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Newsline - November 30, 2006

In response to discussions about energy security at the November 28-29 NATO summit in Riga, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Moscow on November 29 that Russia must be included in any realistic planning in this sphere, Russian media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006). He argued that he "cannot dictate to NATO what to do there [at the meeting in Riga], but energy security, of course, is a matter that concerns all and should be discussed by taking into account the interests and approaches of all the key players." Lavrov added that he does not believe that "attempts to [deal with energy security] without Russia will be productive or serve the interests of that same energy security that we are all concerned about." The daily "Kommersant" wrote on November 29 that "for the first time, NATO leaders have gathered on the territory of the former Soviet Union, and for the first time since the collapse of the USSR, they are openly discussing potential threats emanating from Moscow." The paper added that the summit heralded a "qualitative transformation" of the alliance, which will soon begin to deal with energy as well as military security and eventually seek to include Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan as members. The daily "Vremya novostei" on November 29 drew attention, as did "Kommersant," to remarks made in Riga by U.S. Senator Richard Lugar (Republican, Indiana), who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he "called on NATO to be ready to resist 'attacks and blackmail' from countries such as Russia and Iran, using energy as a weapon." The paper quoted Aleksei Arbatov, who heads the International Security Center at the Russian Academy of Sciences' World Economy and International Relations Institute (IMEMO), as saying that "NATO ought to raise the question of admitting Russia as a full-fledged NATO member in order to solve the problems under discussion in Riga, including energy-security matters, rather than developing the topic of NATO membership for Georgia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan." PM

The daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" on November 30 noted an unsuccessful attempt by French President Jacques Chirac to invite Russian President Putin to celebrate Chirac's 74th birthday in Riga on November 28 after the summit. "The Washington Post" and some other Western media on November 30 described the move as a ham-fisted effort by Chirac to "upstage" NATO, U.S. President George W. Bush, and the Latvian authorities. After Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga reportedly let it be known that Putin was welcome provided his visit included a bilateral meeting with her, Putin informed Chirac that he had no time to go to Riga, the U.S. daily noted. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also declined Chirac's invitation to join the party, saying she had to attend a cabinet meeting in Berlin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006). In the end, Chirac celebrated with a cake from Vike-Freiberga. PM

President Putin on November 29 telephoned Yegor Gaidar, a former acting prime minister and prominent economist and political figure in the 1990s, to wish him a speedy recovery from an unexplained illness that many have described as a poisoning, Britain's "Financial Times" reported on November 30 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006). Gaidar's daughter Maria told RFE/RL's Russian Service on November 29 that her father did not describe the illness to her as the result of a poisoning. She said that "such conclusions [that he was poisoned] can be drawn from conversation with witnesses, with people who saw him in Dublin [where he suddenly became ill], so such allegations are indeed being made. But I did not hear him make any such allegations." She added that "I am worried and concerned and would not rush to conclusions on this matter. I'm waiting for the medical report and then will be prepared to think about this subject." Maria Gaidar noted that her father "was examined [by his doctors in Moscow] a month ago, and his condition was perfectly normal. So it wasn't a heart attack, or a stroke, or diabetes -- none of the standard things that can happen at his age." Gaidar was born in March 1956. On November 30, she said that she hopes her father will leave the hospital early next week, Interfax reported. PM

British officials announced on November 29 that two British Airways Boeing 767 aircraft have been grounded in London and a third one in Moscow after "very low levels of radioactive traces" were found on the two in London, news agencies reported. The aircraft at Moscow's Domodedovo International Airport will be screened soon. The planes were inspected in connection with the investigation into the unexplained death in London on November 23 of former Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) agent Aleksandr Litvinenko (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 28 and 29, 2006). British Airways is in the process of contacting 33,000 people who flew on 221 flights involving the three aircraft. Russian and Swedish officials are also investigating. One of the passengers involved is Andrei Lugovoi, a former KGB agent who was among the people to meet with Litvinenko on the day he fell ill. Lugovoi recently said that "someone is trying to set me up as the fall guy" in the case, which the British police have not officially described as a murder. Britain's "The Economist" wrote on November 25 about the case that "for all the talk of [President] Putin's authoritarianism, the Russian state is chaotic, factional, corrupt, and criminalized; its nominal servants engage in lots of shady activities without Kremlin approval.... The only thing Russians know for certain about the many outrages they have suffered [in recent years] is that how and why they happened will never be known for certain." PM

Anatoly Safonov, who is President Putin's special representative for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism and transnational organized crime, said in Moscow on November 30 that time has come for an international meeting to discuss Iraq, reported. He argued that such a gathering "is necessary because daily casualties among the civilian population are appalling. The international community should draft proposals on economic, political, and, above all, security issues" regarding Iraq. PM

Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said in Moscow on November 30 that the power industry will be "reformed" by July 2008, RIA Novosti reported. A decision on reorganizing the national power company, Unified Energy Systems (EES), will be made in the first half of 2007, he added. Khristenko said on November 29 that domestic electric power and gas prices "will be fully liberalized by 2011" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006). He noted that the demand for electric power in 2015 is expected to be 45 percent higher than in 2006. Critics have charged that cheap Russian domestic energy prices have encouraged waste and inefficiency. PM

Igor Trunov, who represents the family of one of the 124 passengers killed when an Airbus 310-300 belonging to Russia's S7 airline burst into flames in Irkutsk on July 9, said in Moscow on November 29 that his clients have filed a $616,000 moral damages "lawsuit against the French company Airbus Industrie" for its alleged responsibility in the disaster, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 10, 2006). In addition, the clients want a onetime $48,000 payment for loss of property and a lifetime monthly compensation payment of $262 per month. S7 is Russia's second-largest airline and grew out of the Siberian branch of the former Soviet carrier Aeroflot, known as Sibir. The crash was the fourth involving fatalities in the Irkutsk area since 1994. PM

First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev tasked Agriculture Minister Aleksey Gordeyev on November 29 with determining the reasons for a decline in agricultural production in Volgograd Oblast and the republics of Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria, according to RIA Novosti as reported by Also on November 29, the Kabardino-Balkaria parliament discussed the draft budget for 2007, which according to Finance Minister Azret Bishenov envisages a 48 percent increase in expenditures and a 33 percent increase in revenues compared to 2006, resulting in a deficit of 150 million rubles ($5.7 million), reported. Kabardino-Balkaria relies on subsidies from the federal center for 64.6 percent of planned revenues. LF

Deputies approved the budget for 2007 on November 29 in the final reading by a vote of 77 in favor and three against with six abstentions, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The opposition National Accord and Orinats Yerkir (Law-Based State) factions did not take part in the vote. The budget envisages an increase of almost 16 percent in public spending, to 558.7 billion drams ($1.51 billion). Anticipated revenues are 490.2 billion drams, resulting in a deficit equal to 2.3 percent of planned GDP. Finance and Economy Minister Vardan Khachatrian said the government reviewed some 440 proposed amendments but rejected most of them. It did, however, yield to opposition pressure and scrap a planned salary increase for senior government officials. Defense spending in 2007 will rise by some 40 percent to $285 million; more than one-third of proposed expenditures are earmarked for education, health care, social security, and other public services. LF

Ilham Aliyev told Azerbaijan National Television on November 29 that since the so-called "Prague process" talks between the Armenian and Azerbaijan foreign ministers on approaches to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict began, the negotiating process has gone through several stages, and "we are approaching the final stage." The first Prague talks took place in April 2004, and Aliyev has met with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian six times since then, most recently in Minsk on November 28. Aliyev said the Minsk talks "were held in a constructive way," and that "we managed to a find a solution to a number of problems we could not agree on before." He added, however, that "divergences remain on crucial points," and that further progress "depends on us ourselves," presumably meaning the conflict sides, the OSCE Minsk Group having already done all in its power to mediate a settlement. Aliyev stressed that "Azerbaijan's negotiating position remains unchanged," meaning that any solution must preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. He further stressed that Azerbaijani displaced persons (whose number he said exceeds 1 million, compared with UNHCR estimates of 800,000) must be enabled to return to their homes. Aliyev also said the four resolutions on Nagorno-Karabakh adopted by the UN Security Council (in 1993, and which call for an immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian forces from occupied Azerbaijani territory) must be fulfilled. He said the population of Nagorno-Karabakh "must be provided with the highest form of self-government" possible within Azerbaijan. The constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic defines the Nakhichevan Republic as an autonomous republic within the Azerbaijan Republic, with its own parliament, but makes no mention of Nagorno-Karabakh. LF

In his interview with Azerbaijani National Television on November 29, President Aliyev sought to counter the widely held perception of an ongoing crackdown on media freedom in Azerbaijan, affirming that "I have always supported the strengthening of a free press." That negative perception has been fuelled by the eviction last week of two independent newspapers from their offices and the suspension of broadcasts by ANS Television, which is respected for its objectivity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 27 and 29, 2006, and "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," December 1, 2006). Aliyev stressed that the opposition newspapers in question have been offered "very good" alternative office premises. He advised against "politicizing" either the eviction of those papers or the closure of ANS. Arguing that in a law-based state like Azerbaijan, everyone from the head of state to rank-and-file citizens to journalists must comply with the law, Aliyev said that ANS will be permitted to resume broadcasting provided it succeeds in resolving "in a businesslike way and with good will" its differences with the National Council for Television and Radio. That government body ruled on November 24 to suspend ANS Broadcasting in light of 11 previous warnings it issued. ANS's legal status remains unclear as it is the sole television station to which the council has not yet issued a broadcasting license. Also on November 29, ANS co-founder Vaxid Mustafayev was summoned for a second time by Baku's Yasamal District prosecutor's office in connection with a lawsuit against ANS by academicians who accuse the station of theft of intellectual property, reported. LF

Mazahir Panahov, chairman of Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission (MSK), told journalists on November 29 he thinks it "rational" that the MSK and lower-level election bodies should be composed of people who are not members of any political party, reported. He added that forming commissions on that principle would obviate the problem of a shortage of qualified specialists. Azerbaijani opposition parties have for years argued that the opposition should be equally represented, together with the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, on election commissions at all levels. LF

The Declaration ( adopted at the conclusion of the November 28-29 NATO summit in Riga reaffirms the alliance's intention to continue the process of Intensified Dialogue with Georgia and Ukraine, stressing that doing so is no guarantee of eventual NATO membership. It commends Georgian participation in international peacekeeping operations in Kosova and Iraq, but stresses the need for further "progress on political, economic, and military reforms, including strengthening judicial reform," which is a weak point singled out by human rights watchdog Freedom House. It further expressed concern at the unresolved regional conflicts in both the South Caucasus and Moldova, and stressed the need to resolve those conflicts peacefully, affirming NATO's continued support for efforts aimed at doing so. The declaration noted "progress made in intensifying political dialogue and practical cooperation between NATO and Russia," but at the same time highlighted Russia's potential for delaying ratification of the Adapted CFE Treaty by failing to make good on its pledge to close its military bases in Georgia and withdraw its remaining forces from Moldova. Although some Georgian politicians, including parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, have construed statements of support for Georgia as heralding a formal invitation at the next (2008) summit to join the alliance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006), the declaration implied that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia, all of which have already advanced to fulfilling Membership Action Plans (the next step after Intensified Dialogue, and the final hurdle before a formal invitation) are more likely to qualify for NATO by then, assuming that they "meet NATO's performance based standards and are able to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security and stability." LF

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference in Riga on November 29 that the organization would like to establish broader ties with Central Asian countries, RFE/RL reported. "You see in the Riga declaration that one of the ambitions of the heads of state and government of NATO is clearly to strengthen existing partnerships, and that very much is relevant for Central Asia," de Hoop Scheffer said. He also said he regretted Uzbekistan's continued "empty-chair policy" at NATO meetings with partner countries, adding that the alliance remains open for dialogue. The declaration adopted at NATO's 2006 summit in Istanbul hailed Uzbekistan's stated intention to embark on an Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 29, 2004) but no such agreement has ever been formalized. DK/AL

A group of Kyrgyz NGOs released a statement on November 29 expressing concern at government harassment of the opposition, reported. The statement read, "We are concerned at the lawless actions the authorities are taking toward the leaders and members of the For Reforms [opposition movement]." The statement noted the November 22 detention by the National Security Service (SNB) of a member of the Ata-Meken party for alleged rowdiness, arguing that the security services should not have been involved in the case, whether or not the party member committed a crime. The NGOs suggested that the SNB's involvement may have been intended to frighten opposition members. The statement was signed by Asiya Sasykbaeva, head of the Interbilim Center; Edil Baisalov, head of the NGO coalition For Democracy and Civil Society; Aziza Abdirasulova, director of Kylym Shamy; and Omurbek Abdrakhmanov, coordinator of For Reforms. DK

Due to a shortage of bread in Dushanbe, prices for a loaf of bread have risen 200-300 percent, Asia Plus-Blitz reported on November 29. The news agency reported that a loaf of bread that cost 50 dirhams ($0.15) one week ago now costs 1-1.5 somonis. Bread producers in the Tajik capital said that the shortage and resulting price rise stem from recent problems with electricity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 29, 2006). DK

Former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich was briefly detained at the Minsk airport on his arrival from Riga on November 29 and charged with deliberately crossing the border with a forged document, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported, quoting Milinkevich's press secretary Pavel Mazheyka. The charge carries a jail term of up to two months or a heavy fine. According to Mazheyka, Milinkevich mistakenly presented the passport of his son, also named Alyaksandr, to Belarusian border guards while he was traveling to the Latvian capital. The Belarusian border guards put an exit stamp in the son's passport and the mistake was discovered only by Latvian border guards. In Riga, which hosted a NATO summit on November 28-29, Milinkevich met with a number of Western politicians, including U.S. President George W. Bush. "Just across the border from here lies the nation of Belarus, a place where peaceful protestors are beaten and opposition leaders are 'disappeared' by the agents of a cruel regime. The existence of such oppression in our midst offends the conscience of Europe and it offends the conscience of America," Bush said in a speech at the University of Latvia in Riga on November 28. "We have a message for the people of Belarus: the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace includes you, and we stand with you in your struggle for freedom." JM

The condition of hunger-striking prisoner Alyaksandr Kazulin does not provoke serious fears among doctors, Belapan reported on November 29, quoting an unnamed official from the Prosecutor-General's Office. Former opposition presidential candidate Kazulin, who remains in a correctional facility near Vitsebsk, entered the 41st day of his hunger strike on November 29. The official noted that Kazulin was placed in the correctional institution's medical unit on October 30, but was returned to his barracks the following day at his own written request. Kazulin was arrested during a police crackdown on an opposition march on March 25 and sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 14, 2006). JM

Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych clashed with Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk during a televised cabinet meeting on November 29 over Yanukovych's upcoming official visit to Washington, scheduled for December 3-7, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Yanukovych read out a letter from the Foreign Ministry informing him that his trip to Washington has been postponed indefinitely because he failed to seek presidential approval for a directive setting down guidelines for the U.S. talks. Yanukovych demonstratively signed the directive he distributed among cabinet ministers earlier the same day and ordered that it be sent to the Presidential Secretariat. "Regarding you, Borys Ivanovych, we have unfortunately failed to find an understanding how to work together over these three months. Therefore, today I'm going to sign an appropriate letter with my opinion about your further work and send it to parliament," Yanukovych told Tarasyuk. "Esteemed Viktor Fedorovych, you have already sent such a letter to the president. And you know the president's answer regarding my person," Tarasyuk responded to the prime minister. Earlier this month, Yanukovych said he does not want Tarasyuk in his cabinet (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 3, 2006). Tarasyuk, like Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, was appointed to his cabinet post directly by President Viktor Yushchenko. Later on November 29, the Presidential Secretariat announced that President Yushchenko approved Yanukovych's directive and that Yanukovych's U.S. trip will take place as originally planned. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on November 29 endorsed the resignation of Family and Sports Minister Yuriy Pavlenko, Ukrainian media reported. Pavlenko tendered his resignation along with three other ministers from the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc in October, after Our Ukraine announced that it was switching to the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). Justice Minister Roman Zvarych and Culture Minister Ihor Likhovyy were replaced earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 2, 2006), while Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko has withdrawn his resignation. JM

NATO leaders on November 29 invited Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia-Herzegovina to begin negotiations to enter the Western alliance's Partnership for Peace program, dpa, Reuters, and AP reported the same day. "Taking into account the long-term stability in the western Balkans and acknowledging the progress made so far by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia, we have today invited these countries to join Partnership for Peace," a statement by NATO heads of state declared after a two-day summit in Riga, Latvia. Serbia and Bosnia had been excluded from the program because of their failure to apprehend war crimes fugitives Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. BW

A spokesman for International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia (ICTY) chief prosecutor Carla Del Ponte harshly criticized NATO on November 29 for inviting Serbia to join Partnership for Peace, dpa reported the same day. "The prosecutor is very surprised," Anton Nikiforov told journalists in The Hague. "We were not consulted." Nikiforov said NATO's decision to invite Serbia to begin negotiations to join Partnership for Peace, despite Belgrade's failure to apprehend Bosnian Serb wartime commander Mladic, "looks like a reward for lack of cooperation." BW

NATO leaders also said on November 29 that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia could receive invitations to join the alliance in 2008 if they meet membership criteria by that time, Makfax reported the same day. "We commend their increasing contributions to international peacekeeping and security operations, as well as their common efforts to advance regional cooperation," the declaration by NATO heads of state issued at the close of the Riga summit said. "At our next summit in 2008, the alliance intends to extend further invitations to those countries that meet NATO's performance-based standards and are able to contribute to Euro-Atlantic security and stability," the statement continued. BW

Retired military-intelligence officer Srboljub Nikolic told a Belgrade court on November 28 that top Serbian officials were aware of war crimes fugitive Mladic's whereabouts until mid-2002, AP reported the same day. "At least 500 senior army commanders, as well as politicians and other government representatives" knew that Mladic was living freely in army barracks in Serbia until May 2002, he said. Nikolic was speaking at the trial of alleged accomplices of Mladic who are accused of helping him evade arrest. Nikolic told the court that Serbian government leaders tried to negotiate Mladic's surrender and even offered to help him change his identity and leave the country. BW

Forensic experts in Serbia on November 28 completed the exhumation of the remains of 62 unidentified victims of former Yugoslavia's wars who were buried in two Belgrade graveyards, B92 and UPI reported the same day. During the war, the bodies floated down the Sava and Danube rivers from the direction of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia and were then buried in unmarked graves (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 22, 2006). Veljko Odalovic, chairman of the Serbian commission for missing persons, said DNA analysis on and identification of the remains should be completed in a month, FoNet reported. BW

Moldova announced on November 29 that it will support Russia's bid to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) after Moscow dropped a ban on Moldovan wines, dpa reported the same day. "I believe that we have a breakthrough," President Vladimir Voronin said. "The result is clear. Russians can celebrate the New Year with a glass of Moldovan champagne," he added. The previous day, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Moscow's willingness to lift the ban. In a move widely seen as politically motivated retribution for Chisinau's pro-Western orientation, Russia banned the import of Moldovan wines in March, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). BW

The international community has put off settling Kosova's final status until shortly after the Serbian elections slated for January 21, 2007. But the delay seems unlikely to affect the outcome, which will in all probability be a conditional independence.

By late 2005, the leadership of the UN, at the recommendation of special envoy Kai Eide, concluded that leaving Kosova's political status unresolved had become a major source of problems for the province and the region as a whole.

The continuing uncertainty had already played a role in the triggering and spread of violence among some of the ethnic Albanian majority in March 2004 and remained a potential source of future unrest.

The lack of clarity also discouraged the investment necessary to deal with large-scale unemployment and jump-start the economy among people who have often displayed sharp business acumen when provided with a clear legal framework, as Kosovars have done in countries like Croatia, Switzerland, or Germany.

The decision on Kosova's final status had been expected by the end of this year, and many Kosovars became apprehensive when the postponement was announced recently. But the delay seems designed only to minimize the effect of the issue on the Serbian vote and is probably unlikely to impact on the substance of the UN's final statement on status.

That would appear to be a form of independence -- which is the only outcome acceptable to the 90 percent Albanian majority -- albeit with a continuing foreign presence to ensure the safety and rights of the minorities, particularly the Serbs, and their cultural institutions. The EU will most likely replace the UN at the heart of the foreign civilian presence, but is expected to have a less powerful mandate than it currently does in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

UN envoy for Kosova Martti Ahtisaari is expected to make his announcement regarding the province's status in February 2007. Numerous media reports have suggested that U.S. and British diplomats have recently reassured Kosovar Albanian leaders that just a little more patience will pay dividends for them and warned them against any hasty moves, such as issuing a widely rumored unilateral declaration of independence if the decision on the final status continues to be delayed. Those media reports indicate that the Kosovars have accepted the assurances of Washington and London.

Lest anyone forget the stakes involved in finalizing Kosova's status, Prime Minister Agim Ceku wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" of November 20 that "expectations in Kosovo are high.... It is ready for independence, and now is not the time to stop the clock."

He added that "we need to keep the process of statehood on track. Kosovo needs clarity to complete reforms and to attract vital international investments, but also so that our own people -- and especially our Serb minority -- can escape the debilitating worries and uncertainty and start to build a future. Their home and future are in Kosovo."

Ceku argued that "the biggest problem in the western Balkans is economic malaise.... Belgrade is not interested in investing in the development of Kosovo, and Kosovo is not interested in a political union with Serbia. But we are interested in developing a productive bilateral partnership with Serbia, just as we're doing with our other neighbors."

He believes that "social and economic progress in the region will be the big losers if we don't make the bold step forward to independence. The entire western Balkan region needs a kick start in order to catch the EU train and catch up with the awesome economic growth of our EU-bound neighbors, Romania and Bulgaria."

He noted that "we have a young population and a positive birthrate. Given the shortages in the EU labor market due to negative demographic trends, Kosovo can help fill the void. To do so, we need to retrain our work force. Hence we're now investing in education."

Ceku also reminded Brussels that it cannot afford to forget its goal of "a Europe whole and free." He might have added that it is the question of Euro-Atlantic integration, perhaps more so than even the issue of Kosova's final status, that will be the determining factor for the peace and prosperity of the entire region.

At the conclusion of their summit in Riga, heads of states of members of NATO issued a declaration on November 29 in which they stated to "stand with" the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Afghan people, NATO's website reported. NATO leaders indicated that the alliance's "key priority" in Afghanistan is "contributing to peace and stability" in cooperation with Afghanistan national security forces. The declaration emphasized that there "can be no security in Afghanistan without development, and no development without security." The declaration called on Afghanistan's neighbors to "act resolutely" in support of Karzai's government, while encouraging Pakistan to closely cooperate with NATO and Afghanistan. The declaration sidesteps contentious issues such as a shortfall in the number of troops needed in Afghanistan; relaxation of national caveats, thus enabling more NATO members to engage in combat roles; counternarcotics; and confrontation with illegal armed groups and warlords. AT

German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not make a firm commitment to send troops to southern Afghanistan -- where the Taliban and their allies are most active -- at the NATO summit in Riga, ddp reported on November 29. However, "in emergencies" German soldiers serving with NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) could be relied upon in southern Afghanistan-based operations, Merkel said. According to Merkel, emergencies "are defined as events in which dangerous or serious situations may arise," in which cases German forces could be relied upon for reconnaissance, logistics, or evacuation duties. Berlin's refusal to send combat forces in the more dangerous south has been criticized by NATO members shouldering the bulk of fighting in southern Afghanistan, namely Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. AT

French President Jacque Chirac told NATO leaders in Riga on November 29 that his country wiil send more military hardware to Afghanistan and may "on a case-by-case basis" allow its forces to act as reinforcements for other NATO troops outside Kabul, where the bulk of French forces are currently deployed, AFP reported. Chirac also said that France will deploy two helicopters in Afghanistan. "We are ready to reinforce our detachment of fighter aircraft," Chirac added. France, like Germany, has come under some criticism for not deploying its forces serving with ISAF in areas of hostility. AT

Two ISAF soldiers were killed and two others and an interpreter were wounded in the Pul-e Alam district of Logar Province on November 28 when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device, an ISAF press release reported. A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- claimed on November 29 that a "mujahid of the Islamic Emirate" destroyed a vehicle of the coalition forces in Logar using a remote-controlled mine, killing all of the occupants of the vehicle. AT

ISAF spokesman Major Luke Knitting told reporters in Kabul on November 29 that since the beginning of this year, suicide attacks have claimed the lives of 227 Afghans and 17 international soldiers, an ISAF press release reported. Suicide attacks -- a rarity in the Afghan wars of the past two decades -- have increased in number since the demise of the Taliban regime in late 2001, reaching a record number thus far this year. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini on November 29 rejected calls by the head of the UN nuclear inspectorate for Iran to do more to clarify the nature of its nuclear program, ISNA reported. Muhammad el-Baradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said in Vienna on November 28 that Iran needs to go beyond its legal obligations and must "take the initiative" to prove that it has a purely civilian nuclear program, Reuters reported. El-Baradei said Iran must explain why it did not report some nuclear activities for a 20-year period. "Much of that goes beyond [its legal nonproliferation commitments], so the solution is not going to be found in relying on one legal clause or another," Reuters quoted him as saying. Hosseini said the statements and reports of nuclear inspectors so far have been "so transparent" that their "reconstruction" has given the IAEA "clear perspectives" on Iran's program, ISNA reported. He said Iran "had and has no hidden nuclear activity, and has...said all that was necessary regarding its nuclear activities and installations," ISNA reported. VS

The Interior Ministry published a list of 162 candidates cleared to run on December 15 for seats in the 86-member Assembly of Experts, the body of clerics supervising the work of Iran's supreme leader, ISNA reported. Members are meant to be "experts" in theology and Islamic jurisprudence, and thus qualified to assess the performance of the supreme leader, himself a senior cleric. Tehran was the province with the largest choice of candidates, while some provinces had only two candidates. Prominent candidates for Tehran include Guardians Council Secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, state Prosecutor-General Qorban'ali Dorri-Najafabadi, former Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hasan Rohani, ex-President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (cited on the list as Akbar Hashemi-Bahremani), and former judiciary chief Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi. Prominent candidates for the northeastern Khorasan-Razavi province include Ayatollahs Abolqasem Khazali, Abbas Vaez-Tabasi, and Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi, the present judiciary chief. A former intelligence minister, Ali Fallahian, is a candidate in southwestern Khuzestan. Tehran candidate Taqi Mesbah might be the name given for prominent conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, although the full name does not appear on the list as reported by ISNA. VS

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani concluded his visit to Tehran on November 29, and the two countries issued a joint statement wherein they each pledged not to interfere in the other's internal affairs, to abide by bilateral agreements made and registered with the United Nations, and to step up cooperation, ISNA reported. The statement stressed the importance of Iraqi territorial integrity, and Tehran committed itself to supporting the consolidation of "democratic institutions chosen by the Iraqi people" and of full popular sovereignty, also stating its support for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's efforts to bring about national reconciliation and include diverse Iraqi groups in the political process. The statement also stated, according to ISNA, that Iraq should implement its decision to expel opposition Iranian militants of the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, currently based in a camp in Iraq; that both sides condemned "the continued criminal and destructive acts of terrorist groups in Iraq"; that Iraq should allow direct air links with Iran and help with the opening of Iranian consulates in Irbil and Al-Sulaymaniyah; and that Iran should, in turn, help Iraq open a consulate in Mashhad, while Iranian firms should be allowed to participate in construction projects in Iraq. VS

Mohammad Nabi Rudaki, a member of Iran's parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, on November 29 urged his country to play a more active diplomatic and stabilizing regional role, ISNA reported. He said the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council must be more active in helping "create stability and security" in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Palestine. Rudaki said President Mahmud Ahmadinejad should travel to states like Yemen, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Jordan for talks, which "will to lead to more cooperation and coordination in creating stability and security in the region," ISNA reported. Another legislator, Elham Aminzadeh, told ISNA the same day that any international resolution to resolve the crisis in Iraq will be "condemned to failure" if it neglects to "take Iran and Syria's role into account." He said Iran and Syria would benefit from stability in Iraq, so "Iraq's two neighbors are ready to provide any assistance to that country." Another committee member, Darius Qanbari, told ISNA that visits to Iran by the Syrian and Iraqi presidents are useful to the United States and "serve to assure security in Iraq." He said Iran could also use them to reduce U.S. pressure on it over its nuclear dossier. VS

The political movement of radical Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr announced on November 29 that it has suspended its participation in the Iraqi government, state-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported the same day. A representative of the bloc, Dr. Salih al-Ugayli, issued the statement, saying that the movement is protesting the expected meeting between Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and U.S. President George W. Bush in Jordan on November 29. The statement said al-Maliki's visit "to Amman to meet with the head of evil, cursed Bush, has hijacked the will of the Iraqi people. This comes at a time when the people of Iraq have demonstrated their will through blood and not through ink." Ugayli described the Amman meeting as a "provocation of the Iraqi people's feelings and a violation of their constitutional rights." SS

"The New York Times" reported on November 29 that U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley has expressed grave doubts over Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki's ability to control the sectarian violence. In a five-page memo dated November 8 following his October 30 meeting with al-Maliki in Baghdad, Hadley said that while al-Maliki's intentions are admirable, he has been unable to rise above sectarian agendas. "The reality on the streets of Baghdad suggests al-Maliki is either ignorant of what is going on, misrepresenting his intentions, or that his capabilities are not yet sufficient to turn his good intentions into action," he wrote. Among the suggestions outlined in the memo is for al-Maliki to distance himself from al-Sadr and have the United States assist him in putting together a more inclusive and moderate coalition government. Furthermore, in the memo Hadley called on Saudi Arabia to use its influence and encourage Iraqi Sunnis to lay down their weapons. A Bush administration official said the purpose of the memo was to "provide a snapshot of the challenges facing Prime Minister al-Maliki and how we can best enhance his capabilities, mindful of the complex political and security environment in which he is operating." SS

The anticipated meeting between U.S. President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki was canceled on November 29, international media reported the same day. Bush was scheduled to meet with al-Maliki and Jordan's King Abdullah II together, but the meeting was abruptly cancelled. Instead, Bush and al-Maliki will meet on their own on November 30, and later hold a press conference. White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett denied that the delay was a snub by al-Maliki directed at Bush or that it was related to the leak of the Hadley memo. Bartlett said King Abdullah and al-Maliki met before Bush arrived from a NATO summit in Latvia, which "negated the purpose to meet tonight together in a trilateral setting." SS

Gunmen opened fire on the Iraqi Health Ministry on November 29 in central Baghdad, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day, the second time in a week that the Shi'a-dominated ministry has been attacked. On November 23, gunmen exchanged fire with ministry guards, temporarily trapping hundreds of ministry employees. In the latest attack, Deputy Health Minister Hakim al-Zamili said two mortar rounds exploded near the ministry and gunmen exchanged fire with security forces. Al-Zamili was himself a target of a failed assassination attempt in Baghdad on November 20 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 21, 2006). Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Muhammad Ahmad al-Khalaf escaped an assassination attempt on November 29 while visiting relatives near the northern city of Kirkuk, AFP reported. Kirkuk police commander Brigadier General Sarhat Qadir said a roadside bomb exploded near the minister's convoy in the Al-Zab region, though no casualties were reported. SS

During the November 29 session of the Anfal trial, Chief Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi ejected defense lawyer Badi Izzat Arif from the courtroom and ordered that he be detained for "violating professional conduct," international media reported the same day. Arif, who is defending Farhan al-Juburi, the former head of military intelligence in northern Iraq, repeatedly referred to the prosecution as "brothers" rather than by their official titles. Al-Uraybi took offense, ejected him from the courtroom, and had him arrested for 24 hours. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and six co-defendants are charged with killing 182,000 Kurds in 1987-88. SS

The U.S. military announced in a press release on November 29 that it has arrested 11 high-ranking Ansar Al-Sunnah members in a series of raids in north-central Iraq. In a statement, the military said U.S.-led coalition forces captured "the terrorist emirs of Al-Ramadi, Ba'qubah, Tikrit, Al-Qa'im, Bayji, and Baghdad." In addition, they also captured facilitators, a courier, an explosives expert, and a financier. The military said the arrests constituted a serious blow to the group, which is blamed for numerous high-profile attacks on the Iraqi government, coalition forces, and civilians. "Ansar Al-Sunnah is considered by some to be a leading terror organization in Iraq, as Al-Qaeda's leadership continues to crumble and it loses its ability to function due to Iraqi and coalition forces' systematic dismantling efforts," the statement said. SS