- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 17.

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So Osama bin Laden has been in the Western Hemisphere. He met the Arab community in Brazil's town of Foz do Iguacu during a brief visit in 1995, according to Brazil's news Veja, which cites intelligence sources but that a video film of bin Laden's visit exists. Bin Laden also attended a series of meeting at a local mosque, having entered Brazil from Argentina. And al-Qaida's operations chief Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, arrested two weeks ago in Pakistan, also visited the region the same year. The semi-lawless tri-state region where Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina meet, a haven for money laundering, has been attracting counter-terrorist officials for months. Gen. James Hill, in charge of U.S. Southern Command (whose remit includes Latin America), claims that Islamic groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Egypt's Al-Gamaa al-Islamiyah get up to $500 million a year from criminal networks spread across Latin America, particularly the tri-border region and Margarita Island off Venezuela. The U.S. State Department describes the region as a "focal point for Islamic extremism in Latin America."

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Chaos at the United Nations, because the usual small consultation room off the formal Security Council chamber is closed this week for renovation. So they scheduled closed-door consultations for Conference Room 7 in the first basement. But it couldn't handle the mass of media so they decided to move consultations to the formal chamber. U.N. staffs hate this because it forces them to close broadcast booths overlooking the chamber — for fear of lip-reading reporters.

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It looks like business as usual between the United States and the European Union, despite American anger at the French and Germans. With U.S. backing, NATO and the EU signed Friday a security pact that provides for the exchange of classified and secret information between the alliance and the EU's new military staff. This precedes the expected handover on April 1 of responsibility from NATO to the EU for Operation Allied Harmony in Macedonia. It will be the EU's first military mission, symbolically important despite the delays in organizing the vaunted Rapid Reaction Force of 60,000 EU troops. The Macedonian mission is more manageable, requiring only 300.

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Refitting useful military equipment past its prime is a valuable and cost-effective exercise for many militaries, as evidenced by America's continuing to field U-2s and B-52s decades after their introduction into service. In a surreal development unthinkable a decade ago, America's closest Middle East ally Israel is angling for a lucrative contract to upgrade thousands of Russian army T-72 tanks and armored personnel carriers with Israeli combat and electronics systems. Israel Military Industries chairman, retired Gen. Arie Mizrachi has had talks with Ilya Klebanov, the Russian Federation minister of Industry, Science and Technology, in charge of Russia's military-industrial complex. Mizrachi observed that Russian weapons systems lack advanced Western technology, and said, "We think that a country like Russia, which has 10 percent growth a year, needs to operate a high-tech army. We've been looking for new markets, and in addition to upgrading tanks and armored vehicles, we're offering to provide Russia with our advanced artillery and rocket technologies." IMI is thinking big, and not ruling out providing sophisticated Israeli-Russian systems to other clients in the future. IMI is already working on a $670 million project to upgrade Turkish Army M-60 tanks. The project is the world's largest tank improvement project, and may be expanded to several billion dollars.

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The Raelian cult, now operating in Israel, claims to have received 55 applications from Palestinian and Israeli parents, asking that their children — killed during the intifada — be cloned. The Raelians' star scientist, Dr. Brigitte Boisselier, flew into Tel Aviv to visit Eve, the first cloned human baby, whose parents apparently live there — but they ducked the Raelian news conference, fearing the Israeli law that bans human cloning. The Raelians, who believe humans were cloned by extraterrestrial visitors and that the Hebrew word for the God of Geneisis — Elohim — means "those who came from the sky" say that want to build a temple in Jerusalem. And now the experiments are over, says Boisselier, no more freebies: "This is a very expensive process, so from now on, we will need to demand payment. We will publicize the exact fee shortly."

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The Chinese effort to enter space is not so socialist that it isn't above hustling a bit of extra funding for its 18th recoverable launch vehicle in April. Advertisements have been set out to solicit business to carry experiments into space. Twenty percent of the fee (negotiable) is to be paid upfront.




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