- The Washington Times - Monday, January 13, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 13 …

The German government is trying to trying to squash speculation that Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has decided to bid to become the next president of the European Commission in 2004. The buzz started late last year when the chairman of Fischer's Green Party, Reinhard Butikofer, told party chiefs on a confidential basis that Fischer would "not be available to run" as the Green's leading candidate in the 2006 general election. A Fischer bid for the EU post, which could set him against Spain's current premier Jose Maria Aznar and possibly against Britain's Tony Blair, is now certain to be discussed — if only to be denied — as Fischer joins Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in Paris Tuesday for talks on French-German co-operation in Europe. One of the last top-level sessions before Paris and Berlin "re-invigorate" their alliance at the 40th anniversary celebration of their friendship treaty this month, this week's session was expected to focus on plans to have German and French ministers routinely sitting in on one another's Cabinet meetings. But Fischer's Euro-ambitions may now dominate the agenda.

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The Russian navy is heading to the Gulf. At least, a modest three-ship task force from the Pacific fleet, led by the anti-submarine frigates Admiral Panteleyev and Marshal Shaposhnikov along with a tanker are scheduled to leave Vladivostok early next month. Crews have been told to prepare for a 6-month deployment, the longest Pacific Fleet mission since the fall of the Soviet Union. The task force is commanded by senior Capt. Valery Terekhin and Russian sources claim it will purely an observation mission.

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Japan's Self Defense Forces, hitherto deliberately humbled as a mere agency in the Japanese government hierarchy, is likely to be upgraded to a full-scale ministry, which would mean both a higher profile and seat at the Cabinet table. The Self Defense Agency, as an external arm of the Cabinet office, was represented in Cabinet by the prime minister — which meant the SDA's budget requests sometimes never even reached the Cabinet for decision. Some observers expected the SDA, which has the world's second-biggest defense budget after the United States, to get ministerial status during the big government reorganization two years ago, when the much smaller Environment Agency was upgraded to a ministry. But the SDA was stopped by the pacifist-minded Social Democrat Party, one of the three parties in the then-governing coalition. But now the secretaries-general and chairmen of policy research councils for all three parties in the new coalition have recommended that the SDA be upgraded. So far, the New Komeito Party has been blocking the change. But having mollified its pacifist supporters by opposing (in vain) Japan's decision to send an Aegis-equipped warship, New Komeito is under strong pressure from its partners to recognize the dramatic change in Japan's security situation brought about the North Korean crisis and let Japan have a full-scale Defense Ministry.

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Look out for an avalanche of winter sports references in news stories about Italy's new foreign minister, Franco Frattini, a judge and member of the prestigious Council of State who was plucked from the back benches in his first parliamentary term by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Reason: handsome, youthful Frattini, 46, spends his winter vacations as a ski instructor in the Italian Alps. With one Italian paper already saying that he slalomed through his debut news conference, can Frattini's first snow job be far behind?

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Motorcyclists have traditionally terrorized God-fearing motorists. Now, a secretive seizure by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on Dec. 2 at Montreal's Dorval airport, allegedly linked to a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, has sparked an unusual call for the gang to be added to the Canadian federal government's list of terrorist organizations. A group can be declared as a terrorist organization only after a motion is passed by the federal Cabinet upon the recommendation of the solicitor-general based on information from the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service or the RCMP. While a criminal investigation continues, authorities are remaining silent about the airport incident and what was seized. RCMP Chief Superintendent Ben Soave, officer in charge of the Ontario-based Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit is in no doubt of the threat posed by the biker gang. Soave noted that Hells Angels committed 160 homicides in Quebec and injured a couple of hundred people in bombings. Soave said, "Whether it is terrorism or organized crime from a legal perspective, it is causing terror in the public's eye." Canada currently lists 16 groups as being involved in terrorism, including al Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas.

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