Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dr M criticises Najib’s ‘pro-US’ policy

By G. Manimaran and Leslie Lau

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 — Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has expressed his disappointment at what he described as a change in Malaysia’s foreign policy to back the United States, following a recent flap over how the country voted against an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution criticising Iran for its nuclear programme.

The Foreign Ministry was forced to recall the country's envoy to the United Nations in Vienna after he voted against an IAEA resolution criticising Iran for ignoring UN Security Council and nuclear watchdog demands by continuing to build its enrichment programme.

It is understood that Wisma Putra and the administration are concerned over international public perception after Malaysia, along with Venezuela and Cuba, voted against the IAEA resolution.

But Dr Mahathir, known for his strident views about Western powers, criticised Datuk Seri Najib Razak's administration today for changing the country's foreign policy.

"We have changed. Previously we defended countries against oppression by the United States. Now we are backing the US in oppressing Iran," he said in a posting on his blog today.

Foreign Minister Datuk Anifah Aman said this week that a decision will soon be made on whether action will be taken against the veteran envoy, Datuk Mohd Arshad M. Hussain.

Dr Mahathir is, however, unhappy that the envoy was recalled.

"Now our envoy is recalled and is being questioned for not backing America. Is this our new policy?" asked the former PM.

By not consulting with Wisma Putra before going ahead with the vote, the envoy had put Malaysia's top diplomat Anifah in a difficult position.

Since his appointment Anifah has gained a reputation as the hardest-working Cabinet member, making regular trips round the world to put forward the country's position on various issues and establishing Najib's credentials as a reformist committed to international trade in Washington.

But the IAEA vote threatens to put Malaysia in the same category as Venezuela and Cuba, two countries well known to be at odds with Washington.

The IAEA resolution criticises Iran for defying a UN Security Council ban on uranium enrichment — the source of both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads.

It also censured Iran for secretly building a uranium enrichment facility; and noted that it could not be confirmed that Teheran's nuclear programme was exclusively geared towards peaceful uses, and expressed "serious concern" that Iranian stonewalling of an IAEA probe means "the possibility of military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme" cannot be excluded.

In criticising Najib's foreign policy, Dr Mahathir is sending a strong signal to the prime minister that he wants the country to maintain his policies in dealing with the US.

The former PM suggested in his remarks, however, that Barack Obama had been disappointing because the US president had not changed his country's foreign policy, and that Malaysia should not back Washington.

"Far from making changes, he is adding more troops to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Guantanamo detention camp also remains open," said Dr Mahathir.

He added that it was the US and Israel which continue to use nuclear weapons.

"They are using depleted uranium from nuclear products. We allow it. Officially we are not protesting.

"India has nuclear weapons. So does Pakistan, Why not Iran?" he said.

Dr Mahathir's comments could put Najib in a spot, especially among the more conservative front in Umno.

The Malaysian Insider understands that missteps such as the IAEA vote and the vocal stand of some Malaysian leaders like Dr Mahathir against the US have not helped in the Najib administration's courtship of Obama.

When Obama expressed interest earlier this year to make an official visit to Indonesia, government officials here had started lobbying Washington for the US president to make a brief stopover here to meet with the PM.

Obama has since postponed his visit to Indonesia.

US officials are understood to be perplexed by Malaysia's position on issues such as the recent IAEA vote.

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