Archive for November, 2011

November 30, 2011

Britain orders Iran’s diplomats to leave UK


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By DAVID STRINGER, Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Britain ordered all Iranian diplomats out of the U.K. within 48 hours and shuttered its ransacked embassy in Tehran on Wednesday, in a significant escalation of tensions between Iran and the West.

The ouster of the entire Iranian diplomatic corps deepens Iran’s international isolation amid growing suspicions over its nuclear program. At least four other European countries also moved to reduce diplomatic contacts with Iran.

The British measures were announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, who said Britain had withdrawn its entire diplomatic staff after angry mobs stormed the British Embassy compound and a diplomatic residence in Tehran, hauling down Union Jack flags, torching a vehicle and tossing looted documents through windows.

The hours-long assault Tuesday was reminiscent of the chaotic seizure of the U.S. Embassy in 1979. Protesters replaced the British flag with a banner in the name of a 7th-century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein, and one looter showed off a picture of Queen Elizabeth II apparently taken off a wall.

“The idea that the Iranian authorities could not have protected our embassy or that this assault could have taken place without some degree of regime consent is fanciful,” Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons.

The diplomatic fallout from the attack quickly spread to other Western countries with embassies in Iran. Norway announced it was temporarily closing its embassy as a precaution, and Germany, France and the Netherlands all recalled their ambassadors for consultations. Italy said it was considering such a recall.

Iran currently has 18 diplomats in Britain. About 24 British Embassy staff and dependents were based in Tehran.

The White House condemned the attacks and spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. backed Britain’s ejection of Iranian diplomats.

European Union foreign ministers were to meet Thursday to consider possible new sanctions against Tehran.

France’s budget minister, Valerie Pecresse, said the EU should consider a total embargo on Iranian oil or a freeze on Iranian central bank holdings. British officials said the U.K. would likely support new measures against Iran’s energy sector.

Hague claimed those involved in Tuesday’s attack were members of a student group allied with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary Basij organization, which recruits heavily on university campuses.

“We should be clear from the outset that this is an organization controlled by elements of the Iranian regime,” he said.

Hague told Parliament the private quarters of staff and Britain’s ambassador were trashed in the attack and that diplomats’ personal possessions were stolen.

“This is a breach of international responsibilities of which any nation should be ashamed,” he said.

Some were alarmed by Hague’s tough tone. David Miliband, Britain’s former foreign secretary, said he hoped the robust words would not become “part of the very unwelcome drumbeat of war.”

Iran’s government has publicly expressed regret about the “unacceptable behavior” of the protesters, whose attacks began after anti-British demonstrations apparently authorized by authorities.

However, regime hard-liners have spoken out in support of the protesters, reflecting the deepening power struggle over which direction Iran might take in the future.

Mohammad Mohammadian, a representative of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, praised the attackers, saying they had targeted the “epicenter of sedition.”

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said the “wrath of (the protesters) resulted from several decades of domination-seeking behavior of Britain.”

The expulsion of Iran’s diplomats and the withdrawal of Britain’s officials from Tehran intensifies a rift that had deepened dramatically in the past week after Britain joined the United States and European Union in imposing new economic sanctions on Iran. The punitive measures followed a U.N. report offering new evidence suggesting Iran may be developing nuclear weapons.

On Sunday, Iran’s parliament approved a bill to downgrade relations with Britain in retaliation.

The U.S. and many allies fear that Iran’s nuclear program could eventually lead to nuclear weapons. Tehran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and fuel, but will not give up the technology to make its own nuclear fuel.

Tensions between Iran and the West were heightened in October when U.S. officials accused agents linked to Iran’s Quds Force — an elite wing of the powerful Revolutionary Guard — of a role in an alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to the U.S.

Britain previously ordered Iran to remove its diplomats in 1989, when the two nations broke off ties over a fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill British author Salman Rushdie because his novel “The Satanic Verses” allegedly insulted Islam.

Iran’s tensions with Britain date back to the 19th century, when the Persian monarchy gave huge industrial concessions to London, which later included significant control over Iran’s oil industry. In 1953, Britain and the U.S. helped organize a coup that overthrew a nationalist prime minister and restored the pro-Western shah to power.

More recently, Iran was angered by Britain’s decision to honor Rushdie with a knighthood in 2007, and over its involvement in Western scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear program.

In March 2007, Iran detained 15 British sailors and marines for allegedly entering the country’s territorial waters in the Gulf — a claim Britain denies. The 15 were released after nearly two weeks in captivity.

Associated Press writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Juergen Baetz in Frankfurt, Jamey Keaten in Paris and Frances D’Emilio in Rome, contributed to this report.

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November 30, 2011

U.S. Motives in Myanmar Are on China’s Radar

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Published: November 29, 2011

BEIJING — When Myanmar’s military leader, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, arrived here on Monday in a crisp tan uniform and a matching cap, he got a welcome from the very highest levels of the Chinese government.

Vice President Xi Jinping, who is expected to become China’s top leader in 2012, met with him, as did Gen. Chen Bingde, the chief of the general staff of the People’s Liberation Army. General Chen told General Min Aung Hlaing, in the words of the state news agency Xinhua, that “bilateral relations have developed well through the joint efforts of both sides.”

In any given week, such meetings would have been quickly noted and just as quickly forgotten. But the visit by Myanmar’s top general has become a subject of conversation among scholars and journalists because it came just two days before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is scheduled to visit Myanmar, the first appearance there by an American diplomat of that rank in 56 years.

One Chinese scholar, Xu Liping from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview on Tuesday that although the general’s trip “does come at a sensitive time, the meetings are not closely linked to Hillary’s visit.” But another scholar, Mu Gengyuan of the Chinese Institute of International Studies, said the general’s arrival was “clearly an opportunity to reassure Beijing and communicate with Chinese leaders before Hillary’s arrival in Myanmar tomorrow.”

The attention paid to General Min Aung Hlaing’s visit reveals the importance that Chinese officials and scholars attach to the Obama administration’s policy of engagement with Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, and its potential effect on Myanmar’s relations with China. This nation is Myanmar’s biggest economic partner, and its influence in Myanmar has in recent years overshadowed India’s.

China’s interests in Myanmar include oil and natural gas pipelines that are under construction; access to the Indian Ocean; and the stability of border regions, where ethnic clashes have broken out between the Burmese military and guerrilla groups. Trade between China and Myanmar reached $5.3 billion last year, and China is the biggest foreign investor in Myanmar, with $15.8 billion in investments there.

Now, the Chinese are warily watching as the United States makes overtures toward Myanmar’s leaders.

“There is no doubt that many inside the Chinese establishment interpret it as part of a larger U.S. strategy on China,” said Mr. Xu, an expert on Southeast Asia. “It is another step taken by the U.S. to strengthen its presence in the region.”

Conservative voices in Chinese military and foreign policy circles now talk regularly about American attempts to hem in China, despite denials from American officials. On a trip through the region two weeks ago, President Obama announced he was sending 2,500 military personnel members to Australia. He also joined Asian leaders at a summit meeting in confronting Prime Minister Wen Jiabao over China’s expansive territorial claims to the South China Sea.

Thomas E. Donilon, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, wrote in an opinion article published on Sunday in The Financial Times that the United States intended to “maintain and enhance a strong network of allies and partners” in the Asia-Pacific region. Some Asian countries, Vietnam especially, have expressed concern over China’s growing clout. Myanmar has been more circumspect, even under the new government of President Thein Sein, who American officials say has signaled a tolerance for experimentation with political and economic reforms. But one action this year — the suspension by the Burmese government on Sept. 30 of a Chinese-financed, $3.6 billion dam project that had ignited popular protests — caught the attention of Chinese leaders.

Some Chinese officials and scholars contend that the Obama administration played a role in persuading Mr. Thein Sein to block the dam or even in stoking the protests. The administration has not acknowledged any involvement.

“The incident sends a clear signal to China,” said Ms. Mu, the scholar at the Chinese Institute of International Studies, which is linked to the Foreign Ministry. “With the U.S. strategy of refocusing on the region, it is already making inroads in Myanmar. It also acts as a reminder that the public diplomacy of China still leaves much to be desired.”

Ms. Mu said that China and Myanmar remained committed to strong ties, but that their relations had changed since the United States became more involved in the region.

“The Myanmar government exhibited a strong desire to amend its relationship with the U.S. and Europe probably out of fear of becoming over-reliant on China and turning into a vassal state of an increasingly powerful neighbor,” she said.

On Wednesday, as Mrs. Clinton traveled to Myanmar, the English-language edition of Global Times ran an editorial on U.S.-Myanmar relations that highlighted the Myitsone Dam fiasco and concluded with this: “China welcomes the opening-up of Myanmar, but firmly opposes it stepping on China’s interests.”

Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, an analyst in Beijing for the International Crisis Group, said there was a range of opinions in China on the American involvement in Myanmar. While many people examining the strategic aspects see efforts by the United States to encircle China, others view Myanmar’s desire to diversify its foreign relations and escape sanctions as a natural development. “On the economic side, there are businesspeople who think they will gain from Myanmar opening up to the rest of the world in terms of a better business environment,” she said.

Relations between the Chinese Communist Party and the Myanmar government, long run by a military dictatorship, have waxed and waned. In the 1960s, when China was trying to foment Cultural Revolution-style upheaval in Burma, people were suspicious of China, wrote Thant Myint-U, a scholar with a new book on modern Myanmar, “Where China Meets India.” Anti-Chinese riots broke out in June 1967. But in the 1990s, when much of the world tried to isolate Myanmar, China kept up relations.

“There is no special dislike of China or Chinese culture; dislike suggests a familiarity that is not there,” Mr. Thant Myint-U wrote. “Rather, there is a sense of the dangers of being next to an increasingly powerful and populous nation, whose internal wars and politics have time and again spilled over to wreak havoc on the much smaller country to the southwest.”

Li Bibo and Edy Yin contributed research.

A version of this article appeared in print on November 30, 2011, on page A10 of the New York edition with the headline: Suspicious of U.S. Outreach, China Is Stressing Ties With Myanmar.


As you prepare to travel to Burma, I am writing on behalf of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to urge you to raise concerns about freedom of religion publically during your trip.

Secretary Clinton traveled to Nay Pyi Taw and Rangoon, Burma, from November 30 – December 2. This historic trip marks the first visit to Burma by a US Secretary of State in over a half a century. Secretary Clinton underscores the US commitment to a

November 30, 2011

For refugees from Burma, hope of better life in US turns into extreme poverty, isolation

Public release date: 28-Nov-2011

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Contact: Elaine Bible
San Francisco State University

For refugees from Burma, hope of better life in US turns into extreme poverty, isolation

Refugees who have fled Burma to live in Oakland, Calif., are at risk of becoming a permanent, poverty-stricken underclass warns a new report released today by researchers at San Francisco State University and the Burma Refugee Family Network (BRFN). The report found that almost 60 percent of Oakland’s refugees from Burma are living in extreme poverty.

Since 2007, thousands of refugees from war-torn Burma have been resettled by the U.S. federal government and an estimated 400 individuals have been resettled in Oakland.

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has been under military rule since 1962. Ethnic minorities make up 40 percent of the country’s population and many refugees are from the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, have been the targets of brutal military attacks and persecution by Burma’s Army.

“These recent refugees from Burma are facing dire circumstances,” said Russell Jeung, associate professor of Asian American Studies at San Francisco State University. “The recession and government cuts in adult English classes mean that even though they want to work, these refugees have no opportunity to learn English or workplace skills in order to adapt to life in the U.S.”

Jeung and his students, together with BRFN and other community-based organizations, surveyed 194 refugees from Burma to assess the community’s needs. The researchers found that in addition to high poverty rates, these refugees face barriers to accessing employment, health care and government benefits caused by their lack of English. These barriers have been exacerbated by recent cuts in the provision of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and a lack of appropriate interpretation services.

“Refugees from Burma are brought here to escape years of persecution and hardship, and are hoping for a better life in the U.S., but instead they are being neglected and caught in a web of poverty,” said Zar Ni Maung of BRFN. “Here, we should have more human rights and opportunities, but we still struggle and must work together to overcome these challenges.”

The report found that among Oakland’s refugee population from Burma:

  • 63 percent are unemployed. Those that are employed have sporadic, low-wage jobs.
  • 57 percent live below the federal threshold for extreme poverty, earning less than $1,000 per month for an average household size of five. Most of the remainder live below the federal poverty line.
  • 38 percent speak no English at all. Another 28 percent speak English poorly.
  • 74 percent report that lack of English is their biggest barrier to accessing health care.
  • 47 percent report that English classes are the most-needed service in their community.

The outlook is particularly difficult for refugees from Burma’s Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, which make up the majority of the refugees from Burma that have resettled in Oakland. These ethnic groups originate from some of the poorest and least developed states in Burma. They fled their home states in eastern Burma to escape military attacks and human rights abuses. Now resettled in Oakland, refugees of Karenni origin are struggling to adapt to life in the United States: 81 percent are unemployed, 90 percent are living in extreme poverty and 90 percent have no high school education.

“These ethnic groups are faring the worst,” Jeung said. “They are the least educated, the least empowered and many of them only speak their own ethnic language, which means they can’t understand Burmese translators and are locked out of accessing the services they need.”

The report’s recommendations include an extension of the federal Refugee Cash Assistance Program, which currently only provides support to refugees for eight months after their arrival in the U.S. It also calls for direct support for refugee community organizations helping their own communities and the funding and training of interpreters in ethnic languages and increased provision of adult ESL classes, particularly classes appropriate for learners with low levels of formal schooling.

“Our findings suggest that resettlement programs in Oakland are not yet successful,” Maung said. “We would like to see federal and local refugee government agencies and nonprofits working together with and supporting grassroots community organizations in order to help members of our community achieve self-sufficiency.”


“From Crisis to Community Development: Needs Assessments of Refugees from Burma” was jointly published by researchers at San Francisco State University’s Cesar Chavez Institute and the Burma Refugee Family Network, and the surveys were conducted in collaboration with Asian Health Services and the Street Level Health Project. Authors include Russell Jeung of SF State; Joan Jeung of Asian Health Services; Mai Nhung Le, associate professor of Asian American Studies at SF State; Grace Yoo, professor of Asian American Studies at SF State; Amy Lam of Street Level Health Project; and Alisa Loveman and Zar Ni Maung of BRFN.

SF State’s Cesar Chavez Institute promotes socially engaged scholarship that tackles social justice issues.

Burma Refugee Family Network (BRFN) is a community-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, established by immigrants and refugees from Burma in 2008 to assist refugees of all ethnic groups from Burma resettling in the wider San Francisco Bay Area.

November 29, 2011

Iran protesters storm UK embassy in Tehran

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29 November 2011 Last updated at 09:50 ET

Protesters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, have broken into the UK embassy compound during an anti-British demonstration.

Militant students are said to have removed the British flag, burnt it and replaced it with Iran’s flag. State TV showed youths smashing embassy windows.

The move comes after Iran resolved to reduce ties following the UK’s decision to impose further sanctions on it.

The UK’s Foreign Office said it was “outraged” by the actions.

It urged Iran to honour international commitments to protect diplomatic missions and their staff.

Background: UK-Iran ties

After a series of ups and downs in relations following the 1979 Iranian revolution, London and Tehran restored full diplomatic ties in 1988.

Iran broke off relations the following year after Ayatollah Khomeyni’s fatwa on the author Salman Rushdie. Partial diplomatic relations were restored in 1990 and these were upgraded in 1999 to ambassadorial level.

In 2001, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited Iran.

In March 2007, Iranian forces seized eight Royal Navy sailors and seven marines from their patrol boat on the border between Iran and Iraq, saying that the sailors had entered Iranian waters. They were freed the next month.

In June 2009, Britain froze Iranian assets worth almost £1bn under sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear programme, and later Iran and Britain each expelled two diplomats. The same month, Iran accused Britain of involvement in the post-presidential election unrest in Iran.

In November 2011, Britain imposed new financial sanctions on Iran, a move which appears to have led to the current situation.

The students clashed with riot police and chanted “the embassy of Britain should be taken over” and “death to England”, AP reports.

Students were reported to be ransacking offices inside the building, and one protester was said to be waving a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth II.

Iran’s semi-official Mehr news agency said embassy documents had been set alight. Embassy staff fled by the back door, the agency added.

Pictures showed a car inside the compound on fire while outside the embassy’s walls, several hundred other demonstrators were gathered.

Live TV footage showed Iranian riot police gradually clearing the protesters away from outside the embassy.

“The rally is ended, leave,” police called from loudspeakers.

An unconfirmed report from the official Irna news agency said a separate group of protesters had broken into another British embassy compound in the north of the city and seized “classified documents”.

The UK Foreign Office condemned the attack. “We are outraged by this. It is utterly unacceptable,” it said in a statement.

“The Iranian government have a clear duty to protect diplomats and embassies in their country and we expect them to act urgently to bring the situation under control and ensure the safety of our staff and security of our property”.

It was not clear how many embassy staff were in the building at the time. A Foreign Office source said it was checking on the well-being of workers and diplomats, AP reported.

France condemned the attack “very strongly”, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said.

The West’s 21 November sanctions against Iran

  • The US named Iran as an area of “primary money laundering concern” to dissuade non-US banks from dealing with Tehran. It also blacklisted 11 entities suspected of aiding Iran’s nuclear programme. Expanded sanctions to target companies that aid Iran’s oil and petrochemical industries.
  • Britain ordered all British financial institutions to stop doing business with their Iranian counterparts, including the central bank.
  • Canada said it would immediately ban the export to Iran of all goods used in the petrochemical, oil and gas industries.

“France expresses its full solidarity with the UK,” he said.

Last week the US, UK and Canada announced new measures targeting Iran over its controversial nuclear plans.

For its part, the UK Treasury imposed sanctions on Iranian banks, accusing them of facilitating the country’s nuclear programme

That decision followed a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that suggested Iran was working towards acquiring a nuclear weapon.

It said Iran had carried out tests “relevant to the development of a nuclear device”.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

On Sunday, Iran’s parliament voted by a large majority to downgrade diplomatic relations with the UK in response to the British action.

Iranian radio reported that some MPs had chanted “Death to Britain” during the vote, which was approved by 87% of MPs.

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November 29, 2011

What will happen to China as Burma (Myanmar) gets closer with Vietnam, US?

What will happen to China as Burma (Myanmar) gets closer with Vietnam, US?

A senior Chinese military official said Monday that China cherishes friendly relations with Burma, though it appears to be in the midst of a major change now.

By Peter Ford, Staff writer / November 29, 2011

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For decades, each time a new Burmese military chief of staff was appointed, like clockwork, he would make his first foreign trip to Beijing, his nation’s firmest diplomatic ally and longtime economic bulwark.

But Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, currently on a visit here, was busy in some unusual places before he came to China. Earlier this month he was talking to the special US envoy to Burma, Derek Mitchell. Then he went to Vietnam. He will be back home later this week when Hillary Clinton makes the first visit to Burma by a US Secretary of State since 1955.

The fact that General Hlaing chose Vietnam, a near neighbor building closer military ties with Washington and making no secret of its nervousness about China’s regional ambitions, has not gone unnoticed in Beijing.

Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping welcomed Hlaing to Beijing with a reminder that the two countries’ friendship had “endured the test of time through sudden international changes.”

Burma appears in the midst of such a change now, as the new nominally civilian government that took over the reins from the military last March releases political prisoners, reaches out to ethnic minorities to end years of violence, and tests a political opening in talks with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

China has been a lifeline for Burma, ruled by military dictatorships since 1962 and especially isolated since most nations slapped sanctions on the government after it cracked down brutally on a pro-democracy uprising in 1988.

Now “we want to have a regular relationship” with the United States, the powerful speaker of the Burmese parliament and former member of the military junta Shwe Mann told reporters on Friday.

The government’s foreign policy would be based on “peaceful coexistence with all nations,” Mr. Mann said, insisting that “there is no reason to have worse relations between Myanmar and China when Myanmar and US relations get better.” Myanmar is the government’s official name for Burma.

Such a policy would mark a return to Burma’s traditional neutrality, an understandable approach given the country’s sensitive geographical location, squeezed between Asia’s two giants, India and China, and flanked by Thailand, a strong US ally.

Since international sanctions isolated the country, Burmese governments have had little option but to depend on China for trade, weaponry, and diplomatic support in the United Nations. Chinese businesses, private and state owned, have poured $12.3 billion into Burma, and hundreds of thousands of Chinese have settled in Burma.

There had been signs even before the military stood down that nationalist generals were unhappy with this state of affairs. Now the new government, dominated by former senior military men who have swapped their uniforms for suits, has stepped away from China in symbolic ways.

Most notable was the decision last September to suspend a $3.6 billion Chinese dam construction project in northern Burma that had sparked considerable local opposition. Of the hydropower due to be generated by the Myitsone dam, 90 percent was to be sent to China.

Though the new Burmese authorities appear keen to re-orient the country’s foreign policy, few observers expect them to cast off ties with their powerful and influential leader. Rather, they will walk a tightrope between Washington and Beijing.

“It would be insane to think that Burma needs to choose one over the other,” prominent Burmese historian Thant Myint-U recently told The Irawaddy, an independent online newspaper published by Burmese exiles. “Burma is the last country that can afford to have bad relations with either the US or China.”

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