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UPI Hears...

WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- While former counter-terrorism expert Richard Clarke has drawn the wrath of the White House over the past week for his scathing observations about the Bush administration's war on terror, he is likely to be joined soon in the doghouse by Philip Zelikow, executive director of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, where Clarke made his explosive charges. Zelikow has the usual inside-the-beltway resume, having served in the Navy, the U.S. State Department, the National Security Council and on the president's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and is close enough to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice that he co-authored 1995's "Germany Unified and Europe Transformed." Zelikow's sin? Stating that the United States attacked Iraq primarily to make Israel safer. "Why would Iraq attack America or use nuclear weapons against us?" Zelikow told a crowd at the University of Virginia on Sept. 10, 2002, speaking on a panel of foreign policy experts. (The speech was unearthed by some smart researchers at Inter-Press Service.) "I'll tell you what I think the real threat (is) and actually has been since 1990 -- it's the threat against Israel." Expanding on the theme, Zelikow added, "And this is the threat that dare not speak its name, because the Europeans don't care deeply about that threat, I will tell you frankly. And the American government doesn't want to lean too hard on it rhetorically, because it is not a popular sell."

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Obviously, it's the terrorism. A Saudi fact-finding mission to the United States has uncovered the startling fact that Saudis are failing to project a positive image to ordinary Americans. Omar A. Bahlaiwa, secretary-general of the Saudi Committee for the Development of International Trade, called CIT, and head of the Saudi-U.S. outreach program, commenting on the attitudes of the average American said, "Unfortunately, their perceptions of Saudi society have been largely shaped by the media. Our task was to engage in a dialogue with them and project Saudi Arabia in its true perspective." The CIT tour has already visited Alabama and Georgia in the first part of a tour of 30 American cities over the next year, rolling into New York and Massachusetts next month. Bahlaiwa said most questions from Americans were on Islam, the status of women and Saudi Arabia's relations with Israel. Perhaps Bahlaiwa and his cohorts can explain to the average American Osama bin Laden and why 15 of the 19 9-11 hijackers were Saudis as well.

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What does Mel Gibson have in common with Salman Rusdhie? Answer: a fatwa criticizing his artistic work. A leading Kuwaiti Muslim cleric Muhammad al-Tabatabai issued a religious ruling saying, "'The Passion of the Christ' should not be shown in any Muslim country," adding that movie contains fictitious material about Jesus, who is regarded in Islam as one of the prophets. Denouncing Gibson's film seems to be one of the few things that Jews and Muslims can agree upon; on March 29 a Paris court rejected a lawsuit filed by three Jewish brothers to ban the film on the grounds it would foment anti-Semitism in France. The movie opens in French theaters on March 31. In the meantime, Gibson is laughing all the way to the bank, as "The Passion of the Christ" has notched up more than $315 million in ticket sales in the United States alone.

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Slovakia's Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda, leader of one of NATO's seven new member states, is heading home from the Washington celebrations of the alliance's enlargement for a more private celebration with his 90-year-old father, who when Mikulas was a boy always forecast that he would live to see the day his country formally rejoined the West. "He was a schoolteacher, but couldn't practice his profession because he refused to join the Communist Party. So he became a factory worker," Dzurinda told United Press International Monday. "And he warned me that with this family background, I could forget my dream to become a doctor. He was right. I went to work on the railways." An everyday story of Central European life in the 20th century, shaped by the twin evils of totalitarianism and Nazism. How quickly we forget.

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