diplomat

BRUSSELS — Serbia’s ambassador to NATO was chatting and joking with colleagues in a multistory parking garage at Brussels Airport when he suddenly strolled to a barrier, climbed over and flung himself to the ground below, a diplomat said.

By the time his shocked colleagues reached him, Branislav Milinkovic was dead.

His motives are a mystery. Three diplomats who knew Milinkovic said he did not appear distraught in the hours leading up to his death Tuesday night. He seemed to be going about his regular business, they said, picking up an arriving delegation of six Serbian officials who were to hold talks with NATO, the alliance that went to war with his country just 13 years ago.

“It was indeed a suicide,” Ine Van Wymersch of the Brussels prosecutor’s office said. She said no further investigation was planned.

The diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release details, said they knew of no circumstances — private or professional — that would have prompted him to take his own life. Milinkovic, 52, had mentioned to colleagues at diplomatic functions that he was unhappy about living apart from his wife, a Serbian diplomat based in Vienna, and their 17-year-old son.

BISSAU, Guinea-Bissau (AP) — Mortar rounds could be heard Thursday in the capital of the small, coup-prone nation of Guinea-Bissau as the military sealed off the city’s downtown area and lobbed grenades at the prime minister’s home, according to a diplomat and a military official.

The diplomat said the shooting started after the state radio station signal inexplicably went dead. He said that the whereabouts of the nation’s interim president, who took over after the death in January of the previous leader, was unknown.

A military official, who like the diplomat could not be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said that the soldiers had encircled the home of Prime Minister Carlos Gomes Jr. He said that they were attacking the building with grenades. It was not clear if the premier was at home when the shooting started — or where he is now.

The attack comes just weeks before an April 29 presidential runoff, which Gomes was favored to win. He took nearly 49 percent of the first round vote, just shy of the majority he needed to avoid a runoff. Challenger Kumba Yala, a former president who was overthrown in a 2003 coup, came second with about 23 percent. But the future of the runoff vote was uncertain because Yala recently announced he planned to boycott the vote, claiming fraud.

It was unclear if a coup was in progress in this country. Like in previous military takeovers, the heavy firing is coming after the state broadcaster went silent. In neighboring Mali last month, renegade soldiers seized state television just after they stormed the presidential palace. They then gathered in front of the cameras to announce the coup d’etat.

The unexpected violence late Thursday took even seasoned diplomats by surprise. One official spoke by telephone to The Associated Press from his office late Thursday, which he had not been able to leave because of the shooting.

“I am at the office and I am prevented from leaving,” said the diplomat. “The downtown area has been sealed off by the military ... I can also tell you that all Guinea-Bissau radio has been taken off the air since 8 p.m. local time and the whereabouts of the prime minister and interim president are unknown.”

The presidential election currently in progress was organized in haste, after the death of former leader Malam Bacai Sanha, who died in January after being rushed to France for end-stage diabetes.

Guinea-Bissau has weathered successive coups, attempted coups and a civil war since winning independence from Portugal in 1974. It has been further destabilized by a growing cocaine trade, fueled by traffickers from Latin America who discovered the nation’s archipelago of uninhabited islands several years ago. They used the deserted islands to land small, twin-engine planes loaded with drugs, which are then parceled out and carried north for sale in Europe.

The traffickers, according to analysts, have bought off key members of the government and the military, creating what some are now calling a narcostate.

SANAA, Yemen — A Saudi diplomat was kidnapped on his way to work Wednesday in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, a Yemeni security official said.

It was the first kidnapping of a Saudi diplomat in this impoverished country, where abductions are frequent and where armed tribesmen and al-Qaida-linked militants take hostages in an effort to swap them for prisoners or cash.

The security official identified the diplomat as Abdullah al-Khaldi, the deputy consul at the Saudi consulate in Aden. No more details were immediately available. The Yemeni official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not clear whether the abduction had any political motives.

Saudi Arabia and the rest of Gulf Cooperation Council countries have been heavily involved in a power-transfer deal that forced Yemen’s longtime president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to relinquish power after a yearlong turmoil and mass protests against his rule. Saleh stepped down last month and handed power to his deputy.

Yemen’s turmoil has caused a security vacuum, which al-Qaida has used to seize large swaths of territory across the restive south.

Printed on Thursday, March 29, 2012 as: Saudi diplomat posted to Yemen kidnapped, reasons unknown

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks in Natanz, Iran. Major Asian importers of Iranian oil are thumbing their noses at attempts to get them to rein in their purchases, dealing a blow to sanctions.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran — In defiant swipes at its foes, Iran said Wednesday it is dramatically closer to mastering the production of nuclear fuel even as the U.S. weighs tougher pressures and Tehran’s suspected shadow war with Israel brings probes far beyond the Middle East.

Iran further struck back at the West by indicating it was on the verge of imposing a midwinter fuel squeeze to Europe in retaliation for a looming boycott of Iranian oil, but denied reports earlier in the day that six nations had already been cut off.

The uncompromising messages from Iran, however, came with a counterpoint. The official IRNA news agency said Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that Iran is ready to return to talks with the U.S. and other world powers.

The dual strategy — taking nuclear steps while proposing more talks — has become a hallmark of Iran’s dealings for years and some critics have dismissed it as a time-buying tactic. The advances claimed Wednesday could likely feed these views.

In a live TV broadcast, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was shown overseeing what was described as the first Iranian-made fuel rod inserted into a research reactor in northern Tehran. Separately, the semiofficial Fars agency reported that a “new generation” of Iranian centrifuges — used to enrich uranium toward nuclear fuel — had gone into operation at the country’s main enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran.

In Washington, the assistant secretary of state for International Security and Nonproliferation, Tom Countryman, dismissed the Iranian claims of reaching a pivotal moment. “The announcement today by Iran has much more to do with political developments in Iran than it has to do with factual developments,” he said.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Iran’s “defiant acts” seek to “distract attention” from the damage brought by international sanctions.

Meanwhile, Iran is facing major new international complications: Accusations of bringing an apparent covert conflict with Israel to points stretching from Thailand and India to the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Officials in Israel ramped up allegations that Iran was linked to international bomb plots, saying magnetic “sticky” bombs found in a Bangkok house rented by Iranians were similar to devices used against Israeli envoys in a foiled attack in Georgia on Monday and a blast in New Delhi that injured four people, including a diplomat’s wife.

“In recent days, Iran’s terror operations are being laid bare for all,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who convened his security cabinet. It included discussions about “preventive measures” against Iranian threats, said a statement from Netanyahu’s office that did not elaborate.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, called the allegations “baseless” and an attempt to push “conspiracy” theories to discredit Iran with its Asian partners, including major oil buyer India.

Iran, in turn, accused Israel of being behind clandestine attacks that have claimed the lives of at least five members of Iran’s scientific community in the past two years, including a “sticky” bomb blast that killed a director at the Natanz labs last month.

Framed photos of the five scientists were shown by Iranian TV before a speech by Ahmadinejad, who was flanked by the flags of Iran and the country’s nuclear agency.

He repeated Iran’s goal of becoming a technological beacon for the Islamic world and insisted that scientific progress is the right of all nations. Here rests one of the biggest dilemmas for the West. Iran has merged the nuclear program with its national identity and is unlikely to make any concessions without huge incentives.

“I hope we reach the point where we will be able to meet all our nuclear needs inside the country so we won’t need to extend our hand before others, specifically before the world’s dastardly people,” Ahmadinejad said. “For a gentleman, for a chivalrous nation, the most difficult moment is when he has a need to ask (for something) from a dastardly person.”

Iran also used the announcements as a carefully crafted show of unity.

The families of the slain scientists attended the ceremonies. State TV showed the father of the scientist killed last month, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, clicking on the computer to inaugurate the advanced centrifuges inside the Natanz facility. TV showed tears in the eyes of Roshan’s mother and wife when the father opened the project.

Ahmadinejad put the young daughter of slain electronics student Darioush Rezaeinejad on his knee and patted her long hair.

The purported new frontiers for Iran’s atomic program showcase what could be significant steps at becoming self-sufficient in creating nuclear fuel — the centerpiece of the dispute with the U.S. and its allies.

In the fuel cycle, mined uranium is processed into gas, then that gas is spun in centrifuges to purify it. Low-enriched uranium is used to produce fuel rods that power a reactor. But the same process can be used to produce highly enriched uranium that can be used to build a warhead.

Iran claims it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.

The Tehran facility where IRNA said the new fuel rods were installed is intended to produce isotopes for cancer treatments. It requires fuel enriched to around 20 percent, considered a threshold between low- and high-enriched uranium.Iran began enriching up to near 20 percent in February 2010 after attempts at a deal with the West to import the fuel rods broke down.

Iranian officials have long spoken of introducing faster, more efficient centrifuges at the Natanz facility. The Fars report did not give further details, but Iran also says it also has sophisticated centrifuges in a new site built into a mountainside south of Tehran and possibly impervious to airstrikes.

A diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s known nuclear programs said the “new generation” of centrifuges appeared to be referring to about 65 IR-4 machines that were recently set up at an experimental site at Natanz. The new model can churn out enriched material at a faster rate than the more rudimentary IR-1 centrifuges, thousands of which are at work in Natanz producing low-enriched uranium, said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information is privileged.

In still another development, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Abbasi, was quoted as saying Iran will open a new facility to produce “yellowcake,” which is concentrated natural uranium and is the foundation material in the process to make nuclear fuel. In the past, Iran has purchased most of its yellowcake abroad, including South Africa and China.

The U.S. and EU have tried to rein in Iran’s nuclear program with new boycotts and banking restrictions targeting Iran’s crucial oil exports, which accounts for about 80 percent of the country’s foreign revenue.

The Obama administration is now weighing an even harsher blow: possibly seeking Iran’s removal from SWIFT, an independent financial clearinghouse that is crucial to the country’s overseas oil sales. But such a move could push oil prices higher and undercut fragile Western economies.

Iran pushed back at Europe.

State TV quoted Foreign Ministry official Hasan Tajik as saying that six European diplomats were summoned Wednesday and told that Iran has no problem replacing customers — an implied warning that Tehran would carry out plans to cut off EU countries immediately to pre-empt sanctions set to go into effect in July.

Conflicting information about the cutoff has been relayed by Iranian media throughout the day: first the full blockade on six countries, then a report carried by the semiofficial Mehr agency saying that exports were cut to France and the Netherlands with four other European countries receiving ultimatums to sign long-term contracts with Iran.

Iranian officials say an immediate cutoff will hit European nations before they can line up new suppliers, and that Tehran has already found buyers for the 18 percent share of its oil that goes to Europe.

In Vienna, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the U.S. and the EU for instituting “one-sided sanctions” on Tehran that “erode unified action against Iran’s nuclear program.”

At the same time, he said the suspicion — nurtured by years of Iranian secrecy — that Tehran is covertly working on a nuclear arms program “must be clarified without any doubt.”

In Bangkok, Thai officials held three Iranians rounded up after a cache of explosives detonated accidentally in their home. Bomb disposal teams combed the damaged house while security forces sought an Iranian woman they said had originally rented it.

Thai authorities have not disclosed any potential targets for the explosives.

Israeli defense officials, however, believe the Iranian men were plotting to attack the Israeli ambassador in Thailand, Israel’s Channel 10 TV reported. It said the investigation was still ongoing and its conclusions were not final.

In a reflection of how the attacks caught Israel off guard, the Israeli Counter Terrorism Bureau last month lifted a travel warning to Bangkok after Thai authorities arrested a suspect with alleged links to Hezbollah. The warning was issued Jan. 13 and lifted less than two weeks later.

The bureau lifted a similar travel advisory for Israelis going to Georgia in November.

In her new book, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice gives a candid view of her childhood and college years, especially how they influenced her tenure as the country’s top diplomat.

Rice stopped by BookPeople on Thursday, greeting about 350 people, to promote her new book “Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family.”

In her discussion with KXAN’s Leslie Rhode, Rice shared details of her family, childhood and how she became the person she is today, all topics addressed in her book. Rice said her parents’ value of education eventually determined her success in the Bush administration.

“It really started with my grandfather,” Rice said. “He really believed, along with my parents, in the transforming power of an education — not only for me, but for everyone. They passed this belief on to me.”
Rice’s memoir not only addresses her education and rise to success but also the challenges she overcame in her life, including racism and her parents’ deaths.

As a child in Birmingham, Ala., Rice said 1968 was the year of her political awakening and represented a turning point in her life, recalling the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

“So much happened in that year,” she said. “At 13, I felt the country was falling apart. I remember being quite frightened of what was going on in the world.”

Rice, who now teaches at Stanford University, said the central theme of her book is the importance of receiving an education and finding a life passion.

“Until my sophomore year of college, I wanted to be a pianist,” Rice said. “Junior year I wandered into a course on international politics, and then I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a Soviet specialist. It must have been a divine intervention. I always tell my students to look for their passions, but sometimes they find you.”

Students should seek mentors because a push in the right direction is almost always necessary to reach their goals in life, she said.

“Education is so transforming, it’s the opportunity to do something you’re passionate at and do it well,” Rice said. “My life was a journey and a process. You’ll be more fulfilled by overcoming things you find difficult than doing what is easy.”

Rice represents a political scientist, not a politician, said Jason Rocen, an Austin resident who purchased one of the 375 books sold at the event.

“I come from Alabama as well, and because of this, she’s kind of iconic,” he said. “I’m a fan of political scientists who enact changes directly for the public, instead of trying to appease them. When it comes down to it, the book is really about her development and representing the importance of education in today’s society.”