Foreign news roundup: Indirect talks closer for Israelis, Palestinians

Thursday, May 6, 2010; A12


Another small step toward indirect talks

Israel and the Palestinians crept closer to indirect peace talks Wednesday as U.S. Middle East envoy George J. Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to set the rules for Palestinian statehood discussions.

Given how often Israelis and Palestinians have met face-to-face over the past 17 years, achieving the rather modest goal of indirect talks led by a U.S. mediator has proved staggeringly difficult.

The stalemate in recent months has been over the sequencing of the issues. Israel wants negotiations to begin with a discussion of security arrangements and a Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, an Israeli official said. For the Palestinians, the two paramount issues are territorial borders -- precisely how much of the West Bank Israel will surrender -- and the future of Jerusalem.

Despite a climate of mistrust, the Obama administration has decided to delve deeply into Middle East peacemaking, with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates saying recently that the lack of progress toward Israeli-Palestinian peace is affecting U.S. national security interests.

Mitchell, who has been informally shuttling between the sides, plans to see Netanyahu again Thursday, the prime minister's office said. On Saturday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may formally agree to resume negotiations that have been dormant for 16 months.

-- Janine Zacharia


Taliban bombers strike in southwest

Taliban suicide bombers disguised as police officers attacked a government compound in southwestern Afghanistan on Wednesday in an assault that left 13 people dead, including a provincial council member and all nine attackers, authorities said.

The Taliban took responsibility for the attack, which came as the provincial council was meeting in Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. The militant group said the council was trying to turn Afghans against the militants.

Many insurgents fled to Nimroz, on the border with Iran, this year when troops conducted an offensive to rout the Taliban from neighboring Helmand province. Nimroz is also a major trafficking route for Afghanistan's opium trade.

-- Associated Press


New Stalin statue angers nationalists

Ukrainian Communists on Wednesday unveiled the first monument in Ukraine's modern history to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, fueling tension between the country's pro-Russian east and nationalist west.

World War II veterans waved red flags and sang patriotic songs as the eight-foot-high granite statue was unveiled in the mainly Russian-speaking city of Zaporizhya, in eastern Ukraine.

Stalin is a symbol of Russian oppression, particularly in the Ukrainian-speaking west and center of the country, because of his role in the mass famine in 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. But he is held in regard by some older people in the mainly Russian-speaking east and south.

-- Reuters


Court rebuffs U.S. on extradition

A French court rejected a high-profile extradition request from the United States on Wednesday, refusing to hand over an Iranian engineer accused of evading U.S. export controls to buy technology for military firms involved in Iran's nuclear program.

The case of Majid Kakavand, 37, showcased the United States' pursuit of people accused of obtaining technology or weapons for Iran's military, in many cases enlisting help from foreign countries.

Yet such cooperation is not simple, as the court ruling indicates. Kakavand's case dragged on for 14 months after his arrest as judges tried to determine whether his business dealings violated French law as well as U.S. law -- a necessary condition for extradition.

The three-judge panel decided they did not.

Pirates hijack oil tanker in Gulf of Aden: A Liberia-flagged oil tanker with 23 Russian crew members aboard was hijacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden, and a Russian warship was en route to the scene, the European Union's anti-piracy force said. No fatalities or injuries were reported.

-- From news services

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