TENSIONS IN THE GULF
U.S. BULKING UP…A day after that brief but deadly encounter near the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. is making contingencies for something far more significant. The Wall Street Journal reports the Pentagon is building a missile-defense radar station at a secret site in Qatar - and is organizing its biggest-ever minesweeping exercises in the Persian Gulf. The radar site will complete the backbone of a system to defend U.S. interests and allies against Iranian rockets. The minesweeping exercises in September will be the first such multilateral drills in the region and are expected to be announced today. Mines are a huge concern for the U.S. Navy – operating under the assumption that many mines have been laid in these waters already. Last week we had the news that underwater drones were being deployed to the Gulf – in a kind of high-tech search-and-destroy capacity. Meanwhile, in Tehran today, Iran’s Foreign Minister Ramin Mehmaparast criticized the presence of “foreign forces” in the Persian Gulf, saying it will only “endanger the stability of this sensitive region.” He added: “We recommend to them (the Americans) to avoid provocative acts.”
-INDIA WANTS ANSWERS…Indian media reporting this morning that it has ordered its embassies in Washington and Abu Dhabi to ascertain what exactly happened in that shooting incident yesterday. The Hindustan Times reports India has called on the United Arab Emirates to investigate the fatal shooting of an Indian fisherman. “India’s ambassador in Abu Dhabi has requested UAE authorities to probe the circumstances of the tragic incident,” the foreign ministry’s spokesman said Tuesday. Leading papers also report U.S. Ambassador to India, Nancy Powell, phoned the Indian Foreign Minister to say the US was conducting a full investigation into what had happened. The U.S. also sent it condolences to families of the victims. Dozens of police and other Emirati officials reportedly crowded around the boat after it docked following the incident at a small Dubai port used by fishermen and sailors. The boat was removed from the port shortly afterwards. Rescue workers were seen carrying one person in a body bag off the white-hulled boat and placing it in an ambulance as fishermen looked on, the AP reported.
-DAMASCUS FIGHTING…Not clear whether we’re seeing a whole new phase in the Syria fighting – or skirmishes that the Army will crush, much as it has crushed previous incursions. But it’s worth noting that fighting in the capital is heavier than it’s been since the uprising/crackdown began. The rebels are calling it “Operation Damascus Volcano”, engaging the Syrian Army forces in several neighborhoods near the edge of the old city. The regime is using tanks and helicopter gunships against the rebels, saying it is chasing “terrorist elements” – with the heaviest fighting reported in the neighborhood of Al-Midan.
-AMBASSADOR WHO DEFECTED SPEAKS…The highest-ranking Syrian civilian to defect, former ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares, has given an interview to the BBC. He warns that the Assad regime will not hesitate to use its chemical weapons and suggests they may already have done so in the besieged city of Homs. This comes just days after a Wall Street Journal report suggested the regime is moving its chemical weapons stockpiles out of storage.
-THE DIPLOMACY…U.N. envoy Kofi Annan is in Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin – whose government appears defiant as ever on Syria – and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is on his way to China today where he is expected to hold talks tomorrow with Chinese President Hu Jintao. Syria is expected to top the agenda of that meeting as well.
MUBARAK BACK IN JAIL
A very different “Arab Spring” update: Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been returned to jail after a stint in a military hospital. Last month, Egypt’s state news agency, MENA, published what turned out to be a false report that Mubarak was “clinically dead” after having a heart attack and stroke in prison. Turned out, he had only slipped in the bathroom.
-SECURITY FIRM UNDER FIRE…The head of the security firm G4S is appearing before Parliament today – to explain why his company wasn’t able to provide the security guards it promised for the Olympics. In their absence, 3,500 British troops have been deployed to protect the games.
-TSA IN LONDON…Nick SCHIFRIN reports: TSA agents will be stationed at Heathrow and other British airports to help with security for the influx of Americans expected to visit the U.K. in the next few weeks, according to the US embassy in London and British authorities. The arrangements were put in place long before the G4S debacle, the embassy insists. The agents, who will not be armed, will primarily deal with any security issues for Americans arriving or leaving on US carriers or US carrier code-share flights. They will begin their work later this week and will leave after the end of the Paralympics. Normally, 200,000 – 250,000 Americans visit the UK every summer. Anywhere from 300-400k are expected this summer.
-THE QUEEN’S “NEW NEIGHBORS”…From the Wall Street Journal: Early last month, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebration wrapped up with a parade carrying the monarch in a horse-drawn carriage to Buckingham Palace, where she waved at her subjects from the balcony as a Royal Air Force flyby roared past. The next morning, a truck rumbled up to the park in front of the palace to deliver a new throne—actually, several dozen of them. They were portable toilets. Scaffolding, timber and about 4,000 tons of sand soon followed. It was the start of London’s most unusual construction project in recent memory: the transformation of Elizabeth II’s neighborhood into a 15,000-seat Olympic beach volleyball arena. Aiming to create one of the London Olympics’ signature visuals, organizers decided to place the arena at the foot of St. James’s Park, just down the road from Buckingham Palace. The area is also being outfitted with spectator stands for marathon and cycling events.
HSBC TO ANSWER TERROR FINANCING QUESTIONS ON CAPITOL HILL
British bank HSBC is set to apologize today to members of a Senate investigative panel for failing to have appropriate controls in place to ensure it did not finance terrorism and other criminal activities. As Reuters writes, HSBC allowed clients to route shadowy funds from the world’s most dangerous and secretive corners, including Mexico, Iran, the Cayman Islands, Saudi Arabia and Syria. Today’s testimony will be more bad news for British banks – already beleaguered in recent weeks over Barclays involvement in the Libor scandal.
CLINTON: 102 NATIONS
Home will probably look nice for the Secretary of State today – she’s back after a true whirlwind tour that took her from Mongolia to Cambodia, Afghanistan to Egypt, and several datelines in between. As the AP writes, “If diplomatic achievements were measured by the number of countries visited, Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the most accomplished secretary of state in history. While historians will debate and eventually rate her tenure as America’s top diplomat, Clinton is already assured of a place in the State Department record book….”
UNHEARD-OF VIOLENCE IN TORONTO
It happens all too often in this country, but almost never across our northern border. In Toronto, two people are dead and 19 more injured after gunfire erupted at a backyard barbeque last night, with more than 200 people in attendance. A teenage girl and a man in his early 20s were killed. The injured are mostly young people as well, including a toddler. The city’s police chief called the violence “unprecedented.” Gun violence remains rare in Canada, with the country recording its worst mass shooting more than 20 years ago.
WWII HISTORY ON DISPLAY IN TOKYO
From Akiko FUJITA in Tokyo: More than 60 years later, General Douglas MacArthur’s Tokyo office will be opened to the public. The office is exactly as he left it, complete with the chairs and drawer-less desk that MacArthur famously used to cut down on clutter.
TYPHOON TAKES AIM AT FLOOD-RAVAGED REGION
Southwestern Japan is bracing for a typhoon, less than a week after record rainfall triggered landslides and flooding that killed at least 32 people. Typhoon Khanun is packing winds of up to 67 mph, and is expected to hit the southern Kyushu island Tuesday night. The Japan Meteorological Agency says the typhoon could bring up to 6 inches of rain, to a region where hundreds still haven’t been able to return home.
JAPAN’S NATIONAL BULLYING SAGA
From FUJITA again: A follow to the story I filed earlier this month, about the 13-year old boy who committed suicide after being bullied. Under pressure from the public, police launched a criminal investigation into the boy’s suicide last week, following suspicions the school and board of education had tried to cover up the incident. The parents have now sued the city, and following the court hearing today the lawyer for the board of education offered an emotional apology. Head deeply bowed, cameras clicking, he addressed the victim directly, saying “the school’s insufficient actions and probe by the board of education led you to the depths of despair, and gave you no option but death. We apologize from the bottom of our hearts.” Japanese media report the 3 bullies in court maintained they did not do anything harmful – saying “we were just playing around.” The case has led to suggestions the problem is widespread. The Japan Times reports a high school student in northeast Japan was forced to attempt to drown himself in a local river by his friends, who filmed the entire scene with a mobile phone. Another report last week said that 9 junior high students in Aichi Prefecture formed a “union to kill a classmate,” and continuously harassed a fellow student. Meanwhile, the case of the 13-year-old boy has created so much outrage that the Prime Minister felt the need to address victims directly, during a live interview on Fuji-TV yesterday. ”You are not alone,” he said. “There are people who care about you. I promise you there are people who want to protect you. Please believe that, and report the abuse…to anybody.”
TIGER WOODS: BRITISH OPEN COURSE “ALMOST UNPLAYABLE”
Tiger Woods and other golfers are saying that nearly two months of record rainfall has made the course at Royal Lytham nearly unplayable. The rough is rough with players unable to find their golf balls and other parts just wet and muddy. More rain is in the forecast when Open starts play on Thursday.
FROM MOTHER NATURE…
-WHALES IN SYDNEY HARBOR…A rare sight in Sydney Harbor today – a Southern Right whale and its calf.
-A DINGO GRABS A TEENAGER…It happened early Sunday morning, in the Australian outback. 13-year-old Rebecca Robinson was asleep but woke up to find a dingo dragging her sleeping bag from the campsite where she was vacationing with her family. Rebecca weighs about 110lbs. Her mum Kate Robinson said she could understand how a dingo could have taken baby Azaria Chamberlain back in August 1980.
-COWS RAMPAGE THROUGH ENGLISH GARDENS…A herd of cows seem to have escaped their pasture in England, rampaging through neighborhood lawns.
“SMOKE ON THE WATER” CO-CREATOR…R.I.P.
Jon Lord, founder of Deep Purple and co-writer and the rock anthem Smoke On The Water has died.