- The Washington Times - Friday, January 24, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for Jan. 24 …

The Russian Defense Ministry is predicting "mid-February" for the launch of the American-led assault on Iraq. Israel's Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz tells colleagues privately that he expects "late February." British officials, looking at the transit schedules for 7th Armored Brigade and the second British nuclear submarine (to launch Cruise missiles), think it could slip into March. Any attack would almost certainly start with Stealth bombers, Cruise missiles and helicopter-borne strikes, all of which prefer moonless nights. The new moon comes on March 3, which means a cycle of moonless or near-moonless nights from Feb. 25 to March 10. Of course, if Bush's war is really all about Daddy, he might pick Feb. 26, the anniversary of the end of Desert Storm.

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Either Tokyo is being ultra-cautious or its leaders really know something. The Japanese government is reviewing plans to evacuate its citizens, even the tourists, from South Korea. Japan's top-selling daily Yomiuri Shimbun reports that Tokyo "will ask the United States and South Korea to hold talks with Japan about the plan as cooperation from both countries will be essential" for the evacuation of the approximately 30,000 Japanese in the country. The plan says: "If North Korea attacks South Korea, a full evacuation must be completed within 70 hours. Japanese in Seoul, the city that is expected to be the main target of an attack by the North, need to be transported by train, bus or other means to southern parts of South Korea, where it is relatively safe. Japanese standing by in the south of the country will be transported by helicopter to Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels waiting in international waters. The government will ask the U.S. government to use U.S. military planes to help evacuate Japanese who could not move to the south." American cooperation is confidently expected, since most U.S. evacuees would have nowhere to go but Japan.

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Democracy in Europe can take curious turns. The European Central Bank's Governing Council has come up with a scheme to prevent EU enlargement producing too large and unwieldy a council. Hitherto, each country that uses the euro currency has been guaranteed a seat on the bank's council. The new scheme would end that tradition, and set up a class system. The five biggest countries should share (by rotating places) four votes on the council. This would mean Germany someday being without a seat, which is not going down well in Berlin. Medium size countries should share eight votes and small countries should share three between them. Politicians in Sweden, scheduled to have a referendum on joining the euro in September, are aghast. "This will mean that Sweden would not be a full member — even if the country decides to join," says Trade Minister Leif Pagrotsky. "Those who want to join in order to have a seat at the table where decisions are made can forget about that now."

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India's foreign exchange reserves have just hit the all-time high of $71 billion, thanks to a dramatic flood of $22 billion into the country in 2002. At least a quarter of this, Indian bankers reckon, is money that had been held in secret overseas accounts by Indian businessmen and politicians. They believe that measures against money-laundering and banking secrecy imposed through the American-led war on terrorism have started squeezing the money home — and the Indian government has thoughtfully legalized the opening of foreign currency bank accounts by Indian citizens in order to ease the repatriation of the cash. After all, estimates drawn up by staff at the Reserve Bank of India suggest that while $5 billion may have come home from secret accounts abroad — but there is still another $150 billion out there.

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Expect a potent visual symbol of change in Iran in March. The country's first batch of 400 newly qualified policewomen — none older than 23 — graduates from their special training college. And they will be patrolling the streets of Tehran without the chador, the long black cloak that has been required dress for Iranian women since the Ayatollahs took over after the 1979 fall of the Shah. The issue of their dress caused prolonged debate and controversy, and finally led to a compromise. The policewomen, who except in emergencies will concentrate on crimes involving women and children, will have two sets of uniforms. The formal patrol dress will be dark trousers and a long, knee-length coat. The "special duties" dress will be a set of black overalls, which is reported to resemble a very baggy ski suit. Friendly banter about their appearance is not recommended; the young women have spent the last four years in training, and have taken courses that included judo, fencing, firearms and mine-laying. Unlike their male counterparts, they were spared the lessons in using machine guns and grenade launchers.

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