GENEVA - Swiss socialists want to hold a referendum on the government's 3.1 billion franc (2.5 billion euro) purchase of a new fighter jet fleet if the deal affects spending elsewhere, it was reported Dec. 3.
The Federal Council revealed on Nov. 30 its proposal to buy 22 Swedish-made Gripen planes to replace its aging F5 fighters.
Socialists fear the deal will mean a rise in military spending that could translate into budget restrictions in other departments, notably education, transport and agriculture.
Meeting in Lucerne on Dec. 3, party members unanimously passed are solution on the matter after a document outlining the group's position was approved in October, ATS news agency reported.
The party rejects the prospect of a spending rise all the more because there was no public vote on the plane deal, described as a "scandal" by National Council (parliament) member Eric Voruz.
It will launch a referendum if parliament seeks a legal base to justify budgetary restrictions or requests a rise in military spending to cover the acquisition.
If such a referendum does not halt the deal the, socialists will call for a moratorium on the purchase until 2025.
The Gripen deal will be put to parliament as part of the government's 2012 arms program. Parliamentary decisions can be put to a public vote in Switzerland if a sufficient number of votes are collected.
TEHRAN - A deadly explosion at a missile development plant last month has not affected Iran's ballistic missile program, its top general said in comments published Dec. 3.
Armed forces chief of staff Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi said the death of Iranian military experts at the Bid Ganeh base outside Tehran on Nov. 12 "had no effect on the self-sufficiency unit" of the elite Revolutionary Guards- responsible for weapons research, the Resalat newspaper reported.
"The forces and military weapons of the Islamic republic, including ballistic missiles, are more than ready to confront the enemy," he said.
The blast killed at least 36 members of the elite Revolutionary Guards, including a key figure in Iran's ballistic missile program, Maj. Gen. Hassan Moqaddam.
Firouzabadi reiterated repeated assertions by Iran that the blast was accidental, suggesting that safety measures may have been neglected.
Iranian commanders "who have experienced dangerous situations (during the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq) ... do not take safety measures seriously," he said.
Following the blast, Firouzabadi had said that work at the plant had been delayed by only two weeks as a result. But commercial satellite photographs of the facility released by a private Washington institute suggested the explosion had caused serious destruction, with some buildings completely razed.
"The entire facility was essentially destroyed," said Paul Brannan, a senior analyst at the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), which posted the images this week.
"It looks like almost half of the buildings are gone and what's left are the skeletons of the buildings. I would call that a complete destruction of the facility," Brannan, who wrote an analysis of the pictures, told AFP on Wednesday.
The plant appears to have been used for the development of a new long-range ballistic missile, according to fragmentary reports published by Iranian media.
Following the blast, Firouzabadi said the base was being used for the production of an unspecified "experimental product" that could be used against the United States or Israel.
Moqaddam's brother, Mohammad, himself a Guards commander, spoke of a "project related to intercontinental ballistic missiles," which "was in its final phase" and was "completely hi-tech and secret" - in remarks he later retracted.
The Islamic republic already possesses several types of medium-range missile, some capable of reaching Israel or U.S. bases in the Middle East -both stated targets for retaliation in the event that Iranian facilities are attacked.
Iran's ballistic program, which along with its nuclear activities is subject to U.N. sanctions, has created worries in the international community that Tehran could succeed in producing missiles capable of delivering anatomic warhead.
Tehran denies any such ambition and says its nuclear program is for civil energy and medical purposes only.
JERU.S.ALEM - Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni urged U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta to ratchet up sanctions against Iran" without delay," a statement from her Kadima party said on Dec. 3.
It said that the two met in Washington on Dec. 2.
Israeli media said that the meeting took place before Panetta delivered a speech urging Israel to break out of growing regional "isolation" by repairing diplomatic ties with Egypt and Turkey, and renewing peace efforts with the Palestinians.
"The world needs to stop Iran," the Kadima statement quoted Livni as telling Panetta.
"Stronger, tougher sanctions are required without delay."
Israel and much of the international community fear that Iran's nuclear program masks a drive for a weapons capability. Tehran denies any such ambition and says the program is for peaceful civilian energy and medical purposes only.
In his comments on Friday to the Brookings Institution's Saban Centre for the Middle East, a Washington think-tank, Panetta vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, saying the Obama administration had not ruled out possible military action.
But he warned of the potential downside of any strike, which he said could actually strengthen the Tehran regime while not necessarily destroying all targets.
The Pentagon chief said he understood Israel's anxieties over turmoil in the Middle East but said the Arab Spring offered an opportunity for the country to forge a more secure place in the region.
It was crucial for Israel to reach out and "mend fences" with countries such as Turkey, Egypt and Jordan that share an interest in regional stability, said Panetta, who issued similar appeals in a visit to the region in October.
Israel also needed "to lean forward on efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians," Panetta said.
Livni said that neutralizing Iran and making peace with the Palestinians were both factors for Middle East stability.
"The struggle against a nuclear Iran, and renewed movement in negotiations with the Palestinians will strengthen the pragmatic camp in the region," she told Panetta.
WASHINGTON - Pakistan is refusing to take part in a U.S. military investigation of air strikes near the Afghan border that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead, the Pentagon said Dec. 2.
Pakistan was invited to cooperate in the probe into the Nov. 26 incident, which has enraged Islamabad and plunged U.S.-Pakistani relations into crisis, but officials have declined to do so.
"They have elected to date not to participate, but we would welcome their participation," said Pentagon press secretary George Little.
U.S. officials expected a refusal given the fury in Pakistan following the incident, which led Islamabad to block NATO supply convoys on its border and boycott an international conference on Afghanistan in Bonn set for Dec. 2.
The United States has voiced regret over the strikes but has stopped short of issuing an apology while the American military conducts the investigation.
"It's safe to say that the incident has had a chilling effect on our relationship with the Pakistani military, no question about that," spokesman Capt. John Kirby told reporters.
"Both sides deem it to be as serious as it was."
U.S. commanders and intelligence chiefs have long sought to cultivate relations with Pakistan's army, the country's most powerful institution, but the air strikes have caused outrage among the army's junior officers and fed popular resentment of Washington.
The Pakistani army called the strikes a "deliberate act of aggression" but U.S. officials have declined to discuss publicly what transpired at two Pakistani border posts.
Kirby suggested the U.S. military would review its operations and tactics for forces stationed in eastern Afghanistan in the aftermath of the deadly strikes.
"Clearly, an incident like this causes you - and should cause you - to take a step back and look at how you're doing things and whether there need to be improvements made or any kind of tactical decisions ...(to) do things a little differently," Kirby said.
"And General (John) Allen is doing that," he said, referring to the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan.
Asked about reports that Pakistan's army has ordered troops to retaliate immediately if fired on, Kirby said that "every sovereign nation has the right of self-defense and the right to order their troops to defend themselves."
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed officials, reported Dec. 2 that Pakistan approved the air strikes that killed their troops, unaware that its forces were in the area.
But at the Pentagon news conference, Kirby declined to confirm or deny the report.
UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Security Council added the hunt for rogue surface-to-air missiles and other weapons in Libya to the duties of the U.N. mission in the country on Dec. 2.
The 15-member council unanimously passed a resolution extending the mandate of the mission, which has mainly been giving political support to Libya's transitional government.
Growing concern over the weapons caches - particularly thousands of shoulder-fired rocket launchers - left by late dictator Moammar Gadhafi led to the extension of the mission's duties.
Libya's neighbors have expressed fears that the weapons and ammunition could get into the hands of radical groups. The U.N. envoy to Libya, Ian Martin, said this week that a "reliable picture" of all the weapons sites and numbers is still lacking.
The resolution said the mission will now assist "Libyan national efforts to address the threats of proliferation of all arms and related material of all types, in particular man-portable surface to air missiles."
The Libya mission was provisionally extended until March 16 to give the U.N. leadership time to set out its needs for a long-term operation.
The U.S. Air Force's fleet of stealthy F-22 Raptor fifth-generation fighters has suffered two additional "physiological incidents" since Nov. 21, the service confirmed Dec. 2.
"Since 21 Nov., there have been two physiological incidents and no events of interest," said Air Combat Command spokeswoman Kelly Sanders in an emailed statement.
Since the F-22 returned to flight in September after a four-month grounding, the Air Force has maintained two listings for problems arising from operating the jet. The jet was originally grounded in May after more than a dozen pilots suffered symptoms resembling hypoxia.
"Under the current protocols established to monitor F-22 operations since their return to flight, occurrences are categorized into events of interest and physiological incidents," Sanders wrote. "An event of interest is an aircraft indication, system malfunction or a data point that has not caused symptoms of hypoxia nor caused any danger to the pilot or aircraft, but is noteworthy for data collection and further analysis."
However, because of the Raptor's unresolved oxygen system problems, a separate category has been established for incidents that resemble hypoxia.
"Any event of hypoxia or hypoxia-like symptoms during pre-flight activities or a mission would be categorized by Air Force Instructions as a physiological incident," Sanders wrote.
She noted that none of the most recent incidents caused any damage. Air Force sources who tipped off Defense News to these events had alluded to ground crews becoming ill when performing maintenance operations with the engines running. An Air Force official confirmed that was the case with a separate incident. However, the two most recent cases Air Combat Command referred to happened in the air.
"None of these incidents resulted in harm to a person or aircraft," Sanders wrote. "There is a rigorous process of collecting and analyzing operational, maintenance, and physiological data relevant to any incidents, which typically takes several weeks to complete and may or may not produce actionable information."