- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Inside notes from United Press International for March 6 …

No, despite the worth crisis in Franco-American relations since Charles De Gaulle expelled U.S. troops from French soil in 1966, there is no serious suggestion in the Bush administration of boycotting this year's G8 summit — at which French President Jacques Chirac is to be the host. The summit is scheduled for June 2-3 at the French Alpine resort of Evian. But one National Security Council aide has been heard asking why in the name of Lafayette should the American president "take part in a photo-op publicity stunt for bottled French water?"

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The departure of Policy Planning Director Richard Haass leaves a big gap at the State Department, depriving Secretary of State Colin Powell of a key aide and useful ally in Washington's bureaucratic wars. Haass takes over from Les Gelb running the blue-ribbon Council on Foreign Relations on July 1. And while there were no direct policy clashes that led Haass to leave the Bush administration, he has left his friends in little doubt of his deep worry at the way some policies are going. Haass used to run the Middle East desk at the National Security Council in the first Bush administration, and is not happy at the way Irangate survivor Elliot Abrams is now doing that job. Haass fears that there will be no serious U.S. pressure on Israel to withdraw from settlements in the occupied territories, and no real energy put into the "road map" to peace nor into the Quartet, the diplomatic mechanism that combines the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union to get a Middle East peace process moving again. Haass also fears that there is little political will in the White House to prevent the current rift with the European allies from lasting. After a lot of bruising battles, Haass is glad to be leaving, friends say, but feels a touch guilty at leaving Powell unsupported in the firing line.

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At least some oil producers are doing well out of the current crisis. The latest winner seems to be Iraq. According to the latest figures from U.N. monitors, Iraq has boosted its output and exported 13.2 million barrels of oil in the week ending Feb. 28. That was highest figure in four weeks, reports the UN's Office of the Iraq Program, adding that the exports netted $370 million at an average price of $28.70 per barrel. And the biggest customer, taking its usual 56 percent of Iraq's supervised output was the United States. Vladimir Lenin, the first Soviet leader, used to boast of selling capitalists the rope that would be used to hang them. Now Iraq seems to be selling the jet fuel to the warplanes that will bomb them.

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Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is defying the advice of his political aides, and bracing himself to support the Bush administration on Iraq — a move that will be highly unpopular in Japan where polls show up to 80 percent of voters against the war. "There are times when we might make a mistake if we follow public opinion," Koizumi told a House of Councilors Budget Committee meeting Wednesday. "History proves the point that in many cases, it is not right to be swayed by public opinion." In the context of the current crisis over North Korea's nuclear ambitions, Koizumi feels Japan has no choice but to stick with the American alliance. He has already broken with decades of Japanese pacifist tradition to send Aegis-equipped warships and logistics units to support U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. Colleagues in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, noting that the government's approval rating has already dipped dangerously below 50 percent, fear that a Koizumi statement backing Bush would lose another 10-percent support overnight. Koizumi's own staff blame the media. "What's bad is the way (the media) asks questions," complains Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda. "If you ask whether a war is good or bad, everybody says a war is bad. I wonder if you can call that public opinion."

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As expected, Armenia's incumbent President Robert Kocharyan cheated his way to a thumping victory in the election run-off vote Wednesday. Some constituencies recorded a 110-percent turnout — reflecting the first mathematically impossible announcement of the results that claimed Kocharyan had won with 69.8 percent of the vote, with the remaining 39.2 percent going to opposition leader Stepan Demirchian. After the wave if arrests of Demirchian's campaign staff, international observers of the vote were not surprised to see blatant cheating. In the first round of voting, the OSCE monitors recorded widespread ballot-box stuffing, voter intimidation, violence against opposition activists, counting fraud and ballot falsification. This time, the head of the Council of Europe's monitoring group, British Liberal peer Richard Johnston, declared "Our observers witnessed ballot-box stuffing." Ah, the wonders of post-Soviet democracy.




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