Insider notes from United Press International for March 4 ...
Rumors swell in Moscow that Sergei Ivanov, an old KGB crony of President Vladimir Putin, could lose his job as defense minister in a coming reshuffle. The story emerged in the well-regarded "Independent Military Observer" supplement to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, owned by controversial and exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky. It claimed Ivanov "does not really deserve his position" and would either go back to his former job running the Kremlin's security council, or set up a new agency modeled on the White House national security council. The paper, known for its military contacts, is acting as megaphone for army critics of Ivanov's decisions to close bases in Cuba and Vietnam, while acquiescing in the widening deployment of U.S. troops in former Soviet territories in Central Asia and the Caucasus. Ivanov is also blamed for the celebrated blackouts of military bases in eastern Siberia after the Defense Ministry failed to pay electricity bills. This attack could backfire on Ivanov's enemy, Gen. Anatoly Kvashnin, who runs the general staff and wants to take Ivanov's job. But it was Kvashnin's draining civil war against former defense minister Marshal Igor Sergeiev, who wanted to devote scarce funds to Russia's nuclear forces rather than to Kvashnin's army, that forced Ivanov into the defense ministry 14 months ago. To destroy one defense minister is unfortunate; to destroy two looks like enemy action.
Henry Kissinger has cancelled a planned trip to Brazil, citing "conflicting engagements." But Brazilian officials say his decision followed a phone call with Brazil's new Foreign Minister Celso Lafer, suggesting that a postponement would avoid "mutual embarrassment." Lafer, who was in Washington to prepare in anticipation of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's visit, is concerned by the threat of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon to bring more "crimes against humanity" charges against Kissinger, just as he did against Chile's former dictator Augusto Pinochet. Garzon is now looking at Dr. K's role in the Indonesia's takeover of East Timor, which like Brazil was once a Portuguese colony. Kissinger, who was highly embarrassed by a ferocious media reaction on a recent trip to Ireland, is gamely facing the media again Tuesday at Washington's National Press Club.
Someone is conducting psychological warfare against the families of the 96 German elite soldiers involved in a huge offensive against al Qaida and Taliban forces in eastern Afghanistan. Germany's military intelligence, called MAD, is investigating a spate of anonymous phone calls telling troopers' wives, "Your husband is dead." The Defense Department is at a loss over how the callers could have obtained the secret numbers of the KSK special forces unit stationed in Calw at the foothills of the Black Forest. The ministry is giving the families new numbers and moving them to different apartments. Contingents from the United States, Australia and Canada, Denmark, France, Germany and Norway assist the Afghan military in the current offensive.
More delays loom in the expected extradition of Omar Skeikh, the British-born militant implicated in the kidnap and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. Pakistan is stepping up its complaints to Washington over the estimated 240 Pakistani nationals detained in the United States since Sept. 11, despite a "firm assurance" of swift judicial reviews by U.S. President Bush to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan's Foreign Ministry says most have been charged with minor visa violations; many have been detained for the past five months while awaiting word of their fate from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi, accused of foot-dragging in Pakistani media, is now under pressure to get her nationals freed. American officials are looking on the bright side, suggesting the shift in her priorities shows that the panic over an Indo-Pak nuclear war is over.
Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld basked in mutual admiration Saturday at a private lunch in Washington, in what turned into an informal 20th anniversary commemoration of the Falklands War. Cynthia Crawford, Thatcher's private secretary and companion of 25 years, revealed that during the war, the Iron Lady "never slept in her own bed for three months. We'd sit up every night in her room, listening to the BBC World Service and following the war. She's catch an hour's sleep in her chair at odd times." Husband Denis Thatcher was dispatched elsewhere for the war's duration. The story, which softens Thatcher's indomitable image with a touch of human concern, has never emerged before.
One quip that raised a laugh from the Thatcher-Rumsfeld table came when a Euro-skeptic British chum commented that just as the Holy Roman Empire was neither Roman, Holy nor an Empire, the EU's vaunted new 60,000-troop Rapid Reaction Force would be "neither rapid, nor a force, nor able to act." And now the British government is expressing dismay that the EU's RRF will not be ready as promised to take over peacekeeping duties in Macedonia this year -- a comment thoughtfully designed to coincide with the already tricky Washington visit this week by Javier Solana, the EU's top security official.