Monday, 23 June 2008

Sunday, 22 June 2008

IW: We've had the credit crisis, the food crisis, the oil crisis.
This weekend the wheels began to truly come off in Afghanistan.
Cross-border attacks, fire from Pakistan on NATO positions, NATO generals clamouring for more men, Bush backtracking on Iran. This is the weekend of the Pakistan Crisis.
Lebanon, Somali and Zimbabwe are on fire, Darfur starving, the 22nd female suicide bomber in Iraq this year; everyone eyeing the oil; the Americans have too many fires to fight, and Pakistan/Afghanistan is slipping away from them.
It's summer here in The Valley, 30 degrees today. Picnics in orchards, paddling pools and ponies up on Les Hautes Chaumes.
The world's burning. We have nobody in the White House until January, and Bush will soon be off for some bush-bashing in Crawford.
Meanwhile, the Israelis quietely go about local diplomacy, in what looks like a clearing of the decks for their own assault on Iran, because they can't wait until January - truce with Hamas, negotiations with Syria, peace talks in the Lebanon with Hizbollah. And one very big air exercise that looks like its all about Iran, and soon.
I'm not at ease.

India's growth outstrips crops
JALANDHAR, India: With the right technology and policies, India could help feed the world. Instead, it can barely feed itself.
India's supply of arable land is second only to that of the United States, its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, and its industrial innovation is legendary. But when it comes to agriculture, its output lags far behind potential. For some staples, India must turn to already stretched international markets, exacerbating a global food crisis.
It was not supposed to be this way.
Forty years ago, a giant development effort known as the Green Revolution drove hunger from an India synonymous with famine and want. Now, after a decade of neglect, this country is growing faster than its ability to produce more rice and wheat.
The problem has grown so dire that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called for a Second Green Revolution "so that the specter of food shortages is banished from the horizon once again."
And while Singh worries about feeding the poor, India's growing affluent population demands not only more food but also a greater variety.
Today Indian agriculture is a double tragedy. "Both in rice and wheat, India has a large untapped reservoir. It can make a major contribution to the world food crisis," said S. Swaminathan, a plant geneticist who helped bring the Green Revolution to India.
India's own people are paying as well. Farmers, most subsisting on small, rain-fed plots, are disproportionately poor, and inflation has soared past 11 percent, the highest in 13 years.
Experts blame the agriculture slowdown on a variety of factors.
The Green Revolution introduced high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat, expanded the use of irrigation, pesticides and fertilizers, and transformed the northwestern plains into India's breadbasket. Between 1968 and 1998, the production of cereals in India more than doubled.
But since the 1980s, the government has not expanded irrigation and access to loans for farmers, or to advance agricultural research. Groundwater has been depleted at alarming rates.
The Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington says changes in temperature and rain patterns could diminish India's agricultural output by 30 percent by the 2080s.
Family farms have shrunk in size and quantity, and a few years ago mounting debt began to drive some farmers to suicide. Now many find it more profitable to sell their land to developers of industrial buildings.
Among farmers who stay on their land, many are experimenting with growing high-value fruits and vegetables that prosperous Indians are craving, but there are few refrigerated trucks to transport their produce to modern supermarkets.
A long and inefficient supply chain means that the average farmer receives less than a fifth of the price the consumer pays, a World Bank study found, far less than farmers in, say, Thailand or the United States.
Surinder Singh Chawla knows the system is broken. Chawla, 62, bore witness to the Green Revolution — and its demise.
Once, his family grew wheat and potatoes on 20 acres. They looked to the sky for rains. They used cow manure for fertilizer. Then came the Mexican semi-dwarf wheat seedlings that the revolution helped introduce to India. Chawla's wheat yields soared. A few years later, the same happened with new high-yield rice seeds.
Increasingly prosperous, Chawla finally bought his first tractor in 1980.
But he has since witnessed with horror the ills the revolution wrought: in a common occurrence here, the water table under his land has sunk by 100 feet over three decades as he and other farmers irrigated their fields.
By the 1980s, government investment in canals fed by rivers had tapered off, and wells became the principal source of irrigation, helped by a shortsighted government policy of free electricity to pump water.
Here in Punjab, more than three-fourths of the districts extract more groundwater than is replenished by nature.
Between 1980 and 2002, the government continued to heavily subsidize fertilizers and food grains for the poor, but reduced its total investment in agriculture. Public spending on farming shrank by roughly a third, according to an analysis of government data by the Center for Policy Alternatives in New Delhi.
Today only 40 percent of Indian farms are irrigated. "When there is no water, there is nothing," Chawla said.
And he sees more trouble on the way. The summers are hotter than he remembers. The rains are more fickle. Last summer, he wanted to ease out of growing rice, a water-intensive crop.
The gains of the Green Revolution have begun to ebb in other countries, too, like Indonesia and the Philippines, agriculture experts say. But the implications in India are greater because of its sheer size.
India raised a red flag two years ago about how heavily the appetites of its 1.1 billion people would weigh on world food prices. For the first time in many years, India had to import wheat for its grain stockpile. In two years it bought about 7 million tons.
Today, two staples of the Indian diet are imported in ever-increasing quantities because farmers cannot keep up with growing demand — pulses, like lentils and peas, and vegetable oils, the main sources of protein and calories, respectively, for most Indians.
"India could be a big actor in supplying food to the rest of the world if the existing agricultural productivity gap could be closed," said Adolfo Brizzi, manager of the South Asia agriculture program at the World Bank in Washington. "When it goes to the market to import, it typically puts pressure on international market prices, and every time India goes for export, it increases the supply and therefore mitigates the price levels."
In April, in a village called Udhopur, not far from here, Harmail Singh, 60, wondered aloud how farmers could possibly be expected to grow more grain.
"The cultivable land is shrinking and government policies are not farmer friendly," he said as he supervised his wheat harvest. "Our next generation is not willing to work in agriculture. They say it is a losing proposition."
The luckiest farmers make more money selling out to land-hungry mall developers.
Gurmeet Singh Bassi, 33, blessed with a farm on the edges of a booming Punjabi city called Ludhiana, sold off most of his ancestral land. Its value had grown more than fivefold in two years. He made enough to buy land in a more remote part of the state and hire laborers to till it.
Meanwhile, Chawla's neighbors migrated to North America. They were happy to lease their land to him, if he was foolish enough to stay and work it, he said. Today, he cultivates more than 100 acres.
Last year, on a small patch of that land, he planted what no one in his village could imagine putting on their plate: baby corn, which he learned was being lapped up by upscale urban Indian restaurants and even sold abroad.
At the time, baby corn brought a better profit than the government's price for his wheat crop.
This had been the Green Revolution's other pillar — a fixed government price for grain. A farmer could sell his crop to a private trader, but for many small tillers, it was far easier to approach the nearest government granary, and accept their rate.
For years, those prices remained miserably low, farmers and their advocates complained, and there was little incentive for farmers to invest in their crop. "For farmers," said Swaminathan, the plant geneticist, "a remunerative price is the best fertilizer."
Swaminathan's adage proved true this year. After two years of having to import wheat, the government offered farmers a substantially higher price for their grain: farmers not only planted slightly more wheat but also sold much more of their harvest to the state. As a result, by May, the country's buffer stocks were at record levels.
Nanda Kumar, India's most senior bureaucrat for food, said the country would not need to buy wheat on the world market this year. That is good news, for India and the world, but how long it will remain the case is unclear.
Will greater demand for food and higher market prices enrich farmers, eventually, encouraging them to stay on their land? There is potential, but other conditions, like India's inefficient transportation and supply chains, would have to improve too.
How to address these challenges is a matter of debate.
From one quarter comes pressure to introduce genetically modified crops with greater yields; from another come lawsuits to stop it. And from yet another come pleas to mount a greener Green Revolution.
Alexander Evans, author of a recent paper on food prices published by Chatham House, a British research institution, said: "This time around, it needs to be more efficient in its use of water, in its use of energy, in its use of fertilizer and land."
Swaminathan wants to dedicate villages to sowing lentils and oilseeds, to meet demand. The World Bank, meanwhile, favors high-value crops, like Chawla's baby corn, because they allow farmers to maximize their income from small holdings.
The market may yet help India. Chawla, for instance, has replaced baby corn with sunflowers, prompted by the high price of sunflower oil. For the same reason, he is also considering planting more wheat.


U.N. warns of potential food crisis in Darfur

KHARTOUM: Darfur faces a food crisis this year as a result of a "perfect storm" of growing violence, overcrowding in refugee camps and a bad harvest, the United Nations said on Sunday.
The conflict in Darfur has prompted the world's largest humanitarian operation, which helps two-thirds of the region's 6 million population.
But this year, a confluence of problems in the western Sudanese region could cause a spike in malnutrition rates and health problems, United Nations officials said.
"Four years into a massive humanitarian operation ... this is the year I think where we are going to see a reduction in (health) indicators as a result of this perfect storm," Mike McDonough, head of the U.N. humanitarian coordination office, said.
Attacks on World Food Programme food convoys have forced a cut in rations to millions in Darfur by almost half since May, and government promises of escorts for aid trucks have not materialised.

"If we don't improve we simply cannot raise this ration in the future," WFP head Kenro Oshidari said at a joint U.N. agencies news conference. "The reality is that the trucks need to move every single day."
Ted Chaiban, head of the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, said without trucks moving and full rations, this year's traditional hunger gap as rains cut off roads and farms would be more severe than previous years.
He said a worse harvest this year had already led to prices of basic commodities doubling in Darfur's markets.
"We are in the middle of what is going to be a challenging hunger gap," he said.
"We are holding the line but we are concerned ... that if the food ration is not resumed in full, things will deteriorate."
With malnutrition rates already high, he said August and September, traditionally bad months for hunger, could see a massive hike in the numbers of malnourished Darfuris.
On reduced rations, Darfuris will be more vulnerable to disease.
There are few accurate malnutrition rates for Darfur because the government has until now refused to allow surveys to be released, saying they would be exaggerated by Western media and activists.
Chaiban said the government had finally agreed to release 11 withheld malnutrition surveys.
Previous unpublished surveys have indicated malnutrition rates above emergency levels in "pockets" of Darfur, U.N. officials have said.
Mortality surveys have been blocked by Khartoum for three years. Sudan says the U.N. estimates of between 200,000 and 300,000 killed in Darfur are exaggerated and says just 10,000 have died.

More than 800 missing after Philippine ferry capsized amid deadly typhoon

MANILA: More than 800 people were missing Monday after a Philippine ferry capsized in a typhoon that has killed scores and left a trail of destruction across the archipelago.
Initial reports said that more than 740 had been aboard the MV Princess of Stars, but Sulpicio Lines, the owner of the ferry, revised the number of people missing to 845 after discovering an extra 100 passengers on the ship's manifest.
So far, 10 people are known to have made it to land. Six bodies, including those of a man and woman who had bound themselves together, have washed ashore, along with children's slippers and life jackets.

"Many of us jumped - the waves were so huge, and the rains were heavy," a survivor identified only as Jesse told local radio.
"There was just one announcement over the megaphone, about 30 minutes before the ship tilted to its side. Immediately after I jumped, the ship tilted. The older people were left on the ship."
Rescuers battled huge waves and strong winds Sunday to reach the ferry, which capsized a day earlier. Coast guard frogmen who managed to get to the stricken ship got no response when they rapped on the hull with metal instruments, then had to give up for the night because of strong waves.
"They haven't seen anyone. They're scouring the area," said another coast guard spokesman, Lieutenant Commander Arman Balilo.


Three strikes and we're out
By Anatol Lieven and Alexis Rowell

Anatol Lieven is a professor at King's College London and senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington. Alexis Rowell is a member of the Liberal Democratic Party and chairman of the Sustainability Task Force of the London Borough of Camden and founder of the climate change consultancy,

A scientific and political consensus now exists on the threat posed to our civilization by climate change. The problem is generating the political will to take the steps necessary to radically reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
The present oil shock provides the answer to that problem - if our leaders have the courage to use it.
The price of oil is now at a level where it is having a seriously adverse effect on the world economy. Moreover, to fears of Middle Eastern stability are now added concerns over Russia using oil and gas supplies for geopolitical leverage.
As a result we have the best chance in a generation for Western leaders to go to their electorates and seek support for a new approach involving a willingness to make real short-term sacrifices.
This should especially be the case because although the latest, speculation-fueled price surge may not continue, structural factors including the rise of China and the dwindling hopes of new untapped reserves mean that, unlike in the 1980s, there seems no realistic prospect of a dramatic fall in prices.
We must not repeat our response to the oil shocks of the 1970s, which in most countries led to far less change than they should have done. Japan did by far the best in its response to the oil shocks, drastically reducing its energy consumption through the introduction of fuel-efficient vehicles, the refocusing of industry on electronics, and the enforcement of strict standards for new buildings.
Some European countries also did well. The United States did by far the worst, and failed again after 9/11.
Britain too has not done nearly as well as it should have, though the Clean Air Act of 1956 could have provided a model for decisive action. Instead, North Sea oil and gas were used to tide Britain over for a generation; and the revenues generated by that oil and gas were used to prop up government budgets, not to prepare for the day when the oil would run out and the international price of energy surge again. Neighboring Denmark, lacking fossil fuel reserves, invested heavily in wind energy.
As a result, 20 percent of Denmark's electricity now comes from wind. By contrast Britain generates a measly 1.5 percent of its electricity from wind despite the fact that approximately 40 percent of all the wind in Europe blows through the British Isles.
Today, we have a third chance to make a strategic choice concerning energy; and compared to the 1970s, we have far less excuse for not making it. For today, we know that excessive dependence on fossil fuels not only renders our economies vulnerable, but the associated release of greenhouse gases risks not only crippling the world economy but destroying modern civilization itself, if global temperatures rise by more than four degrees Celsius.
And if an additional, short-term spur were needed, dependence on Russian energy supplies is causing great anxiety in the West. Whining about this will do no good, and nor will spurious talk of European unity against Russia. If we want to lessen our dependence on Russian fossil fuels we have to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, period.
As Japan has proved, the technology to bring about radical reductions in fossil fuel consumption is already present.
What is needed is collective will, summoned by courageous leadership. Instead, too many governments seem prepared to buckle to public discontent and threats of disorder from truckers and others, and do their utmost to increase and subsidize supplies.
It is true that even conservative politicians like Senator John McCain are now talking about the need for action; but incremental action, not the revolutionary changes needed if we are both to create really secure long term sources of energy and have any assurance of avoiding catastrophic environmental damage.
A cynic or authoritarian would say that this is the central, inescapable flaw of a consumerist democracy: its inability to ask for real sacrifice from its electorate, short of full-scale war against a visible enemy. There is an element of truth in this but it is also unfair: In a representative democracy, elected leaders are supposed to lead, decide and inspire support for their decisions. The "people" as such can't do anything.
However, we must also understand that if Western democracies fail to meet the greatest threat facing human civilization, historians of the future - if there are any - won't think much of our vaunted claims to represent the highest possible form of political order.
In fact, they probably won't see any important difference at all between us and the authoritarian systems we affect to despise.


Travelers shift to rail as cost of fuel rises

WASHINGTON: Record prices for gasoline and jet fuel should be good news for Amtrak, as travelers look for alternatives to cut the cost of driving and flying.
And they are good news, up to a point.
Amtrak set records in May, both for the number of passengers it carried and for ticket revenues — all the more remarkable because May is not usually a strong travel month.
But the railroad, and its suppliers, have shrunk so much, largely because of financial constraints, that they would have difficulty growing quickly to meet the demand.
Many of the long-distance trains are already sold out for some days this summer. Want to take Amtrak's daily Crescent train from New York to New Orleans? It is sold out on July 5, 6, 7 and 8. Seattle to Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 5? The train is sold out, but Amtrak will sell you a bus ticket.

"We're starting to bump up against our own capacity constraints," said Clifford Black, a spokesman for Amtrak.
The problem is that rail has shriveled. The number of "passenger miles" traveled on intercity rail has dropped by about two-thirds since 1960, and the companies that build rail cars and locomotives have also shrunk, making it hard to expand.
In 1970, the year that Congress voted to create Amtrak by consolidating the passenger operations of freight railroads, the airlines were about 17 times larger than the railroads, measured by passenger miles traveled; now they are more than 100 times larger. Highway travel was then about 330 times larger; now it is more than 900 times larger.
Today Amtrak has 632 usable rail cars, and dozens more are worn out or damaged but could be reconditioned and put into service at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars each.
And it needs to buy new rail cars soon. Its Amfleet cars, the ones recognizable to riders as the old Metroliners, are more than 30 years old. And the Acela trains, which have been operating about eight years, have about a million miles on them.
Writing specifications for bids, picking a vendor and waiting for delivery takes years, even if the money is in hand.
Amtrak is an alternative to airlines along the Boston-New York-Washington corridor, and on some routes out of Chicago and a few in California. But most of its other routes are so slow that people take those trains because they have no alternative to reach places like Burlington, North Carolina, or Burlington, Iowa. Or they go for the train ride itself.
The railroad carried about 25 million passengers last year and may hit 27 million this year. (That is all intercity traffic; commuter rail, connecting suburbs and cities, is also growing, but that is not Amtrak's market.) By contrast, the airlines carry about 680 million domestic passengers a year. If Amtrak were an airline, in terms of passenger boardings it would rank approximately eighth, behind Continental and US Airways and ahead of AirTran and JetBlue.
H. Glenn Scammel, a former head of staff of the rail subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the railroad should give up on some of its cross-country trains and redeploy the equipment on relatively short intercity trips, where it could provide enough frequency to attract new business. (Providing one train a day in each direction will not draw many new business travelers.)
But the railroad's labor contracts provide stiff penalties for dropping routes, and dropping states from its itinerary would hurt its political support, especially in the Senate, where thinly populated states are overrepresented relative to their population.
Scarcity is not all bad for the railroad, though. It has raised ticket prices, so that it recorded ticket revenues of $153.4 million in May, up 15.6 percent from $132.7 million in May 2006. That jump is higher than the ridership increase of 12.3 percent, to 2.58 million, from 2.30 million.
Most of the money came from airline-style "yield management," using a computer to look ahead, see how many seats are filled, and raising or lowering the price on the remainder. Black said that while the railroad is not set up to make money, "we're intended to maximize revenues."
Profits are unlikely. The Government Accountability Office found last November that Amtrak had received more than $30 billion in U.S. government aid since its creation in 1971, but was still in "poor financial condition," with extensive deferred maintenance.
When Amtrak began operating 37 years ago, the plan was for it to eventually break even. In 1997, Congress passed a law threatening dire consequences if it did not reach self-sufficiency by 2002.


In Dubai, gas guzzlers are in

DUBAI: Luxury sports cars, gas-guzzling SUVs, even tanklike Hummers all jostle for space on Gulf highways, their owners buoyed by record oil prices that have forced some motorists to ditch cars for bicycles in the West.
Not only has government-subsidized gasoline kept motorists in the region from feeling the pinch at the pump, but windfall revenues from $140-a-barrel oil have fueled an economic boom and put deluxe cars in more people's reach.
"High oil prices are feeding into the economy, so more people have higher incomes, so more people buy luxury cars," said Julian Millward-Hopkins, Middle East and Levant press manager for the German luxury brand Mercedes-Benz.
"If you look at sales worldwide it is a pyramid," he said. "At the bottom are smaller cars and at the top are luxury sports cars. In the Middle East it's an inverted pyramid. Luxury cars do proportionately better here than elsewhere."
Custom-made Rolls-Royces, stretch Hummers with blacked-out windows and bright red Maseratis line the entrance to Dubai's Mall of the Emirates, but even in the drabbest parts of town four-wheel-drives rule the roads.


Communiqué from the Saudi energy meeting

Joint Statement by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Secretariats of the International Energy Agency, the International Energy Forum and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Jidda Energy Meeting
22nd June 2008

Upon a timely and kind invitation from the Government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and under the patronage of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz, Ministers and representatives from many producing and consuming countries, with the attendance of oil industry representatives as observers, met in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on 22nd June 2008, to discuss the current oil market situation.
Participants noted with concern that oil prices have risen sharply and become more volatile, due to a host of factors. They sought to identify the causes and consequences of recent price behavior and suggested areas of improvement for the efficient operation of the oil market. Participants also noted that current oil prices and their volatility are detrimental to the global economy and in particular the economies of least developed countries.
Participants agreed that the situation requires concerted efforts from all parties - producing and consuming countries, the oil industry and all concerned parties - to bring stability to the international oil market for the benefit of all.
Taking into account their diverse national circumstances and priorities, as well as their shared interest in a stable global oil market and sustainable economic growth, the participants recognized the importance of the following.
* That the existence of spare capacity throughout the oil supply chain is important for the stability of the global oil market. Hence an appropriate increase in investment, both upstream and downstream, is necessary to ensure that the markets are supplied in a timely and adequate manner. Predictable energy and investment policies, as well as better access to technology, are necessary to this end.
* That the transparency and regulation of financial markets should be improved through measures to capture more data on index fund activity and to examine cross-exchange interaction in the crude market.
* That the quality, completeness and timeliness of oil data submitted through the monthly Joint Oil Data Initiative (JODI) should be enhanced. In order to further improve market transparency and stability, the seven organizations involved in JODI (APEC, Eurostat, IEA, IEF, OLADE, OPEC and UNSD) are called upon to start work to cover annual data, that includes, among other things, upstream and downstream capacities and expansion plans.
* That there should be immediate collaboration between the IEA and OPEC Secretariats, together with the IEF Secretariat, on preparing shared analyses on oil market trends and outlook, as well as of the impact of financial markets on the level and volatility of oil prices, which can be used to better understand the market situation.
* That development assistance from the national, regional and international finance and aid institutions is intensified to alleviate the consequences of higher oil prices on the least developed countries.
* That cooperation is enhanced among international, national and service companies from all producing and consuming countries in investment, technology and human resource development.
* That energy efficiency is promoted in all sectors through passing on market price signals, technology transfer and the sharing of best practices in energy production and consumption.
The host and the parties to this statement will convene a working group to follow up the needed actions from the above as appropriate. Participants welcomed the kind invitation from the UK government to hold a meeting on the progress made on the above issues in London before the end of the year.



Addicted to oil

Of course, we're going to need oil for years to come. That being the case, I'd prefer - for geopolitical reasons - that we get as much as possible from domestic wells. But our future is not in oil, and a real president wouldn't be hectoring Congress about offshore drilling today. He'd be telling the country a much larger truth:
"Oil is poisoning our climate and our geopolitics, and here is how we're going to break our addiction: We're going to set a floor price of $4.50 a gallon for gasoline and $100 a barrel for oil. And that floor price is going to trigger massive investments in renewable energy - particularly wind, solar panels and solar thermal. And we're also going to go on a crash program to dramatically increase energy efficiency, to drive conservation to a whole new level and to build more nuclear power. And I want every Democrat and every Republican to join me in this endeavor."
That's what a real president would do. He'd give us a big strategic plan to end our addiction to oil and build a bipartisan coalition to deliver it. He certainly wouldn't be using his last days in office to threaten congressional Democrats that if they don't approve offshore drilling by the Fourth of July recess, they will be blamed for $4-a-gallon gas. That is so lame. That is an energy policy so unworthy of our Independence Day.



A mad scramble for Iraq's oil

So great is the demand for oil today - and so great the concern over rising prices - that it would be tempting to uncritically embrace plans by major Western oil companies to return to Iraq.
Unfortunately, the evolving deals could well rekindle understandable suspicions in the Arab world about oil being America's real reason for invading Iraq and fan even more distrust and resentment among Iraq's competing religious and ethnic factions.
Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP - original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company - are in the final stages of discussions that will let them formally re-enter Iraq's oil market, which expelled them 36 years ago. The contracts also include Chevron.
Iraq can certainly use the modern technology and skills these oil giants offer. Although Iraq's oil reserves are among the world's largest, years of United Nations sanctions and war have badly eroded the industry. Government officials say they aim to increase production from 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to 3 million barrels. That is a minor increase in global terms, but with oil at $140 a barrel, it is good news for Iraqis, who need the money to rebuild their war-torn country.
We cannot blame Baghdad for wanting to get on with exploiting the country's lucrative oil deposits, especially when Kurds in northern Iraq are rapidly signing contracts to develop oil fields in their own semiautonomous region. Still, the negotiating process pursued by Baghdad is flawed and troubling.

The contracts are being let without competitive bidding to companies that since the American invasion have been quietly advising Iraq's oil ministry how to increase production. While the contracts are limited to refurbishing equipment and technical support and last only two years, they would give these companies an inside track on vastly more lucrative long-term deals.
Given that corruption is an acknowledged problem in Iraq's government, the contracts would have more legitimacy if the bidding were open to all and the process more transparent. Iraqis must apply that standard when they let contracts for long-term oil field development.
Also troubling is that the deals were made even though Iraq's Parliament has failed to adopt oil and revenue sharing laws - critical political benchmarks set by the Bush administration. That is evidence of continued deep divisions in Iraq over whether oil should be controlled by central or regional government, whether international oil companies should be involved in development and how the profits should be distributed.
The United States and the oil companies must encourage Iraqi officials to make the political compromises needed to establish in law the rules for managing Iraq's abundant natural resources with as much transparency as possible. Otherwise, oil will just become one more centripetal force pulling the country apart.


DOWD: The Carla effect

The French are different from you and me.
Yes, they have Sarkozy.
And they have Carla.
And they have "the Carla effect," as it's known in Paris.
If an American first lady, or would-be first lady, described herself as a "tamer of men" and had a "man-eating" past filled with naked pictures, Mick Jagger and Eric Clapton, sultry prone CD covers, breaking up marriages, bragging that she believes in polygamy and polyandry rather than monogamy, and having a son with a married philosopher whose father she had had an affair with, it would take more than an appearance on "The View" to sweeten her image.

It's hard to imagine the decibel level on Fox News if Michelle Obama put out a CD this summer, as Carla Bruni-Sarkozy is, with songs featuring lyrics like:
"I am a child/despite my 40 years/despite my 30 lovers/a child"; and this song, "Ma came": "You are my junk/more deadly than Afghan heroin/more dangerous than Colombian white. ... /My guy, I roll him up and smoke him."
Or if Michelle gave an interview, as Carla did in a new book, "La Veritable Histoire de Carla et Nicolas," revealing that she fell in love with her husband for his many fertile brains.
"I didn't expect someone so funny and so alive," she said, recalling their blind date at a dinner party.
"I was seduced by his physical appearance, his charm and his intelligence. He has five or six brains which are remarkably irrigated.
"I didn't go out with cretins before I met him. That's not my style. But he is really, really quick."
One chapter of the book is called "Le Diable s'habille en Carla," or "The Devil Wears Carla." And the most repeated anecdote is the one where Carla slyly teases the French justice minister, Rachida Dati, a Sarko protégé, as they pass by a bed in the Elysée: "You would have loved to occupy it, wouldn't you?"
But somehow the French - who are "polymorphously perverse," as Woody Allen admiringly called Diane Keaton in "Annie Hall" - have become so enamored of their new first lady that they're starting to like her husband more.
At the funeral of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris, Sarkozy got some catcalls when he got out of his car, while Carla, a former model for the designer, who calls herself "nothing more than a folk singer," got applause and oohs and aahs.
"Preceded by a sulfurous reputation," Le Journal du Dimanche reported, "Carla Bruni has improbably succeeded in a country so traditionally attached to conventions: In less than six months, the third wife of Sarko has conquered, after that of the president, the heart of the French: 68 percent of them, according to our JDD poll, appreciate their new first lady."
In a recent survey in Le Figaro, the French president was back up at 37 to 41 percent favorables from a low of 32 percent last month.
"The president is better," a close adviser to the mercurial Sarko told a reporter.
"There is definitely a serenity in his life now," the French writer Olivier Royant told me.
"He has stopped behaving like a twit since the marriage," a veteran observer of European politics agreed. "And unlike Cecilia, who seemed like a self-conscious pill who hated being at the Elysée, Carla is playing her role well. She is bien dans sa peau, happy in her own skin."
Intuitively aware of the media, she handles both the French and foreign press with a down-to-earth aplomb. She has said she will keep her personality "while respecting the dignity of the position" and take her job "seriously." She plans to write a diary, adding: "I write in French and dream in Italian."
The magazine Le Point had a cover with Carla's gleaming face and the headline "La Présidente," with a picture inside of Sarko standing docilely behind his wife, as she sat at his desk and offered that assured feline gaze to the camera.
Just as Carla charmed the Queen of England and Princes Charles and Philip with her demure French schoolgirl look, she charmed George and Laura Bush on their visit, inviting Laura 30 minutes early for a girls' tête-à-tête, and then sitting next to the American president and keeping him entertained with a spirited conversation in English, one of her three languages and sort of his one language.
At a press availability the next day, W. interrupted his own boring observation about "the importance of the Doha Round" to smilingly tell his pal Sarko: "It was a great pleasure to have been able to meet your wife. She's a really smart, capable woman, and I can see why you married her. And I can see why she married you, too."


Concerns rise in France after Jewish teen is attacked
PARIS: A 17-year-old French Jew was attacked Saturday night in Paris, a violent assault condemned by President Nicolas Sarkozy and described by Jewish organizations as motivated by anti-Semitism.
The young man, identified as Rudy Haddad by one Jewish organization, was attacked by youths of African origin, according to a police source and a statement from the National Agency of Vigilance Against Antisemitism.
The agency cited the use of iron bars in the attack. Haddad is suffering from "serious neurological problems," a police source said.
Another Jewish group, the Union of French Jewish Students, said Haddad had been identified as Jewish because he was wearing a kippa, and had suffered several broken ribs, a fractured skull and was now in intensive care at a hospital in central Paris.
"The victim was wearing a kippa and was on his way back home when his attackers, after identifying him as Jewish, started to beat him," the union said.


Sarkozy in Israel on fence-mending visit

TEL AVIV: French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived in Israel on Sunday for a three-day visit aimed at reinforcing his image as an ally of the Jewish state and reversing a trend of difficult trips there by French leaders.
After taking office last year, Sarkozy announced a "break" with the policies of his predecessor Jacques Chirac, seeking to mend ties with Washington damaged by the war in Iraq and repeatedly proclaiming himself a friend of Israel.
His statements of support for the Jewish state contrasted with those of previous presidents from Charles de Gaulle to Francois Mitterrand and Chirac, who were widely viewed as more pro-Arab.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in his welcome speech the visit was a gesture of friendship by a man who understood the challenges faced by Israel and was personally committed to the "security of Israel and to maintaining its qualitative advantage in the region".
Sarkozy, whose grandfather was a Greek Jew, will address Israel's parliament, the Knesset, on Monday, the first French president to do so since Mitterrand in 1982.


Gloomy mood envelops Israel despite Gaza truce

JERUSALEM: After a year of painful violence - Hamas rockets flying into Israeli communities, soldiers killed and wounded on forays into Gaza - one might have expected the start of a six-month cease-fire with Hamas to be hailed here as good news. Yet what was the front page headline in the Maariv newspaper that day? "Fury and Fear."
That says a great deal about the mood in Israel, a widely shared gloom that this nation is facing alarming threats from both without and within. Seen from far away, last week must have offered some hope that the region was finally at, or near, a turning point: The truce with Hamas, negotiated by Egypt, started Thursday; other Palestinian-Israeli talks were taking place on numerous levels that both sides said were opening long-closed issues; there were also Turkish-mediated Israeli negotiations with Syria, and a new offer to yield territory to Lebanon along with a call for direct talks between Jerusalem and Beirut.
But it looked very different here. Most Israelis consider the truce with Hamas an admission of national failure, a victory for a radical group with a vicious ideology. As they look ahead, Israelis cannot decide which would be worse, for the truce to fall apart (as polls show most expect it to do), or for Hamas actually to make it last, thereby solidifying the movement's authority in Palestinian politics over the more secular Fatah.
Moreover, most think that Syria should not get back the Golan Heights - its ostensible aim in talking with Israel - and that the truces and negotiations amount to little without the return of captured Israeli soldiers held for the past two years.
Indeed, the "fury" in the headline of Maariv, a mass-selling center-right paper, was at the failure, in the Hamas deal, to free Corporal Gilad Shalit, still held by Hamas after being seized two years ago.


Israeli army accused of abusing Palestinian prisoners

JERUSALEM: An Israeli anti-torture watchdog said in a report on Sunday Israeli soldiers routinely abuse bound Palestinian detainees and it accused the military of "absolute indifference" towards such mistreatment.
The Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) said its findings were based on 90 detailed accounts from Palestinians as well as from soldiers who witnessed the abuse and were concerned over the army's failure to stop it.
Soldiers, the report said, were frequently violent towards Palestinian detainees, including minors, in many cases after they had been handcuffed and no longer posed a threat.
"On certain occasions, the ill-treatment of Palestinian detainees is highly violent, resulting in serious injury. At other times, abuse manifests itself in a routine of beating, degradation and additional abuses," the PCATI said.
The report said abuse occurs immediately following arrest, in vehicles transporting detainees and during the time they are held in military camps prior to their transfer to interrogation and detention facilities.

The PCATI accused the Israeli military, Defence Ministry and parliament of "almost absolute indifference ... towards the existence of this phenomenon and the need to take action in order to eradicate it".
Asked about the report, an Israeli army spokesman said soldiers and commanders were obligated to ensure the safety of detainees and the military views with great concern any violations of its ethical code.


To get secrets from a hard-core terrorist, one interrogator spoke softly

WASHINGTON: In a makeshift prison in the north of Poland, Al Qaeda's engineer of mass murder faced off against his CIA interrogator. It was 18 months after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the invasion of Iraq was giving Muslim extremists new motives for havoc.
If anyone knew about the next plot, it was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
The interrogator, Deuce Martinez, a soft-spoken analyst who spoke no Arabic, had turned down a CIA offer to be trained in waterboarding, the brutal technique that makes victims feel like they are drowning.
He chose to leave the infliction of pain and panic to others, to the gung-ho paramilitary types whom the more cerebral interrogators called "knuckledraggers."
Martinez came in after the rough stuff, the ultimate good cop with the classic skills: an unimposing presence, inexhaustible patience and a willingness to listen to the gripes and musings of a pitiless killer in rambling, imperfect English. He achieved a rapport with Mohammed that astonished his fellow CIA officers.

A canny opponent, Mohammed mixed disinformation and braggadocio with details of plots, both past and planned. Eventually, he grew loquacious. "They'd have long talks about religion," comparing notes on Islam and Martinez's Catholicism, one CIA officer recalled.
Martinez, who by then had interrogated at least three other high-level prisoners, would bring Mohammed snacks, usually dates. He would listen to Mohammed's despair over the likelihood that he would never see his children again and to his catalog of complaints about his accommodations.

Are architects above politics?
Four months ago the architect Daniel Libeskind declared publicly that architects should think long and hard before working in China, adding, "I won't work for totalitarian regimes." His remarks raised hackles in his profession, with some architects accusing him of hypocrisy because his own firm had recently broken ground on a project in Hong Kong.
Since then, however, Libeskind's speech, delivered at a real estate and planning event in Belfast, has reanimated a decades-old debate among architects over the ethics of working in countries with repressive leaders or shaky records on human rights.
With a growing number of prominent architects designing buildings in places like China, Iran, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, where development has exploded as civic freedoms or exploitation of migrant labor have come under greater scrutiny, the issue has inched back into the spotlight.
Debate abounds on architecture blogs, and human rights groups are pressing architects to be mindful of a government's politics and labor conditions in accepting commissions.
The ideological issue is as old as architecture itself. By designing high-profile buildings that bolster the profile of a powerful client, do architects implicitly sanction the client's actions or collaborate in symbolic mythmaking? Or in the long run does architecture transcend politics and ideology? If the architect's own vision is progressive, can architecture be a vehicle for positive change? For the most part, the issue is not a concrete one for the field's top practitioners; no architect interviewed for this article except Libeskind has publicly rejected the notion of working for hot-button countries. Yet the debate underscores the complex decisions that go into designing architecture - from the basic financial imperatives, to public access, to the larger message that a building sends - and is prodding architects to reflect on their priorities.

"It's complicated," said Thom Mayne, the Los Angeles architect, whose projects include a corporate headquarters in Shanghai. "Architecture is a negotiated art and it's highly political, and if you want to make buildings there is diplomacy required."
"I've always been interested in an architecture of resistance - architecture that has some power over the way we live," added Mayne, who said he had recently been interviewed for projects in Abu Dhabi, Kazakhstan, Russia, the Middle East and Indonesia. "Working under adversarial conditions could be seen as a plus because you're offering alternatives. Still, there are situations that make you ask the question 'Do I want to be a part of this?"'

Weak dollar puts America outside luxury's "Golden Triangle"
The Middle East, stretching via the Mediterranean coastline to Turkey and Greece, is the most buzzy area.

The result is a fractured market in which designers are being asked by one part of the world to tone down to whisper quiet luxury - and in another, to be bold and out there.
"It makes my job very interesting," said Robert Polet, chief executive of Gucci Group, on Sunday. "The world is contrasted - no longer as a year and a half ago, when everything was optimistic. In the Unites States, it is not business as usual. Europe is full of contrasts, with Germany quite optimistic, the U.K. doing well but Italy, more difficult. It's country by country; the Middle East roaring and Asia Pacific strong. Then there are contrasts between the different brands. It's all about segmentation."
But designers agree that it is definitely not, as it used to be, all about America setting the pace as the market for luxury, even if the weak dollar is saving retailers in America's tourist regions. The Middle East, stretching via the Mediterranean coastline to Turkey and Greece, is the most buzzy area. And Stefano Gabbana is brutal about Dolce & Gabbana's perspective.
"The problem with America is that it is no longer in the 'Golden Triangle,"' Gabbana said, pointing out that Dolce & Gabbana has three shops in Istanbul, with further energetic growth in Beijing and across China.
The figures speak for themselves. Gabriella Forte, a Dolce & Gabbana executive working in America, said that the United States now represents 14 to 15 percent of the company's retail market share, while Russia is up to 38 percent, if you count Russian travelers, who are the biggest spenders in Milan. But Forte said that comparison was difficult, as American sales have been built on wholesaling to department stores.
That very system is being called into question as sales stick or slump in America and designers find their goods discounted in stores before they are marked down in their own boutiques.
The current system for global expansion involves a thread of wholly owned flagship stores, bolstered by franchises. And it has led to rapid growth for many brands. For example, Salvatore Ferragamo, which was one of the first labels to spread across China, is now extending its Russian reach from Moscow through Saint Petersburg to Ekaterinburg, near the border with Kazakhstan. It is also opening three stores in India, another intriguing luxury destination.
It is the same story at Bottega Veneta, part of Gucci group, where the 147 global stores include only 21 in the United States, with growth focused on the Middle East: Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, with Jeddah and Riad to come.
All this is music to the ears of Sheik Majed al-Sabah, who once had to cajole designers to consider selling to his Villa Moda boutique in Kuwait and now has them begging to become part of his spreading empire. He sees a series of reasons for the changing axis away from the United States and Europe.
"Look at oil prices," Sabah said. "We come out of a tax-free nation, where the government is trying to help the poorer people, and where 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. That equals a lot of surplus cash in people's pockets. Business is booming and we are still underdeveloped as an emerging market."
And Sabah endorses a general view that the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China - all in different stages of development - are being challenged by the MENA, or Middle East/North Africa area.

What about growth in America? Ferragamo's chief executive, Michele Norsa, is focusing on the East Coast, opening boutiques in Westchester and White Plains outside New York City, as well as in the Beverly Center in Los Angeles.
But when brands are faced with a choice between America and Azerbaijan, it seems that the Unites States comes a dollar-poor second.

Market research is getting a makeover
The battle over TNS reflects broader changes that are reshaping the market research industry. Midsize players like TNS, GfK and Kantar are under pressure to find partners to meet multinational marketers' demands for standardized global information. Meanwhile, new companies are springing up, sometimes employing little more than a handful of programmers, to take advantage of a powerful, low-cost research tool, the Internet.
"In three or four years, there will probably be three or four large players and a whole lot of smaller ones," said David Lowden, chief executive of TNS. "The middle will be squeezed out."
According to Morgan Stanley, a combined TNS and GfK would have 14 percent of the global market research business, trailing Nielsen's 18 percent but significantly ahead of IMS, a U.S.-focused health care researcher that is in third place at 8 percent, and WPP, at 7 percent. After that, no other company has a share of more than 3 percent, leaving significant room for consolidation.

Predicting where you'll go and what you'll like

That hoariest of real estate truisms — location, location, location — may soon be a clarion call for all sorts of businesses.
We're in the midst of a boom in devices that show where people are at any point in time. Global positioning systems are among the hottest consumer electronics devices ever, says Clint Wheelock, chief research officer at ABI Research, a technology market follower. And cellphones increasingly come with GPS chips. All of these devices churn out data that says something about how people live.
Such data could redefine what we know about consumer behavior, giving businesses early insight into economic trends, better ways to determine sites for offices and retail stores, and more effective ways to advertise.
Just this month, the journal Nature published a paper that looked at cellphone data from 100,000 people in an unnamed European country over six months and found that most follow very predictable routines. Knowing those routines means that you can set probabilities for them, and track how they change.
"What we do is really not random, even though it may appear random," says Albert-László Barabási, a physicist at Northeastern University who is one of the paper's authors.
It's hard to make sense of such data, but Sense Networks, a software analytics company in New York, earlier this month released Macrosense, a tool that aims to do just that. Macrosense applies complex statistical algorithms to sift through the growing heaps of data about location and to make predictions or recommendations on various questions — where a company should put its next store, for example. Gregory Skibiski, 34, the chief executive and a co-founder of Sense, says the company has been testing its software with a major retailer, a major financial services firm and a large hedge fund.
Tony Jebara, also 34, the chief scientist and another co-founder of Sense, said, "We can predict tourism, we can tell you how confident consumers are, we can tell retailers about, say, their competitors, who's coming in from particular neighborhoods."
Jebara, who is also an associate professor of computer science at Columbia University, says the key to drawing such conclusions starts with having very large sets of data that go back several years. Sense's models were developed initially from sources like taxicab companies that let it look at location data over such a period. Sense also uses publicly available data, like weather information, and other nonpublic sources that it would not disclose. "We had three-quarters of a billion data points from just one city," Skibiski says.
Jebara's statistical models interpret those patterns and look at whether they correlate with things in the real world, like tourism levels or retail sales. The algorithms are complex. Even so, the model doesn't work for everything Sense tries it on, often because more data are needed. But Jebara says that when it has the data, the model works well. Several hedge funds made an investment in Sense earlier this year.
The Macrosense tool lets companies engage in "reality mining," a phrase coined by Sandy Pentland, an MIT researcher who was also a co-founder of Sense and now advises it on privacy issues.
Sense is not the only company engaged in reality mining. Inrix, a Microsoft spin-off, uses traffic data to predict traffic patterns. Path Intelligence of Britain monitors traffic flow in shopping centers by tracking cellphones.
Reality mining raises instant questions about privacy, especially when cellphone data are involved. In the United States, it is illegal in many cases for cellphone companies to share customers' location data without their consent.
Skibiski says that Sense is interested only in aggregate data and that it's looking for broad patterns, not the specific behavior of individuals. But he recognizes the privacy issue. He says he believes that people should own their own data, control when it is disclosed and receive some remuneration for it. His original idea in 2002 was to pay people for their data, but a formula for doing so proved too complicated.
Instead, Sense decided to trade services for data. On the same day it released Macrosense, it announced a new software package called Citysense, which uses location data to show where people are going, say, for nightlife, and maps their activity. Consumers who have iPhones or BlackBerrys can sign up for the service, which does not ask for personal information. Over time, the software will learn their patterns and recommend places they might like to go, or show them where other people with similar patterns are going. If they want to purge their data, they can do so at any time.

NATO says 6,000 troops urgently needed in Afghanistan
"We are talking about a total of 5,000, 6,000 soldiers," Ramms [a German NATO general, Egon Ramms] said.
"We need these soldiers now, very soon, because we need to hold specific areas, we need to win over Afghanistan's citizens and because at some point, in 2010, 2011 or 2012 we will want to hand over responsibility to Afghan forces.
Roughly 60,000 foreign troops are in Afghanistan, most of them part of the NATO-led International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF), but security has deteriorated over the past two years.
Some 6,000 people were killed in 2007, the deadliest year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2007.
"The troops that I don't have now could lead to delays in the withdrawal of NATO and ISAF," Ramms said. "In other words, the costs that are not being paid now will have a negative impact on the bottom line at some point."
Rockets from Pakistan kill Afghan woman and 3 children
KHOST, Afghanistan: Rockets fired from Pakistan hit a village in eastern Afghanistan killing a woman and three children, Afghan officials said on Sunday, one of three cross-border attacks around the same time overnight.
Tension has mounted between the neighbours, with Pakistan saying 11 of its soldiers were killed in an airstrike by U.S. forces operating from Afghanistan on June 10. Afghan President Hamid Karzai threatened five days later to send troops across the frontier to hunt down Taliban.
NATO, in 'self defense,' fires across border into Pakistan
KABUL: NATO forces made artillery strikes across the Afghan border at attackers who fired at them from Pakistan, and insurgents killed two police officers in an ambush southwest of the Afghan capital, officials said Sunday.
Officials also reported the deaths of five civilians, four of them in a rocket attack apparently aimed at a NATO air base near the mountainous frontier.
NATO said three rounds of "indirect fire" landed near an alliance outpost in Afghanistan's Paktika Province on Saturday afternoon. Three more landed in an Afghan Army compound. No casualties were reported.
A NATO statement said its forces determined that the rounds were fired from inside Pakistan and returned artillery fire "in self-defense."
Pakistan's military was notified immediately after the initial attack, it said.
Female suicide bomber kills 15 in Iraq
Police said the woman walked over to a group of policemen outside a restaurant then detonated explosives under her clothing. Several cars were set on fire.
"When she approached the police patrol, a powerful blast ripped through the area," said Adnan Fayadh, a photocopy shop owner who was nearby.
Police and the U.S. military said 15 people were killed in the attack, which was also near a number of government buildings in Baquba, 65 km (40 miles) north of Baghdad. The U.S. military said the dead included seven policemen.
At a hospital morgue, white sheets covered most of the dead. A man wailed over a body lying on a stretcher.
The U.S. military said 21 female suicide bombers had carried out attacks this year. Most have been in Diyala and Baghdad.
Somali activist assassinated, U.N. boss kidnapped
MOGADISHU: Somali gunmen shot dead a peace activist and kidnapped a senior United Nations official, while a roadside bomb killed three policemen in the anarchic Horn of Africa country, witnesses said on Sunday.
In Beledweyne, central Somalia, assailants assassinated the regional head of respected local non-governmental organisation Centre for Research and Dialogue.
"Men armed with pistols killed Mohamed Hassan Kulmiye in front of a cafeteria," said resident Ismail Farah.
"They shot several bullets in the head. He died on the spot. The men ran away and we do not know who they were."
Citing violence, Zimbabwean opposition leader quits race
JOHANNESBURG: Only five days before a presidential runoff election in Zimbabwe, the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai announced Sunday that he was pulling out of the race because armed forces backing President Robert Mugabe had made it clear that anyone who voted for Tsvangirai faced a real possibility of being killed.
At a news conference, Tsvangirai, who leads the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said he was unwilling to ask the party's supporters to go the polls Friday "when that vote will cost them their lives."
3 dead and 30 wounded in north Lebanon clashes
TRIPOLI, Lebanon: At least three people were killed and 30 wounded on Sunday in sectarian clashes in Lebanon's second largest city Tripoli, security sources said.
Explosions and machinegun fire rocked the city as Sunni Muslim supporters of the government and Alawite gunmen close to the Hezbollah-led opposition battled on the outskirts of the mainly Sunni Muslim port.
Lebanese army units deployed in the area and tried to end the fighting and local leaders held talks to contain the conflict. Dozens of families fled the scene of the clashes that tapered off after both sides agreed a ceasefire, the sources said.
Several homes, shops and cars were damaged in the clashes that left the streets of the city largely deserted.
It was not immediately clear how the fighting began at dawn but tension has been high in recent weeks between the Sunni Bab Tibbaneh district and Alawite Jabal Mohsen.
Is Bush resigned to a more powerful Iran?
WASHINGTON: For more than five years now, President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have made it clear that they did not want to leave office with Iran any closer to possessing nuclear weapons than when they took office.
"The nations of the world must not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons," Bush said in February 2006.
The United States is prepared to use its naval power "to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region," Cheney said in 2007 from a navy carrier in the Gulf.
But with seven months left in the Bush administration, Iran appears ascendant, its political and economic clout growing, its historic foes in Iraq and Afghanistan weakened, and its nuclear program continuing to move forward. So the question now is: Are Bush and Cheney resigned to leaving Iran more powerful than they found it when they came to office?
The evidence is mixed. For all the talk to the contrary, administration officials appear to have concluded that diplomatic efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions will not yield any breakthroughs this year.
Despite a recent flurry of efforts to tighten sanctions on Iran, top officials on both sides of the Atlantic, in recent interviews, had no expectations that the rulers of Iran would make any concessions, particularly on the critical issue of suspending the enrichment of uranium, while Bush remained in office.
On the military front, the picture is fuzzier. Two senior administration officials said that barring a move by Israel, which one characterized as "the wild card" on the Iranian issue, this administration would not be likely to pursue military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets.
Bush himself seemed to signal as much at the start of his European tour last week in Slovenia, when he said of Iran that he expected to "leave behind a multilateral framework to work on this issue," a statement that seemed to suggest that military action against Iran may no longer be on the table.
But the possibility remains that Israel could force the administration's hand, foreign policy analysts and diplomats said. Israel carried out a three-day military exercise this month that U.S. intelligence officials say appeared to have been a rehearsal for a potential strike on nuclear targets in Iran.
Israeli officials have expressed fear to the Bush administration that a new administration would take months, if not years, to decide on its approach toward Iran. The consensus in the United States and Europe is that Iran is still at least two years away from a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials say they believe the threshold is closer to a year.
An Israeli military strike on Iran would almost certainly require U.S. help. For one thing, Pentagon officials say, it would take hundreds of sorties to take out a big swath of Iranian air defense.
For another, the United States controls much of the airspace around Iran. Beyond that, Iran would hold the United States accountable for an Israeli strike, and could retaliate against American troops in Iraq.
In Moscow on Friday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, urged dialogue rather than confrontation with Iran and said that the United States and Israel had not offered any proof that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program. "So far we have not seen any," he said, according to Interfax news agency.
A trip to Tehran last weekend by European diplomats with a new package of incentives was largely for Iranian public consumption and to appease Russia and China by appearing to be still trying to woo Iran, European and American diplomats said.
But European diplomats have been loath to acknowledge publicly that diplomacy on Iran's nuclear development is in a holding pattern for the next eight months because they fear that Iran will only use that time to make further progress on its nuclear program, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes.
"One should not talk about keeping the status quo because that would be dangerous," a European diplomat said, speaking on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules. "We can't say the clock has stopped and we will begin work again after Jan. 1. That is not a good recipe for success."
Administration efforts to convey a sense of urgency about stopping Iran's nuclear program were dealt a blow late last year with the release of a National Intelligence Estimate reporting that Iran had stopped work on a nuclear weapons program in 2003. In recent months, Bush administration officials have tried to walk back from the intelligence estimate, repeating often that Iran's nuclear program remains a threat.
Many foreign policy experts are looking to the next administration for a possible new approach to the nuclear standoff with Iran. "The Europeans all understand that the carrots-and-sticks approach is not working, and the entire Iran diplomatic policy has to be rethought," said Vali Nasr, a specialist on Iran at Tufts University.
Until a new administration takes over in Washington, the professor said, "we're stuck in a process where the ball is kicked to the bureaucrats."

Africans try to force way into Spanish enclave
MADRID: A group of 60-70 Africans tried to force their way past border guards into a Spanish enclave on the North African coast on Sunday, seeking to start new lives there as immigrants, the Spanish government said.
Most of the would-be migrants were pushed back as they tried to rush into Melilla, the Spanish government's office there said.
Several border guards were slightly injured, it said, adding that a search was going on for remaining fugitives.
Media reported that police rounded up many of the would-be immigrants shortly after they had fought their way with sticks and stones past Moroccan and Spanish police guarding the walled frontier in the early hours of Sunday.

Henry Chadwick, Anglican scholar, dies at 87

"The Anglican Church may not have a pope, but it does have Henry Chadwick," Archbishop Williams said, suggesting that this was a common view.
Henry Chadwick was born in Bromley, England, on June 23, 1920. At Eton, he liked music more than academic subjects, and won a music scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge. His enthusiasm for evangelical groups of the Church of England led him to become a priest in 1943.
The Times of London reported that he served briefly in an evangelical parish in south London, then for a short time was a schoolmaster. But he became enthralled with translating "Contra Celsum," a refutation of anti-Christian writings by Origen, a father of the early church. His work, published in 1953, elevated the young priest to scholarly prominence.

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