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Newsline - November 14, 2006

Britain's "Financial Times" reported on November 14 that a recent confidential NATO study warns "the military alliance that it needs to guard against any attempt by Russia to set up an 'OPEC for gas' that would strengthen Moscow's leverage over Europe." The NATO economic experts suggested that "Russia may be seeking to build a gas cartel including Algeria, Qatar, Libya, the countries of Central Asia, and perhaps Iran." The study noted that Russia wants to use energy policy for "political ends," as it has recently toward Ukraine and Georgia. On November 13, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in Moscow that "only a madman could think that Russia would start to blackmail Europe using gas, because we depend to the same extent on European customers" as they do on their Russian suppliers. He added that there is "no substance at all" to the idea that Russia wants to form a gas cartel. On October 31, the Moscow daily "Kommersant" reported that Valery Yazev, who heads the State Duma's Energy, Transport, and Communications Committee, told the board of the Russian Gas Association on October 30 that producers and transporters in CIS countries should form an International Alliance of National Nonprofit Gas Organizations. Yazev, whom the daily described as "Gazprom's chief lobbyist in the State Duma...[and] unofficial mouthpiece of the Russian authorities," suggested that President Vladimir Putin first came up with the idea but placed it "on the back burner" at the time of the July St. Petersburg summit of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized countries (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 20 and October 31, 2006). PM

Polish diplomats on November 13 blocked a decision by EU foreign ministers in Brussels to launch talks on a new EU-Russia partnership agreement, European dailies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga said that "there should be no surprise that [Poland] uses the political tools it has at its disposal" to pressure Moscow to lift a ban on Polish agricultural imports, which Warsaw says is politically inspired. Poland also wants Russia to ratify the EU-Russia Energy Charter, which Russia signed in 1994 but never ratified, as a precondition to Poland's backing for new negotiations. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that "we will, of course, continue to push hard [on] the Russians to ratify the Energy Charter, but in the meantime, and now we are still in this period, we will, of course, try to incorporate, as much as possible, the principles behind the charter into our [future] agreement." The EU, backed especially by Berlin and Paris, wants to start talks on a new EU-Russia comprehensive cooperation agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that expires in 2007. German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier said that he hopes that the Polish veto will not be "the last word" on the matter. But Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" commented on November 14 that Poland has done the EU a favor by insisting that Russia ratify the Energy Charter as a precondition to talks. The daily added that if Warsaw does not remain tough, "the new agreement will have one thing in common with the old one: it will not be worth the paper on which it is printed." PM

Vladimir Chizhov, who is Russia's ambassador to the EU, said in Brussels on November 13 that he is not surprised by the Polish position on Russian ratification of the Energy Charter as a prerequisite for talks, reported. He added that "we warned our partners in the European Union of the possible difficulties they might face [from the new members] after the EU's expansion two years ago." Moscow has often sought to split the EU by indirectly calling on its older members to "discipline" the newer ones (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 29, October 18, 20, and 23, and November 8, 2006). In Moscow on November 14, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, who is President Putin's special envoy to the EU, called the Polish move "blackmail" and "unacceptable," Reuters reported. The Russian website commented on November 14 that the Polish position amounts to a "scandal" in that Warsaw was able to block a decision to launch talks with Russia backed by all other EU member states. The daily "Vremya novostei" argued that the incident illustrates not only the problems between Moscow and Brussels, but also those within the EU and for European integration as a whole. PM

Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee, said on November 13 that the problem of the Polish veto over starting new EU-Russia talks is an internal one for the EU itself to resolve, the daily "Vedomosti" reported on November 14. The daily "Kommersant" quoted an unnamed "highly placed Kremlin source" as saying that the Polish move came as a surprise because the Polish authorities "did not ask us about anything during [unspecified] talks." The paper also quoted Emma Udwin, who is an EU external affairs spokeswoman, as saying that she doubts that "Poland will be able to change the position of the European Union." She added that Poland should resolve its own problems with Russia through "bilateral talks." PM

Aleksandr Losyukov, who is Russia's former envoy to six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program and currently Russia's ambassador to Japan, told a news conference in Tokyo on November 13 that he fears that the danger of a conflict in the region is on the rise, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006). He argued that "if the current state [of talks on North Korea's nuclear program] remains unchanged, drifting slowly in one direction, I think the situation will get even worse in the next one or two years and there will be a greater danger of conflict." PM

The daily "Novye izvestia" reported on November 13 that the State Duma is expected to approve soon legislation that would abolish the requirement of minimum voter turnout for an election to be valid. The proposal is just one of a recent series of measures backed by the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party that weaken voters' power and reduce the possibility of real choice at the ballot box, according to the paper. Taken as a whole, the Kremlin-backed legislation reinforces the power of officials to make decisions and appointments without voter approval, the daily maintains. It argues that "the peak of election-based democracy in our country was in the late perestroika era, when not only deputies, but even bosses were elected.... And in the State Duma elections of 1995, 285 parties and movements participated." Recent legislation has abolished single-mandate districts and also reduced the number of parties eligible to participate in State Duma elections to 17. Electoral blocs are banned, and citizens cannot run for office as independents or vote "against all" candidates, the daily noted. The paper quoted Olga Kryshtanovskaya, director of the Applied Policy Institute, as saying that the authorities do not regard democratic elections as a mechanism for transferring power and that elections are turning into a "decorative facade." The daily "Novaya gazeta" noted in its November 13-15 issue that even the Central Election Commission opposes the abolition of the minimum-voter-turnout requirement. The paper suggested that the legislation might still be modified before the State Duma meets on November 15. PM

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released on November 13 an 18-page briefing paper summarizing cases of the torture of Chechen civilians at secret detention centers run by pro-Moscow Chechen forces loyal to Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov (the so-called "Kadyrovtsy") and by a regional subdivision of the Russian Interior Ministry. HRW said that it has details of 115 such cases dating from July 2004 to September 2006, and that the victims included women, elderly and disabled persons, and minors, the youngest of whom was aged 13. The report also noted fundamental changes in Russian policy in Chechnya, including the devolution of responsibility for law and order onto the Kadyrovtsy and a virtual end to the large-scale punitive "sweep" operations that were commonplace from 1999-2003. LF

More than 1 million Russian citizens have signed a petition, submitted on November 12 to President Putin, expressing support for Captain Eduard Ulman, a military intelligence (GRU) spetsnaz officer accused of the killing of six Chechen civilians in January 2002, reported on November 13. Ulman and three fellow officers have twice been tried and acquitted of those killings (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 20 and 23 and June 17, 2005), but the Military Prosecutor's Office overturned the second acquittal in April 2006, and a new trial opened on November 2 at a military court in Rostov-na-Donu, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on November 3. Among the organizations that collected signatures in Ulman's support were regional branches of the Party of Pensioners, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Motherland, and Yabloko. LF

Forty-one residents of the predominantly Avar-populated village of Borozdinovskaya in northeastern Chechnya have filed a 126 million-ruble ($4.73 million) claim against the Russian Defense Ministry for moral damages incurred during a June 2005 raid on the village in which one resident was killed and 11 abducted, according to on November 13. The villagers claim the raid was carried out by the Vostok battalion, a pro-Moscow Chechen unit commanded by Sulim Yamadayev; that battalion is subordinate to the GRU. Yamadayev has denied responsibility and suggested that the raid was perpetrated by the Kadyrovtsy with the express objective of discrediting him and his men (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 13, 22, 23 and 24, 2005). LF

People's Party of Armenia (HZhK) Chairman Stepan Demirchian told journalists in Yerevan on November 13 that the HZhK will participate in the parliamentary elections due next spring either separately or in a bloc with other opposition parties, but he ruled out any alliance with pro-government forces, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Demirchian said the HZhK would even cooperate with former parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian's Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) party if the latter unequivocally proclaims itself in opposition to the present leadership. Demirchian expressed support for the proposal that opposition party leaders should run for parliament in separate single-mandate constituencies. LF

The first gas was extracted on November 10 from the Shah Deniz field, reported on November 14, quoting the Azerbaijan State Oil Company. Shah Deniz holds estimated reserves of 1 trillion cubic meters of gas, and is expected to produce between 5-6 billion cubic meters in 2007 and 8 billion cubic meters the following year. It remains unclear how much of that gas will be used for domestic consumption and how much will be exported, and at what price, to Turkey and Georgia. Georgia will be entitled to 5 percent of the Shah Deniz gas exported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum pipeline in lieu of transit tariffs, and may purchase an additional 5 percent of the total exported at the price of $55 per 1,000 cubic meters. To date, Baku has rejected Georgian requests for a guaranteed increase in the amount of gas it may purchase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 21, 2006). LF

Echoing comments made by Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili four months ago, Zurab Noghaideli told journalists in Brussels on November 13 that Tbilisi will give its approval for Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) only when Russia cracks down on what he termed illegal trade via border crossings in the unrecognized republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli said Russia undertook to do so in 2004 during the talks that culminated in Georgia's initial approval of Russia's bid to join the WTO. Russia and the United States have just reached agreement on the terms of Russia's WTO membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). LF

Noghaideli also told journalists in Brussels on November 13 that no further government changes are planned in the wake of last week's reshuffle, Caucasus Press reported. Some analysts have predicted the appointment of parliament deputy Nika Gvaramia to replace Gia Kavtaradze as justice minister, and also the dismissal of Health Minister Lado Chipashvili; Chipashvili rejected such speculation on November 13 as "preposterous," Caucasus Press reported. The daily "Rezonansi" on November 14 dismissed as improbable persistent rumors that Noghaideli may himself be dismissed early next year and Education Minister Kakha Lomaya appointed to succeed him. LF

The office of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov has issued a statement claiming that the "hasty adoption of a new constitution" has led to "serious contradictions" in the basic law as approved and signed by the president on November 9 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 9 and 10, 2006), reported on November 13. The statement suggests that any amendment of the newly approved constitution will require parliamentary approval based on recommendations from the Constitutional Court. Lawmaker Kubatbek Baybolov told journalists on November 13 that it is still possible to make changes, adding that the new constitution "is not ideal, but it led to consensus between the [legislative and executive] branches" of government, reported. AN

President Saparmurat Niyazov has ordered Turkmen police to launch a large-scale campaign to arrest cotton growers suspected of exaggerating harvest figures, Deutsche Welle reported on November 13, citing Perpetrators reportedly face up to 15 years in prison. Deutsche Welle quoted Turkmen police sources claiming such fraud was initiated by local authorities who feared repercussions if they reported low cotton yields. Niyazov sacked several regional governors in October after accusing them of failing to fulfill the cotton harvest plan. AN

The bodies of a former department head within the Turkmen National Security Ministry and his wife were discovered in their Ashgabat apartment on November 9, reported on November 13. Nikolay Gavrilov reportedly had access to sensitive information, and suggests he might have been aware of official involvement in drug trafficking. AN

Modest Kolerov, the Russian government official in charge of relations with CIS and other former Soviet states, praised Uzbekistan as being at the "forefront of the fight against religious extremism and terrorism throughout Central Asia," ITAR-TASS reported on November 13. Uzbekistan "serves as a bastion for Russia as well," he added. Kolerov is currently leading a visit of Russian political analysts who arrived in Uzbekistan the same day. The director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, Yevgeny Kozhokin, asserted that Russian-Uzbek ties are increasingly strong, with many Russian businesses entering the Uzbek economy. AN

The Germany-based nongovernmental Group to Defend Media Freedom in Uzbekistan appealed on its website on November 11 to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev to use his friendly ties with President Karimov to secure the release of Uzbek rights activist Yodgor Turlibekov. Turlibekov, who is 69 and regional director for the Uzbek Human Rights Society, was arrested in June and sentenced in October to 3 1/2 years in prison on extortion charges. Uzbek rights groups have condemned the trial and accused authorities of jailing Turlibekov on false charges. AN

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on November 13 said that natural gas will flow to Belarus without interruption and in amounts sufficient to satisfy the needs of the economy and the population, Belapan reported, quoting official sources. Lukashenka was commenting on his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on November 10. "The appropriate economic entities will manage to agree on a price soon, I guess, before the end of the year," Lukashenka said. "We agreed that we would proceed from market conditions; that is, the price should be negotiated. This is the backbone of market conditions. The price will be what the heads of Beltranshaz [Belarus's gas-pipelines operator] and Gazprom will manage to negotiate," he added. JM

President Lukashenka on November 13 suggested that the appraisal by the Netherlands' ABN AMRO bank of the assets of Belarus's Beltranshaz, which is expected this month, would determine little in future talks with Gazprom on establishing a joint venture to control Belarusian gas pipelines, Belapan reported. Lukashenka stressed that the value of Beltranshaz will be essentially determined in negotiations with Gazprom. Gazprom voiced its intention long ago to purchase a 50 percent stake in Beltranshaz, but the two sides have not been able to agree on a price. Minsk claimed that Beltranshaz is worth some $5 billion while Gazprom was reportedly ready to pay no more than $500 million for its stake. Lukashenka said he reminded Putin last week that the Germans have acquired for $5.5 billion a Czech pipeline network that is one-third the size of Beltranshaz's. This is why, Lukashenka noted on November 13, Beltranshaz should be actually valued at some $10 billion or even $12 billion. JM

Party of Regions lawmaker Raisa Bohatyryova told the Verkhovna Rada on November 14 that her caucus is calling for the adoption of a resolution condemning last week's decision by the opposition Our Ukraine People's Union (NSNU) to contest the validity of the 2004 constitutional reform before the Constitutional Court, Ukrainian media reported. Bohatyryova was referring to a congress of the pro-presidential NSNU on November 11 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006) that obliged NSNU lawmakers to demand that the Constitutional Court recognize the constitutional reform adopted on December 8, 2004, as unlawful. "Do not stir bees in the hive if you don't know how to gather honey," Bohatyryova warned the NSNU lawmakers, adding that the NSNU's move is tantamount to a call for changing the country's constitutional system. The 2004 constitutional reform shifted the balance of power in Ukraine from the presidency to the prime minister and parliament. Some experts believe that the adoption of the reform -- a political compromise that ended the standoff that emerged as a result of the country's contentious 2004 presidential elections -- violated constitutional and parliamentary procedures. JM

Presidential aide Taras Stetskiv predicted on November 14 that lawmakers of the ruling coalition of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party will vote on November 15 to dismiss Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "The anticrisis [ruling] coalition has long had the temptation to get rid of the foreign minister, and it won't miss its chance tomorrow," Stetskiv said. Tarasyuk and Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko were summoned by the Verkhovna Rada to deliver reports on November 15 on their performance. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych also signaled that he wants a replacement for Tarasyuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). Under the Ukrainian Constitution amended in December 2004, the country's defense and foreign ministers are nominated by the president and confirmed by parliament, which also has the right to dismiss the entire cabinet. Meanwhile, Our Ukraine has prepared a petition to the Constitutional Court asking for a ruling on whether the Verkhovna Rada actually has the right to dismiss the ministers nominated by the president. JM

Serbia's war crimes court on November 13 opened the trial of two former elite Serbian police commandos accused of assisting in the 1999 murder of three Albanian-Americans in Kosova, AP reported the same day. Sreten Popovic and Milos Stojanovic pleaded not guilty to the murder of Illy, Mehmet, and Agron Bytyqi, three U.S. citizens of Kosovar origin. They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. The three brothers, who went to Kosova to fight with the Kosova Liberation Army (UCK), were killed in June 1999 after being captured during an illegal border crossing. Their bodies were discovered with their hands bound and gunshot wounds to their heads in a mass grave near a special police compound in Petrovo Selo. The United States has repeatedly urged Serbia to bring the killers to justice (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 8, 2005). BW

A spokeswoman for Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) said on November 13 that Martti Ahtisaari should step down as UN special envoy on Kosova, B92 and Beta reported the same day. "The DSS has no doubt Ahtisaari's secret plan to, together with Pristina, produce a document favoring Kosovo's independence has failed, when confronted with Russia's firm and principled position that the international law and the UN Charter cannot be violated," DSS spokeswoman Andreja Mladenovic said. Her comments about a "secret plan" echo similar allegations by Serbian Science and Environment Minister and DSS member Aleksandar Popovic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 13, 2006). BW

Ahtisaari's spokeswoman Hua Jiang said on November 13 that the former Finnish president has no intention of resigning, FoNet and B92 reported the same day. "We heard some comments from certain circles, but we received no official demand from the Serbian government," Hua told FoNet. "Ahtisaari received his mandate from the international community. The UN secretary-general gave him his mandate. Ahtisaari's work is supported in all international community statements, whether they come from the Contact Group, UN, OSCE, EU, or NATO. Therefore, he has no reason to step down," she added. BW

The Party of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), the leading party in Republika Srpska, on November 13 called for a referendum on police reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina, dpa reported the same day. "I do expect that the answer of most of the citizens of the Bosnian Serb entity would be no," said Rajko Vasic, a member of the SNSD leadership. Vasic said the issue should be on the agenda when the newly elected Republika Srpska parliament convenes. The EU is pushing Bosnia to merge its ethnically divided police force as one of the conditions for signing a Stabilization and Association Agreement. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik, however, has said the Bosnian Serbs will not give up their own police force, even if it means jeopardizing Bosnia's potential EU membership (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 1, 2006). BW

In response to the SNSD's proposed referendum, Bosnian Prime Minister Adnan Terzic said the international community has been too passive in the face of Bosnian Serb threats, dpa reported on November 13. "Considering the reactions of the international community's officials to the obstructions from the Serb Republic, [it appears that] they can do whatever they want," Terzic told the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz." High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling has urged Bosnia's politicians to move faster on police reform in order to present a new structure to EU officials in Brussels by November 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 23, 2006). BW

Prime Minister Zeljko Sturanovic and his cabinet were formally sworn into office on November 10 as the first government since Montenegro won independence, dpa reported the same day. Addressing parliament, Sturanovic said his priorities will be European integration, improving living standards, and developing good relations with Serbia. Two deputy prime ministers -- Gordana Djurovic, in charge of European integration, and Vujica Lazovics, for the economy -- were also sworn, in along with 14 ministers. Pro-Serbian opposition lawmakers, a minority in parliament, managed to delay the government's confirmation for two days with a series of long speeches (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 10, 2006). BW

Former East German spy chief Markus Wolf died in his sleep in Berlin during the night of November 8-9. It was the 17th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. In reunified Germany, he enjoyed media celebrity status as an expert on everything from espionage to politics to Russian cuisine. But he took many secrets, including the identity of his up to 4,000 agents, to the grave.

One thing Wolf did reveal long before his death was his opinion of some Western international broadcasting during the Cold War. In his memoirs "Man Without A Face: The Autobiography of Communism's Greatest Spymaster," Wolf acknowledged their success. He noted the role of organizations like "Radio Free Europe [RFE] and RIAS [Radio in the American Sector (of Berlin)].... Of all the various means used to influence people against the East during the Cold War, I would count these institutions as the most effective."

Wolf added that those broadcasters "provided excellent counterpropaganda, using information from dissident groups and from citizens who had fled the satellite countries because they were at odds ideologically with the regime. Moreover, they were fast on their feet when any sign of instability arose in the Eastern bloc, providing timely and detailed accounts of action that were invaluable to our opponents in planning a quick response to events that were hushed up or glossed over by the communist media."

Of the many mysteries that continue to surround Wolf's biography, one involves the decision of the authorities in Moscow to send him and former East German leader Erich Honecker back to Germany following reunification on October 3, 1990. The two were wanted there on several criminal charges, including treason. Each man was an ally of proven loyalty and had sought refuge in the Soviet capital. Each remained a lifelong communist, spoke fluent Russian, and admired the Soviet Union and Russian culture.

After fleeing reunified Germany via a Soviet military hospital, Honecker sought refuge in the Chilean Embassy in Moscow, whose staff included people who had received asylum in his East Germany during the years of General Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship. The government of Russian President Boris Yeltsin nonetheless unceremoniously extradited him to Germany in 1992, clearly against Honecker's own wishes.

Wolf fled Germany in September 1990, a few days before reunification, after which he had expected to be arrested on treason charges. He eventually found his way to Moscow, where he was feted by his KGB colleagues. But after the failed August 1991 coup attempt, they gently showed him the door. Acting KGB chief Leonid Shebarshin told him: "You see the way things are here, Misha [Wolf's Russian nickname]. You've been a good friend to us, but there is nothing more we can do for you here now. Who would have thought it would end like this! Go with God!"

Ultimately, both Honecker and Wolf weathered the storm, albeit in very different ways. Honecker died of liver cancer in Chilean exile in 1994, his trial in Germany having been broken off the previous year on account of his health. In 1997, Wolf received only a two-year suspended prison sentence for some of the lesser charges brought against him. He dismissed even that sentence as an example of "victor's justice." He wrote books, appeared on talk shows, and spoke out on contemporary and historical affairs, always from a communist perspective.

But one other German exile in particular was not asked or forced to leave Moscow for home. Indeed, Yeltsin reportedly refused direct requests from his friend, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, to send back Hansjoachim Tiedge, a former West German intelligence chief. Tiedge, who defected suddenly to East Germany in 1985, fled or was taken to Moscow around the time of German reunification.

The question has continued to baffle students of the Cold War: why were Honecker and Wolf expendable to Moscow but Tiedge was not? Might Kohl have privately assured Yeltsin that neither Wolf nor Honecker would end his days behind bars? Might Tiedge have some information that remained sensitive and timely, whereas what Wolf knew was primarily the names of agents of a now-defunct state? Might Tiedge have known in 1985 who were the Soviet hidden agents, or moles, in West Germany? Might such lists include people who have meanwhile risen to the highest levels of German political, economic, and military affairs?

Perhaps the truth will never be known, like the agents' names that Wolf took with him to the grave. In the meantime, Tiedge reportedly still lives in Moscow under the name of Ottovich.

Japanese Ambassador Kenzo Oshima, the head of a visiting UN Security Council delegation in Afghanistan, has identified the growing Taliban-led insurgency and increased opium production as major challenges for the country, the United Nations Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported on November 13. The team, which arrived in Kabul on November 11 for a four-day review of security, encouraged the government to prioritize the creation of a strong judiciary, police, and army. President Hamid Karzai received the delegation at the Presidential Palace on November 12, where he briefed the ambassadors on challenges and achievements and -- according to a report by Karzai's office -- was assured that the UN will continue to support the country until it can "stand on its own feet." CJ

In an effort to support NATO forces operating in Afghanistan, Britain and the Netherlands appealed to the European Union on November 13 to assist with the training of the Afghan police, Reuters reported the same day. British Defense Secretary Des Browne said in Brussels: "There is scope for the EU to reinforce and reinvigorate civilian work on the rule of law in Afghanistan. I want to see it make more of a contribution in this area." Recently, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer asked the EU to build police forces to assist the 30,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan. Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot said in Brussles on November 13 that such increased support for Afghan operations "Can take many forms, either financial, training troops, or aid missions. There are all sorts of things that the EU can contribute." CJ

European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana stated that the EU was already doing a lot in Afghanistan, indicating most member states already have troops there and are contributing to humanitarian efforts as well, Reuters reported on November 13. Solana added that the union will consider additional training missions for Afghan police if such missions could "add value." He said a fact-finding mission will soon visit Afghanistan to ascertain details about police training needs. French Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie commented: "We [the EU] already have a major role in Afghanistan. What strikes me as most urgent is to ensure good coordination of the actions we are conducting there." External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that the EU members have "overfulfilled" their aid responsibility to Afghanistan, contributing some 3.7 billion euros (about $4.6 billion) so far. CJ

U.S. and Afghan forces have reportedly captured a senior Al-Qaeda member in southeastern Afghanistan, according to Mohammad Ayub, police chief of the Khost Province, AP reported on November 13. Ayub said the troops apprehended four Afghans, an Arab, and a Pakistani on November 6 in the city of Khost. The Pakistani newspaper "The News" alleged on November 13 that one of the detainees is Nasir al-Qahtani, one of four Al-Qaeda members who escaped from the U.S. prison in Baghram in July 2005. Ayub said he could not confirm the accuracy of that claim, and U.S. military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Paul Fitzpatrick refused to identify the detainee. CJ

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told Palestinian diplomat Faruq Qaddumi that Tehran still believes in the "Palestine ideal" and will support Palestinians "in various areas," IRNA reported following a meeting in Tehran on November 13. Qaddumi is the foreign policy chief of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and secretary-general of Fatah, the party of Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas. Ahmadinejad claimed that in response to increasing weakness and daily defeats, the "Zionists" are "trying to exert political, psychological, and military pressures to force [Palestinians] and other retreat." Israel's supporters are today "doubtful" over the "advantages of its continued existence," Ahmadinejad contended. Qaddumi said Iran's supportive stance "has strengthened the determination of the Palestinian people and militants in fighting" Israel, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad also met with Kuwaiti parliament speaker Jasim Muhammad al-Khurafi and called for enhanced bilateral cooperation in business, shipping, and security affairs, IRNA reported. Al-Khurafi is in Tehran for the Seventh Public Forum of Asian Parliaments for Peace. He and Ahmadinejad agreed that "enemies" are trying to divide Muslim and regional states, and that Iran has a "fitting role" in promoting regional cooperation, IRNA reported. VS

In a meeting on November 13 with Syrian parliamentary speaker Mahmud al-Barash, President Ahmadinejad said Damascus and Tehran must work together "as two vanguard counter the plots of the system of domination and to establish justice and spirituality in the world," IRNA reported. "The system of domination is trying to strike at independent and free countries, and regional nations must prevent with vigilance...the presence of forceful states that wish to loot the resources of Middle East states." VS

President Ahmadinejad telephoned Nicaragua's president-elect, Daniel Ortega, on November 13 to congratulate him on his November 5 election, IRNA reported. Ortega ran Nicaragua as a leftist and fierce critic of the United States from 1979-90, but reportedly has moderated many of his political views. Ahmadinejad told Ortega that "the time of imperialist rule and forcefulness over independent and brave nations" is over, and he offered to transfer Iran's "valuable experiences and achievements" to Nicaragua, IRNA reported. VS

Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, said on November 13 that the Democratic Party's victory in U.S. Congressional elections in November "shows that Iran's point of view on [the administration of George W. Bush's] policies are correct and [those policies] are mistaken in various political and military areas," ISNA reported. Boroujerdi said Iran has repeated that the current administration's policies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Middle East are "unacceptable" and have led to the "violation of the right of nations and the deaths of innocent people." He said the decision by American voters to give Democrats a majority in Congress corroborates Iran's views, and is "really a victory for Iran." He argued that the Democrats must now make good on electoral criticisms of Bush's policies in Iraq, and have a year to do so as attention will turn the following year to the presidential election in 2008. Boroujerdi said Iran should wait and see "without any pre-judgment" the positions the Democrats intend to adopt vis-a-vis Iran, ISNA reported. VS

Former President Mohammad Khatami told Turkish television's Channel D in Istanbul on November 13 that Turkey need not worry about Iran's nuclear program as Iran has "not attacked any country." He added, according to Radio Farda, that he is "upset [that] you fear Iran." Khatami is attending a conference of the Alliance of Civilizations initiative, sponsored by Turkey and Spain, according to the Turkish website "We have to fear those countries that use their power negatively," Khatami reportedly said before going on to claim that Israel "is the main source of concern," Radio Farda reported. He said arrest warrants recently issued by an Argentinian judge against Iranian politicians suspected of planning a bombing in Buenos Aires constitute "the most ridiculous plot presented against Iran" and one "orchestrated by the Zionists" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 27 and November 13, 2006). In Paris on November 12, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin called for the swift adoption of a new UN resolution against Iran in response to what the West sees as disconcerting nuclear activities. He said the resolution "must anticipate progressive, targeted, and reversible sanctions" against Tehran, AP reported. De Villepin told the general assembly of the World Jewish Congress that the West merely intends to bring Iran back to respecting its "international commitments" on nonproliferation and said an Iran "armed with nuclear weapons capabilities" is "unacceptable," AP reported. VS

Dr. Muhammad Bashar al-Faydi, a spokesman for the Sunni-led Muslim Scholars Association, said during a November 12 interview with Al-Jazeera satellite television that Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's announcement of a major cabinet reshuffle will result in only cosmetic changes. "Unless al-Maliki and his government abandon their exclusion, marginalization, and crushing policies, then these initiatives will not amount to anything more than an improvement of their positions in this era," he said. Al-Faydi said that even if Interior Minister Jawad al-Bulani were replaced, it would not matter because the ministry is unwilling or incapable of controlling the Shi'ite militias widely accused of carrying out sectarian attacks against Sunnis. Al-Faydi also noted that since al-Maliki launched his reconciliation initiative five months ago, there have been more forced displacements and sectarian killings than before, which underscores his belief that a cabinet reshuffle will change nothing. SS

Unknown gunmen killed Al-Sharqiyah television cameraman Muhammad al-Ban on November 13 in Mosul, international media reported the same day. Mosul police commander Brigadier Abd al-Karim Ahmad Khalaf said al-Ban was killed and his wife wounded as they were leaving their home in the Al-Eilam neighborhood at around 9:30 a.m. The motive for the killing is unknown and Al-Sharqiyah had no immediate comment. Al-Ban is the 89th journalist to be killed in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. In addition, 35 media support staff have been killed, including interpreters, drivers, and guards. SS

Local officials from the southern Shi'ite city of Karbala said on November 13 that they are overwhelmed with displaced families already in the city and can no longer take in any more, the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) reported the same day. The Karbala Governorate Council said the influx of refugees has caused a great strain on the governorate's social services and it will stop hosting displaced families, other than those who could afford to rent houses or those who can stay with relatives. "The province is suffering under the pressure of the increasing number of displaced families. Service directorates like health, education, and the municipality are no longer capable of meeting the needs of more [displaced] families," council member Ghalib al-Dami said. Muwaffaq Abd al-Rauf, a spokesman for the Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration, said that approximately 16,000 people flee their homes on a weekly basis to different neighborhoods of Baghdad or to other governorates throughout the country. SS

General John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), made an unannounced visit to Iraq on November 13 and reiterated Washington's full support for Iraq's political process to Prime Minister al-Maliki, KUNA reported the same day. During the meeting with al-Maliki, Abizaid expressed the United States' desire to fully cooperate with Iraq's government in order to enhance its forces' capabilities to fully assume responsibility for the country's security. The two also discussed the effect of Iraq's neighbors on the country's security situation. Earlier in the day, Abizaid met with Interior Minister al-Bulani to discuss the current security conditions. SS

The Iraqi Turkoman Front has issued a statement saying it has expelled a number of terrorists from the party, the Kurdish newspaper "Khabat" reported on November 13. The statement named Dr. Bashar Abdullah as one of those ousted. Abdullah is suspected of leading a "group of terrorists, killers, and wrongdoers who have attempted to create rifts and foment trouble between the Kurdish, Arab, and Turkoman peoples." The statement also indicated that high-ranking officials in the front and others living in Turkey are trying to inflame tensions between the three groups. The Turkoman Front pledged to strengthen the spirit of coexistence among the three peoples and fight terrorism. "We, the legitimate representatives of Turkomans, who were the first to open the Turkoman Front headquarters in the town of Tal Afar, promise, side by side with all the patriotic forces and with our Kurdish and Arab brothers, to stand against terrorism and terrorists," the statement said. SS

Jordan's "Al-Ra'y" reported on November 13 that Iraq is prepared to begin transporting oil overland to Jordan within two days. Informed sources said the Jordanian-Iraqi Overland Transportation Company will handle the transportation of oil until the end of this year. After that, the transportation contract will be offered to one of nine companies that have submitted bids. The transportation of Iraqi oil to Jordan is based on a memorandum of understanding signed between Jordanian Prime Minister Ma'ruf al-Bakhit and his Iraqi counterpart al-Maliki to supply Jordan with 10-30 percent of its oil needs at preferential prices. The understanding is based on a barter system under which Jordan will import Iraqi oil at preferential prices and export Jordanian goods and products to Iraq. Meanwhile, Jordan and Iraq agreed to begin a series of meetings to determine Iraq's debt to Jordan following disagreements about the amount owed. SS