Pressure mounts on Israel as it rejects NPT

Oliver Scanlan
8 May 2009

Diplomatic pressure on Israel mounted this week as Rose Gottemoeller, the US assistant secretary of state for verification and compliance, said at the UN on Tuesday that it was a major goal of the US for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. On the same day, in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), Vice President Joe Biden called for an unambiguous Israeli commitment to a two-state solution and for a cessation of settlement activity on occupied land.

On Wednesday, Israel dismissed secretary Gottemoeller's comments, saying that the NPT had "proven its ineffectiveness". Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite saying that Israel is ready to begin Israeli-Palestinian peace talks "immediately", has still to publicly endorse a Palestinian state. 

The toD verdict: Secretary Gottemoeller's comments at the United Nations were unusual for two reasons. First, it is extremely rare for a United States government officials to offer even oblique criticism of Israeli policy in such a high profile forum. Second, in an almost blasé, assumptive fashion, Gottemoeller reversed long-standing US policy of calculated ambiguity regarding the Israeli nuclear deterrent in referring to the arsenal directly, in a list that included Pakistan and North Korea; these comments were certainly not calculated to please either policy makers in Jerusalem, nor the Israeli lobby back home in the US.

The Israeli lobby's most prominent caucus, AIPAC, found no cause for comfort from the Vice President. "You're not going to like me saying this," said Biden before calling for Israeli support for a two-state solution and an end to all settlement activity. Although he sweetened his comments by referring to the United State's "non-negotiable" commitment to Israel's security and the threat of Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu's studied elusiveness regarding the idea of a Palestinian state has now been thrown into sharp relief.

It is too early to be sure, but in these two events it seems possible to discern a new, firmer attitude in Washington toward its key ally in the middle east, in stark contrast to the uncritical stance that underpinned the relationship during the Bush administration. With Israel already under fire from the UN over its conduct in Gaza and its land policies in Bethlehem, the prospect of the United States joining, to a degree, with other voices in the international community to limit the excesses of a right-leaning Israeli government at last seems possible.

Biden's AIPAC speech below

Violence in Chad threatens refugees

Fighting between Chad government forces and rebels puts at risk humanitarian relief aimed at tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons in the country, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday. Ron Redmond told reporters that the UNHCR had moved 18 of its staff away from the conflict zone in Koukou Angarana where 22,000 refugees from Darfur and 60,000 other displaced persons are based.

Key Singapore terrorist apprehended

It was reported on Friday that Mas Selamat Kastari, the suspected Singaporean leader of terrorst group Jemaah Islamiah, has been rearrested after spending more than a year on the run. Kastari, who escaped from a Singpore detention centre in February 2008, was arrested in Johor, a state in southern Malaysia, in a joint operation between Singaporean and Malaysian security forces. Jemaah Islamiah are a terrorist group with al-Qaeda links who are thought to be behind the 2002 bombings in Bali, Indonesia, which left 200 people dead.

North Korea defiant as US threatens "consequences"

Stephen Bosworth, the US special envoy to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, warned on Friday that the communist state will face consequences if it goes ahead with a second nuclear test. However, he was forced to concede that there was little anyone could do to prevent the test altogether. Speaking after a meeting in Seoul with South Korea's foreign minister, Bosworth said that "we can't control...what North Korea does". At the same time, a spokesman from the DPRK Foreign Ministry said that North Korea would continue to bolster its nuclear deterrent, saying that "the US hostile policy towards the DPRK remains unchanged."

British and American Troops killed in heavy Afghan combat

In what was the most lethal day for UK armed forces in Afghanistan for two months, on Thursday four British troops were killed in Helmand province. The deaths, which occurred in three separate incidents, bring the total British death toll in Afghnaistan since 2001 to 157. According to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), at least sixteen Afghan civilians also died in the attacks with more than thirty being wounded.

In a separate attack on Friday, five foreign troops, including three Americans and two Latvians, were killed in northeast Afghanistan. According to American military spokeswoman, Captain Elizabeth Mathias, the attack occurred in Kunar province near the Pakistan border.    

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