The New York Times reports President Bush’s former ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, could soon assume a powerful, unelected position running the Afghan government. Under a plan being discussed with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the Obama administration, Khalilzad could essentially become the unelected CEO of Afghanistan, taking away power now held by the democratically elected Karzai. Karzai’s ties to the United States have deteriorated recently, in part because of his vocal criticism over the rising number of civilian casualties due to US air strikes. Zalmay Khalilzad was born in Afghanistan but is now a US citizen. He served as President Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations. The Obama administration claims it is not behind the idea of inserting Khalilzad into the Afghan government, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special envoy Richard Holbrooke have been involved in the discussions. Two months ago, the Guardian of London reported the Obama administration and European allies were preparing to plant a high-profile figure in the heart of the Afghan government in a direct challenge to Karzai.
President Obama is scheduled today to issue new national emissions and mileage requirements for cars and light trucks. The rules aim to cut emissions by 30 percent and require passenger cars to average thirty-nine miles per gallon and light trucks thirty mpg by 2016. The White House estimates the regulations would save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 900 million metric tons over the lifetime of the more efficient vehicles, equivalent to taking 177 million cars off the road or shutting down 194 coal-fired power plants. Daniel Becker of the Safe Climate Campaign praised Obama’s plan. He said, “This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse-gas emissions.” The cost of new vehicles is expected to rise by at least $1,300 by 2016.
At a White House meeting Monday, Israel’s new prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu refused to endorse a two-state solution or to agree to President Obama’s request to halt the construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank. Obama and Netanyahu held a press conference Monday after their private meeting.
President Obama: “Now, Israel is going to have to take some difficult steps, as well. And I shared with Prime Minister the fact that, under the road map and under Annapolis, there’s a clear understanding that we have to make progress on settlements, that settlements have to be stopped in order for us to move forward. That’s a difficult issue. I recognize that. But it’s an important one, and it has to be addressed. I think the humanitarian situation in Gaza has to be addressed.”
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel doesn’t want to govern the Palestinians, but he did not endorse an independent Palestinian state.
Binyamin Netanyahu: "I want to make it clear that we don’t want to govern the Palestinians. We want to live in peace with them. We want them to govern themselves, absent a handful of powers that could endanger the state of Israel. And for this, there has to be a clear goal. The goal has to be an end to conflict. There will have to be compromises by Israelis and Palestinians alike. We’re ready to do our share. We hope the Palestinians will do their share, as well."
After the meeting, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat criticized Netanyahu’s comments.
Saeb Erekat: "Unfortunately, Mr. Netanyahu failed to mention the two-state solution, failed to mention agreements signed, failed to mention his commitment to stop settlement activities. And the only thing he mentioned was Palestinians entitled to govern themselves by themselves. How can I govern myself by myself as a Palestinian with his occupation going on on my neck on the hour, every hour, with his roadblocks segregating our towns and villages and refugee camps?"
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Obama also discussed Iran on Monday.
Binyamin Netanyahu: "But if Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, it could give a nuclear umbrella to terrorists, or worse, could actually give terrorists nuclear weapons. And that would put us all in great peril. So in that context, I very much appreciate, Mr. President, your firm commitment to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear military capability and also your statement that you’re leaving all options on the table."
President Obama told Netanyahu that his administration may back a new set of sanctions against Iran.
President Obama: "We are engaged in a process to reach out to Iran and persuade them that it is not in their interest to pursue a nuclear weapon and that they should change course. But I assured the Prime Minister that we are not foreclosing a range of steps, including much stronger international sanctions, in assuring that Iran understands that we are serious."
President Obama is seeking $46 million to establish a new military facility in Colombia. The funding request has been opposed by several advocacy groups. John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation said, “This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of US military intervention in the region.” The Pentagon has been looking for a new site in Latin America ever since Ecuador notified Washington last year that it would not renew the lease on the US base in Manta, Ecuador.
Efforts have been launched to disbar twelve former Bush administration attorneys connected to the administration’s torture program. On Monday, a coalition of advocacy groups called the Velvet Revolution filed disciplinary complaints with state bar licensing boards on the grounds that the attorneys violated the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and American law. The attorneys targeted are John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan and David Addington.
Meanwhile, former US President Bill Clinton is expected to be named today the new United Nations special envoy to Haiti.
The Supreme Court has blocked a lawsuit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI director Robert Mueller filed by a Pakistani man. Javaid Iqbal was among thousands of Muslim men rounded up after September 11. According to his lawsuit, he was held in solitary confinement, subjected to numerous beatings and denied medical care. He eventually pleaded guilty to identity fraud and was deported to Pakistan.
In news from Africa, the Nigerian military continues to carry out attacks in the oil-rich Niger Delta in an effort to oust militant groups from the region. The military has reportedly attacked largely civilian areas with gunboats and helicopters. As many as 30,000 civilians are displaced without adequate food or water, and aid agencies have been barred from the region. On Monday, militants vowed to blockade key waterways in the Niger Delta to try to prevent crude oil exports. For years, the militant groups have fought for fair distribution of oil wealth to local communities in the impoverished region.
Asari Dokubo of the Niger Delta Volunteer Force: "We will not stop. I will not stop. I will continue. We will continue to proceed, by any means necessary. If they bring peace, we will hold onto peace. If they bring war, we will hold onto war, because they cannot be shooting us, and we cannot just be raising our hand and falling and dying. No, we are going to put up a fight."
The state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. has joint-venture partnerships with major oil companies including Shell and Chevron in the Niger Delta. Next week, Shell will stand trial in New York for its alleged role in the 1995 state execution of the Nigerian writer and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists.
A group of environmental organizations have accused Shell of being the most carbon-intensive oil company in the world. In a report issued today, to coincide with the company’s annual shareholder meeting, Shell is criticized for its reliance on Nigerian crude oil, which is associated with huge levels of gas flaring; liquefied natural gas, which is highly energy-intensive; and oil from Canada’s tar sands. Shell revealed to investors last year that 30 percent of its total resources are tar sands.
In other news from Africa, the BBC is reporting Ethiopian troops have reentered Somalia, barely three months after leaving. This comes one day after Islamist militants seized Mahaday, a strategically important town north of Mogadishu.
Sri Lankan leader Mahinda Rajapaksa has declared the country to be "liberated" from Tamil Tiger rebels after a twenty-six-year war. Sri Lankan television stations broadcast footage today of a body purported to be that of Tamil Tiger leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. While many Sri Lankans have been celebrating the end of the Tamil Tigers, the Red Cross is warning northeastern Sri Lanka still faces "an unimaginable humanitarian catastrophe." Most aid groups are still barred from the region, where 8,000 civilians have been killed since January.
The Sri Lankan government has detained three Sri Lankan doctors who were treating civilians inside the conflict zone. During the war, the doctors had provided detailed information about government shelling and civilian casualties to outside media and human rights organizations. Two of the doctors have been reportedly taken to the Terrorist Investigation Division in Colombo.
The Washington Post reports the Obama administration is expanding a program initiated by President Bush aimed at checking the immigration status of virtually every person booked into local jails. By matching inmates’ fingerprints to federal immigration databases, authorities hope to pinpoint deportable undocumented immigrants before they are released from custody. The measure could result in a tenfold increase in undocumented immigrants who have been convicted of crimes and identified for deportation over the next four years.
And on Capitol Hill, Democratic Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro has introduced legislation to guarantee paid sick days to American workers. The bill would require companies with fifteen or more employees to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick leave days a year. Sen. Edward Kennedy is expected to introduce the Senate version of the Healthy Families Act later this week. Of the world’s twenty-two wealthiest nations, the United States is the only one not to guarantee paid sick days for workers.