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THE INDEX — September 16, 2009

One in three votes cast for Afghanistan's incumbent President Hamid Karzai in last month's election was fraudulent, say EU election observers. According to EU Election Monitoring Commission, about 1.1 million votes in favor of Karzai, as well as 300,000 cast for his main rival Abdullah Abdullah, met Afghanistan's criteria for electoral fraud. The findings were released as official election results now show Karzai winning with 54.6 percent of the vote. But if the suspect ballots to be excluded, Karzai's share would fall to 47.2 percent--short of the 50 percent needed for a win and triggering a run-off election. Karzai furiously condemned the Commission's claims as "partial, irresponsible and in contradiction with Afghanistan's constitution." Instead of publicizing their findings, Karzai continued, the monitors should be referring them to Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) and the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC). The EU team accused the IEC, which is chaired by a pro-Karzai appointee, of abetting the fraud, saying that it has ignored its own rules on identifying and eliminating suspect votes. The ECC ordered a recount of about 10 percent of the votes, as well as an audit of election staff. A long-awaited UN probe found both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes in last year's Gaza conflict. The four-person investigative team, led by South African war crimes prosecutor Richard Goldstone, reported that both sides violated international human rights and humanitarian law during the three-week operation in the Gaza Strip last December and January. The report condemned Palestinian militant groups for their repeated mortar attacks targeting Israeli citizens. But the focus was primarily on Israel's use of "disproportionate force" against densely populated Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. In addition, the report said that Israel's blockade of Gaza amounted to a collective punishment of civilians, and suggested that Palestinians had been deprive of substinence, employment, and movement--which could constitute a crime against humanity. The group recommended that the Security Council refer the case to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if independent, "good-faith" proceedings do not occur within six months. Israel denounced the report, rejecting it as one-sided and anti-Israeli. President Shimon Peres said that in practice, the report's findings "[grant] legitimacy to terrorism, premeditated shooting and killing while ignoring the duty and the right of a state to defend itself." Somali rebels have called for all Muslims to join the fight against the U.N.-backed government after a U.S. helicopter raid killed one of the region’s most wanted al Qaeda suspects. The raid on Monday was an unusual one for the United States, which had previously targeted militants using long-range missiles rather than helicopter-borne troops. The operation killed Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, who was wanted for a 2002 truck bombing that killed 15 people at an Israeli-owned beach hotel in Mombasa, Kenya and was suspected of trying to shoot down an Israeli airliner the same year. Following the attack, a commander for al Shabab insurgents in Somalia called for Muslims to fight the weak transitional government as well as the African Union, which has troops there. The last American strike in Somalia was in May 2008, when an al-Shabab military leader and at least 10 others were killed. There were also reports quoting witnesses as saying that the troops involved in the Monday operation were wearing uniforms with French insignia, but the French military has strongly denied any involvement. Yukio Hatoyama, the newly elected Japanese prime minister, took office Wednesday alongside a defense minister who, some reports are suggesting, will pull Japanese troops from the NATO-led military campaign in Afghanistan. An article in the Times of London suggests that the appointment of Toshimi Kitazawa, who is a strong opponent of the country’s military support for the United States, makes it increasingly likely that the Hatoyama-led government will withdraw forces from Afghanistan early next year. Japan’s Maritime Defense Forces only deployed a supply ship and a destroyer to assist in providing fuel and water to American and British naval ships in the Indian Ocean. The minimal Japanese assistance is one of only a handful of overseas military operations where the country has been engaged since World War II, largely due to its pacifist constitution. The new government is taking power after pledging to make domestic demand the engine of growth (rather than exports) and promising to pull Japan from the worst recession since World War II.

Following its submission of a brief proposal on Wednesday, Iran scheduled a meeting with the P5+1 for negotiations October 1. A spokesman to EU policy chief Javier Solana confirms that the P5+1—which includes the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, France, and Germany—requested the meeting, which was then arranged with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. Iran wants to discuss stabilization efforts in Afghanistan, ways to combat illicit drug trafficking, and "alleviating concerns over the nuclear issue," said a spokesman for Iran's ministry of foreign affairs, though it defends its right to maintain a civilian nuclear program. The United States has expressed cautious optimism about the potential of the discussions, but Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asserted that talks with Iran must address the nuclear issue "head-on." Earlier this week, the U.S. distributed a draft U.N. Security Council resolution barring any nation in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (such as Iran) from enriching uranium for any purpose, either energy or weapons.

The United Arab Emirates is lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a transfer of nuclear materials to Abu Dhabi.  Indeed, an opinion piece in the U.A.E. newspaper Al-Ittihad suggests that a bilateral agreement between the two countries on peaceful nuclear cooperation will be approved. Last week the crown prince, Sheik Mohammaed bin Zayed al-Nayhan visited President Barack Obama to discuss cooperation on energy and security, among other topics. Last year, both countries signed a preliminary agreement paving the way for nuclear exports. The U.A.E. has pledged to maintain transparency in any nuclear program. But there are fears that a nuclear program in the U.A.E., while peaceful, could set in motion proliferation throughout the Middle East. Many states are uneasy over Iran’s continued defiance toward the West regarding its nuclear program. However, the United States, Britain, France and Russia—all nuclear powers—it could win some trade opportunities and big business. France has also been talking with the U.A.E. on a nuclear energy cooperation agreement, and Saudi Arabia has signed a preliminary agreement with the United States on nuclear technology.

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