Insider's notes from United Press International for Jan. 9:
As Turkey's new moderate Islamic government frustrates the Bush administration by dragging its feet over letting U.S. ground troops use it bases to invade Iraq, Turkey's generals want to send in their own forces. The general staff is urging parliament's foreign affairs committee to allow dispatch of four brigades totaling 20,000 men with armor into northern Iraq to secure the border. Turkey already has nearly 2,000 troops in northern Iraq keeping track of dissident elements of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK). The Turkish military believes the reinforcements would be needed to deal with a possible massive influx of refugees generated by conflict in the border region, as happened in 1991 following Desert Storm. Aside from humanitarian concerns, Ankara fears that Iraqi Kurds might seek to seize the oil-rich towns of Mosul and Kirkuk if the U.S. conducts a military assault on Iraq. While Washington is enthusiastically promoting Turkish participation in an assault on Iraq, it is trying to narrow the focus of any Turkish role, fearing a possible Kurdish civil war or Iranian meddling.
A large hole has appeared in the U.S. network of alliances in Central Asia. Turkmenistan's Foreign Ministry press service has carried an "open letter" to U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker from the editors of the main newspapers that accuses U.S. Ambassador Laura Kennedy of connections with a recent 'coup attempt' against the regime. The open letter claims Kennedy "talked on the phone and consulted with (former Turkmen foreign minister) Boris Shikhmuradov three times after he was declared wanted as a dangerous criminal and branded as an international terrorist." Shikhmuradov, accused of being behind the Nov 25 assassination attempts against Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Halk Maslahaty (People's Council). Reeker's own press briefing of Dec. 31, denouncing the summary trials and mass arrests and "credible reports of torture and abuse of suspects," is denounced in the open letter as "barefaced calumny."
At least one other country seems to be taking this garbage seriously. Russia has publicly agreed with Niyazov's claims that the alleged assassination and coup plots were part of "international terrorism," and Vladimir Rushailo, head of Russia's Security Council, has offered to help investigate -- and maybe extradite plotters. Why? Russia's Gazprom has been so intent on exporting natural gas to Europe that it faces a 30 billion cubic meter shortage in the domestic market -- which it hopes the Turkmens will fill.
As U.S. forces get ready to reprise D-Day in the Gulf, the Pentagon farther east is preparing to replay Dunkirk. News has leaked that the U.S. military is planning to send a team to Taiwan to simulate an evacuation of American citizens in the Hankuang No. 19 exercise. As a result, spin doctors at Taipei's Ministry of National Defense (MND) are urgently trying some damage control. "The report has brought certain harm to the relations between Taiwan and the U.S. military. They are highly sensitive and should not be openly discussed," once MND spokesman has been telling the press -- anonymously. The official also criticized deputy defense minister General Chen Chao-ming for confirming to parliament the report about the "evacuation team" that the United States is sending to Taiwan for the exercise, saying, "What does Chen know about the exercise? He is responsible mainly for armament affairs."
The European Union's smaller countries, long suspicious of the efforts by the big powers to set up a 'Directorate', will not be happy to learn that Britain's Tony Blair, France's Jacques Chirac and Germany's Gerhard Schroeder are to have a quiet get-together Saturday at Schroeder's home in Hanover. They don't intend to talk much about Iraq, but to hammer out an agreement to ensure that they as heads of governments of nation states continue to run the EU through its Council, rather than strengthen the Commission. But Blair should not get the idea that he's now really on the inside; Schroeder and Chirac will then have an even more private meeting on Tuesday. Just the two of them.
If conversation flags, they can always discuss the latest Anglo-German spat. Schroeder is threatening libel suits against any German newspaper or magazine repeating the "totally false" claim by Britain's top-selling middle-market tabloid Mail on Sunday that his third (and current) wife Doris complains that he was two-timing her with a TV presenter. (Doris allegedly made the claim to Schroeder's wife number 2, who now denies even talking to the Mail.) As yet, Schroeder is not suing the Mail, whose story has been widely re-published in the German press. Top-selling Bild ran a front-page splash headline quoting the Chancellor saying "It makes me sick." It was Doris, herself a former tabloid reporter and 20 years younger than her husband, who persuaded Schroeder last year to sue a German news agency for a story claiming the chancellor dyed his hair.