- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 14.

Now that war looks certain, the Kurdish question becomes urgent. A series of high-level coordination meetings is under way between officials from Turkey, Syria and Iran — each concerned about the impact on their restive Kurdish minorities of a quasi-independent Kurdistan emerging from the ruins of Iraq. This week Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's special envoy, Behzad Nabavi, was in Ankara for meetings with Turkish leaders, including President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and new premier Recev Tayyip Erdogan. And Syrian General Ghazi Kanaan, head of the Political Security Agency, met Tuesday with Gen. Sener Eruygur, commander of the Turkish Gendarmerie Forces, ostensibly to discuss border security and refugee issues. For weeks, the Kurds have feared a Turkish military incursion to wipe out the remnants of the PKK Kurdish guerillas, and to establish a Turkish presence that will prevent Iraqi Kurdistan becoming the nucleus of an independent Kurdish state — and an irresistible magnet for its own Kurds. Now they fear that the Turks, Syrians and Iranians have cooked up a common plan to crush them. Barhim Salih, prime minister of the Kurdish enclave in Northern Iraq, in Washington Friday urged U.S. officials to ensure that the Turks stayed out — "it will create havoc," he warned.

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The policy blockage between State Department, vice-President Dick Cheney and the Pentagon on North Korea could be ending. The word is that Cheney may be gravitating toward tactical alliance with Colin Powell over Korea. Cheney seems to be thinking that welcome as regime change in Pyongyang might be, the U.S. is focused now on Iraq and will focus next on Iran. And he doesn't want Korea blowing up while the U.S. has important business to get done in the Persian Gulf. Even global hegemons have to set priorities. A Cheney trip to the region in April, now being planned with State, could be the catalyst for a shift in policy.

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The Japanese government, fearing North Korea's new Rodong ballistic missiles, is to change the current law on Self-Defense Forces that forbids the military from intercepting incoming missiles without a direct order from the prime minister. In effect, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi will hand over firing authority for Japan's new upgraded Patriot PAC-2 missiles, due to start deployment in July, to the military so they can shoot down the incoming Rodong missiles without delay. A new clause on missile defense is to be added to Article 85 of the current law, which should suffice, but Article 76, defining the conditions on mobilizing Japan's Self-Defense Forces, is also to be amended — which has rather wider implications. Japan's retreat from the post-1945 pacifist tradition continues. The Aegis-class destroyer 'Myoko' is being dispatched to the Sea of Japan to monitor North Korean missile tests, and the Navy has been deployed to the Arabian Sea to aid the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign. Tokyo has now agreed to refuel warships from Italy, Spain, France, Germany and New Zealand, in addition to those of the United States and Britain.

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Who says the powers that be don't listen to the protestors? After months of negotiations, the State Department has actually done something about the inadvertent slaughter of sea turtles by Venezuelan and Honduran fishing boats. Starting this month it will be illegal to import shrimp harvested by commercial vessels in the two countries, after a finding that the practice "adversely affect endangered sea turtles." Not content with that victory, the campaign group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is now demanding that the State Department issues travel warnings against Myanmar — for unfair treatment of elephants.

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The Syrian government has barred travel agencies from working with 50 Jordanian hotels and tourism agencies on the grounds that they were "normalizers" with Israel. Jordan protests that many of the "black listed" agents only hosted Arab-Israelis, who began to swarm into Jordan to visit family and friends after the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty. Jordan says they could not turn their back to the Arab population inside Israel, particularly that the only Arab countries they were allowed to visit were Jordan and Egypt.

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One of the problems bedeviling Western intelligence services in their search for terrorists is the use of "anonymous" mobile phone cards. "Prepaid SIM "(Subscriber Identity module) cards have been used in Europe for years, and a boon to travelers from abroad. On Wednesday the Swiss parliament banned their use after Swiss law enforcement officers warned that al Qaida were using them to plot new attacks. Switzerland's new law now requires mobile phone operators to maintain record on chip users for at least two years. Critics of the bill objected that terrorists would simply buy SIMS in Britain, France or Spain which have no such law.

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