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THE INDEX — September 30, 2009

While the latest news of Iran’s secret nuclear facility has raised further doubts about the purpose of the Islamic regime’s nuclear program, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said that he doesn’t believe Iran has a military nuclear program because there isn’t enough “credible evidence.” “I do not think ... Iran has an ongoing nuclear weapons program,” ElBaradei told Indian television news channel CNN-IBN. “Whether they have done some weaponization studies—as was claimed by the U.S. and others—this is one of the issues that are still outstanding.” The secret nuclear facility in Fordu, publicly revealed last week, is far from complete, ElBaradei said. “There are no centrifuges in the facility. There is no nuclear material.” He did say, however, that Iran broke the law by failing to disclose the nuclear plant much sooner. The comments come on the eve of the highest level of talks between the United States and Iran in 30 years. Iran will meet with the P5+1 (the Security Council plus Germany) in Geneva on Thursday to discuss, among other issues, global disarmament. While Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled he would be open to long-term discussions “should talks follow a goal and bear fruits,” he also criticized the West for trying to tell Iran what to do regarding its nuclear program. Peter Galbraith, the senior American UN official in Afghanistan, was removed from his post after openly clashing with the UN mission. Galbraith, the deputy UN special envoy to Afghanistan, was reportedly at odds with his boss, special envoy Kai Eide, over how to handle voting irregularities in last month's election. Galbraith has favored a more aggressive line toward the Afghan government and has been critical of the recent elections, calling for a full recount in light of the significant fraud allegations. Kai, on the other hand, has preferred quiet behind-the-scenes lobbying, prompting Galbraith to leave Kabul earlier this month over "style" differences. “The Secretary-General has made this decision in the best interest of the mission,” a spokesperson for Ban Ki-Moon said in a statement. “He reaffirms his full support for his special representative, Kai Eide.” The row exposes a growing rift in Afghanistan and the international community over how to deal with the disputed election. According to BBC correspondent Lyce Doucet, the United States and other foreign missions appear to want to "move on" from the controversial elections and address Afghanistan's other pressing problems. Others, such as main opposition candidate Abdullah Abdullah, maintain the vital importance of responding to the allegations of fraud and corruption. "If the firing of Mr. Galbraith was on some technical issue, I have no say in it," Abdullah told reporters. But "if the issue was based on the fact that he was for a vigorous look into the issue of fraud, in that case, I would say that he has been talking on behalf of the people of Afghanistan." For a detailed analysis of the implications of fraud in Afghanistan's elections, see this week's "Big Question" on the World Policy Blog. A long-awaited official international investigation concluded that Georgia started last summer's war with Russia, though Moscow had been provoking Tbilisi for months. The conflict, which left nearly 900 dead and 100,000 more displaced from their homes, broke out in early August 2008 as Georgia attempted to regain control of the separatist region of South Ossetia. "It was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (the South Ossetian capital) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August 2008," said the report, which was commissioned by the Council of the European Union. The attack was unjustified under international law, it continued, and Georgian claims that there had been a Russian military incursion into the region before its attack could not be "sufficiently substantiated." Moscow was justified in its initial response, the report claimed, but its subsequent invasion of Georgia proper went beyond the "reasonable limits of defense." Each side took the report as vindication of its own position: Russia's ambassador to the EU said the report gives an "unequivocal answer" to the question of who started the war, while Georgia said it proved Russia had been "provoking clashes" all along. More problematically, the danger of fresh clashes is still very real. "The overall situation in the conflict region is still very fragile and unsettled," the report warned. "This conflict has not only a local or regional relevance, but that it has a direct bearing on the security architecture of all Europe." A senior diplomat from the U.S. Department of State held high-level talks with the Cuban government earlier this month, U.S. officials confirmed. Bisa Williams, the acting deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, was part of a U.S. delegation to Havana to discuss the possible resumption of direct mail service between the two countries, which has been suspended since 1963. Officials confirm that Williams stayed for an additional five days after the initial discussions regarding mail service, meeting with Cuba's Deputy Foreign Minister Dagaberto Rodriguez as well as a number of dissident groups. The previously unannounced talks represent the latest efforts aimed at improving U.S.-Cuban relations, which have thawed slightly since President Barack Obama took office. Though, on September 14, Obama did extend the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on Cuba (which he says will remain in place until Cuba shows a commitment to democratic reforms), he has lifted certain travel and financial restrictions and restarted bilateral talks on migration. In the first breakthrough in three years of backdoor negotiations with Hamas, Israel agreed to free 20 Palestinian female prisoners in exchange for video of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, which will reportedly prove that he is still in captivity after being taken hostage in 2006 by Gaza militants. "The video is one minute long and is proof that Shalit is alive," said a spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committee, one of the three groups that carried out the raid. While Germany helped mediate the deal, Egypt has been working on an agreement since the war in Gaza in which Shalit would be released for possibly hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. (Israel holds close to 10,000 Palestinian prisoners.) The “confidence-building measure," however, will not allow any Palestinian prisoners to go free who have been directly implicated in the killing of Israelis. A statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said: "It is important that the entire world know that Gilad Shalit is alive and well and that Hamas is responsible for his health and state."

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