Best Friends Forever?

Russia has become the focus of the Bush administration's hard-knuckle diplomacy inside the U.N. Security Council, according to senior State Department officials. With little more than two weeks to go before a vote on the latest resolution against Iraq, the United States and its allies remain far short of the nine votes they need to win their go-ahead for war. (Even a vote, thought to be a safe bet, that would have allowed the transport of U.S. troops through Turkey stalled in the Turkish Parliament last weekend; a new vote was scheduled this week.) So it was no coincidence that President Vladimir Putin's chief of staff, Aleksandr Voloshin, visited Washington last week as the diplomatic traffic between the White House and the Kremlin intensified.

Though Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov threatens to veto a U.S. attack, the man to watch, in judging Moscow's intentions, is Voloshin. According to sources, the Bush administration's new game plan is to win Russia's abstention on a new U.N. resolution, rather than trying to get its outright support. "In terms of the council dynamics, if Russia doesn't veto, then it's very hard for the French to do so," explains one senior administration official. "Russia is more about averting the vetoes, although it would be great to have a positive vote by Russia, and that could lead to a lot more positive votes."

To date, the administration has placed its talks with Russian officials in the context of the broader relationship with the United States--a less-than-subtle attempt to tell Moscow that the entire range of U.S.-Russian relations would be hurt by its lack of full support at the United Nations. So far, those tactics have failed to win anything more than a neutral reaction from the Kremlin. But the administration now sees reason to hope that Russia can be peeled away from other Security Council holdouts. Russian officials have lately been distancing themselves from Saddam Hussein. Russia also seems increasingly wary of siding with France when the larger share of its business interests lies with the Unit-ed States. While Washington has consistently refused to make any promises about Russia's oil interests in Iraq, it has been talking up new joint petroleum ventures in Central Asia. And last week the administration also formally designated three Chechen separatist groups as terrorists, underscoring what Secretary of State Colin Powell called "the commonality of interests" between the United States and Russia. We will soon see how far that goes.


In recent years, those most responsible for the bloodshed under former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet have finally started to see the inside of courtrooms. Last week a Chilean judge indicted five senior members of Pinochet's secret police on charges of plotting the murder of Chilean Army Gen. Carlos Prats in 1974 in Buenos Aires. But one man the Argentine courts allege was involved still appears to be untouchable: former Chilean Army officer Armando Fernandez Larios, who lives in Miami.

Fernandez pleaded guilty to charges of lying to U.S. investigators probing the 1976 killing of another Pinochet foe. Upon his release from prison, Fernandez received a pledge that he would never be deported to Chile. Now senior officials of the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service are debating whether to start deportation proceedings against Fernandez. It seems the INS was never asked about the provision against deportation, and its lawyers believe Fernandez is fair game under a 1996 ruling that struck down such promises. And even if the INS decides to leave him alone, Fernandez is in a bind. The relatives of a Chilean government economist who was executed soon after Pinochet seized power in 1973 have filed a civil suit in the United States charging Fernandez with the murder. Fernandez's attorney, Steven Davis, says his client had nothing to do with the killing. The suit will be tried in federal court next June.


Don't Even Think of It

Thinking about cheating on your taxes? If you're a Russian citizen, you may get a house visit from the tax police. The new Instruction No. 525 allows police to contact colleagues and family members of any individual they believe may be planning to commit a crime and ask them to talk their loved one out of it. And just how will they read the mind of the secretive plotter? See Instruction No. 426, which allows the tax police to use lie detectors on suspected evaders. A suspect would have to agree to take the test, but it's hard to say no to police who are best known for forcing the muzzles of their Kalashnikov rifles into the foreheads of tax offenders. Russians are shocked at the totalitarian new regulations, says private tax lawyer Maxim Maximovsky, "but they have a genetic fear of the government. People are too scared to complain." In fact, they'd better not even think about complaining about the new rules if they want to keep the tax police off their backs.


Up in Smoke

After two weeks of debate, nearly all the 171 nations at the World Health Organization conference in Geneva last week had agreed on a way to help put an end to the 4 million tobacco-related deaths that occur worldwide annually. But the United States, home to the world's most powerful tobacco lobby, is one of two nations (Germany is the other) to "give explicit statements that they will have difficulty coming onboard," says Derek Yach, a WHO official. The United States opposes a treaty ban on tobacco advertising. But most public-health advocates dismiss this logic, pointing to a disclaimer that allows countries to ignore elements of the treaty that violate their own constitutions. "The Bush administration has done everything that they can to weaken the tobacco treaty," says Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Saudi Arabia

Blacklist Battles

In a move expected to infuriate religious conservatives and human-rights advocates alike, the Bush administration has decided to reject the recommendation of a special government commission to place Saudi Arabia on a U.S. blacklist of countries that violate religious freedom. NEWSWEEK has learned that Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to shortly release an annual list of "countries of particular concern"--a formal branding of nations the U.S. government concludes engage in "systemic, ongoing and egregious" violations of the rights of religious minorities. The Saudis won't be on it--despite the conclusion by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that the Islamic nation is probably the world's worst oppressor of religious rights. "I'm appalled and disappointed," says Felice D. Gaer, the commission chair, about the decision. "But I'm not surprised."

This year's battle over the religious blacklist was being closely watched because members of Congress and an array of religious-conservative groups--who have close ties to the White House--have become increasingly agitated over the Saudi issue. One commissioner, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, weighed in with White House aides, describing it as a high-priority item for evangelical Christians. Land tells NEWSWEEK he was greatly influenced by a briefing the commission got last fall in which human-rights groups and religious dissidents described how the Saudi religious police raided the homes of foreign workers practicing Christianity and threw them into overcrowded prisons with squalid conditions. "It's unthinkable to me that our government is not pressing the Saudis on this," says Land. But senior administration officials, including some at the White House, concluded that publicly chastising the Saudis would be counterproductive--and might interfere with broader U.S. interests in the region. That stand appeared to pay off last week: after months of resistance, Saudi Arabia agreed to allow the United States to use its air bases in the event of war with Iraq.

North Korea

Crossing The Line

The Bush Administration refuses to call it a "red line," but that's the message it's sending to North Korea as the Stalinist state inches closer to reviving its nuclear site at Yongbyon. The red line in question is the reprocessing that could turn the North's 8,000 spent fuel rods into enough weapons-grade plutonium to produce six nukes. In Asia last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul to pass on a message to Kim Jong Il: don't start your reprocessing plant. "I think they've all been in touch with North Korea about the danger of moving forward," Powell told reporters.

Some administration officials say they refuse to call it a red line because it would look as if Washington were threatening military strikes. Others admit there is a far simpler explanation: while the message is clear, the policy response is not. "What exactly do you want us to do?" asks one exasperated administration official.

Word games have been common when handling North Korea. The administration refused to call the situation a crisis, then refused the notion of bilateral talks--at least to begin with. ("We'll have to talk to them," Powell admitted, "but a multilateral forum is the best way.") Korea analysts expect the North to edge closer to the brink as soon as war begins in Iraq. This could mean a missile test close to South Korea or Japan, or a plume of smoke rising from the reprocessing plant. Either way, the North looks determined to cross any number of red lines.


Caricaturing Carnaval

Time was when charisma and charm counted for more in Brazil's famous Carnaval than corporate sponsorship. Then along came satellite television and 10-ton computerized floats. The frenetic pre-Lenten merrymaking, which will dominate life in Brazil this week, has morphed into a Broadway-like spectacle produced by slick professionals. "But you can't turn back the clock," shrugs caricaturist Lan, one of several artists who maintain the tradition of depicting Carnaval in cartoon form. The Italian-born Lan, whose real name is Lanfranco Aldo Riccardo Vaselli Cortelini Rossi Rosini, is known for the exuberance of his work and for his monumental muses in nanoskirts, whose relentless curves mock both garments and gravity. Now its Brazil's turn to honor Lan. Later this year his work will be on exhibit at the Museum of Beaux Arts in Rio, his adopted home for half a century. And Portela, his favorite samba "school," paid him tribute by reserving the top berth on a float at this year's pageant. It seems only fitting that Carnaval's most devoted caricaturist has finally become a Carnaval character himself.


Picture Perfect

It's not the whole truth, but a good part of the reason William Henry Fox Talbot became one of the fathers of photography was that he could not draw well. Talbot (1800-1877) grew up at a time when people sketched picturesque spots on their travels. This upper-class Englishman became so frustrated on his honeymoon at his lack of artistic skill, so the story goes, that he threw himself into developing a process whereby waterfalls and mountain vistas might be recorded mechanically. The result, a decade or so later, was the positive-negative process that Talbot called "photogenic drawing"--and we call photography.

If Talbot lacked the dexterity necessary to produce a decent drawing, he certainly possessed an artist's eye. That's the first thing that strikes you at the wonderfully comprehensive show of his work on display from March 30 to June 15 at San Diego's Museum of Photographic Arts (there is also a superb catalog of the show, "First Photographs," published by powerHouse). A lot of Talbot's images--men playing chess, glassware and seashells, the way light breaks up when it strikes a haystack--were meant to merely demonstrate the camera's capabilities. In fact, they do much more. Talbot showed us as well as any photographer ever has that a camera, with its eye always lusting after light, can uncover wonders that a painter might scorn.


Real War Games

Five GI's tentatively enter a bullet-riddled residence. Before making it in, one falls to the ground, wounded by an unseen enemy. His scarred comrade watches and grasps a box of iodine pills. A scene from Iraq? Afghanistan? Nope--FAO Schwarz. Welcome to the world of toys.

War is hell, but it's vividly displayed to American kids in a series of G.I. Joe dioramas at the Fifth Avenue store in New York. G.I. Joe's overall sales are up 46 percent from last year, and spokeswoman Audrey DeSimone credits a renewed focus on marketing to kids. Toy company Model Power sported a similar display last week at New York's International Toy Fair. Outside its showroom was a model of what looked like a bombed-out shelter--labeled HUSSEIN HILTON. "It gets people in here," says a salesman.

At 21st Century Toys, CEO James Allen is a bit more diplomatic. He doesn't sell war toys, he says. He sells military toys. He will, however, show you models of toys that will be used in the event of, er, military involvement in Iraq. Some people buy the distinction. "The French and Germans are protesting the war," he says. "But guess what? They buy my products."

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