- The Washington Times - Monday, March 3, 2003

Insider notes from United Press International for March 3 …

The extraordinary public row between Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi during the weekend Arab League summit Cairo made for great TV, until the Egyptians belatedly pulled the plug. But it was lousy diplomacy, upsetting a carefully crafted ploy by the Bush administration. The big news from the summit was supposed to be the proposal from the United Arab Emirates for Saddam Hussein to step down and go into exile — a move that UAE officials privately told other delegation heads had the personal backing of President George W. Bush. But Gadhafi's charge that during the 1991 Gulf War, "King Fahd told me that his country was threatened and that he would cooperate with the devil to protect it," was too much for the Saudis. For any good Muslim, let alone the custodian of Islam's holy places, to cooperate with the devil is serious blasphemy. So Crown Prince Abdullah interrupted to tell Gadhafi to shut up, and went on to charge that Gadhafi was installed 35 years ago as a colonial puppet. The Crown Prince concluded: "Your lies precede you, while the grave is ahead of you." An everyday story of Arab diplomacy, with the usual results of angry demonstrations outside the Saudi Embassy in Libya and ambassadors recalled "for consultation." The real casualty was the U.S.-UAE plan — and little attention being paid to an alarmingly wild-eyed speech from Syria's President Bashar Assad claiming "After Iraq, we're next."


A lot of worried people in Moscow on Monday, as they noticed that cops on duty on the streets and in the Metro were for the first time carrying gas masks, just in case.


India's nuclear weapon gets its first real legs next week. Until its new generation of Agni missiles becomes operational, India still depends heavily on its Mirage fighter-bombers to deliver its nuclear weapons. But what India's air force has always yearned for is the ability to deliver nuclear weapons over long ranges to deter China or to complicate Pakistani air defenses by sending the strike planes on wide flanking runs via Afghanistan or Iran. Now it's about to happen. New Delhi expects to receive the first lot of the Ilyushin-78 flight refueling aircraft from Uzbekistan within a week. Defense Minister George Fernandes flies to Uzbekistan on Thursday for the delivery of the first two IL-78s. Four more of the Soviet-built tankers will follow later in the year. The Indian Air Force has already modified its multi-role Mirage-2000 warplanes for the in-flight refueling, and work has now begun on refitting the elderly but still potent Jaguars, deep penetration aircraft that will probably be tasked with the China mission. India's new Sukhoi-30 attack planes already come equipped for mid-air refueling.


Outgoing Czech President Vaclav Havel will hate to do it, but he has told aides he will attend the swearing-in ceremony for the successor he despises, self-described "Thatcherite" conservative Vaclav Klaus, whose political career was supposed to be over when he was forced from office in a party finance and corruption scandal. And in the complex way of Czech politics, it was the far left that finally put the right-wing Klaus into the presidential castle by the margin of a single vote. The first two rounds of voting in the Czech parliament saw a standoff between Klaus and the sociable former center-left premier Milos Zeman. (Prague wits said it was a contest "between the crook and the drunk.") Seeing that Zeman would not make it, the current prime minister Vladimir Spidla tried a new, clean candidate to beat Klaus, the jovial and popular professor Jan Sokol, a former dissident. Sokol should have won, but to show Spidla just how powerful they were, the far left decided to teach him a lesson. The left wing of the Social Democrats and the old communists broke ranks and voted for Klaus, who had discreetly been wooing the communists.


All those arguments among EU members over Iraq are having some real world consequences. For the first time since the government announced that Sweden would have a referendum this fall on whether to join the euro single currency, opinion polls suggest that the vote will be "No." Sweden, along with Denmark and Britain, has so far held out against joining the euro — and premier Goran Persson's government had assumed the euro's recent rise against the dollar would make the referendum a pushover. Not so. Scandinavia's big Danske Bank, which polls frequently because of a strong direct interest in the matter, finds for the first time that Sweden's "No" vote is ahead 4 percentage points. Stockholm commentators blame the EU rows over Iraq — and the grim prospects for the French and German economies, the euro's twin bulwarks.


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