Spain seeks EU backing on plan to lift Israeli blockade of Gaza

EU scrambles for policy response after international outrage over Mavi Marmara

Spain is drawing up new proposals for lifting Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip as the EU scrambles to forge an effective policy following international outrage over the killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists in a “freedom flotilla”.

Miguel Moratinos, the Spanish foreign minister, is to present Madrid’s ideas to EU colleagues next Monday amid signs of disagreement between member states and demands for tougher action.

The US, Britain and the EU have all called the blockade “unsustainable”. But Britain is warning of exaggerated expectations of what can be achieved. “I don’t think the British government is talking about lifting the blockade,” said the Foreign Office minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt. “Everything is done with relatively small incremental steps. Almost any change is potentially a change for the better.”

British officials stress the importance of Israel improving access conditions for 1.5m Palestinians by publishing a blacklist of banned goods and not simply stating which ones are permitted. “That would be a fundamental shift which would enormously benefit Gaza,” said one.

Israel has rejected a French idea that EU forces would check the cargoes of ships heading for Gaza to ensure they are not carrying goods Israel would consider a security risk. Bernard Kouchner, France’s foreign minister, called the response from Jerusalem “rather negative”. Spain, chairing the EU’s rotating presidency, will be expected to work with Lady Ashton, the union’s foreign policy chief, diplomats said. Another idea is the revival of the EU Border Assistance Mission at the Rafah crossing point into Egypt. Its operations were suspended in 2007 after the takeover of Gaza by the Islamist movement Hamas, shunned by Israel and the west.

“We are seeing a sense of disarray with several voices speaking at the same time,” said Clara O’Donnell of the Centre for European Reform. “But even if the EU is keen to help, the Israelis do not consider it reliable enough. There is not much Europe can do until the Americans move.”

But Lord Patten, Britain’s former EU external affairs commissioner, today urges the EU to demand an immediate end to the blockade, open dialogue with Hamas, and not let the US monopolise policy.

“Today’s miserable and brutal stand-off in the Middle East requires new political initiatives,” he writes in the Guardian. “The EU is Israel’s biggest trade partner and the largest provider of development assistance to Palestine yet it has been content to play a largely very quiet third fiddle to the US. It is true that the US has the primary external role in the region, and that any peace settlement will require Israel’s willing agreement. But none of this justifies the EU’s present nervous self-effacement. This policy gives Israel carte blanche. It makes Europe complicit in outrageous and illegal acts.” Patten calls for the UN to be tasked with preventing weapons entering Gaza while the EU should take the initiative with Turkey and the Arab League to re-establish a national unity government of Fatah and Hamas for the West Bank and Gaza. Britain says it has no plans to end its ban, backed by the Quartet, on contact with Hamas.

Spill reveals Obama’s lack of executive experience

By: BYRON YORK – Chief Political Correspondent – The Washington

In mid-February 2008, fresh from winning a bunch of Super Tuesday primaries, Barack Obama granted an interview to “60 Minutes” correspondent Steve Croft. “When you sit down and you look at [your] resume,” Croft said to Obama, “there’s no executive experience, and in fact, correct if I’m wrong, the only thing that you’ve actually run was the Harvard Law Review.”

“Well, I’ve run my Senate office, and I’ve run this campaign,” Obama said.

Seven months later, after receiving the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama talked with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. At the time, the news was dominated by Hurricane Gustav, which was headed toward New Orleans and threatening to become a Katrina-like disaster. “Some of your Republican critics have said you don’t have the experience to handle a situation like this,” Cooper said to Obama. “They in fact have said that Governor Palin has more executive experience. …”

“Governor Palin’s town of Wasilla has, I think, 50 employees,” Obama answered. “We have got 2,500 in this campaign. I think their budget is maybe $12 million a year. You know, we have a budget of about three times that just for the month. So, I think that our ability to manage large systems and to execute, I think, has been made clear over the last couple of years.”

Obama ignored Palin’s experience as governor of Alaska, which was considerably bigger than the Obama campaign. But his point was clear: If you’re worried about my lack of my executive experience, look at my campaign. Running a first-rate campaign, Obama and his supporters argued, showed that Obama could run the federal government, even at its most testing moments. He could set goals, demand accountability, and, perhaps most importantly, bend the sprawling federal bureaucracy to his will.

Fast forward to 2010. The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is gushing out of control. The Obama administration is at first slow to see the seriousness of the accident. Then, as the crisis becomes clear, the federal bureaucracy becomes entangled in itself trying to deal with the problem. “At least a dozen federal agencies have taken part in the spill response,” the New York Times reports, “making decision-making slow, conflicted and confused, as they sought to apply numerous federal statutes.”

For example, it took the Department of Homeland Security more than a week to classify the spill as an event calling for the highest level of federal action. And when state officials in Louisiana tried over and over to win federal permission to build sand barriers to protect fragile coastal wetlands from the oil, they got nowhere. “For three weeks, as the giant slick crept closer to shore,” the Times reports, “officials from the White House, Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Environmental Protection Agency debated the best approach.”

The bureaucracy wasn’t bending to anyone’s will. The direction from the top was not clear. And accountability? So far, the only head that has rolled during the Gulf crisis has been that of Minerals Management Service chief Elizabeth Birnbaum. But during a May 27 news conference, Obama admitted he didn’t even know whether she had resigned or been fired. “I found out about it this morning, so I don’t yet know the circumstances,” the president said. “And [Interior Secretary] Ken Salazar’s been in testimony on the Hill.” Obama’s answer revealed that he hadn’t fired Birnbaum, and he couldn’t reach a member of his Cabinet who was a few blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue.

Given all that, perhaps candidates in future presidential races will think twice before arguing that running their campaign counts as executive experience.

A few days before Obama won the White House, Bill Clinton joined him for a late-night rally in Kissimmee, Fla. Clinton, who became president after 12 years as a governor, told the crowd not to worry about Obama’s lack of executive background. Given the brilliance of Obama’s campaign, Clinton said — and here the former president uncharacteristically mangled his words a bit — a President Obama would be “the chief executor of good intentions as president.”

Chief executor of good intentions? Perhaps that’s what Obama is now. But with oil gushing into the Gulf, that’s just not good enough.

Byron York, The Examiner’s chief political correspondent, can be contacted at His column appears on Tuesday and Friday, and his stories and blog posts appears on

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BP oil spill fears hit North Sea as Norway bans drilling

Norway has banned new deepwater oil drilling in the North Sea amid in a sign that panic over BP’s Gulf of Mexico spill is spreading.

By Rowena Mason and James Quinn – The Telegraph

As the political fall-out moved beyond America, US President Barack Obama attacked BP chief executive Tony Hayward, saying he should have been sacked for tactless comments after the spill.
Britain yesterday ruled out a moratorium “for the moment” on deep water exploration, but Norway, its North Sea neighbour, said it had sufficient concerns to halt all new drilling until a full inquiry is conducted into the cause of BP’s leak.

Terje Riis-Johansen, Norway’s oil minister said: “What is happening in the Gulf of Mexico is so unique, it’s gone on for such a long time, the blow-out is so big, we must gather enough information from it before we move on.”

The move will pile pressure on the British Government to put the North Sea oil industry under more scrutiny. Charles Hendry, Britain’s new energy minister, said he wanted deep drilling due to start off the Shetland Islands to go ahead, despite concerns about industry safety standards.

He said yesterday that it was sufficient to increase inspections of rigs and set up a new industry body to probe safety, as new deepwater exploration gets underway.

Shares tumbled across the oil and energy services sector yesterday, amid unconfirmed reports of another Gulf of Mexico leak at a rig operated by Diamond Offshore and a fresh onslaught on BP by Mr Obama.

He launched a personal attack on Mr Hayward, saying he should have been fired over ill-judged comments.

The President, who has been criticised for failing to take control of the oil spill, added that he has spent so much time in the Gulf region so he “knows whose ass to kick”. Speaking on the US television show Today, he lashed out Mr Hayward for saying he wanted his “life back”. “He wouldn’t be working for me after any of those statements,” he said.

BP’s share price fell a further 5pc, or 21.4, to 408.9p in London, meaning £45bn has now been wiped off its market value. Having been Britain’s biggest company, worth £120bn, it is now threatening to fall into third place behind Vodafone – having already been overtaken by Royal Dutch Shell.
The accident has taken 213 points off the benchmark FTSE 100 share index.

Mr Hayward, who said this weekend that he had no intention of stepping down, will face the wrath of US politicians when he testifies to an inquiry on June 17 – one of 28 separate congressional hearings on the spill.

There is growing frustration in the US that BP has failed to plug its well 47 days after the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by Transocean exploded killing 11 men. The spill has so far polluted hundreds of miles of coastline. BP said last night that it is now capturing almost 15,000 barrels a day out of an estimated 20,000 coming out of the ground.

But Mr Hayward’s insistence that there is “no evidence” of any oil plumes beneath the ocean’s surface was thrown into doubt when scientists confirmed the presence of “low concentrations of subsea oil”.