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Daniel Fried - End-of-Year Review

End-of-Year Review

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Press Roundtable
Washington, DC
December 12, 2006

Assistant Secretary Fried: End-of-year wrap-ups are rather artificial things, but I will use as a starting point the recent end of year ministerials and summit from which I've just returned: the NATO Summit in Riga; the Forum for the Future ministerial in the Dead Sea, Jordan; and the OSCE [The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] Ministerial in Brussels. The reason I chose these, other than the fact that I've just returned so it's fresh, is because it shows that the U.S.-European relationship is developing well and is in action out in the world in ways that the readers of many of your publications may not be aware and American publications may not be aware, given the intense and sometimes exclusive focus on Iraq. This isn't to say Iraq isn't important, but there are other things in addition that are happening.

The U.S.-European relationship, unlike the days of the Cold War, is not concerned with itself or with threats to Europe from within Europe or from the periphery of Europe, which was the case in the Cold War. The U.S.-European relationship is concerned with far-flung areas around the world. This is where the problems are; this is where the opportunities are to advance freedom, security, prosperity.

The United States and Europe are busy developing the bases of a relationship in which these two great centers of democratic legitimacy in the world are working together to advance our interests and our values in working with partners around the world. That's a very general statement, but it is actually one with considerable basis in hard reality.

At the NATO Summit, the NATO leaders talked about NATO's challenges in support of the Afghan people. Now if on September 10, 2001, anyone had dared to write a policy paper or a story about NATO going into Afghanistan, it would have been dismissed as utterly ludicrous. Now this is reality. I mention this only to show how much has occurred in the past five years and how much has been achieved in reorienting the U.S.-European relationship from a close-in and inner-directed focus to an outer-directed, far-flung focus.

At the Forum for the Future, ministers from the region, ministers from Europe and civil society groups from across the Middle East met to support reform and democracy. I emphasize this because it is often overlooked that there is a demand in the region, in the Middle East, the broader Middle East, for reform and democracy. And it is often overlooked that there is a U.S.-European consensus that we should be supporting these voices that call for change.

It is too often an assumed cliché that support for reform in this region is either futile, because it will lead to nothing, or dangerous, because if it leads to anything at all it will be some kind of extremism, but, in fact, the civil society groups from the region said again and again, "We want reform, we want greater emphasis on the rule of law, we want more democracy." Here, overlooked by many, is a European-American consensus that we should be supporting these voices, these groups.

Finally, at the OSCE the United States and Europe worked together in an attempt, I'm afraid unsuccessful, to support OSCE efforts in the so-called frozen conflicts in Georgia and Transnistria, but we worked together successfully, as it turned out, and happily with Russia to defend the prerogatives of ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights], OSCE's unique, effective election monitoring instrument. This showed that Europe and the United States take seriously our responsibilities to work with the OSCE to advance democracy, democratic values across all of Europe, and, in particular, the places where democracy is the least advanced and therefore needs the most help. So the year ends with a lot of common U.S.-European activity rooted in a common agenda.

Now no doubt many of your questions will be about Iraq and the Iraq Study Group Report, so let me simply say that the administration is studying this intensely, as is public knowledge. The President is taking the recommendations seriously, of course, listening to those in the administration and outside of the administration, collecting views. The President will make his decisions about the course in Iraq. I haven't said anything particularly new, but I will say that it's clear from, and it was clear to me listening to the President's speech at Riga, that the President is committed both to help the Iraqi people and committed to help the forces of freedom and reform throughout the broader Middle East. We have a responsibility not to abandon them and a responsibility to seek to get this right.

There is obviously a great deal more we could discuss, and I'm sure your questions will bring out more on these issues and many others, but I want to emphasize that I end the year satisfied with what we've achieved in U.S.-European relations.

I'm pleased by NATO's outward-looking focus, by its outreach to countries of the Middle East, by its acknowledgement that its responsibilities are far-flung.

I'm pleased by the relationship developing between the United States and the European Union. A strong NATO doesn't mean a weak EU. Quite the contrary, we want our partners, all of them, to be strong. All of them to be strong.

It was a difficult year in many ways, but it was also a year in which democracy consolidated itself and advanced in Georgia. A year in which Ukraine may have stabilized its politics and hopefully will find a way forward. I certainly hope so. It's a year in which the international community, the United States and Europe in the lead, have been working to resolve the issues of Kosovo final status, and I think this will be one of the major issues of 2007.

A year of hard work lies ahead, a year of hard work has ended, but I see the United States and Europe working together in a difficult world, but a world of promise.

I will stop there and take your questions.

Question: For months there have been talks about Turkey joining the EU, [inaudible]. And the British Foreign Secretary said yesterday that the train was still on the track at the end of the meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Brussels. But the Minister said he agreed to punish Turkey for refusing to open its ports and airports to Cyprus and EU members. How do you evaluate those recent developments? Is this a serious setback in terms of Turkey's EU membership process? And are you worried that Turkey might go to the other direction and become more religious if the EU process is [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We have followed very closely relations between the European Union and Turkey. The views of my government and of President Bush are very clear. We certainly support Turkey's aspirations to join the European Union. We have for some time, and we have said so. We have always believed that Turkey had to meet the European Union's criteria, and we've said this is a matter for Turkey to work out with the European Union.

Of course the particular issues of Cyprus are complicated in themselves and then as they impact the process between Turkey and the EU, that's complicated even more.

We hope that the decisions of the European Council, the European Union about the way ahead will work out in a way that allows this process to continue. It's important that it does.

I'm not going to comment on the specifics. For one thing, these discussions are still in motion, and there are many things I could say, many things the United States could say that would not help the process, so I will let caution be my watchword in describing this.

But I think if we step back and look at this more broadly, Turkey is undergoing a profound democratic transformation. The Turkey of the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s is in the past. Turkey is, of course, and remains a secular republic, but it is one in which democracy is deepening. Reforms are changing the country. This process is going in complicated ways, as these reform processes tend to be, but I look at Turkey as having enormous potential to become a country with both deep democratic roots, a country with a mostly Muslim population which demonstrates the essential falsehood of the charge - that spurious and I think deeply insulting charge - that somehow Islam and democracy are incompatible or that one cannot have a secular republic plus respect for religion. I think these things are indeed compatible and I think Islam is no different than any other religion in this respect. So I have enormous respect for Turkey's potential and also respect for the process between the EU and Turkey, and I hope this succeeds.

Question: I had a question on Kosovo. Kosovo is an issue that is a worry, especially for the Europeans. Can you tell us what is the final position of the United States on the final status of Kosovo?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We support Martti Ahtisaari's mission, which is to develop recommendations for the Security Council on Kosovo's final status. I don't think I should comment about what we think the final status should be except to say that we have enormous confidence in President Ahtisaari. We also think that the people of the Balkans need clarity about the future and the way ahead. They need and deserve a clear road to Europe. They need and deserve leaders who will take them from the past into a better future for the 21st Century.

Kosovo has been essentially run by the United Nations since 1999 and the Kosovars deserve clarity about their future.

NATO recently made the decision to offer Partnership for Peace for Serbia. This was done despite the fact that Ratko Mladic is still at large, but despite that fact NATO determined that it would be in the interests of Europe, in the interests of the region, to make clear to Serbia and to Serbs that they did have a future with Europe. This was a decision, I believe, Greece championed early, and after consulting with many countries we, the United States, determined this was the right way forward, and we made this decision. But Serbia needs to break with its past and it needs to embrace a European future.

I'm sorry that we all face the choices that we're going to face in 2007. There was a better way, but Milosevic destroyed old Yugoslavia and we must make the most of the circumstances of the time in which we're set.

Question: I'm going to be very Anglo-centric and ask aboutthe imminence of the post-Blair era, your view, if I may, about how relations with Britain will change when Tony Blair departs we think next summer. Also what was the reaction inside the State Department [inaudible] to the recent speech by David Cameron, the British Conservative leader, on the special relationship where he identified himself as liberal conservative rather than neo conservative, which is seen as distancing himself from this administration in every way he could.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Neo conservative, liberal conservative. Labels that have more emotional than intellectual content, I'm sure. These things are cast about.

I think Americans generally have the highest regard for Tony Blair. He's one of the most respected world leaders in the United States, and this is without regard to party - Democrats, Republicans, independents. All respect Tony Blair.

I certainly am not going to comment about the future of U.S.-British relations except to say I don't doubt that we will work closely with the next British Prime Minister, whoever that is, whenever that is. But there is no doubt that Tony Blair enjoys esteem and respect almost universally in the United States.

I'm certainly not going to comment or characterize any particular speech of opposition leaders or otherwise. We've dealt with British governments, the British have dealt with American governments, we will continue to deal with each other.

Question: When you say Tony Blair is held in such high regard and esteem and respect across the United States, that's almost unique [inaudible] among foreign leaders. His departure must change something in that foreign relationship because whoever is coming in will not have that same personal relationship, will not have that same esteem and respect.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, to say that we regard the Prime Minister with the esteem with which we regard him is not to make a prediction about the future. I think I understand what you're trying to do, and nice try. [Laughter]. But we will work with the next Prime Minister. But I will simply state my own view and my characterization - that Tony Blair enjoys the highest respect and he has done great things for the world, as well as for the U.S.-British relationship. I know that there will be a vigorous - in fact, there is a vigorous debate in the UK - but it's not my place to comment on it.

Question: I wanted to ask about Russia. In the recent briefing you made an interesting comment quoting Mark Twain which could only mean that the relations with Russia are as bad as they are depicted in the American press. Is that really how you view the relationship after Hanoi, after Moscow, meetings between our leaders?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I can't imagine what quote you're referring to.

Question: You said that, you were asked, might the relations be actually better than we think? And you said it reminds me of the quote of Mark Twain about Wagner, the music of Wagner, that it's better than it sounds. [Laughter].

Assistant Secretary Fried: It is true that Presidents Bush and Putin had a very good meeting in Hanoi. I was not there, but all accounts suggest it was a good meeting. They are able on a personal basis, they have strong relations and they're able to work together and to speak honestly and openly, and this has been important, as we have a number of important issues to work on with Russia and cooperate with Russia about.

We cooperate with Russia very well on a number of issues. For instance, nuclear non-proliferation. For example, North Korea. We have worked well, so far at least, on Kosovo in the Contact Group. Our economic cooperation has recently advanced because of the conclusion of the WTO bilateral. Of course it will be in everyone's interest to see Russia join the WTO. There are other issues where we have had disagreements, and we're able to discuss these in a straightforward and respectful manner and we will continue to do so.

It's always important to remember that U.S.-Russia relations now, the disagreements notwithstanding, cover some of the world's most important issues, and we look forward to working with Russia wherever we can. When we disagree, we will deal with that issue by issue.

Question: And you used to say - not necessarily you, personally, but the U.S. officials used to say, including Secretary Rice, even when she was the National Security Adviser - that for the U.S. the concern with Russia is not its strengths but rather its weaknesses. Does that opinion still stand?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I would put it this way. We want to see a strong Russia, but a strong Russia strong in the measures of national strength which ought to count in the 21st Century. 19th Century strength was rooted in balance of power and domination of neighbors. 21st Century strength is derived from a strong free market economy, from strong democratic institutions, and we want to see a Russia strong in all of these measures.

A weak Russia does nothing for us. A strong Russia at peace with itself, at peace with its neighbors, able to contribute to the resolution of world problems is a Russia that we welcome and look forward to working with.

Question: Can I ask about Russian neighbors?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We can come back.

Question: All the four Visegrad countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - seem to have their share of trouble lately. Is it in the region a course of popular concern for you, and is the United States trying to have them to ease the tensions inside those countries?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I have to tell you that when I look out on the problems of the world and I look at Central Europe and where the democratic transformations began in 1989, I still look at a region which has undergone a profound historic success.

Yeah, politics is rough. Who said it wouldn't be? But the countries, the Visegrad countries have traveled a tremendous distance and done very very well indeed.

What the United States did in the 1980s in supporting democracy, we did so so we would not have to worry about the domestic politics. We wouldn't have to think about the results of elections as being critical. It's up to the Hungarians and the Poles and the Czechs and the Slovaks. You're sovereign countries, you're democracies, you're in NATO, you're in the European Union. You'll figure out your own answers.

I'm glad that we supported democracy in your countries when we did, but everything we did, we did so you would be sovereign democracies and contributing members of the international community, and you've succeeded.

There are still some issues that the Visegrad countries have urged the United States to address, like visa issues, and as you heard the President in Tallinn, we're taking steps to resolve that as well.

Question: A question concerning the 800- pound gorilla who is still in the room and has been quiet. After the release of the Iraq Study Group Report, there's kind of a holiday spirit of bipartisanship in the U.S. it seems. Do you foresee something like more of the spirit of bipartisanship also between Europe and the U.S. after taking into consideration that the Iraq War has been a big spoiler of transatlantic relations?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think that European governments certainly do not want to see the democratically elected Iraqi government fail. I think they want that government to succeed. This is without prejudice to the positions of particular governments about the decision to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

There is almost universal desire that things will work out better in Iraq, and I sense that European governments aren't trying to score points; they're trying to help resolve problems. So I think as a narrow answer to your question, yeah, I think there will be a serious effort by Europeans to work with us to help solve the problems. I think that Europeans want to see where President Bush will come out as he reviews both the conclusions of the Iraq Study Group and reviews other advice that he's gotten.

I also sense, and I've felt this for some time, that the acute divisions between the United States and some European countries over Iraq have faded. This has certainly been the case, and I think if I had to analyze the turning point it would be the President's February 2005 trip to Brussels, where he met with NATO and he met with the European Council and made it clear that the United States wants a strong Europe as a partner and a strong European Union, as well as a strong NATO.

Starting with that, I sense that European governments also reached back to President Bush and the American government, and there has been a sense of cooperation. There are issues on which we will differ with Europe, but alliance and friendship doesn't mean unanimity on all issues.

I think that Europe is serious about working with us, working together to solve problems, and I want to build on that spirit in the coming year.

Question: Don't you think there's still a sense of vindication at least in large majorities of the population I think in all European countries that actually they were right and the U.S. has been wrong on the Iraq War? If that's true, and I think it's true, what could the State Department do, especially in terms of outreach, to convince publics in Europe that, well, it's time to look into the future in terms of scoring points.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Look, I don't sense that governments are scoring points. I think that the experience in Iraq is what it is. Obviously we wish things had gone better than they have. On the other hand, Saddam Hussein is no more - no more in charge of that country.

I think that European publics see Iraq as it is and they want to see a better solution. I don't sense that European publics are interested in scoring points. The occasional politician or publicist may be, but that's just a price of doing business in democracies. My sense is that Europeans, despite the disagreements, want to work with the United States in common cause. It does no good to score points or just get stuck in an endlessly circular argument, and I think there is a willingness in Europe, as in the United States, to put the debate about Iraq where it belongs, which is in the past, and work to try to get Iraq and other issues right.

Question: On the Afghanistan issue, were you satisfied by the degree to which European nations were willing to provide more troops for the mission there?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, the NATO Summit featured a lot of discussion about Afghanistan. European governments, European nations have contributed impressively to the common mission in Afghanistan. Some European governments have troops that were fighting in the south in the summer and early fall. Some of them suffered significant casualties, and we should remember that: the Canadians, the British, others down in the south, as well as the Americans. Some governments have been doing a good job in the north; the Germans in Kunduz. When the NATO commander asked for more troops, the Poles came forward very quickly with the offer of a mechanized battalion without caveats. That is enormously impressive. Poland has a serious military, and they know what they're doing.

So countries have made contributions. Now, do we think the so-called caveats, the restrictions, should be lifted? Of course we do. Of course we do. But that doesn't mean we have scant regard for the contributions of countries, of all the countries that have troops in Afghanistan. We understand this is hard for some governments and some parliaments. So we want to see governments commit themselves to a common mission, commit themselves to success. We are working not just on the military side of this, because success in Afghanistan is not just military, it isn't even primarily military; it's political, it's social, it's economic, it's information, and we need to get our strategy right and succeed for the sake of the Afghan people.

In NATO, my sense was governments are serious about that, and we will be working with this in the New Year.

Question: You talked about reform in the greater Middle East. To what degree does this administration think that the problems in Iraq have also created problems for the moderates in other Arab states who want to go on to reform some of these states?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The Middle East of let us say the ‘70s and the ‘80s, of authoritarian regimes, is gone. What is emerging is a Middle East of ferment, turmoil, in some cases terrible things. I don't want to make a rosy picture of this. But also of a demand for reform and democracy and justice. And it's important. The reason I mentioned the Forum for the Future is that it is important not to forget those voices, those forces in the region who believe in democracy, who believe in reform, and in the rule of law, and not reduce the region to stereotypes of authoritarians or extremists.

It is too easy to do that, and that would be a grave insult to the people who at sometimes at great risk to themselves stand for values which are not actually Western, but are universal.

To answer your question, obviously the sectarian violence in Iraq and in Baghdad in particular is troubling both in itself - people are being killed. That is greatly troubling, obviously. But it also is the success of extremism, of purveyors of violence and the ideologues who inspire them, is a challenge. President Bush said so very clearly, better than I have, in his speech in Riga. It's important to get behind the forces of reform and positive change, and it is a contest in which we cannot be neutral or indifferent. We have to help the forces of reform succeed.

Obviously progress in one area helps reformers everywhere, and it's important to advance on a broad front as best you can.

I think there is an understanding in Europe that we have to work together to help reformers in this region solve the problems. That is one of the, in fact it is probably the chief item on the U.S.-European agenda today.

Question: But do you think their job is harder now than it used to be?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, it depends on what you mean by used to be. We obviously hope that the sectarian violence is suppressed and that Iraq moves in a better direction. We obviously hope that as it does the reformers in the region will be strengthened. But it's wrong, I think, to draw too mechanistic a parallel. I think also individual situations in countries vary rather widely. But it is important that Iraq succeed, and you can make an argument - we have made the argument - that success in Iraq will make a major difference throughout the region.

I'll take your principle point because that has a certain validity to it. Not to make it too mechanistic, but yeah, it's important to succeed in Iraq.

Question: Donald Rumsfeld, the soon to be ex-Defense Secretary, once divided Europe into old and new. Do you think those terms have any meaning these days? Particularly when you look at [inaudible] Iraq and the Middle East. It appears that old Europe [inaudible] strong. Perhaps your greatest ally now with regard to actually [inaudible].

Assistant Secretary Fried: You brought up the old and new. You haven't heard that from anybody in the administration in some time. I think those remarks have been over-analyzed and certainly we're not interested in dividing Europe. We want to work with all of Europe. We look forward to doing so. We look to Europe and we look to our friends in Europe and want to work cooperatively and on a common agenda.

Question: Just one point about Syria and France.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, it is certainly true that we've been working very closely with France on Lebanon and by extension on the problem that Syria constitutes. We've been working very closely. Presidents Bush and Chirac helped launch this effort in their February 2005 dinner in Brussels. That was an important dinner. We've been working very closely with the French. It sort of demonstrates my point.

Question: There is a sense that [inaudible] Syria. One is they can be flipped [inaudible]. The other view is that [inaudible] increase their [inaudible]. On that you seem to be closer to France than you do to say perhaps [inaudible].

Assistant Secretary Fried: Look, I'm not going to comment on individuals because I can see the way that might appear.

Nigel Sheinwald, the Diplomatic National Security Advisor of Great Britain, went to Damascus at the end of October, and he delivered a very clear message. After that there was another political murder in Beirut. So figure out what that means.

If Syria wants for its own reasons to contribute to a resolution or stabilization of Iraq, it can do so, it knows how. If the price it seeks is a free hand in Lebanon, no deal. I think that's a very important message for the Syrians.

Question: A question regarding Kosovo again. How big do you think are the chances to find a solution within the UN, as long as Russia is against an independent Kosovo?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, we need a solution. I don't want to speculate about the prospects in the United Nations, but Russia knows; Russia's experts on Kosovo are very good indeed. These are serious people. They know the ground. They have made a very strong and convincing case that whatever the final status in Kosovo, the historic Serbian community needs to be protected. That is the monasteries, the Serb communities that are still there, both north and south of the Ibar. There needs to be decentralization. So Russia has played, as I've said, a very constructive role in that regard. Russia understands that the status quo in Kosovo is not sustainable, that we can't go back to the situation before 1999. The only way out is forward, and I hope Russia will continue to see this through to the end in the interests of a stable Balkans, a Serbia with a future, and a future for the people of Kosovo, all of them, which is better than the past. I certainly hope Russia sees it that way, and they have some very capable people who can play a major role in seeing this through.

Question: Again on Kosovo, please. There are some reports that the U.S. government is opposed to conditional independence. Can you -

Assistant Secretary Fried: I don't know what the term means. Never heard it, doesn't exist. Either you're independent or you're not.

Question: What is -

Assistant Secretary Fried: Look, I'm not going to get into the particular position that we have, or that Ahtisaari will have, but no, not conditional independence. The term doesn't arise. Ahtisaari will finalize his recommendations, he'll make them, we'll see how that comes out and we will return to this issue.

Question: There was limited sovereignty under Brezhnev.

Assistant Secretary Fried: I wouldn't cite Brezhnev as a model [Laughter]. You're free to do so, of course.

Question: May I ask about NATO, Ukraine and Georgia. What next steps do you see in terms of bringing Georgia into NATO?

Assistant Secretary Fried: This is going to be a process that will not unfold tomorrow. Our view is that NATO's door should remain open for countries that are both willing to join NATO, eager to join NATO, and meet NATO standards. That process is just beginning. Ukraine doesn't seem to me to yet have a national consensus about NATO membership. Georgia seems to have a national consensus. They have a way to go. So let's take this a step at a time.

Right now Georgia is properly focused on strengthening its economy, strengthening its democratic institutions, peacefully resolving the issue with the frozen conflicts. Those are very good priorities for Georgia. We support Georgia's sovereignty, we support its right to determine its own future, and as I said to my Polish and Visegrad friends 15 years ago, as these countries take care of their internal reforms the external arrangements will take care of themselves. They didn't believe me at the time, but maybe they'll think better of their earlier skepticism.

Question: Actually, to build upon this, the Georgian Prime Minister is here. Doing exactly what you just mentioned. Did you really discuss with him a free trade zone? A U.S.-Georgia free trade zone, as they report, the Georgians?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We've discussed U.S.-Georgia economic relations. He's meeting the Vice President this afternoon, and I don't want to preview that message. There are a lot of ideas floating around. We certainly think that the Prime Minister's message about economic reform, about opening new markets for Georgian products since Russians are now deprived of the centuries-old pleasure of drinking Georgian wine, I frankly will be happy to find more of it in my local store. It's quite good, by the way.

Question: I know.

Assistant Secretary Fried: But your children will not, unless things change.

Question: They will.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Last question.

Question: I need to ask my German question because -

Assistant Secretary Fried: Go ahead.

Question: EU presidency and G8 presidency is coming up. What does it mean in terms of Germany?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Look, it's a great chance for Germany, obviously, but also I'm looking forward to working with Germany. We've been discussing Germany's agenda, and your Foreign Minister was here. He spent a lot of time with the Secretary; a couple of hours in a meeting on Friday and then dinner with Secretary Rice Friday night. One of the major topics was the German agenda for its dual presidencies the first half of the year, G8 presidency for the whole year.

We've been working very closely with Germany, and we think this can really be a very successful presidency. We're very excited about this.

ENDS


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