Insider notes from United Press International for Feb. 13 ...
The old man is losing it. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat pulled a gun and pointed it into the face of his West Bank security chief, Jibril Rajoub, in a meeting at the Ramallah compound Monday night. Arafat began slapping Rajoub and shrieking "He wants to replace me" before being pulled off by aides. The story leaked out from Palestinian sources after Rajoub supporters began to gather at the compound claiming he was being detained and demanding his freedom. The argument began with Arafat complaining that Rajoub should not have let the Hebron mob break into the Palestinian Authority's prison and free 17 militants. This news will disturb CIA Director George Tenet, whose old friend Rajoub keeps a photo of himself and the American spymaster arm-in-arm and beaming on his office wall.
President George Bush will be salesman as well as statesman in next week's Asia trip, when he urges South Korea to shun the French and Russian alternatives and spend $4 billion on American F-15 warplanes. Boeing and Missouri politicians are nervous, since the company's St. Louis assembly line could close if South Korea decides to diversify from its usual dependence on U.S. military hardware. They just might. After test-flying them all, the Korean pilots want France's nimble Dassault Rafale -- and the French are offering very sweet terms to secure their first export order. The best buy may be Russia's Sukhoi 35, a modernized version of the venerable Su-27, but with a lower price tag, better range and payload and faster rate of climb than the now elderly F-15. (The Su-27 was the first fighter able to break the sound barrier in vertical climb.) Boeing says the F-15-K version it will supply will be virtually a new aircraft, and more than a match for the competition. Russia's secret weapon is to offer a license for South Korea to assemble its own Su-35s, a major boost for local industry. But Bush can plead the need for inter-operability with American equipment, since the United States keeps 37,000 troops in the country. This is a choice South Korea's lame duck President Kim Dae-jung could do without, which is why his officials are suggesting the choice may be delayed until April. Bush wants Boeing's contract nailed down next week.
Austrian neo-Nazi Jorg Haider could be in trouble. The United States is asking the U.N. Sanctions Committee on Iraq to investigate this week's Baghdad trip by the leader of Austria's right wing and very nationalist Freedom Party. The U.N. sanctions frown on freelance meetings with Iraqi regime officials. Haider, governor of Carinthia province, runs the party that is now part of Austria's coalition government. "We believe his trip and trips like this are inappropriate and counter-productive," a State Department official told United Press international. Although Haider denies being an anti-Semite, he and Saddam Hussein may find lots in common.
Olympic squalls in Greece, where leftist composer Mikis ("Zorba the Greek") Theodorakis sees an American plot in the way the Salt Lake City organizers failed to give him credit for the "Canto Olympico" music that was played at the lighting of the Winter Olympics flame. He began by complaining to ERT, Greek TV, but they blamed "a serious lapse" in Utah. Then Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis phoned Theodorakis to promise an inquiry. "This is a clear insult by the Olympic organizers to the composer and to Greece in general," said Theodorakis, who claims it is political punishment for his outspoken condemnations of U.S. policies in the Balkans and Afghanistan.
The Saudis have gone from denial to active participation in Bush's war on terrorism; first the government acknowledged that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were in fact Saudi. Now the Saudis want to interrogate their citizens detained by America; Minister of the Interior Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz has stated that the Americans "only have to hand them over to us. We will interrogate them here." The prince has stated that more than 100 of the detainees at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are Saudi citizens, and that the government is planning to send a commission of inquiry to Cuba to interrogate them. A month ago Pakistan said that 240 Saudis had been arrested on the Afghan border and were turned over to the United States. Proving Saudi Arabia's good intentions, Abdul Aziz said that some 30 suspected al Qaida members had recently been arrested in the kingdom; some have been released. Abdul Aziz continued, "Others are being sought; we hope to find them in order to complete our investigation."
Don't try looking for the Rue de Richepance in Paris anymore. It has fallen victim to the political correctness of the French capital's new gay mayor, Bernard Delanoe. Richepance was the Napoleonic general who restored French rule -- along with slavery -- to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The street is now the Rue du Chevalier de St-George, after a bland 18th century composer. Delanoe's next target is the street named after the 1912 Nobel Prize winner for medicine, Alexis Carrel, a notorious anti-Semite. But the Stalingrad Metro station looks safe.