- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 15 …

A high-powered delegation of Russian oil officials and executives was due to land in Baghdad Wednesday to secure Russian energy interests ahead of a war. Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Saltanov, Deputy Energy Minister Ivan Matlashov, and the heads of LUKoil and other big energy groups were on board, according to one member of the delegation, Zarubezhneft chief Nikolai Tokaryov. The chartered flight was organized by pipeline specialist Stroitransgas, a partner of Russian Gazprom energy giant. Iraq last month asked Moscow to pick a new Russian partner to replace LUKoil, punished for its discreet contacts with the U.S.-backed Iraqi rebels, in the West Qurna-2 oilfield development project in eastern Iraq. It now looks as if Stoitransgas will take over. Two other Russian groups, Zarubezhneft and Rosneft, are hoping to replace the French at another development field at Nahr-Umr. The question is why Moscow thinks it worth investing its prestige in deals with a regime with such a questionable shelf life.

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Syria has given no explanation for its sudden cancellation of a scheduled visit by President Bashar Assad to Tehran Wednesday for talks with Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Informed speculation links it to a sudden panic in Damascus after reports leaked that Russia had agreed to build a nuclear power station in Syria. The report was swiftly denied, but Syrian air defense units went onto a heightened alert for fear of a swift Israeli pre-emptive strike.

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Senior Bush administration officials are wondering why nobody seems to have noticed a small paragraph in the latest CIA report to Congress on nuclear proliferation: "China is completing assistance on two Iranian nuclear projects: a small research reactor and a zirconium production facility at Esfahan that will enable Iran to produce cladding for reactor fuel.(1) As a party to the NPT, Iran is required to accept IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) safeguards on its nuclear material. The IAEA's Additional Protocol requires states to declare production of zirconium fuel cladding and gives the IAEA the right of access to resolve questions or inconsistencies related to the declarations, but Iran has made no moves to bring the Additional Protocol into force. Zirconium production, other than production of fuel cladding, is not subject to declaration or inspection."

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One of the Dark Continent's political mysteries has been solved. A former member of an apartheid death squad has confirmed that Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel, was assassinated in a 1986 plane crash in South Africa in which 33 other people also died. Namibian national Hans Louw, a former member of South Africa's clandestine ops Civil Cooperation Bureau, has revealed the aircraft was deliberately lured to its crash by a false navigation beacon installed by South African military intelligence. Louw is serving a 28-year term in Baviaanspoort Prison near Pretoria for killings unconnected to the CCB. Louw asserts that he was part of a "clean-up team" whose job was to go to the crash site, and execute Machel if he survived the disaster. Machel was killed on impact as the aircraft crashed at Mbuzini. Machel's widow, Gracia, is now the wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela.

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The Separation Wall being built by Tel Aviv as a border between Israel and the Occupied Territories is "a monster," say U.S. government Middle East experts. Most of it is actually a series of fences and stretches some 150 feet or so wide. The wall itself is made of gray, prefabricated slabs standing on a broad cement base and climbs to more than 28 feet in height. It will be longer than the Berlin Wall and twice as high, with a round guard tower every 900 feet or so, and far more high-tech with cameras and motion sensors. The finished wall, costing upward of $1 million a mile, will be bordered by a 12-foot wide trench and all Palestinian property within 70 feet of the wall is slated for demolition. The completed segment is now close to 70 miles in length, they said, and the full wall is expected to stretch to 220 miles.

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Author John Le Carre, while insisting that he "would love to see Saddam's downfall," may startle some of his many American fans with the superheated diatribe he published in Wednesday's London Times. "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War," thunders the former British intelligence agent whose pen brought us George Smiley and "The Spy Who Came In From The Cold."

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