The State Department's reaction to the European Union's decision to start bilateral political and trade talks with Iran was to remind European firms that sanctions legislation against Iran allows the United States to punish foreign companies that invest more than $40 million in the Iranian oil and energy sector.
The law was introduced by the Clinton administration, but never enforced. But a tougher approach would be more consistent with President Bush's inclusion of Iran in the terrorist-supporting "Axis of Evil."
The Bush administration campaigned hard against the EU decision, and so did Israel. In the spring a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official toured European capitals to share Israeli information on Iranian support of terrorism, and Tehran's progress in developing weapons of mass destruction. But on June 18, Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for External Affairs, set the ball rolling with a meeting in Brussels with Iran's deputy foreign minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
So far Afghan leader Hamid Karzai had two Afghan-Americans in his Cabinet. So far because he still has to fill a handful of ministerial vacancies. Karzai's appointment of Washingtonian Ashraf Ghani as minister of finance was widely considered one of his best. Ghani, who moved to the United States on 1977, was an official at the World Bank in Washington, specializing in the Middle East. At the same time he was adjunct professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. He is an expert on Afghan history from 1747 to the present. Ghani has the unenviable job of starting the process of Afghanistan's economic recovery, and his first task is going to be to secure the $4 billion promised to Afghanistan at last year's aid conference in Tokyo. Little of that money has so far found its way to Kabul. The main donors were waiting for the Afghans to show that they were capable of forming a viable, multi-ethnic government. The other ministerial appointment was more surprising. No one expected Haji taj Mohammed Wardak to be named to the sensitive post of Interior Minister. His brief tenure as governor of Gardez had been far from spectacular. But the aging Wardak, who comes from California, was Karzai's compromise candidate to resolve a deadlock between rival tribal candidates.
Saudi Arabia's constraints on women draw periodic fire from international civil rights and women's groups, but Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah said Saudi women were making a major contribution to the country's society and economy. There are women working "in trade and banks as well as practicing all economic activities suitable to them," he explained. But they still can't drive themselves to and from work. The long-standing ban on women getting behind the wheel of a car is still in force and not likely to change in the foreseeable future. Because of King Fahad's long illness, Crown Prince Abdullah is the de facto ruler of the desert kingdom. In a briefing to U.S. newspaper editors, the prince shrugged off the issue of women driving as "not of a big importance...the importance for a woman is before anything else to preserve her home, family, reputation and decency."
Besides, he implied, what was the big deal? " I heard that some American women in the United States do not favor car driving either."
Any day now, the Israeli government will learn whether its efforts to block money-laundering have satisfied the criteria of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. The Paris-based OECD's annual annual black list of money laundering nations is due to be published. For years Israel has been a permanent fixture among the nations and territories -- currently 19 -- listed for failing to cooperate with the OECD's Financial Action Task Force in preventing money-laundering. But in a recent switch, Israel has tightened up on the flow of illegal capital through its institutions: Israeli Justice Ministry officials claim its enforcement strictures now conform with FATF requirements. The Ministry is hoping not to find Israel's name in the FATF's thirteenth annual report. New laws requiring reporting of incoming assets at borders and airports have recently come into effect. Travelers to and from Israel carrying more than $16,055 are required to report their currency to Customs. Immigrants arriving with more than $20,000 are required to report their assets upon entering Israel.