Hard News by Russell Brown

Dirty tricks and blood money

It is not entirely unexpected that the US government should be conducting an aggressive and secretive dirty tricks campaign against other UN Security Council delegations. It's still depressing.

The startling thing is that according to the memo obtained by The Observer, even Spain - whose Prime Minister has explicitly aligned himself with US intentions, rather than those of his citizens - is subject to telephone and email interceptions and other forms of spookery.

So low has the Bush administration brought international affairs in the past year.

Having failed - utterly - to win any war of ideas, the US government has embarked on a course of bribery and threat. Six of the countries currently on the Security Council are regarded as being "up for grabs" – Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan. The US and Britain need to persuade five of those six to back their second resolution. The pressure appears to be going on in every way imaginable.

Extensive palm-greasing is also going on in the Middle East. Jordan wants an extra $1 billion in "aid" and Egypt wants money and a free-trade deal. Israel is after $4 billion in new grants and $8 billion to $10 billion in US-government guaranteed loans - in return it will consider refraining from retaliation if it is attacked by Iraq.

Whatever those countries do for their dollar had best be kept well clear of any democratic mandate. The Turkish Parliament's failure to approve the stationing of more than 60,000 US troops in Turkey was inconvenient. And after they'd been promised not just billions of dollars in "aid" and loan guarantees, and the right to keep on persecuting Iraqi Kurds and everything. Some nations just aren't grateful enough.

The blood-money deals are, of course, going on all over the place. The Washington-based Institute for Policy Studies says most of the 34 countries counted by Bush as part of "coalition of the willing" might better be considered a coalition of the coerced: "Almost all, by our count, join only through coercion, bullying, bribery, or the implied threat of US action that would directly damage the interests of the country," says its 13-page report. "This 'coalition of the coerced' stands in direct conflict with democracy."

Meanwhile - like it actually matters - Iraq appears to be co-operating with the requests of UN inspectors.

And - surprise! - Oracle founder Larry Ellison's proposal to start a development centre in New Zealand is, er, on hold.

Oh yes, we lost the America's Cup. Two words: move on.