US and Iran
to hold talks amid spy row
By Andrew Gumbel in Los Angeles
Published: 28 May
US and Iranian diplomats are scheduled to meet in Baghdad
today, a rare instance of dialogue between the two countries intended to focus
on their common security concerns in Iraq.
Any hopes for detente between the two countries has been
overshadowed, however, by new US
military manoeuvres in the waters of the Gulf and by Iranian allegations, made
public over the weekend, that the US
is running spy networks in Iran’s
centre and south.
The Iranian government yesterday summoned the Swiss
ambassador – who looks after US interests in the absence of diplomatic
relations between Iran
and America –
to protest against the spying network, Iranian television reported.
Today’s talks mark a softening in the Bush administration’s
stance, which previously rejected dialogue with Tehran
pending the resolution of the nuclear issue. The rhetoric between the two
countries remains embittered, however.
A number of diplomatic observers expressed doubts that the Baghdad
meeting would go much beyond the pre-agreed talking points.
accuses the US
of holding five of its nationals in Iraq.
Washington says the men are
spies. The US,
meanwhile, has expressed alarm at the detention of several Iranian-Americans,
including Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East
programme at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars in Washington,
who was arrested in December during a trip to visit her mother.
However, officials said that the issue of the detained
citizens would not be on today’s agenda, which focuses on Iraq
The White House sees its relationship with Iran
evolving on two tracks – one of co-operation on Iraq,
where both countries have a stake in stabilisation, and one of continuing
toughness on Iran’s
Responding to the new allegations of US
spy networks, which Iran
claimed to have broken up, the Bush administration chose to take the high road.
The White House spokesman Dana Perino did not respond to the
allegations themselves, commenting: "We urge Iran
to play a positive role in Iraq
… and stop blaming everyone else for problems they are only bringing on
Iran said it had "succeeded in identifying and striking
blows at several spy networks comprised of infiltrating elements from the Iraqi
occupiers in western, south-western and central Iran," using shorthand for
the US and its allies.
The Big Question: What does the World Bank do, and where
does it go from here?
By Stephen Foley
Published: 18 May
Why is the World Bank in the spotlight?
Because of a woman called Shaha Riza, the girlfriend of the
slightly more famous Paul Wolfowitz, who is the neo-conservative advocate of
military action in Iraq,
the US defence
department No 2 ahead of the invasion and more recently the president of the
World Bank. Or as we are likely to be saying tomorrow, "the former
Ms Riza worked for the World Bank before her partner took
over as president in June 2005. She was moved to the US State Department to
avoid a conflict of interest, but stayed on the bank’s payroll, with a salary –
negotiated with Mr Wolfowitz – that shot up from nearly £66,500 a year to
£90,000. After charges of favouritism, an internal investigation damned the pay
rise as excessive and said Mr Wolfowitz broke bank rules in the way he decided
the issue. He was negotiating terms of his departure yesterday, still
protesting that he had done nothing wrong.
What is the World Bank anyway?
The organisation was set up in 1944, amid the ashes of the
Second World War, to fund reconstruction and economic redevelopment. Its first
loan was to devastated France.
Its mission has evolved over the subsequent decades, so that now it is the arm
of the international system charged with alleviating poverty in the world’s
least developed countries. In 2005 alone it handed out more than £11bn in loans
and grants for nigh on 300 projects. Funded by its own borrowing and by 184
member countries in proportion to their wealth, it is dominated by its biggest
contributor, the United States,
which has traditionally picked the president. The appointment of Mr Wolfowitz
has sharpened anti-globalisation campaigners’ criticism that the bank can act
like an arm of US foreign policy.
Surely Ms Riza’s pay rise is a trivial affair?
It looks that way if you get bogged down in the minutiae of
whether Mr Wolfowitz tried and failed to recuse himself from decision-making on
Ms Riza’s pay, or of whether the bank’s ethics rules are as black and white as
they should be. But the reality is that the issue is a pretext for Mr
Wolfowitz’s enemies inside the bank to take issue with his leadership. He has
made too many enemies because of an autocratic management style and because he
has surrounded himself with cronies from his Pentagon days. And then there is
the bigger question over the direction he is taking the bank.
Mr Wolfowitz has pushed "anti-corruption" to the
top of the World Bank agenda, promising to use its power to pressure developing
world dictators who have skimmed World Bank loans to fund their own lifestyles.
But more recently Mr Wolfowitz has argued to make loans
conditional on political change by corrupt regimes . It is a strategy that
opponents say is unfair, since the US-dominated bank gets to judge who is
corrupt and who not. So far, the bank has threatened withholding funds from Uzbekistan,
which has expelled US soldiers, while continuing activities in US allies such
as Pakistan and
is a strategy, too, which critics say can only further penalise some of the
world’s poorest peoples.
Who claims the bank is exacerbating poverty, and why?
Hilary Benn, the UK’s
international development secretary, made a stand on the issue of conditional
loans last autumn, threatening to withhold a (fractional) part of the UK’s
funding for the World Bank. He succeeded in watering down Mr Wolfowitz’s plans
to limit loans to country’s deemed to have corrupt regimes, and argued that the
bank should move faster to eliminate other types of conditions, too.
Mr Benn is aligning himself with a community of
non-governmental organisations which have long fought the World Bank’s agenda.
Its loans have traditionally been tied to pledges from receiving governments
that infrastructure projects should be privatised – generating work in many
cases for Western companies – or that other public sector reforms be enacted
along Western lines. From Ghana to Bolivia, where the privatisation of
essential services has ended subsidies for water supplies, to Haiti, where an
end to rice subsidies impoverished the country’s rice farmers, World Bank
conditions have been blamed for exacerbating the suffering of the very poorest.
Non-governmental organisations have begun a wave of protests
which started at the bank’s meeting in Paris
earlier this year. Christian Aid and War on Want in the UK
are among the signatories to a Europe-wide petition demanding change.
Are there criticisms in other areas?
It is not only in the area of social and economic policy
that an anti-globalisation alliance has been developing a critique of the bank.
On the environment, it stands accused of often disregarding the well-being of
local peoples and, by its continued support for oil and gas and mining projects
in the developing world, exacerbating global warming. In 2001, after years of
criticism from green groups, the bank agreed to study its fossil fuels
projects, and a report prepared by Indonesia’s
former environment minister, Emil Salim, concluded there is little evidence
that such projects enrich local populations rather than the elites and Western
What’s the World Bank’s defence?
The bank says that it must set conditions on loans. Though
in most cases they are at low, or no interest rates, they are loans, after all,
and it needs to be assured that they are paid back. Criticisms that it is
favouring Western companies have stung it into reforms, it says, and it is
operating in a more transparent way than it was a decade ago. Its September
2005 review of the issue said its conditions had been "transparently
disclosed and clearly defined". The Wolfowitz affair, though, puts all
these issues back on the table and the debate over a successor – including even
whether it should no longer be an automatic American appointee – means that the
World Bank’s future direction is unclear as never before.
So who might take over?
With so much controversy, the choice of a successor to Mr
Wolfowitz is likely to be an agonising one, particularly since the organisation
has been revealed to be split along US-European lines. There could be pressure
to end the practice of having the US
president automatically nominating an American for the job, but there seems
little sign of the White House agreeing to that just yet.
In the event that a new president comes from the Washington
establishment, one possible candidate is the current Treasury Secretary, Hank
Paulson, a former Wall Street banker whose reputation as a campaigning
environmentalist made him a surprising choice for a Bush administration job in
the first place. Other names being bandied about include former Deputy
Secretary of State Robert Zoellick and Deputy Treasury Secretary Robert
Has the World Bank been good for the world’s poor?
* It has backed infrastructure projects that have brought
clean water and electricity to millions
* It loans or grants more than $11bn (£5.5bn) to around 300
development projects every year
* World Bank loans give confidence to other investors and
businesses and stimulate local economies
* The insistence on Western-style governance as a condition
of loans promotes policies that hurt the poor
* Refusing to deal with corrupt regimes only compounds the
misery for their citizens
* By supporting fossil-fuel development, it is contributing
to global warming
Leading article: An attack on civil liberties that won’t
make us safer
Published: 28 May
has witnessed sustained assaults on its liberties at various times, notably
under Charles I. Then, Parliament rose memorably to the challenge. Not much
chance of that nowadays, alas, as the Government prepares a fresh assault on
civil rights in the form of the new "stop and question" powers it
intends to grant the police.
As ever, Tony Blair is artfully presenting the proposals
using tried and tested anti-elitist language: those arguing against the new
powers are lambasted as the selfish and squeamish few who prize
"their" freedoms above the right of 60 million law-abiding
"ordinary" people to walk the streets in safety. They are the dreaded
liberal snobs who care only about the rights of bombers. It’s the old refrain,
and one that distorts and paralyses so much public debate in this country.
What looks likely to get lost in this exchange is the fact
that the police are about to gain a very significant increase in powers; the
principle that citizens have to commit a crime before the police can detain
them – a basic cornerstone of this country’s notion of liberty – is about to be
severely undermined. Once surrendered, these rights will be difficult to claw
back. Moreover, the potential victims of this change may not always be the
robed and bearded bombers of popular imagination.
Libertarian arguments not the only ones to be made against
this change. There is a reasonable suspicion that what we are seeing here is
not far-sighted statesmanship but short-termist party politics.
The two sponsors of "stop and question", Mr Blair
and John Reid, are both about to leave the stage this month and in a hurry to
secure their respective legacies. This offers part of the explanation for the
haste with which the proposals have been introduced, with a view to their
becoming law in the autumn. Their probable aim appears to be to lock Gordon
Brown into following the Blairite security agenda and to embarrass the Tories
by putting them on the wrong side of the same agenda.
There could also be great practical problems when it comes
to putting these proposals into effect. One reason why the old "sus"
laws were rightly abandoned was because they left an entire community feeling
stigmatised and singled out. The result was the Brixton riots of 1981. This
time it will be young Muslims rather than blacks who will be the unwanted
recipients of police attention. The worry is that the outcome – the
homogenisation of an entire ethnic or religious community, leading to serious
disturbances – will be the same.
This government has got too used to bouncing Parliament and
the country into accepting ever more stringent restrictions of civil liberties
by uttering the talismanic words "security" and "terror".
It feels enabled to do so by opinion polls that appear to show that the public
values its safety, loosely conceived, above almost all other considerations,
including liberty, no doubt because most people believe it is someone else’s
liberty rather than their own that is at risk.
Messrs Blair and Reid can thus relax in the certain
knowledge that most people will greet whatever they do in the field of civil
liberties with a degree of indifference. Whether they are advancing the
struggle against terrorism with these instruments is questionable, however. The
most potent weapon against Islamist terrorism in this country is the
enthusiastic co-operation of the law-abiding majority of Muslims with the
forces of law and order. They may well be less inclined to lend the police that
co-operation if they feel that the police have been given special powers to
harass their community.
Letters: Charities and politics
Charities will regret becoming involved in politics
Published: 28 May
Sir: As the manager of a non-charitable civil liberties
campaign group (I write in my own capacity, and these are not necessarily the
views of NO2ID) I have the greatest admiration for Baroness Kennedy, but I fear
her piece "Charities must be free to engage in politics" (25 May) is
politically naive. Charities Law has just undergone a revolution, and we have
this weekend seen the consequence that many predicted: the state flexing its
muscles and "suggesting" that charitable schools must do what
politicians want if they are to keep their privileges. There will be more where
that comes from.
For the 400 years before 2005 charitable status was not
justified by a quid pro quo. Once a function was deemed charitable, and the
organisation stuck to that function, it was safe from political interference.
We’ve lost that already. Pitching charities fully into political sphere as
Helena Kennedy suggests, would add to the institutional dangers.
She supposes charities would retain their present ethos, and
just add to their public voice. However, when the massive resources provided by
the public’s generosity are potentially available to wield for advocacy
purposes, charities and charitable conduct will become (more than the present
administration has already contrived to make them) political battlegrounds, and
political instruments, with a vicious circle of ever more regulation and more
lobbying. The Electoral Commission would get involved. There would be a quango
to check what was being said in political advertising, whether it matched the
declared goals of the organisation, and to trace the funds used. Other
non-profits would be smeared as "buying" freedom from regulation by
not taking tax-breaks. To see where this ends look to Putin’s Russia,
where all private organisations must be registered, being suspect as potential
enemies of the state.
It is a distinguishing feature of liberal societies, and
British society in particular, that they have a private civil society with
varied institutions having their own goals independent of power politics. That
is in danger already. Pace Baroness Kennedy, we should fear the Office of the
Third Sector’s mission to "promote" voluntary activity; promotion
inevitably means colonisation, as the compliant are weaned on subsidy and
subsidy is conditional on compliance. We should welcome a political role for
and in charities as warmly as we do MRSA in hospitals.
GUY E S HERBERT