing Alchevsk to other cities. Some 700 children were sent from Alchevsk to Crimea on 1 January. The Health Ministry said the same day that 589 people died from the cold in Ukraine in the second half of January. JM

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said after her meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk in Brussels on 1 February that consultations on a new, "enhanced" partnership accord between the EU and Ukraine may start as early as this year, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. However, she made clear that the new accord -- to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Treaty which expires in 2008 -- will not offer Ukraine an EU membership perspective. Ferrero-Waldner stressed that EU relations with Ukraine will for the foreseeable future be pursued under the EU's European Neighborhood Policy, which does not provide explicitly for EU membership. Meanwhile, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko told deputies of the European Parliament the same day that the Orange Revolution team, which split in September 2005, will unite in parliament following the 26 March parliamentary elections. "I will support Yushchenko. Our split was not my idea, we are trying to draw nearer to each other. We will never agree to make a coalition with [former Prime Minister Viktor] Yanukovych, we will better remain in the opposition," UNIAN quoted Tymoshenko as saying in Brussels. JM

Serbia and Montenegro's Supreme Defense Council revealed on 1 February that Serbian army officers helped war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic hide at military facilities until 2002, international news agencies reported the same day. A report by the head of the military security service, Svetko Kovac, to the Defense Council, which is the collective commander of the armed forces, said that Mladic "occasionally" found shelter in military barracks until June 2002, dpa reported. The report, which covers the period from 1997 until the present, "has determined beyond doubt that Ratko Mladic left the military compounds he had occasionally used for hiding until his retirement on 1 June 2002," Reuters quoted the statement as saying. BW

The Supreme Defense Council also announced on 1 February that it has the names of military officers who helped Mladic evade capture and that the list has been classified as a state secret, dpa reported the same day. The list, compiled by Serbia and Montenegro's Military Intelligence Agency for the Supreme Defense Council, contains the names of former and active military officers who helped Mladic since 1997. The Military Intelligence Agency said it is now investigating whether or not any of the officers who assisted Mladic are still in contact with him, Reuters reported on 1 February. BW

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said on 1 February that he is concerned with the slow progress on reforms and the continuing violence in Kosova, Hina reported the same day. Speaking after receiving the latest UN Security Council report on the province, Annan said he is concerned about the protection of minorities due to attacks on minority ethnic Serbs. He called on Kosova's leaders to cooperate with the UN Mission in Kosova to bring the perpetrators to justice. He also called on Kosovar authorities to accelerate efforts to establish a functioning market economy and democratic institutions, and urged Serbian leaders in the province to participate in political life. BW

In what appears to be a toughening stance on Kosova, major Western powers declared on 31 January that any agreement on the province's final status must take into account the wishes of its inhabitants, the majority of whom want independence, Reuters reported the same day. "Ministers look to Belgrade to bear in mind that the settlement be acceptable to the people of Kosovo," the contact group, which includes the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia, said in a statement issued after talks in London. "The disastrous policies of the past lie at the heart of the current problems," the statement, issued jointly with the EU presidency, NATO's secretary-general, and UN representatives, read. "Today, Belgrade's leaders bear important responsibilities in shaping what happens now and in the future." BW

Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski gave qualified support to an EU proposal to create a free-trade zone in the western Balkans on 31 January, Hina reported the same day. Crvenkovski told the newspaper "Utrinski vesnik" that the EU proposal would be acceptable if it fostered free trade in the region, but added that "any creation of an institutional structure with characteristics of a state" would be in conflict with the policy of each country's individual approach to the European Union. A recent public-opinion poll showed that a majority of Croats are opposed to the idea a Balkan free-trade zone out of fears that it would resemble the dismantled Yugoslav state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2006). BW

An official from Moldova's Christian Democratic People's Party (PPCD) has accused former Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat of plotting to have PPCD leader Iurie Rosca killed, Interfax reported on 2 February. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Kubriakov submitted an official inquiry on the allegations to Prosecutor-General Valeriu Balaban on 1 February, Interfax reported, citing the party's press service. Pasat, who worked as an adviser to Russia's Unified Energy Systems CEO Anatoly Chubais, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in January for abuse of office in connection with the sale of MiG-29 fighter jets to the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006). BW

Azerbaijan has yet to unveil a new national-security concept, which was to precede the formulation and implementation of a new military doctrine, despite President Ilham Aliyev's orders in early 2005 to begin work on it.

Meanwhile neighboring Georgia, to which Azerbaijani commentators contrast their country's military and its progress toward NATO membership, unveiled a draft National Security Concept for public discussion last May.

Azerbaijan's failure to develop its two initiatives has led to speculation that there are conflicting strategies among Azerbaijan's military leaders, or even that the country is playing NATO, the United States, and Russia off against each other as it tries to curry their favor for defense cooperation.

Major Ilqar Verdiyev, a Defense Ministry press office staffer, was quoted by the online daily on 26 November as saying that the security concept is still in the drafting stage. When finished, it will be submitted to parliament before being signed by the president, and only after that will work begin on a new military doctrine, Verdiyev explained.

Presidential aide for military issues Vahid Aliyev had told the daily "Ayna" in April 2005 that both the national-security concept and the new military doctrine would be ready by the summer of that year.

Azerbaijani military expert Yasar Jafarli, who heads the Union of Officers of the Reserve, was quoted by on 26 November as saying that he was concerned that the delay in drafting and adopting the two key documents could negatively affect Azerbaijan's relations with NATO.

Those relations have been strained by the brutal killing in February 2004 by an Azerbaijani officer of an Armenian attending a NATO English-language training course in Budapest, and by Azerbaijan's refusal to issue visas to Armenian officers scheduled to attend NATO planning conferences in Baku.

Further disagreements with NATO emerged last year during the discussion of Azerbaijan's draft Individual Partnership Action Plan (IPAP), according to the daily "Ayna" on 13 April. The paper quoted unidentified sources in both the Foreign and Defense ministries as saying that those disagreements derived from Baku's stubborn insistence on continuing to adhere to Soviet military standards with regard to military training, staff management, disciplinary regulations, and the development of civil control mechanisms. The paper quoted unnamed experts from the Doktrina think tank as saying that most of Azerbaijan's military legislation has been literally copied from analogous Soviet-era and Russian documents.

This, those experts continued, has given rise to a situation in which individual commanders of military units espouse diverging approaches, with some adhering to Soviet era-standards while others aspire to Western standards. This could result in serious operational misunderstandings and communication failures between those commanding officers in the event of war, the experts warned.

It is, of course, conceivable that published statements implying an inexplicable delay in drafting a national-security concept and a new military doctrine are deliberate disinformation. Azerbaijan is, after all, still in a state of undeclared war with Armenia, and top officials, including President Aliyev and Defense Minister Colonel General Safar Abiyev, have repeatedly reserved the right to resort to a new aggression if it proves impossible to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict on Baku's preferred terms.

Meanwhile, President Aliyev has put his money where his mouth is by signing off on successive massive increases in defense spending.

Addressing Defense Ministry personnel last September, Aliyev announced that defense spending had already risen from $175 million in 2004 to $300 million in 2005 and would double in 2006 to reach $600 million, Turan reported on 17 September. But given the long history of endemic corruption within the Defense Ministry, the significance is not the dramatic increase in military spending, but how and where the money will actually be spent.

On the other hand, the failure to draft such basic blueprints could equally reflect either a lack of conceptual modern strategic thinking, or fundamental differences of opinion, or both, within the General Staff.

In recent days Azerbaijani media have engaged in speculation that Abiyev, together with other members of the top brass who received their military training in the USSR, are to be collectively dismissed and replaced with members of a younger generation of officers who have undergone training under NATO auspices, reported on 2 February.

It is worth recalling that Abiyev has served as defense minister for more than a decade (since early February 1995), making him the longest serving defense minister in the entire CIS, during which time he has weathered allegations of corruption and a seemingly inconclusive probe of the ministry's expenditures.

But at press conferences in June 2004 and April 2005 reported by, NGOs alleged that corruption and inefficiency continue to plague Azerbaijan's armed forces. They pointed to large-scale violations of servicemen's rights, including the arbitrary withholding or withdrawal of housing and annual leave, and even of salaries.

In July 2005, a group of 17 servicemen went on trial on charges of bribery, forging documents and abuse of office, ITAR-TASS reported. The trial of a second group of officers on similar charges opened at the Military Collegium of the Court for Severe Crimes on 24 October, reported, and preliminary hearings in a third trial, this time of 18 military personnel, got under way at the same collegium on 16 January.

An alternative, and to some U.S. analysts more plausible explanation for Azerbaijan's failure to draft these key national-security and military blueprints, is a glaring but as yet unformulated discrepancy between the perceived relative importance of cooperation with NATO, on the one hand, and bilateral cooperation with the United States, on the other.

Alekper Mammadov, director of the Center for Democratic Civic Control over the Armed Forces, accused the Azerbaijani Defense Ministry in June 2004 of merely creating the illusion that the armed forces are being reformed to bring them in line with NATO standards. That may well be an exaggeration; but Azerbaijan's NATO IPAP does not give the impression that Baku considers cooperation with the alliance a top priority.

For example, the IPAP envisages only a meager set of steps, such as making available for peacekeeping programs only one infantry company of 120-130 men; a civil defence unit of about 20-30 men; one specialized unit (medical or logistic); and two Mi-8 helicopters.

The U.S., by contrast, is apparently perceived as the partner of choice, insofar as it is already providing more tangible assistance in the form of maritime security training and operations in the Caspian Sea, its counterproliferation effort in the south along its border with Iran, and a new program to enhance border security along Azerbaijan's northern border with Daghestan.

Within the framework of that assistance, Washington will also supply portable land-based radar facilities and provide modern radar facilities for Azerbaijan's Caspian naval bases, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 30 January. That assistance results from Washington's perception of Iran as a security threat, a perception that could change in time, however.

At the same time, Azerbaijan is reluctant to compromise the potential for greater defense ties with Russia by aspiring too enthusiastically to NATO membership or by jeopardizing its existing defense cooperation agreement with Russia. This is because any strategic advantage that Baku can offer Russia -- such as continued use of the Qabala over-the-horizon radar station --- serves to undercut the importance of Armenia to Russia's overall strategic security.

The international community on 31 January launched the five-year Afghanistan Compact together with the Afghan government, assuring continued global support for Afghanistan in the coming years, a joint press statement released by the hosts of the London meeting on Afghanistan indicated ( The two-day conference, which ended on 1 February, was co-hosted by the United Kingdom, Afghanistan, and the United Nations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January and 1 February 2006). The compact is to be underpinned on the Afghan side by an interim national plan dubbed the Afghan National Development Strategy, which was unveiled on 31 January during the London conference. Both the Afghanistan Compact and the Afghan National Development Strategy are at ( AT

Afghan Counternarcotics Minister Habibullah Qaderi and the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, launched Afghanistan's updated National Drug Control Strategy (NDCS) during the London conference on 31 January, according to a statement issued by the Afghan Ministry of Counternarcotics on 1 February. The statement said the updated NDCS reflects the need for a "cross-cutting" approach to counternarcotics efforts. The main policy goal enshrined in the NDCS is "to secure a sustainable decrease in cultivation, production, trafficking, and consumption of illicit drugs with a view to complete and sustainable elimination." The updated strategy focuses on four priority areas: law enforcement, in particular targeting traffickers; alternative livelihoods and economic development; tackling addiction; and strengthening national and provincial government institutions. The Afghan government is "determined to win" the battle against "this destructive scourge," Qaderi said in London on 1 February referring to his country's struggle with drugs. According to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, total elimination of his country's illicit narcotics problem is likely to take a decade or longer (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2006). AT

Speaking on the sidelines of the London conference on 1 February, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that his country is likely to send 200 troops to help the Dutch forces in the southern Oruzgan Province, AFP reported. "We'll have to wait and see whether that [Dutch deployment] happens," Downer added. In December, the Dutch government tentatively agreed to send 1,200 troops -- along with military hardware, including attack helicopters -- as part of the planned expansion by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), to southern Afghanistan. However, the government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenede has faced opposition from some of its coalition partners on its plan (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2006). After one of the parties opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan changed its stance on 30 January, it looks more likely that the Netherlands will indeed send its forces to Afghanistan, the Rotterdam daily "NRC Handelsblad" reported on 31 January. If the Dutch decide to send their forces to Afghanistan, it would pave the way for the Australians to send their contingent. Australia already has around 300 troops, mostly special-forces soldiers, attached with the U.S.-led coalition operating in Afghanistan. On 2 February, Denmark approved deploying 200 troops to the ISAF mission. AT

While attending the London conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on 31 January said that his country "believes that foreign troops and security forces must set a timetable for their withdrawal" from Afghanistan, IRNA reported. While the foreign forces are stationed in Afghanistan, they must be so "in context of resolutions and international agreements," Mottaki added. The Iranian Foreign Minister regretted that his country's proposals on the issue of security in Afghanistan were not "included in the final document" of the London conference. Afghan President Karzai, while not setting an exact timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from his country, has indicated that these forces will be required for about a decade. AT

As Iran commemorates the Ten Days of Dawn -- the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution -- the country's officials on 1 February appeared united in reacting defiantly to a decision by the foreign ministers of the council's five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, to refer Iran to the UN Security Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 February 2005). Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asqar Soltanieh, said in Vienna on 1 February that Iran is on the verge of industrial-scale uranium enrichment, dpa reported. "Right now, material for enrichment is sealed," he said. "If we are referred [to the Security Council], 50,000 machines will be made ready to produce tons of enriched uranium. The Iranian parliament would have no choice: All cooperation with the IAEA would stop." BS

On 1 February in Tehran, legislators said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that every country has the inalienable right to use nuclear energy peacefully, IRNA reported. The letter added that countries that already have nuclear weapons are trying to retard other countries' scientific advancement and development, and they are causing a crisis. The letter urged Annan to do all he can so that world peace and security are not jeopardized. Another 1 February letter from 211 legislators to the executive branch advised against submission to "the bullying of world powers," Mehr News Agency reported. Parliamentary speaker Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel added that the government must resume uranium enrichment if the situation does not change, IRNA reported. He referred to the legislature's passage of a bill on 20 November that obliges the government to suspend measures it implemented previously to build international confidence in the event of a Security Council referral. This would include suspending the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as well as the resumption of uranium enrichment. BS

An IAEA report released to governing board members on 1 February describes evidence of links between the Iranian military and the country's nuclear program, "The New York Times" reported the same day. The briefing reportedly claims Iran's Green Salt Project ("green salt" is a reference to uranium tetrafluoride) did work on uranium processing, high explosives, and missile-warhead design. This appears to be the first time that the IAEA has linked a purportedly civilian fuel-production program with the military. The report is allegedly based partially on intelligence from the United States -- specifically a laptop computer secured in Iran (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 28 November 2005). Some of the information also came from a document provided by Tehran that described procedures that only have a weaponization application. According to the IAEA report, Tehran consistently dismisses the agency's allegations as "baseless," while it promises later "clarifications." BS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told his British counterpart, Jack Straw, in London on 1 February that Iran has documentary evidence relating to British involvement in the 24 January bombings in the southwestern city of Ahvaz, IRNA reported. Straw reportedly dismissed Mottaki's contention. Mottaki also called for a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops from the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah. In a similar vein, he called for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan, alleging that this contributes to regional instability. BS

A 1 February Newsline item about the decision to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council asserted that "reporting" is not as harsh as "referral" to the UN Security Council. In fact, the term "referral" is not used in the International Atomic Energy Agency's statues in this context. Article II, paragraph B4 of the IAEA statutes says the IAEA will "submit reports on its activities annually to the General Assembly of the United Nations and, when appropriate, to the Security Council," and it adds, "the Agency shall notify the Security Council." Article XII, paragraph C states: "The inspectors shall report any non-compliance to the Director General who shall thereupon transmit the report to the Board of Governors. The Board shall call upon the recipient State or States to remedy forthwith any non-compliance which it finds to have occurred. The Board shall report the non-compliance to all members and to the Security Council and General Assembly of the United Nations."

The Al-Dujayl trial resumed in Iraq on 2 February but without Saddam Hussein and his seven co-defendants or their lawyers, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. "Because of the insistence of Saddam Hussein, Barzan al-Tikriti, Taha Yassin Ramadan, and Awad al-Bandar to not attend, the court has decided not to call them for this session and to review their opposition. The other [defendants] were present but were causing chaos," and were therefore not admitted to the court session, said chief Judge Ra'uf Rashid Abd al-Rahman. Two female witnesses testified at the 1 February court session that Hussein's half-brother and former intelligence chief Barzan al-Tikriti subjected them to torture and sexual humiliation. KR

Two Iraqi journalists working for Al-Sumariyah television were kidnapped in Baghdad on 1 February, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Journalists Marwan Kaz'al and Rym Za'id and their cameraman were setting up to film a report when gunmen grabbed them off a busy city street between the Yarmuk and Al-Qadisiyah neighborhoods. Reuters reported that the two were traveling in a vehicle with two cameramen and their driver when their car was blocked by gunmen traveling in another vehicle. The gunmen grabbed the correspondents and their car and fled, leaving the cameramen behind, the news agency reported, citing a police official. Meanwhile, gunmen kidnapped Mary Hamzah al-Rubay'i, a general manager at the Industry Ministry, in the Yarmuk area of Baghdad on 2 February, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. KR

Iyad Allawi told London's "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" in a 31 January interview published on 1 February that his National Accord Party continues to push for a national unity government. Allawi warned that if the incoming government is established according to a quota system, "this will harm and destroy Iraq." "The parties must believe in the national obligation, that there is full participation in the right to veto [decisions], that decisions are issued by consensus, and that there is in fact a clear and specific plan for the government's program," he added. Allawi criticized the outgoing al-Ja'fari government, saying it dismantled much of the work laid out by the preceding interim government. "The outgoing government disbanded all the institutions we established under our government. We set up an oil council and it broke it up. We set up a higher economic council and it broke it up. We established a reconstruction council and it was broken up. We formed a privatization authority to examine, search, and present its results two years after its establishment, and it too was broken up. [The transitional government] paralyzed the state for more than a year," he said. KR

Tariq al-Hashimi called for the resignation of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr at a 1 February press conference in Baghdad, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reported the same day. Al-Hashimi's Iraqi Islamic Party, along with other parties belonging to the Iraqi Accordance Front, issued seven other demands, including suspending the work of Interior Ministry forces in light of the detainee-abuse scandal, disbanding armed militias, releasing all prisoners from government-run detention centers, and that the government publish the results of the investigation into the Al-Jadiriyah Prison scandal. Al-Hashimi said all political parties would be urged to civil disobedience should the government fail to meet the demands, RFI reported. KR

The Al-Sulaymaniyah daily "Kurdistani Nuwe" reported on 1 February that thousands of birds have died in Kurdistan in recent days from what appears to be a bout of Newcastle disease, a bird virus apparently unrelated to the H5N1 strain of bird flu (avian influenza). The newspaper said that 7,000 chickens died at a farm outside Irbil on 31 January. The farm owner said he was informed by "relevant authorities" that the cause of death was Newcastle disease, while a veterinary expert told the daily that the actual cause of death could not be determined without further testing. The newspaper also reported that 18 chickens were found dead in the village of Dushiwan near Irbil, while villagers living close to Qandil Mountain reported finding many dead partridges. Some 40 chickens were found dead in the village of Wali near Kifri on 31 January -- all suspected cases of Newcastle disease, the newspaper reported. Newcastle disease is a contagious, fatal viral disease and birds often die without showing any clinical signs. It can wipe out unvaccinated poultry flocks and even kill vaccinated poultry. KR