Periscope

Terrorism: A U.S. Link to Madrid?

Nearly two months after the Madrid bombings, the investigation has yielded an interesting twist. A "perfectly formed" fingerprint--found shortly after the attacks in a stolen white van that contained detonators, a stick of dynamite and an audiotape with verses from the Qur'an--has been identified, according to U.S. authorities, as that of 37-year-old Brandon Mayfield, a family and immigration lawyer in Portland, Oregon. Mayfield had been fingerprinted years earlier, when he served in the U.S. Army.

Although Mayfield denied any connection--he insisted his passport had expired last October and he hadn't been out of the country in years--he was detained as a "material witness" in a grand-jury investigation while the FBI tries to build its case.

"This is nuclear," said one U.S. law-enforcement official after learning of the development. A top U.S. counterterrorism official told NEWSWEEK that the fingerprint was an "absolutely incontrovertible match." (Spanish authorities said they weren't quite as sure.) Federal officials, who acknowledged that their probe was just beginning, said that they doubt Mayfield had been innocently swept up in a case of international intrigue. Mayfield converted to Islam 16 years ago and, together with his Egyptian wife, was active in a local mosque whose members had vigorously protested government antiterror policies. He had also volunteered to provide legal help for Jeffrey Battle, one of the ringleaders of the Portland Seven--a group of local jihadists who had flown off to Asia after September 11 in an unsuccessful effort to fight for the Taliban. "If that print had matched with some little old lady in Peoria, that would be one thing," said one U.S. official. "But what are the odds it would be somebody with this background?"

GEORGIA

Playing the Telephone Game

Chalk up a victory for classic cold-war-style telephone diplomacy. Weeks of tension between Aslan Abashidze and Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili ended at 1:30 a.m. last Thursday when the rebel leader flew out of Adjaria, marking the end of his decadelong control of Georgia's richest yet most volatile region. But it wasn't Saakashvili's threat of attack that did the trick. First, there was a flurry of transatlantic phone calls, as Washington worked to ease Moscow's fears of an implosion on its border. Then on Wednesday night at 10 p.m., local time, U.S. Ambassador Richard Miles got Abashidze on the line. "Mr. Ivanov is coming to see you," said the ambassador in Russian. Ninety minutes later, Russian Security Council chief Igor Ivanov was inside Abashidze's palatial residence, offering his host safe haven in Moscow. Within two hours Abashidze was in the air, and locals swarmed the streets in celebration.

A new tactic of tag-team diplomacy seems to be emerging in the region. But the coming months will show whether this back channel is really open for business. At the NATO summit in June, Georgia and Azerbaijan will both be offered a two-year track to membership. Moscow is wary of such a military presence on its doorstep. "We'll fight," one top Defense Ministry official recently told a visiting European--not militarily, of course, but with tough diplomacy. Indeed, Moscow last week insisted on hammering out a treaty barring Georgia from hosting any foreign military bases. Georgia has refused, ensuring that tensions between the two will almost certainly rise, despite the recent cooperation.

ISRAEL

Barrier to Prosperity

Despite losing a Likud Party vote on his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he intends to push ahead with the initiative. Even if successful, though, he may leave Gaza in the lurch.

For several years, a British energy company, British Gas, has been quietly drilling in the Mediterranean. The company concluded that the Palestinians have a potential moneymaker off the Gaza coast--a medium-size natural-gas reserve of about 30 billion cubic meters. British Gas reps argue that the Palestinian Authority would earn about $50 million a year from the project and save an additional $30 million annually in energy costs. That kind of money--if it doesn't go to Yasir Arafat's cronies--could greatly help the overcrowded, poverty-stricken sliver of land get on its feet.

Enter Sharon: British Gas will invest the required $350 million needed to construct a pipeline only if it can market the gas to Israel, and the PM fears the money Israel would pay Palestinians for their resource (Israel plans to convert nearly all its power stations to natural gas over the next 20 years) would end up financing terrorist attacks against the Jewish state. Instead, Sharon is leaning toward importing gas from Egypt. Without an agreement, Gaza's gas will stay untapped.

KOREA

Roh's Rebound

This week South Korea's Constitutional Court is expected to reverse the impeachment of President Roh Moo Hyun. If it does, the victory will be more than sweet. Roh's term has been dogged by corruption scandals since nearly day one. Squabbling with the opposition left the South Korean president practically impotent--and pegged as a lame duck just a year into his presidency. Yet ever since the National Assembly impeached him for violating election law in March, public opinion has shifted dramatically in his favor. Koreans have poured into the streets to protest the ruling and the opposition's seemingly underhanded tactics. Recent parliamentary elections resulted in a landslide for the pro-Roh Uri Party, giving it a slim majority. Riding the victory, Roh should emerge from this week with a stronger mandate than he's had at any time since his Inauguration. "When Roh returns, he will see much smaller hurdles in pursuing his policies," says Hahm Sung Deuk at Korea University. "He will be practically starting his second term."

What will he do with that clout? With the Bush administration humbled by events in Iraq, he will have a stronger hand in pushing for a more conciliatory attitude toward North Korea. He may also step up efforts to reform the chaebol, South Korea's powerful family-run conglomerates. And his opponents should beware, too: there's talk of reforming the conservative newspapers that drummed up enthusiasm for his impeachment. Their miscalculation could be costly.

OIL

Unreliable Sources

Oil prices topped the $40-a-barrel plateau last week for reasons that are two parts sound economics, one part crazy politics. Consumption, particularly in China, has shot up much faster than suppliers expected. Caught unaware, they let world oil inventories fall to the lowest levels in three decades. Econ 101 tells us that when demand outpaces supply, sellers will jack up prices. The crazy part is that with no supply cushion, political shocks get translated into price hikes immediately.

And oil is increasingly coming from states prone to shocks. Think Iraq, but also Venezuela, Nigeria and other new oil frontiers. Reliance on shaky states raises the "country risk premium," which has doubled in the past two years or so to about 6 percent of the total price of oil today, says Jan Randolph, chief economist for the World Markets Research Centre in London. The recent attacks on oil-company employees in Saudi Arabia--once considered the most reliable supplier--frightened the markets, which are now likely to keep the risk premium high. "We don't see prices falling below $30 until 2005," says Randolph.

IRAQ

Costs and Benefits

Threats to foreign workers in Iraq are rising but so are the rewards, and contractors are lining up for jobs there. In London two weeks ago, a forum billed as "speed dating" for businesses seeking Iraq contracts drew 500 suitors. The day that meeting ended, a similar event began in Seoul, drawing another 500 companies, these from Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. The United States requires prime contractors to subcontract 10 percent of their deals to the kind of small businesses that have been flocking to these events. Attendance at four Washington conferences on rebuilding Iraq has risen from 150 in August 2003 to 500 in February 2004--and more than 600 are signed up for the next one in June. Similar events have been held in Singapore, Chicago, Rome, Amman and Kuwait, which drew 1,400 companies from 48 countries in late January.

Businesses figure a foothold in Iraq will be invaluable. The World Bank says the $33 billion allotted worldwide to rebuilding will rise to $55 billion by 2007. Richard Bowman, sales engineer for a British manufacturer of power generators, is hiring a chief for Iraq operations. "The demand for generators is so high," he says, "that people are willing to pay pretty much anything." That's incentive enough for many people.

BOOKS

More Than Just Bricks

Say you loved "Lost in Translation" and want to take a closer look at the up-to-the-minute design hinted at in the movie. Where do you start? Maybe with "The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary Architecture." From the Pee Wee Restaurant in Darwin, Australia, to a winery in Santa Cruz, Chile, this compendium of cool showcases 1,052 projects built within the past five years, organized by region and complete with locator maps. They range from billion-dollar airports and skyscrapers (Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the Dongbu Financial Centre in Seoul) to a dizzying array of houses, offices, museums, schools, churches, shops and even a private underground swimming pool (in Austria). Many of them are wildly curved, angled or cantilevered, and they're built of every material from steel to sticks. The most modest of structures are here, too, like the Kahere Elia Poultry Farming School in the African country of Guinea, built of earth blocks for $104,000 by the Finnish architects Heikkinen-Komonen.

So how did the book's editors figure out what on earth to include? Three years ago they started sending out hundreds of letters and e-mails, seeking nominations. At least 150 experts weighed in; the first list contained more than 4,000 possibilities. Then a panel began to winnow them down. The criterion: "They had to be buildings you'd go out of your way to visit," says Phaidon's editorial director Karen Stein. Indeed they are--just don't try to tuck this guidebook into your tote bag as you pack: at more than eight kilos it's strictly for armchair dreaming.

ARCHEOLOGY

Another Buddha?

For 15 centuries, before they were dynamited by the Taliban in April 2001 for being "idolatrous," two giant Buddha statues dominated the valley of Bamiyan, high in the Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan. Now all that is left of the two 50-meter statues is empty niches carved into the mountainside and fragments of stone and clay spilling down the hillside. But an archeological detective story may revive Bamiyan. Teams of Japanese and French archeologists have launched a search for a third, lost Buddha statue that may be buried somewhere in the Bamiyan Valley.

The evidence for the Buddha's existence? The account of Hsuan-tsang, a Chinese monk who traveled to Bamiyan in the seventh century, when the valley was a thriving Silk Road trade hub and an important center of Buddhist worship from which the religion spread to India and China. Hsuan-tsang describes in detail elaborate complexes of cave monasteries, a royal city and the two standing Buddhas--as well as a giant reclining Buddha that he claims is 300 meters long.

Excavations in the 1960s proved Hsuan-tsang's observations of several other monuments to be accurate. This summer, archeologists will start excavations--the first in war-torn Afghanistan in more than two decades--to discover whether Hsuan-tsang is also right about the third Buddha.

So the race is on, with two rival teams, one backed by the Japanese Ministry of Culture and the other by the Delegation Archeologique Francaise en Afghanistan. "It's probably badly damaged," says Prof. Kosaku Maeda of Wako University, part of the Japanese team. But "if we find it, it will be of enormous symbolic significance."

Q&A: JANICE DICKINSON

Janice Dickinson isn't content just to boss around the contestants on the U.S. reality TV show "America's Next Top Model." She's got a new book coming out called "Everything About Me Is Fake... And I'm Perfect." The 51-year-old outspoken former model took it easy on NEWSWEEK's Nicki Gostin.

A model who can write. Who knew?

This is book two of the trilogy. I'm "The Lord of the Rings" of supermodels.

You claim to be the first supermodel. What about Twiggy?

I was the first to do editorial, runway, TV commercials, spokesperson and catalogs. Those are five separate categories. Twiggy didn't do runway. I'm here to bring back the era of the supermodel, which is o-v-e-r.

Are there any models you like?

Tyra, Naomi, Cindy, Alek Wek. I love Giselle but she can't speak. I think she should get her nose fixed, too.

Do you think the definition of a supermodel also includes sleeping with a rock star?

Hell, no. The Rolling Stones, the Beatles--they sought me out. I was on the cover of every magazine. It was finally my turn to pick and choose.

Is there anyone you didn't sleep with that you wish you had?

This book is not about who I slept with. It's about perfection addiction. I'm chronically punctual. I wish that I wasn't. I'm learning how to exhale. The best is yet to come--no pun intended.

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