Feb 19 -
Shift in US policy on Mideast likely
After implicitly criticizing and discarding former
president Bill Clinton's personalized Middle East policy, the Bush
administration is groping for a new strategy for the region that will
apparently be based on greater consultations with America's regional
To this end, Secretary of State General Colin
Powell is due to leave on Feb 23 for a six-day tour of Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, Jordan and Kuwait during which
he will meet both Palestine President Yasser Arafat and Israel's newly
elected premier Ariel Sharon.
This will be the secretary's first overseas trip
since he assumed office, and it seems to have been designed both to
evaluate and perhaps soften up Mr Sharon, known among Arabs as the
butcher of Shatila and Sabra, and to enable Gen Powell to be in Kuwait
for the Gulf War's 10th anniversary. Gen Powell was chief of the joint
staff during the war.
The Kuwait visit's symbolism is not likely to be
welcomed by the Arab people and many Arab governments in view of the
fact that public opinion in the region is now running strongly in
favour of ending UN sanctions against Iraq and welcoming Baghdad back
into the regional mainstream. Even states that had condemned the Iraqi
invasion of Kuwait a decade ago have been increasingly appalled by the
suffering inflicted on Iraqi civilians by the harsh sanctions regime
which remains in place and which the Bush administration actually
wants to make even more stringent.
While announcing his Middle East trip, Gen Powell
told reporters at the State Department on Friday that he would want to
exchange his views with the leaders of the countries he would be
visiting, specially of Israel and Palestine, on the prevailing
situation. He said Mr Sharon should be taken at his word that he wants
peace, and he looked forward to watching the Israeli premier fulfil
Iraqi oil smuggling grows, but by how much?
Iraq's growing defiance of United Nations sanctions
has put Baghdad's oil smuggling operations back into the spotlight.
And as Iraq's newest escape outlet, Syria, comes
under scrutiny, industry experts are trying to calculate how much oil
cash now is evading UN accounts.
"If it is going on, very few people have a
real idea about the volume," said Raad Alkadiri of the Petroleum
Finance Co in Washington.
"And that has given people the opportunity to
make wild speculations about how much smuggling goes on and how much
the regime gets." Back of the envelope sums suggest Baghdad may
be selling some 350,000 barrels a day outside the UN oil-for-food deal
— in violation of a decade-long UN sanctions imposed after Iraq's
1990 invasion of Kuwait.
In one of its boldest challenges, Iraq has hiked
unauthorised oil flows to Syria to some 170,000 bpd this month, market
Unauthorised deliveries to Turkey may be touching
150,000 bpd, while small volumes also are seeping into Jordan as well
as exiting through Gulf waters, they added.
Iraq channels another 100,000 bpd outside the UN
oil-for-food deal into a long-running supply arrangement with Jordan
that has tacit UN approval.
Baghdad's business with Jordan could in fact be
inflating some published estimates on illicit oil sales.
"There is a 600,000 bpd figure being thrown
about but that is wildly exaggerated," Alkadiri said. Even
potential sanctions-breaking volume of 350,000 bpd might be difficult
"There is no accountability behind this
operation and big volume fluctuation as well," an overseas-based
Iraqi analyst said. "And the Syrian link is not yet a reliable
connection because Washington is leaning on Damascus." "I
would be surprised if sales outside UN control were more than 200,000
bpd," the analyst added.
Freedom, religion can co-exist: Khatami
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami on Saturday
vigorously defended democracy by telling a crowd marking the 22nd
anniversary of the Islamic revolution that popular rule was compatible
Speaking before tens of thousands the day after a
rare open anti-government demonstration in Tehran, Khatami warned
against the danger of a rift between "the principles of religion
and those of independence and freedom."
"Religion and freedom should not oppose each
other. Freedom should not be held back in the name of religion, or
religion in the name of freedom. If not, there will be
deceptions," he said. "We are going to introduce to the
world the model of religious democracy," Khatami said.
Intifada precipitates dramatic fall in Israel's GDP
The four-month-old Palestinian uprising triggered a
9.8 per cent slide in Israel's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) during
2000's final quarter, the central bureau of statistics said Thursday.
The wave of bloodshed, which has now left more than
400 dead, slammed the brakes on a year of tremendous economic growth,
with the GDP surging by 6.5 in the second to a record 9.3 per cent in
the third quarter.
Even with 2000's dark end, Israel's growth still
stood at 6.0 per cent for the year.
Since the start of the uprising, Israel's hammering
blockade on the West Bank and Gaza Strip has crippled the Palestinian
economy and taxed Israel.
The border closures have cut off Israel's supply of
125,000 Palestinian labourers, provoking a labour shortage in Israel's
construction, agriculture and service industries and costing the
Palestinian territory 1.15 billion dollars, according to the United
Iraq seeks $2 bln of imports from Egypt in 2001
Iraq said on Wednesday it wanted to import $2
billion of goods from Egypt this year after signing a free trade
agreement with its former Gulf War foe in January.
"This year, $2 billion has been allocated for
trade with Egypt," Iraqi Trade Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh told
reporters after talks in Cairo with Egyptian Prime Minister Atef Obeid.
"The meeting focused on activating last
month's (free trade) protocol between Egypt and Iraq," he added.
Egyptian officials had previously said they
expected the free trade agreement, which was signed in Cairo in
January, to boost Egyptian exports to Iraq to $1 billion a year. They
said the total value of Egyptian exports to Iraq since 1995 stood at
$1.3 billion dollars.
The Iraqi minister said he had outlined the needs
of the Iraqi market — which included vehicles, food, construction
materials and industrial products — during his meeting with Obeid.
"We have signed contracts for the import of
large and medium-sized vehicles from Egypt," Saleh said.
Kuwait's oil minister says no change its Opec
Kuwait's new oil minister Adel al-Subaih on
Wednesday said his country will not change its policy of cooperation
and coordination with Opec and vowed to push ahead with a plan to
allow foreign oil majors to eventually operate domestic fields.
The oil policy of Kuwait is that of the government
and I do not foresee any change towards Opec, the minister told
Reuters after the formation of a new government was announced.
He replaced Sheikh Saud Nasser al-Sabah, often seen
as an oil price hawk within the Organization of the Petroleum
Exporting Countries (Opec). Sheikh Saud, a career diplomat and a
former information minister, has served as oil minister in two
governments since March 1998.
Subaih said that Opec coordination has proved in
recent months its importance in achieving a just price for both
consumers and exporters.
Oil below $28 a barrel
The price of oil fell below $28 a barrel in London
on Wednesday after the latest inventory of US crude stocks showed a
larger-than-expected increase in reserve levels.
A barrel of Brent North Sea reference crude for
April delivery was going for $27.62 in early trading. The March
contract expired late on Tuesday at $28.46 a barrel.
In New York, a barrel of light sweet crude for
March fell 15 cents on Tuesday to 30.36 dollars.
Jeddah trade fair to boost exports by Muslim states
More than 40 countries will attend the first
International Islamic Trade Fair in Jeddah next month, the organisers
said Thursday, as part of efforts to boost exports between Muslim
The March 18-23 fair, which follows the annual
Mecca pilgrimage, is backed by the Islamic Development Bank and the
Jeddah chamber of commerce and industry.
"The fair promises businessmen and delegates
unrivalled access to established and flourishing Muslim economies and
to some of the most exciting investment opportunities available in the
developing world today," the organisers said in a statement.
All political prisoners freed
Bahrain has released all political prisoners under
an amnesty in the Gulf Arab state where citizens voted for a second
day on Thursday in a referendum on landmark political reforms.
Opposition Shiite leaders in Bahrain threw their
weight behind democratic reforms flocking to vote "yes" on
the second and final day of a referendum to restore parliament.
"There are no longer any prisoners in Bahrain
held for crimes linked to national security. The prisons have been
emptied of them," Bahrain's Information Minister Mohammed Ibrahim
Kuwaitis 'await' formation of new government
Ordinary Kuwaitis, politicians and newspapers
called on Wednesday for an end to an alleged dispute within the ruling
Al-Sabah family over the long-awaited formation of a new government.
MP Hasan Johar, a Shi'ite Islamist and a
US-educated political scientist, said: "We must see an immediate
resolution. This is unprecedented and it is having a negative impact
on the country."
Kuwaitis have been waiting for more than two weeks
for the announcement of a new government after the last cabinet,
formed in 1999, resigned due to differences among key members.
Politicians say that differences within the ruling
family over the composition of a new cabinet are behind the delay.
SABIC signs contracts for MTBE exports
Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC) has signed
contracts with Iran and Egypt for exports this year of 260,000 tonnes
of methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), the company announced
The industrial giant's vice chairman, Fahd bin
Nasser, said 200,000 tonnes of the anti-pollutant would go to Iran and
the rest to the Egyptian General Petroleum Corp., in the seventh
consecutive annual deal with Egypt.
The contracts are part of Iranian and Egyptian
efforts to cut air pollution, a major factor in both Tehran and Cairo,
he said, quoted by the official news agency SPA.
He gave no value for the two deals.
Iraq submits distribution plan for goods
Iraq has submitted a $5.55 billion plan for
humanitarian supplies it will purchase in the UN-administered
oil-for-food program for a six-month period ending in early June, UN
spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Tuesday.
But unless Iraq increases flagging oil exports,
Baghdad will only raise about a third of the money needed to meet this
ambitious target, UN figures show.
Iraq is on a pace to sell only about a third as
much oil in the six-month ninth phase of the humanitarian program as
it sold in the eighth phase.
The $5.55 billion in proposed humanitarian supplies
assumes that sales for the ninth phase of the program, which runs from
Dec. 6, 2000 to June 3, 2001, will be about the same as the previous
Iran to accept foreign bids
Tehran will in the coming months launch a major
international tender inviting oil giants to bid for 17 contracts to
develop oil and gas reserves in southern Iran, the Jomhuri-Eslami
paper said Tuesday.
Hojatollah Qanimifard, the head of the Iranian oil
ministry's international department, was quoted as saying that the
contracts would be signed according to the customary
"buy-back" formula, which means that the foreign company
recoups its investment and gets its profit from a share of production.
The bids will cover the oil and gas fields of
Tanghestan, Tshemeh-Khosh, Dehloran and Sarvestan, as well as phases
9, 10 and 11 of the giant South Pars field and Sirri C and Sirri D,
Qanimifard said without revealing the value of the projects.
Lebanon's Hariri, eyeing economy
Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri begins an
official visit to main European ally France on Tuesday to seek support
in tackling worsening state finances and a weak economy.
Hariri, a personal friend of President Jacques
Chirac, will head a large economic team in the hope of drawing aid and
investments from France, the former colonial power in Lebanon.
France is among Lebanon's biggest trading partners
and one of few sources of foreign direct investment in the debt-ridden
economy, which fell into recession in 2000. French exports to Lebanon
were $527 million last year compared to $37 million of Lebanese goods
exported to France.
Saudi 'bans' foreign investment in oil production,
Saudi Arabia will exclude its oil production,
broadcasting, land and air transport, and telecommunications sectors
from foreign investment, the official SPA news agency reported Monday.
The Supreme Economic Council made the ruling at a
meeting Sunday presided over by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz,
Also ruled out of foreign investment were
industries manufacturing military and explosive equipment, property
ownership in Islam's holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and tourist
activities linked to the annual Muslim pilgrimage, or hajj.
Saudi Arabia has since last year announced a
package of legal reforms to encourage foreign investment and diversify
sources of revenue.
Saudi Arabia's Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corp
said on Saturday its 2000 net profit rose 23 per cent to 1.85 billion
riyals ($494 million) compared with the previous year.