- U.S. right to arm Syrian rebels, says Israeli president
- Obama sees Iran's election of moderate as hopeful sign
- Biggest protests in 20 years sweep Brazil
Posted: 17 Jun 2013 08:11 PM PDT
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli President Shimon Peres has thrown his weight behind U.S. plans to arm Syrian rebels, shrugging off fears the weapons could be turned on Israel and exacerbate the conflict.
In a wide-ranging interview with Reuters before his 90th birthday, Peres dismissed the idea that Israel could launch a unilateral military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and urged Palestinians and Israelis to forge immediate peace.
Looking at the many problems besetting the Middle East, Israel's elder statesmen, who is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said terror groups were ripping apart the Arab world.
After two years of uncertainty in the face of the Syrian civil war, the United States announced last week it would start to arm rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad after concluding his forces had used chemical weapons.
Many Israeli politicians have cautioned against giving weapons to the increasingly radicalised rebel fighters, fearful that the arms would sooner or later used against Israel, which shares a tense frontier with its old foe Syria.
But asked if the U.S. decision was wise, Peres said "Yes."
"They didn't have a choice," he added, sitting in the sun-soaked garden of his tranquil Jerusalem residence and speaking in quiet, measured tones.
"Unfortunately it is becoming more of a confrontation between two superpowers and (there is) a growing intervention of outside forces ... It is a tragedy," he said.
While Russia, Iran and Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah have thrown their weight behind Assad, radicalised Islamist groups allied to al Qaeda have increasingly taken over the rebel cause, marginalising more moderate forces backed by Washington.
Peres said all the world's "unemployed terrorists" were heading to the region, bringing ruin in their wake.
"They are killing Lebanon, they are killing Syria, they are killing Iraq. Wherever they are around, they are endangering the Arab identities, their nationalities."
Lionised abroad for promoting Middle East peace, Peres is often a lonesome dove in Israel and wields moral authority as president rather than any real political power.
Closely associated with the political left, he has sought to avoid friction with the right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. But he has broken ranks over Iran, scoffing at threats from the government to attack Iranian nuclear facilities in an effort to prevent Tehran from building an atomic bomb.
"Why should Israel talk about wars and arms? We must understand there are things we cannot do," Peres said, adding that only the United States could prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. Tehran says its atomic programme is peaceful.
Peres is due to host an international conference this week, drawing an array of business and political leaders.
One man who will not be attending is prominent British scientist Stephen Hawking, who pulled out of the event last month to protest against Israel's occupation of territory where the Palestinians want to create an independent state.
Peres said the boycott was a mistake, but urged his government to find a way to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians which broke down in 2010 over the issue of continued Jewish settlement building on occupied land.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hopes to revive the talks and Peres said the opportunity must be seized. "I say again and again, clear and loud, we have to make peace right now."
Kerry has warned that the so-called two state solution might evaporate within two years, as Israel forges ahead with its expansion programme in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are speckled with some 120 authorised settlements and dozens of outposts built by settlers without permission.
Ever optimistic, Peres thought the settler problem could be overcome, pointing to ideas outlined in previous negotiations.
"They were offered two options. One, the settlers that want to come back (to Israel) should come back and be compensated. There will be three blocs for the ones that want to remain ... What will be in the (next) negotiations, we will see in the future," he said.
Peres played a central role in the Oslo Accords, which were signed in 1993 after months of secrecy, laying out the promise of an independent Palestine within five years.
He shared a Nobel Peace prize for the deal, but the agreement failed to live up to expectations and is now routinely denounced by numerous Israeli and Palestinian politicians.
However, Peres refused to review his career, saying he did not want to become a "poet of regret".
"I don't look back. It is not interesting. Because what happened is over, unchangeable ... I am more interested in what will happen tomorrow. History moves forward," he said.
(Editing by Philippa Fletcher)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 17 Jun 2013 08:07 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Monday that Iran's election of a moderate as its next president is a sign that Iranians want to move in a different direction, but he was uncertain whether it would lead to a breakthrough over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
In an interview with public television anchor Charlie Rose, Obama said the United States and its allies would be willing to hold talks with Iran over its nuclear program, as long as Tehran recognized that international sanctions would not be lifted unless Iran proved it is not building a nuclear weapon.
"As long as there's an understanding about the basis of the conversation, then I think there's no reason why we shouldn't proceed," Obama said.
The surprise victory by Iran's Hassan Rohani in weekend elections to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president was seen by the United States as positive, at least at first glance.
"I think it says that the Iranian people want to move in a different direction," said Obama. "The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in the election who were counselling no compromise on anything any time anywhere. Clearly you have a hunger within Iran to engage with the international community in a more positive way."
Obama noted, however, that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains Iran's supreme leader "so we're going to have to continue to see how this develops and how this evolves over the next several weeks, months, years."
"I do think that there's a possibility that they decide - the Iranians decide - to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way," he said.
The interview was taped on Sunday and broadcast on Monday on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).
It touched on many of the international challenges Obama is facing, including the question of how to assist Syrian rebels militarily after Washington determined last week that the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad had used chemical weapons against the opposition.
Obama sounded sceptical about the idea of establishing a no-fly zone over Syria, which his administration has been considering. He said it is possible that a no-fly zone "may not be actually solving the problem."
Whatever assistance the United States provides should be done carefully because "it is very easy to slip-slide your way into deeper and deeper commitments," he said.
Obama, who had face-to-face talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping this month in California, said he believes the Chinese recognize the U.S. desire for China to play a positive role on the world stage, but Beijing has yet to fully take on that responsibility.
The president engaged in a blunt conversation with Xi about cyber hacking and what American officials believe has been the theft of U.S. trade secrets by China.
"I think what you're seeing inside of (the) Chinese leadership is the desire to maybe continue not to be responsible, not to be a full stakeholder, work the international system on something like trade or intellectual property rights, get as much as they can, and be free-riders and let the United States worry about the big hassles and the big problems," Obama said.
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
Posted: 17 Jun 2013 06:56 PM PDT
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - As many as 200,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Brazil's biggest cities on Monday in a swelling wave of protest tapping into widespread anger at poor public services, police violence and government corruption.
The marches, organized mostly through snowballing social media campaigns, blocked streets and halted traffic in more than a half-dozen cities, including Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte and Brasilia, where demonstrators climbed onto the roof of Brazil's Congress building and then stormed it.
Monday's demonstrations were the latest in a flurry of protests in the past two weeks that have added to growing unease over Brazil's sluggish economy, high inflation and a spurt in violent crime.
While most of the protests unfolded as a festive display of dissent, some demonstrators in Rio threw rocks at police, set fire to a parked car and vandalized the state assembly building. Vandals also destroyed property in the southern city of Porto Alegre.
Around the country, protesters waved Brazilian flags, dancing and chanting slogans such as "The people have awakened" and "Pardon the inconvenience, Brazil is changing."
The epicenter of Monday's march shifted from Sao Paulo, where some 65,000 people took to the streets late in the afternoon, to Rio. There, as protesters gathered throughout the evening, crowds ballooned to 100,000 people, local police said. At least 20,000 more gathered in Belo Horizonte.
The demonstrations are the first time that Brazilians, since a recent decade of steady economic growth, are collectively questioning the status quo.
BIG EVENTS LOOM
The protests have gathered pace as Brazil is hosting the Confederation's Cup, a dry run for next year's World Cup football championship. The government hopes these events, along with the 2016 Summer Olympics, will showcase Brazil as an emerging power on the global stage.
Brazil also is gearing up to welcome more than 2 million visitors in July as Pope Francis makes his first foreign trip for a gathering of Catholic youth in Rio.
Contrasting the billions in taxpayer money spent on new stadiums with the shoddy state of Brazil's public services, protesters are using the Confederation's Cup as a counterpoint to amplify their concerns. The tournament got off to shaky start this weekend when police clashed with demonstrators outside stadiums at the opening matches in Brasilia and Rio.
"For many years the government has been feeding corruption. People are demonstrating against the system," said Graciela CaÃ§ador, a 28-year-old saleswoman protesting in Sao Paulo. "They spent billions of dollars building stadiums and nothing on education and health."
More protests are being organized for the coming days. It is unclear what specific response from authorities - such as a reduction in the hike of transport fares - would lead the loose collection of organizers across Brazil to consider stopping them.
For President Dilma Rousseff, the demonstrations come at a delicate time, as price increases and lacklustre growth begin to loom over an expected run for re-election next year.
Polls show Rousseff still is widely popular, especially among poor and working-class voters, but her approval ratings began to slip in recent weeks for the first time since taking office in 2011. Rousseff was booed at Saturday's Confederations Cup opener as protesters gathered outside.
Through a spokeswoman, Rousseff called the protests "legitimate" and said peaceful demonstrations are "part of democracy." The president, a leftist guerrilla as a young woman, also said that it was "befitting of youth to protest."
WIDE ARRAY OF GRIEVANCES
Some were baffled by the protests in a country where unemployment remains near record lows, even after more than two years of tepid economic growth.
"What are they going to do - march every day?" asked Cristina, a 43-year-old cashier, who declined to give her surname, peeking out at the demonstration from behind the curtain of a closed Sao Paulo butcher shop. She said corruption and other age-old ills in Brazil are unlikely to change soon.
The marches began this month with an isolated protest in Sao Paulo against a small increase in bus and subway fares. The demonstrations initially drew the scorn of many middle-class Brazilians after protesters vandalized storefronts, subway stations and buses on one of the city's main avenues.
The movement quickly gained support and spread to other cities as police used heavy-handed tactics to quell the demonstrations. The biggest crackdown happened on Thursday in Sao Paulo when police fired rubber bullets and tear gas in clashes that injured more than 100 people, including 15 journalists, some of whom said they were deliberately targeted.
Other common grievances at Monday's marches included corruption and the inadequate and overcrowded public transportation networks that Brazilians cope with daily.
POLICE SHOW RESTRAINT
The harsh police reaction to last week's protests touched a nerve in Brazil, which endured two decades of political repression under a military dictatorship that ended in 1985. It also added to doubts about whether Brazil's police forces would be ready for next year's World Cup.
The uproar following last week's crackdown prompted Sao Paulo state Governor Geraldo Alckmin, who first described the protesters as "troublemakers" and "vandals," to order police to allow Monday's march to proceed and not to use rubber bullets.
The protests are shaping up as a major political challenge for Alckmin, a former presidential candidate, and Sao Paulo's new mayor, Fernando Haddad, a rising star in the left-leaning Workers' Party that has governed Brazil for the past decade. Haddad invited protest leaders to meet Tuesday morning, but has so far balked at talk of a bus fare reduction.
The resonance of the demonstrations underscores what economists say will be a challenge for Rousseff and other Brazilian leaders in the years ahead: providing public services to meet the demands of the growing middle class.
"Voters are likely to be increasingly disgruntled on a range of public services in a lower growth environment," Christopher Garman, a political analyst at the Eurasia Group, wrote in a report.
(Additional reporting by Esteban Israel and Eduardo SimÃµes; Editing by Paulo Prada)
Copyright © 2013 Reuters
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