Navy: Iranian drone flew over U.S. carrier in ‘unprofessional’ move


An unarmed Iranian drone flew directly over a U.S. aircraft carrier operating in international waters in the Gulf this month in a move that was “abnormal and unprofessional,” the U.S. military said on Friday.

Iranian state television said a surveillance drone flew over a U.S. aircraft carrier in the Gulf and took “precise” pictures during an Iranian naval drill on Friday. 

But a U.S. Navy spokeswoman only confirmed an incident on Jan. 12, when an unarmed Iranian drone flew directly over the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman. She could not confirm if it was the same incident reported by Iranian media.

The Jan. 12 overflight took place the same day Iran detained 10 U.S. sailors who it said had entered Iranian territorial waters by mistake.

The drone initially flew toward the French carrier the Charles de Gaulle, and then flew directly over the U.S.S. Harry S. Truman, said the spokeswoman, Lieutenant Commander Nicole Schwegman, in an e-mailed statement. The U.S. carrier was not conducting flight operations at the time, Schwegman said.

“The UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) was unarmed and posed no risk to the carrier's flight operations,” Schwegman said. “While the Iranian UAV's actions posed no danger to the ship, it was, however, abnormal and unprofessional.”

Both the American and French carriers were operating in international waters in the Gulf, Schwegman said.

The commander of Iran's navy, Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, said the drone overflight reported by Iranian media as occurring on Friday was a sign of the Iranian navy's “readiness and bravery,” according to state television.

An Iranian submarine was also deployed to the area on Friday and took pictures of the drone and the U.S. carrier, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Egypt receives Arab billions, names prime minister


Egypt named an interim prime minister on Tuesday and rich Gulf states poured in $8 billion in aid, as the biggest Arab nation sought ways out of a crisis a day after troops killed dozens of Islamists.

Interim head of state Adli Mansour announced a faster-than-expected timetable to hold elections in about six months. Scorned by the ousted Muslim Brotherhood, he is under mounting pressure to plot a path back to democracy less than a week after the army overthrew the first freely elected president.

A day after 55 people were killed when troops opened fire on Brotherhood supporters, Hazem el-Beblawi, a liberal economist and former finance minister, was named interim prime minister. Former U.N. diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, now a liberal party leader, was named deputy president for foreign affairs.

News quickly followed of $8 billion in grants, loans and fuel from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Crucially, the choice of Beblawi won the acceptance of the ultra-orthodox Islamist Nour Party – sometime ally of toppled President Mohamed Morsi and his Brotherhood. Nour leaders have been courted by the military-backed interim authorities to prove that Islamists will not be marginalized by the new government.

Yet the worst day of violence in more than a year has left Egypt more divided than ever in its modern history. The Brotherhood is isolated and furious at Egyptians who passionately reject it.

The bloodshed has raised alarm among key donors such as the United States and the European Union, as well as in Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979.

Rich Gulf Arab states, long suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood, have shown fewer reservations. The United Arab Emirates offered a grant of $1 billion and a loan of $2 billion. Saudi Arabia offered $3 billion in cash and loans, and an additional $2 billion worth of much-needed fuel.

In a further demonstration of its support, UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed visited Egypt on Tuesday, the most senior foreign official to arrive since Morsi's removal.

“EVEN IF THEY KILL US ALL”

The Brotherhood says Monday's violence was an unprovoked attack on worshippers holding peaceful dawn prayers outside a barracks where they believed Morsi was being held.

But in a sign of the country's deep divisions, many Cairo residents seemed to accept the official account and blamed the Brotherhood for its members' deaths. That has left the deposed president's followers isolated and angrier than ever.

Thousands of Morsi followers gathered at the site of a vigil near a mosque in northeast Cairo, where they have vowed to remain camping out in the fierce heat until he is restored to power – an aim that now seems vain.

“Revolutionaries! Free people! We will complete the journey!” chanted a speaker as the crowd held aloft a wooden coffin draped in an Egyptian flag.

Medical sources confirmed at least 55 people had been killed, raising the death toll in the incident, the deadliest in the two and a half years of Egypt's political turmoil apart from a riot at a soccer stadium in 2012.

A year after Morsi took power, millions of people took to the streets on June 30 to demand his resignation, fearing he was orchestrating a creeping Islamist takeover of the state and frustrated by his failure to turn around the crippled economy.

To the Brotherhood, his removal amounted to the reversal of democracy by entrenched interests who would never accept their election victories. The long-banned Brotherhood fears a return to the suppression endured for decades under autocratic rulers.

“The only road map is the restoration of the president elected by the people,” said Hoda Ghaneya, 45, a Muslim Brotherhood women's activist. “We will not accept less than that, even if they kill us all.”

The streets of Cairo were quieter on Tuesday but the Brotherhood called for more protests later in the day, raising the risk of further violence.

Away from the camp, its support is patchy in the capital. Some in Cairo are flying banners from balconies with portraits of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military commander who toppled Morsi.

In an address before Wednesday's start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Sisi made clear who was in charge: “No party has the right to oppose the will of the nation,” he said.

Egyptian media, mainly controlled by the state and Morsi's opponents, praised the army and denounced Monday's violence as the provocation of terrorists. Many Cairenes seemed to agree.

“Of course I condemn this: Egyptian versus Egyptian. But the people attacked the army, not the other way around,” said Abdullah Abdel Rayal, 58, shopping in a street market in downtown Cairo on Tuesday morning.

Yet the Brotherhood still maintains support of many in rural provinces, after decades of dedicated underground organization.

ARAB CASH URGENTLY NEEDED

Saudi and UAE aid provides Egypt with urgently needed funds to maintain the subsidized fuel and food supplies it gives its 84 million people. Its coffers are running desperately short since the unrest of the Arab Spring drove away tourists and investors.

Both Gulf countries had promised aid after former autocrat Hosni Mubarak was toppled in 2011, but withheld it under Morsi.

Mansour, the judge named head of state by the army when it brought down Morsi last week, decreed overnight that a parliamentary vote would be held in about six months, faster than many expected. That would be followed by a presidential election. An amended constitution would be put to a referendum.

The Brotherhood rejected the plan. Senior Brotherhood figure Essam El-Erian condemned a “decree issued after midnight by a person appointed by the putchists, usurping the legislative power from a council elected by the people, and bringing the country back to stage zero”.

The military-backed authorities seem to be resigned to restarting politics without the Brotherhood. Instead, they are courting the country's other main Islamist group, Nour, which had said on Monday it was pulling out of all political talks as a result of the attack on Morsi supporters.

Nour's signal that it would now support Beblawi as prime minister showed it had not fully abandoned politics.

“We do not object to Dr. Hazem. He is an important economic figure,” Nour Party head Younes Makhyoun told Reuters by telephone. “He has no party affiliations that I am aware of.”

In what appeared to be an olive branch to Islamists – and a move that also angered liberals – Mansour's decree included language put into the constitution last year that defined the principles of Islamic law, or sharia.

Nathan Brown, a leading expert on Egypt's constitution at George Washington University in Washington, said that while the overnight decree laid out a clear sequence for transition, it also repeated some mistakes made two years ago, after Mubarak.

“It was drawn up by an anonymous committee; it was issued by executive fiat; the timetable is rushed; the provisions for consultation are vague; and it promises inclusiveness but gives no clear procedural guidelines for it,” he told Reuters.

The West has had a difficult time formulating a public response, after years of pushing Arab leaders towards democracy while at the same time nervous about the Brotherhood's rise. Demonstrators on both sides in Egypt have chanted anti-American slogans, accusing Washington of backing their enemies.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Monday's violence “unacceptable” and said it should be investigated.

The military authorities did indeed announce an inquiry on Tuesday. They said they were pursuing 650 unidentified people for offences from “thuggery” to murder and terrorism.

Washington has refrained from calling the military intervention a “coup” – a label that under U.S. law would require it to halt aid. It called on Egypt's army to exercise “maximum restraint” but has said it is not about to halt funding for Egypt, including the $1.3 billion it gives the military.

A U.S. official said on Tuesday that Washington encouraged that the Egyptian authorities had laid out a plan.

The army has insisted that the overthrow was not a coup and that it was enforcing the “will of the people” after millions took to the streets on June 30 to call for Morsi's resignation.

Although Tuesday was comparatively quiet, there were minor violent incidents reported by late morning. Gunmen fired on a church in Port Said at the mouth of the Suez Canal overnight. Two people were wounded, medical sources said.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White, Maggie Fick, Alexander Dziadosz, Tom Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Peter Graff, Patrick Werr, Shadia Nasralla and Tom Finn in Cairo, Roberta Rampton, Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Peter Millership and Alastair Macdonald

Egypt stirs Islamist joy, Gulf, Israeli doubts


Egypt’s new president may lack real foreign policy clout for now, but the mere fact that a Muslim Brotherhood man is at the helm of the biggest Arab nation will embolden fellow Islamists seeking revolutionary change around the Middle East.

Mohamed Morsi’s tenure as head of state is likely to unsettle Israel, please the Jewish state’s arch-foe Iran, and dismay secularist critics of the Brotherhood at home and abroad who argue that political Islam is no antidote to unemployment, a flatlining economy and social misery, analysts say.

It will also stir misgivings among some Gulf Arab states still struggling to respond effectively to the ousting of their long-term ally, deposed president Hosni Mubarak.

Analysts say any variations in aid flows from the Gulf may be an indicator of the health of their relationship with Cairo.

“Morsi’s victory will not benefit us directly. But it is a symbol of a victorious revolution,” Abu Yazen, an activist from the Syrian city of Hama, the repeated scene of bloodshed during Syria’s 15-month-old uprising, told Reuters.

“Morsi and his victory illustrates that revolutionaries will not rest until they reap the rewards of their work,” he added.

Mustapha el-Sayed, political science professor at Cairo University, said Morsi’s victory in presidential elections confirmed a trend started in Tunisia “that the political force most likely to come to power in most Arab states after the fall of their regimes is the Islamists.”

The Brotherhood, the world’s oldest and most established contemporary Islamist movement, has wide influence in the Arab world even if, like in Egypt, its followers have often been repressed in Muslim-majority countries.

After wins by Islamists at legislative polls in Tunisia and Morocco, Morsi’s election is prompting the world to think again about how it deals with advocates of Islamic rule.

But the Egyptian military is expected to keep a tight rein on foreign policy and will protect a peace treaty with Israel that brings in $1.3 billion of U.S. military aid a year.

As a result, the ability of the Morsi government to provide immediate material support to kindred political forces in other Arab countries may be limited.

COLDER PEACE WITH ISRAEL

And in any case, his urgent tasks will be at home, namely to bring Egyptians the stability and prosperity they are desperate for after stagnation and corruption under Mubarak, followed by 16 months of crisis.

But his focus on domestic affairs will not stop critics of the Brotherhood from looking on with trepidation.

Israeli officials have said they respect the election result and expect Cairo to continue to preserve the treaty. But Former Israeli Defence Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said in an interview with Israel Radio that while the peace treaty would continue, it would be “much colder” in future.

“There’s not a shadow of a doubt we have awoken to a new world, a different world, a world that is more religious, Islamist and anti-Israel. … the man is known for his extremist views against the peace treaty with Israel,” Ben-Eliezer said.

The Sunni Brotherhood, whose Palestinian offshoot Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, is strongly critical of Israel, which has watched the rise of Islamists in Egypt with growing concern.

Hamas hopes a Morsi presidency would loosen the economic shackles of a boycott of Gaza that Israel says is meant to stop the flow of arms to Gaza.

“The question is how Western states react, if they isolate Hamas further and keep trying to squeeze them out of power, then of course Hamas will turn to the Brotherhood for support, it is only logical,” said Michael Stephens, researcher at the Royal United Services Institute based in Doha.

“They’re a pragmatic party that takes help from anybody they can get.”

Britain’s Quilliam think tank said a topic to watch closely was increased rocket attacks from Sinai which “could destabilize the relationship between Egypt and Israel, particularly if Israel seek unilateral action inside Egyptian territory.”

MORSI WIN LIKELY TO INFLUENCE LIBYA

In Libya it is still unclear how well the Muslim Brotherhood-linked party, the Justice and Construction Party, will do in Libya’s first free elections slated for July 7 because the organization does not enjoy the same institutional popularity that it does in Tunisia or Egypt.

But experts and Libyan liberals alike believe that the Brotherhood win in Egypt will boost the confidence of their Libyan counterparts.

“The Brotherhood in Libya will see it not just as a victory for Egypt but a victory for the Brotherhood (generally),” said political scientist Omar Ashour.

He said if the Libyan Brotherhood were successful in Libya, an oil producer with big financial reserves, their Egyptian counterparts would look to them for contracts and opportunities to help the Egyptian economy through its struggles.

In Libya, secularists watch Morsi with some concern.

Watching a re-run of the Egyptian president’s speech on a news channel this morning in his office, Mahmoud Jibril, Libya’s wartime rebel prime minister who resigned last October told Reuters that Mosri’s win in Egypt would “definitely” boost the Libyan branch of the Brotherhood.

“It makes our task here as democratic forces calling for a civil state and calling for equal rights for all Libyans, and calling for a real democratic process much harder,” he said.

Gulf Arab states have reacted warily to Morsi’s win.

Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institution Doha branch said Morsi’s win represented the first time an Islamist party had risen to the presidency in the Arab world.

“There is a symbolic power that is surely concerning to Gulf leaders especially those in Saudi and the Emirates because they are increasingly concerned about their own Islamist opposition.”

GULF ARABS SEEN PREFERRING ‘WEAK” EGYPT

Noman Benotman, a senior analyst at Quilliam, said Gulf states wanted the “weak Egypt” they were used to under Mubarak and did not want to regain the diplomatic weight it had in the 1950s and 1960s during the heyday of Arab nationalism.

“The Brotherhood is the group with the soft power and the influence to be able to revive Egypt and make it, once again, the most influential country in the Middle East,” he said.

“Watch the economic cooperation with the Gulf. Will they fulfill the projects they have promised? I suspect not.”

Hamid of Brooking said Gulf states would use economic clout to pressure the Brotherhood. “Egypt is going to need assistance – loans, foreign direct investment—and the Gulf leaders, if they’re smart, will use that to their own benefit,” he said.

Emboldened by the growing clout of Islamists elsewhere, members of Islah, or Reform, in the United Arab Emirates have stepped up demands for greater power to go to a semi-elected advisory council.

“It’s great, let the Islamists win, let them be demystified and show that they don’t have a special warrant to create jobs, or resolve the Palestinian issue—they are just regular guys,” said Mishaal al-Gergawi, an Emirati political analyst.

“Jobs, the economy, society, identity—all these issues that people are worried about in the Gulf, Islamists don’t have an advantage in addressing these,” he said.

Additional reporting by Hadeel Al Shalchi in Tripoli, Oliver Holmes in Beirut, Jeffrey Heller and Allyn Fisher in Jerusalem, Nidal al Mugrabi in Gaza, Regan Doherty in Doha, Joseph Logan, Raissa Kasolowsky and Marcus George in Dubai, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo

Editing by Samia Nakhoul

Iran test-fires long-range missiles in Gulf drill


Iran said on Monday it had successfully test-fired two long-range missiles during a naval exercise in the Gulf, flexing its military muscle to show it could hit Israel and U.S. bases in the region if attacked.

In response to mounting Western pressure over its nuclear ambitions, Iran started a naval drill in the Gulf last week and warned that it could shut the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on its oil exports, the country’s main revenue source.

The 10 days of naval wargames and the warning over the Strait, a narrow Gulf shipping lane through which 40 percent of world oil passes, have rattled oil markets and pushed up crude prices.

Analysts say Iran’s increasingly strident rhetoric is aimed at sending a message to the West that it should think twice about the economic cost of putting further pressure on Tehran.

“We have successfully test-fired long-range shore-to-sea and surface-to-surface missiles, called Qader (capable) and Nour (Light) today,” Deputy Navy Commander Mahmoud Mousavi told state television.

Tehran denies Western accusations that it is trying to build atomic bombs, saying it needs nuclear technology to generate electricity.

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action against Iran if diplomacy fails to resolve the Islamic state’s nuclear row with the West.

TIGHTER SANCTIONS

Iran said on Monday it had no intention to close the Strait of Hormuz, but it has carried out “mock” exercises on shutting the vital waterway.

“No order has been given for the closure of the Strait of Hormuz. But we are prepared for various scenarios,” state television quoted navy chief Habibollah Sayyari as saying.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it would not allow shipping to be disrupted in the strategic waterway.

Mousavi said observers from the country’s closest Arab ally, Syria, would attend the last day of its 10-day naval exercise.

The European Union is considering following the United States in banning imports of Iranian crude oil. U.S. President Barack Obama signed new sanctions against Iran into law on Saturday, stepping up the pressure with sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran’s central bank.

If enforced strictly, the sanctions could make it nearly impossible for most refiners to buy crude from Iran, the world’s fourth biggest producer.

The U.N. Security Council has already imposed four rounds of global sanctions on Iran over its refusal to halt sensitive nuclear activities.

Iran has so far shown no willingness to change its nuclear course but Iranian media reported on Saturday that nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili would write to the EU foreign policy chief to say Tehran was ready for fresh talks on its nuclear program.

Talks between Iran and six world powers – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – stalled in January.

Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb; Editing by Mark Trevelyan

Ehud Barak plays down talk of war with Iran


Defense Minister Ehud Barak played down Tuesday speculation that Israel intends to strike Iranian nuclear facilities, saying no decision had been made on embarking on a military operation.

“War is not a picnic. We want a picnic. We don’t want a war,” Barak told Israel Radio before the release this week of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear activity.

“(Israel) has not yet decided to embark on any operation,” he said, dismissing as “delusional” Israeli media speculation that he and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had chosen that course.

But he said Israel had to prepare for “uncomfortable situations” and ultimately bore responsibility for its own security.

All options to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions should remain open, Barak said, repeating the official line taken by Israel, which has termed a nuclear-armed Iran a threat to its existence.

Israel is widely believed to have the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, something it has never confirmed or denied under a policy of strategic ambiguity to keep Arab and Iranian adversaries at bay.

Ahmad Vahidi, Iran’s defense minister, cautioned against any military strike on its atomic facilities. “We are fully prepared for a firm response to such foolish measures by our enemies,” Vahidi was quoted as saying by Iran’s student news agency.

Western diplomats said the report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog is expected to show recent activity in Iran that could be put to developing nuclear bombs, including intelligence about computer modeling of such weapons.

Iran says its uranium enrichment program is aimed at generating electricity only.

“I estimate that it will be quite a harsh report … it does not surprise Israel, we have been dealing with these issues for years,” Barak said.

He voiced doubt, however, that the U.N. Security Council, where Tehran’s traditional sympathizers China and Russia have veto power, would respond to the IAEA’s findings by imposing tough new sanctions following four previous rounds of measures.

“We are probably at the last opportunity for coordinated, international, lethal sanctions that will force Iran to stop,” Barak said, calling for steps to halt imports of Iranian oil and exports of refined petroleum to the Islamist Republic.

Such steps, he said, “will need the cooperation of the United States, Europe, India, China and Russia—and I don’t think that it will be possible to form such a coalition.”

Moscow has called for a step-by-step process under which the existing sanctions would be eased in return for actions by Iran to dispel concerns over its nuclear program.

At a news conference in Berlin, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said “militarist statements to the effect that Israel or other countries use force against Iran or any other country in the Middle East” represented “very dangerous rhetoric.”

Speculation in Israel about an imminent attack on Iran was fueled last week by the Jewish state’s test-launching of a long-range missile and comments by Netanyahu that Tehran’s nuclear program posed a “direct and heavy threat.”

Pressed in the radio interview about a military option, Barak said he was aware of fears among many Israelis that a strike against Iran could draw catastrophic retaliatory missile attacks by Tehran and its Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah allies.

“There is no way to prevent some damage. It will not be pleasant,” Barak said. “There is no scenario for 50,000 dead, or 5,000 killed—and if everyone stays in their homes, maybe not even 500 dead.”

Israel held a wide-scale civil defense exercise last week, a drill that Israeli officials said was routine and scheduled months ago.

Interviews by Reuters with government and military officials, as well as independent experts, suggest that Israel prefers caution over a unilateral strike against the Iranians.

Iran has repeatedly said it would respond to any attack by striking U.S. interests in the Middle East and could close the Gulf to oil traffic, causing massive disruption to global crude supplies.

Many countries like Russia and U.S. allies Germany and France have opposed any strike against the Islamic Republic, saying it could cause “irreparable damages,” suggesting that the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic means.

The United States says it remains focused on using diplomatic and economic levers to pressure Iran.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Tehran and Berlin bureaux; Editing by Mark Heinrich

The Circuit


A World of Food

World Ethnic Market/KosherWorld Show manager Phyllis Koegel presented a Buyer of the Year Award to Tamara Dorrell, Safeway manager, national categories, ethnic. The World Ethnic Market was held recently at the Anaheim Convention Center.

L.A. Helps the Gulf

Four members of Temple Beth El in San Pedro took a hands-on approach to charity when they went on a relief mission to Gulfport, Miss., last week. The four accompanied Rabbi Charles Briskin to help in rebuilding and reconstruction efforts for the coastal city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Briskin, along with Alan Rowe of San Pedro, Vicki Hulbert of Palos Verdes Estates, Ben Pogorelsky of Rolling Hills Estates and David Burton of Rancho Santa Margarita, are part of a citywide delegation of Jews and Christians participating in this relief mission sponsored by the Southern California Board of Rabbis, the Jewish Community Relations Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Grant A.M.E. Church and the Southern California A.M.E. Ministerial Alliance.

“Tikkun Olam, the ethical imperative to work to repair the world by responding to crisis and the needs of the larger community is one of Judaism’s central values,” Briskin said. “By going to Gulfport, we are doing our small part to repair, literally, one small corner of our world.”

Briskin said he hopes not only to contribute time, energy and labor, but also to return home with valuable lessons learned about the faith, hope and cooperation that prevails within this devastated region.

For more information, call (310) 833-2467 or e-mail; rabbibriskin@bethelsp.org.

Consulate’s “Israel 101”

The L.A. consulate general of Israel hosted a group of 40 sixth-graders from Pressman Academy for an “Israel 101” event before their class field trip to Israel next month. Students participated in Israeli dancing, word association games, videos and an educational skit highlighting Israel’s high-tech industry, performed by members of the consulate staff. Apart from the mouthwatering Israeli chocolates, the students got a special treat when Consul General Ehud Danoch greeted them and emphasized that while the scenery and holy sites would undoubtedly leave an impression on them, it will be the connections they make with their Israeli counterparts that will most affect them. During their 10-day tour of Israel the students will experience the action of Tel Aviv, the majesty of Jerusalem and Masada, and catch a glimpse of life on a kibbutz.

Just Smile

It was Lladro&tilde and African dishes recently on Rodeo Drive when Lladro&tilde, the renowned Spanish house of porcelain, joined forces with Operation Smile to raise money for free reconstructive facial surgery to children in developing countries worldwide. A special porcelain sculpture, “Let Me Help You,” was formally unveiled at a VIP reception at the Lladro&tilde Rodeo Drive Boutique.

To set the mood for the African trip, Lladro which will sponsor it with the funds raised, transformed the boutique into a visual homage to the Kenyan landscape in blues, reds, yellows and oranges to reflect a Kenyan sunset, while Barbuda trees recreated the greenery native to the region. Guests enjoyed African music, and cocktails and sampled unusual goodies, like groundnut soup garnished with tiny bananas, Nyama Choma (barbecued meat in the Kariokor style), M’Chuzi Wa Kuku (coconut chicken), Smaki Na Nazi (coconut fish), Samosa (meat-filled pastries) and Irio (a pea, corn and potato dish served as a minipancake, topped with East African salad relish).

OK, I am not certain if it was kosher, but I would have to pronounce it to ask, but I do know the food was yummy and the desserts amazing. Great stuff like, Mini Mount Kenya’s (minicoupe with peach ice cream topped with diced, rum-soaked pineapple; mango, and a dollop of whipped cream) and Mahamri (fried dough with powdered sugar). What could be bad about a doughnut with powdered sugar?

On hand were celebs like Operation Smile spokeswoman and angelic actress Roma Downey, who was with her husband, super- reality show guru Mark Burnett; Kathleen Magee, co-founder, Operation Smile; Bill Magee, son of co-founders Kathleen and William Magee; Safa Hummel, CEO, Lladro USA; Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb; Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad, and Lorraine Bradley, L.A. City human relations commissioner (and daughter of former Mayor Tom Bradley).

Lladro’s goal is to raise $150,000 by donating 10 percent of the retail price of all nationwide sales of the “Let Me Help You” sculpture between March and October 2006. For more information, visit