Saturday, August 30, 2008

Zimbabwe government must stop stalling

Word from Zimbabwe that power-sharing talks between the government of President Robert Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have stalled shouldn't surprise anyone. Mugabe won't negotiate seriously with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai because he simply refuses to give up power. Mugabe appears to have been behind a campaign of state-sponsored violence that shredded the country's election process and forced Tsvangirai to halt his presidential campaign in June; MDC supporters were allegedly beaten and tortured during the campaign in government-run re-education camps. He obviously will stop at nothing to retain power, despite the fact that Tsvangirai received the most votes in the first-round of voting in March that was seen as fair by international observers. So it's clear to see why Mugabe's ZANU-PF party rejected the latest proposal from the MDC for the two men to jointly chair the country's powerful cabinet, according to the Reuters international news service. "The only new but nonetheless absurd suggestion from the MDC was that Cabinet be co-chaired by President Mugabe and (MDC leader Morgan) Tsvangirai. ZANU-PF dismissed that, not just as insolent, but also stunning ignorance on how government works," the government-owned Herald newspaper said Saturday, Reuters said. The MDC accused the government of a plot to arrest five MDC members of parliament this week to try to eliminate its majority, Reuters said. It's obviously long-past time for South African President Thabo Mbeki, the regional mediator trusted by Mugabe, to inform Zimbabwe's president that it's long-past time he left office.

Mexicans demand accountability on drug violence

The more than 150,000 protesters who marched in Mexico on Saturday to protest the government's seeming inability to stop a wave of drug-related kidnappings and murders across the country have the right idea. Tell the government what the citizens need and, if the people in power can't or won't deliver, kick them out. The protesters want President Felipe Calderon to fulfill his pledges to crack down on the drug-related crime that has terrorized law-abiding people across the country, including the capital, Mexico City, where tens of thousands marched. More than 2,300 have been killed in drug-related murders this year, according to the Reuters international news service. Authorities blame the violence and kidnappings on drug gangs battling for control of smuggling routes. Kidnappings rose 40 percent between 2004 and 2007, according to official statistics, Reuters said. Authorities acknowledge 751 kidnappings in Mexico last year, but an independent crime research institute said the real number could be above 7,000. Calderon dispatched 25,000 troops and federal police to battle the drug cartels after he took office in December 2006, but the killings have increased, Reuters said. If government officials in an oil-rich country with unlimited resources are too inept or too corrupt to defeat the drug gangs, it's time for a change.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

That Georgian sense of humor

Well, at least the Georgians haven't completely lost their sense of irony. After ruinous battles against overpowering Russian forces, parliament in the former Soviet republic of Georgia voted unanimously Thursday to recommend that the government break diplomatic relations with Moscow. Gee, you think? A neighbor bombs your cities and seizes your territory -- want to sit around a table and talk to them now? Sounds like diplomacy has already failed, doesn't it? At least Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili got it right. He told the Reuters international news service that there was almost no dialog between the two countries anyway. Georgia withdrew its ambassador from Moscow in July to protest overlights by Russian military planes. "They've never taken us seriously," Saakashvili said. Earlier in the week, Saakashvili dismissed the idea of cutting diplomatic relations with Russia as academic. "This is beyond bilateral relations now," he said, according to Reuters. "I would not focus too much on procedural aspects of our bilateral relations right now." Russia invaded Georgia's South Ossetia region earlier this month after Georgia sent soldiers to battle pro-Moscow separatists. Russian forces still occupy portions of South Ossetia and another breakaway region with a large ethnic Russian population, Abkhazia, in westernmost Georgia.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Russia raises stakes in Georgia crisis

Russia's decision to recognize two rebellious regions of Georgia adds more diplomatic fireworks to a region already ripped apart by war. Russia's move -- despite contrary warnings from the United States and the European Union -- demonstrates that Moscow does not believe Western nations will defend democracy in the new republics of the former Soviet Union. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said any hope of peaceful co-existence between Georgia and the breakaway Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions had been shattered by Georgia's attempt to recapture the regions by force earlier this month, according to the Reuters international news service. U.S. President George W. Bush said Abkhazia and South Ossetia "must remain" part of Georgia. "Russia's action only exacerbates tensions and complicates diplomatic negotiations," Bush said. NATO and the European Union nations also condemned Russia's move. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russia's decision to recognize the breakaway regions "absolutely unacceptable." But Medvedev, who is no doubt expressing his frustration over the West's rapid recognition of Kosovo, said Russian forces would help defend Abkhazia and South Ossetia if they were attacked. But such an attack is highly unlikely, given Russia's military strength. Western nations have discussed penalizing Russia by kicking it out of the Group of Eight or preventing it from joining the World Trade Organization.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Could Army return to power in Pakistan?

Monday's collapse of the parliamentary coalition that forced Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, to resign under pressure raises the prospect of another military intervention, like the one that brought Musharraf to power in 1999. Fortunately, Gen. Ashfaz Kiyani, Pakistan's first post-Musharraf army chief, has shown little desire to involve himself in the country's ragged politics. But that could change, especially if Musharraf, who led the army until last year, decides to try a comeback. Musharraf resigned last week rather than face impeachment charges being drafted by the coalition government, led by Asif Ali Zardari of the Pakistan People's Party, the widower of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, and Nawaz Sharif, another former prime minister who leads the Pakistan Muslim League-N party. But Sharif pulled his party out of the coalition Monday to protest Zardari's reluctance to reappoint 60 judges ousted by Musharraf last year, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudry, according to the Associated Press. The political turmoil also could hurt the country's battle with Islamic militants in its autonomous tribal regions, which border Afghanistan. Pakistan-based militants are believed to be training and assisting insurgents battling U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, the AP said. The United States has provided more than $10 billion in military aid to Pakistan to help it fight the militants.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

First humanity, then the Olympics

Nice to hear that the United States is urging China to release eight U.S. citizens arrested for protesting during the Beijing Olympics, but shouldn't these 'minor' details have been worked out before the games were even awarded to China? Why Western nations continue tolerate China's repressive ways is hard to figure out. Does anyone really think China will pull back from its policy of engagement -- which has enabled Beijing to join the world economy and become a major economic player -- if the West insists it respect basic human rights? No, it's too late for that. China is too engaged with the rest of the world and won't withdraw, not after tasting the fruits of cooperation. Yet the West has tolerated China's crackdown on pro-Tibet demonstrators in China and has allowed Beijing to censor the Internet. And that's only what has happened publicly. Who knows what kind of pressure has been leveled on residents behind the scenes. The eight Americans, who belong to the group Free Tibet Reporters, will be released by Aug. 30, Chinese authorities said, according to the Reuters international news service. Two of the Americans were detained after hanging a Free Tibet banner near an Olympic venue and six members were detained on Aug. 20.
"We are disappointed that China has not used the occasion of the Olympics to demonstrate greater tolerance and openness," the U.S. Embassy in Beijing said in a written statement, according to Reuters. "We encourage the government of China to demonstrate respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of religion, of all people during the Olympic Games and beyond." Demonstrations favoring an independent Tibet took place around the world during the torch relay prior to the start of the Beijing Olympics, apparently triggered by China's crackdown on Lhasa, Tibet's capital, earlier this year.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The three Fs -- Fannie, Freddie and Failure

Friday's cut in the credit ratings of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac raises the likelihood that the U.S. government-backed mortgage-finance companies will be swept under the raging tide of the housing industry collapse like millions of homeowners who have lost their homes. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which underwrite half of all mortgages in the United States, are in danger of going under in the foreclosure crisis unless the U.S. Treasury intervenes. The companies, known as government-sponsored enterprises, are too important to be allowed to fail. But what role will the government assume in the bailout, which is expected by most observers? The taxpayers are obligated to back the mortgages, but Fannie and Freddie are more complicated than that because they also have sold common and preferred stock that are traded on public exchanges. The companies' common stock, which sold for as much as $65 last year, is trading at only a few dollars per share because traders expect any bailout to eliminate the stock's value. Moody's Investors Service cut the two companies' preferred stock ratings to "Baa3" from "A1," and the bank financial strength rating to "D-plus" from "B-minus," according to the Reuters international news service. Even noted stock market investor Warren Buffett said there was a "reasonable chance" that Fannie and Freddie stock will get wiped out in a government rescue, Reuters said.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

General Motors does the right thing, 30 years later

Could it be that after decades of grudging inaction that has crippled the largest automaker in the United States, General Motors will finally begin to build fuel-efficient small cars? GM's announcement Thursday that it would invest an additional $500 million to build cars that are competitive with Japan's best-selling models could begin to restore the company to its former pedestal. The investment is one phase of a plan to plow more than $7 billion into the small car market to reverse GM's decades-long surrender of the small-car market to Japanese automakers, whose leading fuel-efficient designs have become the top sellers in the U.S. market, according to the Reuters international news service. The new Chevrolet Cruze will be built at GM's Lordstown, Ohio, assembly plant, which had earlier been marked for closure under a GM plan to move all small-car production to Mexico, Reuters said. GM President Rick Wagoner said the Cruze, which replaces the Cobalt, would get nearly 40 miles per gallon. "We are here to stay, and today's announcement is the latest evidence of our commitment," Wagoner said at an event at the plant to mark the investment.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Preliminary Iraq pullout agreement is no deal

Word out of Baghdad that U.S. and Iraqi negotiators had reached a preliminary agreement on when the United States would withdraw its troops is not what it seems. While the agreement, which is only a draft and has not been approved by either government, does include a June 30 date for the departure of U.S. troops from Iraqi towns and villages, the draft does not envision the withdrawal of U.S. forces until 2011 at the earliest. In addition, Iraqi and U.S. sources said the deal includes provisions for keeping foreign troops in Iraq beyond 2011 depending on the military situation, according to Cable News Network (CNN). So, the draft agreement is in actuality a deal with no meaning, since nothing that was agreed to is binding on either side. Initial reports of the draft agreement said it would commit the United States to withdraw forces next year. CNN said Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Haj Hamood indicated that it included a date of June 30 for U.S. troops to withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages. But an unnamed U.S. official said there are no dates in the agreement, only general time frames that would take into account conditions on the ground, according to CNN. "Not a deadline, it's not a timeline," the U.S. official said. "It's conditions-permitting."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Surge won't help legal mess over Iraq

While it's gratifying to hear that U.S. forces appear to have gotten the upper hand in Iraq with the extra troops sent by President Bush as part of the "surge," no amount of troops will be able to repair the legal rifts opened by the White House. President Bush has assumed powers not anticipated by the U.S. Constitution, and the U.S. Congress has repeatedly failed to assert its authority and acquiesced. This issue was again raised Sunday when federal prosecutors advised six Blackwater Worldwide security guards to gather and present evidence to contest anticipated charges stemming from last year's shootings of 17 civilians in an incident on the streets of Baghdad, according to the Reuters international news service. The slayings occurred when Blackwater guards escorting a diplomatic convoy opened fire on a crowded street. The Iraqi government vehemently protested the shootings, which raised tensions between Iraq and the United States, and has sought to prosecute the security guards under Iraqi law. The FBI investigated the shootings for 10 months and the U.S. Justice Department was at last report still considering whether to file charges. The letters sent to the guards, called "target letters," are often a final step before formal charges are brought, Reuters said. The Washington Post reported that the contractors would probably be brought under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act. The letters also are a reminder that the United States has never held a debate over the use of private contractors to wage war, a practice that has become common in Iraq.

Can Maoists in Nepal be trusted?

It's easy to see why the impoverished people of Nepal want change but it's too early to tell if the Maoists, who gave up a 10-year-old insurgency to win parliamentary elections in April, will be able to concentrate on domestic affairs and deliver it. The Maoists are trying to put together a compromise cabinet after a special assembly picked their leader, Prachanda, to be the country's first prime minister. Nepal, the world's last Hindu dynasty, abolished its monarchy and set up a democratic government in May. "We hope to form the cabinet soon and are holding consultations with potential coalition partners," Maoist spokesman Krishna Bahadur Mahara said today, according to the Reuters international news service. "We will try to form the cabinet by Monday." A democratic government was one of the major elements in the peace deal that ended the Maoist civil war in 2006. More than 13,000 Nepalis died in the conflict. In the election, the Maoists promised to represent the country's millions of poor people and provide better healthcare, schools, roads, jobs and food, Reuters said. But Nepal, one of the world's poorest nations, is facing severe fuel shortages in addition to rising prices. Prachanda's biggest immediate challenge is demobilizing his 20,000-strong guerrilla army and reintegrating them into Nepali society. But perhaps his greatest challenge will be to avoid the temptation of authoritarianism that has characterized the world's previous experiences with Communism-inspired governments.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Musharraf resignation seems imminent yet surprising

It's hard to believe that Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to resign in exchange for immunity from prosecution for any crimes committed by his regime, but that's what the Financial Times of London newspaper reported today on its Web site. After all, this is the guy who staged a military coup in 1999 and fired the Pakistan Supreme Court last year when he thought they were going to rule his re-election invalid. But according to the Reuters international news service, the Financial Times of London cites unnamed officials and a leading member of his party as saying that such a deal has already been reached between Musharraf and leaders of Pakistan's new civilian government. "The president will neither be impeached nor prosecuted on any charges," the official was quoted as saying, according to Reuters. "He will try to stay in Pakistan." Musharraf's supporters in parliament were defeated in elections in February and two anti-Musharraf parties, including the Pakistan People's Party of assassinated former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, won a large majority. The other opposition party, Pakistan Muslim League-N, is led by the prime minister Musharraf deposed, Nawaz Sharif, who returned from exile last year. After several months of discussions, the two parties agreed to try to impeach the former army chief and remove him from leadership of the nuclear-armed country. Musharraf's government has been aligned with the United States in the war against terror and has received billions of dollars in U.S. military assistance designed to keep Pakistan stable. But Pakistan's campaign against militants in the tribal region has been uninspired and its lack of success appears to have helped undermine U.S. military efforts in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

All the king's horses

When will federal judges finally stop and reverse the Bush administration's assault on the Constitution? The oft-asked question was back in the news Tuesday after a federal appeals court in Washington refused to reinstate a lawsuit by a former spy who sued Vice President Dick Cheney and former Bush administration officials for revealing her identity to the public in 2003. Valerie Plame's lawsuit had sought damages for her and her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, contending that the administration intentionally ruined her career in retaliation for Wilson's public criticism of the Iraq war, according to the Reuters international news service. Her allegations prompted a criminal investigation which led to the conviction of Cheney's top aide, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, for perjury and obstruction of justice. President George W. Bush commuted Libby's prison sentence last year. But Plame's charges are believable, particularly now that the extent of the Bush administration's misconduct in making the case for the invasion of Iraq is becoming clearer. With Congress abdicating its duty to stop the president, the people of the United States are forced to rely on the courts to intervene. But the courts have not been up to the task, including the U.S. Supreme Court's refusal to order a recount of the Florida votes in the 2000 election. To its credit, the Supreme Court has forced the administration to adhere somewhat to the Constitution in its imprisonment of suspects at Guantanamo Bay. But in Plame's lawsuit, the appellate court missed an opportunity to mandate a judicial inquiry. Exposing the identify of a CIA agent is a felony, and it appears likely that the decision to out Plame was made at the highest levels of the administration. It would not be surprising to find out that Cheney and, perhaps, Bush himself was involved. Plame's attorney said an appeal was likely, Reuters said.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Posturing is hardly productive

Maybe they should stop all this posturing and get on with serious talks. Time is running out on the Israeli prime minister, the Bush administration and, probably, the Mahmoud Abbas-led Palestinian Authority, and a promising opportunity is about to be squandered. Sunday's remarks to Fatah party loyalists by the Palestinian Authority's chief negotiator with Israel demonstrates the precarious -- some would no doubt say hopeless -- condition of the negotiations. Ahmed told Fatah members that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could only be accomplished if Israel withdrew to its 1967 borders and abandoned the Gaza Strip and the West Bank of the Jordan River or, barring that, if Israel agreed to allow all Palestinians stay where they are and become citizens. Of course, neither of these alternatives is a realistic possibility. Israel is not about to withdraw from all of the territories it captured after it was attacked by its Arab neighbors; Palestinians have not even accepted living peaceably alongside the Jewish state, much less inside it. In addition, the immediate political situations confronting both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are not conducive to any kind of deal. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is being forced to resign and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has lost control of a major part of his territory to a competing group. No deal appears possible until both situations are resolved, meaning there is almost no hope of resolving the matter before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves office in January. But people in the Middle East have lived together, though often in conflict, for thousands of years -- they apparently will continue to do so. Wouldn't a measured approach to peace be called for here?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Settlement of Zimbabwe dispute could come Sunday

Could the political crisis that has only deepened Zimbabwe's economic collapse be ending? Reports from Harare say a power-sharing deal could be struck between embattled President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as early as Sunday. According to the Reuters international news service, Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change who claims he won the presidential election in March, has agreed to serve as prime minister in a new government, according to a high-ranking official in Mugabe's ruling party. But Reuters also says that details of the arrangement are still up in the air, which probably means the deal is only a hope. The dispute is over how many ministries will be controlled by the opposition, which translates to how much power Mugabe, a hero of Zimbabwe's struggle for independence from colonial ruler England, is willing to share with Tsvangirai. The proposed power-sharing deal, obviously pattenered after an arrangement that ended a similar post-election crisis in Kenya, was negotiated in two weeks of talks between the embittered rivals mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki. The unnamed official from Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party said the deal was reached when the MDC agreed to accept Mugabe as president, Reuters said. "There could be a signing tomorrow, after the leaders have met to thrash out the remaining issues," the official told Reuters on Saturday. Mugabe was re-elected in June after Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff campaign, claiming his supporters had been victimized by state-sponsored violence. Tsvangirai, who won the first round of voting in March with an official tally of 48 percent of the vote, was forced to take refuge in the Dutch embassy.

Syria's reluctance on reactor site points to guilt

Why would Syria refuse to allow international experts to reinspect the site of a suspected nuclear reactor that Israel bombed last year? There's only one logical answer -- Syria was building a reactor with help from North Korea, as Israel suspected, and doesn't want the West to have proof of its duplicity. International Atomic Energy Agency experts did visit the site in June but wanted to return to the site for further checks, the Reuters international news agency reported. Syria says the al-Kibar complex was a military complex under construction, not a nuclear facility, but denied further access by inspectors. "Syria did not work on setting up a nuclear reactor with the Korean Democratic Republic or any other country," said a statement issued by Syria's foreign ministry, according to Reuters. The ministry said Syria had agreed to only one site visit by the IAEA. "A memorandum of understanding was reached between Syria and the IAEA that stipulated a visit exclusively to the Kibar site and for one time only," the statement said. "Syria has honored this and affirmed that if the agency had any queries after the visit it could present them to the Syrian side to answer." Before the bombing, the United States and Israel had accused Syria of violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty by trying to construct the Kibar reactor with North Korean technology. Of course, it also would be helpful to know what the inspectors found and why they want to return to the site.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Musharraf delays Olympic trip under impeachment threat

Word from Pakistan is that beleaguered President Pervez Musharraf has delayed a trip to Beijing for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics to deal with an impeachment crisis at home. Musharraf, the former general who seized control of Pakistan's government in a 1999 coup, saw his allies lose control of parliament in February to a coalition that includes Nawaz Sharif, the last prime minister, and the Pakistan People's Party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto was assassinated while campaigning in December. The defeat of Musharraf's allies in parliament came after he assumed emergency powers in November and fired Pakistan Supreme Court justices. Coalition leaders were meeting this week in Islamabad to resolve differences over Musharraf's impeachment and restoration of the justices, according to the Reuters international news service. Musharraf, an ally of the United States in the war against terrorism, has been pressured to resign but has pledged instead to work with the civilian government. Sharif has pressed for impeachment since returning from exile last year, but the head of the coalition, Bhutto's husband Asif Ali Zardari, has sought to avoid direct confrontation with Musharraf until now.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Iraq has the right to be its own country

U.S. forces may have ousted Saddam Hussein and set up a new government in Iraq, but doesn't Iraq ever get to be its own country? If Iraq plans to stay a democracy, which U.S. leaders apparently want, doesn't that mean that it gets to make its own decisions, even if Washington doesn't like what Baghdad decides to do? This seems simple enough, yet it's obviously not obvious enough. Members of the U.S. Congress who expressed outrage Wednesday over reports of Iraq's $79 billion budget surplus must think of that country as a client state, not an independent country. The Reuters international news service reported Tuesday that one member of Congress called the General Accounting Office report "inexcusable." But what is all the exasperation about? The United States knows what's going on in Iraq -- certainly military leaders know what is being produced in oil refineries they rebuilt and are keeping in operation -- and knows what to do. Aren't there agreements between the United States and Iraq on revenue? Iraq certainly must plan to repay the United States for at least some of the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the war and reconstruction. "We should not be paying for Iraqi projects while Iraqi oil revenues continue to pile up in the bank, including outrageous profits from $4-a-gallon gas prices in the U.S.," said Sen. Carl Levin, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters reported. "We should require that U.S. taxpayers be reimbursed for the cost of large projects." A spokeswoman for Levin said the senator would try to tighten the rules on reconstruction spending in the next authorization bill. But the Congress passed the last half-dozen or so bills -- wasn't this most simple matter seen to? You spend billions and billions of dollars on someone, don't you know whether they plan to pay it back? Maybe the outspoken members of Congress think they're embarassing Iraq, but they are only embarassing themselves.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Planned execution in Texas highlights untenable system

The decision by the state of Texas to execute a Mexican citizen on Tuedsay despite objections by Mexico and the World Court unbares the moral inconsistencies that should have long ago condemned the death penalty in the United States. Allowing executions to continue on a state-by-state basis undermines the principles of justice that the U.S. legal system is base on and draws its authority from. While the death penalty has strong support in the United States and particularly in Texas, the Lone Star State has executed more than 400 prisoners since 1976, far more than any other state. The death penalty is barred in most other democratic countries. The planned execution of Jose Medellin, who was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl in 1993, has drawn fire around the world because Medellin was not informed of his right to get help from the Mexican consulate after he was arrested, according to the Reuters international news service. Of course, the crime itself, in which two teens were assaulted and strangled to death in a gang-related attack, also drew wide outrage for its senselessness and brutality. But the crime itself is besides the point. Surely, lifelong imprisonment is the mother of all sentences. Only people who don't take pleasure from everyday life would think it isn't. Last month, the World Court last month ordered the U.S. government to "take all measures necessary" to halt the execution Medellin and four other Mexicans until it reviews the rights dispute. President Bush ordered Texas to conduct such a review, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that out. There are 51 Mexicans awaiting execution in the United States.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Calling the West's bluff

Now what? Iran called Western nations' bluff on its nuclear research program Saturday with a statement from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on his official Web site. Ahmadinejad rejected demands by the West that it stop its research, which Iran says is intended for the development of peaceful nuclear energy but the West fears is a nuclear weapons program. Western nations had given Iran until Aug. 2 to accept its conditions or face further United Nations economic sanctions. Iran insists it has the right to develop and harness nuclear energy under international law. "In whichever negotiation we take part ... it is unequivocally with the view to the realization of Iran's nuclear right and the Iranian nation would not retreat one iota from its rights," Ahmadinejad said. Left unsaid, of course, is that Iran is the fourth-largest oil producer, according to the Reuters international news service, and wouldn't need electricity from nuclear plants for generations. Iran's statement was issued after Ahmadinejad concluded talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which were scheduled after French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Assad to intervene in the dispute. But Assad merely restated Ahmadinejad's position after the meeting. "We have told the European countries that ... every country, including Iran, has the right to engage in uranium enrichment and to possess nuclear power stations based on agreements," Assad said, according to Reuters. Iran has been subjected to three rounds of sanctions since 2006, Reuters said.