Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Iraq inquiry - UK Parliament debates

"What a tangled web we weave" - David Blunkett
Whilst the bombings and attacks in Iraq take nearly one hundred lives in just two days a debate was launched in the UK Parliament to discuss the possibility of initiating a public inquiry. The Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett gave a resounding ‘no’ to those calling for such an inquiry and refused to make any commitment to an inquiry after troops had left Iraq. She said it “was not sensible to have an inquiry at this time”. She said that any inquiry would “send the wrong signal to those that might do us harm” that Britain’s commitment was not substantial. The Plaid Cymru MP opened the debate by saying the Iraq war was a "monumental catastrophe", which was about "the breakdown in our very system of government". Both Malcolm Rifkind MP, a former Conservative Party Defence Secretary, and Ken Clarke, former Conservative Party Chancellor of the Exchequer, both challenged her on not making a commitment to any future commitment to an inquiry. Ken Clarke MP said the Commons could send a "very united message" if an inquiry like the Franks inquiry, held after the Falklands war, could be promised. She reiterated her earlier comments that it was not the right time to announce such an enquiry. Another opposition MP, Douglas Hogg said the government's argument that an inquiry should not happen while the war was still happening was similar to that used by Neville Chamberlain's government during the troubled Norwegian campaign in 1940. (A debate at that time was forced by MPs and the size of the vote against the government led to Mr Chamberlain's resignation and Winston Churchill becoming PM). She insisted in her statement to the house that the situation in Iraq was getting better. “Besides the violence we are still making strides in the country…”, but she was again interrupted and asked why she was dismissing the prospect of any further debate as to the situation in the country.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague conceded agreement that debate about the future of Iraq was more important than looking back to the past. “What ever our position on the reasons for war… there are lessons to be learnt” He added that, “Any inquiry should debate what should happen in the coming months”, but he asked that date be set for such an inquiry. He said that the argument that such an inquiry would undermine moral within the British Army did not “hold scrutiny”. He acknowledged there had been positive developments in the country but insisted the government should examine the lessons of where mistakes had been made in Iraq.

David Blunkett stood to say, “What a tangled web we weave”. The commons fell into laughter. He then went on to describe the opposition as “hypocrites”. Liberal Democrat Foreign affairs spokes person Michael Moore described the ever increasing casualty list, 2000 dead Iraqi civilians and nearly 100 US troops this month alone, and went on to say “if now is not the time to have an inquiry, when is?” He asked why if President Bush can change his mantra of “staying the course”, why Tony Blair and his government could not change. He was referring to comments the President had said on the 11th October. Bush had said, “If what we’re doing isn’t working, then it’s time to change what we’re doing”.

MPs are set to vote at 19:30 GMT on the proposal. The SNP and Plaid are using their "Opposition Day" to table the motion calling for a committee of seven senior MPs to review "the way in which the responsibilities of government were discharged in relation to Iraq". [BBC] Posted by Picasa

N Korea - 6 Party Talks to 'start in weeks'

"Is the nuclear test by the DPRK for the purpose of seeking security guarantees?"
China was seriously concerned by the nuclear test.

Just twenty days after North Korea announced it had tested a nuclear weapon the Six Party Talks may be reinitiated. Chinese and US officials have had ‘informal’ talks with North Korean representatives and according to reports talks may start within weeks [CNN]. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Tuesday that six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program could resume as early as November or December. The Chinese Foreign Ministry said earlier Tuesday that the chief envoys to the negotiations from China, North Korea and the United States held an informal meeting in Beijing and agreed to resume six-nation talks.
If talks restart, Japan, Russia and South Korea would also be involved. But while Japan welcomed the prospect of a new round of talks, it "does not intend to accept North Korea's return to the talks on the premise that it possess nuclear weapons," public broadcaster NHK quoted Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev described the announcement as “extremely positive” whilst South Korea's Foreign Ministry spokesman Choo Kyu-ho said he hoped such talks would bring a swift cessation of North Korea’s nuclear program. The Six Party Talks stalled a year ago after Pyongyang pulled out in protest at US financial sanctions imposed upon it. The UN imposed further financial and arms sanctions earlier this month after North Korea alarmed the world by testing a nuclear weapon on the 9th October [BBC]. Diplomatic efforts proceeded quickly following the test with Chinese Premier, Hu Jintao calling US President George W Bush within hours of the explosion. Chinese State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan later vitisted the United States and Russia on October 11th as Hu's special envoy. Later Tang visited the DPRK, also as Hu's special envoy, and DPRK leader Kim Jong Il met with Tang on October 19th . ROK [South Korea] President Roh Moo-hyun visited China, where the leaders of the two countries agreed to work more closely on the issue. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice then followed up with a visit to China on October 20th. [Xinhua News].

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

tvnewswatch - Return from China

China's news media can often leave one in the dark
Three weeks in China has sadly left tvnewswatch offline with only one post made since the end of September. That post was made using the previously set up e-mail to blog facility. Blogger.com does not work in China, and of course news is also difficult to get, unless staying at a western hotel. A western newspaper was impossible to obtain. China Daily, one of few English language newspapers, was not available outside big cities. In top hotels CNN and BBC World was available. Of course such hotels are well out of reach of the average Chinese citizen. A monthly salary of a Chinese citizen in a good job might just cover two nights at the Beijing International, Sheraton or Hilton hotels. The internet was the only reliable source of news outside China, though many sites were blocked. These included the BBC [though paradoxically a previously saved link in Real Player™ did open BBC World Service, BBC London and BBC 5 Live], Wikipedia and Blogger. Connections, where available, were however generally slow. All this left tvnewswatch in the dark as to furore over the veil, which dominated the British press for days after Jack Straw’s comments. The continuing violence in Iraq was rarely seen on China’s news media. CCTV-9, never the best for news, concentrated more on China’s economic development. It is the economic development that strikes the outsider on their first visit to this vast country. Construction of new buildings, factories and roads is widespread. The number of 4x4 vehicles and modern cars would probably surprise many westerners. But of little surprise was the increased pollution. Even over the smaller towns, smog, made up of traffic fumes mixed with the output of local factories and power stations, hung in the air. Beijing has a reputation for having high pollution levels, and, for the few days tvnewswatch was there, the visibility was little more than 2 or 3 city blocks. A taxi driver’s insistence that it was low cloud was not at all convincing. The North Korean nuclear test did hit the headlines in China. A BBC World Service report did help fill in the gaps of information gleaned from the Chinese media. By chance tvnewswatch had internet access at the time of this Breaking story and was able to report from China, besides restrictions on the Blogger.com website. As described above this was achieved by the post by e-mail facility, but it has to be set up ahead of time. Several days later CNN were reporting that radiation had been detected near to the test site, thus confirming the test was real and not as some had speculated, a bluff.
North Korea's nuclear test on the 9th October created consternation around the world since it was announced by the North Korean government. China unusually backed resolutions set by the UN which imposed sanctions on the country. There has been, however, criticism by some countries that the blockade was not being enforced strongly enough by Chinese authorities. Talks initiated by China with the North Korean regime have failed to bring any positive results. But besides the rhetoric coming from the US government over the past year with regards their promised serious consequences if the country should obtain nuclear weapons. Another country in Washington’s sights is Iran. Today, the Iranian government announced the opening of a new enrichment plant. The Iranian government continue to insist their nuclear industry is merely to generate electricity, something strongly disputed by western governments.
But there still remains the unfinished missions of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The US President George W Bush said today he was still optimistic for the future besides airing his concerns. "I know many are not satisfied with the situation in Iraq , I'm not satisfied with the situation either" he said today. The violence has gone from bad to worse throughout the month of October and it has been the deadliest month for US troops since October 2005. Ninety one have died and more than 150 have been injured in the last 25 days. Hundreds of Iraqis have died in the same period. And with worsening violence coming from both Sunni and Shi'ite militants, the opinion polls are showing a strong disapproval rating for both Bush and the Republican party. But besides the criticism and increasing death tolls George W Bush was still upbeat. "I know the American people support the war as long as it's a path to victory". He asserted his resolve to stay the course saying, "You can't leave until the job is done". The war continues too in Afghanistan with heavy fighting reported in recent days west of Kandahar. There are 21,000 US troops and 20,000 UN troops in the country continuing to battle the Taleban which has strengthened in the last few months. A total of 11 coalition troops have died so far this month in Afghanistan including 4 US troops.
The veil debate was in full swing as tvnewswatch returned to London. Unaware that such a debate was even brewing, an interesting situation occurred at Heathrow as a fully veiled woman passed through passport control unhindered and without unveiling to the female official. Whatever one’s personal views, there certainly appeared to be an issue of security. It was a surprise to find this was the subject of a tabloid frenzy when confronted with the media from the past 20 days. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

China angry over N Korea N-test

China has reacted angrily to North Korea's announcement that it has tested a nuclear weapon. The China Daily said in its Tuesday edition that North Korea went back on its word that it would not test any nuclear weapons. Many other Chinese papers were leading with the story with varying strengths of condemnation.

The leading world powers have already met at the UN to discuss possible retaliation to North Korea's test. The UN Security Council has proposed several sanctions against the country. President Bush has condemned the test calling it "provocative". South Korea has called for a new look at its relationship with their neighbour, whilst Japan has called the test "unacceptable". But whilst initial talks at the UN Security Council went well, it is unclear whether China and Russia will back any resolutions. Both countries have a history of abstaining from UN Security Council resolutions.

Other countries have been less hostile to North Korea 's test. Iranian State TV has said the test was a reaction to western hostility and said other countries threatened by the west may follow suit.