The “first step” agreement between Iran and the United States that was sealed in Geneva over the weekend is supposed to lead to the negotiation of a “comprehensive settlement” of the nuclear issue over the next six months, though the latter has gotten little attention.
But within hours of the agreement, there are already indications from senior U.S. officials that the Barack Obama administration is not fully committed to the conclusion of a final pact, under which economic sanctions would be completely lifted.
The administration has apparently developed reservations about such an “end state” agreement despite concessions by the government of President Hassan Rouhani that were more far-reaching than could have been anticipated a few months ago.
The signs of uncertain U.S. commitment to the “end state” agreement came in a background press briefing by unidentified senior U.S. officials in Geneva via teleconference late Saturday night. The officials repeatedly suggested that it was a question of “whether” there could be an “end state” agreement rather than how it could be achieved.
“What we are going to explore with the Iranians and our P5+1 partners over the next six months,” said one of the officials, “is whether there can be an agreed upon comprehensive solution that assures us that the Iranian programme is peaceful.”
The same official prefaced that remark by stating, “In terms of the ‘end state’, we do not recognise a right for Iran to enrich uranium.”
Later in the briefing, a senior official repeated the same point in slightly different words. “What the next six months will determine is whether there can be an agreement that…gives us assurance that the Iranian programme is peaceful.”
“We’ll see whether we can achieve an end state that allows for Iran to have peaceful nuclear energy,” said one of the officials.
After speaking with Obama on Sunday, Netanyahu dispatching national security adviser to Washington; says permanent deal must dismantle Iran’s program.
“I spoke last night with President [Barack] Obama. We agreed that in the coming days an Israeli team led by the national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, will go out to discuss with the United States the permanent accord with Iran,” Netanyahu told members of his Likud party.
…The hour-long film explores the arc of American counterinsurgency brutality from Vietnam to Iraq, with stops along the way in El Salvador and Nicaragua. James Steele is now a retired U.S. colonel who first served in Vietnam as a company commander in 1968-69. He later made his reputation as a military adviser in El Salvador, where he guided ruthless Salvadoran death squads in the 1980s. When his country called again in 2003, he came out of retirement to train Iraqi police commandos in the bloodiest techniques of counterinsurgency that evolved into that country’s Shia-Sunni civil war that at its peak killed 3,000 people a month. Steele now lives in a gated golf community in Brian, Texas, and did not respond to requests for an interview for the documentary bearing his name.
Jabhat al-Nusra had been publicly endorsed by al-Qaeda officials repeatedly as the preferred Islamist faction in Syria’s ongoing rebellion. AQI says that the merged group will replace the name Islamic State of Iraq with Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.
“It is time to declare to the Levant and to the world that the al-Nusra Front is simply a branch of the Islamic State of Iraq,” confirmed AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi went on to say other alliances were possible so long as the group agreed to similar harsh definitions of Sharia Law…
Now, I was certainly surprised to see The Grey Lady publish this today…
…The attack, witnesses and the government authorities said, was the latest of dozens of car bombs to rip through Syrian business districts and neighborhoods during the country’s two-year war. It again turned a wary but busy downtown commercial area into a scene of terror and chaos. The Syrian government blamed its opponents for Monday’s attack and said it had killed at least 15 people and wounded at least 53.
The proliferation of car bombs across Syria has frightened and enraged many on both sides in this battle, government supporters and opponents alike. The use of these powerful and indiscriminate weapons — rejected by some rebel factions — has undermined support for the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad and left many Syrians angry at the government for failing to stop the bombings.
In Damascus, the Syrian capital, on Monday, some residents blamed the United States and its allies, which back the opposition, for the devastation…
“This is America, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia! They are funding those people to do those explosions!”
… In December 2011, when car bombs began hitting government security buildings — and killing civilians nearby — government supporters and opponents alike viewed the explosions as an ominous turn in the conflict.
Until then, the fighting had largely pitted rebels with small arms and roadside bombs against the army and security forces. But suddenly, the Syrian capital was witnessing scenes reminiscent of the Iraqi insurgency. Checkpoints and blast walls went up everywhere…
…Now, the Nusra Front has become a major force on the battlefield, leading other rebel groups in more conventional fights. That poses a quandary for the United States, which supports the opposition but rejects the Nusra Front and accuses it of ties to Al Qaeda.
The bombs have killed Syrians of all sects and views…
Now, in wrapping up, from the ‘Cradle of the Arab Spring’…
…Families here told IPS that they have no way of contacting their sons once they leave — whether by choice or coercion they will never know — for the warring nation nearly 3,000 miles away. At most, family members receive an inaudible telephone call from Libya, where the soon-to-be militants are trained, the muffled voice on the other end of the line saying a quiet and final goodbye.
After that point, no news is good news. If they are contacted again, it will only be an anonymous caller announcing the death of a son, brother or husband, adding that the family should be proud of their martyred loved one…
…But beneath the moderate veneer, a strong ultra-conservative undercurrent remained, steered by Salafist-controlled mosques – like Fath, Ennassr, Ettadhamen, and the great mosque of Ben Arous located on the outskirts of Tunis – that are now serving as headquarters for the smuggling of fighters.
The imams of these mosques often hail from the Gulf and are skilled at convincing young men – who run the gamut from poor, uneducated Tunisians, to wealthy professionals — that they must “help their Syrian brothers” in the “jihad” against Assad.
Charity organisations like Karama wa Horrya, Arrahma, Horrya wa Insaf, which provide basic humanitarian assistance to the poor, also play a role in this network that gathers able-bodied Tunisians, transports them to Libya and then, after a brief stop in Turkey, sends them onwards to the frontlines of the Syrian war such as the north-western border with Lebanon, and the city of Aleppo.
Young fighters’ first point of contact in Syria is with the Jabhat al Nusra (meaning the ‘Support Front for the People of Syria’), considered the most aggressively militant arm of the FSA…
…The vulnerability of elites cuts across emerging markets and advanced economies, democracies and authoritarian states, public and private institutions, and a wide array of issues. This is the challenge: as their legitimacy gets called into question, political actors struggle to react to instability, crises and opportunities in the most effective manner. Whether it is the growing disparity of wealth, or the evolving flow of information, several factors are facilitating pushback against existing policies and institutions and making both governments and some private actors across the globe look increasingly fragile.
First, the ‘Occupy’ movement may have run out of steam, but the slogan “we are the 99%” has put an end to the people’s “peaceful coexistence with inequality.” While the richest have come out on top from the economic crisis, middle classes are experiencing reversals in their standards of living even in the developed world. In many developed and emerging countries, youth unemployment rates are
scandalously high. A ‘lost’ generation of young people feel they have no stake in the existing system. And this development is occurring in a world where inequality is visible on a daily basis, both within and between societies.
The lack of economic prospects has eroded people’s trust in, and
support for, their political leaders, whose actions are rarely understood, let alone approved. The result is a “legitimacy deficit” and a sense that we might nearly be better off without rulers. Leaders no longer have a story to rally their followers around. The few who do fare better than others. We’re seeing this trend across countries of vastly different stages of development.
Second, people are less willing to tolerate corruption, crime, cronyism and other forms of inappropriate behaviourby leaders. Most societies lack a clear moral compass in the form of religion, ideology or established values. The media are quick to fill this vacuum with instant moral outrage about the latest scandal—and the news cycle is short-sighted at the expense of longer-term problems that are more pressing…
Kerry had met in the past with Syrian President Bashar al- Assad in an effort to encourage an opening by the Syrian regime toward the West. Now, Kerry said, Assad has made “reprehensible” decisions and he predicted Assad is “not long for remaining” as Syria’s leader.
…“We are sowing the wind in Syria and we’re going to reap the whirlwind,” he said, referring to Islamic radical groups involved in the fighting there.
Kerry said relations with Russia have “slid backward a little bit in the last couple of years,” citing Russia’s halt to U.S. adoptions as one example. Still, he said Russia is cooperating on a number of issues such as Iran and nuclear arms reductions.
On China, Kerry highlighted the competition for resources. “China is all over Africa — I mean, all over Africa — and they’re buying up long-term contracts on minerals,” he said. “And there’re some places where we’re not in the game, folks.”
…In his opening remarks, Kerry urged lawmakers to address domestic economic issues such as the deficit, saying a strong economy undergirds strength overseas. Kerry said the U.S. is seeking, as President Barack Obama said in his inaugural address, to move beyond the decade of war.
“President Obama and every one of us here knows that American foreign policy is not defined by drones and deployments alone,” Kerry said. “We cannot allow the extraordinary good we do to save and change lives to be eclipsed entirely by the role we have had to play since September 11th, a role that was thrust upon us.”
American foreign policy is also defined by food security and energy security, humanitarian assistance, the fight against disease and the push for development “as much as it is by any single counterterrorism initiative,” he said.
…Israeli officials said Thursday that military action against Iran needed to stay on the table, as former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger warned of a crisis over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in the “very foreseeable future”.
Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defence Minister Ehud Barak said the threat of military action was vital to efforts against Iran’s nuclear programme.
“There will be more attempts to try and negotiate, but there will always be in the horizon a military option, because if the Iranians think it’s only economic and political, they won’t pay attention,” Peres told global political and business leaders at the annual gathering in the Swiss ski resort.
Israel and Western powers accuse Iran of seeking to acquire a weapons capability under the guise of its nuclear energy programme but Iran denies the charge, saying its work is for peaceful purposes only…
…In a wide-ranging talk on foreign affairs, Kissinger said he expected the Iranian nuclear issue to soon come to a head.
“For 15 years, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have declared that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, but it has been approaching,” he said.
“People who have advanced their view will have to come to a determination about how to react or about the consequences of non-reaction,” he said.
“I believe this point will be reached within a very foreseeable future.”
Kissinger said negotiations with Iran needed to be given “a real chance” and that “unilateral action by Israel would be a desperate last resort.”
He said he expected “Iran to be high on the agenda” of US President Barack Obama’s new administration, and said failure to deal with the question could lead to a spread of nuclear weapons in the region.
“That would be a turning point in human history,” Kissinger warned…
Honestly, folks, here’s some truly sober analysis of our failed FP…
…In his second inaugural, President Obama recalled this vision, reminding Americans that they are “heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war; who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends…We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully—not because we are naïve about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear.”
But now his words fall flat in much of the world. For his administration never understood that, to be effective, “engagement” had to mean more than simply reiterating longstanding U.S. demands while not just continuing to reject other parties’ interests and concerns, but acting even more assertively against them…
…The world is increasingly giving up on the proposition that the United States can act in any manner other than that of an imperial power—even as more and more important players in global affairs are coming to see it as an imperial power in decline. Obama’s second inaugural displayed no appreciation for this reality. And that does not augur well for any meaningful recovery of America’s international standing during Obama’s second term…
…While applauding the efforts of many Americans to pull out the stops in support the Hagel nomination, I would nevertheless argue that the attempt to identify some kind of rainbow coalition in the opposition to Hagel is pretty much a canard. It really is all about Israel, at least in the minds of most of those who seriously are seeking to block the nomination. Consider for a second whether Hagel would be facing any serious opposition at all if it were not for the claim that he is anti-Israel and not predisposed to use force against Iran. And bear in mind that Iran is really a subset of the Israel issue since it is Benjamin Netanyahu who is driving the belligerency even though the Iranians do not actually threaten the United States in any serious way…
…And for those who still doubt that it is all about Israel, I would suggest a little history lesson. In 2004 Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission, admitted that the Iraq war was fought to protect Israel, which he described as “the threat that dare not speak its name.” He meant that if there had not been the connivance of the Pentagon’s friends of Israel in creating a false weapons of mass destruction narrative coupled with the fulsome support of the Lobby a war on behalf of Israel would never have been endorsed by the American people. And it is also useful to review what happened to the last brave soul who dared to put American interests ahead of those of Israel. That was Chas Freeman who was proposed as Chairman of the National Intelligence Council during President Obama’s first term in 2009. Freeman had an exemplary record as a public servant and was known to be an independent thinker willing to reconsider and challenge orthodox policies. Freeman had served as Ambassador to China and Saudi Arabia and was regarded as something of an Arabist, which immediately made him suspect to the usual crowd in congress and the media. For that he was immediately attacked by Israel’s friends, in what was described as a “thunderous, coordinated assault.” The critics frequently pretended that they were actually opposing Freeman’s views on China and his close personal ties to the Saudis, just as Hagel is now being falsely pilloried because he lacks management experience and because his wartime service in Vietnam will color his judgments. But no one was really fooled regarding Chas Freeman – it was all about Israel. Freeman, realizing that the debate over his views would become a distraction, asked that his name be withdrawn…
…The definitive failure of the decades-long American-sponsored “peace process” between Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs adds greatly to the uncertainty. Whether it yielded peace or not, the “peace process” made the United States the apparently indispensable partner for both Israel and the Arabs. It served dual political purposes. It enabled Arab governments to persuade their publics that maintaining good relations with the United States did not imply selling out Arab or Islamic interests in Palestine, and it supported the U.S. strategic objective of achieving acceptance for a Jewish state by the other states and peoples of the Middle East. Washington’s abandonment of this diplomacy was a boon to Israeli territorial expansion but a disaster for American influence in the region, including in Israel.
Over the years, America protected Israel from international rebuke and punishment. Its stated purpose was the preservation of prospects for a negotiated “two-state solution” that could bring security and peace to Israelis and Palestinians alike. A decade ago, every member of both the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation endorsed this objective and pledged normalization with Israel if Israeli-Palestinian negotiations succeeded. In response, Israel spun out its talks with the Palestinians while working hard to preclude their self-determination. It has now succeeded in doing so.
There has been no American-led peace process worthy of the name for nearly two decades. There is no prospect of such a process resuming. No one in the international community now accepts the pretense of a “peace process” as an excuse for American protection of Israel. Eleven years on, the Arab and Islamic peace offer has exceeded its shelf life. On the Israel-Palestine issue, American diplomacy has been running on fumes for some time. It is now totally out of gas and universally perceived to be going nowhere…
Now, I’ve been a long-time fan of Pepe’s and often cited his articles at the AsiaTimes, and/or, posted many of his interviews on Press TV, Real News, RT, etc…! So, I was pleasantly surprised to see another of my ‘Heroes’ citing Pepe…
“The Tuareg-led NMLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad), via one of its leaders, now says it’s “ready to help” the former colonial power, billing itself as more knowledgeable about the culture and the terrain than future intervening forces from the CEDEAO (the acronym in French for the Economic Community of Western African States). Salafi-jihadis in Mali have got a huge problem: they chose the wrong battlefield. If this was Syria, they would have been showered by now with weapons, logistical bases, a London-based “observatory”, hours of YouTube videos and all-out diplomatic support by the usual suspects of US, Britain, Turkey, the Gulf petromonarchies and – oui, monsieur – France itself.” Pepe Escobar
An excellent and informative article. I do not subscribe to the “knee jerk” Chomskyite economic determiist motivation that Escobar ascribes to the US and France, but, other than that, this is really “good stuff.” He also raises the question of why these particular Islamist revolutionaries are treated to a taste of the club while those in Syria are the heroes of Western elites. The answer is simple. Mali is far from Israel and the Israeli government foolishly wants Assad gone. pl
Now, I happen to disagree with the good Col’s dismissal of Pepe’s Chomskyite Economic Determinist motivation, simply because he’s been dead right…! You be the judge from this recent lengthy interview…
The hostage standoff at an Algerian gas field has thrown a fresh spotlight on the spillover unleashed by the 2011 war that toppled Moammar Gaddafi in Libya.
Experts say the vast quantities of weapons and fighters that streamed out of Gaddafi’s arsenals may have served as a catalyst for the region’s expanding crisis.
But the bold move on the gas complex near the Libyan border this week, coupled with the swift military successes of militants in Mali, have also raised questions about NATO’s handling of Libyan arsenals, as well as the country’s borders, during the eight-month revolution, in which the alliance assisted Libya’s rebel forces.
Some experts say that NATO forces and the U.S. government were so consumed by the threat of surface-to-air missiles in the wake of Gaddafi’s fall that they failed to halt the proliferation of the ordinary high-caliber weapons that may now be fueling Mali’s Islamist insurgency and could carry drastic implications for a region already reeling from lawlessness and a growing al-Qaeda threat. Some of those weapons have already reached Syria and the Gaza Strip…
IPS’s Mohammed Omer, paints a bleak picture of the Palestinians plight as we head into Yom Kippur…
Dreaming of Fish, and Flowers
…Fishing was a profession that used to keep thousands of fishermen and their families fed, but with Israel restricting the movements of fishermen, the catches are diminishing…
The same fate has overtaken the local flower farmers whose carnations were the delight of lovers and loved ones across Europe. Gaza used to export 75 million flowers to the EU duty free, before Israel embargoed all export…
Yet the farmers and fishermen continue to access these prohibited areas, risking their life and limb.
As Al-Habeel says, he and his brothers "have to feed our families". The last time, the Israeli navy shot out the fuel lines that are connected to his boat. Al-Habeel was just relieved they did not hit the small fuel tank, which is expensive and hard to find…
The plight of the flower growers is just as wretched. Gaza-grown carnations, marketed under the brand name Coral, were popular all over Europe. But the situation has been going downhill for a while. In 2008, IPS had interviewed the carnation farmer Majed Hadaeid when his situation was quite desperate.
He had owned a 130-dunam (32-acre) farm yielding 16-17 million carnations a year in 30 different varieties and colours. This year he has lost his entire four-million-dollar business, and is burdened with debts amounting to 1.5 million dollars.
Today, the World Bank released a woeful assessment on the economic future of the Palestinians…
The Underpinnings of the Future Palestinian State: Sustainable Growth and Institutions
Economic Monitoring Report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee
a. The viability of a future Palestinian state will be determined by the strength of its institutions and its ability to sustain economic growth.
b. If the Palestinian Authority (PA) maintains its current performance in institution-building and delivery of public services, it is well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future. [...]
g. Sustainable economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza, however, remains absent. Significant changes in the policy environment are still required for increased private investment particularly in the productive sectors, enabling the PA to significantly reduce its dependence on donor aid.
h. The obstacles facing private investment in the West Bank are manifold and myriad, as many important GoI restrictions remain in place: (a) access to the majority of the territory’s land and water (Area C) is severely curtailed; (b) East Jerusalem — a lucrative market — is beyond reach; (c) the ability of investors to enter into Israel and the West Bank is unpredictable; and (d) many raw materials critical to the productive sectors are classified by the GoI as “dual-use” (civilian and military) and their import entails the navigation of complex procedures, generating delays and significantly increasing costs.
i. It is still too early to assess whether the recent partial relaxation of the Gaza blockade has revived its moribund economy. In any case, the impact on the private sector will be limited while the ban on exports continues.
j. Despite its improved fiscal performance and expenditure control within budget ceilings, the PA faces a shortfall in projected donor financing, possibly as high as US$300-400 million by the end of the year.
k. Unless action is taken in the near future to address the remaining obstacles to private sector development and sustainable growth, the PA will remain donor dependent and its institutions, no matter how robust, will not be able to underpin a viable state.
Even the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) had issued a report (PDF!), recently, placing dollar amounts on the Israeli direct actions against the Palestinians…
…Since late 2008, Palestinians have been totally or partially prevented from accessing land located up to 1,000-1,500 meters from the Green Line (depending on the specific area), and sea areas beyond 3 nautical miles from shore. Overall, the land restricted area is estimated at 17 percent of the total land mass of the Gaza Strip and 35 percent of its agricultural land. At sea, fishermen are totally prevented from accessing some 85 percent of the maritime areas they are entitled to access according to the Oslo Agreements. [...]
The value of agricultural and other property destroyed in the past five years in the land restricted area is conservatively estimated at USD 308 million (replacement cost). Agriculture-related assets include fruit trees, greenhouses, chicken and sheep farms and water wells, and account for 90 percent of this cost. It has been further estimated that access restrictions and the related destruction of agricultural assets results in a yearly loss of approximately 75,000 metric tons of potential produce. The market value of this produce is conservatively estimated at USD 50.2 million a year. Most farmers interviewed for this study indicated that since the expansion of the restricted area in 2008, their income from agriculture has been reduced to less than a third of its previous amount. Others reported having their income wiped out. In the fishing sector, the potential fishing catch lost as a result of access restrictions is estimated at approximately 7,000 metric tonnes, with a related income loss of some USD 26.5 million over a period of five years. [...]
To start addressing the dire situation of one of the most vulnerable segments of Gaza’s population, the current restrictions on civilian access to Gaza’s land and sea must be urgently lifted to the fullest extent possible. All parties must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, including full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1860.
As Israel heads into it’s holy Day of Atonement, there’s a lot to reflect upon…
At a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in July, Eric Edelman, Under Secretary
of Defense for Policy, said: “We all agree that a militarized foreign policy is not in our interests.”
He’s right. Since 2004, the annual Unified Security Budget report has outlined and promoted a rebalancing of resources funding offense (military forces), defense (homeland security), and prevention (non-military international engagement, including diplomacy, nonproliferation, foreign aid, peacekeeping, and contributions to international organizations.)
FINDING:■ ■ This year that goal has entered the realm of conventional wisdom. During the past year, the foreign policy establishments
representing defense, diplomacy, and development have all converged to support a rebalancing of security spending.
Leading the pack has been the Secretary of Defense Robert Gates himself. In a November 2007 speech he said, “Funding for non-military foreign affairs programs… remains disproportionately small relative to what we Read the rest of this entry →
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