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Iran’s Presidential Elections: A Political Essay
May 6, 2017
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi  Eurasia Review
As a political scientist observing Iran’s political situation from afar, this year’s presidential elections provide yet another context for theoretical reflection on the post-revolutionary society and its evolution over the past four decades marking certain changes amid political continuity.
This means taking stock of the revolution’s initial elan, its reconstruction of national identity, its creative blend of theocracy and democracy, and its founding principles of liberty, popular sovereignty, redistributive justice, and anti-hegemony.
Over time, journeying through multiple internal and external crises, the Islamic Republic has reached a new level of maturity or, to put it in political science jargon, institutionalization that is, simultaneously, confronted with the challenges of maintaining its authenticity and vitality, the coherence of its historical vision, valorizing its revolutionary ethics, and sustaining development. The beauty of the presidential elections is that it creates a new opportunity every four years to revisit these big questions and contemplate about the future direction of the Iranian society.
In so contextualizing the presidential elections, critical lenses are necessary in order to decipher the nature of changes and to evaluate policies and alternatives for leadership presented to the nation.
There is an on-going generational discourse and debate about the nature, problems, and prospects of Iran’s Islamist democracy featuring regular elections, checks and balances, and a dynamic civil society that is part of the post-revolutionary public sphere, crystallized in the electoral politics that makes incremental adjustments routinely, such as by adopting televised presidential debates, which have become the fulcrum of public discussions, enabling a greater degree of political transparency and accountability, thus adding to the system’s legitimacy.
Of course, the downside of these debates is that it risks giving priority to style over substance, and campaign tactics over strategy, compared with the upside of being a catalyst for national integration of the electorate into the political process in a more meaningful way, in light of the still rudimentary and haphazard life of political parties in today’s Iran.
The majority of Iranian voters do not belong to any party and their votes are cast along a plethora of class, ideology, ethnic, and other lines. In Iran, these debates perform basically the same function as in western “deliberative democracies,” by providing a rational venue for informed choices by the voters engaged in evaluating the presidential candidates on the television screens.
But, the process is rife with potential tensions and susceptible to being derailed, as was the case with the controversial 2009 elections when a losing candidate, who gained the majority in the capital city, contested the results even though he never proffered any serious documents to prove his allegations.
The tremors of that political earthquake still rattle the political system, which experienced a period of contraction and has yet to fully resolve the specter of that election haunting it.
In retrospect, it is patently obvious that serious political mistakes were made by both sides and that signs of foreign meddling to cause a ‘velvet revolution’ in Iran and thus to unravel the Islamic revolution could be found aplenty. Since then, as expected, the political system adopted precious lessons and is still wary of lifting some of the limits on the democratic process that could prove destabilizing.
Meanwhile, a whole set of new questions have popped up in this election: has the Rouhani government performed up to par deserving a second term? Is Iran under Rouhani swayed too much in the direction of neoliberal globalization? Has the revolution’s egalitarian dimension evaporated and needs to be rehabilitated? Has the premise of a “resistant economy” been informing the government’s economic and foreign decisions?
Indeed, the list of questions is a long one and the feasible answers to them quite divergent, depending on one’s political point of view. There are those in Iran who strive for a new rebalancing of the government’s priorities away from technocracy and toward Islamist populism, concerned that the government suffers from a “vision deficit” and apt to make the post-sanctions Iran conform with the dictates of world capitalism and thus cause a revolutionary metamorphosis into a status quo power.
This forms the nub of criticism of the three Usulgarayan (Principalist) candidates, Raisi, Ghalibaf, and Mirsalim, who accuse the Rouhani government of embourgeoisification and becoming the guardians of “top 4 percent.” They criticize the new culture of consumerism eating the revolution from within, and the appalling wage and income inequalities.
Such criticisms resonate with the poor electorate, whose ranks have swelled by millions over the recent years, with estimated %40 percent of the population at or below the poverty line.
To these candidates, Rouhani’s failure to deliver the economic benefits of the nuclear deal present a devastating weakness that warrant their current optimism that, perhaps, they can unseat him, particularly if in the end they unify behind one candidate and avoid splitting their votes (as was the case in the previous elections). Also, they are emboldened by the Supreme Leader’s recent criticism of Rouhani’s discourse that the nuclear deal removed the threat of war. On the contrary, the leader stated, it was the people and their heroic resistance that achieved this goal.
Still, there is no doubt that Iran’s skillful nuclear diplomacy deserves a great deal of credit for removing the Chapter VII Un resolutions on Iran and maintaining Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle, albeit at a reduced level, as part of a grand nuclear bargain with the West, which essentially used the nuclear crisis as a hegemonic strategy vis-a-vis Iran.
Iran’s nuclear diplomacy was thus an example of deft counter-hegemony that knocked down the wall of sanctions and enabled Iran to slowly recuperate from the pile of punitive damages, requiring patience and sustained diplomacy since the West is still keen on “containing” Iran. Consequently, foreign policy continuity is mandatory in Iran, so that a second term Rouhani presidency can build on its present efforts in order to maintain and deepen the new chapter in Iran’s international relations foisted by the nuclear deal.
This is why Rouhani deserves a second term and will likely manage to pull this off at the ballot boxes in the near future, provided that he can convince the voters that he is capable of correcting the shortcomings of his first administration, above all the “vision deficit,” technocratic elitism, and the like.
Still, despite such shortcomings, it is worth remembering that Rouhani has an economic record of an Islamic populist as well, given the fact that his annual budgets devote a lion shares to social services, tantamount to a redistribution of national wealth from the top, and that simply means that the “petrolic populism” of Iran has a built-in tendency to reproduce its logic of action, instead of a straightforward evolution to a post–populist moment.
The biggest challenge of Rouhani is to demonstrate his willingness and ability to muster the necessary energy and will power to stay the course of Islamic revolution and its pillars of anti-hegemony and Islamist redictributive justice.
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Syrian fighting 'sharply reduced' as Russia pushes plan for safe zones
Monitor says isolated clashes in Hama have eased, hours after Iran and Turkey agreed Russian 'de-escalation' proposal
MEE
Saturday 6 May 2017 08:51 UTC
Fighting between Syrian rebel and government forces eased on Saturday as a Russian-led effort to shore up a ceasefire took effect, although battles continued on an important frontline near Hama, a rebel commander and war monitor said.
The rebel commander said the general level of violence was reduced, but added: "Regime attempts (to advance) in the Hama countryside continue."
The deal to create "de-escalation" zones in the major areas of conflict in western Syria took effect at midnight.
The initiative was proposed by Russia, President Bashar al-Assad's most powerful ally, with the support of Turkey, which backs the opposition. Iran, Assad's other major ally, also backed it.
Political and armed opposition groups have rejected the proposal, saying Russia has been unwilling or unable to get Assad and his Iranian-backed militia allies to respect past ceasefires.
The Syrian government said it backed the proposal but said it would continue to fight what it called terrorist groups across the country.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there had been a reduction in fighting across Syria since the deal came into force, but warned it was too early to say whether it would last.
In the early hours of Saturday, Syrian government jets fired at the rebel-held village of al-Zalakiyat and nearby positions in the Hama countryside, where the combatants exchanged shelling, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based war monitoring group said government forces shelled the nearby towns of Kafr Zita and Latamneh. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian army.
The Observatory's spokesman Rami Abdel Rahman said violence had however "sharply reduced" as Saturday progressed.
Mohammed Rasheed, a spokesman for the Jaish al-Nasr rebel group based in Hama, confirmed that fighting had broken out after midnight.
Agreement published
Meanwhile, Russian and US chiefs agreed on Saturday to fully resume co-operation on preventing mid-air incidents over Syria, Russian news agencies quoted the Russian defence ministry as saying.
Russian and US generals Valery Gerasimov and Joseph Dunford discussed in a phone call the Syria de-escalation zones and agreed to continue working on additional measures aimed to avoid clashes in Syria, the reports said.
Iran and Turkey agreed on Thursday to a Russian proposal to establish four separate de-escalation zones in Syria for at least six months, according to a text detailing the agreement published by the Russian foreign ministry on Saturday.
The largest de-escalation zone includes Idlib province and adjoining districts of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia provinces. The other three zones are in northern Homs province, the Eastern Ghouta region east of the capital Damascus and along the Jordanian border in southern Syria.
The agreement envisaged the halt of hostilities between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups within the zones and the creation of conditions for humanitarian access, medical assistance, the return of displaced civilians to their homes and the restoration of damaged infrastructure.
The guarantors will finalise maps of the de-escalation zones by 4 June, and the agreement can be extended automatically if the three guarantor states agree.
The Russian defence ministry had said the agreement would come into force in the early hours of Friday.
With the help of Russia and Iranian-backed militias, the Syrian government has gained the military upper hand in the six-year conflict. The wide array of rebel groups include some supported by Turkey, the US and Gulf monarchies.
The main Syrian opposition body, the High Negotiations Committee, which includes political and armed groups, denounced the plan earlier as vague. The committee said the deal "was concluded without the Syrian people" and "lacks the minimum basics of legitimacy".
The deal marks the latest diplomatic effort to quell the fighting. Several truces and agreements have fallen apart during the multi-sided war, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed.
 


Donald Trump hasn’t quite thought through his first foreign trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican
Jerusalem will be a great gig because Trump will be able to ask Netanyahu for help against Isis without – presumably – realising that Israel bombs only the Syrian army and the Shia Hezbollah in Syria but has never – ever – bombed Isis in Syria
•    Robert Fisk
•    Friday 6 May 2017 Independent
Not since Ibn Batuta, travelled the Middle East in the 14th century has anyone set out with higher ambitions that Donald Trump. Batuta, a Moroccan Muslim traveller and scholar, had a few things in common with Trump. He reached what is now Saudi Arabia. He went to Jerusalem. He even had a keen eye for nubile ladies – there were a few wives, not to mention a Greek slave girl to be groped. But there the parallels end. For Ibn Batuta was sane.
Yet now we know that Trump thinks he’s touching the three monotheistic religions because he’s going to Riyadh, Jerusalem and then the Vatican (not quite in the Middle East but what’s a hundred miles for a guy like Trump). A few problems, of course. He can’t go to Holy Mecca because Christians are banned and the old king of Saudi Arabia represents a head-chopping Wahabi autocracy some of whose citizens have paid for – and fought alongside – the dreaded Isis which Trump thinks he is fighting.
Then when he goes to Jerusalem, he will meet Benjamin Netanyahu who hardly represents world Jewry and plans to go on thieving Arab lands in the West Bank for Jews, and Jews only, whatever Trump thinks. Then he’ll turn up at the Vatican to confront a man who – great guy though he may be – only represents Roman Catholics and doesn’t much like Trump anyway. Ibn Batuta was away from home for around a quarter of a century. Thank heavens Trump’s cutting that back to three days.
Of course, he’s no more going to be talking to “Islam” in Saudi Arabia than he is “Judaism” in Jerusalem. The Sunni Saudis are going to talk about crushing the “snake” of Shia Iran – and we must remember that Trump is the crackpot who shed crocodile tears over the Sunni babies killed in Syria last month but none for the Shia babies killed in Syria a few days later – and hope they can re-establish real relations between their execution-happy kingdom with the execution-happy US. Trump might just try to read UN rapporteur Ben Emmerson’s latest report on the imprisonment of human rights defenders and the torture of “terror” suspects in Saudi Arabia. No. Forget it.
Anyway, the king is no imam. Any more than Netanyahu is a rabbi. But Jerusalem will be a great gig because Trump will be able to ask Netanyahu for help against Isis without – presumably – realising that Israel bombs only the Syrian army and the Shia Hezbollah in Syria but has never – ever – bombed Isis in Syria. In fact, the Israelis have given medical aid to fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra, which is part of al-Qaeda which (maybe Trump has heard of this) attacked the United States on 9/11. So maybe the Vatican will be a relief.
Of course, Trump might have dropped by Lebanon to meet Patriarch Beshara Rai, a Christian prelate who at least lives in the Middle East and who might have been able to tell Trump a few home truths about Syria. Or, since Trump would be “honoured” to meet the Great Leader of North Korea, he might even have shocked the world by dropping by for a couple of hours with Bashar al-Assad. At least Ibn Batuta got to Damascus.
But no, Trump is searching for “friends and partners” to fight “terrorism” – something which has never, of course, been inflicted on Yemen by Saudi Arabia or on Lebanon and the Palestinians by Israel. Nor will it be mentioned by the boys and girls of CNN, ABC and all the US media titans who will – in the interest of promoting their importance by pretending that their President is not mad – grovellingly follow their crackpot President around the region with all the usual nonsense about “policies” and “key players” and “moderates” (as in “moderate Saudi Arabia”) and all the other fantastical creatures which they inject into their reports.
Oh yes, and Trump also wants to bring “peace” to the Holy Land. And so he will move from the king of head choppers to the thief of Palestinian lands and end up with the poor old Holy Father who is wisely giving the President only a few early-morning minutes before his weekly general audience. Since the Pope described Trump’s views as “not Christian” – an unsaintly thing for Pope Francis to say of a mentally ill man – and Trump called the Pope’s words “disgraceful”, this is not going to be a barrel of laughs.
But then again, the Pope shook the hand of the Sultan of Egypt only a week ago, the equally saintly Field Marshal President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, whose coup overthrew an elected president and who now “disappears” his enemies. Trump should be a piece of cake after that. Ibn Batuta, by the way, got as far as Beijing in his travels but was never “honoured” to meet the “smart cookie” who was ruling in Korea (which did actually exist in the 14th century).
But being a verbose chap, Ibn Batuta did record his homecoming in these words: “I have indeed … attained my desire in this world, which was to travel through the Earth, and I have attained this honour, which no ordinary person has attained.” That’s a real “honour” by the way. But you couldn’t fit Ibn Batuta into a tweet.
 


Trump is right. America needs to talk to bad guys — but carefully.

By David Ignatius Opinion writer May 2 at 7:52 PM Washington Post
Here’s a shocking statement: President Trump is basically right that the world is too dangerous and that the United States should hold peace talks with, let’s see, Chinese President Xi Jinping, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Russian President Vladimir Putin and any other autocrats who are making trouble.
American values tell us to oppose the undemocratic policies of these leaders and their blood-stained brethren, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But our interests tell us to avoid war and seek agreements where possible.
The problem is that beyond the “why can’t we all get along better?” bromides, Trump doesn’t offer clear ideas for easing the underlying tensions. Suppose all the bad guys came to the bargaining table and said, okay, let’s deal. Trump is still so low on the learning curve (and his administration so pathetically understaffed) that I’m not sure he would know what to answer.
Trump’s “concert of nations” approach has a weird appeal, in this period when the old order has so obviously broken down. He’s just naive enough, a bit like Ronald Reagan, to think we don’t need all these wars and that he’s the guy to fix things. Surely that explains his strange comment about how Andrew Jackson (his ego ideal) could have prevented the Civil War. It expressed Trump’s own aspiration to prevent wars.
Trump’s flurry of recent diplomatic comments has been as volatile as a fever chart. He talked last week of “major, major conflict” with North Korea, whose leader’s rationality he earlier questioned. But then on Monday, Trump said he would be “honored” to talk to Kim, “under the right circumstances.”
Trump had accused China during the 2016 campaign of “raping” America and threatened initially to alter the one- China foundation of U.S. policy. But now, Beijing is the cornerstone of his strategy for dealing with North Korea. Some Asia specialists fear that he has all but subcontracted some aspects of policy to China’s Xi, seemingly his new best friend.
The charm offensive even included a Tuesday phone call with Russia’s Putin (otherwise under FBI investigation for organizing a covert action to destabilize American politics).
Flattery and cajolery are eternal parts of the diplomatic tool kit. (Ask Henry Kissinger.) But rarely have they been deployed so extravagantly as by the verbose Trump. After several hours at Mar-a-Lago, Xi was touted as “a very good man.” Later, the bubble machine turned to Kim, whom Trump described as a “pretty smart cookie” who knows how to hold power.
Trump’s basic ambition to shake up the status quo makes sense, but let me offer some caveats:
● Trump is too vain and self-centered in his approach. All presidents believe in the efficacy of their personalities, but Trump’s braggadocio risks making him look ridiculous. He’s too impatient for quick wins. Countries will feed him flattering comments and what appear to be concessions — hoping to bind him to their agendas. That has already happened to some extent with China, which has drawn the United States into its framework for protecting Chinese interests in Asia.
● He’s too inexperienced to rely so much on his gut instincts. He doesn’t have a very educated gut, to put it bluntly. Aides who brief his team come away amazed that Trump never seems to have thought before about the U.S. nuclear deterrent, or the complications of Chinese-Korean history. Harry S. Truman had read a library full of history books before his accidental presidency. Not so Trump.
● He’s so full of bluster at the start of negotiations, and so accommodating later, that he risks looking like a man who can be had. Potential adversaries learn to wait Trump out. Experience tells them that if they hold tight, the Twitter storm will blow itself out. Once that perception builds, it becomes a serious problem — encouraging the president to take unwise risks just to restore a measure of his unpredictability.
● He needs to think more about process. Let’s imagine that North Korea announced tomorrow it would suspend nuclear tests and return to the bargaining table. What position would the United States take? I’d like to see a framework like the “two plus four” talks that united Germany in 1990 — that is, a direct round of confidence-building and armistice discussions between North and South Korea, framed by denuclearization talks backed by the United States, China, Russia and Japan. Does the Trump team have a similar strategy? Who knows?
Trump’s disruptive personality has usefully opened the door for diplomacy. But what comes next? Never mind getting to “yes.” Does the Trump team even know what “yes” might look like?
 


The Trouble With Tillerson: Unbounded Iranophobia – OpEd
April 22, 2017 Kaveh L. Afrasiabi Eurasia Review
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi
In recent days, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has dropped all diplomatic niceties by adopting an unreconstructed, misleading, and certainly counter-productive language against Iran, wrapped around the Trump administration’s certificate of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal. Thus, in both his letter to US Congress as well as his press statement on April 19, Tillerson steamed full force in demonizing Iran and falsely attributing the worst possible vices to Iran.
From attacking the nuclear deal as a failure in deterring Iran’s nuclear ambition, to depicting Iran as an exporter of terror and violence in the region and beyond, to portraying Iran’s domestic scene in the darkest language possible, Tillerson’s full fury against Iran knows no bound and quite despairing for those who had hoped for a voice of reason by Tillerson in Trump’s extremist universe. The United States’ Secretary of State has now fully reconciled himself with the hawkish members of the administration, who are overjoyed at US’s recent recourse to hard power in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan, not to overlook North Korea.
But, after having issued empty threats to North Korea and embarrassingly making a U-turn on Trump’s public boast of dispatching a “powerful armada” toward North Korea, the White House is desperately looking to de-escalate, in part by shifting focus on Iran and thus deflecting attentions on another target. At the same time, swallowing the arsenic of its own poisonous language on the nuclear deal, the administration has essentially taken away with one hand what it has offered with the other hand, namely, respect for the nuclear deal and abiding with its terms and obligations. Clearly, Tillerson is now trying to obfuscate the issues to justify the impending Iran legislation in Congress and the major stab at the nuclear deal which will almost certainly follow when and if the new sanctions bills are enacted, re-introducing some of the sanctions lifted under the nuclear deal.
No wonder, then, that although Tillerson has announced a “review period” for the nuclear deal, the present attacks on the deal signify a major offensive against it, which runs contrary to the attitude of Europeans and others, who praise the agreement and have vowed to stick with it. Even Mr. Tillerson himself signed to a recent G-7 statement on the nuclear deal that characterizes it as a non-proliferation plus. Yet, excelling in the art of self-reversal without raising an eyebrow, Tillerson has now pretty much condemned the deal with his incendiary rhetoric that is a throwback to Bush’s “axis of evil,” in other words, a giant leap backward. Should this pattern of policy continue, the end result will be outsourcing the administration’s Iran policy in the hands of hawkish members of Congress, who are on record adamantly opposing the nuclear deal from the outset. Of course, this does not bode well for the administration and its foreign policy, which was supposed to be about re-entrenchment and non-intervention, now quickly forgotten by the growing addiction of the new administration to hard power, in light of the deep cuts in the budget for US’s diplomatic machinery.
A key problem with Tillerson’s descent to the bosom of a new level of Iranophobia is that it stems from a fundamental misperception about Iran and the nature of Iran’s external behavior. Suffice to say that contrary to Tillerson, Iran is working extra hard to bring peace to Syria, is a part of troika of Russia-Iran-Turkey sponsoring the on-going Astana peace talks, which have evolved as a subset of the Geneva process. In both Iraq and Syria, Iran is playing a major anti-terrorism role and it is a pity that Tillerson is unable to come to terms with the reality, instead, resorting to the unbounded vilification of Iran and a perverse logic of Iranophobia. This is a dysfunctional US foreign policy that has a high probability of greater and greater incoherence and self-contradiction, culminating in a policy quagmire on Iran and, indeed, the whole Middle East.
A big question now is how will the Trump administration deliver on its promise to defeat ISIS when it is focusing all its energy and venom against Iran and Syria? Fact is that the US has no effective anti-ISIS strategy and is now, in fact, providing indirect support for ISIS and other terrorist groups by targeting the regional states that are fighting those terrorists. George Orwell must be shivering in his grave now.


 


Why Iran won’t ditch the dollar soon
Author Alireza Ramezani Posted April 18, 2017 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — The Central Bank of Iran (CBI) has for some time been working on a plan to stop using the US dollar in its financial reports. In a program aired on Iranian state television Jan. 28, CBI Gov. Valiollah Seif vowed that the regulator would no longer use the US currency in its reports starting with the Iranian fiscal year that began March 21. Yet there is no news of an actual change in policy. Indeed, analysts believe that even if the Central Bank is serious about dropping the dollar, the transition process will not go as smoothly as envisaged.
Summary⎙ Print Although Iran has long touted plans to wholly abandon the US dollar, economic realities appear to be forcing Tehran to delay such a move.
Forbes warned in a January report that the CBI’s decision to phase out the dollar could add a degree of currency risk and volatility. The Iranian economy is not in good shape and any currency shock could jeopardize a fragile recovery and ruin the minor achievements of the monetary regulator in controlling prices over the past few years. This is particularly the case since crude oil, Iran’s main export, is priced in dollars. Many argue that it could be complicated for the Iranian government to switch its reporting to another currency since billions of dollars in government revenue are generated from oil exports. The CBI disagrees with the notion that it would face problems when it comes to reporting in another currency, but it does not conceal its fear of economic chaos should the dollar be replaced in a short span of time.
CBI officials share concerns about a free fall in the rial’s value against the dollar mainly due to possible public resistance to change. Demand for the US dollar has been high in Iran for several decades. Thus the public is sensitive about any fluctuation in the value of the national currency. In recent years, monetary authorities have been trying to reduce this sensitivity before the introduction of any concrete measures.
The CBI has been striving to sideline the US dollar from its currency basket since the intensification of Western sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program in 2010. So far, it has replaced the greenback with the euro, yuan, ruble and rupee in trade with partners such as the United Arab Emirates, China, Russia, Turkey, Iraq and India. Tehran is even receiving its revenue from oil exports in euros, a source at the CBI who is familiar with the matter told Al-Monitor. “That’s why it’s even more convenient for us to report in euros,” added the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“It’s not economical for the government to change [the currency of] its oil revenue from euros to the [US] dollar. But we have to, because we need to inject billions of dollars into the domestic market every year,” the source argued, noting that the most serious challenge the CBI is facing is to prepare the public for a currency switch — a process that could take years, if not longer.
Among the other reasons behind the CBI’s struggle to replace the dollar are concerns over new sanctions that could threaten Iran’s assets overseas. Although the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers led to an easing of sanctions, primary US sanctions over Iran’s ballistic missile program, Iran's alleged support for terrorism and Iran's human rights record, among other issues, are still in place. Indeed, a bipartisan Senate group in Washington is pursuing new sanctions.
Of further note, in recent years Iran has had some of its accounts, which are kept in dollars overseas, frozen by the US government over political disputes. The latest case is the freezing of Iranian assets in Luxembourg to cover the $1.6 billion compensation claim of families of 9/11 victims who have won court cases against Iran in the United States.
Peyman Ghorbani, the deputy governor for economic affairs at CBI, believes that the dominance of the US dollar has already caused “asymmetric expectations” in Iran. The US government has in several cases abused this domination by blocking Iranian assets, Eghtesad News website reported him as saying Feb. 20. Ghorbani argued that the dollar exchange rate has been fluctuating too much in the world market and that Iran has been suffering from these fluctuations. All of these problems would be addressed if the dollar is replaced, he said.
As for an alternative to the dollar, the euro has a high chance of being selected as the replacement, the source at the CBI told Al-Monitor, rejecting speculation that bitcoin — a type of digital currency — could be considered as an option. Some Iranian media outlets have recently argued in favor of using bitcoin in the domestic banking system. On March 27, US analyst John Ubele suggested in an interview with the conservative Tasnim News Agency that the bitcoin payment network could revitalize Iran’s economy and help add “many jobs” across the country. Some domestic bankers have also shown interest in using bitcoin. But Seif and his colleagues at the CBI do not seem to agree. The CBI governor believes that whatever currency is chosen as a replacement for the US dollar must already be recognized as strong and stable by traders and experts in the country. In this vein, the euro appears to be the only currency with the features Seif is seeking.
All in all, while there's a good chance the Iranian government will stop using the US dollar, it is unlikely that the greenback will be wholly abandoned in the short run. Rather, the likely time for the CBI to implement its plans for a currency switch could be the last year of President Hassan Rouhani’s potential second term (2017-2021), should he be re-elected May 19.

 


Iranian-American groups testify in Washington seeking new ban on Trump travel order
By Spencer S. Hsu April 18 at 8:51 PM  Washington Post
Leaders of Iranian-American organizations asked a U.S. district court in Washington Tuesday to become the latest to order a nationwide halt to President Trump’s executive order banning new visas and immigration from six Muslim-majority countries.
Testimony came on behalf of the largest ethnic group directly affected by the March 6 order, and was entered in one of a half-dozen challenges to the White House action watched closely by legal analysts.
The lawsuit is unusual in that U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of Washington allowed live testimony by individuals who allege they are harmed by the order, and because the case is on a fast-track, said Michigan University law professor Margo Schlanger, sponsor of the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse that is tracking more than 80 related lawsuits.
An order by a third U.S. trial judge to freeze the ban, if granted, would take direct effect only if similar decisions made March 15 by federal district judges in Hawaii and Maryland were overturned. However, the legal arguments raised by American immigrants from the Middle East’s most populous nation could play a role in a fight widely seen as destined for the U.S. Supreme Court.
More Iranians received U.S. visas in 2015 than nationals from the other five countries on the list combined — Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Libya — or 57 percent of the total including Iraq, which was initially on the travel ban list but later dropped. Meanwhile, Iranian students accounted for about 80 percent of foreign students last year from the same countries, according to State Department data.
Lawyers for the four suing groups — Pars Equality Center, the Iranian American Bar Association, National Iranian American Council, and Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans — said the success of the Iranian-American community is a national security asset, not a threat, as the U.S. seeks a more moderate Iran.
Migration policy groups cited U.S. population surveys showing half of the estimated 1 million Iranian-Americans living in the United States work as professionals, many arriving after the 1979 Islamic revolution topped the U.S.-backed shah of Iran.
The lawyers for the groups suing said they assembled 16 plaintiffs and statements from 25 people to show a range of people harmed by the White House ban and to overcome legal barriers to suing in federal court. They also asked the judge Tuesday to order a resumption of visa granting processes.
The statements come from individuals who told the court they face barriers to travel for business and investment opportunities, attending the wedding and births of children, and schooling. They included accounts by students on visas, U.S. permanent residents awaiting reunification with family members, dual citizens, U.N.-approved and vetted refu¬gee families and an Iranian resident with an approved nonimmigrant visa issued to researchers, professors and cultural exchange visitors.
“The vast majority of our resources” have been diverted to educating the public “on this one issue, bar association president Babak Yousefzadeh, of San Francisco, testified during the two-hour hearing. “It frustrates the mission of the IABA,” he said, which is to educate and increase civic participation by Iranian-Americans and to communicate their concerns to government.
Leila Golestaneh Austin, executive director of the alliance, echoed those claims, adding its members see a chilling effect on finding talent for their businesses, and have had to respond to a rise in hate crimes and postpone efforts such as a sports diplomacy initiative.
Justice Department civil division attorney Daniel Schwei said that travel by members of the groups who are U.S. citizens and U.S. permanent residents is not restricted, that many of the plaintiff declarations predate the latest version of the order, and that groups’ assertions of “continuous harm” are inaccurate since the order has been stayed.
The White House issued its March order rescinding and replacing a broader January travel ban that courts had rejected. Trump’s revised version suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and halted for 90 days the issuance of new visas to people from the six countries.
Judges in cases brought by the state of Hawaii and refu¬gee organizations based in Maryland who froze aspects of the most recent ban agreed the Trump order could be construed as unconstitutionally discriminating on religious grounds.
By comparison, the Iranian-American case, brought by Iranian-American civil rights lawyer Cyrus Mehri and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, draws on civil rights precedents directed at bias based on ethnicity and national origin.
The case, which is being heard with another lawsuit brought by a Shi’a Muslim group and two Yemeni individuals, has flown under the radar compared with the Hawaii and Maryland cases, which were the first to prompt nationwide injunctions. But like the others, it is moving at an expedited pace.
Justice Department officials said the court rulings are flawed both in reasoning and scope, and promised to continue to defend the executive order and the president’s lawful authority to protect the nation’s security.
“For the past 30 years, every President has invoked his power to protect the Nation by suspending entry of categories of aliens. As a legal matter, this Order is no different,” department lawyers argued in the Washington case.
Department lawyers unsuccessfully urged Chutkan not to allow Tuesday’s live testimony or Friday’s scheduled preliminary injunction hearing. The department lawyers told the court that they were not disputing the truthfulness and credibility of the plaintiff group’s leaders, only their legal import.

 


•    Telegraph
UK cautiously eyes $600bn opportunity in Iran investment drive
•    Jillian Ambrose
16 April 2017 • 7:45pm
UK firms are cautiously eying opportunities in Iran ahead of an expected $600bn boom in trade and infrastructure investment over the next ten years.
The Islamic Republic is embarking on an ambitious investment drive as it emerges from decades of isolation imposed by international sanctions.
The key infrastructure projects required includes the expansion of its 10,223km long state-owned rail network which supports industrial and commercial corridors and is expected to expand to over 25,000km by 2025, according to consultancy firm Ipsos.
In addition, all 54 of Iran’s airports are expected to require significant upgrades and Iran is planning to build 7 new international airports over the next decade.
The state carrier, Iran Air, has already placed orders with Airbus for 114 new aircraft and it is estimated that another 600 new airplanes will be needed in the next decade.
“Is there an opportunity here for UK business? Of course there is,” said Amanda Clack, head of Infrastructure and consultancy EY.
“Deliverability is key and contracts could be won by British companies on the basis of professionalism. These skills are underpinned by high standards and regulation which means the companies are more likely to offer a robust approach to the work.
“You want to know that your investment is in good hands. It’s about de-risking the project,” she said.
However, companies will be looking carefully at the risks surrounding Iran, she added.
The latest UK government figures indicate that from January to October 2016 the value of UK exports to Iran had continued to rise and were 42pc higher than the value of exports in the same period in 2015.
The British Iranian Chamber of Commerce (BICC) has said the main problem in increasing British Iranian trade lies in the absence of banking facilities because of the fear by European banks of American primary sanctions against Iran which were retained even after the Iran nuclear deal in late 2015.
“Until the American election there were indications that some UK banks were willing to handle direct transactions with Iran under certain conditions. Since then attitudes of the banks seem to have become more cautious and restrictive,” the BICC said.
Iran sold its first cargoes of natural gas condensate and crude oil to British in October last year. National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said the state-backed oil giant sold a cargo of one million barrels of natural gas condensate to BP as well as a second cargo to an unnamed British company.
Iran has been seeking new customers for its crude oil and condensate production as it works to boost its output and export levels. The oil state is hoping to further increase its daily output to approximately 6 million barrels a day within the next 5 years, but this is highly dependent on whether Iran will be successful in attracting investment from oil majors.
Iran also hopes to secure large investments into its unexplored and under-developed natural gas sector.

 


Iran May Get First New Boeing Jetliner a Year Ahead of Time
By RICK GLADSTONEAPRIL 11, 2017 New York Times
The first new Boeing commercial jetliner to be purchased by Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution could be delivered in a month — a year earlier than expected — an Iranian news agency reported on Monday.
The jetliner, a Boeing 777, originally ordered by Turkish Airlines but now apparently no longer wanted because of a slowdown in air travel to Turkey, will be used to start fulfilling an 80-plane order between Boeing and Iran finalized in December, according to the Mehr News Agency, which quoted a deputy minister of roads and urban planning, Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan.
If confirmed, the delivery would have at least the symbolic effect of expediting the most significant business transaction between Iran and the United States since relations were severed 37 years ago.
A Boeing spokesman, Tim D. Neale, declined to comment on the news agency report, which comes as the aerospace company is dealing with a strong backlash in Washington over its plans to sell planes to Iran. Turkish Airlines officials did not return emailed messages seeking comment.
The aircraft sales, which could create thousands of jobs in the United States, are permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and big powers that eased economic constraints on Iran in exchange for its promises of peaceful nuclear work.
Iran is desperate for new planes to replace its aging commercial fleet. Last week Boeing announced a tentative deal potentially valued at $6 billion to sell up to 60 737s to Iran, adding to the $16.6 billion deal reached four months ago. Airbus, Boeing’s principal rival, has reached a deal to sell 100 planes to Iran.
Opponents of the nuclear agreement in the United States say Iran could illegally divert the new planes for military purposes, an accusation that supporters of the agreement have rejected because the accord forbids such misuse.
The new plane orders require United States regulatory approval — including the foreign models that contain a significant portion of American-made parts, like the Airbus planes.
President Trump has not specified whether he supports the aircraft sales. He has repeatedly denounced the nuclear agreement, describing it as a “terrible deal” and a giveaway to Iran, but he has vowed to protect and increase American manufacturing jobs.
The Mehr news report quoted Mr. Kashan, the deputy minister, as saying that since Turkish Airlines no longer wants the 777 it had ordered, “Iran will be its destination.”
Although Boeing was not obliged to start delivering Iran’s newly ordered planes until 2018, Mr. Kashan was quoted as saying, “our order matched this Boeing model and it is a propitious time to receive one.”
Mr. Kashan also was quoted by Mehr as saying that Iran will purchase 20 ATR 72-600s regional turboprop aircraft. ATR is a European aeronautics partnership of Airbus and Leonardo, an Italian manufacturer.
In Washington, opponents of the aircraft sales intensified their criticism. In a letter written by Representative Peter J. Roskam of Illinois and Senator Marco A. Rubio of Florida, both outspoken opponents of the nuclear accord, they urged Mr. Trump to “suspend current and future licenses for aircraft sales to commercial Iranian airlines until your administration conducts a comprehensive review of their role in supporting Iran’s illicit activity.”

 


Eine schwere Prüfung für Schweden
Noch ist völlig unklar, welche Motive der Angreifer von Stockholm hatte. Sollte es einen islamistischen Hintergrund geben, dürften einige Diskussionen folgen.
Von Clemens Bomsdorf,7. April 2017, Die Zeit
Die Worte des schwedischen Premierministers Stefan Löfven kamen schnell, und sie waren deutlich: "Schweden ist angegriffen worden. Alles deutet auf einen Terrorakt hin." Noch bevor Informationen über die Identität des mutmaßlichen Attentäters von Stockholm bekannt gegeben wurden, sprach der Regierungschef an diesem Freitagnachmittag aus, was in den Medien schon kurz zuvor spekuliert worden war. Es soll also ein Terrorist gewesen sein, der mit einem gestohlenen Lkw durch die Fußgängerzone von Stockholm fuhr und dabei mindestens drei Menschen tötete. Der Täter muss demnach ein Motiv gehabt haben: das des Terrors.
Nach dem Lkw-Angriff in Stockholm ist am frühen Samstagmorgen ein Mann wegen des Verdachts "des Mordes durch einen Terrorakt" in Gewahrsam genommen worden. Bei dem Verdächtigen handele es sich um den am Freitagabend in Märsta im Norden von Stockholm festgesetzten Mann, sagte Staatsanwaltschafts-Sprecherin Karin Rosander mehreren Nachrichtenagenturen. Sie machte keine Angaben dazu, ob es sich um den Fahrer des Lkw handelt.
Die Staatsanwaltschaft verzichtete auf näheren Angaben zur Identität des Mannes, aber seine Personenbeschreibung passt auf die eines am Anschlagsort gefilmten Mannes, der zur Fahndung ausgeschrieben wurde. Der schwedischen Boulevardzeitung Aftonbladet zufolge handelt es sich um einen 39-jährigen Usbeken, der ein Anhänger der Dschihadistenmiliz "Islamischer Staat" (IS) sei.
Allerdings ist noch nicht publik geworden und vielleicht nicht einmal der Polizei bekannt, welche Motive der Angreifer hatte. Umso wichtiger ist es, nicht zu spekulieren, bevor die Fakten bekannt sind. "Das Wichtigste ist jetzt, Ruhe zu bewahren und zu warten, bis es verifizierte Information von den Behörden gibt", sagte der Terrorismusforscher Hans Brun der schwedischen Nachrichtenagentur TT. Brun ist niemand, der Risiken kleinredet, er hatte schon im vergangenen Jahr vor einer gestiegenen Terrorgefahr in Schweden gewarnt. Doch am Freitagabend war weder die Herkunft des Attentäters bekannt, noch ob er instruiert worden war und welche politische oder religiöse Motivation hinter der Tat stehen könnte.
Nun hat es also in dem Land der Willkommenskultur einen ersten größeren Anschlag gegeben. Als US-Präsident Donald Trump im Februar obskur vor schwedischen Zuständen warnte, war der Hohn groß. Jetzt dürften zwar einige Diskussionen folgen, Panik wäre aber wenig angebracht. Wer glaubt, dass Trump mit seiner Warnung recht gehabt hat, liegt selbst dann falsch, wenn sich der Täter als Islamist herausstellen sollte. Dennoch steht Schweden vor Herausforderungen, die nicht alle sehen wollen.
Erstes Verhör noch am Samstagmorgen
Die Ermittler haben bis Dienstagmittag Zeit, den Verdächtigen zu verhören. Spätestens um 12 Uhr muss dann ein Haftrichter entscheiden, ob er in Haft kommt. Der Mann soll einen Anwalt zur Verfügung gestellt bekommen. Berichte in schwedischen Medien über eine zweite Festnahme, die womöglich mit dem ersten Mann in Verbindung stehe, bezeichnete die Polizei auf Anfrage der Deutschen Presse-Agentur als "Gerücht".
Der Lastwagen war in der Nacht zu Samstag abgeschleppt worden und soll nun kriminaltechnisch untersucht werden. Der Tatort und die Umgebung bleiben bis auf weiteres abgesperrt.
Die schwedischen Behörden sind in Alarmbereitschaft. Zehn Tage lang sollen alle Ausreisenden an den Grenzen kontrolliert werden, sagte Ministerpräsident Stefan Löfven am Freitagabend. Innenminister Anders Ygeman sagte dem schwedischen Rundfunk, die Kontrollen könnten um weitere 20 Tage verlängert werden. "Das ist natürlich wichtig, um einen Täter oder eventuelle Helfer daran zu hindern, das Land zu verlassen und sich einer Festnahme der Polizei zu entziehen."
Völlig überzeichnetes Bild
Trump hatte damals das Interview mit dem amerikanischen Filmemacher Ami Horowitz auf dem TV-Sender Fox gesehen und daraufhin – grob gesagt – davor gewarnt, dass Einwanderung zu Zuständen wie in Schweden führen könne. Horowitz hatte im Film Stockholm Syndrom ein völlig überzeichnetes Bild von Schweden geliefert als ein Land, das von Massenvergewaltigungen durch Ausländer heimgesucht werde und sich der Islamisierung freiwillig unterwerfe. Bei all dem Spott über Trumps Schweden-Kommentar war aber untergegangen, dass es in Schweden, wie von Horowitz gezeigt, auch tatsächliche Integrationsprobleme und in einzelnen Stadtteilen immer wieder Gewalt durch Einwanderer gibt.
Schweden hat gemessen an der Bevölkerung besonders viele Flüchtlinge aufgenommen. Im Sommer 2014 hatte der damalige konservative Regierungschef Fredrik Reinfeldt seine Heimat stolz als "humanitäre Großmacht" bezeichnet. Der aktuelle sozialdemokratische Premier Löfven sprach noch im Herbst 2015 ähnlich legendäre Worte. "Mein Europa nimmt Flüchtlinge auf, die vor Krieg fliehen, solidarisch und gemeinsam. Mein Europa baut keine Mauern", sagte er Mitte September 2015. Kurz danach machte Schweden eine Kehrtwende in der Flüchtlingspolitik, die im Ausland womöglich viele noch nicht mitbekommen haben. Seit Herbst 2015 gibt es wieder Grenzkontrollen an der dänisch-schwedischen Grenze und zahlreiche Asylgesuche wurden abgelehnt, die Zahl der aufgenommenen Flüchtlinge ist wie in vielen anderen europäischen Ländern drastisch gesunken.
Ausschreitungen in Stadtvierteln mit hohem Anteil von Bewohnern mit Migrationshintergrund gibt es in Schweden schon seit Jahren, auch wenn längst nicht so viel passiert wie in den französischen Banlieus. Die Politik hat versäumt, das Problem ausreichend zu diskutieren oder zu bekämpfen. Dieser Part in Horowitz' Schweden-Film war korrekt und wurde von vielen Medien aber ebenfalls ignoriert. Womöglich werden entsprechende Diskussionen nach dem Stockholmer Anschlag wieder zunehmen. Insbesondere falls sich herausstellen sollte, dass der Täter aus solch einer Gegend kommt.
Rechte Partei im Aufwind
Es sei nur eine Frage der Zeit gewesen, bis Stockholm vom Dschihad-Terror getroffen werde, schließlich sei die ganze westliche Welt unter Angriff, schrieb der Journalist Wolfgang Hansson kurz nach der Tat bei der gewerkschaftsnahen Boulevardzeitung Aftonbladet. In der Tat hatte es bereits im Dezember 2010 einen Terroranschlag in Stockholm gegeben. Nur etwa 100 Meter entfernt von der Stelle, an der am Freitagnachmittag der Lastwagen ins Kaufhaus Åhlens fuhr, hatte sich damals ein Attentäter in die Luft gesprengt. Nur durch Zufall kam lediglich er selber dabei ums Leben. Terroristen hatte es in Stockholm auch zuvor schon gegeben. Im April 1975 stürmten sechs RAF-Attentäter die deutsche Botschaft in Stockholm und ermordeten zwei ihrer Geiseln.
In Schweden wird auch, nachdem das Asylrecht strikter gehandhabt wird, längst nicht so gegen Einwanderer polemisiert, wie es im Nachbarland Dänemark der Fall ist. Doch dass sich alle ein weltoffenes Schweden wünschen würden, ist auch nicht der Fall. Die stark rechtsgerichteten Schwedendemokraten (SD) sind in jüngster Zeit erstarkt. Laut einer im März von der Zeitung Svenska Dagbladet veröffentlichten Umfrage ist SD aktuell zweitstärkste Partei. Nur Löfvens Sozialdemokraten würden, wenn jetzt Wahl wäre, mit 27 Prozent erheblich besser dastehen als SD, die auf 18 Prozent kommen würden. Reinfeldts Moderaten landen allerdings nur ganz knapp dahinter bei 17 Prozent. Noch sind Forderungen führender SD-Politiker als Reaktion auf den vermeintlichen Terroranschlag von Stockholm ausgeblieben


シリア反体制派の一大拠点イドリブ、「第2のアレッポ」の懸念も
産経新聞 4/7(金) 7:55配信
  【カイロ=佐藤貴生】アサド政権が化学兵器を使った空爆を行った疑いがあるシリア北西部イドリブ県は、国際テロ組織アルカーイダ系のほか、多数の反体制派 武装勢力が跋扈(ばっこ)している。政権側が諸勢力を1カ所に集め、一網打尽にすることを狙っているとの見方もある。激しい戦闘で市街地などが廃虚と化し た北部アレッポの惨劇が繰り返されるのでは、との懸念が強まっている。

 中東などからの報道によると、イドリブ県は2015年前半、その 大半を反体制派武装勢力が支配した。テロ組織も存在するため、政権軍とロシア軍のほか米軍主導の有志連合軍も空爆を繰り返してきた。アサド政権側がアレッ ポを掌握した昨年12月、国連のデミストゥラ・シリア担当特使はイドリブについて、「次のアレッポになるかもしれない」と警告を発していた。

 注目すべきはその地政学的な重要性だ。南には首都ダマスカス、北東にはアレッポ、西には地中海沿岸の街ラタキアがある。ダマスカスとアレッポを結ぶ幹線道も通り、反体制派の物資供給拠点となってきた。

 ラタキアはアサド氏一族の出身地に近く、同氏と同じ国内少数派のイスラム教シーア派に分類されるアラウィー派が多く住む。政権側にとって特別な場所だ。

 ロシアは昨年、そのラタキアにあるヘメイミーム空軍基地を無期限に使用できる協定を政権側と締結。アサド政権の存続に固執するロシア軍が今後、この基地を出撃拠点に空爆を強化する可能性もありそうだ。

 アサド政権はこれまで、アレッポなど各地の反体制派と、支配地域を明け渡すことを条件とした「休戦協定」を次々と結んできた。その結果、イドリブは行き場を失った武装勢力が集まる場所ともなっていた。

 専門家は中東のメディアに、アサド政権の狙いについて「イドリブに反体制派を集めれば戦闘が容易になる。国際社会が現実的に止める手段を取らなければアレッポと同じことが起きるだろう」と警告している。
 


Espresso
L'analisi
Lo Zar, il Sultano e Trump contro l'Europa
Washington vuole parlare solo con Berlino. Mosca finanzia i nazionalisti. Ankara interferisce nelle elezioni. Solo uniti gli europei potrebbero rispondere alla sfida
di Lucio Caracciolo 06 aprile 2017
Trump, Putin, Erdogan: se qualcuno dubitasse del grado di decomposizione attuale dell’Unione Europea basterebbe osservare come questi leader, e le potenze che rappresentano, dividano la rissosa famiglia comunitaria. E insieme come Stati Uniti, Russia e Turchia non abbiano molto in comune, salvo la decisa avversione alla nascita di un’Europa capace di farsi valere sulla scena geopolitica globale.

Più specificamente, nessuno a Washington, Mosca e Ankara auspica l’affermazione di una Grande Germania vestita con il blu e le gialle stelle dello stendardo Ue. E ciascuno dei tre paesi vigila affinché questa ipotetica Eurogermania non stringa troppo strette intese con uno o due degli altri.

Ai tempi della guerra fredda, l’Europa occidentale economicamente saldata nella Cee obbediva alla regola della Nato: americani dentro, russi fuori, tedeschi sotto. Oggi, l’Ue allargata a 28 (presto a 27, dopo la fuoriuscita del Regno Unito), si misura con il (relativo) disimpegno americano, le velleità di potenza della Russia e la centralità geoeconomica della Germania. E in più affronta lo “scontro di civiltà” con la Turchia che sembra rievocare la battuta con cui un cancelliere austriaco liquidò l’eventuale ingresso turco nell’Unione Europea: «Impossibile, noi abbiamo avuto l’assedio di Vienna».


Ma che cosa vogliono americani, russi e turchi da noi europei? Distinguiamo, in ordine di potenza.
Il braccio destro di Trump, Steve Bannon, ha recentemente convocato l’ambasciatore di Berlino a Washington per comunicargli che d’ora in poi, discutendo questioni europee, avrebbe trattato direttamente con lui, non avendo tempo da perdere con i signori di Bruxelles.

Il riferimento era anche ai magniloquenti moniti anti-trumpiani del presidente della Commissione, il lussemburghese Jean-Claude Juncker, percepiti come classico ruggito del topo. Al di là dello stile, resta la sostanza: per Washington - non solo per Trump - l’Europa non è affatto una priorità. Eventualmente, interessa la Germania. Per il resto, gli interessi strategici statunitensi sono imperniati sull’Asia-Pacifico e sulla riscoperta del nemico russo, cui la Cia attribuisce nientemeno che la manipolazione delle elezioni presidenziali.

Agli europei si chiede di pagare la retta Nato - 2% del Pil da devolvere alle spese militari, obiettivo cui quasi tutti i soci veterocontinentali sfuggono allegramente - e di non sfidare l’ordine neomercantilista che Trump vorrebbe affermare nel mondo. In quest’ultimo caso, il rivale è certamente la Germania, potenza economica di prima classe, basata sul commercio, in surplus con il resto del mondo. Il freddissimo vertice Trump-Merkel è il riflesso di questa latente rivalità, già emersa sotto Obama (spionaggio del cellulare della cancelliera, Dieselgate, eccetera). Berlino replica ergendosi a protettrice di quei valori universali e liberali che considera minacciati da Trump. Risultato: mai, dal 1945 a oggi, l’Atlantico è parso più largo.

Quanto alla Russia. Nemmeno trent’anni fa i soldati russi erano orgogliosamente a Berlino, esibendo la stella rossa sui loro colbacchi. Oggi sono informalmente a Donec’k, bacino del Donbas, nell’Ucraina orientale, a supportare la guerriglia anti-Kiev: oltre duemila chilometri più a est. Eppure il ratto della Crimea, con un colpo di mano che ha sorpreso il resto del mondo, ha convinto molti europei che l’impero moscovita intenda spingersi nuovamente verso ovest, a rischio di una guerra nucleare contro la Nato.

Questa è la percezione dominante nei paesi collocati fra Mar Baltico e Mar Nero, fra Svezia e Romania, con la Polonia neonazionalista quale perno dello schieramento antirusso. A mano a mano che nell’ambito dell’Unione Europea ci si sposta verso occidente, il grado di russofobia si addolcisce, fino a toccare in Italia il culmine della russofilia: sia Renzi che Gentiloni non hanno fatto mistero di auspicare la fine delle sanzioni anti-Russia, che penalizzano seriamente la nostra economia.

Quanto alla Germania, è piuttosto ambigua: Merkel detesta Putin, essendone cordialmente ricambiata, ma ciò non le impedisce di benedire, in pieno regime di sanzioni (che peraltro l’industria tedesca quando vuole sa aggirare), un formidabile accordo energetico con Mosca, quale il raddoppio del gasdotto Nordstream.

Intanto Putin supporta e spesso finanzia neonazionalisti e separatisti che minacciano la stabilità dei paesi comunitari, usandoli come strumento di pressione contro i rispettivi governi o addirittura auspicandone il successo. In questo simile a Trump - invero al resto del mondo: con gli europei si tratta meglio bilateralmente, in posizione di relativa forza.

Lo sconvolgimento più recente sul fronte esterno l’Ue lo vive a sud-est. La Turchia si sta spogliando dei suoi vestiti democratici e liberali, per rivelarsi sempre più autocratica e intollerante. Erdoğan aveva usato i negoziati con l’Unione Europea non perché credesse veramente di essere ammesso fra i soci comunitari, quanto per tagliare le unghie ai militari.

I quali, conformemente ai vincoli e ai costumi europei, si sarebbero dovuti accomodare nelle caserme smettendo le ambizioni politiche. Liquidati i militari sulla scia della repressione del fallito golpe dei 15 luglio scorso, oggi il presidente turco non ha più bisogno della leva europea per contenerne le incursioni in campo politico.

Di più, ospitando circa tre milioni di profughi siriani sul proprio territorio, minaccia di lasciarli partire verso l’Europa, per ottenere in cambio denaro e facilitazioni (ingresso senza visto per i cittadini turchi nello spazio comunitario). Il tentativo di allargare alla Germania e ad altri paesi europei la sua campagna elettorale in vista del referendum sul presidenzialismo è solo l’ennesima spia della tensione con lo schieramento Ue, Berlino in testa. Ma anche in questo caso, in Europa le posizioni sono tutt’altro che uniformi.

Il giorno in cui noi europei ci ritroveremo insieme nel rapporto con Stati Uniti, Russia e Turchia vorrà dire che avremo compiuto un grande passo nell’avvicinare “l’unione sempre più stretta” evocata dai Trattati di Roma. Sessant’anni dopo, quel giorno pare sempre più lontano.
 


Why Does U.S. Consider Iran the Greatest Threat to Peace, When Rest of World Agrees It's the U.S.?
________________________________________
Guests
Noam Chomsky Apr 4, 2017 Democracy Now!
world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author. He is institute professor emeritus at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he has taught for more than 50 years. His new book comes out today, titled Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power.
Over the first 75 days of the Trump administration, the White House has taken multiple steps to escalate the possibility of a U.S. war with Iran. Trump included Iran on both his first and second Muslim travel bans. As a candidate, Trump also threatened to dismantle the landmark Iran nuclear agreement. For more on U.S.-Iranian relations, we speak with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky.
________________________________________
TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you another question that came in, from Melbourne, Australia, Aaron Bryla. He said, "Defense Secretary James Mattis this week described Iran as the greatest threat to the United States. My question: Why does the U.S. insist on setting the potential grounds for war with Iran?"
NOAM CHOMSKY: That’s been going on for years. Right through the Obama years, Iran was regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. And that’s repeated over and over. "All options are open," Obama’s phrase, meaning, if we want to use nuclear weapons, we can, because of this terrible danger to peace.
Actually, we have—there’s a few interesting comments that should be made about this. One is, there also is something called world opinion. What does the world think is the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we know that, from U.S.-run polls, Gallup polls: United States. Nobody even close, far ahead of any other threat. Pakistan, second, much lower. Iran, hardly mentioned.
Why is Iran regarded here as the greatest threat to world peace? Well, we have an authoritative answer to that from the intelligence community, which provides regular assessments to Congress on the global strategic situation. And a couple of years ago, their report—of course, they always discuss Iran. And the reports are pretty consistent. They say Iran has very low military spending, even by the standards of the region, much lower than Saudi Arabia, Israel, others. Its strategy is defensive. They want to deter attacks long enough for diplomacy to be entertained. The conclusion, intelligence conclusion—this is a couple years ago—is: If they are developing nuclear weapons, which we don’t know, but if they are, it would be part of their deterrent strategy. Now, why is the United States and Israel even more so concerned about a deterrent? Who’s concerned about a deterrent? Those who want to use force. Those who want to be free to use force are deeply concerned about a potential deterrent. So, yes, Iran is the greatest threat to world peace, might deter our use of force.
AMY GOODMAN: Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. King giving his "Beyond Vietnam" speech at Riverside Church, where he said the United States is "the greatest purveyor of violence on Earth." Your thoughts today, as we wrap up, and if—in the last 30 seconds?
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, that speech by King was very important, also other speeches he gave at the same time, which have, at the time, seriously harmed his reputation among liberal Northerners. He sharply condemned the war in Vietnam, which was the worst crime since the Second World War.
AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.
NOAM CHOMSKY: The other thing he was doing was trying to create a poor people’s movement, a non-racially separated poor people’s movement.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to do Part 2 of this discussion and post it at democracynow.org. Our guest, Noam Chomsky. I’ll be with him at the First Parish church in Cambridge on April 24th, and then to Denver this weekend, as well as British Columbia.
The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.
 


How will we get over the Trump addiction?
The media circus that is the current administration will come to an end soon, and politics will go back to normal. But what will we do for entertainment?
•    Robert Fisk Independet  Feb 18, 2017
Not long after the Lebanese civil war ended more than a quarter of a century ago, I found my landlord in a depressed mood. He had suffered in the fifteen years of war – part of his family had been “cleansed” from their home in east Beirut – but peace had returned to the ruins of the city, the Mediterranean sloshed opposite our apartment block and in front of the little candy store he ran on the Corniche.
What on earth could be the matter? “It’s so boring, Mr Robert,” he confessed to me one bright morning. In the war, there was always something happening, he explained. It was dramatic. His family was always frightened. But now there was nothing on television, no news, nothing in the papers. Peace had broken out.
Eventually, when Donald Trump departs from us – in however sudden or gentle a way, perhaps even ironically, though that word appears to have lost its meaning since the US inauguration – I suspect we shall all feel the same as my landlord when the Lebanese war came to an end. For the really insidious nature of the Trump presidency, I fear, is not going to be the fury he engenders, the hatred he sows, the nuclear lies he tells, perhaps even the wars he launches, but the enormous withdrawal symptoms that the world will suffer afterwards.
For Trump, let’s face it, is an addiction. Nothing will ever trump it. We all now need our evening fix – a mad press conference, laws hurled out of court, a square-jawed general brought low by an inane conversation with a Russian spy – just one more shot in the arm till the morning. The roller-coaster of Trump imitators has become the equivalent of one for the road.
That’s what disqualifies all the Hitler parallels, even the Mussolini comparisons, although the comical side of Italian fascist imperium is clearly there. It’s not that Trump is no longer terrifying. He should be. Nor that he is mentally unstable – he clearly is. It’s that his performances are so rivetingly zany, so absolutely inside the prison of the absurd that I swear some of the human race will commit suicide when he’s gone.
I’m still not sure why the Trump shows have such depth. Maybe it’s because of the revolting seriousness of all around him. This thing, after all, has a cast of thousands. While the Chief Clown froths in the East Wing, his Attendant Lords blather away at immensely important conferences in Europe, desperately trying to assure the EU, Nato, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the World Bank, Isis, al-Qaeda, you name it, that nothing has changed. Everyone, both the American panjandrums and the European leaders and the Nato generals, even poor Sergei Lavrov, all pretend that this is quite normal. They act the part.
One of them, only slightly less insane than Trump since she is leading her own country over the Brexit cliff, has even told the Chief Lunatic that Her Majesty the Queen is inviting him for a state visit. There has been nothing like this since Alice in Wonderland. Across the globe, they all shake hands and curtsy and grovel and fawn just as they did when Good King Obama ruled the world.
For none of these creatures must give the slightest clue that they know. That’s why the whole thing is so addictive. Everyone – Mad Dog Mattis, Rex Exxon Tillerson, Angela We-Can-Do-This Merkel, Theresa Goodbye May – all have to pretend that absolutely nothing unusual is taking place.
They must not for a moment even hint that they know what we all know: that back at the White House, the President of the United States of America has dressed up in a green smock, stood on his head, smoked a joint in front of CNN and proclaimed that his hutch of performing rabbits are capable of playing Beethoven on three pianos at the same time.
They are a really great team, a fantastic team of rabbits, the kind he’s always promised Americans. If necessary, he’ll set them all on the “bad dude” Muslims. At the moment, the rabbits – all big white-nosed furry beasts who used to like a two-state hutch but maybe prefer a one-state hutch but would settle for whatever hutch makes the other rabbits happy – are sharpening their teeth to plunge them into the necks of CNN editors or Arthur Sulzberger of The New York Times or poor old Jon Sopel or any other beauty to hand.
For do we not all remember the story of the White Rabbit? Noble warriors drew their swords in laughter until the White Rabbit attacked. This was one helluva rabbit. It went for the jugular. Like its master, the Chief Clown. A Great American White Rabbit. Imagine Hillary down there – not in jail, but gasping for air after a White Rabbit attack.
And that’s why the whole thing is so addictive. This is not the ultimate reality show – and it’s not Adolf in the West Wing or Benito in the Rose Garden. It’s Punch and Judy set to Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.
Forget about harmony. Just listen to the percussion. No wonder May, Abe, Netanyahu flee the room once they’ve shaken the hand – or been held by the hand in the case of the Queen of Hearts. It’s John Gielgud or Dame Dench suddenly discovering that they’re not playing Lear or Hamlet but Scissorhands.
Or Lady Macbeth. Was it not she for whom all the perfumes of Arabia would not sweeten her little hand – provided, I suppose, the perfumes weren’t imported from six of seven Muslim nations whose names we all know by heart? Ye gods, my Lord Macbeth would surely use a real dagger on anyone who “unfairly maligned” his “highest quality” bride. She was suffering, according to the Macbeth family doctor, “a great perturbation in nature” because she could not sleep, but this, surely is her husband’s problem. Being immensely tired, he cannot stop. We cannot keep up. He bowls and we are the skittles, toppling over ourselves in mirth and horror. That, too, is the addiction: being beaten over the head and laughing like billy-o as we all fall down. So how will it end?
Well, there’s only one thing more powerful that the Prestige of the President (POP) or the National Interest (NI) and that’s the Self-Importance of the Media (SIM). If POP goes down the tubes, the ultimate SIM card breaks. The reporters suddenly look as pompous, idiotic and dishonest as POP.
For how much longer can our colleagues stand in front of the White House or freeze in front of Nato conferences, parroting to us about what “officials say” (the most overused clause in US media history) with their usual self-assurance and self-regard when we all know that the game is up? For they, too, are still pretending that everything is normal.
But now we know they know nothing – because the President of the United States of America is completely bonkers, crackers, insane, out-of-kilter-in-the-brain and certifiably over the top. He’s not only a disgrace to the nation. Far worse, he’s a disgrace to the press. So it’s obviously in the national interest that he goes.
That means a return to normal. Israel makes the desert bloom, the pesky Palestinians revolt, we sell more weapons to our “moderate” allies in the Middle East, drones smash up wedding parties, hospitals, convoys, and the endless battle against world terror resumes. The US will urge both sides to “exercise restraint”. War clouds loom, there’ll be light at the end of the tunnel and the guns will fall silent. Normal service, as the BBC used to say, will be resumed. My dear landlord, rest assured: sanity will be restored.

 


Pence: US will ‘never’ allow Iran to threaten Israel with nukes
At Munich Security Conference, vice president says nuclear deal has provided Iran with more resources to focus on state-sponsored terrorism
BY TIMES OF ISRAEL STAFF
February 18, 2017, 12:58 pm
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Pence called Tehran “the leading state sponsor of terrorism” and said it continued to destabilize the Middle East.
“Thanks to the end of nuclear-related sanctions under the [nuclear deal] Iran now has additional resources to devote to these efforts,” he said.
“Let me be clear again: Under President Trump the United States will remain fully committed to ensuring that Iran never obtains a nuclear weapon capable of threatening our countries, our allies in the region, especially Israel.”
Organizers of the conference had on Friday rearranged the agenda for their Sunday morning sessions, which would have seen Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman share a panel with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Liberman and Zarif were set to be two of four participants in a session entitled “Old Crises, New Middle East?” The Israeli minister stated that he was looking forward to the meeting, saying he hoped Zarif would stay in the room to hear “exactly what I think about the ayatollahs’ regime in Tehran.”
However, organizers cancelled the 9:45-11:05 a.m. session, and replaced it with a series of separate statements, with Zarif now set to speak an hour before Liberman, and another panel discussion in between them, leaving no likelihood of the two men encountering each other.
Pence Saturday pledged an “unwavering” commitment to transatlantic ties, in an emphatic reassurance to allies including German Chancellor Angela Merkel who pleaded with nations not to go it alone.
Capping a week of whirlwind diplomacy by American officials who have descended on Europe to calm nerves rattled by Donald Trump, Pence underlined the United States’ devotion to its old friends.
“The United States is and will always be your greatest ally. Be assured that President Trump and our people are truly devoted to our transatlantic union,” he told European leaders including Merkel at the conference.
“The promise to share the burden of our defense has gone unfulfilled for too many, for too long and it erodes the very foundation of our alliance,” he warned, stressing that “the time has come to do more”.
At the same time, he did not go further and threaten, as Trump had done, to walk away if the allies failed to pay their way.
The US, he said, will boost defense spending significantly, “to defend our nation and our treaty allies from the known threats of today and the unknown threats of tomorrow”.
“We will meet our obligations to our people to provide for the common defense, and we’ll continue to do our part to support our allies in Europe and in NATO,” he said.
Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete”, his praise for Britain’s decision to leave the European Union as well as his softer approach towards Russia unnerved Washington’s allies.
But over the past week in Europe, key members of his administration have pressed the message that the United States is not retreating into isolation but remains committed to its global role.
At NATO in Brussels on Thursday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said Russia must first “prove itself” and respect international law before there can be any improvement in relations strained to breaking point by Moscow’s Ukraine intervention and annexation of Crimea.
Mattis said the transatlantic bond was “as strong as I’ve ever seen it”, and stressed America remained “rock solid” in support of Article 5 — NATO’s core “one for all, all for one” collective-defence tenet.
Likewise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was cautious in his dealings with Russia.
Following his first sit-down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Bonn on Thursday, Tillerson said the US would cooperate with Moscow but only when doing so “will benefit the American people.”
Exasperated and worried by Trump’s calling into question long-standing foreign policy givens, Europe’s top politicians have warned Washington not to take transatlantic ties for granted.
They work both ways, they said, and benefit the United States as much as Europe.
Merkel on Saturday warned countries not to retreat from the international cooperation which she says is the only way to solve global problems.
“In a year in which we see unimaginable challenges we can either work together or retreat to our individual roles. I hope that we will find a common position,” she said.
This includes working not only with Western partners, but also with Russia if possible and if Moscow once again respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states such as Ukraine, she said.
She said it was “regrettable” that Europe had not managed to reach a stable relationship with Russia over the last 25 years.
“I will not give up on finding a way for better relations with Russia despite our different views on many questions,” she said, hours before Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was due to address the forum.
Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

 


Michael Flynn’s star burns out
The fall of Michael Flynn: more questions than answers

By David Ignatius Opinion writer February 14 at 7:29 PM Washington Post
A strange and circuitous path led retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn toward his fateful telephone contact in late December with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and the flameout of what had been a distinguished military career.
Military and intelligence colleagues who served with Flynn describe him as a brilliant tactician whose work in the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command a decade ago didn’t prepare him for broader challenges as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, from which he was removed in 2014, and national security adviser, the post from which he resigned Monday night.
“In the JSOC world, you think you’re Superman,” said a former Pentagon superior of Flynn’s. After the disappointment at DIA, he said, “Flynn wanted recognition from anyone who would give it to him.” The Russians paid attention, and he reciprocated.
A four-star general who served closely with Flynn sees a painful lesson: “Flynn’s is an advisory tale to naive military officers. Swim with the sharks and you’re sometimes the chum.”
Flynn made his name perfecting the “find, fix, finish” tactics employed by JSOC against al-Qaeda in Iraq. The intelligence haul from one night’s raid would be processed in a few hours, and the leads from cellphones and laptops would drive the next night’s raids.
Those inside JSOC’s super-secret operations felt “we’re conquering the world,” recalled one colleague. Flynn continued to shine as intelligence chief at U.S. Central Command, then at the Joint Staff at the Pentagon and finally in Afghanistan, where I met him. His appointment to head the DIA in 2012 was the culmination of what had been a charmed rise to the top.
Then bad things began to happen, some involving Russia, and Flynn’s path began to veer toward Monday’s catastrophe.
The DIA, a messy agency of nearly 20,000, mostly civilians, was famously the underachiever in the intelligence community. Flynn tried to fix everything at once. He had an ambitious but unrealistic plan for fusing the agency into mission centers. His superiors said no; Flynn went ahead anyway. Employees complained of shouting matches, bad leadership and a demoralized agency.
Along the way, Flynn became enthusiastic about improving liaison with Russia, which he saw as a natural counterterrorism partner. He visited the Russian military-intelligence agency, the GRU, in 2013, and came back advocating greater cooperation in monitoring Syrian chemical weapons. Even after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014, Flynn proposed inviting the intelligence chiefs of its various theater commands to Washington for discussions. His superiors rejected what they saw as a supremely ill-timed proposal.
After Flynn was forced out in 2014, he complained that his ouster reflected disagreements about Middle East strategy. Colleagues at the time say it was simply a story of management failure — a good officer in the wrong job.
An embittered Flynn continued to advocate closer cooperation with Russia — and began issuing strident denunciations of the Obama administration. He told Al Jazeera television in August 2015 that the rise of the Islamic State was a “willful Washington decision.” He told the German magazine Der Spiegel in November 2015 that U.S. military operations in Iraq and Libya had been a “mistake” and a “strategic failure.” These became major themes for Donald Trump, whose campaign Flynn informally began advising in late 2015.
Flynn did something in December 2015 that has haunted him ever since. He gave a paid speech in Moscow at the 10th-anniversary celebration of Russia Today, a global cable network described by U.S. intelligence as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.” The RT interviewer pushed him to say positive things about U.S.-Russian cooperation, and Flynn complied.
“Stop being like two bullies in the playground!” Flynn said in Moscow. “It’s a marriage, whether we like it or not, and that marriage is very, very rocky right now,” he said. In a separate RT interview in Moscow, he urged that the two countries share intelligence and operations centers against Islamic terrorism. Flynn sat next to President Vladimir Putin at a celebratory dinner on that 2015 trip.
Friendly relations continued. During 2016, even as the Russians were mounting what U.S. intelligence described as a covert attack on the presidential election, Flynn had several contacts with Kislyak. The fateful one came in late December, when the two men discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia, even as the Obama administration was expelling 35 diplomats.
Flynn’s fall is a painful story, with many unanswered questions. Perhaps the biggest is why a retired general, schooled in the chain of command, would have talked with Kislyak without consulting his boss, Trump. That’s the White House line, but this investigation of Russiagate is just beginning.
 


Iranian Oscar nominee gets free London screening in snub to US travel ban
The Salesman director Asghar Farhadi, who was hit by ban, says Trafalgar Square event on Oscars night is ‘symbolic of unity’
Nadia Khomami

14 February 2017
The mayor of London will join some of the leading names in British film at a free premiere screening of the Oscar-nominated The Salesman, the Iranian director of which was affected by Donald Trump’s travel ban.
During Academy Awards night on 26 February, Trafalgar Square will be transformed into London’s biggest open-air cinema for the first UK showing of Asghar Farhadi’s drama, hours before the Oscars are handed out in Hollywood.
Leading names from the British film industry, including the Palme d’Or-winning director Mike Leigh, will address an expected audience of up to 10,000 people in central London.
Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, is organising the screening, alongside the actor Lily Cole, the producer Kate Wilson and the film-maker Mark Donne, to coincide with the Oscars and “celebrate the capital’s success as a creative hub and beacon for openness and diversity” after the Brexit vote.
The announcement comes after actors and film-makers including Julie Christie, Kevin Macdonald, Keira Knightley, Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam wrote to the Duke of Westminster to ask for permission to hold a screening outside the US embassy to protest against the US president’s ban on visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.
 The actor Taraneh Alidoosti in a scene from The Salesman. She also vowed to boycott the Oscars in protest at the travel ban. Photograph: Habib Majidi/AP
The Salesman is nominated for best foreign language film at the Oscars and stars Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini, who won best actor at Cannes last year. The film also won best screenplay at Cannes. Farhadi, who won a best foreign language film Oscar for A Separation in 2012, said he would not attend this year’s ceremony even if he were offered special dispensation, in solidarity with those who had been affected by the ban.
Farhadi said the Trafalgar Square screening had great symbolic value. “The gathering of the audience around The Salesman in this famous London square is symbolic of unity against the division and separation of people,” he said.
“I offer my warmest thanks to the mayor of London and the cinema community for this generous initiative. I welcome and appreciate this invaluable show of solidarity.”
Leigh said Farhadi, who he has known since serving with him on the 2012 Berlin film festival jury, was “one of the world’s greatest film-makers”.
“For those of us who make movies about real life, real people and real issues, he is a master, a true inspiration to all of us. We must show solidarity with Asghar and his principles, against divisiveness and hate,” Leigh said.
The London screening will begin at 4.30pm. Curzon Artificial Eye is also showing the film across the country on the same day.
Philip Knatchbull, the chief executive of Curzon, said it was a real privilege to be able to celebrate The Salesman with such a marquee screening. “Curzon is committed to film-makers from across the world who have outward-looking and inclusive voices, and to find common cause in that aim with the mayor of London is tremendous,” he said.
Trump’s executive order, now blocked by US courts, was roundly condemned by the international community, the UN and human rights groups, including the International Rescue Committee and Amnesty International.
The initial letter requesting a US embassy screening, which was redirected to Royal Parks, was also signed by Joanna Natasegara, the producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary The White Helmets, about the volunteer civil defence force operating in Syria.
Natasegara had intended to bring to the ceremony as her guests Raed Saleh, the leader of the White Helmets, and the cinematographer Khaled Khateeb, but despite being nominated for a Nobel peace prize, they would have been denied by Trump’s ban.
Farhadi originally planned to attend the Oscars ceremony to highlight “the unjust circumstances that have arisen for the immigrants and travellers of several countries to the United States”, he wrote to the New York Times. But the conditions that would be attached to a potential entry visa were unacceptable, he said.
The director compared the framing of the ban to the rhetoric of hardliners in Iran. “In order to understand the world, they have no choice but to regard it via an ‘us and them’ mentality, which they use to create a fearful image of ‘them’ and inflict fear in the people of their own countries,” he wrote.
Alidoosti also vowed to boycott the ceremony.


Ignore the tough talk - Trump’s Iran policy will be much like Obama’s
#Diplomacy

Gareth Porter
Tuesday 14 February 2017 11:00 UTC

The first public pronouncements by President Donald Trump's administration on Iran have created the widespread impression that the US will adopt a much more aggressive posture towards the Islamic Republic than under Barack Obama's presidency.
But despite the rather crude warnings to Tehran by now ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and by Trump himself, the Iran policy that has begun to take shape in the administration’s first weeks looks quite similar to Obama's.
The reason is that the Obama administration’s policy on Iran reflected the views of a national security team that adhered to an equally hardline stance as those of the Trump administration. 
Flynn declared on 1 February that the Obama administration had “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions” and suggested that things would be different under Trump. But that rhetoric was misleading, both with regard to the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran and on the options available to Trump going beyond that policy.
The 'malign influence'
The idea that Obama had somehow become chummy with Iran doesn’t reflect the reality of the former administration's doctrine on Iran.
The Obama nuclear deal with Iran angered right-wing extremists, but his nuclear diplomacy was based on trying to coerce Iran to give up as much of its nuclear programme as possible through various forms of pressure, including cyber attacks, economic sanctions and the threat of a possible Israeli attack.
Despite Trump’s rhetoric about how bad the nuclear deal was, he has already decided that his administration will not tear up or sabotage the agreement with Iran, a fact made clear by senior administration officials who briefed the media on the same day as Flynn’s “on notice” outburst. Trump’s team has learned that neither Israel, nor Saudi Arabia wish that to happen.
On the larger issues of Iran’s influence in the Middle East, Obama’s policy largely reflected the views of the permanent national security state, which has regarded Iran as an implacable enemy for decades, ever since the CIA and the US military were at war with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Shia militias in the Strait of Hormuz and Beirut in the 1980s.
 The antagonism that the Trump team has expressed toward Iran’s regional role is no different from what had been said by the Obama administration for years. Secretary of Defense James Mattis has referred to Iran’s “malign influence” and called Iran the “biggest destabilising force” in the region. But Obama and his national security advisers also had talked incessantly about Iran’s “destabilising activities”. 
In 2015, the Obama administration was using phrases like “malign influence” and “malign activities” so often that it was said to have become “Washington’s latest buzzword”.
Different presidents, same policies
Beginning with President Bill Clinton, every administration has accused Iran of being the world’s biggest state sponsor of terrorism, not on the basis of any evidence but as a settled principle of US policy. Starting with the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, the Clinton administration blamed Iran for every terrorist attack in the world even before any investigation had begun.
As I discovered from extended investigations into both the Buenos Aires terror bombing of 1994 and the Khobar Towers bombing of 1996, the supposed evidence of Iranian involvement was either nonexistent or clearly tainted. But neither inhibited the continued narrative of Iran as a terrorist state.
Some Trump advisers reportedly have been discussing a possible presidential directive to the State Department to consider designating the IRGC as a terrorist organisation.
But such a move would fall under the category of political grandstanding rather than serious policy. The IRGC is already subject to sanctions under at least three different US sanctions programmes, as legal expert Tyler Culis has pointed out. Furthermore, the Quds Force, the arm of the IRGC involved in operations outside Iran, has been designated as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist” for nearly a decade.
About the only thing the proposed designation might accomplish is to allow the United States to punish Iraqi officials with whom the Quds Force has been cooperating against the Islamic State group.
The Trump team has indicated its intention to give strong support to Saudi Arabia’s regional anti-Iran policy. But it is now apparent that Trump is not inclined to do anything more militarily against the Assad regime than Obama was. And on Yemen, the new administration is not planning to do anything that Obama did not already do.
When asked whether the administration was “reassessing” the Saudi war in Yemen, a senior official gave a one-word answer: “No”. That indicates that Trump will continue the Obama administration policy of underwriting the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen - providing aerial refuelling, bombs and political-diplomatic support - which is necessary for Riyadh's war.
Both Obama and Trump administrations thus appear to share responsibility for the massive and deliberately indiscriminate bombing of Houthi-controlled cities as well as for the existing and incipient starvation of 2.2 million Yemeni children.
As for Iran’s missile programme, there is no discernible difference between the two administrations. On 1 January, Trump officials called Iran’s late January missile test “destabilising” and “provocative”. But the Obama administration and its European allies had issued a statement in March 2016 calling Iranian missile tests “destabilising and provocative”.
Trump has imposed sanctions for Iran’s alleged violation of the 2015 UN Security Council resolution - despite the fact that the resolution used non-binding language and that Iran’s missiles were not designed to carry nuclear weapons. The Obama administration imposed sanctions for Iran’s allegedly violating a 2005 Bush administration executive order.
Use of force unlikely
However, one may object that this comparison covers only the preliminary outlines of Trump's policy towards Iran, and argue that Washington is planning to step up military pressures, including the possible use of force.
It is true that the possibility of a much more aggressive military policy from the Trump administration cannot be completely ruled out, but any policy proposal involving the threat or use of force would have to be approved by the Pentagon and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and that is very unlikely to happen.
The last time the US contemplated a military confrontation with Iran was in the George W Bush administration. In 2007 Vice-President Dick Cheney proposed that the US attack bases in Iran within the context of the Iranian involvement in the Iraq war against US troops. But the secretary of defence, Robert M Gates, supported by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed off the effort by insisting that Cheney explain how the process of escalation would end.
There was a very good reason why the plan didn’t pass muster with the Pentagon and the JCS. The time when the US could attack Iran with impunity had already passed. In 2007, any attack on Iran would have risked the loss of much of the US fleet in the Gulf to Iranian anti-ship missiles.
Today, the cost to the US military would be far higher, because of the greater capability of Iran to retaliate with missiles and conventional payloads against US bases in Qatar and Bahrain.
In the end, the main contours of US policy toward Iran have always reflected the views and the interests of the permanent national security state far more than the ideas of the president. That fact has ensured unending US hostility toward Iran, but it also very likely means continuity rather than radical shifts in policy under Trump. 
 


 Sweden’s ‘feminist’ government criticized for wearing headscarves in Iran
By Adam Taylor February 13 at 11:50 AM Washington Post
Over the weekend, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven led a Swedish delegation to Iran. Lofven was received warmly by the Islamic Republic's political elite — Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei tweeted positively about his meeting with Lofven, adding that Sweden had a “good reputation” in Iran — and the two countries agreed upon a number of trade-related deals.
Back home, however, coverage of the Swedish government delegation's trip to Tehran has focused on something else. As Sweden's media noted Monday, a number of female officials who joined the trip, including Trade Minister Ann Linde, chose to wear Islamic headscarves while in Iran.
According to Expressen newspaper, there were 11 women on the trip out of 15 total in the Swedish delegation. The women were photographed wearing headscarves “almost all of the time” they were in Iran, with the exception of a number of events that took place at the Swedish Embassy.
By law, women are required to cover their hair and wear loose-fitting clothes when they appear in public in Iran, a country governed by a conservative Islamic elite. Many choose to wear loose-fitting hijabs, like the one worn by Linde in the picture above.
These rules require international visitors to dress modestly even if they are only in the country for a short time.
Lofven's Swedish government describes itself as a “feminist government,” and it has spoken of the need for a “feminist” foreign policy. Hillel Neuer, executive director of U.N. Watch, a human rights group and frequent critic of Iran , noted this apparent contradiction in a tweet shared Sunday night.
Walk of shame: Women of Sweden's "first feminist government in the world" don hijab as they walk past Iran's Rouhani https://t.co/aeEFgibVhV pic.twitter.com/urHrtObkYv
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) February 12, 2017
Masih Alinejad, a journalist and activist who started a Facebook page that invited Iranian women to share photographs of themselves without a hijab, also criticized the Swedish delegation.
“By actually complying with the directives of the Islamic Republic, Western women legitimize the compulsory hijab law,” Alinejad wrote on Facebook. “This is a discriminatory law and it's not an internal matter when the Islamic Republic forces all non-Iranian women to wear hijab as well.”
Alinejad later shared to Facebook a recent image of Sweden's deputy prime minister Isabella Lovin signing a document with an all-female staff behind her. That image recently went viral, as many viewed it as a criticism of President Trump's abortion policies. “Trump's words on women are worthy of condemnation; so are the discriminatory laws in Iran,” Alinejad wrote.
Speaking to Expressen, Linde said she had not wanted to wear a headscarf. “But it is law in Iran that women must wear the veil. One can hardly come here and break the laws,” she explained.
Other Swedish politicians were more critical. Jan Björklund, leader of the opposition Liberals party, told Aftonbladet newspaper that the headscarf is “a symbol of oppression for women in Iran” and that the Swedish government should have demanded that Linde and other female members of the delegation be exempted from wearing it.
Iran's rules on female attire often draw the ire of international visitors — just last year, U.S. chess star Nazi Paikidze made waves after refusing to travel to Iran to play in the world championships because she would not wear a hijab. For female politicians, it represents a bigger challenge, however, as flouting the rules or refusing to travel to Iran could damage relations with the country.
Almost all female politicians who visit Iran cover their hair when they appear in public, but in some cases that has not stopped criticism. Marietje Schaake, a Dutch member of the European Parliament, was criticized by Iranian conservatives for wearing relatively tight clothes and a headscarf that did not cover her neck during a visit to the country in 2015.
The year before that, Italy's then foreign minister, Emma Bonino, was reported to have briefly not worn a headscarf after arriving in the country, which resulted in a back and forth with the conservative Iranian press.
Questions over Islamic attire on diplomatic visits are not limited to Iran. In 2015, first lady Michelle Obama was pictured without a headscarf in Saudi Arabia, where conservative religious dress is customary but not required by law for foreigners. While other female dignitaries visiting Saudi Arabia in the past had also chosen to not cover their hair, Obama's attire sparked criticism on social media from a small but vocal group of Saudi conservatives.
Linde told Aftonbladet that she will “of course” not be wearing a veil when she visits Saudi Arabia next month.


There's a reason why not a single Arab dictator has called out Donald Trump so far
If the President toured these Arab dictatorships, he’d feel very much at home. Great security, fantastic police, lots of torture, alternative facts, extremely dodgy elections and massive economic projects which damage the environment but prove absolutely useless
•    Robert Fisk   Independent      Feb 13, 2017
You’d think, given the harsh anti-Muslim Trump administration in Washington, that the Arab kings and dictators would be lining up to condemn the ruthless sectarian laws being drawn up by an American President who approves of torture. All that claptrap about “bad dudes” and “Islamic terror”. Pretty sinister stuff. Not a bit of it. The potentates have been overwhelming the White House switchboard with calls, both Egypt’s Sissi and the Gulf Arabs. The Emirates actually expressed approval of Trump’s policies. The Jordanian monarch, who of course got to Washington first, is being followed in quick succession to the Trump throne room by Benjamin Netanyahu.
It’s quite a palaver. The Europeans squirm and tut-tut and even meekly condemn the new US government, while the principal victims of the new Trump regime – will we not, after all, soon be calling it a “regime”? – stay either fawningly silent or nod approval at his anti-Muslim shenanigans. Maybe it was just as well that poor old Mahmoud Abbas of “Palestine” didn’t get his three phone calls returned.
As we all predicted – and it performed on cue – Isis reacted by condemning Trump. So did al-Qaeda, whose reference to the “fool” in the White House might be the first time in modern history when the reaction of those who committed the 9/11 crimes against humanity was precisely the same as about half the people of the United States of America. The Algerians also congratulated Trump, by the way – not long after congratulating Bashar al-Assad for his tremendous (their words) “victory against terrorism” in eastern Aleppo. But there’s more than meets the eye in all this.
Sure, Isis can gloat that Trump really is anti-Muslim and that the corrupt Arab dictators are just as heedless of their people. But the response of the Arab regimes to the new American regime – yes, let’s refer to it as that – is also indicative of how close they all are. Most Arab potentates have been feeding their populations for years on “fake news” and “alternative facts”. They were always promising final victory against the “Zionist entity” while scattering their fury against their allies. The Saudis have repeatedly attacked Iraq and Syria, the Emirates and Egypt have bombed Libya, the Saudis and Emirates have assaulted Yemen.
It’s a weird and odd fact that both Arabs and Trump use clichés. If it’s not the “bad dude”/“Islamic fascism” mantra of the Trump regime, it’s the “only-we-stand-against-Islamic-terror” nonsense of the Arab regimes. Dictators and violent governments in the Middle East have been trading this garbage for years. We’ve had the Sadats and Moubaraks and Sissis and the Assads and the Saddams and the Gulf Kings all bellowing fantasies at their own people and threatening anyone who disagrees with them.
Indeed, the cowardly, pro-government press of much of the Middle East looks very much like the kind of compliant journalism Trump believes in. For Egyptian State television or Syrian TV, watch Fox News. Arab security cops have the kind of powers that the US government envies and would like its own police to possess. In the Middle East, minorities are repressed, judges are brow-beaten, politicians threatened – and its rulers believe in torture. Remind you of anyone? Welcome to TrumpWorld!
I remember how old Mubarak of Egypt would provide constantly fake elections for his people – a subject dear to Trump himself – and then receive presidential congratulations, from Republican and Democrat alike, after winning the poll by well over 90 per cent. Sean Spicer, Trump’s extremely odd amanuensis, and his luckless aides have their counterparts in every Arab ministry of information, temples of truth whose “Spicers” are forced to repeat the fantasies and petty anger of their masters. The parallel is complete, since Arab ministries of information contain absolutely no information at all.
I’d have to say that since Trump and TrumpWorld are almost interchangeable, there is one way in which they do clearly deviate. The Arabs are often accused of being anti-Semitic because they are anti-Israeli. But Arabs are also a Semitic people. Given Trump’s refusal to mention Jews on Holocaust Memorial Day and his evident distaste for six Arab Muslim nations, the US regime might be accused of being anti-Semitic about both Jews and Arabs.
But let’s be fair. If Trump toured those Arab dictatorships not currently at war, he’d feel very much at home. Great security, fantastic police, lots of torture, extremely dodgy elections and massive economic projects which damage the environment but prove absolutely useless. And if he joins his sons Eric and Donald Junior in opening the Trump International Golf Club in Dubai, why – then Trump will actually be in TrumpWorld.
The Arab potentates and kings and vicious autocrats really should gather in Washington for their next summit. They’d find the atmosphere quite familiar. Not to mention the President.

 


Trump Administration Committed to Upholding Iran Deal, EU Official Says
Federica Mogherini says, after meetings with U.S. officials, that the two sides are also united in upholding Ukraine-related sanctions on Russia
By
Felicia Schwartz
Updated Feb. 10, 2017 6:57 p.m. ET Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—Senior U.S. officials have given assurances to the European Union that the Trump administration is committed to the Iranian nuclear deal, the bloc’s foreign-policy chief said Friday.
The EU’s high representative in charge of foreign policy, Federica Mogherini, speaking to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other senior administration officials on Thursday, said the officials told her they would uphold the nuclear deal.
“I was reassured by what I heard in the meetings on the intention to stick to the full implementation of the agreement and all its parts and this I think is a very important statement,” she said.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly denounced the nuclear accord as a “terrible deal” and threatened during the election campaign to pull out of the agreement.
While his national-security cabinet picks suggested in their hearings that they supported strict enforcement of the deal, the Trump administration has signaled it will take additional steps to confront Iran. His national security adviser, Mike Flynn, last week said he was putting Iran “on notice” after it conducted a missile test, and the administration imposed new sanctions.
The deal, under which Iran agreed with six world powers to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, took effect last year.
Ms. Mogherini, who also met with Mr. Flynn and Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, said the accord isn’t a bilateral or multilateral agreement but “belongs to the international community as a whole.”
“For me it was extremely important to stress the need to stick to the full implementation of the nuclear deal as we see is happening now,” she said. “The deal is working.”
The State Department declined to provide a readout of the meeting between Mr. Tillerson and Ms. Mogherini.
Ms. Mogherini said administration officials also agreed on the need to keep Ukraine-related sanctions in place against Russia until a two-year-old cease-fire agreement for the conflict is fully implemented.
“We agreed on the need to have full implementation of the Minsk agreement and on the fact that sanctions are linked to the full implementation of that agreement,” she said, referring to the 2015 cease-fire and peace agreements between Ukraine, Russia and pro-Russia separatists is eastern Ukraine.
U.S. officials have previously said Ukraine sanctions against Russia would remain in place, although the White House has said it may re-evaluate separate sanctions imposed on Russia by President Barack Obama after U.S.intelligence findings that Moscow was responsible for election-related computer hacking during the 2016 political campaign.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Wednesday reiterated comments made a week earlier by the administration’s United Nations ambassador, Nikki Haley, who criticized Russian meddling in Ukraine and backed the continuation of sanctions related to that conflict.
Ms. Mogherini said Mr. Tillerson would travel next week to Bonn, Germany, for a meeting of foreign ministers from the group of 20 world powers. The State Department wouldn’t confirm Mr. Tillerson’s travel plans.
Mr. Tillerson, as chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp., had opposed sanctions against Russia. Last month, during his Senate confirmation hearing, he said that the cease-fire agreement reached in 2014 in the Belarus capital of Minsk hasn’t been fully implemented and that he would support providing lethal weapons to Ukraine in response to Russia’s move to annex Crimea.
Mr. Trump said before he was inaugurated that he would support lifting sanctions imposed on Russia for its annexation of Crimea in exchange for a nuclear-arms reduction deal with Russia. Those sanctions are separate from a set of measures linked to the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
Ms. Mogherini said she also discussed the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinian. She said before her trip that she was going to seek clarity on Washington’s position on the Middle East peace process.
She said Friday that there were gaps between the two sides and that she reiterated the EU’s commitment to creating the conditions necessary for the Israelis and Palestinians to come together to reach a two-state solution.
“I think we have space for common work on this,” she said.
She also said she warned of the possible fallout from moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which Mr. Trump had said during his campaign that he would do.

 


The Guardian
•     Iranians turn out in force for rallies after call for Trump response
Iran’s president says large crowds at events marking anniversary of 1979 revolution reflect anger towards new US leadership

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent
Friday 10 February 2017 14.15 GMT Last modified on Friday 10 February 2017 14.38 GMT
Rallies in Iran marking the anniversary of the 1979 revolution have turned into a display of public anger towards Donald Trump.
Thousands of people sympathetic to the ruling establishment took to the streets of Tehran and other cities on Friday to participate in state-sponsored celebrations of the Islamic revolution victory day. Some brought “Death to America” signs and Trump effigies and set fire to US and Israeli flags.
The rallies and their anti-American sentiment are common in Iran around this time of year, but have taken on an extra bite after the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, thanked the US president for “making our life easy” and showing “the real face of America”, and urged people to come out on Friday in big numbers to “respond to his words”.
Late last month Trump imposed travel restrictions on nationals from seven majority-Muslim countries including Iran and said he was putting Iran “on notice” because of a recent ballistic missile test.

On Friday Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, a relatively moderate figure who secured a nuclear deal with the west in 2015, addressed the crowd in Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square. The choice of speaker suggested Iran’s religious leaders wanted to project a less antagonistic approach than in previous years, when more hardline figures have taken the stage.
Rouhani said the large turnout was a response to “false remarks of the new White House rulers”. “Some inexperienced figures in the region and America are threatening Iran,” he said, referring to Trump and his regional Arab allies. “They should know that the language of threats has never worked with Iran.
“Our nation is vigilant and will make those threatening Iran regret it. They should learn to respect Iran and Iranians. We will strongly confront any warmongering policies.”
Qassem Suleimani, the head of Iran’s Quds force, the external arm of the elite Revolutionary Guards, was seen among the crowd.

Some demonstrators tried to differentiate between the US political leadership and the American people. “American people are welcome and invited to visit Iran,” said one sign. “Down with the US regime, long live US people,” said another.
Iranians used the hashtag #LoveBeyondFlags on Twitter to express gratitude for Americans who opposed the travel ban.
On 1 February 1979 Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic revolution, returned to Tehran from exile in Paris, two weeks after the Shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, had fled Iran. The Iranian military, which was under US influence, soon surrendered, and within months Khomeini was declared the supreme leader of a new Islamic Republic.
Relations with the US were tense from the start, because America was closely identified with the Shah’s regime, and in November 1979 links with Washington broke down completely when a group of students stormed the US embassy and took 52 diplomats hostage.
Direct talks between Iran and the US were held under the Obama administration, but relations have again become frosty since Trump took power.

 


Netanyahu’s hysterical rhetoric on Iran seeks to divert attention from West Bank settlement building
Talk of a ‘two-state solution’ remains nothing more than a convenient fig leaf for Israeli authorities
• Patrick Cockburn
• Monday 6 February 2017 23:07 BST Independent

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave Theresa May a frightening account during their meeting of the threat posed by Iranian aggression to Israel and everybody else. In Mr Netanyahu’s eyes, Iran is a much more dangerous enemy than Isis or al-Qaeda, seeking “to annihilate Israel, it seeks to conquer the Middle East, it threatens Europe, it threatens the West, it threatens the world.”
Even by Mr Netanyahu’s standards the rhetoric sounds excessive and is probably motivated by a wish to divert attention from Israeli settlement building on the West Bank. Within a few days of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President, Israel announced the construction of a further 2,500 housing units on the West Bank. Though the Trump administration expressed mild discontent, Israel will probably be spared more vigorous protests by Washington.
Mr Netanyahu knows that senior members of the new administration have themselves been denouncing Iran in similarly apocalyptic terms as himself. On Saturday, the US Defence Secretary James Mattis called Iran “the single biggest state sponsor of terrorism in the world”, though he added that it was not necessary for the US to deploy more military forces to counter Iran. On the previous day, the US had imposed new though limited sanctions over an Iranian ballistic missile test.
Fresh Israeli settlement building on the West Bank usually provokes cries internationally that the prospect of a “two-state solution” to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians is being eroded or destroyed. But in reality such a solution has long been dead and buried because of the disparity in political, diplomatic and military strength between the two sides. Israel has no reason to compromise and the Palestinian Authority leadership, decrepit and authoritarian, has virtually no leverage or alternative options because of its long-standing dependence on Israeli security backing.
Israel and the Sunni Arab states of the Gulf led by Saudi Arabia are relieved to have a more sympathetic president in the White House and glad that Mr Obama has gone. The administration has adopted a much more belligerent anti-Iranian tone, but is evidently not going to tear up the deal on Iran’s nuclear programme agreed by President Obama. US policy in Iraq and Syria is directed primarily towards eliminating Isis and al-Qaeda-type groups using US and allied air power in support of local allies on the ground, notably the Iraqi armed forces in Iraq and the Syrian Kurds in Syria.
Iranian influence in the region is increasing simply because it leads what is essentially a Shia coalition of states and movements – Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon – that is winning the war in Syria in alliance with Russia. In Iraq, the US and Iran have long had a strange relationship which is a mixture of cooperation and rivalry. The assent of Washington and Tehran is in practice required before there is a new Iraqi prime minister.
Both Mr Netanyahu and Ms May are somewhat isolated internationally and want to take advantage of a more fluid situation in Washington under Mr Trump, but they do not know quite what direction it will take. The most important US policy decisions in Iraq and Syria are unlikely to be unstitched because they are working well and Isis is under strong pressure.
More Israeli settlement building around Jerusalem and on the West Bank undermines the idea that a “two-state solution” is feasible, but it has long been nothing more than a convenient fig leaf. A more sympathetic administration in Washington will increase pressure from the far-right inside Israel to move towards annexation of all or part of the West Bank, but real change is unlikely.
 


Asia & Pacific
China protests U.S. sanctions on Iran, but sees ‘clouds of war’ dispersing over South China Sea
By Simon Denyer February 6 at 10:47 AM Washington Post
BEIJING — China said Monday it had lodged a formal protest with the United States over a decision to impose new sanctions targeting Iran, which affect a handful of Chinese companies and individuals.
The state-run Xinhua news agency said the sanctions cast a shadow over the prospects for a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear issue and called them a “ticking time bomb” for peace and stability in the entire Middle East.
At the same time, though, Beijing’s concerns about the new Trump administration appear to have been somewhat calmed by comments regarding the South China Sea made by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
After other Trump administration officials hinted at the possibility of a naval blockade of China’s artificial islands there, Mattis called for diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute and played down the need for U.S. military maneuvers in the contested sea.
Mattis’s comments, during a tour of Japan and South Korea last week, were a “mind-soothing pill” that had “dispersed the clouds of war that many feared were gathering over the South China Sea,” the official English-language China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Monday.
“Mattis has inspired optimism here that things may not be as bad as previously portrayed,” the newspaper said.
While warning that the U.S. stance toward South Korea and Japan could jeopardize regional security, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the remarks about the South China Sea were “worthy of affirmation.”
The Iran-related sanctions were imposed Friday after Tehran conducted a ballistic missile test. They affect 25 people and entities allegedly involved in helping Iran develop its ballistic missile program or in supporting groups that the United States considers terrorist, such as Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah militant group.
They include two Chinese companies and three Chinese individuals, who are now blocked from the U.S. financial system or dealings with U.S. companies. Foreign companies and individuals are also prohibited from dealing with them at risk of being blacklisted by the United States.
On Monday, Lu said that Beijing had lodged a formal protest.
“We have consistently opposed any unilateral sanctions,” Lu told a regular news conference. “The sanctions will not help in enhancing trust among the different parties involved and will not help in resolving international problems.”
China has close economic and diplomatic ties with Tehran but also played an important role in a landmark 2015 deal to curb the nation’s nuclear program.
Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Bahram Qasemi, described the Trump administration as “still in an unstable stage” but insisted that Iran did not conduct the recent missile launch to test the new White House.
“Iran’s missile test was not a message to the new U.S. government,” he was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency. “There is no need to test Mr. Trump as we have heard his views on different issues in recent days. . . . We know him quite well.”
Iran says its missile launches do not violate U.N. resolutions since the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads. The Trump administration, however, views the launches as provocative and has vowed to curb Iran’s missile program.
Executives from the two Chinese companies included on the list denied doing anything wrong.
Yue Yaodong, an executive at Cosailing Business Trading in the eastern city of Qingdao, said his firm was “collapsing,” with his account at the Agricultural Bank of China frozen, a shipping company refusing to accept his goods and clients abandoning him.
“We have not done any business with Iran for three to four years,” he said. “There have been some Iranian customers coming to us asking prices, but we have not conducted real business. Go search the customs record.”
He said his company sells items for everyday use, as well as porcelain, hydraulic parts, and motors for treadmills, but he said it was only a small, private firm.
“I am so lost. Both the United States and China are sanctioning me,” he said. “There is no way to do business now, I don’t know what our little company did wrong.”
An export manager at Ningbo New Century Import and Export Co., based in the eastern city of Ningbo, told Reuters that the company had only carried out “normal” exports to Iran but did not elaborate.
U.S. relations with China have hit a distinctly rocky patch since President Trump took office, with the new president seeing the government in Beijing as more of a threat than a partner.
Indeed, since the inauguration, Trump has yet to speak to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, despite talking to at least 18 other world leaders.
 


The Guardian
Iranian Oscar contender: I'll boycott awards over Trump's 'racist' visa ban
Taraneh Alidoosti, who stars in nominated film The Salesman, joins voices condemning Donald Trump’s reported plans for ban on people from Muslim countries

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Iran correspondent
Friday 27 January 2017 01.10 GMT
The lead actor in an Iranian drama nominated for an Oscar in the best foreign language film category has said she will boycott this year’s ceremony over Donald Trump’s expected decision to impose visa bans on Iranians.
Taraneh Alidoosti, who takes a central role in Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman about a couple whose relationship is thrown into disarray after an intruder surprises her in the shower, said she considered the blanket ban on her fellow countrymen to be racist. She would boycott the awards ceremony, the actor said, even if she was excluded from the ban – despite it being the first time she has qualified to attend.
“Trump’s visa ban for Iranians is racist,” she tweeted. “Whether this will include a cultural event or not, I won’t attend the #AcademyAwards 2017 in protest.”
Restrictions on all Iranian nationals entering the US are part of Donald Trump’s expected new measures against seven Muslim-majority countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The bans have not yet been confirmed but a draft executive order obtained by journalists on 25 January showed a decision was imminent.
Alidoosti recently starred in a popular Iranian online TV series set in the 1950swhich has echoes in politics today. Shahrzad, the most expensive production of its kind in Iran, brought Iranian lifestyle under the late Shah to the screen, depicting snooker clubs, women and men partying together, cabarets and drinking alcohol.
The reports about the visa bans have prompted outrage in Iran, dominating newspaper front pages in Tehran and drawing huge reactions online. Iranians describe the measures as discriminatory and observers warn that they could alienate ordinary Iranians, who are among the most pro-American people in the Middle East.
On 24 January, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) said in a statement that it was against a blanket ban based on nation of origin. “Even if this were the right approach, it is notable that the list doesn’t include Saudi Arabia and would have done nothing to prevent 9/11 or the other terrorist attacks committed by radical Wahhabi jihadists in the US. But it does include Iran – from which no national has committed a terrorist act in America.”
7NIAC condemned the move and said: “This is dangerous, as it pits Americans against Americans while undermining the very principles of inclusivity and tolerance that define America. We will not be silent, and will use every resource at our disposal to fight these shameful actions and protect the values and people who make America great.”
By announcing the new restrictions, President Trump would be implementing the “most shameful and discriminatory promises he made on the campaign trail”, NIAC said, before adding: “We never imagined the US would become a country that bars its doors and formally condones xenophobia.”
Other Iranian voices have weighed in. Ahmad Sadri, Iranian-American professor of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College, in Illinois, asked: “How many Muslims countries where Mr Trump owns a tower or a golf course are on his list?”
Sadri said: “From this day forward, Islamophobia is no longer a mere racist sentiment in America. Today, discrimination against Muslims is [becoming] a legally enforced government policy. The cover is, of course, counterterrorism. Mr Trump says he is worried about ‘radical Islamic terror’. One would believe that if one would [also] believe that Nazis denouncing ‘Jewish bankers’ they were talking about finance.”
Sadri added: “Why are some affluent and friendly Muslim countries (most tainted by the scourge of terrorism) exempted from this ban? Is the exclusion a matter of political convenience, as in the past? Or does it have to do with the president’s financial empire?”
Farhadi, who directed Alidoosti in The Salesman, is one of Iran’s best-known film-makers. His 2012 film A Separation won the best foreign language Oscar, becoming the first movie ever to take an Academy Award to Iran, which prompted nationwide celebrations.
Farhadi, who has not yet commented on whether he would attend this year’s ceremony, used his Oscar speech in 2012 to protest against measures that isolated Iran, saying: “At the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians, the name of their country, Iran, is spoken here through her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.”

 


This is the one thing Donald Trump, Syria's Bashar al-Assad and President al-Sisi in Egypt have in common
Crowds matter. When the Egyptian army staged its coup, Sisi’s friend Blair said it had done so at 'the will of the people'
•    Robert Fisk  Thursday 26 January 2017  Independent
       
           
               
            
   

Crowds attended the inauguration ceremony to swear in US President Donald Trump – but how many were in attendance? Reuters
We reporters love crowd figures. The bigger the mob, the better the story. Politicians love them too. The greater the masses, the greater the popularity. Ask not who said: “I’m like, wait a minute. I made a speech. I looked out, the field was, it looked like a million, million and a half people.” Ah, those millions.
Back in 2011, the crowds in Tahrir Square were in their hundreds of thousands. A million Egyptians – that's the figure Al Jazeera went for. Or maybe it was a million and a half people in central Cairo. They helped to overthrow Hosni Mubarak – with the help of the army, of course, the people’s protector. Experts thought 300,000 was the greatest number of Egyptians you could cram into the Tahrir district. But what the hell? It was a revolution.
So Mohamed Morsi won the first democratic election in modern Egyptian history, but two years later the crowds were back in the streets of the Arab world’s most populated nation. Now they wanted the overthrow of Morsi and the strong hand of the people’s protector, the army. They produced a reported 22 million signatures on a youth movement protest petition. And they got General, later Field Marshal, later still President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. His publicists then announced that his coup d'état had been supported by protestors who took part in “the largest demonstrations in human history”. They touted the total cross-country crowds as 33 million, more than a third of the entire Egyptian population. This was fantastical, but obsessive.
No wonder that when Donald Trump met Sisi last year, he pronounced the Egyptian leader “a fantastic guy”. And let’s not forget that Obama’s administration went along with the utterly unverified signatures on that infamous ‘petition’. Hillary Clinton’s own State Department declared that the US could not reverse the will of the “22 million people who spoke out [sic] and had their voices heard”. But it was the scale of the 33 millions that the military used to claim legitimacy. When the BBC reported this Hollywood-style exaggeration, Sisi’s acolytes requoted the BBC as authenticating the fantasy.
The BBC’s Arabic service had some doubts. Only “tens of thousands” had massed for Morsi’s overthrow. But the damage was done. A local Egyptian television channel stated, “CNN says 33 million people were in the streets today. BBC says the biggest gathering in history.” The BBC authenticated no such figure, as journalist Max Blumenthal – one of the only American writers to seriously question this ballyhoo – pointed out.
Then a single anonymous “military official”, who may or may not have existed, claimed that 17 million had protested at Morsi’s rule and demanded new elections. Though slightly less ambitious a figure than 22 million or 33 million, this statistic was also delusional, an “alternative fact” if ever there was one. But step forward a man who understood personal popularity and who craved admiration and who also, no doubt, thought Sisi “a fantastic guy”. This eminent statesman then really did tell us that “17 million people on the street is not the same as an election – but it is an awesome manifestation of people power”. Yes, it was Tony Blair.
“Alternative facts” again. But what would you expect of Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara, who gave us weapons of mass destruction and 45-minute warnings and who did not, apparently, notice the million Brits (according to the BBC) who marched on British streets in 2003 because they did not want to invade Iraq?
The 2013 Egyptian figure dipped briefly to 14 million. But even that was pretty “alternative”. An Egyptian blogger worked out that if each Cairo protestor occupied 0.45 square metres of body room, the total number of pro-Sisi demonstrators you could fit into the centre of Egyptian cities was only 2.8 million.
Pretty measly. Not even twice the size of Trump’s million and a half. But let’s stay with Trump’s million for a moment. For when Lebanese protestors wanted to condemn the murder of their ex-prime minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, hundreds of thousands of them turned out in central Beirut and demanded the withdrawal of the Syrian army from their country. Reporters liked to call this the ‘Cedar Revolution’. Were there 500,000 Lebanese demonstrators, as AP suggested? Or between 800,000 and 1.2 million, as others proclaimed? Let’s say a million – although Hezbollah produced a rally of perhaps half a million (possibly 800,000) a few days later in support of Syria.
As Washington rounded on Damascus, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took umbrage at the anti-Syrian protestors. The Cedar Revolution was anyway a title invented not by the Lebanese but by a US State Department official. Assad complained that his Beirut antagonists were fewer in number and talked of camera ‘bias’ and spoke with anger of zoom lenses. “Zoom out and count,” read the next posters carried by the anti-Syrian protestors. At Trump’s inaugural, of course – and at Obama’s first inaugural with its larger numbers – the cameras didn’t ‘zoom’ at all.
But you could see what Trump’s weird spokesman meant when he said that this was “the largest audience ever to witness an inauguration”. Whatever the final results of the US election that gave his master victory, Sean Spicer was untruthfully saying what his master truthfully wanted to hear: that the will of the people must be done. Crowds matter. When the Egyptian army staged its coup, Sisi’s friend Blair did actually say that it had done so at “the will of the people”.
Maybe crowd figures are taking the place of public opinion polls – which long ago took the place of elections in popular imagination – and that the magic million (or million and a half) is the new obsession of American presidents as it has been the obsession of Arab presidents for years. Zoom in on Trump. But let’s not get obsessive about him. All he was saying is that he had seen “an awesome manifestation of people power”.
 


In Iran, Shock and Bewilderment Over Trump Visa Crackdown
By THOMAS ERDBRINK and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN JAN. 27, 2017
New York Times
TEHRAN — Families, businesspeople, athletes and tourists from seven countries in the Middle East and Africa found their travel plans — and even their futures — in a state of suspension on Friday after President Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring thousands from obtaining visas to travel to the United States.
The order is expected to freeze almost all travel to the United States by citizens from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for at least 90 days. Three of those countries are considered sponsors of terrorism (Iran, Sudan and Syria), and three are designated countries of concern (Libya, Somalia and Yemen).
Passport-holders from those countries, who have American visas but are outside the United States, will not be permitted to return.
“We only want to admit those who will support our country and love deeply our people,” Mr. Trump said on Friday before signing the order at the Pentagon. “We will never forget the lessons of 9/11, nor the heroes who lost their lives at the Pentagon.”
 (The 19 hijackers implicated in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack came from Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. None of those countries will be subject to what Mr. Trump described as “new vetting measures.”)
During the 90-day period, the Trump administration will assess if the foreign governments on the list are providing enough information about citizens seeking visas to enable the United States to assess whether they pose a terrorism risk. If the governments do not comply, they will be given 60 days to do so; failing that, their citizens will be barred from entering the United States.
Government reaction to the order has been cautious. But there is little doubt that the demand for information will be a challenge for Iran, which sends far more people to the United States each year, around 35,000, than any other country on the list.
While Iran willingly allows its citizens to travel to the United States, it is ideologically opposed to sharing information with Washington. But if it does not, many of its citizens will be cut off from visiting relatives who are among the estimated one million Iranian-Americans living in America.
The visa ban will provide an early indication of where relations between Tehran and the Trump administration are headed, one analyst said.
]




Trump will regard the Iranian reaction as a test,” said Farshad Ghorbanpour, who is close to the government of President Hassan Rouhani. “If Iran doesn’t comply, they won’t do so either on other issues. We will see in 30 days.”
Another analyst doubted the government would comply with the order.
“We are not obliged to give information about our citizens to the Trump administration,” said Hamidreza Taraghi, considered a hard-liner. “Such a move would be unjustifiable.”
In the United States, Americans of Iranian descent expressed shock and dismay at news of Mr. Trump’s impending policy change, and were particularly concerned about their relatives and friends in Iran.
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, a Washington-based advocacy group, said many Iranian citizens with valid green cards and American visas were distraught. Those outside the United States are fretting they will not be allowed in, and those already in the country fear they will not be able to leave, even temporarily, because they will be barred from returning.
“There is a sense of bewilderment, as well as a sense of injustice,” over why Iran was even included on the list of targeted countries, Mr. Parsi said. No Iranian has been accused of an attack on the American homeland. By contrast, he said, the Sept. 11 attackers included citizens from countries which are not on the list — and “the United States has produced more ISIS fighters than Iran has.”
Iran’s most popular actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, announced on Twitter that she was canceling her trip to the Academy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles on Feb. 26, after reports that Mr. Trump was about to sign the sweeping executive order.
Ms. Alidoosti plays a leading role in ‘‘The Salesman,’’ directed by the acclaimed Iranian director Asghar Farhadi and nominated for best foreign film. She almost certainly could have obtained a visa as a ‘‘culturally unique artist,’’ but said she no longer felt like making the trip.
“This is not about me or the Academy Awards, it’s about having a discussion about this decision,” Ms. Alidoosti said. “This is such a bizarre ban, it is uprooting people’s lives in ways not imaginable.”
In 2015, according to the Department of Homeland Security, a total of 35,266 nonimmigrant visas were granted to Iranians to enter the United States, compared with 21,381 for Iraq; 16,010 for Syria; 5,549 for Yemen; 4,792 for Sudan; 2,879 for Libya and 359 for Somalia.

 


Financial Times
Iranian oil tankers return to European waters
Ships set to arrive in Rotterdam next month are first since sanctions eased
January 26, 2017
by: David Sheppard
Supertankers from Iran’s state-owned oil fleet are sailing to Europe for the first time since sanctions were eased last year, as one of the world’s biggest crude shippers moves to step up deliveries.
The National Iranian Tanker Company currently has two giant vessels called ‘Snow’ and ‘Huge’ steaming towards the storage and trading port of Rotterdam after loading at Kharg Island earlier this month.
While European refiners have been taking small cargoes of Iranian crude since the loosening of sanctions linked to the nuclear deal with Tehran last year, these are the first vessels operated by the NITC rather than independent shippers. Each of the very large crude carriers (VLCCs) are capable of carrying more than 2m barrels of oil.
Sirus Kianersi, NITC managing director, said last week that there had been a “resolution“ of the insurance and international certification issues that had delayed the Iranian oil shipper from sending its own vessels to European ports.
Before 2012, when co-ordinated western sanctions on Iran’s oil exports came into force, NITC was one of the world’s largest tanker operators with about 65 vessels.
The two tankers are currently off Africa having rounded the Cape of Good Hope last week, according to satellite tanker tracking. The ‘Huge’ vessel is south west of Liberia while ‘Snow’ is off Angola. Both are expected to reach Rotterdam early next month.
Nasrollah Sardashti, commercial director for NITC, said last spring that his tankers could be sailing to Europe by June, but has had to wait an additional six months for shipments to restart.
“We are back in full force now to gain our markets share in tanker shipping,” Mr Sardashti told oil price agency Platts this week, which first reported the vessels’ journey.
Shipments from Iran are closely watched, with Tehran adding more than 1m barrels a day to international markets in 2016 after the nuclear deal, contributing to a glut that drove prices to a 13-year low below $30 a barrel.
The approach of US President Donald Trump towards Iran is also being monitored in the oil market, with his sharp criticism of the nuclear deal raising questions about whether he could try to increase sanctions.
Analysts at Citi said this week that Mr Trump’s potential “hardline stance” on Iran was one of their wild cards for the oil market in 2017, with the price impact potentially “significant and bullish”.
They cautioned, however, that the US was unlikely to be able to completely reverse Iran’s export surge given the co-ordination necessary with western allies. US companies are still largely blocked from dealing with Iran.
“The international coalition that was critical to sustaining the previous round of sanctions is quite unlikely to take part,” Citi said.
The Opec oil cartel, of which Iran is the third-largest producer, agreed supply cuts late last year to try to reverse a two-year downturn in prices. But Iran is largely exempt from the cuts after it agreed an output target above where most industry observers pegged its output, partly because of its time under sanctions.
Iran’s output growth is expected to slow in 2017, however, with more investment needed to add additional volume.
Brent crude, the international benchmark, has risen 20 per cent since Opec agreed to cut supply alongside other big producers like Russia, but the rally has stalled in 2017 in the face of signs from the US shale industry that prices are now high enough for them to boost output.
On Thursday, Brent was up 2.5 per cent to $56.42 a barrel but remained off 0.7 per cent for the month.

 


Opinions
What does Israel want from America?

By David Ignatius Opinion writer January 24 at 7:39 PM Washington Post
TEL AVIV
President Trump’s embrace of Israel poses an unlikely dilemma for leaders of the Jewish state: They have to decide what they want from America, and on that question, there’s sharp disagreement.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moved to seize the Trump moment Tuesday by announcing that Israel plans to construct 2,500 housing units in West Bank settlements. Just two days before, he and Trump had what the new president called a “very nice” phone conversation. “We’re building — and will continue to build,” an emboldened Netanyahu proclaimed Tuesday.
But Netanyahu’s quick move angered some other Israeli officials, who argue that more settlements will push Israel toward annexation of the West Bank that would mean the end of the two-state solution. Isaac Herzog, head of the largest opposition bloc, said his supporters would resist a pro-settlement agenda that they see as a threat to Israel’s status as a Jewish democratic state.
Trump’s election offers what many Israelis have dreamed of — a relaxation of U.S. pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But for some, it’s a case of “be careful what you wish for.” Israel’s views may now be decisive — but the country remains conflicted 50 years after the West Bank was seized in the 1967 war.
A panoramic view of the puzzles facing Israel in the age of Trump was presented this week at a conference hosted by the Institute for National Security Studies. The gathering was attended by nearly every top Israeli official other than Netanyahu. The voices were sharply divergent.
“Israel must make a choice between separation and annexation,” argued Tzipi Livni, a parliament member who is one of the strongest advocates for a peace deal. “With a new administration, there is no longer the same pressure from Washington that Israel experienced previously. Israel now has the opportunity — indeed, the obligation — to decide what kind of future it seeks.”
Proposals for what Israel should request from Trump ranged across the spectrum. Naftali Bennett, who heads the right-wing Jewish Home party, used Trump’s signature line, “You’re fired,” to describe what he would say to Israeli officials who advocate what he described as a failed peace process. He presented a plan to formally declare Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.
Herzog, in sharp disagreement, told the conference that Israel should start moving toward an eventual Palestinian state. He outlined a 10-year transition plan that would conclude with resolving “final status” issues such as Jerusalem and the rights of refugees. The alternative to such a separation process, he said, was Israel’s “suicide” as a democratic Jewish nation.
Israeli public opinion is divided, but according to a poll presented at the conference, 59 percent of Jewish citizens favor a two-state solution and more than 60 percent support withdrawal from at least some settlements. Most Israelis, including peace advocates, favor retention of large settlement blocks around Jerusalem in any final deal.
Americans attending the conference urged Israel to be cautious in its requests to Trump. “It’s hard to say what Donald Trump will do, because I’m not sure he himself knows,” said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who was the Obama administration’s special envoy during its push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.
As a sign of Trump’s start-up uncertainty, Indyk noted that within the past week, the new administration seemed to have moved from advocating a quick relocation of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem (which could trigger incendiary reaction in the Muslim world) to saying that the issue was in the “very early stages” of decision.
Walter Russell Mead, a prominent foreign policy scholar who teaches at Bard College, cautioned that Trump took office with a low popularity rating and a minority of the vote. Mead urged that Israelis “not get identified with Donald Trump in the popular mood in the U.S.” and that he not be seen as “Israel’s man.”
Trump has proclaimed his desire to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that, if he succeeded, would truly demonstrate “the art of the deal.” But Itamar Rabinovich, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a veteran of peace negotiations, warned the conference, “You cannot be a broker . . . by making a deal that’s 90 percent pro-Israel. It won’t fly.”
Shlomo Avineri, a prominent Israeli academic, offered a stark summary of his nation’s dilemma: “Israel after 1967 didn’t make up its mind what kind of country it wanted to be, in geography or demography. . . . This year we should say what kind of Israel we want.” That’s the conundrum Trump presents: What should Israelis ask for?

 


As Trump Era Looms, Many Iranian-Americans Fear Losing The Gains They’ve Made
The community has demonstrated political power, but it must do more to offset a potential blow to U.S.-Iran relations in these uncertain times.
01/21/2017 Sina Toossi International Relations Researcher & Analyst
World Post
For the Iranian-American community, Donald Trump’s inauguration bodes the end of an era where a U.S. president commemorated their new year, paid attention to their concerns and desired to engage, not spur conflict, with their homeland.
Though heavily affected by U.S.-Iran tensions, Iranian-Americans have struggled to translate their impressive education and financial power into political influence in Washington. While many within the community have long called for a counterbalance to the unbridled influence of groups stoking perennial U.S.-Iran conflict ― often in line with hard-line pro-Israel, Saudi and MEK-aligned Iranian opposition goals ― reticence to engage the policy-making process is still prevalent. However, the successful fight for the Iran nuclear deal demonstrated that Iranian-Americans finally have a voice in Washington. The question is: How can this voice be maximized?
Iranian-Americans finally have a voice in Washington. The question is: How can this voice be maximized?
The impending Trump administration threatens many long-fought-for Iranian-American gains, particularly but not limited to the nuclear deal. The specter of Trump ― who on separate occasions has promised to “dismantle” or “renegotiate” the nuclear deal and has thus far assembled a cabinet and national security council dominated by vociferous anti-Iran hard-liners ― has some worried he may even provoke a war with Iran. If the deal is to be preserved, a catastrophic war averted and potential institutionalized discrimination from the demagogic Trump prevented, it is imperative for the Iranian-American community to further empower itself.
Efforts to push back against war talk and mobilize Iranian-Americans to stand up for their rights date back years. Groups such as the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA) and the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) ― both with physical operations in Washington ― have long sought to organize the Iranian-American community. NIAC for its part has actively stood against hawkish rhetoric and detrimental sanctions policies towards Iran, but has had to compete against powerful interest groups with far more money and political clout.
Iranian-American Voices Made Impact at Highest Levels
In terms of influencing Washington, existing Iranian-American groups and activists have achieved varying degrees of success. A useful barometer to gauge their effectiveness is access to the White House, which may change under Trump but nonetheless reflects an ability to conduct high-level policy advocacy. President Barack Obama’s second term was in fact a decisive turning point in this regard, marking the first time a U.S. administration was willing to expend political capital on diplomacy towards Iran and listen to the wants of the Iranian-American community.
Beginning in 2013, the administration turned its ear away from more hawkish elements in the Iranian-American community and towards more dovish ones. For example, according to visualizations by the tech company Graphiq compiled from the Obama White House’s official visitor records, Ray Takeyh, a hard-line Iranian-American writer affiliated with the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has reportedly visited the Obama White House only three times, the last of which was in January 2012.
After Obama’s reelection and the start of revitalized nuclear negotiations between the P5+1 world powers and the Iranian government of Hassan Rouhani, the White House turned to other voices in the Iranian-American community. Indeed, while the perception among some in the public has been that the lobbying battle surrounding the Iran deal was largely between rival pro-Israel groups, namely the vehemently anti-Iran American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the pro-diplomacy J Street, Iranian-American groups played a critical role as well.
During the nuclear negotiations, the Obama White House consulted with Iranian-American experts.
During the nuclear negotiations, the Obama White House consulted with Iranian-American experts and organizations who shared its seriousness about getting to a deal and were seen as trustworthy ― given leaks of sensitive details regarding the talks had been a repeat issue for the administration. Leading the pack was NIAC President Trita Parsi, who reportedly had 29 White House meetings from 2013 to 2016, not too far behind J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami’s reported 44 meetings. These numbers and the numbers following are from a database that compiles all visits released to date by the White House. Unlike the official White House website, this tool formats them into lists (the specific numbers here reflect the number of meetings, which subtracts events from the total number of visits.) Parsi met with officials ranging from Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes and National Security Council Director for Iran Sahar Nowrouzzadeh to Vice President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser Colin Kahl.
Others prominent Iranian-American policy voices in favor of the nuclear negotiations also received access to the administration. Vali Nasr, the dean of Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, reportedly had three meetings at the White House with NSC Middle East coordinator Rob Malley. Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a prominent sanctions supporter, meanwhile, reportedly had only three meetings between 2009 and 2016.
Iranian-American Reactions to Trump
Iranian-Americans are a diverse community politically and geographically spread out across the United States. The most commonly held perspective within the community is of extreme concern about Trump’s stances on Iran, civil rights issues, as well as his general bullish attitude. Like many other Americans, many Iranian-Americans fear there will be massive retrogression on all levels, from domestic to foreign policy, and a degradation of the dignity of the presidential office.
Others are more optimistic, viewing Trump as a transactional businessman who is pragmatic and non-ideological, and therefore in a different camp than Republican neoconservatives. They are hopeful he will see the benefits of business opportunities in opening up to Iran.
On the other hand, some expats are hopeful for a Trump that stokes a hardline with Iran and increases pressure on the country.
The most commonly held perspective within the community is of extreme concern about Trump’s stances on Iran, civil rights issues, as well as his general bullish attitude.
These differences were exemplified by a series of opposing letters sent by Iranian-Americans to Trump regarding the nuclear deal. In December, Fox News reported exclusively on a letter signed by 30 dissidents, most of whom are likely Iranian-American, calling on Trump to scrap the deal and topple the Iranian government. The story stated that the National Council of Resistance in Iran (NCRI), described by the State Department as the “political arm” of the notorious MEK, reportedly has “supporters among some in Trump’s circle.”
The letter spurred immense derision on Iranian social media. It also elicited another group of Iranian-Americans, composed of prominent artists, academics, human rights activists, scientists, and business leaders, to write a letter in support of the nuclear deal.
Maximizing the Iranian-American Voice
Despite President-elect Trump’s belligerent comments about Iran and threats to overtly discriminate against Americans of a Muslim background, Iranian-Americans should not despair. They have a formidable advocacy apparatus in Washington in NIAC in particular, one that is sympathetic to Iranian society and opposed to war and draconian sanctions. With that said, however, the reality is that Iranian-Americans are still falling short of meeting their civic engagement potential.
If the deal is to be preserved, a catastrophic war averted and ... discrimination from ... Trump prevented, it is imperative for the Iranian-American community to further empower itself.
In order to attain the political influence that the size, wealth and education of the Iranian-American community merits, more Iranian-Americans need to more deeply engage the policy-making process. Foremost, this means recognizing and bolstering the groups and individuals that have proven to be effective champions of causes Iranian-Americans care about ― whether it be sustaining the nuclear deal, preventing military action against Iran, or safeguarding their civil rights within the United States. Just as important, however, it means taking the initiative to directly contact members of Congress, hold community-organizing events, and even run for office. Only through such political assertiveness and involvement can the Iranian-American community ensure it will be a political force to be reckoned with in the uncertain times that lie ahead.
 


Trump administration not sending a delegation to Syria peace talks
By Karen DeYoung January 21 at 1:42 PM Washington Post
The Trump administration will not send a delegation to next week’s Syrian peace talks, sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran, because of the “immediate demands of the transition,” the State Department said Saturday.
Russia’s ambassador to the United States had personally invited President Trump’s national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, to the meeting, scheduled to begin Monday in Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana. The Obama administration was not invited.
“The United States is committed to a political resolution to the Syrian crisis through a Syrian-owned process, which can bring about a more representative, peaceful, and united Syria,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. It said that the U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan would attend as an observer.
The invitation comes as the new administration is still formulating its policies toward a variety of issues, including the Syrian war, Russia and Iran, although Trump has promised changes from his predecessor. Secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson has not been confirmed by the Senate, and no other senior diplomatic appointments have been finalized.
“Given our presidential inauguration and the immediate demands of the transition, a delegation from Washington will not be attending,” Toner’s statement said.
Representatives from the Syrian government and armed opposition groups seeking to overthrow it are scheduled to be there and, according to the sponsors, to hold face-to-face talks for the first time.
At the top of the agenda is an effort to solidify and continue a sputtering cease-fire the three sponsor nations negotiated last month. They hope to then begin preliminary talks on a negotiated political settlement to Syria’s civil war, now in its fifth year. A larger political meeting, to be held under United Nations auspices, is scheduled for Feb. 8 in Geneva.
The new effort follows a failed, year-long attempt by the United States and Russia — backing opposite sides of the conflict — to sustain a cease-fire and jump-start talks in Geneva. Since then, forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with aid from Russia and Iran, have retaken the city of Aleppo from the rebels and extended their control of the country.
Turkey and the United States have both backed the rebels, although Trump has questioned the CIA program to arm and train them. But in recent months, Washington and Ankara have feuded over U.S. military support for Syrian Kurdish forces participating in the separate war against the Islamic State. When the Obama administration declined to provide air support for a Turkish military operation against the Islamic State inside Syria, Turkey turned to Russia.
The U.S.-Turkey breach has led to growing rapprochement between Turkey and Russia, whose warplanes this week flew joint bombing operations with Turkish counterparts in Syria.
In an interview Thursday in Washington, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu rejected U.S. and European concerns that his government, a member of NATO and the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State, was “tilting” toward Russia.
“I think many NATO countries have better relations with Russia than Turkey has. . . . Despite the sanctions, many European countries are doing business with Russia,” Cavusoglu said. The United States and the European Union — of which Turkey is not a member — imposed sanctions against Russia for its military incursions in Ukraine on behalf of separatist fighters there, and for its annexation of Crimea.
Turkey has always “balanced” its relations with Russia, he said. “Have we changed our principled positions [opposing Russian activities] in Ukraine? No. On Crimea? No. How about the territorial integrity of Georgia?” which Russia invaded in 2008. “No. Many of our European friends are forgetting all of those issues, but Turkey never forgets.”
But in the absence of U.S. aid for its Syria operations, he said, Turkey had every right to appeal to Russia.
While Turkey also has “brotherly” relations with Iran, Cavusoglu said, he accused both Russia and Iran of failing to restrain their Syrian ally, Assad, from violating human rights as well as the cease-fire they helped negotiate.
It was Russia, and not the United States, that responded to Turkey’s call for assistance against the Islamic State, he said.
Attendance at the Astana talks would put the Trump administration at the same table as Iran, as well as Russia. During his campaign and post-election transition, Trump sharply criticized former president Barack Obama for alleged weakness toward Iran over its support for terrorism and weapons violations, as well as what he called the “bad” Iran nuclear deal.
Staffan de Mistura, the U.N. envoy to Syria, has said he will attend the talks in Kazakhstan. The Assad government is sending a delegation headed by its U.N. ambassador, Bashar Jaafari, an experienced negotiator.
Mohammad Alloush of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group — whose commander, Zahran Alloush, a cousin to Mohammad Alloush, was killed in a 2015 airstrike claimed by the Assad regime — will lead a “military delegation” of about eight people, backed by a group of political and legal advisers, Agence France-Presse reported.
A key rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, said it would not attend because of government cease-fire violations but would support decisions taken by the other groups.

 


Donald Trump's presidency-by-tweet will be bad for Muslims, but great for Isis
Compared to the platitudinous, snide, divisive, war-mongering rant the world received from Trump, George W Bush was a visionary
•    Robert Fisk  Independent  Jan 20, 2017
A bad day for Muslims, I’d call it. The only mention they got in the inaugural tweet was pure Hollywood, and very dangerous. “Radical Islamic terrorism we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth”. Shorn of its Biblical reference – the face of the earth comes from Genesis, does it not? – it was the biggest threat Trump could offer his people.
Quite apart from the fact that he can’t eradicate terrorism without looking at why it flourishes (something Donald Trump showed he had no interest in, for this was the most nationalist, selfish inaugural in US history), his 20-minute commercial for Trumpism is likely to be the finest rallying cry the cultists of Isis have received since they started chopping off heads, blowing up monuments and destroying the beliefs of their co-religionists.
When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice. We will bring back our dreams. Protect our borders from the ravages of other countries. Yes, all this and more.
And what “ravages” would they be, I wonder? The Middle East got not a whimper in this tweet-fest, save for that one belligerent “eradication”. Indeed, Trump plans to “completely” eradicate “radical Islamic terrorism” without the slightest indication of how this ambitious project might be completed.
But we can guess. Just look at previous presidents at their inaugurals. Back in 1957, Eisenhower told Americans that “only in respecting the hopes and cultures of others will we practise the equality of all nations”. Take a look at George W Bush – when we thought he represented the worst kind of presidential monster America could produce – who at his second inaugural said that “the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands”. The best peace in our world, he added, “is the expansion of freedom in all the world”. Bush even mentioned the Koran.
Compared to the platitudinous, snide, divisive, war-mongering rant the world received from Trump, George W was a visionary.
No-one expected Trump to go along with Obama’s high-class inaugural street cred about seeking “a new way forward” with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect”. After Islam, Trump went for crimes, gangs and drugs – “American carnage”, he called it – and the need to “protect our borders from the ravages of other countries”.
Quite a lot of nations in the Middle Eastern region, in which Isis leapt out at us, would also like to protect their borders from foreign invasion by the US – Iraq and Afghanistan come to mind – and from the “carnage” of unmanned drones and special forces operations and massive arms shipments to states whose citizens flock to the Isis colours: Saudi Arabia pops up here, although we can be sure Trump has not the slightest intention of interfering in the Kingdom’s affairs.

But maybe “defending other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own” was intended to frighten the Gulf potentates who are Trump’s natural friends rather than Nato. “From this day forward” – the nearest, I suppose, to Kennedy’s “Let the word go forth” – “it’s going to be only... America first.” This was a far cry from the same Kennedy’s call for a struggle against “the common enemies of man” (tyranny, poverty, disease, war). All Trump could talk about was American poverty – the other three ‘enemies’ did not cross his lips as he addressed the people of the richest country on earth.
Outsiders can’t begrudge a president who wants to heed the call of a people who believe they have been marginalised – especially by the elite and privileged few, although we all know that elitism and privilege are the hallmarks of Trump’s own proposed new cabinet. But there was a lack of grace, of eloquence, of charity, of compassion for anyone outside America that marked the inaugural speech of the 45th president. And if you strung out the quotes – almost every single one – each would make a perfect tweet. Is that the way the man thinks? This was a commercial break with a sporting victory: America will start winning again!
No wonder that, in these next 24 hours, media editors are going to be fighting over the best inaugural soundbites. Linguists should put this stuff through a semantics machine. We will get the job done! That all changes right here – and right now! The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer! When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice! I will never, ever let you down! We will bring back our dreams! We will shine for everyone to follow! We must think big and think even bigger! The time for empty talk is over! You will never be ignored again! Trump even thought his country was standing at the heart of “a new millenium”, 16 years after it began.
It’s easy to say that something was getting loose here. Does America no longer exist in a world in which others desire justice and human rights, two qualities which Trump totally ignored? Is America’s only war with “radical Islamic terrorism”? And to win this particular victory “completely”, how will he treat the Muslims of America unless, when wounded, they “bleed the same red blood of patriots”?
But fear not. The world’s media will be giving this wretched man the benefit of their democratic doubt. Politicians will whinge and whine at Trump’s vindictiveness (Michael Gove set the standard a few days ago) and Theresa May has already shown us how she’ll slide away from Palestine in the interests of the new US administration. The Arab states themselves – wait for it – will be among the most fawning of the new president’s acolytes. Israel doesn’t have to bother.
I can do no better, perhaps, than quote the great Israeli philosopher/activist/writer/patriot/leftist iconoclast Uri Avnery, a 93-year-old veteran of Israel’s first war, who said a few hours before the inauguration of Donald Trump that “he will be an entertainer president... the question is, do we really want the most powerful man in the world to be an entertainer? Or an overblown egomaniac? A man who knows nothing and believes that he can solve everything?”
Avnery, already hard of hearing when I last saw him in Tel Aviv, recalled going to school as a little boy in Nazi Germany. The inauguration in Washington was a “Historic Day,” he wrote. “I don’t like Historic Days. I remember such a day when young men with festive torches and arcane symbols on their arms were parading through Berlin.”
 


Could Trump Stumble Into An Iran War?
01/20/2017 03:19 pm ET | Updated 7 hours ago

Ryan Costello Policy Fellow, National Iranian American Council
The Huffington Post
Buckle up, America. Donald Trump is President of the United States, and nobody knows precisely what he will do with his newfound power and what the ramifications of his decisions will be. According to the new White House webpage, the Trump administration will “embrace diplomacy...not go abroad in search of enemies” and be happy when “old enemies become friends.” These are worthy goals, yet the risks that Trump stumbles into another costly war are high, including with Iran.
Fortunately, President Trump begins his tenure as commander-in-chief without facing immediate war and peace decisions with respect to Iran’s nuclear program. This is thanks to the Obama administration’s painstaking work to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with international partners to roll back Iran’s nuclear program and subject it to intrusive monitoring. Iran continues to implement its nuclear obligations under the accord, which makes the primary question whether the Trump administration or the new Congress will precipitate an immediate crisis by killing the deal unilaterally or backing measures that would put at risk the security gains provided by the accord.
Trump could stay true to his anti-interventionist rhetoric from the campaign and simply police the accord. Several individuals who appear to have the President’s ear on national security matters - including incoming Defense Secretary James Mattis and Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker - have warned against withdrawing from the nuclear accord, which is positive. They appear to recognize that killing the deal outright would risk freeing Iran’s nuclear program from international constraints and monitoring, distance us from our allies and leave few options short of warfare to resolve concerns of an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Of course, Trump’s anti-interventionist rhetoric on the campaign trail did not extend to support for the nuclear accord with Iran. He railed against it as a bad deal, including at a Tea Party rally outside the U.S. Capitol during the Congressional review period for the nuclear accord in September 2015. While Trump at times indicated that he would not scrap it, but rather renegotiate it (a premise not supported by the other negotiating parties), his animus toward Iran has also extended outside the nuclear sphere. His promises to sink Iranian ships that frequently harry U.S. naval vessels in the Persian Gulf would risk sparking a war with Iran even without revisiting the nuclear accord.
Further, those who might be counted as constrainers in Trump’s cabinet and the broader Republican national security establishment are far outnumbered by Iran hawks, including many who lack depth of understanding about what the nuclear accord actually does. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AK), the author of a letter to Iran’s leaders in 2015 warning them that the next President could overturn any agreement with President Obama, believes Trump will do just that. “I believe the Iran deal is dead,” said Cotton, given that Trump “is going to be much more forceful on the terms of the nuclear deal itself, and that itself may cause the Ayatollahs to walk away, but I also know that he intends to confront...Iranian regional aggression, and their imperial project around the Middle East.” Hyperbole about Iran’s “imperial project” and designs aside, there is sufficient reason to believe that Trump will pursue just such a course. As Cotton notes, he has filled his national security team with men eager to confront Iran.
If the accord is killed, as Cotton predicts, Iran’s nuclear program will be unshackled, international monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities will be greatly diminished, and sanctions pressure on Iran will almost certainly deteriorate. While Trump might make vows of a better deal, the trust needed to sustain negotiations would be gutted. No Iranian leader would sit down for further nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration, let alone sign off on a deal more favorable to the United States. That would leave the businessman and former reality TV star with some very difficult decisions. Would he accept Iran moving forward with its nuclear program, potentially advancing toward an undetectable capability to obtain a nuclear weapon? Or would he pursue a dicey military option that might set back Iran’s nuclear capabilities, but ultimately radicalize Iran and do nothing to prevent Iran from reconstituting its nuclear program further down the road? Despite vows not to go in search of enemies abroad, Trump could end up repeating the mistakes of the Iraq war with Iran.
This makes it more important than ever for those lawmakers in Congress who oppose the U.S. backing out of the JCPOA to hold the line on bad legislation, and to put pressure on Trump’s advisors to stick to the accord. If U.S.-Iran tension is allowed to spill back into the nuclear sphere, there will be few off ramps to conflict, and Trump’s advisors don’t even appear to be inclined to look for them.
 


What Trump Needs To Know About Iran
The U.S. president-elect has the option of engaging Tehran and bringing stability to a region that has not known it for decades.
01/06/2017 06:59 pm ET   The World Post


Seyed Hossein Mousavian Former head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council

For as unnerved as many world leaders were with Donald Trump’s election, they will have no choice but to work with the president of the world’s most powerful country. One exception, however, will be Iran, which has come to develop one of the most hostile relationships in all international politics with the United States.
Fascinatingly, Trump’s triumph over Hillary Clinton was anticipated by Iran’s supreme leader, who just prior to the election declared that Trump had more support among Americans due to his frankness about the realities of the country. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his part, believes that America has a corrupt political system, has fostered the rise of terrorist groups like the self-proclaimed Islamic State and Al Qaeda, and has spurred instability through military intervention in the Middle East. Thus, he regularly argues that for Iran to engage in negotiations with such a country would have little value, and a formal diplomatic relationship would be actively harmful ― a position some incoming senior U.S. officials feel about Iran.
Both Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani have, however, urged calm over Trump’s election. “If a president is changed here and there, it has no impact on the will of Iran,” Rouhani said in a speech shortly after the election, adding that Iran would remain committed to the nuclear deal. Ayatollah Khamenei has also stated that Iran does not have “any judgement on the election,” but is “ready for any possible incident.”
The proclamations of Trump and other presidential candidates during the campaign validated important aspects of Ayatollah Khamenei’s view of the United States. However, it remains to be seen whether this shared thinking on America’s political system will result in Trump reforming past policies and ending the 38-year deadlock in U.S.-Iran relations, thereby attaining the diplomatic achievement of the century. On the other hand, Trump can easily end President Barack Obama’s engagement policy towards Iran and put Washington and Tehran on the path to full-spectrum confrontation. Deal opponents in Washington are already fervently pursuing a path of reintroducing non-nuclear sanctions to incentivize Iranian leaders to discard the accord. Since the 115th U.S. Congress was sworn in recent days, several anti-Iran bills have already been introduced, including one that would impose sanctions over Iran’s ballistic missile program. Whichever approach he decides, there are a number of things Trump should know about Iran. Here are a few:
 
1. America played a role in sabotaging Iranian democracy.
The United States ended Iranian democracy in its cradle. Together with British intelligence, the CIA orchestrated a coup d’etat in 1953 against Mohammad Mossadegh, Iran’s popularly-elected prime minister guilty of nationalizing the Iranian oil industry. The result was the end of Iran’s democratic movement and 25 years of dictatorship under the shah. Iran’s 1979 revolution was the Iranian people’s reaction to decades of tyranny and American dominance over Iran.
 
2. A regime change policy already proved counterproductive.
After the Iranian revolution, America adopted an approach of regime change towards Iran, predicated on applying every conceivable pressure on the post-revolutionary government. This included supporting Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein during his war of aggression against Iran, which saw Saddam killing or injuring upwards of 100,000 Iranian with chemical weapons. The years since then have also seen America deploy the world’s first cyberweapon against Iran and impose draconian and collectively-punishing sanctions. In parallel, Iran has used all its capabilities to confront the United States. Despite all this, Iran today stands as one of the region’s most powerful and stable countries, while U.S. allies, who have benefited from immense American support over the years, have either collapsed or are wavering due to their own shortcomings.
 
3. The nuclear deal is the greatest non-proliferation victory. 
Importantly, Trump has stated that past U.S. policies of regime change in the region have been mistakes and should not be repeated. However, he has been hostile towards the Iran nuclear deal, which he recently tweeted was “horrible.” Quite to the contrary, the landmark deal serves as the most comprehensive deal on nuclear non-proliferation in history; containing the highest international standards on nuclear transparency and sealing off all pathways to a bomb. Trump can either destroy it or build on it by working to win regional implementation of the deals’ principles; making the 50-year dream for a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone (NWFZ) in the Middle East a reality.
 
 4. U.S. wars in the Middle East are a source of instability.
Wars in the past four decades, including Saddam’s invasion of Iran (1980) and Kuwait (1990), America’s invasion of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), NATO’s overthrow of the Libyan government (2012), the Saudi invasion of Yemen (2015) and the inflow of foreign fighters from around the world into region, have brought the Middle East to the verge of total collapse. Trump and Obama in fact share a belief that past U.S. mistakes and U.S. regional allies have played key roles in fostering the rise of these groups. Trump has declared that his main goal in the region is to destroy ISIS, not topple the Syrian government. This position increases the chances for U.S.-Russia cooperation in the region. Iran and the U.S. can also form a very effective front against ISIS, given Iran is the leading regional power fighting the group and the United States, the leading global power.
 
5. Cooperation, not confrontation will lead to success.
While it might sound counterintuitive, Republican control of Congress and the presidency presents an opportunity for successful U.S.-Iran diplomacy. The U.S. government is now able to act in unison, enabling for novel approaches towards the region that may have previously been politically impossible. Trump has the option of engaging Iran and bringing stability to a region that has not known it for decades. While distrust between the two countries remains thick in the aftermath of the nuclear deal, the key to broader cooperation is to abandon self-defeating aspirations for regime change and engage in diplomacy based on mutual respect, shared interests and non-interference in each other’s political affairs.
Republican control of Congress and the presidency presents an opportunity for successful U.S.-Iran diplomacy.

The Pulse of the Middle East
•    Deciphering Iran’s sudden currency fluctuations
•    Author Bijan Khajehpour Posted January 6, 2017 Almonitor
•   
Recent fluctuations in the free market rate of the Iranian rial have caused concerns within the country’s business community that the currency may experience a sharp decline in value due to economic and political upheavals.
The Iranian economy has been operating with a multitiered exchange rate system for the past three decades. Currently, there are two official exchange rates: the official interbank (forex chamber) rate, which is used by banks for official hard currency transactions, and the so-called free market rate, which is used by licensed foreign exchange bureaus for all other transactions using the hawala system. Traditionally, the free market rate has been a valid indicator of the mood in the Iranian economy. The last major collapse of the rial value came about in the second half of 2012 when harsh sanctions prevented the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) from repatriating needed hard currency to manage the artificially kept rate of 11,000 rials to the US dollar. At that time, the free market rate collapsed to 30,000 rials to the greenback and caused a massive backlash leading to major economic decline in 2013.
However, ever since the election of President Hassan Rouhani in June 2013, the free market rate had experienced a relatively stable period, gradually moving from 30,000 rials against the US dollar in the summer of 2013 to about 35,000 rials in the summer of 2016.
Notwithstanding, in the past few months, the Iranian rial has been experiencing a roller-coaster ride, and as of Jan. 4 the rial has lost about 13% of its value against the US dollar since Sept. 15, 2016. The decline of the free market rial/US dollar rate since the US presidential election amounts to about 7%. The rate (currently at 39,500 rials to the US dollar) had actually reached 41,000 toward the end of December 2016, but bounced back when the CBI assured currency traders that it would. In fact, the governor of CBI, Valiollah Seif, has opined that the real value of the rial would be around 36,000 rials to the greenback. Respected experts such as Ali Dini Torkamani underline the fact that the CBI is in a monopoly position to determine the exchange rate; however, it is important to dissect some of the technical and psychological reasons that have led to the recent fluctuations.
One reason for the loss of value to the US dollar is the general appreciation of the greenback against other currencies. Incidentally, the Iranian rial is priced against a basket of currencies that does not include the US dollar. In fact, the rial is more influenced by the fluctuations of European currencies (especially the euro), which also lost value against the US dollar in the past few months. To prove the point, in the period between Sept. 15, 2016, and Jan. 4 of this year, the free market value of the Iranian rial only lost 5% against the euro. Other proof for the impact of the strengthening of the US currency is the fact that the official interbank rate of the rial lost about 3.3% of its value against the US dollar between Sept. 15, 2016, and Jan. 4. In the same period, the interbank rial exchange rate actually appreciated against the euro.
There are also obviously psychological aspects that need to be taken into account. The election of Donald Trump in the United States and the anticipation of renewed anti-Iran policies and sanctions, the extension of the Iran Sanctions Act by the US Congress, uncertainties about the international oil price and domestic political developments have all contributed to a fragile domestic currency market and an atmosphere in which many economic players resort to buying hard currency as a hedging mechanism.
The fact that the planned rate unification has been delayed by more than a year (it was originally envisaged for March 2016) is an indication of the complexities of the Iranian economy. Expectations were that the implementation of the nuclear deal and the eventual lifting of sanctions would actually strengthen the Iranian rial, but the rial has lost value in both markets. Fact is, the CBI continues to manage the exchange rate through its regulation of the currency market. The volumes that the CBI injects into the market have a major impact on the actual free market rate, and all signs are that the rial will gradually be devalued to create a new balance in the economy. Some hiccups (such as the recent one) are also caused when the CBI does not manage to inject enough hard currency into the market, sometimes due to unexpected banking bottlenecks and sometimes due to financial shortcomings. What is helping the CBI currently is the continued repatriation of Iran’s foreign assets back into the domestic economy. Recently, Bahram Qassemi, spokesperson of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, confirmed that since the implementation of the nuclear deal some $10 billion of Iran’s previously blocked assets have been repatriated in cash form or gold. This is obviously good news for the CBI, and it will empower Iranian officials to continue to manage the currency market.
Outlook
Despite the CBI efforts and the government’s desire to maintain a degree of stability, a number of leading actors in the Iranian business community opine that the Iranian rial is currently overvalued and that a devaluation will be in order in 2017.
The interbank rial/US dollar rate now stands at 32,374 rials, and it is expected to gradually approach the free market rate as the CBI tries to steer toward a unified exchange rate in the course of 2017.
To gauge the real value of the rial, we could look at the Iranian currency’s position since 2012, when the forex chamber rate was introduced. In October 2012, the CBI introduced the forex chamber rate at 25,000 rials to the US dollar. If we use this rate as a basis, calculating based on the inflation differential methodology to determine the exchange rate, then we would get to the following picture:
This means that the rial remains overvalued and that the CBI intervention will be the main instrument to keep a lower rate. CBI Gov. Seif’s statement that the real value of the US dollar would be 36,000 rials can be seen as a hint that the unified exchange rate may tend toward that value, though it would also be artificially low, putting pressure on Iranian exports and also on the competitiveness of domestic products compared with imported goods.
Nonetheless, the CBI will also be under pressure to allow market forces to have a more determinant role on the rial exchange rate. As such, it is valid to expect that the rial will be devalued gradually to close the gap between the two existing exchange rates. Considering the growing significance of Iran’s non-crude exports, there will also be a push from the exporters to adjust the rate accordingly. Therefore, it would not be far-fetched to expect the free market rate to remain in the range between 38,000 and 40,000 rials to the US dollar, with the interbank rate gradually approaching that level in the course of 2017. Furthermore, it would be realistic to expect a rate unification toward March 2018 when potentially Rouhani’s second-term government would be fully in place.
 

Glasnost 1988: Historic Moment For Iran And Russia – OpEd
By Eric Walberg January 1, 2017 Eurasia Review
On January 1, 1988, just a year and a half before he passed away on June 3, 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini made a historic move, reaching out the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in a gesture of anti-imperialist solidarity, despite the long hiatus in relations with communist Russia. This was at a time of war against Iraq and continued subversion of Iran by the US and Israel. He sent President Gorbachev his only written message to a foreign leader.
Ayatollah Khomeini made other prescient gestures in his short and difficult decade as the leader of the Islamic revolution in Iran; in the first place, the transfer of the Israeli embassy to Palestinian representatives, the canceling of recognition of Israel, and the inauguration of al-Quds Day as an annual international holiday on the last Friday of Ramadan. He met with Fidel Castro and other third world leaders, encouraging solidarity against the imperialist foe.
The unprecedented visit of the Iranian delegation to Moscow was a sincere offer of support to the faltering Soviet leader, who had rejected the atheism of the Soviet past. It contrasts with the treatment of Gorbachev’s new friend, Reagan, who was at the same time conspiring to subvert the Soviet Union, even as Gorbachev was sincerely reaching out to the hawkish Reagan, offering a generous plan of world nuclear disarmament.
The Ayatollah’s warning not to trust the West was being brought home to Gorbachev graphically as the last Soviet troops were retreating into Uzbekistan in 1988. Despite the unilateral withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan, the US was continuing to arm the insurgents, killing those doomed soldiers as they crossed the Afghanistan-Uzbekistan Friendship Bridge, built in 1982. Imperialism takes no prisoners.
Iran played no part in the US-backed ‘jihad’ in Afghanistan in the 1980s that brought the collapse of the Soviet Union. Iranian leaders knew that nothing good would come from working in alliance with America.
The Ayatollah knew this well, and was alarmed at the naiveté of Gorbachev. The Ayatollah warned in his letter that the western world was an “illusory heaven”, that appeared seductive. But the truth lies elsewhere. “If you hope, at this juncture, to cut the economic Gordian knots of socialism and communism by appealing to the center of western capitalism, you will, far from remedying any ill of your society, commit a mistake which those to come will have to erase. For, if Marxism has come to a deadlock in its social and economic policies, capitalism has also bogged down, in this as well as in other respects though in a different form.”
Gorbachev was offended and objected. “This invitation is an interference in the internal issue of a country. Because every country is free for selecting its school of thought.” He took the Ayatollah’s sincere advice as interference, rather than friendly concern. “Imam Khomeini invited us to Islam; do we have to invite him to our school of thought?”
History has proved the fears that the Ayatollah expressed justified. Gorbachev was standing on the edge of the abyss. Sadly, he scoffed at the ability of the Ayatollah to see the danger and to want to help him. But it was too late by then. Gorbachev had lost control, thinking he was handing power to the people, not recognizing that such a wish was another illusion. The disaster of the collapse of the Soviet Union will reverberate for generations to come, as the Ayatollah predicted.
Gorbachev was operating on a different wavelength when he received the letter from the Ayatollah, trying to cozy up to Israel and the US, again, naively thinking goodwill gestures would be reciprocated. He opened the doors to the emigration of Soviet Jews in 1988 and prepared to renew full diplomatic relations with Israel.
At the same time Gorbachev promised Arafat during a state visit that year that the Soviet Union would recognize an independent Palestinian state if proclaimed, naively hoping that Israel would show gratitude for his generosity by negotiating a genuine peace with the Palestinians. Arafat declared independence in November 1988 and got Soviet recognition the next year, but it was not much consolation. Israel was busy setting up consular offices in Moscow and elsewhere, issuing eventually a million visas to Soviet Jews to come to Israel.
Hundreds of thousands of Russian Jews got instant Israeli citizenship and emigrated, many of them settling illegally in the Occupied Territories, nominally part of a Soviet-recognized Palestinian state. By the end of 1991 when full diplomatic relations with Israel were restored, over 325,000 Soviet Jews had emigrated. Gorbachev’s hope to bring a quick peace to the Middle East were dashed as he was ousted from power, leaving the PLO abandoned and Israel stronger than ever.
Just as the Zionists had hoodwinked Stalin into recognizing Israel, they once again hoodwinked a Soviet leader into re-recognizing it. Instead of increasing Soviet/Russian influence by this dual recognition, all influence was lost, the Palestinians were hurt by the Soviet betrayal, while the Israelis welcomed a million new Jewish immigrants.
Gorbachev’s trust was betrayed by both the US and Israel; the Soviet Union collapsed as Soviet Jews fled to the illusory western heaven. The world logically expected a new era free of the threat of war, a peace dividend that would improve the lot of people everywhere, ensuring that the material imperative behind war was eliminated. But the triumph of empire has never led to an end to empire, and strengthening empire has never led to improving the lot of the periphery.
This was clear in the centuries of imperialism, where the periphery was impoverished at the expense of the center. There was no reason to believe a new Great Game of empire could be any different, even Bush I’s postmodern variant, with the US firmly in control. Indeed, the impoverishment of all who are not part of the center/periphery elite has only accelerated.
Today, the US continues to work with the Saudis to destabilize the Iran-Iraq ‘Shia arc’ replaying the endgame against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, this time with clandestine operations being carried out by the US, Saudis and Israelis—all jealous of Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East.
US support for Islamists continues to haunt the region, notably in Syria, even as US power ebbs. Following the uprisings in the Arab world in early 2011, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev suggested that the revolts in the Arab world were sparked by outside forces scheming to undermine Russia. “I won’t call any names but a whole range of countries, even those we have friendly relations with, have nevertheless been involved in terrorism in the [Russian] Caucasus.”
In the ideological vacuum created by the collapse of communism, two Russian ideologies have arisen—Atlantism and Eurasianism, both with roots in the nineteenth century, the latter, a geopolitical reaction to the decadence of the West, articulated persuasively by Nikolai Trubetskoi and Lev Gumilev in the mid-1920s and today by Alexander Dugin.
Russia and Iran are already playing key roles in establishing this new reality, building on the first step taken by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1988. The world’s problems will only be solved based on a new geopolitical reality with Russia and Iran at its heart, the kernel of truth in the Ayatollah’s historic gesture in 1988.


 


Behind the Real U.S. Strategic Blunder in Syria
Obama’s Syria policy failed because it did not anticipate provoking Iranian and Russian interventions.
By Gareth Porter, January 1, 2017 The Globalist
President Barack Obama has long been under fire from the U.S. national security elite and the media for failing to intervene aggressively against the Assad regime.
But the real strategic blunder was not that Barack Obama didn’t launch yet another war in Syria, but that he decided to go along with the ambitions of America’s Sunni allies to create and arm a Syrian opposition army to overthrow the regime in the first place.
Now a former Obama administration official, who is knowledgeable on the internal discussions on Syria policy, speaking to this writer on condition of anonymity, has shed new light on how and why that fateful decision was made.
The former official revealed that when Obama made the first move toward supporting the arming of Syrian opposition forces, the president failed to foresee the risk of a direct Iranian or Russian intervention on behalf of the Syrian regime in response to an externally armed opposition.
He did not see it because his advisors had failed to take this likelihood into account themselves.
The story of this policy failure begins after military resistance to the Assad regime began in spring and summer 2011.
Inevitability?
In August 2011, national security officials began urging Obama to call on Assad to step down, according to the former official.
Obama did make a statement suggesting that Assad should step aside, but he made it clear privately that he had no intention of doing anything about it. “He viewed it as simply a suggestion, not a hard policy,” the ex-official said.
But soon after that, a bigger issue arose for the administration’s policy: how to respond to pressure from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar for a U.S. commitment to help overthrow Assad.
In September 2011, the Saudis and Turks not only wanted the United States to provide arms to the opposition. “They wanted the U.S. to provide anti-aircraft missiles and anti-tank missiles,” recalled the ex-official.
Turkey even offered to send troops into Syria to overthrow Assad, but only if the United States and NATO agreed to create a “no-fly zone” to protect them.
But Obama refused to provide U.S. arms to the Syrian rebels and also opposed the Sunni foes of Assad providing such heavy weapons. “He wasn’t willing to go along with anything except small arms,” said the former official.
Half-hearted commitments
Apparently to assuage the dissatisfaction of the Sunni allies, then-director of the CIA David Petraeus devised a plan, which Obama approved, to help move the small arms from Libyan government stocks in Benghazi to Turkey.
Confirming the 2014 story by Seymour Hersh, the ex-official, recalled, “It was highly secret but officials involved in the Middle East learned of the program by word of mouth.”
The combination of those two policy decisions committed Obama – albeit half-heartedly- to the armed overthrow of the Assad regime.
The former administration official confirmed the recollections of both former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and former Pentagon official Derek Chollet that Obama’s advisers believed Assad’s fall was inevitable.
Some of those advisers believed Assad lacked the “cunning and fortitude” to remain in power, as Chollet put it.
Underestimating Iran and Russia
More importantly, when Obama was making crucial Syria policy decisions in September 2011, no one on his national security team warned him that Iran had a very major national security interest in keeping the Assad regime in power that could draw the Iranians into the war, according to the former official.
Obama’s advisers assumed instead that neither Iran nor Russia would do more than offer token assistance to keep Assad in power, so there was no risk of an endless, bloody sectarian war.
“Both Hezbollah and Iran had made noises that they were displeased with Assad’s handling of the crisis, and (Hezbollah leader Hassan) Nasrallah even said publicly he should take a softer approach,” the ex-official recalled, “so it was believed Iran would not intervene militarily to save him.”
Iran’s national security
In fact, however, Iran regarded Syria as crucial to its ability to resupply Hezbollah, whose large arsenal of missiles was in turn a necessary element in Iran’s deterrent to an Israeli attack.
“Syria had been Iran’s and Hezbollah’s security in depth,” the ex-official said, but Obama’s advisers “didn’t have a clue” about Iran’s overriding national security interest in preventing Assad’s overthrow by the overwhelmingly Sunni opposition backed by a Sunni international coalition with U.S. support.
That major error of omission become obvious as the war unfolded. After the city of Qusayr near the Lebanese border was taken over by the Free Syrian Army in July 2012, opposition forces in southern Syria were able to get military supplies from across the border in Lebanon.
It became clear in the months that followed that al-Nusra Front forces were heavily involved in that front of the war.
Hezbollah strikes back
In May 2013, Hezbollah troops from the Bekaa Valley intervened in support of a regime counteroffensive to retake the city – obviously at Iranian urging.
That Iranian-Hezbollah intervention resulted in the biggest defeat of rebel forces of the war up to that time.
But instead of questioning the soundness of the original decision to cooperate with the Sunni coalition’s regime change strategy, Obama’s national security team doubled down on its bet.
Secretary of State John Kerry put strong pressure on Obama to use military force against the Assad regime.
That resulted in a public commitment by the Obama administration in June 2013 to provide military support to the opposition for the first time. The deepening commitment nearly led to a new U.S. war against the Assad regime in September, after the chemical attack on the Damascus suburbs in August 2013.
The Obama administration even agreed to the Sunni states’ provision of anti-tank weapons to an armed opposition now openly dominated by al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front.
Escalating involvement
That culminated in a Nusra Front-led command’s conquest of Idlib province and the subsequent Russian intervention, which the administration’s national security team obviously had not anticipated either.
Obama and his advisers blundered on Syria in thinking that they were not getting into a high-risk war situation.
But there is a deeper level of explanation for the willingness of Obama and his advisers to go along with the inherent risk of another regime change policy – even if Obama was half-hearted about it at best and limited direct U.S. involvement in it.
The administration was unwilling to be at cross-purposes with its Sunni allies, the former official recalled, because of the direct U.S. military interests at stake in its alliances with those three states.
The Saudis effectively controlled U.S. access to the naval base in Bahrain. Turkey controlled the airbase at Incirlik. Qatar controlled land and air bases that had become central to U.S. military operations in the region.
Other relationships first
What was a disastrous blunder in terms of the consequences for the Syrian people, therefore, was the only choice acceptable to the powerful national security institutions that constitute what has become the U.S. permanent war state.
Their first concern was to ensure that existing military and intelligence arrangements and relationships were not jeopardized.
And Obama was not prepared to override that concern, despite his well-known skepticism about any arming of anti-Assad rebels in light of the blowback from America’s support for the Afghan Mujahidin in the 1980s.

 


The hopes for peace and Palestinian statehood fade away
John Kerry and the last gasp of the two-state solution
Dec 31st 2016 | Economist


JOHN KERRY, the American secretary of state (pictured), chose to mark the end of his long public career with a valedictory speech on December 28th devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Coming just three weeks before he is due to step down, it was an admission by America’s senior diplomat that he, like so many before him, had failed to make any noticeable contribution to ending this stubborn struggle.
The speech was essentially an analysis of the policies of the current Israeli government which Mr Kerry described “the most right-wing in Israeli history, with an agenda driven by the most extreme elements”. He questioned its desire for peace with the Palestinians, given the relentless expansion of Jewish settlements in lands conquered by Israel in 1967. “Does it really want an intensifying conflict in the West Bank?” asked Mr Kerry. “How does that help Israel’s security? How does that help the region?”
Donald Trump, the president-elect, and many of Israel’s supporters in America and beyond criticised him. Strikingly, a spokesman for the British prime minister, Theresa May, said it was inappropriate for Mr Kerry to criticise the political make-up of the Israeli government.
Mr Kerry’s 72-minute discourse dealt largely with his long love for, and attachment to, Israel, dating to his first visit there as a young senator in 1986. But he also spoke of his frustration that he, like many who wish Israel well, have proved powerless to shift it from what they see as a disastrous course.
His remarks came five days after America declined to block a UN Security Council resolution censuring Israel, reaffirming the view that the establishment of settlements in the occupied territories “has no legal validity and constitutes a flagrant violation under international law and a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”. The resolution passed 14-0.
For the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, it was an unforgivable act of betrayal by the Obama administration. Even though the text was in line with long-held American policy that regards settlements as illegitimate and an obstacle to peace, a “senior source” in Mr Netanyahu’s office, probably the prime minister himself, reportedly denounced Mr Obama and Mr Kerry for being “behind this shameful move against Israel” and for “secretly cooking” it up with the Palestinians. It was, said the source, “an abandonment of Israel”, although the Obama administration had only three months ago signed a record $38bn military-aid package for Israel.
Yet that counts for little. As far as the Israeli government is concerned, Donald Trump cannot arrive in the White House soon enough. On Twitter at least, the feeling is mutual. “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching”, Mr Trump tweeted even before Mr Kerry took the stand. “Thank you for your warm friendship and clear-cut support for Israel!” Mr Netanyahu tweeted back.

Meanwhile the Palestinian leadership voiced satisfaction but also wariness. “We celebrate the resolution, but it doesn’t mean the Palestinian issue has been solved”, said President Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr Kerry outlined six principles of a future agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They are little different from the “Clinton Parameters”, which were also set out by a lame-duck administration 16 years ago, and will carry considerably less weight, particularly with Mr Trump. In the intervening years the number of Jewish settlers living in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem, has increased by more than 200,000 to about 600,000.
Mr Netanyahu continues to say that he favours a two-state solution and he blames the Palestinian leadership for refusing to negotiate with Israel without setting preconditions. Yet many cabinet ministers and members of his own Likud party are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and want instead to annex the parts of the West Bank where most settlers live (East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel immediately after the six-day war in 1967). They have been restrained, in part, by concerns that doing so could turn international opinion against the Jewish state and lead to a rift with its main diplomatic and military allies, foremost of which is America. But the expectation that conditions under Mr Trump will be different is already leading to new plans for building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as to a new bill which will legalise the status of settlements built on privately-owned Palestinian land in contravention of Israeli (rather than international) law.
Mr Netanyahu seems to believe that he can disregard the Obama administration as well as other allies, and instead rely on his personal relationships with Mr Trump and Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to secure Israel’s future. As far as he is concerned, the uneasy relationship with Mr Obama is now little more than a bad memory. But he would be gambling with Israel’s future if he were now tempted to annex parts of the West Bank, or pushed into it by right-wingers in his government.
Although Mr Kerry’s speech carried little diplomatic weight, it still raised important questions over the future of both the Israeli state and the Palestinians that will remain after he is gone. As it prepares to mark half a century of military control of the occupied territories next year, will Israel be able to regard itself a true democracy if it shows no sign granting either a state, or full democratic and civic rights within Israel, to the three million Palestinians in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem? And can the outside world maintain the diplomatic orthodoxy of the two-state solution with an Israeli government intent on expanding the settlements?
For many, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel seems to offer the best chance for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet with each passing day of military rule, and each new step to expand settlements, the door to such a deal is closed further.
 


Iran’s Foreign Policy In 2016 – Analysis
January 1, 2017
By Behzad Khoshandam*   Eurasia Review
The Janus-faced appearance of any country’s foreign policy is a combination of its domestic and foreign forces. During 2016, Iran’s foreign policy was an arena for diplomatic efforts within framework of different emerging retrenchments. The Janus-faced countenance of Iran’s foreign policy in 2016 can be assessed from the standpoint of adaptability, dynamism in relation to surrounding developments and performance of internal forces on the basis of the idea of “constructive and purposive interaction,” which aims to forge balance in the country’s foreign relations.
The first area in which Iran’s foreign policy ideas were realized in 2016 was about implantation of the country’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which came into effect as of January 2016 on the basis of Iran’s logic of strategic patience in the third millennium. The result of such logic was realization of Iran’s strategic, trade, economic, oil-related and political interests, though Iran’s foreign policy was also facing certain challenges in 2016.
On the other hand, despite challenges posed to the European Union by the Brexit, the common mutual need for bolstering interaction and convergence of approaches and views between Iran and the European Union in 2016 caused these actors to start a new honeymoon in their relations aimed at realizing the idea of a multipolar world in 2016.
Apart from major trade and economic agreements signed with various countries and major global actors, successful participation in the 171th summit meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) on November 30, 2016, should be considered as another achievement for Iran’s foreign policy in 2016.
The OPEC meeting in November 2016 can be considered as an impetus for the revival of OPEC through developments that took place during past few decades in the arena of international relations as a result of constructive actions as well as effective and timely participation of the Iranian diplomacy.
Iran’s position in approaches taken by nominees for the 45th president of the United States through their election campaigns in 2016 also contained thought provoking historical lessons. The nominees from both Democrat and Republican parties in 2016, both in their election debates and in other positions, frequently and with high sensitivity focused on the issue of Iran as well as discourses and approaches that the country supports with regard to a wide range of issues. Strategic outcomes of such a stance on Iran by American officials in 2016 are indicative of the fact that Iran still continues to remain as one of the most challenging issues in the United States’ foreign policy under the President –elect Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States.
Major foreign policy crises across the world, including the crises in Syria and Iraq, the crisis of Daesh, the crises in Lebanon, Nagorno-Karabakh, Afghanistan, Palestine, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia, the crisis faced by Kurds, as well as the crises of immigrants and even the crisis in Ukraine were focus of attention for Iran’s foreign policy in 2016. Iran considered participation in the resolution of the aforesaid crises as an undeniable necessity for its foreign policy in 2016. In view of short-, medium-, and long-term effects of the aforementioned crises on Iran’s interests and values, the highest amount of energy spent by Iran’s foreign policy in 2016 was allocated to creation of strategic trends and coalitions in the country’s spheres of influence in order to increase its strategic depth. Fighting against terrorism and extremism and taking advantage of the capacity of such partners as Russia was also a focus of attention for Iran when setting its foreign policy agenda in 2016.
One of the most unprecedented decisions taken in the area of Iran’s foreign policy in 2016 was allowing Russia to take advantage of the country’s Nojeh Air Base in order to support the legitimate nation-state of Syria.
As an extension of these efforts, Iran’s foreign policy actions in 2016 became more proactive toward resolution of the global crisis, which is still underway in Syria. Iran’s effort to build new coalitions as well as indigenous and intra-regional convergence among Iran, Russia and Turkey for the resolution of the global crisis in Syria was finally followed with positive effects for the entire region. The outcome of taking part in such efforts was the liberation of the strategic Syrian city of Aleppo in late 2016. The liberation of Aleppo has been considered as a turning point in foreign policy of regional and international powers in Syria in 2016, which was made possible as a result of strategic and coordinated actions taken by the axis of Iran, Russia and Turkey.
On the other hand, the approach taken by actors, who were rival and opposite to Iran’s foreign policy actions in 2016, also went through many ups and downs. The rival, and to some extent aggressive, approach taken by these actors paved the way for intensification of conflicts between the interests of these actors and Iran’s foreign policy in 2016. Examples of measures taken by such actors toward Iran can be seen in biased approaches adopted by some regional actors, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Israel. Meanwhile, opening the way for interventions by such transregional actors as the UK, which highlighted issues like the proxy wars in neighboring regions around Iran through such Arab mechanisms as the (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council in late 2016, was another example of these hostile measures.
On the whole, Iran’s foreign policy in 2016 can be assessed within framework of the effort made to realize the important goal of expedient interaction with the West and international organizations in a bid to clear the way for the JCPOA to enter into force. Other characteristics of Iran’s foreign policy in 2016 were playing a maximum role in neighboring regions in order to create balance; the rivalry between Iran, on the one hand, and some European and Asian actors, on the other hand; and Iran’s serious turn toward Eurasia. Through an adaptive and dynamic approach, Iran’s Janus-faced foreign policy in 2016 managed to give birth to serious trends in such areas as security, economy and politics both at international (oil sector achievements) and regional levels (including with regard to crises in Syria, Iraq and other places).
*Behzad Khoshandam
Ph.D. in International Relations & Expert on International Issues

 


Why Ankara now feels vulnerable to Russia
Author Fehim Taştekin Posted December 25, 2016
The assassination of Russia’s Ambassador to Ankara Andrei Karlov by an off-duty Turkish police official at an art event Dec. 19 has made Turkey extremely vulnerable. It didn’t take long for the ramifications of the assassination to affect foreign politics.
During a Syrian meeting held in Moscow between Russia, Turkey and Iran a day after the assassination, a trilateral solution proposed by Russia was approved. The murder has weakened Turkey’s standing to the extent that it can’t express any reservations. From now on it seems we will distinguish relations with Russia as “pre-Karlov” and “post-Karlov.”
For well-known and much-discussed reasons, Turkey’s Syria policy over the past year has been one of upheavals and turbulence. To restore relations with Moscow after shooting down a Russian jet on Nov. 25, 2015, Turkey was compelled to end its support of the opposition forces in Aleppo and mediate in their evacuation. Now just as Turkey was figuring out how to benefit from the availability of opposition fighters, Karlov was assassinated. Turkey had already lost one arm to Russia after shooting down its plane; now it lost its other arm.
According to a statement by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov after the Dec. 20 Moscow meeting, two key points were agreed on:
• Turkey, Iran and Russia have become the guarantors of a comprehensive cease-fire and political solution process between the opposition groups and the Damascus regime.
• The three countries have agreed that the priority is not to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power, but to combat terror.
Under normal circumstances, guaranteeing a cease-fire means halting logistic support and weapons transfer to Syria via Hatay and Kilis in Turkey. Turkey feels that if it halts its support to the opposition forces, then the groups on the side of the regime should also be denied support. In their joint press briefing in Moscow, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the three countries have promised to fight the Islamic State (IS), Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jahbat al-Nusra) and affiliated groups that have no benefit for Syria. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the same briefing said the cease-fire envisaged for Syria does not cover IS and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and foreign assistance to groups that are covered by the cease-fire, including Hezbollah, should cease.
Another point to note is the perceptible shift in the negotiation process for Syria. Although the Moscow troika said they were not promoting an alternative to the Geneva process, a new solution concept that sidelines the West-Gulf axis is in the making.
President Vladimir Putin had said earlier they were in the process of organizing new peace talks that would exclude the United States and the United Nations and that such talks could be held in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. “All efforts by the United States and its allies to coordinate their actions have failed. None of their moves have really affected the situation on the ground,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said.
The role envisaged for Turkey in this new concept is to prepare the opposition groups for the change. Russia’s strategy when intervening in the Syrian crisis was first to cripple the armed groups, then to identify among them those who were willing to discuss a political solution and finally declare all the rest as terrorists and crush them. Russia has been working on Turkey to adopt this course of action, but Ankara has not been having an easy time acquiescing. While including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and affiliated groups in their list of terror groups, Iran and Russia have also expanded it to cover other groups supported by Turkey. How much longer can Turkey be the guardian of groups such as Ahrar al-Sham that are linked to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham? Will Turkey be asked to abandon them? After the assassination, can Turkey resist Russian political pressures?
Turkey’s only hope is for Russia not to treat the ambassador’s murder as an act of sabotage against the relations of the two countries but as a murder by an off-duty police official who has adopted the slogans of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
Is there a new axis being shaped?
If the Iran, Russia and Turkey partnership succeeds, certainly it could open the way to a new axis that will reshape Middle East politics. But it will be a folly to ignore the reactions to the Moscow declaration. Not everyone is delighted with it. There are many issues that will test the feasibility of this declaration, such as:
• What is going to happen to Idlib where Jabhat Fatah al-Sham has set up its own emirate, now beefed up by fighters coming from Aleppo, Hama, Homs and Damascus? Is Idlib the next target after Aleppo? If so, where do the refugees go? Will Turkey accept members of armed groups and their families?
• If Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and its allies are to be targeted, what will be the policy against groups protected and helped by Turkey? Will they also become targets?
• What will be the attitude of Saudi Arabia and Qatar, who have been supporting armed groups in Syria?
• What will happen if logistics channels from Jordan are activated after Turkey closes down its supply lines?
• What will be Washington’s reaction to the alternative axis?
• Will Turkey continue with Operation Euphrates Shield, which is becoming more costly for Turkey with mounting casualties in the army?
• What will happen to Turkey’s condition of terminating autonomy moves by the Kurds in Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan)? Will Turkey insist on transforming Operation Euphrates Shield into a wider war against the Kurds? Will Russia tolerate Turkish operations against Kurdish People's Protection Units forces in Rojava?
• Turkey was thinking of recruiting the fighters evacuated from Aleppo as soldiers for Euphrates Shield. Russia was against it. What will happen now?
Turkey’s shift to the Iran-Russia axis on Syria will surely affect the field. After all, about 70% of the logistics, arms and personnel needs of the Syrian front were being met from Turkey.
 


 • Bloomberg
Netanyahu Says ‘No Doubt’ U.S. Behind UN Vote on Settlements
by
Michael Arnold
Dec 25, 2016
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stepped up his broadside at the U.S. government after the UN Security Council declared Israel’s settlements illegal, saying President Barack Obama’s administration “initiated and stood behind” the resolution.
Netanyahu said Obama broke a long-standing U.S. commitment not to allow the UN to impose conditions on Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Resolution 2334, which passed Friday by a 14-0 vote with the U.S. abstaining, demands that Israel cease construction in all areas it captured in the 1967 Middle East war and describes the West Bank and East Jerusalem as occupied Palestinian territory.
“We will do all we can to make sure Israel won’t be harmed by this shameful resolution,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, calling the bill “unbalanced and extremely hostile to the State of Israel.”
The resolution calls on member states to differentiate between territories inside and outside the pre-1967 lines in their dealings with Israel. While the immediate practical impact is unclear -- the resolution is declaratory but not binding on member states -- it could strengthen the movement to boycott or sanction Israel and open the door for more lawsuits against Israel in international bodies. The EU already requires goods produced in Israeli settlements to be labelled distinctly from those made in Israel, allowing consumers to avoid them more easily.
Fraying Ties
The U.S. abstention highlighted the increasingly strained relationship between Obama and Netanyahu. The Security Council vote came in the waning weeks of Obama’s presidency, as Israel looks forward to warmer relations with President-elect Donald Trump, who had pressured Obama to veto the resolution in an unusual breach of transition protocol.
“The big loss yesterday for Israel in the United Nations will make it much harder to negotiate peace. Too bad, but we will get it done anyway!” Trump told his 17.9 million Twitter followers Saturday.
Obama was highly critical of Israel’s West Bank settlements from the moment he entered office, demanding a construction freeze as a precondition for peace talks with the Palestinians. The two leaders then clashed publicly over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, with Netanyahu denouncing it in a speech to Congress that wasn’t coordinated with the White House and that soured relations further.
The Obama administration has denied Friday’s vote breached any U.S. commitments to Israel, saying it’s in keeping with U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, defended the move to abstain, saying Friday that “one cannot champion" both settlements and the two-state solution.
Under terms of the agreements that have directed Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts for more than two decades, borders and settlements are issues for the two sides to negotiate between themselves in a final peace deal. Israel says the UN vote will convince Palestinians they can get what they want without having to negotiate, making them more intransigent.
The resolution “doesn’t bring peace closer. It pushes it further away,” Netanyahu said Saturday at a ceremony marking the beginning of Hannukah.
Palestinian leaders welcomed the measure’s passage. The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said in a statement in Arabic that the move is “a big blow for the Israeli political policy, a condemnation of settlements and consensus by the international community and a support for the two-state solution.” Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also praised the vote.
Domestic Storm
The domestic fallout of the vote was unclear. Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home party, which opposes a Palestinian state, said Israel should annex portions of the West Bank in response.
A controversial initiative to authorize West Bank outposts -- postponed until after Trump takes office next month -- could be revived following the UN move, the Times of Israel reported. The bill would legalize some 4,000 housing units in the West Bank.
The opposition took a different lesson from the vote. Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog criticized the UN vote and called it the most difficult blow Israel had suffered in decades, but also presented it as a repudiation of Netanyahu’s policies.
“If Netanyahu has any shred of responsibility, he should give up the keys and understand that he can know longer manage the affairs of state,” Herzog said in a post on his Facebook page. “The only way to stop this dangerous descent that he’s brought us to is with elections and a united struggle to topple Netanyahu.”
Netanyahu said countries that worked to pass the resolution would pay a diplomatic and economic price. Israel moved quickly to recall its ambassadors from New Zealand and Senegal, two co-sponsors of the resolution with which Israel has diplomatic ties, ended aid programs to Senegal, and canceled a planned visit by Ukraine’s prime minister. Netanyahu also said Saturday he would cut off 30 million shekels ($7.9 million) in funding to UN institutions.
Under the resolution, he said, Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall would be considered “occupied territory,” which he termed “absurd.” Netanyahu said friends of Israel in the U.S. and the incoming Trump administration would fight anti-Israel efforts at the UN. Trump tweeted on Friday that “as to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20,” the day he takes office.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said countries that voted for the resolution were summoned Sunday for reprimands, and Ynet reported U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro would also be summoned this week. Later in the day, Netanyahu announced that government ministers would not meet with ministers of countries that voted for the resolution or fly to those countries.


Multibillion-Dollar Jet Deals With Iran Will Test Trump Policy
With president-elect critical of Iran nuclear deal, huge Boeing, Airbus orders are not guaranteed
By
Robert Wall
Dec. 24, 2016 Wall Street Journal
LONDON—European plane maker Airbus Group SE followed Boeing Co. in completing a multibillion-dollar plane deal with Iran’s state air carrier, creating another big test case for how the incoming Trump administration responds to the West’s accelerating economic opening with the Islamic Republic.
Airbus, the world’s No. 2 plane maker after Boeing, said Thursday it had completed an agreement—first announced in broad strokes in January—to sell 100 planes to Iran Air. The contract is valued at more than $18 billion based on list price, which doesn’t include sometimes-big discounts. Airbus said it would start delivering planes early next year.
The agreement comes close on the heels of Boeing’s deal to sell Iran 80 jets for $16.6 billion, based on list price. The two contracts are far and away the most valuable commercial agreements between Western firms and Iran since the completion of a nuclear pact between the U.S. and other world powers and Tehran. In exchange for Iran curbing its nuclear program, the international community agreed to lift many of the sanctions that have isolated Iran economically for years.
Since then, many Western firms have scrambled to assess opportunities, and a few have made concrete obligations with Iranian counterparts in industries including energy and auto manufacturing. Commercial aviation has been a particular priority for Iran, which has struggled to modernize its aging fleet of mostly Boeing jets, bought before the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Uncertainty has heightened over the fate of many of these commercial inroads in Iran since the election of Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, Mr. Trump said he opposed the Iran nuclear deal. Critics in the U.S. Congress have said they would try to unwind the Boeing deal, in particular.
Boeing announced its own Iran deal earlier this month at an awkward time for the American plane maker. Mr. Trump had just recently publicly raised questions over the cost of Boeing’s government contract to build the next version of Air Force One, the presidential jet. Mr. Trump hasn’t weighed in publicly on Boeing’s contract with Iran, and he and his team haven’t detailed their position on the nuclear deal with Iran since the election.
Even though it is a European company, Airbus is vulnerable to any big shift in U.S. policy toward Iran. Airbus requires specific U.S. approval for the sales because its jets include many American parts and technology that are subject to American export controls. It received that approval, from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, earlier this year.
The U.S. has other levers that could make completing the Airbus transaction more difficult—for instance, forbidding any financing or payments to be routed through institutions with access to the American banking system.
Farhad Parvaresh, head of Iran Air, said in an interview that Airbus would “probably” finance some of the first planes to be delivered. Airbus didn’t disclose financing details. Iran has previously said it would finance a chunk of the two plane orders domestically and rely on foreign financing for the rest.
Airbus is also expected to deliver its planes to Iran Air much faster than Boeing. That could set up the Airbus deal as an earlier litmus test than the Boeing one for how Mr. Trump responds. Mr. Parvaresh said he expected three to four Airbus planes by March. One person familiar with the situation said at least one plane could arrive before Mr. Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration.
In announcing its deal earlier this month, Boeing said booking the Iran Air sales in its official order book was still subject to “contingencies.” That caution is common with deals involving state-owned airlines. They can include final green lights from governments and often are linked to potential financing arrangements, said people familiar with the sales process. On Thursday, in its weekly order-book update, Boeing said it hadn’t yet included its Iran order in that tally.
Iranian officials said earlier this week they would seek repayment with interest on any money they paid for the Boeing jets if Washington interfered with the order.
For Boeing and Airbus, the Iranian purchases are a big help. After years of record orders by airlines for the newest planes, global appetite has been ebbing. Airbus booked only 410 net orders in the first 11 months of the year, compared with 1,007 for the same period last year. Boeing’s 468 plane orders through Dec. 13 also trail last year’s figures.
Airbus said the 100 planes would include a mix of 46 single-aisle A320 planes along with 38 A330 and 16 A350 long-haul planes.
The two orders will go a long way in upgrading Iran Air’s fleet, one of the oldest in the world thanks to sanctions. Still, absorbing all those new aircraft pose other challenges.
Sanctions have also left the country with an antiquated airport and air-traffic management infrastructure.
Airbus said Thursday that as part of the deal, it would provide pilot training and other help upgrading the country’s infrastructure.
Fabrice Brégier, who heads Airbus’s commercial plane-making unit, called the package “a significant first step in the overall modernization of Iran’s commercial aviation sector.”
—Aresu Eqbali in Tehran contributed to this article.

 


Kissinger, a longtime Putin confidant, sidles up to Trump
America's pre-eminent ex-diplomat gets back in the mix. Could he help broker a deal with Russia?
By Nahal Toosi and Isaac Arnsdorf Politico Magazine
12/24/16 07:26 AM EST
Back in the 1990s, Henry Kissinger, the legendary former U.S. secretary of state-turned-global consultant, encountered an intriguing young Russian and proceeded to ask him a litany of questions about his background.
“I worked in intelligence,” Vladimir Putin finally told him, according to “First Person,” a 2000 autobiography cobbled together from hours of interviews with the then-unfamiliar Russian leader. To which Kissinger replied: “All decent people got their start in intelligence. I did, too.”
As Putin climbed the ranks in the Kremlin, eventually becoming the autocratic president he is today, he and Kissinger kept up a warm rapport even as the United States and Russia grew further apart. Kissinger is one of the few Americans to meet frequently with Putin, one former U.S. ambassador recently recalled -- along with movie star Steven Seagal and ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the likely next secretary of state.
Now, as Donald Trump signals that he wants a more cooperative relationship with Moscow, the 93-year-old Kissinger is positioning himself as a potential intermediary — meeting with the president-elect in private and flattering him in public. Like Trump, Kissinger has also cast doubt on intelligence agencies’ conclusion that Russia sought to sway the election in Trump's favor, telling a recent interviewer: “They were hacking, but the use they allegedly made of this hacking eludes me.”
Some have expressed surprise that the urbane, cerebral former top diplomat would have any affinity for the brash, shoot-from-the-lip Trump. But seasoned Kissinger watchers say it’s vintage behavior for a foreign policy realist who has cozied up to all sorts of kings and presidents for decades. And in fact, Trump may wind up an ideal vessel for Kissinger -- the architect of detente with the Soviets in the 1970s -- to realize his longstanding goal of warmer ties between the two Cold War adversaries.
For years, Kissinger has argued that promoting a greater balance of power between the U.S. and Russia would improve global stability. But skeptics fear this approach will sacrifice other values and reward bad behavior by the Kremlin, including its alleged election meddling, its invasion of Ukraine and its support for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad. There’s also the question of how Kissinger himself would personally benefit from a new reset with Russia: Aside from the reputational boost of having easy access to two major world leaders, the former secretary of state's secretive consulting firm, Kissinger Associates Inc., could get a bump in business.
“I think Kissinger is preparing a diplomatic offensive,” said Marcel H. Van Herpen, a Russia specialist and Putin critic who directs the Cicero Foundation, a Dutch think tank. “He’s a realist. The most important thing for him is international equilibrium, and there’s no talk of human rights or democracy.”
Trump aides did not offer a comment on the president-elect’s relationship with Kissinger, who served as secretary of state and national security adviser in the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. But sources familiar with the transition effort say the Manhattan real estate mogul is fascinated by Kissinger as well as other Republican elder statesmen, such as Robert Gates and Condoleezza Rice, to whom he has turned for advice on policy and staffing.
Kissinger and Trump have chatted on multiple occasions, including during at least one face-to-face meeting since the Nov. 8 election. And Kissinger, to the surprise of many in the broader foreign policy establishment, has spoken admiringly — albeit carefully — about the Trump phenomenon. Even after Trump spoke directly with the president of Taiwan -- a move that angered Beijing and went against the One China policy that Kissinger negotiated in the 1970s -- the former secretary of state expressed confidence Trump would uphold U.S. diplomatic traditions with the Chinese.
Associates of Kissinger also are in touch with others in the Trump orbit. One top Kissinger aide, Thomas Graham, is being floated among lower-level transition interlocutors as a potential ambassador to Russia, according to a source familiar with the conversations.
Graham met with House Foreign Affairs Committee staffers on Capitol Hill earlier this month, accompanied by other Russia observers, according to four people familiar with the session. Graham also sought meetings in the Senate. Graham appeared to be trying to identify people who shared similar outlooks on Russia and had connections to the Trump transition, three of the people said.
Kissinger also has praised Trump's choice of Tillerson as the next secretary of state, dismissing worries that the ExxonMobil chief is too close to the Kremlin. “He would be useless at the head of Exxon if he was not friendly with Russia… I don’t hear those concerns at all," Kissinger said at an event in Manhattan. "Nobody can meet every single qualification for secretary of state. I think it’s a good appointment.”
Kissinger Associates doesn’t disclose its clients under U.S. lobbying laws. The firm once threatened to sue Congress to resist a subpoena for its client list. It has in the past advised American Express, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola and Daewoo. But the firm does belong to the U.S.-Russia Business Council, a trade group that includes ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase and Pfizer.
A person familiar with the Trump team's national security planning warned against reading too much into the Trump-Kissinger relationship. The president-elect, the person said, "admires the reputation and the gravitas but isn't necessarily persuaded by the Kissingerian worldview."
That may be true when it comes to China, a frequent subject of Trump’s ire, and the need to maintain a strong NATO, whose usefulness Trump has repeatedly questioned. But Trump's desire for warmer ties with Russia has been one of the more consistent stances he's taken, and he could find alignment with Kissinger.
POLITICO's attempts to reach Kissinger did not succeed this past week. But despite his unsavory reputation among human rights advocates -- who recite a litany of moral offenses from Vietnam to Bangladesh -- presidents of both political parties have sought Kissinger's advice for the past 40 years, and he's been eager to oblige.
During the final years of the George W. Bush administration, as relations with Moscow were souring, Kissinger teamed up with Evgeny Primakov, the former Russian prime minister and head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to co-chair a working group focused on bilateral relations between the U.S. and Russia. Putin blessed the venture. According to Kissinger, Bush, too, hoped the initiative would yield positive results, even assembling members of his national security team to learn about its work in 2008. But the payoff was modest, at best: Russia sent troops into the former Soviet state of Georgia in August 2008, angering the Bush administration, which imposed limited sanctions.
When Barack Obama took over the presidency from Bush, he sought Kissinger’s help on how to deal with Putin. A 2009 meeting between Kissinger and Putin helped lay the groundwork for a new arms-control pact as part of Obama’s effort to “reset” Russian relations. Kissinger remained involved in arms negotiations through 2010, according to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails released by the State Department. But ultimately that reset failed as well, for reasons that include Putin's frustrations over U.S. support of NATO and European Union expansion, which he believed threatened Russian influence in countries such as Ukraine.
In a February speech honoring Primakov, who died last year, Kissinger sketched out his view of the way U.S.-Russian relations should work. "The long-term interests of both countries call for a world that transforms the contemporary turbulence and flux into a new equilibrium which is increasingly multi-polar and globalized," he said. "Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States.”
As for Ukraine, which lost its Crimea region to Russian annexation in 2014 and is still fighting Russian-backed separatists in its east, Kissinger argued that it shouldn’t be invited to join the West outright. "Ukraine needs to be embedded in the structure of European and international security architecture in such a way that it serves as a bridge between Russia and the West, rather than as an outpost of either side," he said.
In Syria, he likewise called for the U.S. to cooperate with Russia, which has used indiscriminate air power to help Assad crush rebel forces. "Compatible U.S.-Russian efforts coordinated with other major powers could create a pattern for peaceful solutions in the Middle East and perhaps elsewhere,” he advised at the time.
Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, noted that it's not yet clear how far Trump will go to accommodate Russia. The president-elect’s pick for defense secretary is James Mattis, a retired Marine general who views Moscow as a major threat. And Trump, who prides himself on his deal-making skills, may ultimately conclude that Russia has little to offer.
“Does Trump get to a better relationship with Russia without getting something for it in terms of better behavior?" Pifer asked. "If we’re prepared to accept what they’re doing in Syria, Crimea, and Eastern Ukraine, we can have a better relationship, but we’ve sacrificed other interests and it’s not clear what we get for that.”
In an interview with CBS News that aired earlier this month, Kissinger spoke of both Trump and Putin in terms that suggested a sense of respect, if not necessarily awe.
Trump, Kissinger said, "has the possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president.” Because of perceptions that Obama weakened America's influence abroad, "one could imagine that something remarkable and new emerges” out of a Trump administration," he said. "I’m not saying it will. I’m saying it’s an extraordinary opportunity.”
Putin, meanwhile, is a "character out of Dostoyevsky,” Kissinger said, a reference to the 19th-century author who chronicled the often bleak lives of Russians in novels such as "Crime and Punishment" and "The Idiot." “He is a man with a great sense of connection, an inward connection, to Russian history as he sees it,” Kissinger said of Putin.
The Kremlin took it as a compliment. “Kissinger knows our country really well, he knows our writers and our philosophers so such comparisons from him are quite positive,” a spokesman for the Russian government said, adding that Kissinger "has deep knowledge, not superficial.”



 


Trump’s coming war against Islam
By Jackson Diehl Deputy Editorial Page Editor December 11 at 7:35 PM
Washington Post
Donald Trump is about to lead the West into the third and darkest phase of its 15-year quest to neutralize the threat of Islamic extremism. The first was George W. Bush’s freedom initiative, which posited that political liberalization in the Middle East’s rotting autocracies would dry up terrorist recruiting. The second was the engagement policy of Barack Obama, who bet that respectful dialogue and attention to Muslim demands for justice — above all for the Palestinians — would make the West a less compelling target.
Both were widely judged to be failures. Now the new president will embrace the approach that both Bush and Obama explicitly ruled out as morally wrong and practically counterproductive: civilizational conflict.
The outlines of what might well be called the Trump crusade are easily located in the rhetoric of Stephen K. Bannon, Michael T. Flynn, Jeff Sessions and other Trump appointees. They describe a “long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam,” as Bannon put it, or “a world war against a messianic mass movement of evil people,” as Flynn, the incoming national security adviser, has written.
Bush and Obama were careful to distinguish the terrorists of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State from Islam itself, which they described as a great religion worthy of respect. Not Flynn. Islam, he has said, is a cancer, a political movement masquerading as a religion and the product of an inferior culture. “I don’t believe that all cultures are morally equivalent, and I think the West, and especially America, is far more civilized, far more ethical and moral,” he argued in a book published this year.
What might this mean in practice? On the battlefields of the Middle East, very little. Trump’s team is certain to continue the ongoing offensives against the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria and Libya. Given that they appear to be slowly succeeding, Flynn and incoming defense secretary James N. Mattis are unlikely to alter Obama’s approach of backing local forces rather than committing large numbers of U.S. troops. The new administration will look for showy ways to challenge Iran, but it is unlikely to do so in the place where it would matter most: Syria.
Trump’s civilizational conflict will be experienced not by Shiite militias or Sunni terrorists — who will surely welcome it — but by average citizens across the Muslim world. They will see it in the “extreme vetting,” if not an outright ban, they will be subjected to in seeking to enter the United States. And they will feel it in the ramping up of U.S. support for dictators and monarchs who are judged by Trump to be tactical allies in the civilizational war.
First among these will be Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, who has been lionized by Trump and his aides for supposedly battling jihadists while seeking the “reform” of Islam. In three years of the harshest rule his country has known in at least half a century, Sissi has wrecked the economy and all but destroyed a once-vibrant secular civil society. Yet the increasingly unpopular dictator is quickly emerging as the foremost Trump ally in the region, already invited for the White House visit that Obama denied him.
Other autocratic regimes may quietly fall in behind Trump’s strategy, despite its anti-Islamic cast. Saudi Arabia and other monarchies will welcome heightened U.S. hostility to Iran as well as to the Muslim Brotherhood; Bahrain, the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf, quickly signaled its obeisance by staging a national day celebration in Trump’s new Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.
Europeans, too, will follow along. Rightist governments in Hungary and Poland are already cheering Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric; the more moderate of the two leading candidates to become France’s next president, François Fillon, authored a book titled “Conquering Islamic Totalitarianism.” Even Germany’s Angela Merkel, the most prominent remaining defender of liberal democratic values, felt obliged to strike an anti-Islamic pose last week, proposing a crackdown on the minuscule number of German women who wear a burqa.
It’s not hard to foresee the consequences of this movement. Muslims who despise jihadists and long to modernize their countries with free markets and democratic institutions will be alienated from their potential Western partners. The Islamic State and al-Qaeda, which all along have promoted the idea of civilizational war with the West, will gain new recruits, both in the Middle East and among Western Muslims. Sissi’s regime will eventually crumble from corruption and incompetence, if it avoids a popular rebellion.
Bush and Obama tried to transform the Muslim Middle East, or U.S. relations with it, and failed. Trump’s aim will be to quarantine and repress the region and its religion. The worst foreseeable outcome is that he will succeed.

 


Will the Iran issue widen the US-EU rift?
By Christina Lin December 12, 2016

Asia Times.
The EU is nervous about a Trump presidency’s hostile policy towards Iran and threats to destroy the nuclear deal.
There has been a barrage of articles from European Council on Foreign Relations, Carnegie Europe, Deutsche Welle and others issuing warnings not to unilaterally dismantle the multilateral nuclear deal. Otherwise, the EU and others in the P5+1 will deem American deals as unreliable and break ranks to go their own way with Iran.
EU, China and Russia coalesce
Already there is discussion of how remaining members of the P5+1 can hedge themselves to salvage the deal if such a scenario does occur. In addition to European leaders issuing a statement on November 14 to reiterate their “resolute commitment” to the deal, there are also proposals to work with China and Russia to salvage key nuclear restrictions by offering meaningful sanctions relief to Iran, such as lifting European banking sanctions and oil embargo, and protecting European companies against enforcement of American sanctions aimed at prohibiting business with Iran.
The US previously tried to isolate Iran in 1996 by threatening US sanctions on foreign companies that developed Tehran’s oil and gas industry. As a counter measure the EU forbade companies from complying with the sanctions, and eventually the US backed down from enforcing them.
As a further insurance policy if the deal is scuttled, ideas have also been floated to quickly resolve banking and regulatory hurdles now faced by companies seeking to execute major deals already made with Iran.
The Europeans are mainly grappling with uncertainty surrounding a few key issues with the incoming Trump administration. Besides the Iran nuclear deal and possible US military action, they are also concerned with a US trade war with China and the demise of NATO.
As such they are forging their own path to decrease tensions with Russia, and deepening economic cooperation with China. On November 23-24, Germany convened a Sino-European business conference—“Hamburg Summit. China meets Europe”—to discuss ways Beijing and Brussels can cooperate to weather unpredictable US trade and foreign policy.
Berlin for one sees China as a reliable partner in global trade, and wants to push for further alignment between China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiatives and EU’s existing regional institutions and programs, as well as bilateral investments. It wants to use its influence in Brussels to include China for joint investments in third countries on the emerging European-Chinese economic corridor in Eurasia, and sees Sino-EU cooperation to create wealth and stability in the region is feasible without a visible US contribution.
Iran, China and Russia integrate
Iran likewise foresees continuing its Eurasia integration with China and Russia without US contribution, due to the extension of US sanctions for another 10 years.
Since geography matters, Iran is very important from the Eurasian perspective. It is a littoral state on both the Caspian Sea and Persian Gulf, and an important source of energy for Asian giants such as China and India. Indeed, Iran has already overtaken Saudi Arabia as the top supplier of oil to India.
It is also key for both Russia and China’s Eurasian integration projects, especially on China’s OBOR as a strategic hub in the Middle East and Central and South Asia.
In fact, some of Trump’s advisors are considering having the US join the AIIB to become a stakeholder and participate in OBOR projects, and on November 30 helped launch the inaugural US-China Belt and Road Forum. How the US can de-conflict its desire to potentially cooperate on China’s OBOR and yet isolate the key node of Iran remains to be seen.
But should the new administration decide to oppose or ignore the OBOR, and adopt a combative stance towards Iran, then this would likely impel the EU, Iran, China and Russia to quicken the pace of Eurasian integration.
Which brings us back to the Cloverleaf world.
As this author had previously discussed, in 1581 German Pastor Heinrich Bunting portrayed the world that mattered was comprised of the three continents of Europe, Asia, and Africa, with each depicted as a cloverleaf. They converged in Jerusalem, and the rest of the world was irrelevant.
With the US increasingly focused on domestic infrastructure and job creation, scaling back on its military presence overseas, and absence from the Eurasian integration project, we may indeed witness a wider US-EU rift.
Along with this, a return to the Cloverleaf map as the likely depiction of the unfolding global geopolitical architecture of the 21st century.
 


Financial Times
$16.6bn deal with Iran’s national carrier
Signing marks first major deal between US company and Iran since 1979 revolution

by: Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran and Peggy Hollinger in London
Iran’s national carrier and Boeing have finalised their $16.6bn deal for the sale of 80 aircraft to the Islamic Republic’s airlines, paving the way for Iran Air to sign its $25bn deal to buy 118 jets from Airbus.
The signing of the Boeing contract marks the first multibillion-dollar contract with a US company since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The deal comes at a sensitive time when many politicians and business people in Tehran and western capitals expect Mr Trump to roll back some parts of the agreement that lifted certain sanctions. During his controversial campaign, Mr Trump pledged to “dismantle” or at least restructure the nuclear deal reached between Iran and six world powers last year.
“Today is a historic day . . . that after 41 years, Iran Air and Boeing ink this deal,” said Abbas Akhoundi, Iran’s minister of transportation at the ceremony. “It has a clear message for the world . . . by which businessmen are telling the world that they support peace, calm and development of humanitarian affairs.”
Airbus and Tehran have also reached a provisional agreement on the sale of 118 aircraft, worth an estimated $25bn at list prices.
“The contract with Airbus will be finalised, too, very soon,” said an Iranian official. Airbus refused to comment. “We do not comment on our confidential talks with customers,” it said.
Both deals face significant opposition in the US Congress. Last month, the House of Representatives moved to block the deals by voting through a bill that would prevent the US Treasury from issuing licences needed by US banks to complete the transactions. However, this bill would still have to be passed in the Senate to become law.
Today is a historic day . . . that after 41 years, Iran Air and Boeing ink this deal. It has a clear message for the world . . . by which businessmen are telling the world that they support peace, calm and development of humanitarian affairs
Abbas Akhoundi, Iran’s minister of transportation
The Boeing sale includes 50 737 MAX 8s, 15 777-300ERs and 15 777-9s, the largest of its newest long-haul jet. The aircraft will be delivered over the next decade with the first arriving in 2018.
The deal will be a welcome boost to Boeing’s efforts to bridge the transition from its current generation 777 wide-bodies to the new re-engined 777X version. It also gives Boeing’s new generation 737 MAX a welcome boost in the face of fierce competition from Airbus’ A320 narrow-body family, which has been taking the majority of single-aisle orders.
However, Iran Air is equally buying a mix of new and current generation aircraft from Airbus in two stages — both of which have been granted approval by US authorities.
Boeing said it “co-ordinated closely with the US government throughout the process leading up to the sale and continues to follow all license requirements as it moves forward to implement the sales agreement”.
Airbus and Boeing gained clearance from US authorities in September for their aircraft deals.
The Middle Eastern country has said it needs 500 new aircraft to renew the country’s ageing fleet, which includes some of the oldest models still in operation globally. Iran has said that only 12 passenger aircraft out of 250 were less than 15 years old.
Farhad Parvaresh, Iran Air managing director, and Fletcher Barkdull, Boeing regional director for commercial aeroplane sales contracts, signed the $16.6bn deal, according to a statement by Iran’s ministry of transportation. The US delegation was led by Monte Frazier, the international sales executive at Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
Iran Air is expected to pay both Boeing and Airbus significantly less than the catalogue prices, however, as aircraft sales are often substantially discounted based on the volume ordered and on delivery dates.
“Airbus officials are already in Tehran, negotiating the last parts of the contract which will be hopefully signed in a couple of days,” Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan, Iran’s deputy minister of transport, told the Financial Times. He added that the deal with Boeing was not made in any rush before Mr Trump takes office, but came “as the result of 10 months of negotiations”.

 


Congress’ other must-pass measure: Iran sanctions
By Karoun Demirjian November 3 Washington Post
When Congress returns to Washington later this month to tackle a budget impasse and a massive defense policy bill, there will be one more contentious item on its agenda: extending sanctions on Iran.
At the end of the year, the Iran Sanctions Act (ISA) expires — and with it, the regime of existing U.S. sanctions lawmakers say are essential to ensure Washington can “snap back” punitive measures against Tehran should Iranian leaders violate the terms of the nuclear deal that went into effect earlier this year.
But if lawmakers go too far in their bid to renew and possibly stiffen the sanctions, the White House fears Tehran could interpret it as a U.S. violation of the deal — and take that as a cue to fire up their nuclear reactors again.
Few issues of foreign policy have divided Congress as bitterly as the Iran deal.
Many Democrats championed it as President Obama’s flagship diplomatic achievement, while Republicans blasted the accord as a foolhardy mistake that would only empower Iran and make it a bigger threat in the Middle East, particularly to Israel.
Lawmakers today are similarly divided over the best approach to renewing the energy, banking and defense industry restrictions on Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.
For many, the bill to renew the sanctions for 10 years is the best opportunity to slap new penalties on Tehran for a spate of ballistic missile tests it has conducted since the nuclear deal was struck. Democrats and Republicans have called for a response to the tests, arguing they violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the nuclear deal that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for a cessation of its nuclear program.
Others see the legislation as a chance to clamp down on the president’s ability to strike future financial settlements with Tehran — a cause Republicans seized upon after revelations that the White House had timed $1.7 billion in cash settlements to Iran to coincide with the release of American prisoners, which the GOP calls “ransom.”
And a few more Republicans lawmakers don’t want to see a renewal of Iran sanctions move ahead without also cutting a hefty check to Iran’s archenemy Israel, even if that flies in the face of an aid deal the Obama administration and Israel struck just a few weeks ago.
The discord is concentrated mainly in the Senate, where there are three competing proposals jockeying for a floor vote during the lame duck. In the House, the normally pugnacious GOP majority — which has passed a litany of measures aimed at limiting the Iran deal and U.S. engagement with Tehran — is opting for a bipartisan approach. The House is planning to vote on a clean 10-year renewal of the existing sanctions, according to a GOP congressional aide
The Iran Sanctions Act “should remain in place until the regime stops exporting terror and threatening us and our allies with deadly weapons,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Edward R. Royce (R-Calif.), who is sponsoring the measure. “That’s why I’ll be introducing a bipartisan, long-term extension of these important sanctions.”
But it is unclear if the Senate will follow the House’s lead — or if the White House is even ready to accept a bipartisan renewal of existing sanctions.
The effectiveness of the Iran deal relies on Iran upholding its promise to suspend its nuclear program and on the other parties to the agreement — including the United States — not creating any new nuclear-related sanctions against Tehran while the deal is in effect.
Some advocates of the deal have lobbied against renewing the sanctions out of concern that Iranian leaders might interpret the move as the U.S. violating its obligations under the nuclear pact. At the very least, they argue, a 10-year extension — which would extend beyond the date when the nuclear pact requires the U.N. to formally lift sanctions in 2023 — would exacerbate tensions during a sensitive time for the deal.
The White House is not worried that renewing the sanctions will violate the nuclear deal, but has argued it has the authority to impose penalties on Iran for malign activities even if the current law expires. The White House has not shot down the idea it could veto an extension of sanctions.
“I won’t prejudge at this point about whether the President would sign that bill, but I would just make the point that the kind of authority that Congress is saying the executive branch should have to confront Iran is the kind of executive authority that we already have,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters last week.
Congress isn’t buying that.
Lawmakers from both parties have expressed deep frustration at the pace and scope with which the Obama administration sanctioned Iranian individuals and entities over frequent ballistic missile tests conducted during the last year. Iranian leaders argue those tests are their right under the deal, but U.S. lawmakers warn they could have no purpose but to ready Iran’s capability to deliver a nuclear weapon in the future.
Such concerns drove Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and others to push for a sanctions renewal bill that would supplement existing Iran sanctions with new mandatory punishments for those involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program, cyberthreats and espionage, and the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. The bill would also prohibit Iran’s financial institutions from conducting dollar-based transactions with banks in third-party countries.
Corker’s approach has tacit support from GOP Senate leadership, but its road to a floor vote is being challenged from both the right and left.
Republican Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) threw a wrench into the mix this fall, when he threatened a counterproposal that would tie the extension of sanctions to approving an extra $1.5 billion in aid for Israel. Graham’s proposal was designed to challenge a 10-year memorandum of understanding the Obama administration struck with Israel, which guarantees unprecedented levels of military aid but stipulates that Israel cannot take more money from Congress. Still, aid for Israel is politically popular with both parties and Graham all but dared fellow lawmakers to vote against his proposal, should it be considered on the floor.
Meanwhile, most influential Senate Democrats have banded around a simple, no-frills reauthorization that Corker’s usual negotiating partner, Senate Foreign Relations Committee top Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin (Md.), proposed only days after the chairman introduced his bill. Their measure is most akin to the House’s forthcoming Iran sanctions bill that members are expected to vote on later this month.
A successful House vote on that bill may create enough momentum to carry a simple extension of the existing sanctions all the way through Congress and onto the president’s desk.
 


Wall Street Journal
Greece Defies EU, U.S. on Sanctions for Iran’s Bank Saderat
Athens bucks allies by vetoing renewal of sanctions against bank U.S. accuses of financing terrorism
By Laurence Norman in Brussels and
Nektaria Stamouli in Athens
Updated Nov. 1, 2016 4:28 p.m. ET
Greece has defied its European allies and Washington by blocking European Union sanctions on an Iranian bank the U.S. accuses of financing terrorism, officials familiar with the move say.
Athens’s action last month marked the first time a European country has picked apart the sanctions regime meant to remain in place following the July 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran. The regime is designed to constrain Iran’s ability to resume illicit activities and pressure it to stick by the agreement.
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s government undertook to rehabilitate Bank Saderat, a partly state-owned company that runs Iran’s largest banking network, as Athens seeks to rebuild close economic ties with Iran, a key source of cheap energy for the country in the past.
But the move is potentially risky for Greece, which will host U.S. President Barack Obama this month. U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew warned last year that any firm that deals with Bank Saderat “will risk losing its access to the U.S. financial system.”
For that reason, the end to the EU’s formal sanctions on the Iranian bank is unlikely to immediately improve its prospects in Europe, where financial institutions have been reluctant to do business even with Iranian entities that were freed from sanctions under last year’s accord.
But some U.S. observers worry that Greece’s relief for Saderat could mark the beginning of a broader decay in European sanctions on Iran.
“This is an early sign that Europe is picking apart the nuclear accord and undermining even the terrorism sanctions they promised to enforce,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank opposed to the Iran deal.
In 2007, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned Saderat as a terrorist financier for allegedly channeling money to Iran’s regional proxies Hezbollah, Hamas and other Palestinian groups Washington considers terrorist. The Iranian government has previously denied any involvement by Bank Saderat and other institutions in terrorist financing. Bank Saderat didn’t respond to a request to comment.
The United Nations sanctioned the bank for its involvement in Iran’s nuclear and ballistic-missiles program, a move the EU matched in 2010.
Under the July 2015 multinational nuclear deal with Iran, which lifted most financial sanctions on Tehran, Saderat was one of just three banks kept on the EU’s sanctions list for as long as eight years. Washington has the bank under sanctions indefinitely for terror financing.
In April, however, the EU’s top court upheld the bank’s challenge to the EU sanctions, arguing the 28-nation bloc had provided insufficient evidence to back up its claim that Saderat was carrying out illicit activities. The court allowed the EU to maintain the asset freeze for six months under an amended charge, a period that ended on Oct. 22.
Throughout that period, France and the U.K. worked to ensure the sanctions would be extended beyond October, seeking new evidence that Saderat was involved in illicit activities.
While there were doubts about the EU’s chance of winning a fresh legal challenge, 27 of the EU’s 28 governments were prepared to extend the sanctions, according to senior European and Greek officials. Greece alone was opposed.
“There is an EU court decision and it should be respected,” a senior Greek foreign-ministry official said.
“There were very firm instructions from Athens to block it,” a second Greek official said.
Greece’s decision came despite entreaties from the U.S. to allow the sanctions to stand. While the Obama administration has been working with EU counterparts to encourage European banks to start working again with Iranian firms that are no longer under sanctions, the opposite was true for Saderat.
Congressmen with close ties to the Greek government also weighed in as Greece was warned it could pay a price if it allowed Saderat, whose office in Athens was effectively shut down after EU sanctions were imposed on Iran, to get back into business.
U.S. Treasury officials “raised concerns about the potential removal of sanctions on Bank Saderat with Greek officials and urged them not to impede efforts to reapply sanctions,” a Treasury representative said.
European and Greek officials say Athens had countervailing pressures to consider.
Greece was one of Iran’s biggest energy customers before the nuclear sanctions. Seeking to shore up the shattered Greek economy, the left-wing Tsipras government has been eager to rebuild political and economic ties with Tehran in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.
Mr. Tsipras was among the first Western leaders to lead a big delegation of businesses to Tehran soon after the economic sanctions were lifted in mid-January 2016. Even before that, Greece and Iran launched discussions to resume Iranian oil deliveries and started negotiating a settlement giving Hellenic Petroleum, Greece’s largest refinery, more time to repay at least half a billion euros ($548 million) worth of debt it owed Iranian firms before the imposition of EU sanctions.
A month ago, Iran’s central bank chief held meetings in Athens with senior bankers and the country’s Vice President Yannis Dragasakis, who is overseeing the reconstruction of Greece’s fragile banking system. Officials say the Saderat case was discussed.

 


Can Iran pull Turkey, Iraq away from brink of war?
Author Saeid Jafari Posted November 1, 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — “He insults me. You are not on the same level as me! You are not my equal! Scream all you want from Iraq! It will not change anything! We will do what we want to do.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan uttered these words Oct. 11 when addressing Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, in the latest round of verbal sparring between the two neighbors. Turkey, which once had “zero problems” with its neighbors, today has strained relations with every single one of them.
Having encountered numerous problems with former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Erdogan was supportive of Abadi's coming into office. Indeed, most observers were expecting that tensions between Iraq and Turkey would lessen when Maliki stepped down. However, it appears that Erdogan is determined to repeat the cycle of tension between Turkey and its neighbors as well as other regional actors. The state of Turkish relations with Syria, Armenia, Egypt, Russia, Iran and Iraq clearly demonstrates Ankara’s confused foreign policy on Erdogan’s watch.
The recent controversy over Turkey’s military presence in Iraq — while different from previous incidents in some aspects — has one major aspect that is being repeated: It is a reminder of the role that Turkey has played in Syria. Ankara was one of the first capitals to seriously call on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down and was also one of the first countries that proposed military action against the Syrian government. Neither of these demands have materialized, thus forcing Ankara to adopt a more subdued policy.
This raises the possibility that Turkey’s new approach toward Iraq, and especially Mosul, is related to its defeat in Syria. Speaking in the city of Bursa on Oct. 23, Erdogan charged that Mosul has historically belonged to Turkey. These remarks come against the backdrop of past statements that Iraq is not capable of addressing the Mosul challenge on its own. This new Turkish approach has resulted in a rare case of political unity between the various factions in Iraq. From Abadi to Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, all have condemned the Turkish president’s rhetoric.
One key question is what Iran’s position toward Turkey is amid these developments. One high-ranking Iranian diplomat who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said, “Turkey could not achieve its objectives in Aleppo and now it is looking for the same thing in Iraq and Mosul. Naturally, however, Ankara will not get a better result in Iraq.”
The Turkish pro-government daily Dirilis Postasi argued Oct. 16 that Iran is conducting a massacre in Mosul, charging that Tehran has for two centuries created bloodshed in the Islamic world so that it can have access to the Mediterranean Sea. There was no accompanying explanation of when precisely Iran has hatched such plots, or any sources or pieces of evidence for the latter. Yet, the article can perhaps be seen as a sign of a new negative Turkish approach toward Iran.
A review of recent developments in Iraq and Syria shows that Ankara has generally seen its efforts to play a role worth its standing in the region end in failure. Though Turkey’s entry into the Iraqi and Syrian conflicts has received a lot of media attention, in the end, it has not resulted in any tangible Turkish gains — and especially in the military sphere. Thus, the big picture appears to be that Erdogan’s new approach is the result of his dissatisfaction with the regional situation — dissatisfaction that is the result of the approaches of both Abadi and the United States. Ultimately, this appears to have led Erdogan to decide to act autonomously and pursue his objectives in Iraq and Syria without waiting for the West.
Al-Monitor spoke with Alireza Miryousefi, the head of the Middle Eastern Studies Group at the Foreign Ministry’s think tank, the Institute for Political and International Studies. He said, “Unfortunately, following the Arab Spring, Turkey made some miscalculations and adopted hasty positions. It has been dealing with the consequences of its mistakes for the past five years. Questioning the legitimacy of borders or talking about the necessity of a new Sykes-Picot Agreement are not considered constructive positions. The positive point here is that, similar to Iran, Turkey will also benefit the most from stability in the region. Therefore, Iran should definitely try to lessen the gap between different political approaches in the region with high-level diplomatic negotiations.”
In a live TV program Oct. 22, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim spoke about Turkey's continuously reaching out to Iran with the hope of finding a solution to the crises in Iraq and Syria. At the same time, there is no sign that Turkey is withdrawing from Syria, and it does not appear that Erdogan is planning to change course for now. What will Iran’s reaction then be if Turkey continues with its current approach? Will there be any attempts at mediating between Baghdad and Ankara?
Speaking to the Iraqi Kurdish Rudaw news channel Oct. 30, Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to the Iranian supreme leader, announced Tehran’s preparedness to step in, saying, “Iran is ready to mediate between Turkey and Iraq to prevent war.”
Meanwhile, a high-ranking source in the Iranian Foreign Ministry told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Iran is certainly interested in such a thing happening and it has made several attempts in this regard. However, the Turkish side is not interested as it believes that it can manage the issues in Mosul and Iraq through military force and the way it sees fit. However, not only does the Islamic Republic [of Iran] not believe in such a solution, but the realities of the region show that Turkey’s planned approach is unrealistic.”
Former senior Iranian diplomat Nosratollah Tajik agrees, though he predicts more Turkish pragmatism in the end. Tajik, a former ambassador to Jordan, told Al-Monitor, “Iran and Turkey have different objectives and approaches regarding Mosul. Turkey has historical claims about Mosul that make the situation more complicated, while it is in Iran’s interest to have the Iraqi government win the conflict in Mosul and destroy one of the main bases of Daesh [Islamic State]. Turkey will follow a destructive pattern, but in the end it will have to accept the new order — although it is trying to allocate a bigger share for itself in the new order.”
 


Why OPEC still can’t get Iran to cut oil production
Author David Ramin Jalilvand Posted October 31, 2016 Almonitor

OPEC members have in recent months repeatedly met to discuss production cuts. The cartel’s members are suffering from the dramatic decline in oil prices over the past two years, which has seen crude dropping to between $40 and $50 per barrel from more than $100 in 2014. This has caused tremendous pressure on both government budgets and economies of oil exporting countries.
Faced with these challenges, OPEC members finally agreed in a September meeting in Algeria to cut production — in principle. Exact quotas remain to be negotiated, which is the subject of an upcoming meeting in late November. While other OPEC members still need to agree on production quotas, Iran — together with Libya and Nigeria — was granted an exemption. This comes as Tehran has repeatedly expressed its unwillingness to accept any reduction of its oil output.
In August, Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said, “Iran will cooperate with OPEC to help the oil market recover, but expects others to respect its rights to regain its lost share of the market.” Iran’s hesitation to cut production alongside other OPEC countries can be explained by a number of factors, reflecting a melange of political and economic aspects.
First, there is domestic pressure on President Hassan Rouhani’s administration to show that the nuclear deal is benefitting the country. Rouhani, who is seeking re-election next year, was elected on his promises of a nuclear deal and economic recovery. On the former, his administration delivered. On the latter, matters are less clear-cut. Inflation has been successfully reigned in and the country is back on the path of growth. However, the vast majority of Iranians have yet to see a substantial improvement in living conditions. Realistically, fundamental change in this regard is only likely in the long run. Sanctions relief is complicated, and the Iranian economy is in dire need of structural reforms. Thus, next to signing high-profile contracts with major Western companies, bringing back oil production to pre-sanctions levels serves as a symbol of the nuclear deal’s positive effects for Iran.
Second, Iran’s position on production cuts is directly related to its ambition to attract international energy companies. Parallel to negotiating and implementing the nuclear deal, the Rouhani administration designed a new oil contract scheme known as the Iran Petroleum Contract (IPC). While the details of the scheme continue to remain unclear, it is intended to attract international companies by offering better terms. Behind the IPC are both commercial and political rationales. Commercially, Iran’s energy industry hopes to benefit from much-needed investments and technology transfers. Politically, the Rouhani administration seeks to improve Iran’s standing by expanding ties with the international community. Commitments by energy majors — especially from Europe — would contribute to this end. Other obstacles aside, a reduction or limitation of Iran’s oil production would reduce the scope for engagement in Iran’s energy sector. As such, production caps would be in direct conflict with the administration’s ambition to improve relations with international partners.
Third, as a result of US and EU sanctions, Iranian oil production declined by some 0.6 million barrels per day (mbpd) between 2012 and 2014 to 3.1 mbpd, according to OPEC data. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia raised its output by some 0.9 mbpd between 2011 and 2015 to 10.2 mbpd — in an apparent attempt to counter competition from North American unconventional oil producers. The starting points of Iran and Saudi Arabia to embrace production caps, therefore, are fundamentally different. By cutting production, Saudi Arabia would move toward its pre-surge position. Iran, however, would effectively be forced to remain below its traditional pre-sanctions production levels, giving up the much-expected positive effects from the sanctions relief under the nuclear deal.
Fourth, OPEC’s effort to impose new production quotas is ultimately dependent on the cartel’s leading producer, Saudi Arabia, given that the kingdom’s decision to flood markets sparked the decline in oil prices. Similarly, it was a shift in Saudi policy that allowed OPEC to agree on the need for production caps. For Iran, Saudi Arabia’s leading role in OPEC is problematic. In light of the worsening Iranian-Saudi relations, the Rouhani administration has repeatedly been accused of taking too soft a stance vis-a-vis Saudi Arabia. Within OPEC, therefore, it would be hard for Iran to pursue policy initiatives domestically perceived as initiated and led by Saudi Arabia. This is especially the case as during the sanctions years, rather than supporting Iran, most OPEC members — and especially Saudi Arabia — increased production and thereby alleviated the loss of Iranian oil.
Fifth, relative to other oil exporters, Iran is arguably better prepared to endure low prices. Responding to sanctions, Tehran began reducing its dependence on crude oil exports prior to the 2014 price decline. As a result, Iran’s economy is relatively more diversified and enjoys a positive non-oil trade balance. Iran continues to experience pressure from low oil prices given that 29% of the government budget is still derived from oil revenues. However, in comparison to other oil exporting countries, the financial pressure from low prices is less. This gives Iran room to not focus exclusively on price levels in its oil policy.
While all of these factors are shaping Iranian oil policy, it is difficult to assess from the outside which ones are ultimately most decisive. Nonetheless, Iran clearly seems to give priority to reclaiming market share, thus putting cooperation with OPEC in the backseat.
All this leaves OPEC in a difficult position. To reach a basic common understanding on the need for production caps, exemptions had to be granted to Iran as well as Libya and Nigeria. Moreover, several other OPEC countries can similarly not be expected to have much interest in significantly reducing their output. This includes Algeria, Iraq and Venezuela, which are either producing below traditional production levels or are dependent on maximizing export revenue due to a lack of other sources of income. With Iran and others insisting on exemptions or only very modest reductions, this suggests challenging days are ahead for OPEC. The question of whether the cartel will eventually succeed in agreeing and implementing actual quotas remains far from solved.

 


 The Guardian
Iran ally Michel Aoun elected as president of Lebanon
Parliament’s appointment of former general and Tehran ally edges regional balance of power away from Saudi Arabia

Martin Chulov in Beirut
Monday 31 October 2016 13.23 GMT Last modified on Monday 31 October 2016 22.00 GMT
Lebanese MPs have elected a staunch ally of Iran as president, ending a paralysing two-year standoff rooted in a broader rivalry between Tehran and Saudi Arabia.
The appointment of retired general Michel Aoun, 81, came after he gained the backing of the former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri, Riyadh’s preferred leader, and further edges the balance of power in the region towards Iran and its allies.
The pact also politically legitimises Hezbollah as a nationalist group with cross-sectarian support – a landmark moment for an organisation that had largely been defined by its sectarian origins.
Demonstrations in support of Aoun were held in the Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs of Beirut, and on the streets of Damascus, where the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad had also strongly backed the new president’s candidacy.
At his swearing-in in the Beirut parliament building, Aoun said Lebanon must be protected from “regional fires” - a reference to the conflict in neighbouring Syria where Hezbollah is fighting in support of Assad, but did not set out a position on the conflict. “It remains a priority to prevent any sparks from reaching Lebanon,” Aoun said after taking the presidential oath.
Saudi Arabia had been vehemently opposed to Aoun’s nomination, fearing he will consolidate Iran’s influence on the brittle state, which has remained vulnerable state since the end of its destructive civil war 25 years ago.
Senior Saudi officials had sponsored Hariri as a rival power base to Hezbollah, urging him to oppose the powerful militant group and political bloc, which has played an increasingly prominent role in Lebanese and regional affairs.
However, over the past year Saudi confidence in Hariri had waned, as had his efforts to draft a rival candidate, Sleiman Frangieh, as president.
The billionaire businessman’s fortunes and domestic support also dipped sharply, and Hariri is now expected to return to the role of prime minister, from which he was ousted in 2011, capping a difficult five years largely spent in exile.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said he would not oppose Hariri being named as prime minister and called for the Lebanese people to accept Aoun’s election. Nasrallah has backed Aoun for more than two years , meeting regularly to discuss developments in Lebanon and Syria, where Hezbollah is heavily engaged in a battle to support the Syrian leader.
Aoun’s run towards Monday’s parliamentary vote began on 6 February 2006, when he and Nasrallah signed a pact based on him eventually becoming president. Aoun’s political bloc, which accounts for roughly half of Lebanon’s Christian population, aligned its strategic interests with Hezbollah, and united against the political weight of Hariri’s Sunni-dominated Future bloc.
Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, has been in steady retreat from Lebanon. It withdrew its ambassador in September and cancelled funding for the Lebanese military. Before Monday’s vote, Riyadh sent a senior envoy to consult Lebanese officials in what was seen as a tacit approval of the pivot to Aoun, as well as an increasing disengagement from Lebanese affairs.
Though largely ceremonial in Lebanon, the president appoints the cabinet and influences foreign policy. The Lebanese constitution stipulates that the president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim.
Aoun has remained a contentious figure in Lebanon since the civil war, when he served as military commander and stood against the Syrian occupation.
He served briefly as prime minister of one of the two rival governments established near the war’s end. Besieged by Syrian troops, he sought refuge in the French embassy and fled to Paris, where he remained in exile for close to 15 years until Syrian troops were forced to flee Lebanon after the assassination of their former leader Rafiq Hariri.
Aoun remained a staunch critic of the Syrian regime. However, his position shifted after he returned to Lebanon, where he became a powerful political presence. He soon won the patronage of Iran, setting his sights on the country’s highest office and tailoring his message to suit Tehran.


The main reason Rouhani replaced three of his ministers
Author Ali Omidi Posted October 29, 2016 Almonitor
ISFAHAN, Iran — After much speculation, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has appointed caretakers for the three empty seats in his Cabinet: Reza Salehi Amiri (from the Moderation and Development Party) for minister of culture and Islamic guidance; Fakhrodin Ahmadi Danesh-Ashtiani (from the Islamic Iran Participation Front) for education minister; and Masoud Soltanifar (from the National Trust Party) for minister of sports and youth affairs — all of whom have been introduced to parliament for votes of confidence. They will, respectively, replace Ali Jannati, Ali Asghar Fani and Mahmoud Goudarzi, who tendered their resignations Oct. 19.
Rouhani had nominated Amiri, Danesh-Ashtiani and Soltanifar for different ministerial positions back in 2013 in his initial proposed Cabinet. However, all of them were rejected by parliament, as they failed to gain votes of confidence. Defending his Cabinet reshuffle, Rouhani said, “The country’s goal is development and transcendence, and the government’s goal is to be at the service of the society and people. To achieve this goal, sometimes a manager has to be kept and sometimes changed.” Although Rouhani has described Iran’s main problem as “unemployment among the country’s educated youth, and especially among young women," the ministers has replaced were responsible for culture and sports. Hence, the key question is why these ministers have been replaced and the basis of the criteria for the selection of their successors.
The absence of cultural reform, which Rouhani had promised during his 2013 campaign and the initial part of his term, could be one contributing factor. Examples of this include the cancellation of concerts in the northeastern city of Mashhad, or the forced resignation of the Culture Ministry’s director, Jannati, in the holy city of Qom related to his giving singers permission to hold concerts there. When Jannati retreated in the face of pressure from hard-liners and called off concerts to respect the views of conservative clerics, he found himself at odds with the president. In a public speech in August, Rouhani voiced his dissatisfaction with Jannati’s performance by saying, "A minister should abide by the law and not succumb to any form of pressure and retreat."
This is while Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, some senior Shiite clerics and other influential clergymen have expressed displeasure with the cultural situation in the country. In a meeting with lawmakers June 5, Khamenei said, “I feel that there is a sense of indifference both in producing useful cultural goods and preventing harmful cultural goods.”
As such, it appears that Jannati ultimately became the scapegoat in the political struggle over the direction of the cultural scene in Iran. This is while some public figures, such as prominent Tehran University professor Sadegh Zibakalam, believe that Jannati could in fact have shielded Rouhani against increasing pressure from hard-liners in the cultural arena, given his pedigree. Of note, Jannati is the son of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the hard-line head of the Guardian Council. Moreover, the Ministry of Culture is not the only authority responsible for dealing with cultural issues, and thus the culture minister cannot solely be held accountable for issues in this arena — a point that Jannati himself raised in his resignation letter. In addition, Rouhani knows full well that when it comes to domestic politics and cultural issues, the balance of power is not in his favor. Thus, it appears that to show tactical flexibility, Rouhani decided to change the pieces in the game as the only possible approach.
The dismissal of the sports minister may have been due to pressure on social media, since some experts thought Goudarzi’s performance was good. If Instagram was filtered or if the president did not have an official Instagram account, Goudarzi might have been sitting comfortably in his chair right now. According to the economic daily Donya-e Eghtesad, Rouhani’s Instagram page was repeatedly the target of critical comments by people who were unhappy with the sports minister’s performance — especially over Iran's poor showing in the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro earlier this year. To gain an idea of the situation, harsh criticism of the nuclear deal was nowhere near the parallel scorn heaped on national soccer team coach Carlos Queiroz over his performance. Indeed, it appears that the outrage the president has faced over the nuclear deal is nothing compared with the pressure over the performance of his sports minister. In the end, this disapproval — and Goudarzi’s sporadic criticism of the Rouhani administration — proved to be very costly for him.
As for Rouhani’s recently resigned education minister, Fani, he was continuously on the verge of impeachment during his time in office. In fact, he was among the ministers who frequently commuted between their ministries and parliament in an effort to lobby parliament members not to impeach them. Fani hoped that the incoming, more government-friendly parliament elected on Feb. 26 would put less pressure on him, but he was wrong, as reports of embezzlement in the Teachers Reserve Fund had made his impeachment ever more pressing. Last month, Hossein Maghsoudi, the spokesman for the parliamentary group tasked with fighting financial corruption, announced that violations had indeed taken place in the Teachers Reserve Fund. Maghsoudi said, “Clarifying the [case of corruption related to the] Teachers Reserve Fund is one of the main reasons why the education minister needs to be impeached. Investigations point to financial corruption of about 80,000 billion rials [$2.5 billion] in this fund.” Although the amount that has been embezzled is disputed, the case has shocked both the Education Ministry and teachers, since educators never thought a fund that was supposed to serve as a means for resolving their economic problems would have such a fate. If anything, the embezzlement scandal hastened Fani’s fall. Thus, to prevent a repeat of the heat on the government that followed the recent scandal over excessive pay in which leaked payslips showed some senior officials had received inflated salaries, and to not give rival Principlists a pretext for launching a propaganda campaign against the government by impeaching Fani, Rouhani decided to take the fastest way out and have the education minister resign.
Finally, Rouhani’s Cabinet reshuffle also has political dimensions that verge on the personal. First of all, the resigned ministers were not Rouhani’s ideal choices. He chose them and his science minister reluctantly under pressure from the previous conservative-dominated parliament. His minister of science, however, has had the good fortune of escaping the Cabinet reshuffle. Second, by replacing these ministers, Rouhani wants to paradoxically reduce the hard-liners’ displeasure with the country’s cultural situation. At the same time, he wants to maintain his popularity by introducing individuals who are identified with the Reformist camp in a nod to culture, art and sports enthusiasts, who are mainly young. As such, there is no doubt that the Cabinet reshuffle will improve the chances of the success of Rouhani’s re-election campaign ahead of the upcoming presidential vote in May 2017.
 


OPEC Deadlocks Over Iran, Iraq Oil Production
Nations say oil cartel underestimates their production
By Benoit Faucon and Summer Said    Wall Street Journal
Oct. 28, 2016 4:03 p.m. ET
A meeting of OPEC national delegates on Friday ended in a deadlock as Iraq and Iran disputed the data being used to allocate production cuts, officials said.
Iraq and Iran are both intent on ramping up output, a goal that threatens the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ plan to boost oil prices by limiting the 14-nation cartel’s production. Iraq is fighting an intensifying expensive war to uproot Islamic State while Iran is trying to claw back oil-market share now that international sanctions over its nuclear program have ended.
The gathering of experts at OPEC’s Vienna headquarters was supposed to prepare a detailed proposal on how to carry out production cuts that the cartel agreed to on principle in September. A global glut of oil, fueled in part by record OPEC production, has sent crude prices to their lowest levels in over a decade his year.
Instead, the meeting dragged on for more than 12 hours as Iran and Iraq refused to agree to put any curbs on their output, OPEC officials said.
OPEC is set to have a meeting of its 14 national oil ministers on Nov. 30 but such gatherings generally require agreement on basic details among lower-level officials. That didn’t happen on Friday, officials said.
The talks ran into trouble Friday when Iraq and Iran disputed the independent estimates used by OPEC to determinate their production, delegates said. Iraq and Iran want to generate their own production estimates for use in determining production cuts, officials said.
Iran estimates its production at 3.8 million barrels a day, higher than the 3.65 million barrels a day OPEC says it pumps, according to an Iranian oil official.
Both Iran and Iraq told the group they aren’t ready to freeze their production levels because of their domestic political problems, the delegates said. Iran wants to keep pumping until it reaches a production of 4.2 million barrels a day, corresponding to its market share before it came under sanctions, the Iranian official said.
Meanwhile, “Iraq says it needs to fight the Islamic State,” one delegate said.
Iran had already been granted an unspecified dispensation from cuts, with OPEC officials saying it would be treated differently. Iraq wants a similar exemption as does Libya and Nigeria.
The calls for exemptions are putting more pressure on OPEC’s Persian Gulf monarchies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cut even more. The cartel said it would reduce output by 200,000 to 700,000 barrels a day from September levels of 32.5 million barrels a day.
OPEC delegates are scheduled to meet with producers from outside the cartel including Azerbaijan, Mexico and Kazakhstan on Saturday. OPEC officials have said they need non-OPEC suppliers to cut production as well.

 


Iran accuses Europe of not fully supporting nuclear deal
Investment held back by political risk clauses in contracts, says Tehran deputy minister
October 27, 2016
by: Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran   Financial Times
A senior Iranian official has accused European governments of not being fully committed to implementation of a nuclear deal with Iran, blaming them for stymieing investment into the Islamic republic.
Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan, deputy transport minister, told the Financial Times that European financing agencies were failing to support businesses keen to invest in the oil-rich country. Export credit agencies were demanding premiums on insurance that made banks insist on putting “unacceptable” terms in contracts related to political risk, he said.
“Iran will not accept any clauses in trade agreements which insert political risks alongside commercial risks,” said Mr Kashan, who is involved in Iran’s negotiations over multibillion-dollar deals with Boeing and Airbus. “This is where European countries are failing to be committed to the nuclear agreement. One of the main reasons the signing of contracts in various sectors has been delayed is this issue.”
State-affiliated export credit agencies play a vital role in supporting businesses looking to invest overseas by providing loans and insurance.
Under the terms of last year’s deal, Tehran agreed to scale back its nuclear activities and western powers lifted many sanctions. President Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government hoped the deal would open the door to foreign investment to help revive the stalling economy and tackle widespread unemployment.
But while western and Asian business delegations have flocked to Iran since the deal was sealed, signing thousands of provisional agreements, few big contracts have been finalised. That is partly because the US retains some sanctions related to Iran’s alleged financing of terrorism, which has made European banks wary of doing business in Iran.
Mr Kashan said European governments “cannot stand aside and watch” Iran implement the agreement “unilaterally”.
“Why should Iran accept very exceptional terms and conditions in its contracts with European companies? This is not called a normal relationship,” he said.
If anyone needed guarantees against political risks, it was Iran, he said in reference to the impact of western sanctions on the economy.
“Our experience is that Peugeot suddenly leaves Iran’s market [because of sanctions] despite commitments of giving after-sale services and Iran’s banking accounts are unlawfully closed down overnight making Iranian companies unable to pay back their loans,” Mr Kashan said. “Iranian students were prohibited to study in certain fields, something with clear contradiction with human rights.”
The government in Tehran is under pressure at home to deliver on the economic dividends of the accord ahead of elections next year when Mr Rouhani will be seeking a second term. The president faces stiff resistance from hardliners in the regime who contend the nuclear deal has brought little benefit.
The US gave clearance last month for Boeing to sell 80 aircraft and Airbus 17 to Iran Air in a boost to supporters of the nuclear deal.
Mr Kashan said export credit agencies had no role in the multibillion-dollar lease-and-purchase deals, but political risk had also been an issue in those negotiations.
“We have a problem with an ‘illegality’ clause which foresees such possibilities like snapback sanctions and new sanctions which are not acceptable to us,” Mr Kashan said. But these problems were being resolved, he added.
He expected the contracts to be signed in November, with the first deliveries from Airbus in early 2017 and Boeing later in the year.
While western businessmen acknowledge banking restrictions remain a major obstacle, they also want greater reforms to bring more transparency to financial and economic systems in a country isolated by the west for years.
Italian financing agencies agreed in April to give Iran nearly €5bn in credit lines and guarantees for exports. John Kerry, the US secretary of state, has also urged western banks to re-engage and help finance companies seeking to win contracts in Iran.

 


Irish Times
Iran, land of the thousand welcomes
Travel Writer: Genevieve Essa was struck by the warmth of the Iranian people
Genevieve Essa Oct 24, 2016

We left Shiraz, the city of poets, around 7am. During our walking tour of the city, we visited the imposing Arg-e Karim Khan fortress with its 14-metre-high circular towers dominating the city centre. We immersed ourselves in the wide, vaulted, brick bazaars with more than of over 200 shops selling Persian carpets, clothes, handicrafts and spices, especially saffron – “red gold”, costing more than gold itself at $65 per gram, which Iran has been producing for more than 3,000 years.
Older women in black chadors brushed pass us, while the younger women in contemporary full-length dress and bright headscarves beamed at us. At the same time the “morality police”, the official enforcers of the strict dress code, kept a watchful eye on everyone, including us 12 intrepid travellers from Ireland and the UK, to ensure we kept our head scarves on.
We took refuge from the heat in the famous Rose Gardens, and Palace and Mosque Gardens, drank tea with the locals wanting to practise their English in their tea houses. The atmosphere at the tomb of the great Persian poet Hafez was inspiring, where John, an English actor in our group read a poem to claps and cheers from the locals.
Wherever we went, we were greeted by total strangers, not just the women but men and schoolchildren grinning from ear to ear, hands stretched out with fresh apricots, dates, pomegranates or rose petals. “Welcome in Iran”, they would say.
We headed to the Golkuh Lake region as we left Shiraz behind, stopping at the pretty Murgon Waterfalls, before beginning our full-day trek up through twisting and winding paths of the Dena Range (4,409 metres) of the Zagros mountains. This was Yasuj in southwest Iran, surrounded by lush fertile valleys and stunning snow capped mountains. Local families stopped to talk and offer slices of honeydew melon. Their smiles drew us in.
Continuing our trek to Golkuh Lake sitting at 2,600m, we passed young male nomads from the Bakhtiaris and Qashqais tribes filling their cloth back packs with wild garlic, tarragon, mint, bliss and foxtail. Iran with a population of more than 81 million, is modern day Persia, famous for its Islamic architecture, the remains of the Persian Empire and desert towns, but also has one of the largest nomadic populations in the world.
We were conscious of a young male nomad waving at us to follow him up the hill to a sheltered area of the mountain. In front of us was a huge open-plan canvas tent with large Persian rugs covering the earth and 14 members of three generations of the Qashqai tribe smiling and motioning us to sit cross-legged on the rugs. The elders looked on as a granddaughter poured red rose warmed thick and potent tea into metal mugs from a steaming samovar to pass around, and with a hand on her heart said “Welcome in Iran”.

 


Iran's Rouhani breaks his silence on US presidential race
Author Rohollah Faghihi Posted October 24, 2016 Almonitor

For the first time, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani spoke about the US presidential election, which is a hotly debated issue in the Iranian media.
On Oct. 23, Rouhani, while on a provincial trip to Arak in Markazi province, told the crowd, “The America that claims it enjoys more than 200 years of democracy and [holding] more than 50 presidential elections is now a major and industrial country that is devoid of morality, and this issue we witness in the [presidential] candidates’ debates.”
He continued, “At the United Nations, one of the leaders asked me which [US presidential candidate] I prefer, to which I replied, 'Should I prefer bad over worse or worse over bad?' We have seen the way of speaking, accusing, talking and mocking [each other] by the candidates, and this is the democracy and elections of the Americans.”
In an interview with Sobh-e-No newspaper on Oct. 23, which is close to conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, conservative analyst Fouad Izadi described Hillary Clinton as the worst choice for Iran.
“During Obama’s tenure, the toughest sanctions with global consensus were imposed on Iran — sanctions that hawkish [former President] George Bush could not impose on Iran. Clinton believed that these pressures were not adequate, and [thus] she definitely will be stricter on Iran. But [Donald] Trump and Clinton are both the enemy of Iran, however. In my view, Clinton can be more successful than Trump in [providing] a global consensus against Iran, and therefore Clinton is the worse choice for Iran,” Izadi said.
However, former Iranian diplomat Fereydoun Majlesi wrote in Reformist Noavaran newspaper Oct. 24, “Donald Trump has no chance of winning the US presidential election. Because about 50 years ago and during the Vietnam War, a senator like him ran in the presidential election, but encountered the biggest defeat.”
Nonetheless, Rouhani’s reaction to the US election did not get coverage in hard-line newspapers and media outlets. Rather, his criticism of hard-liners for their mounting attacks on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed between Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) in 2015 angered them.
“In the past, if we wanted to walk or move, shackles of the sanctions obstructed our way. But today these chains do not exist. We should move, because the main obstacle has been lifted, and our banking relations with the world have been established and will be expanded day after day,” Rouhani told a crowd of people in Arak.
He then took a swipe at hard-liners, saying, “We threw the occupier out of our garden and the garden door is open for the people. Some children have come to the door and asked where they can find the apples and pears they want to eat. Today this garden with its seedlings planted recently is ready for fertilization, but to [eat] the fruit, patience is necessary.”
Rouhani’s audience are those critics who constantly slam him for reaching a nuclear deal with the West — a deal that, according to the hard-liners, has no benefit for Iran.
Annoyed by the moderate president’s remarks, hard-line Vatan-e-Emrooz published an article Oct. 24 with the headline, “Promising a Pear." It read, “After comparing the JCPOA to the shining sun, Hassan Rouhani has now brought up a new metaphor for justifying the JCPOA.”
Referring to Iran’s foreign minister and the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran’s complaints over the US commitment to the JCPOA, conservative Fars News argued Oct. 23, “It is not bad if the president pays attention to the remarks of these officials of his own administration and thinks over this issue, for they are [also] the children who are looking for apples and pears.”
Moreover, hard-line Kayhan newspaper compared Trump’s releasing his agenda for his first 100 days in the White House to Rouhani’s 2013 election promise of solving the economy’s problems in the first 100 days in office. “It turns out that releasing a 100-day plan is not restricted to presidential candidates of countries in Western Asia. In keeping with this tradition, Donald Trump has announced his 100-day plan after winning the US presidential election,” Kayhan wrote Oct. 24.
 


The real reason Boeing, Airbus deals with Iran matter
Author Saheb Sadeghi Posted October 22, 2016  Almonitor

Soon after the US Treasury Department granted licenses to Boeing and Airbus to sell passenger planes to Iran, Tehran welcomed the move as a fulfillment of American obligations under the nuclear deal. On Sept. 24, three days after the licenses were issued, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif confirmed that Iran had received the green light to purchase 80 out of the 88 aircraft it had sought to buy from Boeing, adding, “Out of 118 Airbus jetliners, the license for selling 17 has been issued.”
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Airbus and Boeing had previously agreed to sell or lease more than 200 passenger planes to Iran, which has sought to revamp its aging air fleet after the signing of the July 14, 2015, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). After the formal Jan. 16 Implementation Day of the nuclear deal, the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued documents declaring that all US institutions wishing to sell or lease aircraft, spare parts or maintenance and safety services to Iran could apply for licenses on a case-by-case basis. OFAC guidelines further stipulated that non-US institutions also need licenses for selling and leasing aircraft to Iran if more than 10% of the components of their products are American made.
Beyond the issue of securing licenses to sell the aircraft is the challenge of financing the deals. Hinting at this problem, Zarif told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York Sept. 23, “The US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control … tells international banks that it’s OK to do business with Iran but — and the buts and ifs are so long — I mean there is one sentence that it is OK to do business with Iran and five pages of ifs and buts. So at the end of the day, these banks say we will take the safe road. We will forget about Iran. And that has been the outcome. No major European bank has started doing business with Iran now, eight months after the deal. And we believe that’s a shortcoming.”
According to what has been reported so far, the Boeing and Airbus passenger planes are not going to be bought in cash but rather financed. In practice, this means that Iran will buy the aircraft with loans and will repay the debt through revenue generated from operating the planes. Thus, not only is a bank or other financial institution needed to make the deal happen, but the loans must be long term. The broader implication is that if Iran is able to purchase aircraft through external financing, it could also do so with regard to other projects.
While negotiations to finalize the aircraft deals are still ongoing, Iranian officials say they have made good progress. Indeed, things appear to be particularly moving forward on the crucial issue of financing. On Oct. 14, Tasnim news agency quoted a source in the Iranian government as saying, “Boeing and an American bank are reaching an agreement to finance Iranian purchase of the airliners through a Japanese bank.” Prior reports said that issues related to financing of the Airbus deal had also been solved. On Sept. 24, Iranian Deputy Minister of Roads and Urban Development Asghar Fakhrieh Kashan told the Iran newspaper, “A financing agreement between Airbus and a big financial institution has been finalized that has remained a secret in order to avert some enemies’ plots.”
Some experts are of the view that the OFAC licenses to Boeing and Airbus are a promising sign that serious banking cooperation between Iran and Europe is around the corner. This would be an important development since major European banks have remained wary of remaining US sanctions and thus refrained from resuming banking ties with Iran — even after the formal implementation of the nuclear deal. As such, Tehran has so far relied on cooperation with smaller European banks while continuing dialogue with the bigger ones. Given the scale of the Boeing and Airbus deals and the need for financing to be long term, it is evident that small banks will not be able to finance the contracts. One can thus expect that major players are involved in the financing, and that the deals may help jump-start business between Iran and major Western banks in the near future. Indeed, beyond authorizing two major deals, OFAC’s licensing of aircraft sales to Iran is giving assurance to the world's major businesses that it is now possible to resume dealings with the Islamic Republic.
Prominent Tehran economist Saeed Leylaz told Al-Monitor, “The OFAC licenses will have a big psychological impact on major investors and financial enterprises. This matters especially because under immense pressure from Iran and Its European trading partners, the United States now has to abide by its obligations under the JCPOA.” Leylaz added, “Serious cracks have emerged in the most complex and oldest sanctions and this will impact non-nuclear sanctions as well. In as much as Boeing is one of the biggest financial enterprises in the world and the United States, its financial transactions with different US economic sectors will spread to other sectors.”
Al-Monitor also spoke with Tehran-based economist Tahmasb Mazaheri. He agreed that OFAC’s granting of licenses to Boeing and Airbus to deal with Iran is a good sign of the full implementation of the nuclear deal — but argued that the United States has only facilitated the latter after having in effect been forced to do so. Pointing to Iran’s deep and lingering mistrust of the United States, Mazaheri added, “Despite this good sign, we cannot trust the United States to fulfill its promises because in order to be assured of these promises, they must be credible — but the United States is not trustworthy. The United States has so far shown that it doesn’t want to fully implement the JCPOA and its acceptance of its obligations has always been accompanied with strict conditions.”
 


Will Hillary Clinton deliver on her promise to ramp up U.S. involvement in Syria?
By Josh Rogin Global Opinions October 23 at 7:53 PM Washington Post
Throughout the campaign, Hillary Clinton has pledged to ramp up U.S. action not only to fight the Islamic State, but also to end the Syrian civil war. If she does what she’s promising, the risky effort could engulf the first year of her presidency and test the limits of the United States’ reduced influence in the region. The question is whether she will follow through.
Inside the Clinton campaign, the battle over Clinton’s post-election Syria policy has already begun. Clinton’s Middle East advisers are split between those who believe the United States has the ability and responsibility to do more in Syria and those who are skeptical of further U.S. intervention. Advisers are debating policy options both in private and in public. Clinton’s actual Syria policy, if she is elected, is still to be determined.
Listening to Clinton’s own pledges to create safe zones inside Syria, increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and boost support to the armed opposition, one might conclude that those around her who advocate for a more aggressive approach are set to win the day. But after the election, Clinton will be forced to confront the risks and challenges of those policies.
Clinton acknowledged in 2013 remarks released by WikiLeaks that establishing a no-fly zone and taking down Syrian air defenses means “you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians.” The U.S. military remains wary of such an intervention. The moderate opposition she hopes to bolster may have lost Aleppo by the time she takes office. And by then the battle against the Islamic State in Raqqa may be raging, demanding the bulk of U.S. attention.
“She’s on the hook to deliver. If she has to back down now, what explanation can she use?” said Aaron David Miller, vice president at the Wilson Center. “But she’s going to be extremely careful in that first 100 days about any new policy initiative that’s going to cause her a lot of trouble.”
Don’t expect any big Syria policy shifts in the first few weeks of a Clinton administration, advisers cautioned me. Clinton would want to do her own full intelligence and military assessments with her new team. Plus, Clinton would need to prioritize the domestic agenda she ran on.
“We have no idea what things will look like on Jan. 21,” one Clinton foreign policy adviser told me. “What will be before her are a set of options that are being developed now. The real hard part for an incoming team is that the tide is going in the wrong direction in Syria.”
The more interventionist side of the Clinton team includes top foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan and experts at the Center for American Progress, the think tank founded by her campaign chairman, John Podesta, which last week released a report calling for the use of American air power to protect civilians in Syria.
Opposing them are many former officials from President Obama’s own White House staff, who for years, with Obama’s support, successfully steered U.S. policy away from the riskier options in Syria. They prioritize the fight against terrorism and reject any escalation against Assad or Russia.
Among them, former National Security Council officials Steven Simon (who secretly met with Assad last year), Derek Chollet and Phillip Gordon have argued publicly that further U.S. intervention will not succeed in bringing the Assad regime to the table and could provoke outright conflict with Russia.
Throughout the Syrian crisis, Clinton has consistently supported more action and has been willing to shoulder more risk than Obama. She insists that terrorism can only be defeated when the Syrian civil war is solved, and she believes that the United States must exert more leverage to bring about a political solution.
But those inside Clinton world who insist that increased U.S. intervention in Syria would do more harm than good are not giving up. They believe that by the time Clinton would take office, the prospects of a successful U.S. action would be even dimmer than they are now.
The Syria problem is particularly vexing because it intersects with other major foreign policy crises that Clinton would need to confront in her first year: the terrorism threat, the refugee crisis, the growing conflict with Russia and the tenuous detente with Iran, to name a few.
If Clinton truly believes that the path to a more stable Middle East depends on solving Syria, her choice is clear. She must accept the security and political risks that come with committing more American resources to ending the slaughter and confronting the regime and its partners.
 


These 4 maps explain Iran's strategy
•    George Friedman, Oct. 22, 2016, 11:54 AM  Business Insider
If you ranked the civilizations that have most affected the course of human development, Persia would be near the top of the list. We forget this because in recent centuries the states that have ruled in Iran have been either weak or isolated from the rest of the world.
Since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, that has changed. There was even a short-lived moment when it seemed Iran was poised to attain predominance in the Middle East. This was right before the Syrian civil war broke out, as I explain below. That chance collapsed, and Iran has been consigned to a secondary regional power for the near future.
The four maps below explain why.
Geographical limitations
Geography has always been a two-edged sword for Iran. In terms of both area and population, Iran is the largest country in the Middle East. It is the 17th-largest in the world.
Iran's large cities are hemmed in by mountains and deserts. This fact defined ancient Persian strategy, and it defines Iran's tactics today. Iran's geography has made the country extremely hard to conquer. But it has also stopped Iran from easily expanding.
The best place for Iran to project power is to its west. All other directions are more difficult. Iran has strong influence in Afghanistan, but that country is even more mountainous — a tribal area with even less useful land.
Central Asia is another place Iran's influence extends, but here too the land isn't worth what it would take to conquer it. The Caucasus is a nonstarter. The terrain there makes it difficult for any military to invade.
Thus, Iran can expand only westward.
Iran sits on the Persian Gulf but never had a strong navy. The Strait of Hormuz is so narrow it blocks most of Iran. Whatever forces it came up with could be easily hemmed in.
Oil is important and has become a key resource recently. This makes the Strait of Hormuz more significant as a transport route. Iran has threatened to place naval mines in the strait. But that is a defensive move. And it would be fairly dangerous for Iran to try. Iran is a land power.
Ethnic and religious divisions
Many different ethnic groups have developed in Iran. This too is caused by Iran's mountains. The mountains separate people and make movement hard. Isolated areas have their own cultures.
Iran is roughly 60% Persian. Farsi is the only official language for the nation, but at least seven other languages are recognized at the regional level. Dozens more are spoken throughout the country.
The map above shows how complex Iran's ethnic, linguistic, and even religious makeup is. The Persian heartland is clearly visible. But sizable populations of Arabs, Kurds, Azeris, Turkmen, Balochs, and other groups are spread throughout the country.
Iran is roughly 90% Shiite, but there are pockets of Sunnis as well. So even in this sense Iran is varied.
This means that whoever governs from Tehran must have some way to keep such a diverse population together in one state. That has historically meant central governments with strong coercive and institutional capabilities. These allow Iran to impose its writ over the people.
Constrained external power
The Zagros Mountains protect Iran from would-be challengers. They also box in Iran. If Iran wants to project influence into Iraq, one of two conditions must exist. Either Iran must be incredibly wealthy and militarily strong, or it must be able to take advantage of weakness.
Persia was able to take advantage of weakness several times throughout history. But those times have always been when the area was weak and unable to resist Iran's advances.
Take, for example, the period before 2011. Iraq was Iran's biggest rival. Iraq was able to fight Iran to a draw in an incredibly bloody war from 1980 to 1988. This was despite having a population just one-fourth the size of Iran's. But the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 removed that threat.
Since then, Iran has been building an arc of Shiite influence in the Middle East. Syrian President Bashar Assad's Alawite regime was an ally of Iran. And Hezbollah's dominance of Lebanon meant Iran could project power all the way to the Mediterranean.
The Syrian civil war dashed that dream. The rise of the Islamic State was a threat to Iran. And a strong Sunni Arab power in the heart of the Middle East could not be tolerated. This has driven the US and Iran into an uneasy but stable partnership.
Iran wants to influence Iraq. On the other hand, Iran funds various Shiite militias in Iraq. This is to ensure Iraq's Sunni minority does not threaten the government in Baghdad.
The Assad regime has been weakened. Iran can no longer count on influence stretching through Syria to the Mediterranean.
The Arab world is in chaos. Israel is sitting pretty. And Turkey is a rising power. Turkey has almost the same number of people as Iran. It sits on more strategically advantageous territory, and it has a more advanced economy and military.
Turkey will be the dominant power in the Middle East. Iran will have to settle for being a regional power. It can influence countries in the region but not push beyond.
Boundaries of Persian expansion
Despite Iran's diverse population and its challenges in projecting power, great empires have previously risen from this part of the world and dominated most of the Middle East. The boundaries of these various empires, however, have always been fairly consistent.
Persia's maximal level of expansion is from the Hindu Kush in the east to Cairo in the south to Istanbul in the north. Only the ancient Persian Achaemenid Empire was able to go farther. It spread to the coastal regions of the Black Sea.
This was because the rest of the Middle East was in tatters. There was no resistance to the Persian advance, either near Iran or in Europe. The only resistance Persia met was in present-day Greece. Persia had a bigger army than the Greeks but was beaten back by them. Persia never seriously threatened Europe again.
Iran's influence outside its core territory has always been subtler than outright subjugation or control. It has too many geographic limitations. So, it had to cooperate with the locals it hoped to rule. This led to a blending of cultures and ideas. Before the rise of Islam, the dominant religion in Persia was Zoroastrianism — the principles of which survive today in both Judaism and Christianity.
Persia's adoption of Islam shows how well it can blend elements of different cultures and religions. Very few outside powers have ever conquered Persia outright the way Islam did. Islam is an Arab movement in its origins. The fact that Farsi is written in Arabic script today is a sign of Islam's impact on Persian culture.
But the Persians were still able to retain their own language. Farsi became the common language for the Turkic peoples of Central Asia, the Caucasus, Afghanistan, and South Asia. Farsi also influenced Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and Ottoman Turkish.
Persia was able to adapt to Islam without losing major parts of its culture. To this day, Islam in Iran is uniquely blended in with society. Persia became a Shiite polity in 1501. As the map shows, Iran is the only formidable Shiite power in the Muslim world.
Conclusion
All four maps show that Iran is an influential power in its own right, with a proud history, culture, and way of doing things. But despite the impact it has had outside its borders, it is also fairly limited. Its cultural influence has been diffused throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South Asia.
Iran is a major regional power and the historical home of one of the world’s most influential civilizations. But Iran needs to meet certain conditions if it is to become more than a regional force. There is little indication this will happen anytime soon.
Iran is and will remain a formidable geopolitical force. But its power is inherently limited by its geography.
 
 


A journalist’s dark perspective on the nuclear deal with Iran
By Elaine Sciolino October 21 at 10:18 AM   Washington Post
. Anyone who hates the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran will love this book.
In “The Iran Wars,” Wall Street Journal chief foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon tells the story of Iran’s nuclear program and its projection of power in the region, and the American struggle to contain the country.
His conclusions are dark. He argues that the United States and its global partners gave away too much and got taken for a ride by forging an agreement to prevent Iran from expanding its nuclear program. Even more ominous, he declares, the agreement makes the world more, not less, dangerous. “This Iran deal, rather than calming the world’s most combustible region, risks enflaming it,” he writes.
It is challenging to understand Iran from afar. American journalists are invited into Iran only episodically and on visas of limited duration. Solomon seems to have visited Iran once, to attend a conference on “U.S. terrorist efforts” in the spring of 2014. His book includes an on-the-record interview with only one Iranian official during the trip: the deputy governor of Iran’s Central Bank.
Solomon’s access to Iranian officials also seems to have been limited. He does not seem to have interviewed either President Hassan Rouhani or Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the two main Iranian players in negotiating the nuclear accord; they talk to Americans, including journalists (although sometimes off the record).
The paucity of official Iranian voices in Solomon’s book is noticeable because he was granted a nearly 90-minute exclusive interview in Damascus in 2011 with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Such access is rare, and Solomon devotes several pages to the interview. But it doesn’t touch on the subject of Iran and the nuclear deal. Instead, the author tells us that Assad’s “soft voice” put him “at ease,” and he confesses concern about “being manipulated by the dictator.” When the interview was over, Solomon writes, an aide to Assad confided that the president “liked you.”
Other foreign voices might have enriched the narrative. The Iran deal was not an American-Iranian negotiation but a complex, long, multinational endeavor also involving Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. Solomon describes the unwillingness of Laurent Fabius, then the French foreign minister, beginning in late 2013 to embrace what he thought was a flawed agreement. The author quotes an unnamed American official criticizing Fabius, saying, “He didn’t have any leverage and didn’t know what he wanted.” He states that Secretary of State John Kerry’s “team seethed at what they saw as French insubordination, and belittled them as minor players in the talks.”
What the author does not mention is that France had a historic, vested interest in making the agreement as airtight as possible. It was France, after all, that launched the initial British-German-French initiative in 2003 to stop Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities. The French chose Britain over Russia as a partner because the Russians wanted only to “suspend,” not halt, Iran’s enrichment program.
Solomon traveled to Monaco in 2013 to interview Prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of Saudi intelligence, whose government felt betrayed by American nuclear talks with Iran and has opposed the deal. (Turki was among the Saudi officials and members of the royal family who threatened an oil war against Iran if it did not abandon its nuclear program, and his words reinforce Solomon’s premise.) Perhaps Solomon stopped in Paris en route to Monaco to hear the French side of the story, but we don’t hear the foreign minister’s voice in the book.
Nor does the book include an interview with Ambassador Gérard Araud, France’s former Iran nuclear negotiator, who regularly receives reporters in Washington. Araud, as a senior aide to Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, wrote the original letter proposing the joint European initiative; at the time, the French informed both the Bush administration and the Israeli government, and neither opposed the diplomacy; the French took it as a “yellow light” and proceeded.
On the positive side, the book includes a comprehensive retelling of the nuclear negotiations from the official American point of view. The author had extensive access to the main U.S. players, including Kerry, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Stuart Levey, the former undersecretary of the Treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence who devised the strategy of creative, coercive economic diplomacy that gradually cut off Iran’s access to the international banking system. (Levey was proud of waging what he called “an escalating financial war that had no end, if Iran didn’t capitulate.” He left the government in 2011 to become chief legal officer of HSBC Holdings and has advised the bank not to get involved with Iran.)
The author also relies on the too-oft Washington journalistic practice of conducting interviews with anonymous sources, without explaining clearly why they refuse to speak on the record.
The book is weakest in its descriptions of internal decision-making in Iran. At one point the author claims that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes all the key decisions in the country and that no one else, including the elected president, counts. Yet he also acknowledges that even the U.S. intelligence community is ambivalent about how decisions are made inside Iran. He ignores the lively debates in the country — in the parliament, in the media — on just about every decision, including the nuclear deal. The deal is popular in Iran, but opposition to it continues to grow as the lifting of international sanctions has failed to deliver the expected benefits. (Although U.S. nuclear sanctions have been lifted, other sanctions remain in place.)
How could American understanding of Iran be other than limited? The United States has not had formal diplomatic relations or an on-the-ground diplomatic presence there since 1980, a few months after Iranian militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took American diplomats hostage.
As for the nuclear agreement, like all arms-control agreements, it is a compromise. But it can be argued that it stands as President Obama’s most important foreign policy achievement and a model of international cooperation. It has taken the main argument for regime change in Iran off the table. It has created direct, regular, high-level contact between Iran and the United States. Most important, if it continues to work as it has so far, it prevents Iran from producing a bomb over the 15-year term of the agreement — and keeps Iran under international inspection beyond that. And if Iran is prevented from advancing toward a nuclear weapon, the Middle East — and the entire world — will be more secure.
But Solomon stresses the negative. He warns: “The next U.S. administration must be prepared to confront an Iranian regime just as hostile to the West as past ones. . . . There are also real risks that a much bigger and broader war is brewing in the region, and that the United States will inevitably be drawn in.”
Those who hope to sabotage the nuclear agreement under a new administration will find this book useful.




 


Calling Tehran: Vodafone Leaps Into Iran With Internet-Service Deal
U.K.-based mobile carrier plans to assist in modernizing Iran’s infrastructure and expanding landline and mobile internet services for HiWEB
By
Stu Woo in London and
Asa Fitch in Dubai
Updated Oct. 18, 2016 7:49 a.m. ET Wall Street Journal
Vodafone Group PLC intends to work with an Iranian internet-service provider to help improve its local networks, becoming the first big Western firm to jump into Iran after the U.S. moved earlier this month to make it easier for companies to do business in the Islamic Republic.
The U.Khttp://www.wsj.com/articles/obama-administration-further-eases-financial-sanctions-on-iran-1475942805. telecommunications carrier said Tuesday that it plans to assist Iran’s HiWEB, a small, privately owned operator, in modernizing infrastructure and expanding landline and mobile internet services for personal and business customers.
Vodafone didn’t disclose details, including any planned investment in the venture. It said that it wouldn’t take an equity stake in the project.
Vodafone isn’t the first—or even the biggest—Western company to enter Iran after world powers started lifting global sanctions earlier this year, following Iran’s agreement to curb its nuclear program. But the move comes just a little over a week after the U.S. moved to ease regulatory hurdles that have kept many Western companies at bay.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Treasury loosened restrictions on Iran’s ability to trade in the U.S. dollar, and widened the pool of potential business partners in Iran for non-American investors.
Washington ruled that non-American investors can become partners with Iranian entities even if those entities are still on the U.S. sanctions list, as long as the entities weren’t controlling shareholders in any new venture.
That opens the door for a host of fresh deal making.
Many big companies have worried about accidentally running afoul of existing U.S. sanctions amid a lack of transparency in Iran’s business community and its state-dominated economy. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, a paramilitary organization still under U.S. sanctions, for instance, holds controlling and noncontrolling stakes in many of Iran’s biggest businesses.
A spokesman for Vodafone said “the recent lifting of restrictions on dollar trading is helpful” but the wider lifting of international sanctions in January “was the main driver.”
Iran has a relatively youthful population of 80 million, making it an attractive market for many Western goods and services. A host of foreign investors, including Boeing Co., Airbus Group SE, Peugeot-maker Groupe PSA and German industrial company Siemens AG, have signed deals in Iran since the lifting of sanctions in January.
Tuesday’s move by Vodafone, the world’s second-largest carrier by subscribers, after China Mobile Ltd., is another significant vote of confidence. HiWEB began in 2003 as a subsidiary of Iran’s Ministry of Industries and Mines, according to its website. The government privatized it in 2009, and it underwent an overhaul the following year. Despite its long history, the company only got a license to provide mobile data in 2014 and fixed-line services last year. A spokesman for Vodafone said HiWEB is a private business 100%-owned by the Miri family.
Iran’s telecom landscape has already attracted foreign interest. Broadband services in Iran have grown quickly in recent years despite hefty government censorship of the internet. Popular sites including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are all blocked. Still, fixed broadband penetration is starting to take off: The share of internet users jumped from 19% in 2011 to 39% in 2014, according to a recent report by consultants McKinsey & Co.
While Iran has a higher mobile-phone penetration rate than the U.S. or Germany, its mobile data consumption per person lags behind that of comparable countries, underlining a well of opportunity for investment in mobile internet services as the nation catches up.
The Wall Street Journal reported in August that France’s largest telecom company, Orange SA, was in preliminary talks to buy a piece of Iran’s biggest telecom company. Orange already has a technical-assistance contract with the Iranian company.
“All operators around the world are looking for a form of cooperation with Iran,” said Bruno Mettling, Orange’s deputy chief executive for the Middle East and Africa, in an interview in London in July.
The agreement with HiWEB fits into Vodafone’s strategy of focusing on fast-growing emerging markets, which also include India, Turkey and South Africa.
“It enables us to have on the ground a partner that can serve our multinational corporate clients,” the Vodafone spokesman said.

 


Why Iran wants to avoid conflict with Saudi Arabia
#Diplomacy

Kayhan Barzegar
Monday 17 October 2016 13:53 UTC
The issue at the heart of Iran-Saudi tensions is US presence in the region. Iran will avoid a major confrontation to keep the Americans out
In spite of escalating public and diplomatic tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia - and most recently a rise in military tension with Iranian naval forces warning against Saudi Arabia’s military exercises in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran still wants to avoid conflict with Saudi Arabia.
Iran sees the problem as much wider and going beyond bilateral ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is concerned by the possibility of a US return to the region.
The roots of conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia are often assigned to ideological Shia-Sunni rivalry or geopolitical competition over each country’s role in the region. These were escalated by the Hajj incident last year in which hundreds of Iranian pilgrims died.
But one should not ignore another significant factor in the equation: the two states’ conflicting views on the presence of the US in the region and the security challenges which flow from it.
The Saudis have traditionally perceived the US presence in the region as supporting their interests and for regional security. From their perspective, such presence is essential for containing Iran’s growing regional role. They complain that, by overthrowing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, the US changed the regional balance of power in favour of Iran. They fear that Barak Obama’s engagement policy in light of the nuclear deal means that Washington has embarked on the the path of accepting Iran’s dominant role in the region.
To counter this, the Saudis have adopted a two-pronged policy. First, they have embarked on an independent and offensive policy in the region, known as the Salman Doctrine, which is aimed primarily at containing Iran everywhere in the region and the world by all available political, military and economic means. Second, they are using intensive lobbying in the US Congress and US think-tanks in order to challenge the positive results of the nuclear deal between Iran and the US.
Tug-of-war over US
Beneath the Saudis’ new policy there exists a deeper aim and that is to force the US to choose between Iran and Saudi Arabia in a possible conflict and thereby return to the region.
For instance, they hope to get the US militarily involved in Syria in order to change the field equation in favour of the Assad regime’s Saudi-supported opposition. They also hope to commit the US to an institutionalised military treaty in the Persian Gulf region, with the Saudis as leader of the smaller Arab states. For this reason, the Saudis are eagerly awaiting the end of Obama’s presidency.
In contrast, Iran perceives the US presence in the region as being against Iranian interests as well as against the regional security. From Iran’s perspective, beyond its traditional security concerns about US attempts to bring about “regime change” and other US efforts to minimise Iran’s regional role, Iran sees the US presence as the root cause of increased extremism and sectarianism.
The wars which the US waged in Iraq and Afghanistan gave violent terrorist groups the justification they needed for recruiting new forces to continue their “sacred fight” with foreign forces in the region. The result has been new regional security challenges beyond Iran’s boundaries, which can potentially pull the country into unwanted conflicts.
To counter this situation, Iran has also adopted a two-pronged policy. First, it is helping to strengthen inclusive national governments in friendly states such as Iraq - through helping the government for the sake of the country's unity and reducing sectarian conflict - and Syria where, by focusing on a political solution in peace talks, Iran essentially accepts that non-terrorism elements could participate in the country's future government. Iran has also mobilised local forces in order to battle terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) group and al-Qaeda.
Second, it is attempting to expand regional cooperation especially with key players such as Saudi Arabia and Turkey with the aim of solving regional issues. The main goal of this policy is to remove the justification for any possible US military intervention in the region.
Make no mistake, however. Iran is not seeking to deny or endanger US interests in the region. Rather, Iran is striving to preserve its political-security interests by institutionalising its own and regional allies’ role as an essential component in any comprehensive solution in a multilateral context. For this reason, Iran has never sought to exclude the US, Saudi Arabia or any other actor in the Syrian peace talks, as it believes no individual political-security coalition can win in this multi-layered crisis.
Such an understanding is evident in the suggestion by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for the creation of a regional dialogue forum for solving the region’s problems. In his recent comment on the tensions between Iran’s and US naval forces in the Persian Gulf, he argued that it was the Americans who got close to Iran’s borders and endangered the country’s security and not Iranians who approached US borders. This shows how the sense of insecurity created by the US presence is perceived on the Iranian side.
Policy of patience
At present, there are two perspectives in Iran for how to deal with Saudi Arabia’s offensive policies. One view maintains that Iran should take a tougher stance towards Saudi Arabia because it will otherwise send a wrong message to the US about Iran’s role and strength in the region and this might dismay Iran’s regional allies, subsequently weakening Iran’s regional stances.
But the other perspective, and this is the dominant one, supports a policy of patience towards the Saudis. From this perspective, Saudi Arabia is currently acting beyond its strategic capability and national strength and since the US is not in favour of getting involved militarily in Syria and Yemen, the Saudis’ current offensive and warmongering policy in these countries will not last long.
In fact, Iran’s continued policy of avoiding tension and conflict with Saudi Arabia is aimed at defusing the Saudis’ bid to involve or commit the US militarily in the region. The reality is that Obama’s non-intervention policy in Syria, along with stressing the necessity for all actors, especially Iran, to take part in any regional peace talks, is a strategic development toward enhancing multilateral diplomacy in the region.
This is the only way to reduce tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The next US president, whether it is Clinton or Trump, should continue this policy and thereby pave the way to sustainable peace and security in the region.
 


 Putin’s hope to ignite a Eurasia-style protest in the United States
By Jackson Diehl Deputy Editorial Page Editor October 16 at 7:50 PM Washington Post
In the fall of 2004 Vladi¬mir Putin suffered a blow he has never forgotten. The fraudulent election of a pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president, which Putin had directly and brazenly engineered, was overturned by a massive popular uprising. What came to be known as the “Orange Revolution” created a model for resistance to rigged elections in autocracies across Eurasia — in Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Azerbaijan and, in 2012, Russia itself.
Most of the rebellions didn’t succeed. But Putin developed an obsession with “color revolutions,” which he is convinced are neither spontaneous nor locally organized, but orchestrated by the United States — and in the case of the Moscow protests four years ago, by Hillary Clinton herself.
That’s the context in which Russia’s intervention in the 2016 U.S. presidential election must be understood. Putin is trying to deliver to the American political elite what he believes is a dose of its own medicine. He is attempting to ignite — with the help, unwitting or otherwise, of Donald Trump — a U.S. color revolution.
Let’s look at the way those revolts unfolded. In every case, they pitted an outsider political movement against an entrenched elite willing to employ fraud and force to remain in power. The outsiders mobilized their followers to collect evidence of rigging on election day and, when they could, conducted exit polls and “quick counts” to obtain vote totals they could contrast with official results. They disseminated their findings through satellite channels and other foreign media. When the inevitable victory of the ruling party was announced, they called their followers to the streets for mass protests they hoped would cause the regime to crumble — or at least discredit its phony election triumph.
Of course, Trump’s populist campaign is no more comparable to the pro-democracy insurgencies in formerly Soviet lands such as Ukraine and Belarus than Clinton’s administration-in-waiting is to the Putin regime. But Putin’s audacious goal is to create the illusion that they are. “He’s trying to establish that our system is just as bad, just as corrupt, as his,” says Brian Whitmore, a senior editor of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
The first step of the campaign was to hack the computers of the Democratic National Committee and senior party figures and distribute — sometimes with alterations — material that was purported to show Clinton’s rigging of the system. The DNC was revealed, unsurprisingly, to lean against socialist-turned-Democrat Bernie Sanders; Clinton’s campaign team was shown to be making political calculations about her public statements. As if on cue, Trump and his surrogates responded with mock shock and charges of “corruption.”
Next came the suggestions that the balloting itself might be tampered with. Most likely, that was the point of the hacking probes into the voting systems of more than 20 states, including key battlegrounds such as Pennsylvania and Florida. A joint statement by the Department of Homeland Security and the office of the Director of National Intelligence said it was unlikely voting systems could be tampered with “to alter actual ballot counts or election results.” But the reports of cyber-intrusions are by themselves enough to damage public confidence — which may be the point.
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Trump meanwhile plays his part; he could not be doing more to aid the Kremlin’s narrative if he were reading from a script. (Which in some cases, he literally is: See his citation last week of a Clinton-related email doctored by the Moscow-run Sputnik news service.) Repeatedly warning that the election may be rigged, Trump has been enlisting his supporters as observers to watch “certain areas” he is likely to lose, such as Philadelphia. His “Stop the Steal” movement is planning to conduct its own exit polls outside key precincts. Its inevitable reports of “irregularities” will provide the predicate for Trump to claim fraud.
That, in turn, will prompt reactions like that already heard from a Trump supporter at a Mike Pence rally last week. After raising the specter of rigging, she said: “If Hillary Clinton gets in, I myself, I’m ready for a revolution, because we can’t have her in.” After a thousand cable broadcasts of that moment, Putin surely was still smiling.
And the revolution? Putin understands that Washington is not Kiev; mobs are unlikely to mass in front of the White House or Congress. But rebellions can happen online: Imagine a blizzard of Internet posts, reinforced by the Kremlin’s paid trolls, its satellite television network and the Trumpian corners of Fox, alleging that what Trump calls the “political establishment” has stolen the election for Clinton.
That wouldn’t stop Clinton from taking office — any more than the Bolotnaya Square protest in Moscow prevented Putin’s presidential inauguration in May 2012. But Clinton would start her term politically wounded, both domestically and abroad. Putin will have obtained payback. And Trump will have shown himself to be a most useful idiot.

 


Oman-Iran bilateral trade to touch $5b within five years

ctober 16, 2016 | 6:10 PM
by A. E. JAMES/businesseditor   times of oman
Muscat: The bilateral trade between Oman and Iran is expected to touch $5 billion within five years, from merely $1 billion now.

The volume of trade between Oman and Iran is growing and the Sultanate is in a better position to benefit from opening of Iranian market after the recent lifting of sanctions, said Dr Amir Kordvani, head of Iran desk and projects for the Middle East, CMS Cameron McKenna.

Dr Kordvani, while addressing a seminar on foreign investment in Iran here, said that Omani companies are in a strong position to benefit from opportunities in the Iranian market and are currently involved in a number of high-profile projects. International law firm CMS, operating in Oman, in exclusive cooperation with Amur Al Rashdi and Benjamin Ewing Advocates and Legal Consultants, conducted the seminar on foreign investment in Iran.

He emphasised that Oman’s participation in the Iranian market is well deserved after its role as facilitator and negotiator in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) talks. Dr Kordvani said that Omani investors can look at investment opportunities in hotels in Iran as the local businessmen here have a lot of experience in the hospitality sector.

He pointed out that several projects, including Iran-Oman gas pipeline, Iran-Oman shipping line and a $250 million worth of shopping mall (to be developed by Omani investors in Iran) are expected to further strengthen economic cooperation of both countries.

With the lifting of sanctions, Iran offers ample investment opportunities for foreign investors, which include sectors like oil and gas, mining, energy, tourism, hospitality, transport, automobile, infrastructure facilities and information and communication technology.

Iran has 136 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which is equivalent to 10 per cent of world reserves. Also, oil production cost is one of the lowest in the world. Several projects are waiting to be re-initiated. Around 62 per cent of natural gas reserves are located in fields, which are not yet developed.

Further, Iran has deposits of more than 68 minerals worth of $700 billion. The country has fifth largest zinc reserves and seventh largest reserves of copper. Almost 90 per cent of mines are owned by the government.

As far as energy sector is concerned, the country is the eight largest producer of energy and twentieth largest consumer in the world. Iran is focusing on attracting investment in renewable energy sector.

The seminar brought together senior diplomats, banking executives, commercial management teams and market strategists from across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Europe. International experts shared their knowledge and experiences on the Iranian market, market entry and applicable sanctions.

In his opening remarks, Dr Hafez Kamal Hedayat, vice-president of the Iran Oman Chamber of Commerce, gave an overview of the Iranian economy and the wealth of opportunities in Iran for foreign investors.

Dr Hedayat commented that Oman is central to the international business community’s success in building business and creating profitable investments in Iran.

 


Financial Times
Iran moves to woo foreign investors
Trade barriers have been relaxed after the nuclear deal, but sanctions remain an obstacle
October 16, 2016
by: Madison Marriage and Najmeh Bozorgmehr
The Iranian government has invited a prestigious group of international investors that includes the Heinz Family Office, Capital Group and Fidelity to visit the country following the relaxation of trade barriers between Iran and the west in January.
The 20-20 Investment Association, a group of influential investors overseeing $7tn of assets, received the invitation from Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, after the implementation of a landmark nuclear agreement between the country and six leading powers at the start of the year.
James Donald, head of emerging markets at Lazard Asset Management, the US fund company that oversees $174bn of assets, and a board member of the 20-20 association, said the invitation reflected the Iranian government’s desire to attract more foreign investors.
The global agreement involved Tehran committing to scale down its nuclear activities in return for the removal of sanctions that prevented foreign companies from investing in Iranian businesses.
Mr Donald said: “The group at this stage has not accepted the invitation. An awful lot of large government pension plans have restrictions on Iranian investments and [on] any company that does business in Iran. There is talk of [the remaining sanctions being removed]. I think there would have to be a federal law change [for banks and asset managers to move en masse into the Iranian market].”
The nuclear deal was expected to trigger a sharp increase in foreign investment into the Middle East’s second-largest economy, but US sanctions related to state-sponsored terrorism are still in place, limiting US citizens’ ability to invest there.
As such, western banks and asset managers remain wary of working with Iranian companies. Few big western companies have signed contracts with Iran since the nuclear agreement was put into force earlier this year.
Jan Dehn, head of research at Ashmore, the emerging markets-focused asset manager, said: “We are looking closely at Iran. I was there recently. The current government is reformist and keen to show progress. Iran needs funding and wants to attract foreign capital.
“While sanctions have been reduced, there are still major obstacles that make investment difficult. The goalposts have been shifting frequently when it comes to regulation. We find that even if investments are permitted according to the law, there is a growing reluctance [among] banks to get involved in any transactions that could become subject to changing interpretations of existing laws.”
Mr Rouhani has repeatedly said that economic hardships, notably a youth unemployment rate of about 26 per cent, could not be resolved without foreign investment.
A small number of European investors have already started to increase their exposure to Iran.
Charlemagne Capital, the frontier markets-focused asset manager, set up an Iran-focused fund at the end of 2015. It has raised €50m from European private wealth managers and family offices, according to Dominic Bokor-Ingram, portfolio adviser at the company.
The Norwegian oil fund, the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, with $830bn of assets, also received permission from the Norwegian ministry of finance at the start of the year to invest in Iranian bonds.
In a bid to attract more foreign investors, the Tehran chamber of commerce helped to organise a roadshow of companies to London in December to meet European asset managers, sovereign wealth funds and pension funds.
Ahmad Khonsari, a German partner of Iranian origin at Watson Farley & Williams, the law firm in Hamburg, said the “high-profile” London conference demonstrated the country’s desire to “obtain foreign investment”.
He added: “We see vast interest in investing in Iran. I am doing almost nothing else than working on Iran-related matters. The country has a lot of potential.”
Mr Donald said a relaxation in the rules around US investors’ ability to invest in the Islamic republic would be a welcome development. He said: “I would love to go there. Iran has always interested me. It has a very literate and knowledgeable population. Any change [in the rules around whether US citizens can invest in Iran] would be a very interesting opportunity.”
The Iranian government and the Tehran chamber of commerce did not respond to requests for comment.

 


Nine-Nation Meeting on Syria Ends With Fresh Ideas, But No Agreement or Pledges
Leaders still hope to find way to secure cease-fire, at least in Aleppo, and resume humanitarian aid deliveries
By
Felicia Schwartz
Updated Oct. 15, 2016 4:51 p.m. ET Wall Street Journal
LAUSANNE, Switzerland—A meeting of top diplomats from nine nations, including the U.S., Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia, produced new ideas to end the violence in Syria but no concrete agreements or a definitive pledge to meet again.
After more than four hours of talks on Saturday, which also included foreign ministers from Turkey, Qatar, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt, as well as the U.N.’s special envoy to Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said the sides hadn’t found a way to resume aid deliveries or restore calm. But he said they had candid talks about “a number of ideas from a number of different ministers” that are promising and “need to be quickly followed up on.”
Those proposals, which Mr. Kerry declined to spell out so as not to “create speculation about things,” might help “contribute to filling the gaps in the cease-fire that existed previously,” he said. He said staff from the countries would follow up on Monday and would see where they are after those conversations.
“There were a lot people there who wanted to be able to close the loop rapidly, but…also nobody wants to do this in a sloppy way,” Mr. Kerry said.
Mr. Kerry told reporters after Saturday’s meeting that the diplomacy was continuing because of the urgent situation in the beleaguered Syrian city of Aleppo and “the urgency of trying to find something that works other than military action.”
Obama administration officials have said they are considering military options, but President Barack Obama is seen as being wary of getting more militarily involved in Syria’s more than five-year-long civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people.
In a sign of the limits of U.S. options and the influence of Russia on the conflict, Mr. Kerry has continued to talk with his Russian counterpart even after shutting down talks on a failed cease-fire deal with him last week.
As years of diplomatic efforts have failed to create the calm the U.S. and other powers see as necessary to return to political talks, Mr. Kerry said Saturday’s “skinnied down” grouping of countries, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s key backers Iran and Russia, as well as the main backers of the opposition—the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey,—had allowed for a free-flowing brainstorming session.
Previous meetings that had all of these countries plus Europeans and others interested in the conflict “were too big,” he said. 
Though Mr. Kerry said he had refined the format, it was unclear how he could pressure Russia or Iran to agree to a calming of the violence when previous tactics, such as offering Russia closer military cooperation in the Geneva deal, had failed.
Mr. Kerry said the sides also discussed “some very specific steps for a road map to Geneva talks, which everybody unanimously agreed should begin as soon as possible—and possible is obviously linked to a reduction in the violence.”
Before the larger session, Mr. Kerry huddled separately with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir and then with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  The one-on-one with Mr. Lavrov was the first since Mr. Kerry shut down bilateral talks on a cease-fire last week, and it lasted for about 40 minutes. Mr. Kerry said he had raised Russia’s role in cyberattacks aimed at disrupting U.S. elections as well as tensions related to the Syria process.
The big session had “obvious tension, but everybody was constructive, nobody spoke with rancor,” Mr. Kerry said.
Mr. Obama convened a meeting of his national security council on Friday to discuss the fight against the Islamic State extremist group and the civil war in Syria. It isn’t clear if any decisions were made in the meeting but officials have said the White House is considering nondiplomatic efforts in Syria.
Officials have said they have discussed the possibility of more lethal weapons to rebels, limited military strikes on positions of the Assad regime and sanctions.
According to a White House account of the meeting, Mr. Obama “emphasized that preventing attacks on the United States and countering terrorist threats from ISIL and al Qaeda in Syria remains the top priority.” The account referred to Islamic State by one of its acronyms used in the West—ISIL.
According to the White House, the president directed officials to continue to pursue diplomatic talks on the more than five-year civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and said they should “encourage all sides to support a more durable and sustainable diminution of violence and, more broadly, a diplomatic resolution to the civil war.”
The Syrian government, aided by Russia, launched a fresh offensive in eastern Aleppo last month. That offensive followed a strike on a humanitarian aid convoy near Aleppo, which U.S. officials have blamed on Russia. The offensive on Aleppo continued into the weekend and has killed hundreds so far.
Mr. Kerry will travel on Sunday to London to meet with British, French and German diplomats about the Syria crisis. The Saudis and the Jordanians will also join those meetings.
 


Slowly, but in the right direction: Iran's economy on the up and up
#InsideIran

Saheb Sadeghi
Sunday 9 October 2016 16:13 UTC
A year after the the Iran nuclear deal came into force, questions have been raised about the outcomes of the deal for Iran’s economy.
In the wake of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with world powers, as the deal is known, a fierce debate between rival factions is developing over people’s economic expectations of the deal as Iran gears up for 2017’s presidential election.
On the one hand, government officials who finalised the negotiations are trying to present a positive image of the current economic situation in order to claim that the JCPOA was an achievement.
The other side believes that by signing the nuclear deal Iran gave up its “nuclear achievements” while the expected improvement in the economic situation has not been achieved at all.
The reality is that the JCPOA, by lifting most of the sanctions imposed against Iran over its nuclear policy, has returned Iran’s economy to a “natural situation” - and where it was during the previous three decades.
The government intends to unify foreign exchange rates to send a clear message to foreign investors. It has prepared new contracts to increase investment in the oil industry and the first new oil contracts will be signed.
In the infrastructure sector, Iran has signed a contract for the acquisition of 118 new Airbus airliners and nearly 100 Boeing jets, which can breathe new life into the Iranian civil aviation industry.
Gaining US Treasury permission by foreign investors and highly prestigious enterprises has raised hopes for the continuation of JCPOA implementation.
Good signs: oil, inflation and foreign investment
The lifting of the sanctions enabled the oil ministry to return oil production to pre-sanction levels. According to the latest figures, Iran now produces 3.8 million barrels of oil per day (bpd) and exports 2 million.
Traditional Iranian oil buyers have returned and there are also new customers. Iran has regained its position in the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Iran’s opposition to an oil-freeze deal at three OPEC meetings - twice in Doha and once in Vienna - resulted in its removal from the talks’ agendas.
Mohsen Ghamsari, director of international affairs at Iran’s National Oil Company (NIOC), says Iran's insistence on this position in OPEC has been successful in regaining 80 percent of the market share it had in 2012, before sanctions were imposed.
Through fiscal policy and monetary discipline, inflation in Iran is now lower than at any time over the past quarter century. The Iranian inflation rate dropped to single-digits in June, fulfilling one of the promises of the Iranian central bank and President Hassan Rouhani.
When Rouhani took power in 2013, inflation was at 40.4 percent, especially in the food sector, and it was affecting people’s lives. But this June it dropped to a single-digit rate - 9.7 percent - for the first time in 25 years and, in August, it fell further to 8 percent.
Foreign investment is an indicator that is directly related to economic stability and reflects the dynamics of an internationalised economy. In Iran, foreign direct investment has fluctuated quite a bit over the past 20 years, according to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and World Bank statistics.
A report by the Financial Times revealed that after the removal of the sanctions, Iran witnessed a sharp increase in foreign direct investment so that in the first months of 2016 right after JCPOA entered into force, the amount of FDI reached $4.5bn.
Stock market climb, foreign visitors
After it was announced that investment contracts in line with the interests of domestic manufacturers such as Iran Khodro and Saipa had been signed, the key index on the Tehran Stock Exchange climbed and stirred up excitement among shareholders in March when the index reached a peak of 90,000 points compared to its pre-JCPOA 60,000.
In the wake of the JCPOA, a large number of foreign business delegations, sometimes together with high-ranking political officials and sometimes independently, visited Iran. After meeting with Iranian authorities, they would then go to negotiate with the private sector. After the JCPOA, nearly 150 high-ranking economic delegations from various countries arrived in the country.
Now the private sector, which had gradually shrunk over the last eight years as a result of the expansion of the government sector, has regained its place.
In 2013 at the beginning of Rouhani administration, the economy experienced a negative growth rate of 6.8 percent. Because of a deep recession in different economic sectors, both production and exports in various sectors faced significant drops.
Three years later, as a result of government policies and the economic opening which followed the JCPOA signing, economic growth climbed to 4.4 percent in the spring.
Recession to boom?
Some economic sectors have started to come out of recession, including key sectors like housing and industry. According to the Central Bank statistics, housing transactions in Tehran rose by 30 percent in August compared to the same period last year. As the head of the Union of Real Estate has declared, the first stage of coming out of a housing slowdown has begun.
There has also been an 8 percent rise in industrial production and exports during the past few months, especially after the economic openings resulting from the JCPOA. Some $16bn was put aside by the government to finance 7,500 small and medium companies in order to get the economy out of recession quicker.
While there has been disappointment that the benefits of the JCPOA have not been felt as quickly as expected, and many Iranians are still facing economic hardship, it is clear that the economy is moving in the right direction.
 


Obama Administration Further Eases Financial Sanctions on Iran
Treasury guidelines loosen restrictions on Iran’s ability to trade in U.S. dollars
By Jay Solomon
Oct. 8, 2016 12:06 p.m. ET Wall Street Journal
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration further eased financial sanctions on Iran through regulatory measures that could significantly bolster Tehran’s ability to access global financial markets and attract foreign investment.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday evening released new guidelines for dealings with Iran that loosen restrictions on the country’s ability to trade in U.S. dollars, according to the documents published on Treasury’s website.
The Treasury also widened the potential business partners for non-American investors in Iran by announcing that U.S.-sanctioned Iranian entities can partake in projects provided they aren’t the controlling shareholder.
The U.S. maintains sanctions on Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is viewed by Washington and Europe as the dominant player in the Iranian economy.
The Treasury has long dissuaded foreign companies from conducting any business with the IRGC. But the new measures indicate the Obama administration will now accept some Revolutionary Guard presence in international projects.
“It is not necessarily sanctionable for a non-U.S. person to engage in transactions with an entity that is not on the [sanctions list] but that is minority owned, or that is controlled in whole or in part, by an Iranian or Iran-related person on the [list],” said the Treasury guidelines.
The U.S. and world powers reached an agreement with Iran last year that lifted many international sanctions on Tehran in return for it scaling back its nuclear program. But the U.S. trade embargo has been kept in place.
Iranian officials have increasingly complained that the U.S. has undercut Tehran’s business prospects, and the nuclear agreement, by maintaining the U.S.’s bilateral sanctions. The latest announcement by the Treasury is viewed as addressing many of Iran’s concerns.
Republican lawmakers, and some Democrats, have sharply criticized the White House’s efforts to ease the financial pressure on Iran over the past year. The Treasury’s decision to announce the new guidelines on Iran at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening—ahead of the three-day holiday weekend—was viewed by congressional officials as an attempt by the administration to blunt further criticism from Capitol Hill.
Administration officials have hinted for months that the Obama administration might take measures to ease Iran’s access to U.S. dollars. Current Treasury sanctions ban Iranian banks and companies from conducting any business through the American financial system.
The Treasury announced on Friday, however, that Iran could legally gain access to dollars through non-U.S. banks and institutions, provided they have no direct contact with the U.S. financial system.
“Foreign financial institutions, including foreign-incorporated subsidiaries of U.S. financial institutions, may process transactions denominated in U.S. dollars or maintain U.S. dollar-denominated accounts that involve Iran or persons ordinarily resident in Iran,” the Treasury guidelines say.

 


Saudi-Led Airstrikes Blamed for Massacre at Funeral in Yemen
By SHUAIB ALMOSAWA and BEN HUBBARDOCT. 9, 2016 New York Times
SANA, Yemen — Fighter jets from a Saudi-led military coalition repeatedly bombed a crowded reception hall in Sana where mourners were gathered after a funeral on Saturday, killing more than 100 people and wounding hundreds of others, according to Yemeni health officials and witnesses.
The strikes destroyed the hall and so overwhelmed the city’s hospitals that the Health Ministry broadcast pleas on radio stations to summon off-duty doctors to help tend to the wounded, and families beseeched passers-by outside hospitals to donate blood.
Yemeni officials said the scale of the carnage made it hard to quickly compile a complete death toll.
Tamim al-Shami, a spokesman for the Health Ministry, said at least 104 people had been killed and 550 wounded. He added that the death toll was likely to rise, as rescuers were still working to remove bodies from the rubble.
“There are charred bodies, and some were cut to shreds and couldn’t be identified,” Mr. Shami said, adding that children were among the victims.
“Some of the people who were carried out of the hall were headless,” said Muhammad al-Hadrami, who lives near the hall and rushed there soon after the strikes. Others had “smashed legs,” he said.
Mr. Hadrami said two nearly simultaneous strikes hit the hall, followed by a third about a minute later. Some rescue workers gathered outside the hall immediately after, scared to enter for fear of another strike.
“It’s a very ugly massacre,” Mr. Hadrami said.
Another witness reported four strikes spread over a slightly longer period of time.
When asked about the strikes, Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Asiri, a spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition, wrote in a text message that coalition officials were aware of the reports and that it was possible there were other causes for the blasts.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite network later reported that the coalition had not carried out any strikes near the hall. General Asiri confirmed that report.
But in a statement, Jamie McGoldrick, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, blamed airstrikes for the destruction and said he was “shocked and outraged.” Others shared videos on social media that appeared to show a strike from the air.
The Saudi bombing campaign is more than a year old, but it has been eclipsed by the wars in Syria and Iraq, and has been largely ignored by world powers.
If the death toll is confirmed, the strike on Saturday would be one of the deadliest of Yemen’s war. The war began when rebels, known as the Houthis, and their allies stormed into Sana, the capital, and forced the government into exile. Since then, the conflict has fallen into a grinding stalemate, with the Houthis controlling much of the north and forces nominally loyal to the exiled president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, in the south.
A military coalition led by Saudi Arabia is seeking to restore Mr. Hadi’s government and has been bombing the Houthis.
More than 9,000 people have been killed, and many Yemenis have been pushed toward famine while extremist groups like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State have taken advantage of the chaos to step up their operations.
The strikes occurred in one of Sana’s most upscale districts, at a large reception hall that residents rent for weddings and to receive condolences after funerals.
The funeral on Saturday was for the father of Galal al-Rawishan, a Houthi ally who serves as the interior minister.
Mr. Rawishan was not killed in the strikes, but other officials were, including Abdulqader Hilal, the mayor of Sana.
Videos posted online showed dead bodies strewn about the charred interior of the hall and streets filled with ambulances rushing the wounded to hospitals.
Rima Kamal, a media officer with the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sana, said the group had donated 300 body bags as well as extra medical supplies to three hospitals to help them cope with the influx of dead and wounded.
Eric Jeunot, the head of the Doctors Without Borders mission in Yemen, said that at least 400 people had been wounded in the attacks but that he was unsure of the death toll.
“Many patients need surgery due to burns and trauma from shrapnel,” Mr. Jeunot wrote in a text message. “Some are still in critical situation in the hospitals.”

 


Airstrike kills more than 100, injures hundreds at Yemen funeral
By Ali Al-Mujahed and Sudarsan Raghavan October 8 at 5:07 PM Washington Post
SANAA, Yemen — An airstrik Ali Al-Mujahed e by a U.S.-backed, Saudi-led coalition killed more than 100 people and injured hundreds more at a funeral Saturday, according to Health Ministry officials and medical groups. With the death toll expected to rise, it was one of the deadliest single assaults in the 20-month-old civil conflict that has fractured the Middle East’s poorest country.
Witnesses said at least three airstrikes hit the Grand Hall, one of the biggest arenas in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, as mourners gathered inside to attend a funeral for the father of a top rebel Houthi official. In attendance were senior political and military officials aligned with the Houthis and hundreds of civilians, according to witnesses.
As explosions rocked the hall at around 3:30 p.m., chaos ensued as people tried to rush toward the exits. Many jumped through a large opening in a wall that had crumbled, said Mohammed Ahmed al-Sunaidar, an Interior Ministry employee. He was just arriving at the hall and ran inside to help survivors.
“We carried many bodies,” Sunaidar said. “But we couldn’t carry the bodies that were completely burned. There were body parts scattered all over the place.”
Most of those who died, he added, were in the hall’s left wing, which was struck by one of the missiles.
Tameem al-Shami, a Health Ministry spokesman, said 104 people were killed and more than 550 were injured, many of them critically. Some news reports said the death toll had reached at least 155.
The Saudi-owned Al Arabiya satellite network, citing Saudi military sources, said the coalition did not stage the airstrike on the hall. But Saudi Arabia’s military have previously denied strikes on hospitals and other civilian areas that were later proved to have occurred.
The United Nations on Saturday “unequivocally condemned” the attack, adding that the death toll was 140, with more than 525 injured. It called for an investigation, saying it was “shocked and outraged by today’s airstrikes,” according to a statement by Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Yemen.
A White House National Security Council spokesman announced in a statement that the United States would initiate an immediate review of “our already significant reduced support” to the Saudi-led forces.
“We are deeply disturbed by reports of today’s airstrike on a funeral hall in Yemen, which, if confirmed, would continue the troubling series of attacks striking Yemeni civilians,” said council spokesman Ned Price. “U.S. security cooperation with Saudi Arabia is not a blank check.”
The medical charity Doctors Without Borders reported that more than 400 people injured by the airstrikes were receiving treatment at six hospitals they are affiliated with in the capital. Health Ministry officials called on citizens to donate blood and urged all off-duty doctors to leave their homes and help treat the injured in the hospitals.
“There are still many bodies that are at the scene until this moment,” Sunaidar said. “That’s because the bodies are completely burned and cannot be identified.”
The funeral was being held for the father of Interior Minister Galal al-Rowaishan, who was appointed by the Houthi-led administration and is a key ally of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh. The former president was ousted in the aftermath of Yemen’s populist revolt, part of the Arab Spring uprisings of five years ago but later aligned himself with the Houthis and remains powerful.
Yemen’s conflict pits an alliance between the Shiite Houthi rebels and Saleh’s loyalists against President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi, who is backed by Saudi Arabia, the United States and their allies. In February 2015, the Houthis seized Sanaa and forced Hadi southwardto the port city of Aden. That prompted Saudi Arabia to enter the war and attempt to restore Hadi to power. The Sunni Muslim monarchy has long been concerned about the Houthis and their links to its main regional rival, Iran’s Shiite theocracy.
As many as 10,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed, according to the United Nations. Millions more are suffering from hunger, illness and displacement as the nation is in the throes of a humanitarian disaster .
Human rights groups have accused the Saudi-led coalition of human rights violations, which Riyadh has denied. The Houthis also have been accused of abuses, such as recruiting child soldiers and forced disappearances of its opponents.
The Obama administration is facing growing criticism for supporting Saudi Arabia’s air campaign. Some lawmakers and human rights groups are charging that the United States bears some responsibility for the mounting casualties.

 


Sign of Thaw With Iran: American Cellphones Ringing in Tehran
By THOMAS ERDBRINKOCT. 8, 2016

TEHRAN — Rushing for a plane to Tehran because of a family emergency, the Iranian-American businessman stuffed his mobile phone into his carry-on, forgetting to turn it off.
It was useless in Iran anyway, he knew. American mobile phones never worked in the country, and even after the recent nuclear deal, many economic sanctions remain in place, frustrating foreign businesses interested in cracking the Iranian market.
So it was something of a shock when, having fallen asleep after arriving at his sick grandmother’s house in Tehran, the businessman, Faryar Ghazanfari, an intellectual-property lawyer, heard a buzzing coming from the bag.
At first, he thought it was an alarm. Then he picked up. “I couldn’t believe what was happening,” he said. “It was San Francisco. A colleague wanted an update on a patent case.”
Until recently, an American phone in Iran would not receive any signal. But that has quietly changed. This past week, a spokesman for AT&T acknowledged that the company was providing voice and data service in Iran to its customers with American phones through a partnership with a local firm, RighTel. An employee at the Iranian company, fully owned by a state entity, confirmed the partnership.
While the announcement that Airbus and Boeing will provide dozens of jetliners to Iranian carriers garnered worldwide headlines last month, the deal that AT&T clinched in March, making it the only American provider to offer phone service in Iran, flew under the radar.
The agreement is one of the few signs that the promises President Hassan Rouhani made long ago of welcoming Western businesses and ending Iran’s isolation are at last beginning to be realized.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Masoud Daneshmand, an official at the Iran Chamber of Commerce, said of AT&T’s partnership with RighTel. “The fact that phones are working in Iran and the United States is a sign of good will on both sides.”
With its oil wealth and nearly 80 million consumers, Iran has long held out the promise of a lucrative, if elusive, market for Western companies. In the immediate aftermath of the nuclear deal in January and the lifting of many economic sanctions, there were heightened expectations in both countries that the day had finally arrived.
But enough sanctions remained that Western banks refused to finance commerce with Iran without specific licenses from the United States Treasury. That seemed to choke off most business opportunities outside the oil and gas sector and the airlines. But for whatever reasons, AT&T decided to move ahead, apparently determined to shun publicity about its moves.
It remains unclear how AT&T and RighTel will settle accounts. A representative for AT&T said the company would not disclose information on financial arrangements made with the Treasury or with its Iranian partner. One possible clue: RighTel is owned by the Social Security Organization of Iran, a state entity that has large stakes in several domestic banks.
The Treasury would also not speak about the deal, saying in a statement that it “generally does not comment on specific licenses or engagement with private parties.”
Nevertheless, having working American mobile phones in Iran sends a powerful message that times are changing, albeit very slowly.
“Now we are, of course, hoping that the United States lifts all trade restrictions on Iran,” Mr. Daneshmand said. “In return, we will lift visa restrictions for Americans.”
In the past, Iranian interest in AT&T was of a different nature. In 2011, Iranian hackers targeted the carrier along with several other companies, dozens of banks and even a small dam in a suburb of New York, the Justice Department wrote in a complaint this year. Seven Iranian computer specialists who regularly worked for the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps were accused of carrying out the attacks.
AT&T still faces the many hurdles that all companies have in doing business in Iran. In addition to its endemic corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, Iran works on a calendar different from the West’s, with different months and a Thursday-Friday weekend. The communication infrastructure is poor but improving, and many websites are blocked by the government.
And there is still the possibility of opposition from conservative clerics and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who could end the arrangement in a flash if he felt it was inappropriate.
For Iranian hard-liners, direct service to the United States means yet another connection to the “Great Satan,” the place they wish death upon in every Friday Prayer. For many of them, simply the idea of an ever-friendlier and familiar America is a threat to the founding ideology of the Islamic republic.
For many, perhaps, but by no means all. “If we get service in return, it is not that bad,” said Mohammad Javad Helali, a Shiite Muslim cleric connected to the hard-line faction. “We just hope that the services will be free from infiltration by American intelligence services.”
The opening up of phone service is undoubtedly a welcome surprise to Iranians and the approximately two million Iranians living in the United States, many of whom travel frequently to their home country.
Azad Jafarian, an Iranian-American filmmaker, said his mother had just flown in from Los Angeles through a connection in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar, and he smiled when he saw her turning off the flight mode on her cellphone, bringing it back to normal operating status.
What happened next startled him. “I was driving her home, I saw her swiping her phone, and seconds later the phone started ringing,” Mr. Jafarian recalled. In a light panic, he told her to turn it off. “I was like, ‘This can’t be real.’”
Follow Thomas Erdbrink on Twitter @ThomasErdbrink.

 

 


Turkey and Iran Draw Closer, Despite Syrian War
Rapprochement defies the easy characterizations of the region’s mayhem as a sectarian conflict

By
Yaroslav Trofimov    Wall Street Journal
Oct. 6, 2016 6:38 a.m. ET
The Syrian war went through one of its bloodiest stretches in recent weeks, with Iranian proxies battling Turkish-backed rebels for control of the city of Aleppo. At the same time, Iran’s foreign minister visited Ankara for the second time in two months for talks on how to improve bilateral ties, boost mutual trade, and bolster energy cooperation.
This rapprochement between Sunni-majority Turkey and Iran’s Shiite theocracy, which began earlier this year and picked up pace after the failed July coup against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan , defies the easy characterizations of the region’s mayhem as a sectarian conflict.
It also shows the ability of these two regional powers to compartmentalize their differences over the future of Syria—and to focus on areas where they share a common agenda.
These overtures, unsurprisingly, have caused unease among the countries that used to think of Turkey as an ally—in the West and even more so among the Sunni Arab states that consider Iran an existential enemy.
 “Turkey is in a balancing game, trying to mend fences with everyone around it. But one would expect Turkey to be more understanding of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf in their stance against Iranian expansion in the area,” said Abdulhaleq Abdulla, a political scientist in the United Arab Emirates.
This balancing doesn’t mean that Turkey is breaking up with the Gulf. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef also visited Ankara in recent days, trying to work out a common approach with Mr. Erdogan. He affirmed after his talks that the kingdom and Turkey “have the same thinking on all issues.” Mr. Erdogan reciprocated by criticizing the U.S. Congress for allowing victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks to sue the Saudi government.
On the matter of Iran, however, the thinking in Ankara and Riyadh is clearly diverging. Unlike Saudi Arabia and its allied Gulf monarchies, Turkey has maintained full diplomatic relations with Tehran and doesn’t feel its domestic security endangered by the Iranian regime.
What it does have good reason to fear is the separatist insurgency by the PKK Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Kurdish-populated areas of southeast Turkey. Iran, too, in recent months witnessed a revival of the largely dormant insurgency in its own Kurdish regions. In part because of these domestic concerns, neither country is happy with the large territorial gains made over the past year by the PKK-affiliated Kurdish militias in northern and eastern Syria.
“Turkey, Iran, Syria—they have a common Kurdish problem and they all see the Kurds as a threat to their national existence. And even though Turkey and Iran are on opposite sides of the Syrian war, they have a shared interest when it comes to the Kurds. They see every gain by the Kurds in Syria as affecting their own populations,” said Mutlu Civiroglu, a Syrian-Kurdish political analyst.
Iran and Turkey, of course, also have a long history of dealing with each other as powerful states of comparable strength—states whose rivalry in centuries past enabled the encroachment into the Ottoman and Persian empires by Western powers and Russia. The allegation by many Turkish officials that the U.S. may have played a role in the failed putsch against Mr. Erdogan—a coup attempt immediately condemned by Tehran—helped make Iran’s anti-Western stance more palatable in Ankara.
“Turkey and Iran are apples and apples—both are non-Arab Muslim countries with proud histories and a strong grievance-driven nationalism,” said Karim Sadjadpour, Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Both governments also subscribe, to a different degree, to notions of political Islam. Mr. Erdogan’s ruling party draws its roots from the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni group originally created in Egypt that wasn’t particularly hostile to the Iranian regime until the Syrian conflict erupted in 2011. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, after all, once personally translated into Persian the books of the Brotherhood’s seminal ideologue Sayyid Qutb.
Such a complex shared history means that Turkey doesn’t view Iran through the same sectarian prism as Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Arab monarchies.
“Of all the Sunni countries in the region, Turkey is least obsessed with the Shiite nature of Iran,” said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “When Turkey sees Iran, it sees Persians and not Shiites, which is a big difference with the Gulf countries which see Shiites first.”
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com


 


Iran and the US: new partners in space?




Mohsen Bahrami, head of the Iranian space agency, has said that his country is interested in cooperating with NASA.
By Amanda Hoover, Staff October 4, 2016 Christian Science Monitor
The head of Iran’s space program announced Tuesday that the nation is interested in cooperating with NASA, a partnership that could spur international collaboration.
But some wonder if such a move would make the US more vulnerable to attacks rather than mending relations and jumpstarting the sharing of valuable information between the two countries.
“Many in the world look at NASA's programs,” Mohsen Bahrami told reporters at World Space Week. “We are interested in having cooperation, naturally. When you are in orbit, there is no country and race."
The collaboration would require leaders of both the US and Iran to come to an agreement. Mr. Bahrami noted that Iran’s civil space program is both powerful and peaceful, making a cooperation possibly mutually beneficial.
"We have capabilities and we are part of an international scene," he said.
This isn’t the first time Iran has reached out to foreign space agencies. Bahrami said that the nation has entered into negotiations with agencies in European countries, as well as Russia, China, and Japan. While they have discussed technical cooperation, Bahrami did not provide further details of what such talks or possible agreements entail.
While Iran’s past experience with space is limited, the nation has become more active recently. In the past 10 years, Iran has experimented with dummy satellites by sending them into orbit, and sent a monkey to space in 2013. The nation also created a tracking center to monitor objects as they passed through orbit above the country.
The next planned step will be to send three domestically-made mini satellites into a low orbit before 2018, Bahrami said.
While some of Iran’s technology is rudimentary, it has made space innovation a high priority.
Iran says that sending its satellites into orbit is a matter of safety. The nation, which is prone to destructive earthquakes, has a vital interest in improving telecommunications and monitoring natural disasters.
But doing so would also allow Iran to expand its military surveillance techniques, and the US and its allies have argued that the technology could pose a security threat by empowering Iran to build long-range missiles.
“There is evidence, however, that Iran is looking at rudimentary counterspace capabilities, such as electronic jammers against communications satellites, that could potentially deny the United States and its allies use of space for short periods of time in and around Iran in the event of a conflict,” John B. Sheldon, the chairman and president of Swiss-based consulting company ThorGroup GmbH, a Swiss-based consulting company and publisher and editor of SpaceWatch Middle East, told World Politics Review last week.
In response, Iran has stressed its goals to cooperate, denying any desire to use the technology to create more weapons. The nation has also said it would share scientific discoveries and data culled by the satellites with other countries.
It's not clear that the US Congress would welcome NASA partnering with Iran. In 2011, China was barred from joining the International Space Station when Congress passed a law prohibiting official American contact with the Chinese space program due to concerns about national security.
Time.com reported that a 2015 report prepared by the University of California, San Diego’s Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, ominously titled “China Dream, Space Dream," concludes: “China’s efforts to use its space program to transform itself into a military, economic, and technological power may come at the expense of U.S. leadership and has serious implications for U.S. interests.”

 


Iran Lays Groundwork for Regional Airport Hub in Tehran
Government hopes development of Imam Khomeini Airport City will be a big draw for global business

ByAsa Fitch in Dubai andAresu Eqbali in Tehran Wall Street Journal
Updated Oct. 4, 2016 6:31 a.m. ET

Tehran’s international airport is in the early stages of a gradual reinvention, part of a long-term plan to boost trade and turn Iran into a regional hub after its nuclear deal.
Central to these hopes are two new terminals and a vast airport free-trade area that includes sections for industry, logistics, hotels and conference centers. While still in its early stages, the government is hoping the overarching development—called Imam Khomeini Airport City—will convince foreign companies and international carriers to start choosing Tehran over other regional hubs.
The projects could result in billions of dollars worth of business for regional and international real-estate, construction and management players. French industrial developer Bouygues and Aéroports de Paris, which manages the Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports, already held talks this year with Iranian authorities about participating. Last year, French hotel giant AccorHotels signed a deal to manage Novotel and Ibis hotels connected to the existing airport, underlining international interest in airport-related infrastructure.
Ali Sabbaghi, a top adviser to the head of the Imam Khomeini Airport City, says the project hopes to compete with successful airport-related developments and special zones in the United Arab Emirates and Turkey.
For example, the Dubai World Central zone, which opened in 2010, has as its centerpiece a new airport with a projected capacity of at least 160 million passengers a year and 12 million tons of cargo. Around the airport are special areas for logistics, airplane maintenance, residential buildings and a district dedicated to golf. Hilton Worldwide agreed last year to manage a new 535-room hotel there.
“These figures are huge, and we can’t reach them without the necessary infrastructure and a lot of work,” Mr. Sabbaghi said. “But if we can gain our share of the market in a 15-year time frame, we will have actually cut their shares. It’s a hard competition, but the government is removing the barriers to this goal.”
Special economic zones exist across the globe, with differing purposes and rules. Many are designed to allow manufacturers, importers and exporters to trade without being subject to local regulations and reduce or eliminate tax liability.
China has successfully used special economic zones as test beds for economic liberalization plans. In the regional trade hub of Dubai, zones have increased foreign investment by cutting red tape and restrictions on the movement of capital.
Iran currently has six free zones, including the Chabahar free zone, established in 1992 on the southeastern coast near Iran’s border with Pakistan, and the Arvand free zone along the border with Iraq. The Arvand zone sparked warehouse and office building development near the Arvand River and the city’s airport.
The Arvand free zone also has plans to extend its infrastructure.
Last year, it signed a deal with a private German investor to build 30 wind turbines for electricity generation.
But the airport city is seen as a more important jewel because it connects to Tehran, Iran’s capital and by far its largest city. The area, which is to be developed in phases over the next 20 years, needs tens of billions of dollars of investment to reach its potential, according to Mr. Sabbaghi.
Iran has hired Netherlands Airport Consultants, or NACO, which has worked on major airport projects in Mexico City, Kuala Lumpur and Beijing, as its main adviser. NACO estimates the new Iranshahr Terminal—a key component of the airport city, with a capacity of 20 million passengers—will cost $2 billion, Mr. Sabbaghi said.
Meanwhile, companies from South Korea, the Netherlands, France and China have signed deals or entered talks about joining the effort, some with the backing of their governments. In the past, some of these countries have helped finance comparable projects in other parts of the world to get a piece of the action for their real-estate developers, construction companies and other businesses.
Reviving the airport and the transportation sector in general is widely seen as a key to reaping the benefits of sanctions relief under last year’s nuclear deal. Freeing up the flow of goods through Iran’s borders is a crucial first step toward building an economy that is more integrated with the world, a policy priority for President Hassan Rouhani.
“I would say the transport sector is the very first sector that’s going to pick up” in terms of investment, said Siamak Goudarzi, the chief executive of Open Iran, a consulting group that aims to help clients invest in the country.
Iran enjoys the geographic advantage of being positioned between Europe and Asia, according to Maryam Kiaie, an international business development director at Rah Shahr, a large Iranian infrastructure company. “Imam Khomeini has the potential to become a Middle East hub,” she said. “So they want investors to invest in developing the airport city.”
It remains to be seen, of course, whether the airport zone will be as successful as China’s special zones that started to appear in the early 2000s. Those gave foreign companies access to cheaper Chinese labor and markets, but in a way the Chinese government could control. Often the Chinese required the foreign companies to set up joint ventures with domestic companies.
Partnerships between foreigners and Chinese companies were good for the Chinese because they were able to upgrade their technology and distribution practices. But the technology transfer came under some criticism as well.
“Ultimately this was a way of using foreign firms in a very controlled way to get Chinese firms to become more competitive,” said Eswar Prasad, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Whether it worked well in terms of the foreign firms was less obvious.”

 


New Malls Cropping Up Across Iran
After years of sanctions, Giant Iran Mall in Tehran is one of the new shopping centers under construction
By
Asa Fitch in Dubai and Aresu Eqbali in Tehran Updated Oct. 4, 2016 12:48 p.m. ET
Wall Street Journal
Construction noises are rumbling these days from a vast site in the Iranian capital where the city’s latest megamall is taking shape.
The project—the 2.7 million-square-foot Iran Mall in Tehran’s northwestern outskirts—is part of a new crop of shopping centers sprouting up across the country, reshaping its retail landscape as the Persian Gulf state comes out of years of crippling economic sanctions.
The mall, built by real-estate and industrial magnate Ali Ansari, is one of roughly 300 retail properties currently under construction across the country to meet growing consumer demand at home, according to Boris Planer, the chief economist at Planet Retail in Frankfurt.
Tehran’s new shopping options run the gamut from small neighborhood commercial centers to midsize malls focused around luxury brands to behemoths like Iran Mall, which includes an ice rink, musical fountain, central garden, attached hotel and exhibition center.
Iran’s political system is overseen by an ultraconservative ayatollah, who is against lavish lifestyles and encourages reliance on made-in-Iran products, but many of its 80 million people are big fans of the luxury goods and Western styles malls offer.
Clothing, footwear and other goods that might be available in malls accounted for about 17% of Iranian urban household spending, according to Iran’s most recent central bank survey. Spending on these items has been rising briskly, too.
Among Iran’s mall developers, the hope is to capture the boom in consumer spending at home, before it goes to better-developed shopping destinations abroad.
“You have a middle class that has money and is brand-conscious and has a modern lifestyle,” Mr. Planer said.
During the sanctions era, wealthy Iranians avoided holding cash because of the weakening of the Iranian rial and rampant inflation, which peaked at above 30% annually in 2013. Those trends helped divert capital into physical real estate, including malls, which were seen as hedges against the turmoil.
But a large number of those malls were basic and mostly sold locally manufactured goods or those imported from countries such as China and Turkey that were still willing to do business with the sanctioned country. Among the large tenants in the country’s more recently built malls are LC Waikiki, a Turkish clothing company with a store at Tehran’s Palladium Mall, and Hyperstar, a combined supermarket and department store at Isfahan City Center run by a company based in the United Arab Emirates.
Mall developers hope there is demand for modern, Western-style shopping centers, especially after last year’s nuclear deal. The deal, which lifted many of the economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, went into effect in January.
While international trade hasn’t picked up as much as Iranians hoped—banks are still wary of financing Iranian ventures—numerous foreign retailers have begun to eye the market seriously. Roberto Cavalli, the Italian high-end fashion brand, opened its first store in Iran in February.
That is good news for Masoud Sarrami, a 60-year-old wealthy industrialist who built Iran’s largest mall, the five million-square-foot, $1 billion Isfahan City Center. “Removing sanctions soothes the path for brands that couldn’t enter Iran before,” said Mr. Sarrami.
If they continue to develop, Iranian malls could eventually attract spending that otherwise would have gone to the popular shopping meccas of Dubai or Turkey, Mr. Sarrami said.
Some Western mall retailers already are active in the country, including Spanish ready-to-wear clothier Mango, but big foreign brands are still relatively sparse, leading wealthier consumers abroad.
“I am going to do the same in Iran like Dubai and Turkey did,” said Mr. Sarrami, a serial entrepreneur who started his first business, a home-based candle-making operation, when he was five years old. “Turkey has a history, but we have the same history in Iran. What we need is shopping.”
Mr. Sarrami said the mall he opened in 2012 in Isfahan, a cultural center and former capital, has been a success.
Much of the newer mall development has focused on Tehran. In the capital’s metropolitan core, which has a population of around eight million, consumer spending last year was around $4,300 per capita, according to Mr. Planer’s estimates, about on par with the Middle East average. But Tehran’s spending is concentrated: It has the second-highest spending per square kilometer—a key metric for retailers—in all of the Middle East and Africa after Johannesburg, Mr. Planer said.
Up-and-coming Tehranis gravitate toward a luxury niche targeted by new malls, including the Palladium and the Arg complex, which opened last year near Tajrish Square in the north of the city, developers say.
“Iranians like luxury styles,” said Hossein Mahmoudi, a well-known investor and architect. “They don’t like minimalist forms. They like to show their wealth through massive structures to show their empire.”
Still, on a busy Thursday afternoon at the Arg complex many shoppers said they didn’t plan on abandoning their shopping trips abroad. “Even though we have big malls here, we prefer there because the clothes and materials we find there fit our tastes,” said Kimia Rezvani, a law student. “We also enjoy the trip.”
Some observers are also beginning to worry that the mall boom has gone too far.
Residential real-estate construction in Tehran boomed five years ago as sanctions intensified, but subsequently plunged as President Hassan Rouhani’s administration brought inflation under control and negotiated the nuclear deal with six world powers. Investment in commercial property has enjoyed a similar uptick, and may now be due for a correction.
“Today, you look around and see malls are all over the place, one next to another,” Mr. Mahmoudi said.
Iranian e-commerce startups like Digikala and Bamilo, both of which sell a wide range of electronics, household goods and clothes, could provide another source of competition for local malls.
As the nuclear accord ushers in a period of stability, Mr. Planer predicts many global retailers won’t be able to resist the temptation to invest in Iran’s consumer boom. “If Iran opens up with political stability and a stable outlook, it will be the next big story in the Middle East region,” he said.

 


 Wall Street Journal
Turkish Trader Reza Zarrab Set to Fight U.S. Charges of Violating Iran Sanctions
Lawyers will argue Wednesday that accusations represent overreach by American government
By Nicole Hong
Updated Oct. 4, 2016 3:07 p.m. ET
Lawyers for Turkish gold trader Reza Zarrab, whose prosecution in the U.S. for alleged sanctions violations has drawn national attention in Turkey, will argue at a hearing Wednesday that the criminal charges against him are an overreach by the U.S. government and should be dismissed.
Mr. Zarrab, who had been living in Turkey with Turkish and Iranian citizenship, was arrested by U.S. authorities in March when he arrived in Miami for a family vacation. Mr. Zarrab, 34 years old, was accused of helping Iranian companies process financial transactions that sidestepped U.S. sanctions against Iran.
The criminal charges against him include conspiracies to launder money and defraud U.S. banks and carry a maximum prison sentence of 75 years. Mr. Zarrab, who has pleaded not guilty, is being detained at a jail in New York City.
The outcome of Wednesday’s hearing could help clarify how far American sanctions laws should apply to non-U.S. citizens overseas, a hotly contested issue in this case.
In court filings, Mr. Zarrab’s team of 15 defense lawyers say Mr. Zarrab’s money transfers with foreign banks were entirely legal in Turkey and had “non-existent connections” to the U.S. Even though some of the transactions were cleared by U.S. banks, the payments were ultimately directed between foreign countries, such as from Turkey to China, and should not fall under U.S. regulation, according to the defense.
“This is prosecutorial overreach of the first order,” Mr. Zarrab’s lawyers wrote in a July court filing. “It is as unprecedented as it is problematic.”
The government says the central purpose of Mr. Zarrab’s suspected scheme was to evade U.S. sanctions. Mr. Zarrab and his co-conspirators allegedly used an international network of companies to intentionally conceal the Iranian origins of certain transactions so that they could pass through U.S. banks. Hundreds of millions of dollars were processed for the Iranian government and other Iranian entities thanks to Mr. Zarrab, prosecutors alleged.
Mr. Zarrab’s “charged conduct goes to the heart of what U.S. sanctions laws are intended to prohibit,” according to a government filing.
Legal experts say Mr. Zarrab’s prosecution is unusual. Typically, defendants in sanctions cases are based in the U.S. and accused of shipping U.S. technology or other physical objects to sanctioned countries like Iran. In this case, prosecutors accuse Mr. Zarrab, who was based in Turkey, of causing the export of “financial services” from the U.S. His lawyers argue that payments originating overseas that are cleared by a U.S. bank don’t count as a U.S. export.
Under the sanctions law used to charge Mr. Zarrab, a criminal violation only occurs when there is an illegal “export” of something from the U.S.
Mr. Zarrab, a businessman with close ties to high-ranking Turkish officials, is a household name in Turkey. He was married to pop star Ebru Gundes, who recently filed for divorce, according to local news reports.
He became widely known in 2013, when Turkish prosecutors charged him with bribing three ministers and a bank chief executive. The scandal forced a cabinet shuffle by then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, now the president of Turkey, but the charges against Mr. Zarrab were later dropped.
Mr. Zarrab’s defense team has said in court filings that the U.S. case against Mr. Zarrab reflects the U.S. government’s “displeasure” at his exoneration in the Turkish bribery case.
The case has become politically charged in the wake of a failed attempt in July by the Turkish military to overthrow the Erdogan administration. About a week ago, Mr. Erdogan said U.S. prosecutors were trying to implicate him in Mr. Zarrab’s case, telling local Turkish press that there are “ulterior motives” driving the prosecution.
After the failed coup, Mr. Zarrab’s defense team asked U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to remove himself from the case, raising concerns about bias he may have against Mr. Zarrab. They cited comments Judge Berman made at a 2014 legal symposium where he said rule of law was “under some attack” in Turkey.
Last week, Judge Berman declined to recuse himself. He said his remarks at the symposium had nothing to do with Mr. Zarrab.
In a recent filing, prosecutors said the Turkish investigation into Mr. Zarrab will likely be used at trial as proof of his criminal intent. The potential link between the Turkish investigation and the U.S. investigation, a source of widespread speculation in Turkey, “can be resolved...when those issues are ripe and properly raised,” the government wrote.
Mr. Zarrab is scheduled to go to trial in January.


•    Bloomberg
Iran, OPEC’s Big Winner, Signs Landmark Oil Investment Contract
Anthony Dipaola Hashem Kalantari
October 4, 2016 — 12:30 AM IRST
Iran, fresh from an OPEC meeting where it won significant concessions from regional rival Saudi Arabia, will start the process of rejuvenating its sanctions-ravaged energy industry on Tuesday when the state oil company signs a new-model oil investment contract.
National Iranian Oil Co. will complete a $2.5 billion deal with a group of local companies, according to an oil ministry official. The new type of contract, designed to better reward investment in oil and natural gas production, is seen by Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh as crucial in increasing the country’s long-term export potential.
Although it may take years for the deal to bear fruit, the signing will cap a good few days for Zanganeh, who returned from last week’s OPEC meeting in Algiers having secured Iran’s right to pump more oil even as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies agreed to curb output. President Hassan Rouhani’s government has argued that it should be allowed to return production to levels achieved before international sanctions curbed shipments.
Reelection Battle
“Iranians feel that they’ve missed out on a big, big party because of sanctions,” Francisco Blanch, head of commodities research at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in an interview. “Sanctions basically took a lot of production out at a time when oil prices were very, very high. Iran doesn’t really have to cut production, and it’s going to get a higher price.”
The prospect of higher oil -- benchmark prices in London traded at a three-month high above $50 a barrel on Monday -- coupled with increased investment in the energy industry will also be a boost to Rouhani, who faces a reelection battle next year when he must convince voters that rapprochement with the West is paying off economically.
Together with rising oil exports, the oilfield development contract to be signed Tuesday will be evidence of progress after the Iranian government won backing for the new investor contract. The local companies, which haven’t been identified publicly, will develop the South Yaran field in southwest Iran, near the Iraqi border.
The International Monetary Fund said Monday that economic conditions in Iran are improving substantially and forecast growth of at least 4.5 percent in 2016-17.
Iran aims to increase exports to 2.35 million barrels a day in coming months from about 2.2 million barrels a day, state news agency Islamic Republic News Agency reported Sunday, citing Mohsen Ghamsari, NIOC’s international affairs director. The country has raised export capacity to 4 million barrels a day, NIOC’s managing director Ali Kardor said, according to an IRNA report on Monday.
Iran told the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries that it wants to produce about 4 million barrels of crude a day to regain its pre-sanctions share of the market, Zanganeh said last week. Iran produced 3.62 million barrels a day in August, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
A previous attempt to reach a freeze agreement in April failed when Saudi Arabia insisted that Iran should participate even without recouping the production levels it lost under international sanctions. Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer, softened its stance in Algiers, with Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih saying that Iran, along with Libya and Nigeria, should be allowed to “produce at the maximum levels that make sense.”
OPEC Quotas
Iran’s eventual production cap isn’t clear. While OPEC agreed on a new overall range for production, it will set up a committee to decide on output quotas for individual members, before it meets again in Vienna next month.
Iran may already be near its maximum output in the absence of new investment, Jaafar Altaie, managing director at consultants Manaar Energy Group, said by phone from Abu Dhabi. The country needs foreign money and technology to counter the natural decline of its aging fields and to push production capacity much beyond 3.8 million barrels a day, he said.
Paolo Scaroni, the former chief executive of Italy’s Eni SpA, said Iran is able to pump as much as 4.1 million to 4.2 million barrels daily. Any increase from there will take time and foreign investment, said Scaroni, who is now a vice chairman at NM Rothschild & Sons Ltd., speaking in a Bloomberg television interview from London on Monday.
“The pressure is on NIOC to show they can bring additional barrels to the market,” Manaar Energy’s Altaie said.

 


While Saudi Arabia and Iran haggle over oil deal, Russia pumps record output
Anthony McAuley
October 2, 2016 Updated: October 2, 2016 08:22 PM   The National
While the haggling between Saudi Arabia and Iran remains the main focus of a potential oil freeze deal, Russia announced yesterday that it pumped at a post-Soviet record 11.1 million barrels per day in September.
Russia’s role in a potential grand bargain between producers, who are aiming to speed up a reduction in the world oil glut and drive oil prices higher, remains unclear, even though its oil minister, Alexander Novak, was present in Algiers last week when Opec members reached a deal in principle to work towards an output freeze by the next full ministerial meeting in Vienna on November 30.
"The exact role of Russia remains unclear," said Amrita Sen, the chief oil analyst at Energy Aspects. "In our view, given nearly 500,000 bpd of new project start-ups in the fourth quarter this year, Russia is unlikely to [join a freeze deal]."
Mr Novak said on Thursday, the day after the Algiers agreement was announced, only that "Russia will carefully consider those proposals which will be eventually drawn up", but he added that "our position is keeping the volume of production at the level that has been reached".
Russia’s ministry of energy reported yesterday that output of 11.1 million bpd last month was 4 per cent above August’s output of 10.7 million bpd and was the highest since Russia’s peak output in 1988 of 11.4 million bpd, before the Soviet Union broke apart.
Russia’s position is complicated by the fact that large shares of its output come from companies that have private shareholders: Rosneft, which is nearly 20 per cent owned by BP and has a public float on the London and Moscow stock exchanges, and the oil-producing unit of Gazprom.
Russia also recently revived a long-postponed plan to sell another 20 per cent stake in Rosneft to the public to help fund the government’s budget deficit. After Algiers, the main hurdle for a final deal is seen as compromise between Saudi Arabia and Iran about what burden each will bear under an output freeze.
The politics are delicate, as Ms Sen explained: "Even though Iran cannot raise its output beyond 3.6-3.65 million bpd in the near term, as its production has stabilised at this level over the past four months, agreeing to freeze would effectively require Iran to officially acknowledge that."
A political deal might be forged through careful wording whereby Saudi Arabia – and its allies, the UAE, Kuwait and Qatar – all accept some formal restraint to reach the overall Opec production target of between 32.5 million bpd and 33 million bpd (actual output was 33.2 million bpd in August). Iran could de facto freeze while not formally agreeing to do so.
But that still leaves unclear the role of Russia, which signed a vague cooperation deal with Saudi Arabia at the China G20 meeting in August.
Therefore, "the market should brace itself for significant volatility", said Ms Sen. "There will be plenty of twists ahead."

 


Turkey’s Warming Ties With Iran
The two countries appear to be compartmentalizing their shared and divergent interests in Syria and Iraq.
By Soner Cagaptay, October 2, 2016    The Globist
Turkish and Iranian officials have conducted a number of high-level bilateral visits recently. This suggests that the two countries are drawing closer once again, after a period of serious disagreements over Iraq and Syria. What is driving this rewarming of the relationship? And how sustainable is it?
From the AKP to the Arab Spring
Turkish-Iranian ties blossomed in the last decade under the AKP government. Whereas previous secular-based Turkish governments took a dim view of Iran, the Islamist-rooted AKP sought to build the relationship after coming to power in 2002.
High-level visits and trade deals ensued. Yet, relations between Ankara and Tehran began to deteriorate when the Arab Spring uprisings broke out in 2011.
Syria as a roadblock
The two nations were particularly at odds over Syria’s civil war. Turkey threw its lot behind the rebels, whereas Iran stood fast with Bashar al-Assad’s regime, its long-time client.
As a result, Turkey and Iran became locked in a proxy war. Ankara armed and sheltered the rebels, while Tehran funded Assad’s military and sent forces to fight on his behalf, and both countries issuing fierce public criticisms of each other’s stance in Syria.
Differences have also arisen over Iraq, where Turkey’s warm ties with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have angered the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and its ally in Tehran.
Moreover, Iraq has taken issue with Turkey’s encroachment into the country’s Sunni Arab northern region. Most recently, Baghdad — with Iran’s backing — asked Turkey to evacuate the Bashiqa base near Mosul where Ankara has built a military presence in recent years.
Easing the tension
In the past few weeks, Ankara and Tehran have signaled that are trying to set aside their differences. Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu traveled to Tehran on August 18 following the visit of his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif to Ankara on August 12. The main reason for this rewarming seems to be Syria.
The August 24 Turkish incursion into Syria — which occurred with Russia’s tacit blessing (and direct, if limited, U.S. military support) — is a telling development in the relationship.
It shows that the war is evolving into many mini-conflicts: Opponents on one front (Turkey vs. Russia in Aleppo) can cooperate on another front (Jarabulus). It also shows that actors are preparing for the “day after” the Islamic State (IS) and shifting their priorities accordingly.
For instance, Turkey no longer seems completely preoccupied with ousting Assad. Instead, it is brokering a tacit peace with Russia and, implicitly, Iran.
By doing so, The Turkish government is preemptively acting to take areas that would otherwise be captured by the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish group that has seized much of the northern border region. The group is one of Turkey’s chief adversaries in a post-IS Syria.
Who wants what?
To be sure, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his top Foreign Ministry officials have continued to speak out against Assad since last month’s incursion. This raises questions about whether Turkey can truly abandon its policy of ousting him.
Yet, Ankara is cognizant of the fact that the current regime — and maybe even Assad himself — will likely survive for some time. That is why it has lately asked its proxies in Syria to focus more on efforts to block PYD advances.
In short, Turkey’s thaw with Iran does not appear to be a strategic shift. Nor should it be interpreted as a sign that Turkey intends to leave NATO down the road. Ankara will continue to disagree with Iran’s main goals in Syria.
For its part, Tehran sees the thaw as an opportunity to curry favor with Ankara and dampen Turkish objections to the Assad regime’s survival.
Iranian leaders may even have asked Assad to order the recent Syrian military bombing of PYD positions in Hasaka province as a way of winning over Ankara.
Economic front co-operation
Prior to the recent military and diplomatic cooperation, the pressure of facing two powerful adversaries in Syria spurred Turkey to extend an economic olive branch to Tehran.
This helped Iran find relief from international sanctions. Tehran reciprocated by inviting Turkish businesses into the Islamic Republic.
Efforts to integrate their markets have been particularly robust this year. On February 29, Tehran held the first Iran-Turkey Capital Markets Forum to facilitate the dual listing of companies on each country’s stock exchange.
On March 5, then-prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu called for removing bureaucratic trade impediments to take advantage of their complementary economies and geographies. He argued that this could help triple annual trade from $9 billion to $30 billion.
And on April 9, the Iranian and Turkish Chambers of Commerce signed three documents to strengthen economic cooperation and banking relations following the 25th session of the Joint Economic Commission in Ankara.
Improved economic relations with Iran could also open possibilities for Turkey with Iraq.
Turkey is deeply anchored in the increasingly independent Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq. But a closer relationship with the central government and its more than three million barrels per day in oil exports could bring additional diplomatic, energy and trade benefits.
Future compartmentalization and risks
Given this assortment of shared and divergent interests, Turkey and Iran will likely decide to compartmentalize their relations on different fronts.
For instance, while the two nations will continue to disagree on some aspects of Syria policy (e.g., Assad’s future and the battle for Aleppo), they would both object to any scenario involving Syrian Kurdish autonomy or independence.
Iraq will likely settle on a political condominium over the Kurds. Ankara wields influence over one of the KRG’s two main rival factions (the Kurdistan Democratic Party) — and Tehran maintains hegemony over the other (the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan).
Russia as a warning sign
Yet, the course of Turkish-Russian relations has shown that any such compartmentalization approach is wrought with potential pitfalls. Up until late last year, Ankara and Moscow were able to develop deep trade and energy links even while disagreeing on Syria.
In November 2015, however, Turkey shot down a Russian jet that briefly entered its airspace. This prompted the Kremlin to sever nearly all of those links — and in January 2016, even impose bilateral sanctions in January.
Similar problems could arise with Iran should the two countries’ military personnel or proxies accidentally clash in Syria.
Assad’s future
Other challenges lie in the ongoing negotiations for a peace settlement in Syria. If a deal is reached that preserves the Assad regime, Turkey’s long-term instinct would be to not fully abide by its terms.
Instead, Ankara would likely offer public support for the deal while continuing to arm anti-Assad rebels, thereby angering Tehran and Moscow.
Erdogan would find it difficult to completely end Turkey’s support to non-IS fighters in Syria while at the same time helping the United States fight IS. After all, he and other AKP elites identify themselves as political Islamists and they believe that supporting Islamist rebels is the right course.
The Saudis’ take
Accordingly, unless Washington convinces the Syrian opposition’s Saudi and Qatari backers to cut financial support and fully acquiesce to a peace deal, Turkey would likely continue funneling some weapons and money to rebel groups, including extremist factions.
Saudi Arabia would take a dim view of a U.S.-Russian deal in Syria, seeing it as handing the country over to Iranian/Shiite control.
Yet, even if Riyadh were to come on board with such a deal, some portions of the amorphous Saudi elite would likely reject it and continue helping the rebels, mainly via Turkey.
In the long term, this seems like the biggest threat to Turkish-Iranian ties under a compartmentalization scenario.
Conclusion
Turkey is wary of the Iranians and their regional aims, but it also wants to pursue a pragmatic relationship because of the need for economic cooperation, particularly on energy.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly earlier this month, Erdogan called for a safe haven in northern Syria spanning some 5,000 square kilometers. That is much larger than the nearly 1,000 square kilometers of border territory currently controlled by Turkey and its rebel proxies.
This suggests that Ankara will be the non-IS opposition’s main sponsor in the north going forward. Iran and Russia may be willing to live with such a zone, but that would be a considerable climb-down from Assad’s pledge to retake the entire country.
In the short term, the sustainability of Turkey and Iran’s rewarming ties will depend on the extent to which they can avoid a scenario similar to the November shootdown incident with Russia.
It will also depend on whether Ankara can withstand Saudi pressure to boost support for anti-Assad jihadists.
 


Disarming Iran: A Story of Cybersabotage and Sanctions
By SUZANNE MALONEYSEPT. 30 , 2016 New York Times
THE IRAN WARS
Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East
By Jay Solomon
336 pp. Random House. $28.
Three years ago, after a decade of failed talks and costly international sanctions, the effort to prevent Iran from expanding its nuclear program finally took the form of a diplomatic process. The resulting July 2015 comprehensive nuclear accord had the effect of shaking up a Middle East that was already in turmoil and shifting the tectonic plates of the troubled relationship between Iran and the United States.
It also had quite an effect back in Washington. Whereas Iran had long been a source of bipartisan agreement, the negotiations instantly made relations with the country into a lightning-rod issue between Republicans and Democrats. President Obama prevailed in a major campaign to prevent Congress from rejecting the agreement, and for better or worse, the Iran nuclear deal will occupy a central component of his legacy.
A new book by the Wall Street Journal reporter Jay Solomon, “The Iran Wars,” offers a gripping account of the developments that paved the way to the deal. The book surveys the multifarious skirmishes between Iranian ambitions and American power projection over the decade-long nuclear crisis — on battlefields and in the banking system, through covert maneuvers and public outreach, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and in the campaign against ISIS. Solomon’s engaging narrative of an expansive, innovative American response to the shape-shifting Iranian threat makes a valuable contribution to a debate that has too often presented Iran one-¬dimensionally.
Solomon covers a lot of ground quickly, dispensing with the fraught saga of the American relationship with Iran’s ¬monarchy, as well as the dramatic 1979 revolution itself, in less than a page apiece. Despite occasionally dropping into Tehran, “The Iran Wars” doesn’t expend much energy contemplating what drives Iranian decision-making on the nuclear issue or its approach to the world. And while the book offers interesting insights into the bilateral confrontation, describing Washington’s deployment of financial sanctions and cybersabotage as “a new era in the annals of U.S. national security and diplomacy,” Solomon does not then explore the implications of these developments for future policy.
That is unfortunate, because as the book underscores, the American-led campaign of coercive economic diplomacy may be the most consequential development of “the Iran wars.” Since 1979, Washington has always relied on sanctions to address the Iranian challenge, but international reluctance to cooperate diluted their impact. All that changed over the past 15 years; using counterterrorism authorities created after the 9/11 attacks, the Treasury Department devised a juggernaut of financial measures that gradually severed Tehran’s access to the international banking system.
What Solomon does well is chronicle exactly how this worked — how Washington’s efforts to squeeze Tehran’s bottom line, including lawsuits, advocacy with international financial institutions and “a global game of whack-a-mole,” eventually wore Iran down. The book’s emphasis on the fierce jousting between Congress and the Obama White House over the pace and scope of sanctions deftly foreshadows the intensification of partisan politics during the final nuclear negotiations. But Solomon’s focus on the domestic politics of sanctions largely overlooks the factors that facilitated their efficacy: the painstaking diplomacy required to generate multilateral consensus for economic penalties against Iran and the advent of unconventional energy supplies and slowing global growth that dampened the need for Iran’s oil exports. Sanctions are now widely seen as a silver bullet when it comes to penalizing a country for its behavior, but replicating these conditions and calibrating the penalties themselves may prove more difficult than initially understood.
“The Iran Wars” is plainly skeptical of Washington’s engagement with Iran and the ultimate nuclear bargain. In Solomon’s telling, Obama’s efforts to reach out to Tehran were “obsessive”; the administration “caved” in the bargaining; the perceived costs of the deal are “substantial”; and implausibly alarmist outcomes — such as a prospective Saudi nuclear weapons program — are presented as practically inevitable. The deal’s detractors receive a generous airing, while the accord’s uniquely intrusive verification and compliance measures, which ¬generated strong support among nonproliferation experts, are largely overlooked.
Occasionally this critical slant skews the analysis, such as in the simplistic suggestion that Iranian threats to leave the talks dissuaded Obama from taking action against Syria in 2013. Such bombast from Tehran was routine, and Solomon’s failure to mention the array of other factors that shaped White House choices, including vocal congressional opposition to airstrikes, does a disservice to the historical record.
“The Iran Wars” fires the first ¬extended salvo in the sequel to last year’s debate over the deal, moving beyond sparring over the accord’s terms to the more straightforward question: Can it succeed? Solomon approaches the nuclear agreement not as a narrow transaction, as Obama and other senior officials repeatedly described it, but as a ¬transformational project aimed at facilitating bilateral rapprochement and a new regional order. On this basis, Solomon finds little cause for optimism, concluding that “the next U.S. administration must be prepared to confront an Iranian regime just as hostile to the West as past ones.”
Many supporters of Obama’s Iran ¬diplomacy might agree. However, the administration’s achievement in deferring Tehran’s pathway to nuclear weapons ¬capability makes that challenge less dangerous than it would otherwise be. Obama’s successor will need to invest in a comprehensive approach to Iran, and “The Iran Wars” offers a useful — if somewhat partisan — perspective on the recent track record for such an undertaking.

 


Opec deal: How Riyadh and Tehran poured oil on troubled waters
How sworn enemies reached a pact on crude production Sept 30, 2016
by: David Sheppard and Anjli Raval Financial Times
Saudi Arabia and Iran are sworn enemies on opposite sides of proxy wars tearing through the Middle East.
But at a marble-halled conference centre on the outskirts of Algiers that is a legacy of the $100 a barrel oil era, there was an unexpected sign of conviviality this week: Iran’s Opec governor was chatting warmly with a member of the Saudi delegation, even posing for a photograph together.
It was the prelude to an agreement five hours later that should result in the 14-member bloc cutting production for the first time since 2008.
Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Zanganeh, called it “a very good day for Opec” as his Saudi counterpart, Khalid al Falih, headed straight for a waiting car.
The pact wrongfooted oil traders. It also signalled the end of a two-year Saudi experiment to surrender the oil price to market forces. More broadly, it has forced the industry to rethink its assumptions about the supposedly unbridgeable chasm between Riyadh and Tehran.
“It is a massive deal for the oil market that Saudi Arabia and Iran can set aside the poisonous regional rivalry that has dominated the relationship in recent years,” said Bill Farren-Price, an energy industry consultant. “It shows the extent both sides wanted and needed to get a deal done.”
The deal was preceded by months of shuttle diplomacy by Opec members Qatar, Venezuela and Algeria — together with Russia. But what ultimately brought the two sides together, say analysts, was a two-year price slump that has placed particular strain on Saudi Arabia and its finances.
“The move marks a major turnround for Saudi Arabia,” said Helima Croft at RBC Capital Markets. “[It] reflects the mounting economic challenges facing the Kingdom.”
The price slide began in late 2014 as the US shale oil revolution soaked the world market. Riyadh responded by opening the taps to try to squeeze out the higher-cost upstarts, convinced they had the financial firepower to weather lower prices. But the price has fallen further — and for longer — than many in Riyadh ever imagined.
Making matters worse was Iran’s return in January from years of western sanctions against its oil industry, and its determination to make up for lost sales by boosting production and regaining market share.
Opec was strained, with many members frustrated at the Saudi-led policy. In June, shortly after his appointment, Mr Falih set about repairing relations with those who had been alienated by his dogmatic predecessor, Ali al Naimi, who often talked down to members he believed wanted a free ride from the kingdom.
Ministers emerged from Opec’s June meeting with a rare show of unity. Even price hawk Venezuela smiled broadly for the cameras, despite the cartel making no effort to rein in production.
High-level diplomatic moves were also under way. At the G20 summit in China in early September Saudi Arabia’s influential deputy crown price Mohammed bin Salman met with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. The countries’ oil ministers announced they had a pact to work together.
But as this week’s meeting in Algiers neared, both Saudi Arabia and Iran played down the likelihood of a deal. Their delegations were the last to arrive in Algiers, leaving little time for a rapprochement.
Iranian delegates quietly mocked the Saudis, arguing that — unlike sanction-toughened Iran — they had little experience of austerity. Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves have dropped by almost a quarter in two years.
On the eve of the meeting Mr Falih told a joint press conference with Alexander Novak of Russia — the largest exporter outside Opec — that an agreement was unlikely.
But Mr Falih did offer a tantalising hint: Price again mattered to Saudi Arabia, he told the audience, a stark turnround from his predecessor Mr Naimi.
He had flown to Algiers straight from a cabinet decision in Riyadh where public sector salaries — including his own — were cut by 20 per cent due to the impact of $40 oil. Almost two-thirds of Saudis work for the state.
“There is a lot going on domestically in Saudi Arabia and a price less than $50-60 a barrel was not desirable,” one Gulf Opec delegate observed. “All producers are hurting from this price.”
As the meeting started on Thursday Iranian delegates acknowledged there had been dialogue with the Saudis since May, including meetings at the Opec secretariat in Vienna last week.
The stumbling block was Iran’s determination to rev up production. Tehran had set a target output of 4m barrels a day — roughly the level it pumped before oil sanctions were imposed in 2012 — and above the country’s current level of around 3.6m b/d.
Far from softening, Iranian delegates upped their demands in Algiers, seeking an output target of 4.2m b/d, a level few believe they are even capable of producing.
The hardball tactics paid off. Before the meeting Mr Falih first said that Iran’s history of sanctions meant it should “produce at the maximum levels that make sense”, alongside violence-hit members Nigeria and Libya.
The Iranians believe they have secured a target of 3.9m-4m b/d. Meanwhile, Saudi won a commitment from other members to pursue cuts, even though some are bristling.
“These countries need to understand there is a greater reward for them to freeze at these levels,” said one Opec source. “It is all about the distribution of the misery.”
The hope in Riyadh is that the group’s production can be dialled back towards 32.5m b/d from around 33.2m b/d in August — enough, they believe, to start draining oil inventories next year.
Saudi Arabia could end up shouldering a larger proportion of cuts than initially proposed, analysts believe. But that was the cost of bringing Iran on side and sending an unmistakable message.
“We believe the meeting represents a ‘read my lips’ moment,” said Standard Bank analyst Paul Horsnell. “The statement of intent being put forward is effectively: ‘Prices are too low … Read our lips, prices will rise’.”

 


 Iran rejects Saudi offer to cap oil output ahead of Opec meeting
Tehran wants 13% of oil cartel’s production before any agreement to curb production
yesterday
by: David Sheppard in Algiers and Anjli Raval and Neil Hume in London   Financial Times
Sept 27, 2016
Iran has dealt a severe blow to Saudi-led efforts to curb oil production and reverse the two-year-old downturn in crude prices by rejecting an offer from Riyadh to cap output, sending Brent down more than 3.5 per cent.
Speaking before Wednesday’s closely watched oil producers’ meeting, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, Tehran’s energy minister, said his country was not willing to freeze output until it had regained more than 4m barrels a day of production, heightening tension between two of the region’s most powerful petroleum producers.
Saudi Arabia has signalled it would back a co-ordinated production cut of up to 1m barrels a day to tackle a global supply glut but only if Iran agreed to freeze output at current levels that analysts calculate at 3.6m b/d.
Riyadh’s offer comes amid an ever gloomier outlook for Saudi finances, with the government racking up a record budget deficit of nearly $100bn. As part of a drive to find new savings and raise money, the government this week announced a 20 per cent cut to both ministers’ salaries and bonuses for public sector employees.
Its willingness to freeze output is a shift from its policy since the start of the oil price drop, when it pushed to keep production high to put pressure on rivals who pump crude more expensively.
Iran is just emerging from years of western sanctions against its oil industry and Tehran has said it is not interested in capping its output until it reaches pre-sanctions markets share of 13 per cent of Opec output. Based on the cartel’s current production, that equates to around 4.2m barrels a day, or about 600,000 b/d more than Iran currently claims to be pumping.
“At current levels we are not ready to freeze,” Mr Zanganeh said. “It is not on our agenda to reach an agreement in these two days.”
The comments sent oil prices down sharply on Tuesday. Brent crude, which has more than halved since mid-2014, was trading $1.68 lower at $45.67 a barrel.
Kahlid al-Falih, the Saudi energy minister, said that while he did not expect an agreement at Wednesday’s talks, “the gap between Opec countries is narrowing”. The main debate, he said, has centred on production levels for Iran, Libya and Nigeria.
Saudi officials said they were still talking to major producers, including Russia. They hope to find a consensus that could provide the basis for a deal later in the year.
“We are very happy that producers from outside Opec have started an effective dialogue and co-operation with the organisation. Russia in particular has had a leading role,” Mr Falih said earlier on Tuesday.
The Russian energy minister said he planned to meet Saudi officials again next month.
But Mr Zanganeh and Mr Falih’s comments suggest a deal to end the supply glut that has hammered oil prices and shredded the budgets of producer nations still has some hurdles to cross.
Analysts have said Iran’s position reflected a view that it can better withstand a further period of low prices than Saudi Arabia. “Iran’s dependency on oil revenues as a share of its national budget is much lower than Saudi Arabia’s,” said Ole Hansen at Saxo Bank.
While Opec ministers were hopeful for a deal on Wednesday, they have said the discussions are more likely to pave the way for an agreement in time for the group’s next formal meeting in November.
“The headlines look negative but an oil supply deal is definitely close and they are still talking. Getting Iran on board is still the key and that will require compromise,” said Bill Farren-Price, a consultant.
Iran finds itself in a better financial situation after the lifting of sanctions against its oil industry in January. That has allowed Tehran to raise production and exports.
In closed-door meetings Saudi Arabia has discussed with others several options for reducing production, should Iran agree to a freeze.
One option is to use monthly numbers as a base; another is an average of several months. Saudi Arabia’s preferred option is to use July and August’s output level as the base from which producers — bar Libya, Nigeria and Iran — would each slice off as much as 4 per cent from their output, one person familiar with Saudi policymaking has said.
Yasser Elguindi at Medley Global Advisors said that after two years of low prices that had squeezed production from higher cost rivals, such as US shale oil, Opec’s position was now different.
“Cutting production in 2014 to support [prices] would have resulted in lower revenues and lost market share. Today, Opec is in a position to cut production while the increasing price would result in higher revenues. That’s the big difference,” he said.

 


Risk and reward of trade with the new Iran
•    Steven Ciobo                                        The Australian
•    12:00AM September 27, 2016
The easing of economic sanctions against Iran represents long-term trade and investment opportunities for Australia.
To explore these opportunities I am leading a business delegation to Tehran this week, marking the beginning of a new economic and trade relationship with an economy that has been isolated for a decade.
It is a rare event for a country such as Iran with more than 80 million people and a gross domestic product of nearly $US390 billion ($511bn) to reintegrate with the global economy.
Given this significance, the Turnbull government is monitoring developments closely.
Iran is the Middle East’s second largest economy, a major oil and gas producer, and has a large consumer base along with a sophisticated, highly educated workforce. It is also a gateway to important markets in Central Asia.
As multinationals such as Boeing, Airbus, Total and Peugeot-Citroen return to Tehran to seek deals, Iran is looking overseas for foreign investment, and the goods and services needed to drive growth.
Navigating Iran’s complexities will be a challenge for Australian businesses, which is why the Turnbull government has reopened an Austrade office in Tehran.
For our businesses to make the most of Iran’s economic resurgence, they will need to identify new opportunities and develop effective methods to capture them, while managing the impact of remaining sanctions and other conventions.
Our businesses need to engage suitable partners and clients, seek out quality business services, and understand the remaining sanctions landscape.
Iran is a sophisticated nation with a long history, but it is also a developing economy.
It has unique needs, and the competition to meet them will be intense from other foreign companies and from business interests within the country.
The scope of the opportunities is significant and already Australian businesses are showing interest in specific sectors.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s visit to Iran last year, and the visit of Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to Australia earlier this year paved the way for enhancing the bilateral relationship: expanding our economic relationship is an important next step.
Iran’s re-engagement with the trading world is the result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international agreement designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for easing sanctions.
This easing of sanctions opened the way for Iran to do business again in areas such as infrastructure development, oil and gas, shipping and transport.
However, it must be said that reform processes under way in Iran are needed to entice international business and smooth the path for growth.
Signs are positive — the Iran Petroleum Contract, once finalised, will provide better terms than the buyback contracts of the late 1990s and early 2000s; and ongoing banking reform is also key to opening Iran’s financial sector to the international economy.
Iran has one of the world’s largest reserves of gas and the fourth largest reserves of oil; indeed, before the sanctions it was the second largest oil producer in OPEC.
The International Monetary fund projects Iran’s real growth rate will jump to around 4 per cent this year before easing to 3.7 per cent next year — this compares with zero growth last year.
Meaningful economic reforms and steps to reassure foreign investors will be needed for this surge in growth to be sustainable.
These include bringing inflation under control, improving competition in the non-oil economy, fixing the banking sector and strengthening non-oil sources of tax revenue to fund higher investment in education and infrastructure.
Successful investments in oil, gas and the auto sector also will reassure foreign investors.
For Australian businesses, the opportunities lie in food, especially wheat, barley and lamb; also in equipment, technology and services for the oil and gas sector as well as in mining; healthcare services; water management technology and services; and, importantly, education and vocational skills training.
Critical to overall growth and industry development, Iran needs assistance to better manage scarce water resources. Australia’s hard-earned expertise in managing water means our skills in this area are already in demand.
Meanwhile, Iran’s energy infrastructure requires upgrading to bring it into the high-technology space of the 21st-century oil and gas sector.
The demography of Iran is also promising for Australian exporters. About 43 per cent of Iran’s population are under 25 years old and 73 per cent live in urban areas.
Despite being a very well educated nation, young Iranians also want education and training from abroad, as well as better healthcare and easier access to consumer goods.
In this post-JCPOA phase, the good news is that many Australian companies are in a strong position to supply the needs of an increasingly diverse Iranian economy.
Furthermore, renewed trade will be built on a solid foundation of past commercial relations developed across many years: during the 90s, for instance, Australia was a leading exporter to Iran.
And Australia has had ongoing diplomatic ties with Iran since 1968, when our embassy opened in Tehran.
The signs for Australian businesses are good but succeeding in the market will require a keen appreciation of the nature of Iran’s economic re-engagement.
There are significant risks but, like any important market, there are also potential rewards.

 


Did US approach Iran about Yemen?
Author Ali Hashem Posted September 26, 2016 Almonitor

When Iran’s supreme leader cited on Sept. 18 what he described as US attempts to engage in talks with his country on regional issues, it appeared to be a confirmation of Sept. 14 media reports that Washington had approached Tehran via Oman suggesting that US-Iranian-Russian talks begin to discuss the crisis in Yemen. The report, first run by Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar and later published by Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency, quoted an “informed source” as saying that Iran did not welcome the correspondence and had not responded. The same source recalled a similar incident during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, when Great Britain allegedly offered to negotiate but was turned down by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
A senior Iranian diplomat approached by Al-Monitor about the Sept. 14 reports wholly dismissed them. On Sept. 18, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi reiterated that denial, adding, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received no letter whatsoever to engage in talks with third parties over the crisis in Yemen. This claim is completely baseless.”
According to a well-informed political source in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was not referring to the alleged Yemen letter in his Sept. 18 speech. The Iranian source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The speech referred to other direct and indirect correspondences, including ones with President [Barack] Obama.” The source added that the United States knows that Tehran's influence makes it vital to any solution, but “The solutions requested by the US are against the interests of the free peoples of the region.”
Regardless of whether the reported letter actually exists, Khamenei’s comments cannot be separated from the current tension surrounding Iran’s regional relations, mainly with Saudi Arabia. There is also the context of the controversy surrounding the 2015 nuclear deal, which, according to the same Iranian source, could be in danger.
In this vein, Khamenei’s comments on Sept. 18 appear primarily aimed at conveying a clear and specific message to the US administration that “any kind of [further] engagement isn’t possible before the deal is implemented and as long as the US isn’t showing a serious will to change its oppressive policies toward Iran,” the Iranian source told Al-Monitor. He added, “The nuclear deal was a lesson to learn from. The supreme leader said that negotiations with the US were harmful and proved once again that those who bet on the Americans will always lose. The Americans themselves are proving this point — and this applies outside Iran, too.”
Since 2012, Iran’s involvement in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen has stretched its regional security borders, making it impossible to reach multilateral compromises in those crisis-stricken countries without Tehran’s consent.
When the nuclear deal was struck in the summer of 2015, there were suggestions that Iran and the United States were heading toward a new chapter of cooperation in the region. In Iraq, there were promising signs that US-Iranian engagement was possible, despite both parties’ insistence on drawing red lines. Indeed, it was obvious to everyone that they were in the field helping each other but without direct coordination, as happened in the battle against the Islamic State in Saladin to the north of Baghdad, and later in Fallujah. In Yemen, there were no signs of change given the complexity of the battle and it being between a strong US ally, Saudi Arabia, and a group affiliated with Iran. In Syria, the scene was completely different. It’s true that Obama’s policies posed no serious threats to Iran’s agenda in the war-torn country, yet Tehran accused the United States of being behind the groups fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It was thought that Iran was the only real side on the ground that could sit at the table with the United States to end the carnage, despite major issues remaining that were far from agreed upon. This situation persisted until Russia decided to enter the game on Sept. 30, 2015.
Moscow elevated its direct political impact on the Syrian crisis, ending up, along with Washington, as the only real party at the negotiating table, despite the role played by allies of each side. The failure of the latest tentative US-Russian agreement on Syria played into the hands of Tehran, which sees the whole process as fruitless and even destructive. Iran sees that the best way to negotiate over Syria is by recapturing land. This perspective prompted the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' Quds Force command to push for the new battle for eastern Aleppo that started on Sept. 22, when US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were meeting in New York.
Iran’s political role in Syria was "affected by a partner," but it did not concern the highest authority in the country, a source close to the office of the supreme leader told Al-Monitor, adding, “It saved the whole establishment from a new wave of controversy, similar to the one that followed the nuclear deal, that would lead to more tension in the country.” The source emphasized, “To Ayatollah Khamenei, talking to the US is making a virtue of necessity, given his longtime apprehension about Washington. The leader is setting his doctrine through such speeches. The soft war launched by the US and its allies on the Islamic Republic prompts more vigilance. There are attempts to change our people’s minds, even our officials — this is the work of a side that holds enmity toward Islamic Iran.”
This narrative is part of a serious debate that never ends in Iran, a debate that was seriously affected by the outcome of the nuclear deal. A significant portion of Iranian society that backed the engagement policy is bitter about the slow implementation of the agreement, while those who opposed it continue to claim that they were right all along. In fact, both supporters of the openness policy and those against it are at present failing to present a serious plan to back their strategy. All that has been said as of this moment is how each path could affect Iran, citing a lot of history to support those positions, yet nothing is being said about how Iran itself will affect the world.

 


Financial Times
Saudi Arabia backs oil cut tied to freeze by Iran
Any Opec agreement may take months to emerge with deal in Algeria unlikely
by: Anjli Raval, Oil and Gas Correspondent Sept 23, 2016
Saudi Arabia would back a co-ordinated production cut of up to 1m barrels a day to tackle a global supply glut that has battered oil prices — but only if its regional rival Iran agrees to freeze output at August levels.
The proposal, which has emerged after weeks of informal talks, comes as members of the Opec producers’ cartel prepare to meet in Algiers for discussions on the oil market, which is suffering its worst downturn in a decade.
It is unlikely an agreement will be reached next week. But by setting out conditions for Opec’s first supply deal since the financial crisis, Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, is looking to build a consensus for a potential deal later this year.
Its position is likely to meet resistance from Iran, which wants to regain production of at least 4m barrels a day that it said it reached in 2011 before sanctions were imposed on the Islamic state. Tehran puts its current output at around 3.8m b/d, a higher level than estimated by analysts and recorded by Opec.
Oil prices have more than halved since mid-2014 as supply has overwhelmed demand, shredding the budgets of producer nations and major oil companies. On Friday the global benchmark Brent crude fell $1.71 to $45.95 as deal hopes subsided.
Representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran held talks on curbing production in Iran this week. They will look to do the same when Opec ministers gather at an industry conference in Algeria next week.
While no formal deal is expected, Saudi Arabia hopes an agreement can be reached in November when Opec is due to hold its next ministerial meeting.
“The kingdom is looking for consensus among oil producers to reach a credible arrangement for stabilising oil markets,” a Saudi official said on Friday. “We are looking at different scenarios and options to reaching this goal.”
Saudi Arabia wants any co-ordinated cut to be credible. It also has to be large enough to help stabilise an oversupplied market, with at least 700,000 b/d-1m b/d taken off the market, one person familiar with the matter said.
The Saudi delegation is proposing that Iran caps its oil output at 3.6m barrels a day, the level analysts say it produced in August, while other big producer countries cut their output to levels from earlier this year, three people familiar with the matter said.
Several options are being examined for the second part of the deal, including bringing production back to the average of the first half of the year, the first quarter of the year, or an average rate of production in either January or August. Saudi Arabia this summer raised its output to record levels reaching more than 10.6m barrels a day.
The move represents a shift in tone for Saudi Arabia, which upended the oil market with its decision in late 2014 to keep pumping even as prices spiralled lower. It sought to let prices fall to squeeze out producers of expensive oil, such as that from US shale fields, Canada’s tar sands and ultra-deep water crude from Brazil.
However, analysts remain sceptical of any agreement, saying the bar has been set very high by Saudi Arabia, Opec’s de facto leader. Talks between Opec and other big producer such as Russia for an output freeze ended in failure in Doha earlier this year.


 


House passes bill rebuking ‘ransom’ payments to Iran
By Karoun Demirjian September 23 at 1:43 AM Washington Post
The House passed a bill Thursday to outlaw cash payments to Iran, in a rebuke of the Obama administration’s decision to send Tehran what Republicans charge was “ransom” on the same day American prisoners were released.
The 254 to 163 vote, which fell nearly along party lines, comes as lawmakers are making a final push toward the campaign trail, where Republicans bet their wholesale rejection of President Obama’s deals with Iran will play big with voters.
Thursday’s measure is just the latest in a series of steps Republican House leaders have taken to decry the administration’s pursuit of the multilateral nuclear deal with Iran their members opposed, as well as the circumstances surrounding its implementation.
Lately, the GOP has focused on a $400 million cash payment the United States sent to Iran on the same day in January that the deal was implemented and several American prisoners, including Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, were released. The money was to settle Iran’s claim before an international tribunal that the United States owed it $400 million, plus interest, in funds set aside to pay for military weapons that were never delivered following the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Earlier this month, administration officials said in a closed-door congressional briefing that they had also paid $1.3 billion of interest in two additional cash tranches sent to Iran on Jan. 22 and Feb. 5, according to aides present.
Republican leaders in Congress and on the campaign trail — including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump — have seized on the simultaneous timing of the $400 million payment and the release of prisoners, arguing that makes it clear that the cash payments were a “ransom.” State Department officials insist the payments were delayed to ensure they would have “leverage” to secure the release of the prisoners.
The House-passed measure is a continuation of that fight. It would prohibit the United States from paying Iran cash of any kind going forward, and states that it is U.S. policy “not to pay ransom or release prisoners” to secure the release of Americans abroad.
It also requires that the administration give Congress at least 30 days’ advance notice before conducting any transactions to settle other claims before the international tribunal set up to resolve disputes between Iran and the United States. As part of that notice, the bill requires that the administration provide a justification for any payments and certify that they do not constitute “ransom.”
The measure also instructs the administration to advise and update Congress on the list of outstanding claims before the tribunal.
The administration has already threatened to veto the measure.
In their explanation of the threat, administration officials argued that the measure would effectively make it impossible to settle any outstanding claims with Iran. Congressional Democrats have also insisted that the administration had to send Tehran cash payments because strict sanctions against Iran made it functionally impossible to use the traditional banking system.
Republicans have pushed back at that reasoning, arguing the administration relied on wire transfers to purchase heavy water from Iran as part of a deal announced in the spring.

 


Egypt and Iran have the same problem — and the same answer
By David Ignatius Opinion writer September 23 Washington Post
NEW YORK
What do the presidents of Egypt and Iran, two countries across the Sunni-Shiite chasm in the Middle East, have in common? A lot, it turns out, including preoccupation with their internal stability and hunger for economic growth.
Both talk about moderation, and the deep resources of their ancient cultures, even as the region’s sectarian war rages. They claim to want greater human rights but insist that their systems can change only gradually. They seem to worry most about security — the specter of terrorism and turmoil that lies just across their borders.
The annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly offers a chance to meet these visiting leaders as if it were a neighborhood stroll. I interviewed Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi for an hour at his hotel and then joined a group meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a half-dozen blocks away. Sissi’s comments were on the record; Rouhani spoke off the record but he expressed similar views in public comments.
One takeaway is the central role the United States still plays in global affairs, whatever its domestic political problems or its foreign rivals. The world has only one superpower, and Sissi and Rouhani, along with dozens of other leaders, come to New York in September to engage a U.S.-led global system. Also whirling through New York this week was America’s tireless secretary of state, John F. Kerry. His recent frustrations in negotiating a Syria peace deal are a reminder that even for a superpower, diplomacy alone doesn’t suffice.
The conversation with Sissi was a chance to assess a leader who has been something of a mystery, even to his closest Arab allies. He talks about reforming Egypt but describes the morass of subsidies, bureaucracy and political inertia that has blocked previous Egyptian leaders. Sissi was soft-spoken, dignified — and prickly on questions of human rights. He was most animated in talking about the fragility of the Egyptian state, which clearly preoccupies him.
“What we are living in is a pseudo-state, a shadow of a state,” he said, echoing comments he made in Egypt in May. His goal is a “competent and capable country” with a modern infrastructure, faster economic growth and, eventually, broader human rights. He described an Egypt still dizzy from the 2011 revolution that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. “A country like Egypt needs stability, it needs security,” he said. He warned that “collapse of the state” could turn Egypt into a nation of refugees like nearby Syria.
Internal stability is the rationale that authoritarian leaders often use for curtailing rights. When I asked why Egypt couldn’t be like India and Brazil, two developing nations that have experienced rapid growth and also growing democracy and human rights, Sissi answered that a country like India has had decades of political stability on which to build, while his reform efforts are only two years old.
Sissi expressed frustration with the state subsidies that economists for decades have criticized. He said Egypt has 7 million public-sector employees performing work that could be done by just 1 million, and that public-sector salaries had more than doubled since the 2011 revolution and its demand for social justice. Critics might focus on Egypt’s human rights record, Sissi said, but he worries about jobs, food and housing.
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“You would be unfair to me and Egypt’s circumstances if you keep looking at us through an American lens,” he argued. Point taken. But if Sissi really wants to energize Egypt, he surely needs to revive its political and economic dynamism — in a freer and more open country.
Rouhani’s public statements here were sharp-edged. In his Thursday U.N. speech, he told regional rival Saudi Arabia to “cease and desist from divisive policies” and criticized U.S. “lack of compliance” with promises in last year’s nuclear deal to open trade to Iran.
But Rouhani is a subtle politician. He knows that his moderate approach, which led to the nuclear deal, is still popular with Iranian voters. And he sees Iranian military involvement in Syria and Iraq as a necessary buffer against the Islamic State, which might otherwise have captured Damascus and Baghdad.
For Rouhani and Sissi both, foreign policy begins with the imperative of domestic security. Iran had its revolution 37 years ago; Egypt’s is just five years past. Neither country will grow and prosper without more freedom to empower its citizens. That’s why American pressure on human rights, no matter how much it annoys these two leaders, is ultimately in their countries’ interest.

 


Oil Rebounds on Talk of Russia-Iran-OPEC Cooperation
Russia supports year-long deal to stabilize oil, its OPEC representative tells Interfax
By
Timothy Puko
Updated Sept. 20, 2016 4:58 p.m. ET    Wall Street Journal
Oil prices rebounded from a new one-month low Tuesday after further talk of cooperation to cap output among the world’s largest oil exporters.
Russia supports a deal that would stabilize oil markets for a year, Russia’s permanent representative to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries told Interfax news agency Tuesday. “A year-long agreement would satisfy this criteria,” said Vladimir Voronkov.
OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo also said that Iranian officials have told him they are committed to negotiating, according to a Bloomberg report. The parties are planning for informal talks at a meeting in Algeria next week, though officials have said those talks are at best likely just to set the stage for negotiations at other meetings to come later.
“It’s a real positive if anyone believes them,” said Ric Navy, senior vice president for energy futures at brokerage R.J. O’Brien & Associates LLC.
Light, sweet crude for October delivery settled up 14 cents, or 0.3%, to $43.44 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, its third winning session in the last four. Brent, the global benchmark, lost 7 cents, or 0.2%, to $45.88 a barrel, its fourth losing session out of six.
The October contract expires at settlement, and the more actively traded November contract recently gained 19 cents, or 0.4%, to $44.05 a barrel.
Libya, Iran and Nigeria combined want to increase their output by about 1.5 million barrels a day this year. OPEC production grew in July and August by 500,000 barrels a day from record Saudi production and more coming from Iraq, Iran and Kuwait, canceling out any positives from a second quarter in which demand for OPEC crude nearly equaled OPEC output of 33 million barrels a day, according to Citigroup Inc.
“The market rebalancing that bulls have been looking for is therefore looking less imminent,” the banks’ analysts said in a note.
Even Venezuela is raising exports, despite financial and production troubles, and the moves from all these countries are a clear message that none would be interested in agreeing to a cap, said Bjarne Schieldrop from Sweden’s SEB bank. He added that any deal would probably allow exceptions for Nigeria, Libya, Venezuela and Iran to lift production, possibly nullifying any agreement.
“It doesn’t seem like any oil producers outside of North America are doing anything to control their production levels,” said Gene McGillian, research manager at Tradition Energy.
The leak in Colonial Pipeline Co.’s Line 1 in the U.S. has also been fixed and the infrastructure should start to ramp up to full capacity in the coming days. The pipeline transports 1.3 million barrels of gasoline a day from the Gulf Coast refineries to the East Coast of the country.
Gasoline futures have been falling hard to start the week, as many traders and analysts had expected they would once the pipeline problems were fixed. Gasoline futures settled down 5.62 cents, or 4%, at $1.3646 a gallon, its largest daily decline since Sept. 1. It has lost 6.6% in two sessions.
That pipeline outage likely led to a 300,000-barrel decline in gasoline stockpiles in the week ended Friday, according to The Wall Street Journal’s survey of 13 analysts and traders. However, the bottleneck of gasoline may have led to lower crude consumption from refineries, with the survey showing expectations for a 3.3-million-barrel addition to crude stockpiles.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, said late Tuesday that its own data for the week showed a 7.5-million-barrel decrease in crude supplies, a 2.5-million-barrel decrease in gasoline stocks and a 1.4-million-barrel increase in distillate inventories, according to a market participant.
Diesel futures gained 1.06 cents, or 0.8%, to $1.405 a gallon.


 


Eurasia Review
A Journal of Analysis and News

Tackling The Roots Of Iran-Saudi Tension –
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi September 17, 2016
Former Iran nuclear negotiator, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, has recently penned an important article that advises Iran to explore the various venues for normalization of relations with Saudi Arabia and to avoid falling in the Riyadh-Tel Aviv “trap”, an implicit concert by Israel and Saudi Arabia to contain the Iranian power in the region and to isolate Iran. Mousavian’s article provides insight for a timely debate on the proper next Iranian steps toward Saudi Arabia which has been criticized by Iran’s top officials for its mishandling of last year’s Hajj that led to the death of several hundred of Iranian pilgrims.
One way to proceed is to address the roots of Saudi misperceptions of Iran, reflected in the Iran-bashing official statements as well as sermons, such as by the Saudi grand mufti, who has questioned Iranians’ Islamic identity. These represent soft power offensives aimed at sowing hatred of Shiite Iran by the Sunni world and thus to further Riyadh’s foreign policy objectives against Iran, one of which is to continuously blame and scapegoat Iran for the Saudis’ own problems, such as their on-going assaults on Yemen, resulting in a tragic humanitarian catastrophe.
Certainly, the well of Iran-Saudi tension is functional for the Western defense contractors, who have sold billions of dollars of arms to Saudi Arabia and other members of the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council. France alone in 2015 has reportedly sold upwards of $16 billion dollars of sophisticated, cutting-edge military hardware to Riyadh. Therefore, it is vitally important to take into consideration the role of third countries and their vested interests in keeping the Iran-Saudi tensions alive, simply because a tranquil regional environment translates into a slump in arms sales as well as arms race in the oil region. Consequently, it is unlikely that simple bilateral efforts toward a much-needed rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh would suffice and broader input, e.g. by UN and certain regional organizations, may prove helpful in this regard.
Simultaneously, from Yemen to Iraq to Syria to Bahrain, the sparks of Iran-Saudi tensions can be found aplenty, in light of the Saudi accusations of Iranian meddling in Yemen and Bahrain, categorically denied by Iran, and Iran’s suspicion that the rise of ISIS in Iraq may be traced to a Saudi complicity. Certainly, Riyadh is fully implicated in backing the radical jihadists posing as rebels in Syria. On the whole, this is a multi-dimensional, region-wide complex issue that involves several theaters of conflict and occasional cross-cutting loyalties that do not lend themselves to simplistic conclusions.
Of course, as Mousavian has rightly noted, we must objectively tackle the root causes of dispute between Tehran and Riyadh and take into consideration the two countries’ shared as well as competitive interests. Terrorism is one such issue that poses threat to both countries and, therefore, it is illogical and counterproductive by Tehran and Riyadh to allow such shared interests be overshadowed by their present disagreements and differences. Through apt diplomacy and good neighborly intentions, a zone of agreement between Tehran and Riyadh can be mapped out that can be the basis for bilateral (security) dialogue. This, hopefully, can be expanded over time. Regional intermediaries such as Oman, which played a catalytic role in the nuclear negotiations, can be enlisted for this purpose, which can take the form of open and discrete, behind the scenes discussions, in order to remove the misperceptions and replace them with correct perceptions.
Concerning the latter, the Saudi officials and their media have repeatedly accused Iran of seeking the overthrow of the Saudi kingdom and, yet, there is hardly any evidence to corroborate this unfounded allegation. Iran, on the other hand, is genuinely concerned about justice for its pilgrims who died last year and, henceforth, the Saudis, if concerned about de-escalating tensions with Iran, should take proactive steps to assure Iran that there was no foul play at work. Pure accident and (perhaps) negligence was behind last year’s tragedy. As two regional power houses, once portrayed as twin pillars of stability in the region, Iran and Saudi Arabia can easily thread the path toward more tension and proxy wars in the future, which does not help either country’s interests, or they can veer in the direction of crisis-management and stability in their relations, which in turn requires calm heads, avoidance of incendiary rhetoric, and active search for capitalizing on shared or parallel interests.

 


Iran shouldn't be underestimated in 2 key oil markets

•    Elena Holodny Sep. 17, 2016, 9:18 PM Business Insider
China has been one of the biggest oil battlegrounds in recent years, with producers clawing at its coveted market share.
Traditionally, Saudi Arabia has dominated the market, but its exports have plateaued over the last few years.
And this has opened a window for other producers to get in on the action.
"How have the Saudis fared? Not very well. Actually, quite miserably," Michael Tran, a commodity strategist at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a recent report to clients.
Most notably, Russia has grabbed over 215,000 barrels a day of China's increased imports of 630,000 barrels a day this year, according to data cited by Tran.
In fact, the Saudis and the Russians have been neck and neck over the last few months for the lead in the Chinese market. (Although it hasn't been just the Russians; other producers such as Venezuela and Brazil have also scooped up some market share.)
But there has been an interesting development, with Russia and Saudi Arabia agreeing at the G-20 summit in China to cooperate on oil and to create a "working group" to stabilize markets just weeks ahead of the informal oil talks in Algiers, Algeria, September 26 to 28.
And, as Tran argued in his note, that's notable with respect to what's happening with the Chinese market, because:
"If Russia intends to coordinate action alongside OPEC as recently indicated, the key incremental swing threat to Saudi Arabia potentially losing more market share is Iran. Iran has made a meaningful push back into China over recent months, with its market share recently approaching highs near 10% after dipping to as low as 5% during the years plagued by sanctions."
For a visual reference, here's a chart of Chinese crude imports from Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iran:
Notably, Saudi Arabia still has a big presence in another desirable market, India, where it's held onto about one-fifth of the market share. However, Tran argues that Iran shouldn't be underestimated here, either.
According to his data, Iran scooped up most of India's growth and more over the last three months "by boxing out several key competitors such as Iraq, Nigeria, and Angola." India increased imports by about 160,000 barrels a day year-over-year in that time, while Iran has increased its notional exports to India by over 285,000 barrels a day.
By comparison, the Saudis only captured about 15% of what Iran got in the same period.
In short, Tran wrote, "Iran is the one to watch heading into the informal OPEC talks later this month."





 


Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
________________________________________

Our Hardliners Are Still Helping Iran's Hardliners
Paul R. Pillar Sept 17 2016
The unrelenting urge among American politicians to keep punishing Iran—or more precisely, to be seen supporting steps with that objective—continues to work against sensible statecraft and U.S. interests in multiple respects. One of those respects concerns how measures taken by the United States affect political competition within Iran.
Here's the current background to questions of U.S. policy toward Iran. The most important development in recent years regarding such policy—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the formal name for the agreement that limits Iran's nuclear activity—has been in effect for over a year. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, which does the detailed monitoring of the Iranian program, Iran is fully in compliance [3] with its obligations under the agreement. Those in the United States who have opposed any agreement with Iran all along continue to seek any possible basis for accusing Iran of violations. One of the most recent such accusations concerned some issues of implementation that opponents described as “secret exceptions” granted to Iran. They were in fact not that but rather were typical of the detailed questions that inevitably arise in implementation of any agreement this extensive. A Joint Commission was created under the agreement precisely to resolve such questions, and it has successfully been doing exactly that. The principal real questions of adherence to the agreement involve whether the United States and the West have been fully living up to their obligations regarding sanctions relief and refraining from further steps to damage the Iranian economy.
Despite the record of Iranian compliance, the months since conclusion of the JCPOA have seen a stream of anti-Iran bills [4] introduced in Congress. Examination of most of these bills yields little idea of how if they were to come into effect they would advance any U.S. interests pertinent to Iran, and little evidence of any thought that in this respect went into the writing of the bills. The bills instead seem to be vehicles for members to demonstrate, through their sponsorship or support of such legislation, their anti-Iran credentials.
Typical of these proposals is a recent amendment [5] introduced by Representative Ron DeSantis (R-FL) that would require any issuer of securities, as it registers with the Securities and Exchange Commission, to declare in its registration statement whether it does business in Iran or with any entity organized under the laws of Iran. Although this may sound like an innocent requirement for information, existing law already requires such a disclosure by issuers of securities with regard to any business done with the government of Iran, the Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian central bank, the entire Iranian petroleum industry, and certain other Iranian individuals and entities subject to sanctions. So the DeSantis amendment would only serve to impose the reporting requirement on those dealing with portions of the Iranian private sector that not only have no connection with the Iranian regime but also have given no reason to be sanctioned in the long history of U.S. sanctions legislation directed against Iran. This would discourage commerce with the very sectors in Iran that are most in favor of peaceful engagement with the rest of the world. The legislation would be counterproductive with regard to any political and economic evolution in Iran in a direction favorable to U.S. interests. (The legislation also probably would violate the U.S. obligation under the JCPOA not to take any new steps to prevent Iran from realizing the economic benefits of sanctions relief.)
Another recent example of a backward approach to affecting political competition within Iran is an interview [6] with Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for New East Policy. Ross, operating squarely within the school of thought that sees nothing good coming out of any business with Tehran and who sees Iran only as an object for confrontation and punishment, focuses on Iran's conduct within the Middle East. As usual with that topic and that school of thought, there are many general references to Iranian “aggression” without considering exactly what Iran is or is not doing [7] in the region and why, say, Iranian assistance to an incumbent regime in Syria is any more “aggressive” than what other powers have been doing to stoke a rebellion and to try to overthrow the regime. And Ross's attempt to square his position that Iran “cannot be a partner in the struggle against ISIS” with the fact that in Iraq, Iran is, just like the United States, not only supporting the incumbent regime but also actively opposing ISIS, seems to come down to an assertion that the Iranians are following narrow (undescribed) policies in Iraq that will leave a lot of angry Sunnis on their Western doorstep but evidently are too stupid to realize that is what they are doing.
For the present purpose note what Ross says about the connection between U.S. actions and political contests within the Iranian regime. He says we should try to decrease the influence of General Soleimani and the Revolutionary Guard, who favor a more “confrontational approach,” relative to the influence of president Rouhani, who favors more of a “normalizing approach.” So far so good. But how is the United States supposed to affect that Iranian political balance? Ross says we should do it by being confrontational ourselves—by “applying pressure”that would “demonstrate the costs to Iran of Soleimani's actions.” When asked what this means in practical terms, Ross mentions military contingency planning with Israel and the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Let's see if we have this straight. We supposedly are all agreed that we would like to see less influence in Tehran for hardliners such as those centered in the Revolutionary Guard. Those hardliners are the ones who, in debate within Iran, argue that doing peaceful business with the United States (as with the JCPOA) does not bring any benefits to Iran, that the United States is determined to use its military might and other power to harm Iran, that Washington will always be acting in cahoots with Iran's regional rivals in Israel and the Gulf Arab states, and that Iran thus has to stand firm and tough against such predatory U.S. behavior in order to protect Iranian interests. So acting in a way that confirms the hardliners' narrative is supposed to reduce their influence in Tehran? The groundlessness of such an argument can be seen with some role reversal. Such confrontation from a foreign adversary tends to strengthen, rather than to weaken, hawkish and hardline sentiment in U.S. politics. It works pretty much the same way in Iranian politics.
The sort of illogicality voiced by Ross has some general roots in American exceptionalism and the notion that the United States should be able to push other states around but that other states don't push the United States around. There is more to it than that, however, where Iran is involved, as suggested by comparing the Iranian case with other cases that offer some parallels. One worth looking at is Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar). President Obama announced this week that the United States is ready to lift economic sanctions on Burma, in light of political reforms there.
This decision is not an obvious call. The Burmese military, which maintained a harsh and closed dictatorship for many years, retains much political power. The former opposition leader and now de facto head of the civilian government, Aung San Suu Kyi, has made many concessions to the military and has become in important respects a partner of the generals rather than a replacement of them. The treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, most conspicuously the Muslim Rohingya community, is still bad. Human rights organizations believe the sanctions are being lifted too soon.
The U.S. administration decided, however, that enough change has taken place in Burma to warrant change in U.S. policy toward Burma. At least as important, the administration determined that further economic and political change in a favorable direction in Burma would be more likely by opening up the country to normal commerce and relations than it would by keeping it isolated.
President Obama's Republican opponents in Congress have, on this issue, taken a constructive and balanced approach. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who has had a strong interest in Burma, made remarks [8] on the Senate floor that appropriately noted both the progress to date and the significant problems and challenges that remain.
That's a much different approach than McConnell and his colleagues take on Iran, and it is a difference in the approach itself and not just in the two countries involved. If they applied to Burma the same perspective they apply to Iran, what we would be hearing is that moderates in Burma don't matter, that it is nefarious hardliners who still run the show, that gross human rights violations continue, that any relief from sanctions would mean the military-dominated regime would have more resources to do bad things, and that Obama is making a big mistake by lifting sanctions.
Two explanations chiefly account for the difference. One is the objective of denying Mr. Obama any significant foreign policy achievement, consistent with Senator McConnell's earlier declaration that the number one objective of his caucus was to deny the president a second term. The opening to Iran and the JCPOA constitute such a significant achievement; nothing the administration is doing on Burma is of comparable importance.
The other explanation is that continued isolation and punishment of Iran is part of a larger objective of the administration's opponents of taking sides in the Middle East, and in particular to take whatever side the Israeli government is on. Ross's mention of military contingency planning with Israel directed against Iran represents not so much a way to scare Iran about costs of General Soleimani's activities but instead the side-taking that underlies the impulse to keep Iran perpetually isolated and punished in the first place.
And the counterproductive effect of confirming the Iranian hardliners' narrative is not really counterproductive if the objective is to maintain Iran as a bête noire forever; if you want a bête noire, a regime in which hardliners dominate is the best kind of bête noire to have.

 


 The Guardian
West failing to deliver nuclear deal promises, says Iran vice-president
Ali Akbar Salehi attacks lack of progress on banking transactions and trade eight months after landmark agreement

Saeed Kamali Dehghan Iran correspondent
Friday 16 September 2016 15.45 BST Last modified on Friday 16 September 2016 22.15 BST
Iran has fully complied with its commitments under last year’s landmark nuclear agreement, but eight months after the official removal of sanctions, the west is failing to deliver on its promises, the country’s vice president has told the Guardian.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organisation, said that if the agreement was to remain intact, both sides had to meet their commitments.
The US-educated scientist, who also served as a former foreign minister of Iran, was the second most senior Iranian negotiator in nearly two years of talks between Tehran and world’s six leading powers that led to the final nuclear accord, known as the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), in Vienna in July 2015. The deal was implemented in January, and triggered the removal of sanctions.
“As has been stated by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran has remained committed to its commitments,” Salehi said. “While the other side – it’s very clear now to public opinion and it’s not a secret – has not really delivered on the promises; that the sanctions would be removed and that banking transactions would go back to normal, that trade would speed up and economic relations would be enhanced. These have not been materialised to the extent that we expected.”
Salehi, who speaks fluent English, dealt with the technical aspect of the agreement while negotiating with his US counterpart, Ernest Moniz, who, like Salehi, studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Iranian vice president, who was in London to speak at the World Nuclear Association symposium, also met on Thursday with the chancellor of the exchequer, Philip Hammond, who negotiated with Iran while he was the foreign secretary under David Cameron.
Although nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January, big European banks remain reluctant to do business with Iran. European banks are concerned about existing US sanctions relating to terrorism as well as uncertainty in the US before the election of a new president.
Salehi said he had a good relationship with Hammond and that the chancellor had sounded positive during their meeting. “He stated that they have this file on their agenda, and that they are pursuing the issue very seriously, and they are trying to improvise ways and means that would remove the impediments that lie ahead of this banking cooperation with Iran,” he said
The banking issue has prevented Iran from capitalising on the interest shown by western businesses in returning to the country, or finalising lucrative deals with the west, such as the purchase of planes from Airbus and Boeing. Iran’s central bank chief told the Guardian in May that Tehran was still locked out of global financial system.
Salehi said the nuclear agreement was in the interest of both Iran and the west and that it would be a pity if it was derailed. “JCPOA can set up a new political and diplomatic paradigm in resolving major international crises, so it’s incumbent upon both sides to do their best, to keep the integrity of this deal and not let it break down.”
The Iranian vice president, who views the nuclear deal as a diplomatic success, warned about attempts to rewrite the nuclear deal and impose excessive demands. “We see, on and off, that there are some demands from the other side, that those demands go to some extent beyond the JCPOA. At the same time, we see that the other side has not fully delivered its promises, like the issue of big banking doing business with Iran ... If there is a demand of overcompliance then things would get more complicated.”
Salehi also attended a meeting with journalists and diplomats at the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, where he said harder times might be facing the Iran nuclear agreement in the light of the US presidential campaign.
 “There are hints to do away [with] or to rewrite the deal, and on the other hand, to unilaterally impose excessive oversighting and overcompliance to the point of Iran’s discouragement and ultimate submission,” he warned. “Our supreme leader once stated: ‘The Islamic republic will not primarily breach the deal,’ but at the same time, I do not overrule the threats that may endanger the deal.”
Salehi refused to comment on the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump, saying it was an internal issue of another country. “The political credibility of the US will be undermined if they take any measures that would jeopardise the JCPOA – to best of my knowledge the European Union is very supportive and Chinese and Indians and [the rest of] the international community are all very happy,” he said.
He believed the JCPOA would remain untouched but he also said he was crossing his fingers. “The world would be safer if, besides contemplating peace, we endeavour to attain it.”
The fate of the nuclear agreement will affect the next presidential elections in Iran, which are scheduled for spring next year. President Hassan Rouhani is seeking re-election and opponents, including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have indicated their willingness to challenge him. Rouhani would have to show Iranians tangible relief from sanctions if he is to maintain their support.
Relations between Tehran and London have significantly improved since the nuclear agreement, with both sides appointing new ambassadors in their respective capitals this month after nearly a five-year hiatus.




 


Oil market awash with crude, Opec says
Producer cartel forecasts big surplus until well into 2017
by: Anjli Raval and David Sheppard   Financial Times   Sept 13    2016
Oil markets will remain awash with crude well into 2017, Opec warned on Monday, as the resilience of the US shale industry and new streams of oil production threaten to keep pressure on prices.
The producer cartel revised higher for this year and next oil supply forecasts from non-member countries, implying that demand for its crude will remain far lower than current near record output of more than 33m barrels a day.
The larger than expected surplus threatens to derail hopes that supply and demand will come into balance by next year, putting a damper on prices that remain less than half mid-2014 levels.
Opec is due to meet other large producers later this month to discuss possible output curbs, with talks likely to receive a jolt of urgency following the latest forecasts.
Brent, the international crude benchmark, fell 2 per cent to $47 a barrel shortly after the publication of the cartel’s monthly oil report.
Opec kingpin Saudi Arabia and Russia, the largest exporter outside the group, agreed last week to work together to stabilise the market but there are still big doubts that a deal to reduce or freeze production is attainable.
Opec countries have stepped up production to a near record 33.2m b/d, according to secondary sources. While production is down slightly from August, it is more than 1m b/d above a year ago.
The so-called “call on Opec” — or the amount of crude the market needs from the group — is at 31.67m b/d for 2016 and 32.48m b/d for 2017.
Output outside of the cartel is expected to expand next year, potentially leaving the market with a more than 750,000 b/d of surplus crude if Opec’s production remains at today’s heightened levels — 2017 non-Opec production was revised up by 350,000 b/d from last month to an average of 56.52m, an increase on this year.
Opec said its revised forecasts were mainly due to the resilience of the US shale oil output in the face of lower prices and the long-delayed Kashagan field in Kazakhstan, which is expected to come on stream later this year.
Kashagan, the world’s most expensive oil project, has been dogged by technical challenges, delays and cost overruns. It has cost the consortium — which includes Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Total, Eni and CNPC — more than $50bn to develop.
The project, which has some 10bn barrels of recoverable reserves, was halted in 2013 to make pipeline repairs. It is scheduled to relaunch in October, with initial production of 75,000 b/d being targeted by November, according to officials in Kazakhstan.
Analysts say new streams of production from the North Sea, Russia, Brazil and the US Gulf of Mexico may also delay any rebalancing of supply and demand, as well as Opec’s own production.
Some producer countries such as Venezuela and Algeria have pushed for a global deal to curb further increases in crude production and prevent any more drops in the oil price.
Saudi energy minister Khalid Al Falih said last week there is no hurry to limit output but there is a possibility to do so in the future.
Iran, meanwhile, has said it supports measures to stabilise the market but has not committed to any output restraint until reaching 4m b/d — a level at which it was pumping before the imposition of western sanctions against its oil industry.
Opec data showed Iranian output has held near 3.6m b/d for several months.
Analysts say that, even if these Opec exporters, together with non-Opec peers such as Russia, agree on freezing output around current levels later this month, it would do little to raise prices as many are pumping flat out.

 


Sunnis and Shias
How Muslim sectarianism affects politics and vice-versa
Sep 12th 2016, 12:33 Economist
SAUDI ARABIA’S most senior cleric has bluntly said that that Iranian Shias are not Muslim at all. The kingdom's grand mufti, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, was responding to a blistering attack on the Saudi authorities by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over the handling of pilgrimage to Mecca. Because of a breakdown in Saudi-Iranian relations, triggered in part by a fatal stampede in Mecca a year ago, this will be the first year in three decades that Iranians have not taken part in the annual Haj or sacred journey to Islam’s Arabian birthplace, which started on September 10th. Ayatollah Khamenei said in the aftermath of the 2015 stampede that Saudi incompetence, including “locking up the injured with the dead”, had led to unnecessary deaths. At least 464 Iranians are believe to have perished. Negotiations on arrangements for this year’s pilgrimage broke down and Iran has said it is not safe for its citizens to go.
Vali Nasr, the dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at America’s Johns Hopkins University, called it the worst crisis in Sunni-Shia and Saudi-Iranian relations in “quite a number of years” and a reminder that apart from all the strategic quarrels between the Sunni kingdom and the Shia republic, purely religious differences had a momentum of their own. For example, if devout Iranians felt the Saudis had needlessly delayed the burial of bodies after the stampede, violating Islam’s requirement for a quick interment, that would cause genuine anger. Meanwhile the Saudi cleric’s denunciation of the Iranians as non-Muslims could stir Sunni-Shia tensions everywhere from West Africa to Malaysia.
Theology can infect geopolitics, and vice-versa. As Mr Nasr points out, plenty of worldly factors are keeping the theological temperature high. They include the civil wars in Syria and Yemen where Saudis and Iranians actively back different sides; deep Saudi insecurity over America’s nuclear deal with Tehran and the prospect of an internationally respectable Iran; and the Iranians’ alarm over the rise of Islamic State which they see as one among many Sunni forces ranged them against them.
In the past, the Saudis had at times reacted stoically to Iranian challenges over issues to do with pilgrimage and the kingdom’s stewardship of holy places. Now the kingdom is lashing out, perhaps even goading Iran.
Then consider a recent inter-Islamic event which attracted less publicity than the Saudi-Iranian name-calling but was still important. Late last month, there was an international gathering of Muslim scholars with the declared purpose of narrowing the gap between different schools of Islam and lining up against terrorism. The host, surprisingly enough, was Russia, or rather Chechnya, a part of the Russian Federation where Islam prevails. At first sight, that sounds like a worthy initiative.
But on closer inspection, that meeting too had its place in a geopolitical contest. Its self-appointed mission was to come up with a broad definition of what it meant to be Sunni; and to denounce Muslims who are intolerant of other shades of opinion. The sheikh who heads Egypt’s Al-Azhar university (a post that enjoys huge prestige in the Sunni world) was present but the Saudi religious authorities were notably absent. This gave the Egyptian sheikh a chance to denounce as not genuinely Sunni the ultra-conservative form of Islam practised in Saudi Arabia. In other words, the meeting gave a modest boost to Egypt’s standing in the Sunni Muslim world, at the expense of the Saudis. And by hosting such a gathering, the Russians were doing a favour to their strategic partners in Iran, for whom any diminution of Saudi Arabia's prestige is nothing but good.
And at the very moment when American engagement with the greater Middle East is tending to decline, Russia is managing to present itself not merely as an influential onlooker but an active participant (by virtue of its own piece of Muslim land) in the affairs of Islam.


 


Iran wary groups might use Syria cease-fire to rearm
Author Arash Karami Posted September 12, 2016 Almonitor

Iranian officials and media have welcomed the Syrian cease-fire deal announced Sept. 9 by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, despite also expressing reservations and warnings.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has always welcomed a cease-fire in Syria and the facilitation of access to humanitarian help for all of the people in this country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said Sept. 11. In follow-up remarks, however, Ghassemi noted a variety of concerns that had plagued previous attempts to implement cease-fires. “The cease-fire does not include terrorist groups such as Daesh [Islamic State], Jabhat al-Nusra, or other newly formed splinter groups,” Ghassemi said, suggesting that Iran has rejected the rebranding effort by al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, which now calls itself Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
The cease-fire called for a new, joint effort between the United States and Russia to target Islamic State and al-Qaeda militants. Distinguishing between al-Qaeda and other armed opposition groups had been one of the main obstacles in negotiating a cease-fire as far as the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Russia were concerned. “The world community is required to seriously confront extremist takfiri terrorism, decisively, without conditions and without interruption,” Ghassemi said, warning that the cease-fire should not serve as “an opportunity for terrorist groups to revitalize and transfer fighters and arms.”
Ghassemi blamed armed groups for breaking previous cease-fires, saying, “Just as the Syrian government has a number of times emphasized, the lack of necessary guarantees on the adherence of terrorist-takfiri groups to the cease-fire have been an obstacle to the success of previous cease-fires.” Ghassemi added that for this cease-fire to be successful, there needs to be “comprehensive monitoring and control of the borders to block the dispatch of terrorism and arms.”
One of the main transit routes for opposition fighters entering Syria from other countries has been through the Turkey-Syria border. Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi-Ansari, the first Iranian official to welcome the cease-fire, said that Iranian and Turkish officials have been in consultations and will continue them.
Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was more cautious about the cease-fire. “A cease-fire and a suspension of the war is the desire of everyone; however, if the cost of it is that the enemies of the government and people of Syria misuse it, not only will this cease-fire not be successful, but it will be harmful,” Velayati said. He added that previous cease-fires had been to the benefit of groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.
According to Velayati, an acceptable cease-fire is one that takes into consideration the concerns of all the various sides in the war, especially the Syrian government and its allies Iran and Hezbollah.
In an article in Iran Newspaper, published by the Ministry of Culture, Mohammad-Reza Raouf Shabiani, the Iranian ambassador to Syria, further warned that groups might use the cease-fire to rearm. Shabiani also lamented that the fate of Syria is being decided by Russia and the United States, writing, “Syria has been turned into a house of competition between international powers, and the people of Syria, whose demand at the beginning was the political reform of society [but] is now security and calm, are now under the influence of international interests.”
The conservative newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz appeared to welcome the news of a cease-fire in an article titled “Obama’s Force Could Not Reach Assad.” It contends that the differences between the United States and Russia will force President Barack Obama to leave office with Syrian President Assad still in office.

 


Does Iranian law green light encounters with US warships?
Author Ali Omidi Posted September 10, 2016 Almonitor

TEHRAN, Iran — Tensions appear to be mounting again in the Strait of Hormuz, as seen in a video released by the US military Aug. 23. The footage shows four patrol boats operated by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) approaching a US destroyer in the narrow waterway. US military officials say two of the patrol boats came within 300 yards of the destroyer USS Nitze. A series of similar incidents were reported the following day with one encounter resulting in the US ship firing warning shots. Earlier, on July 12, US media had reported five IRGC speedboats coming within close proximity of a US ship in the Persian Gulf.
The Pentagon has described the actions of the Iranian naval vessels last month as “unsafe and unprofessional.” Iranian Defense Minister Hossein Dehghan, however, defended the movements of the IRGC patrol boats, stating, “Preserving the country’s security at sea and in the Persian Gulf is our responsibility. It is natural that these boats would be continuously monitoring the traffic of foreign vessels in Iran’s territorial waters.” Were the Iranian boats, however, acting in accordance with domestic and international laws?
The United States considers the Strait of Hormuz to be international waters, and as such, an area where its vessels are allowed to move freely, without interference from littoral states. This attitude is evident in the messages transmitted by the US vessels to the Iranian boats. Indeed, the Transit Rights of Passage under the Law of the Sea says that the littoral state, in this case Iran, has no right to interfere in the passage of foreign ships, whether military or civilian. The Iranian government, however, citing a series of legal arguments, rejects this position.
In 1993, Iran approved the Act on the Marine Areas of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Oman Sea. The statute extends Iran’s sovereignty beyond the “Strait of Hormuz and the Oman Sea, to a belt of sea, adjacent to the baseline, described as the territorial sea.” It also declares that the passage of foreign vessels is subject to the principle of innocent passage so long as it is not prejudicial to good order, peace and security of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Moreover, Article 8 states, “The Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, inspired by its high national interests and to defend its security, may suspend the innocent passage in parts of its territorial sea.” In addition, Article 9 states, “Passage of warships, submarines … through the territorial sea is subject to the prior authorization of the relevant authorities of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Submarines are required to navigate on the surface and to show their flag.”
Iran's logic is based on the Strait of Hormuz being divided into three respective northern, central and southern zones. Ships crossing the northern zone must pass through Iran’s territorial waters, with the ones crossing at the extreme end of the northern zone being forced to enter the territorial waters of the Iranian islands of Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb and Faror. The Sultanate of Oman, the southern Strait of Hormuz littoral state, has subjected the passage of foreign warships to prior notification in a similar vein.
Iran continues to abide by Article 16 of the 1958 Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the first part of which states, “The coastal state may take the necessary steps in its territorial sea to prevent passage which is not innocent.” Moreover, based on Articles 14 and 16 of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the coastal state may engage in certain measures in its maritime waters for security reasons. This includes stopping the passage of ships, requesting information from foreign military vessels or calling on vessels to vacate the waters immediately.
Considering that part of Iran’s political establishment views the United States as an enemy and believes the main reason for the US military presence in the Persian Gulf is to threaten Iran, Tehran maintains the right to monitor the movement and passage of “enemy ships” and views any restrictions placed on military ships of enemy countries as self-defense.
Another relevant matter is that in December 1982, one day before Iran signed the UNCLOS, Tehran officially stated, “It seems natural and in harmony with Article 34 of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, that only States Parties to the Law of the Sea Convention shall be entitled to benefit from the contractual rights created therein including the right of transit passage through straits used for international navigation.”
Although the United States has yet to sign UNCLOS, it views the document as a reflection of customary international law and has tried to benefit from it. Iran, however, considers this unacceptable. Indeed, Tehran's view is that because the transit rights of passage were first proposed in the 1982 convention, they cannot be considered customary international law. Regardless, Iran has been what is described as a persistent objector on the issue of customary international law, and Washington has no right to impose it on Tehran.
Ultimately, while tension over the passage of US naval vessels in the Strait of Hormuz is occurring in the shadow of broader political tensions between Tehran and Washington, one should not overlook the different legal interpretations each of these countries has regarding military law in the strait. In other words, Iran’s coast guard and military see their actions as being in line with their legal duties in their territorial waters, as set out by Iranian law, the Law of the Sea and the United States’ not having signed the 1982 convention.
 


Saudi Arabia cannot pay its workers or bills – yet continues to fund a war in Yemen
In Saudi Arabia itself, the government seems unable to cope with the crisis. The 'Arab News' says that 31,000 Saudi and other foreign workers have lodged complaints with the government’s labour ministry over unpaid wages. On one occasion, the Indian consulate and expatriates brought food to the workers so that their people should not starve
• Robert Fisk
• Thursday 10 September 2016 Independent
Almost exactly a year after Salman bin Albdulaziz Al Saud, king of Saudi Arabia, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and head of the House of Saud, hurriedly left his millionaire’s mansion near Cannes with his 1,000 servants to continue his vacation in Morocco, the kingdom’s cash is not flowing so smoothly for the tens of thousands of sub-continental expatriates sweating away on his great building sites.
Almost unreported outside the Kingdom, the country’s big construction magnates – including that of the Binladen group – have not been paid by the Saudi government for major construction projects and a portion of the army of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and other workers have received no wages, some of them for up to seven months.
Indian and Pakistani embassies approached the Saudi government, pleading that their workers should be paid. Economists who adopt the same lickspittle attitude towards the Saudi monarchy as the British Government, constantly point out that the authorities have been overwhelmed by the collapse of oil prices. They usually prefer not to mention something at which the rest of the world remains aghast: deputy crown prince and defence minister Mohamed bin Salman’s wasteful and hopeless war in Yemen. Since the king’s favourite son launched this preposterous campaign against the Houthis last year, supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni president against Shia Muslim rebels, aircraft flown by Saudi and Emirati pilots (aided by British technical “experts” on the ground) have bombed even more hospitals, clinics and medical warehouses than America has destroyed in Serbia and Afghanistan combined since 1999.
The result? A country with 16 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves, whose Aramco oil company makes more than $1bn a day and now records a budget deficit of $100bn, cannot pay its bills. At first, the Yemen fiasco was called “Operation Decisive Storm”, which – once it proved the longest and least decisive Arab “storm” in the Middle East’s recent history – was changed to “Operation Restore Hope”. And the bombing went on, just as it did in the pre-“hope” “storm”, along with the help of the UK’s “experts”. No wonder the very same deputy crown prince Mohamed announced this year that state spending on salaries would be lowered, yet individual earnings would rise.
In Pakistan, whose soldiers make up a large number of the “Saudi” armed forces, there has been outrage, parliamentarians are asking why three Saudi companies have not paid salaries for eight months, refusing even to provide food for their employees. In some cases, the Pakistanis have paid their own nationals for food supplies.
In Saudi Arabia itself, the government seems unable to cope with the crisis. The Arab News says that 31,000 Saudi and other foreign workers have lodged complaints with the government’s labour ministry over unpaid wages. On one occasion, the Indian consulate and local Indian expatriates brought food to the workers so that their people should not starve. The overall figure that the government owes the construction companies owed may be billions of dollars.
Overtly xenophobic comments have emerged in the Saudi press. Writing in the Saudi Gazette, Abdulrtahman Saad Al-Araabi said: “Many expats hate us and are angry because we are a rich country. Some of them go so far as to say that we, Saudis, do not deserve these blessings and the money we have. That is the reason why some of them become violent when they do not get paid on time.”
Well, I suppose some people are paying a lot of cash to the Jabhat al-Nusra (recently re-named Jabhat Fateh al-Shamal-Nusrah) or Al-Qaeda or Isis lads out there in the line of fire in Syria.
Embassy staff from the Philippines, France and many countries in the Middle East, have raised the problems with the Saudi government. Typical of their responses has been that of Saudi Oger which said it had been “affected by current circumstances [sic] which resulted in some delays in delays in fulfilling our commitments to our employees”.
The Saudi government insisted the company paid its employees. Many of them, it should be added, are Lebanese whose Sunni Muslims come from the Sunni areas of Lebanon who traditionally vote for the Sunni leader’s son Saad.
An official of the company made the extraordinary statement that “the company’s situation is unstable due to the scrapping [sic] of many of its projects it was to execute,” Meanwhile, workers at United Seemac construction company are complaining they have not been paid for months – or even granted permission to leave the country. Some had apparently not been paid for more than a year and a half. Unlike the big companies such as Binladen and Oger, these men – and they are indeed mostly men – are consumed into the smaller employees. “All the attention is on the big companies – it’s easy to ignore us because we are not so many people.”
All in all, a dodgy scenario in our beloved monarchy-dictatorship, whose war against the Shia Houthis – and the Shia Hezbollah, the Shia/Alawite regime in Damascus and Iran – is unending. Wasn’t there an equally dodgy Al-Yamamah arms deal with the Saudis a few years ago? No cash flow problems then. And what does “yamamah” mean in Arabic? “Dove”? Let us go no further.

 


Financial Times
September 4, 2016 1:39 pm
Uzbek leadership transition comes at critical time in the region
Jack Farchy
As Uzbekistan’s president Islam Karimov lay dying last week, his courtiers defaulted to a Soviet script.
The “critical” condition of his health was announced to the nation in a curt paragraph in the state press with much the same brevity as Stalin’s fatal illness was made public in the Soviet Union 1953. Uzbek TV switched to programmes lauding the achievements of the 25-year-old nation prompting some to recall the broadcast of Swan Lake that ran on repeat for hours during the attempted coup against Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991.
But if the playbook for Mr Karimov’s death was Soviet, there is no precedent for what comes next: the first transition of power in Uzbekistan’s history.
In a region dominated by ageing autocrats, where death or revolution are more likely to depose leaders than democratic elections, the path Uzbekistan follows is likely to serve as a model — or warning — to the other leaders in the region who attended his funeral in Samarkand on Saturday.
“If the succession process is less than smooth, there is potential for this to create regional instability, particularly if we look to Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Central Asia’s most impoverished and unpredictable states,” says Deirdre Tynan, Central Asia director at the International Crisis Group.
Of all five presidents in post-Soviet Central Asia, only Kyrgyzstan’s Almazbek Atambayev has a clear exit plan, since the country’s constitution requires him to stand down next year.
Nursultan Nazarbayev, president of neighbouring Kazakhstan, is 76 and — like Mr Karimov — has ruled his country since Soviet times. Tajikistan and Turkmenistan’s presidents have ruled their countries for 23 and nine years, respectively, and neither shows any hint of a plan to relinquish power voluntarily.
The lack of clear succession plans is the greatest political uncertainty for a region delicately balanced between Russia, China, Afghanistan and Iran, which supplies more than half of China’s gas imports and whose collective oil reserves are twice the size of Brazil’s. “They are authoritarian regimes ill-equipped to deal with uncertainty, either internal or regional”, says Ms Tynan.
The issue is all the more pressing as the region is suffering its worst economic downturn in two decades on the back of low oil prices and recession in Russia. The International Monetary Fund anticipates growth in the region will fall to just 1.2 per cent this year after averaging 8.3 per cent between 2000 and 2014.
While millions of Central Asians have traditionally headed to Russia to find work, the recession there has made that a less attractive route. Remittances from Russia to the region fell 58 per cent last year, according to the Russian central bank.
In Uzbekistan, the population is young, with almost half of the population of 31m under the age of 25. And radical Islam, while not widespread, is on the rise, say local governments and foreign diplomats.
“Economically the country is hurting very badly. There’s a huge population they’re going to have to figure out how to employ and keep busy,” says Paul Stronski, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Alexander Cooley, a specialist on the region at Columbia University, warns that any successor, lacking Mr Karimov’s political standing, may seek “to consolidate legitimacy by promising political stability and possibly stoking Uzbek nationalism”. In recent days, Tashkent has increased its military presence on its border with Kyrgyzstan.
Others see potential for Uzbekistan, which under Mr Karimov rebuffed Russia’s post-Soviet integration projects, to strengthen ties with Moscow.
Nonetheless, few observers expect political upheaval in Uzbekistan any time soon. “There will be no real policy changes for at least two years,” predicts one Tashkent-based businessman.
One reason is the near monopoly on power enjoyed by the powerful security services. As Mr Karimov’s health deteriorated in recent years, the powerful head of the security services, Rustam Inoyatov, became increasingly influential in controlling access to him and directing the country’s policy, observers say.
“Effectively Karimov has been taking a back seat, the SNB [National Security Service] has been speaking on his behalf. They have been at the helm, he has been a puppet for them,” says Kate Mallinson, a Central Asia expert at risk consultancy GPW.
US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks paint a picture of Mr Inoyatov as a Machiavellian manipulator, spreading rumours about his enemies and collecting compromising material — known by the Russian term kompromat — on his friends and enemies alike. “Members of the presidential apparat said that Inoyatov had amassed considerable amounts of kompromat on other officials, including on members of the Karimov family,” a 2009 cable reported.
Observers expect that Mr Inoyatov will manage a succession modelled on the transition of power in Turkmenistan after its dictator Saparmurat Niyazov died suddenly in 2006, when the country’s political elites quickly struck a deal on a successor acceptable to all.
While the chairman of the Uzbek senate, Nigmatulla Yuldashev, is to become acting president under the country’s constitution, the favourite among analysts to succeed Mr Karimov is Shavkat Mirziyoyev, the prime minister, who was master of ceremonies at Mr Karimov’s funeral on Saturday.
Mr Mirziyoyev, who has been prime minister since 2003, has a reputation of being even more brutal than Mr Karimov.
Daniil Kislov, editor of independent news site Fergana, describes the Uzbek prime minister as Karimov’s “alter ego”.
“The politics won’t change. There will be no thaw. Everything will be as it was under Karimov, especially at first. It’s not in anyone’s interest to change the rules of the game,” Mr Kislov says

 


Iran Urges Muslims to Challenge Saudi Arabia’s Oversight of Holy Sites
The call by Iran’s supreme leader comes days before the start of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca

Asa Fitch and Margherita Stancati Wall Street Journal
Updated Sept. 5, 2016 3:35 p.m. ET
DUBAI—Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei questioned Saudi Arabia’s fitness to oversee Islam’s holiest places and accused the kingdom’s rulers of murder in last year’s deadly hajj pilgrimage stampede.
“Because of these rulers’ oppressive behavior toward God’s guests, the world of Islam must fundamentally reconsider the management of the two holy places and the issue of hajj,” Mr. Khamenei said Monday in a challenge likely to worsen hostile relations between the two political and religious powers days ahead of the start of this year’s hajj to Mecca.
The stampede at last year’s hajj left 769 people dead, according to the Saudi government.
The Associated Press said the death toll was at least 2,426, after examining state media reports and officials’ comments from countries whose citizens participated in the pilgrimage.
In his comments Monday, Mr. Khamenei said Saudi authorities behaved with deliberate cruelty in the disaster, in which 461 Iranians were killed, Iranian officials say.
“The heartless and murderous Saudis locked up the injured with the dead in containers instead of providing medical treatment and helping them or at least quenching their thirst,” he said. “They murdered them.”
The stampede wasn’t the only tragedy to mar last year’s hajj: Days before it started, high winds and heavy rains caused a crane to collapse on Mecca’s Grand Mosque, killing more than 100 people.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef on Monday defended his country’s preparedness for the hajj.
Iran in May announced that it wouldn’t participate in this year’s hajj, saying Riyadh was to blame for the collapse of negotiations over travel arrangements for Iranian pilgrims and lack of compensation for relatives of citizens killed in last year’s stampede.
“Iran’s authorities don’t want Iranian pilgrims to come for reasons up to the Iranians themselves as part of their quest to politicize hajj,” he said. “This is something that we don’t accept and won’t allow to happen, and we stand firmly and strongly against those working to disrupt security at the hajj.”
The prince, who also serves as interior minister and chairs the committee in charge of organizing hajj, made his comments after attending a parade for hajj security forces, according to Saudi Arabia’s state news agency. The annual five-day hajj to Mecca, which all able-bodied Muslims who can afford to are required to perform once, begins this week.
The Saudi king holds the title of “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques,” and his oversight of the hajj and administration of Medina—revered as the burial site of the Prophet Muhammad and the second-holiest city in Islam after Mecca—are sources of great prestige across the Muslim world.
The kingdom tightly controls participation in hajj, issuing visas under a quota system organized by nationality.
Saudi Arabia is the Middle East’s dominant Sunni Muslim power, and Iran its leading Shiite power. In recent years, their rivalry has intensified politically, militarily and ideologically across the region, and the two are engaged in proxy conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq. Their relationship, already tense before the stampede, spiraled downward afterward.
In January, the kingdom’s execution of prominent Shiite cleric and activist Nemer al-Nemer sparked protests at Iranian diplomatic compounds in Iran. Riyadh then cut diplomatic and commercial ties with Iran, and several of the kingdom’s Sunni allies downgraded or severed their relations with Tehran.
Lower-ranking Iranian officials have questioned Saudi Arabia’s stewardship of the holy sites before. But Monday’s rebuke from Mr. Khamenei, who has final say over most matters of state in Iran, was his sharpest since the stampede.
Saudi Arabia has introduced new safety measures for the hajj this year, including electronic wristbands for pilgrims to better manage the flow of people along the pilgrimage route. Some 1.5 million of the e-bracelets, which are encoded with identification information and relevant contact details, are to be distributed.
The government also has introduced more surveillance cameras and other technology for improved crowd control, and said it would strictly enforce a timetable for carrying out the hajj rite. Some 17,000 security forces have been mobilized for the pilgrimage, Saudi officials said last week.
A recent spate of attacks by militants have heightened security concerns.
In July, three separate bombings struck Saudi Arabia on a single day, including a blast next to the mosque in Medina where the prophet is said to be buried.


 


• Bloomberg
Putin Pushes for Oil Freeze Deal With OPEC, Exemption for Iran
Ilya Arkhipov world_reporter
Dina Khrennikova
Elena Mazneva
Updated on September 3, 2016 —
Vladimir Putin said he’d like OPEC and Russia, producers of half of the world’s oil, to reach a deal to freeze supply and expects the dispute over Iran’s participation can be resolved.
“From the viewpoint of economic sense and logic, then it would be correct to find some sort of compromise,” Putin said in an interview in Vladivostok. “I am confident that everyone understands that. We believe that this is the right decision for world energy.”
While talks collapsed in April over whether Iran should join in, countries now recognize the nation -- freed just months ago from international sanctions -- should be allowed to continue raising production, Putin said. The Russian president said he may recommend completing the plan when he meets with Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the Group of 20 summit in China next week.
Oil rallied more than 10 percent last month on speculation the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will reach an accord with non-members at an informal meeting in Algiers this month. The prolonged slump in crude prices -- stuck at half the levels seen two years ago -- is battering the economies of producer nations, giving oil-market rivals cause to cooperate.
“I would very much like to hope that every participant of this market that’s interested in maintaining stable and fair global energy prices will in the end make the necessary decision,” said Putin. Prince bin Salman “is a very reliable partner with whom you can reach agreements, and can be certain that those agreements will be honored,” he said.
Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak had been a lead player in secret talks with OPEC producers at the beginning of the year, which culminated in a meeting in Doha in mid-April. The agreement collapsed just hours before it was due to be signed when Prince bin Salman insisted on Iran’s participation, leaving Novak diplomatically exposed.
“Our Saudi partners at the last moment changed their view,” said Putin. “We didn’t reject the idea of freezing output. Our position hasn’t changed.”
Until now, Russia had sounded wary of giving the proposal another chance. Novak said yesterday that no accord is necessary when prices are around $50 a barrel, according to a report by RIA Novosti. Brent futures traded at $46.08 a barrel in London at 12:15 p.m. local time.
Russia is ready to take part in informal talks with OPEC later this month, even if a deal isn’t immediately forthcoming, Novak said Friday on sidelines of an economic forum in Vladivostok.
“Now it’s a meeting where we can discuss the current situation," Novak said, after commenting that, as with Doha, thorough preparation was required for discussions on oil-output levels. “I think this is just the first step."
Budget Pressures
The world’s biggest energy exporter, Russia is reliant on oil and natural gas for about 40 percent of its budget revenues and battling the longest recession in two decades as crude prices remain below $50 a barrel. Burdened by social spending and military commitments, the government is seeking ways to ease the budgetary pain before parliamentary elections later this year and a presidential vote in 2018.
OPEC nations are scheduled to hold informal talks on Sept. 27 in Algiers, on the sidelines of an industry conference, the International Energy Forum. Novak is due to attend the conference.
Putin said that oil producers recognize that Iran, which has mostly restored the output halted during three years of trade restrictions, deserves to complete its return to world markets.
“Iran is starting from a very low position, connected with the well-known sanctions in relation to this country,” Putin said. “It would be unfair to leave it on this sanctioned level.”
Saudi Arabia, whose rivalry with Iran in regional conflicts from Syria to Yemen remains unabated, has given only cautious support to renewed negotiations. Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih said Aug. 26 that while a freeze would be “positive” for market sentiment, no “intervention of significance” is required as global markets are rebalancing by themselves.
Even if a deal is concluded, analysts from Commerzbank AG to Citigroup Inc. warn that simply capping output at current levels -- rather than cutting production -- would do little to tackle the persisting surplus in global markets. Besides, most of the countries involved are already producing as much as they can, making a pledge to keep output flat irrelevant, they say.
Other OPEC members, from Iran and Iraq to Libya and Nigeria, may still press on with plans to restore lost output or add new capacity, undermining the point of a “freeze,” the banks said. While supportive of a limit, Putin’s remarks indicated that Russian production has the potential to increase.
“The oil companies, they are continuing to invest,” he said. “Our oil output is increasing.”

 


German Businesses Blame U.S. for Iran Trade Disappointment
Expected post-sanction bonanza yet to materialize

By
Christopher Alessi
Sep3, 2016 Wall Street Journal
FRANKFURT—German companies hoped the opening of Iran’s economy following the lifting of international sanctions in January would let them rekindle longstanding commercial ties and quickly strike gold.
Despite a jump in exports, the results have left Germans disappointed.
Soon after world powers last summer signed a deal to lift economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, German business delegations started visiting Iran. Even before sanctions were officially lifted in January, Germans sought local distributors and prepared to resume trade.
Other European delegations followed but expectations were particularly high that German-Iranian business ties would flourish. Some German firms never fully retreated from Iran, even when sanctions were toughest.
German multinationals including engineering conglomerate Siemens AG have announced plans for large industrial projects in Iran.
In the first six months of this year, German exports to Iran climbed 15%, to €1.13 billion ($1.26 billion), according to the German Federal Statistical Office. Germany’s worldwide exports during the period totaled €603.2 billion.
But many German business and government leaders had predicted the lifting of sanctions on Iran would trigger a bonanza for their industrial firms, which want to sell Iran equipment to help rebuild its aging infrastructure.
Disappointed Germans are now blaming the shortfall primarily on remaining U.S. prohibitions on some transactions with Iran.
“The development lags behind our expectations by far, because of the [U.S.] sanctions still in place,” said Gregor Wolf, director of European and international affairs at the Federation of German Wholesale Foreign Trade and Services. “Companies are afraid of U.S. retaliation,” he added.
Many Western financial institutions are hesitant about engaging with the Iranian market for fear of facing U.S. fines, Mr. Wolf said. That reticence complicates payments.
“Even though there is a positive influence from all the events since last year, the international money transfer [system] is not officially open yet,” said Ashkan Pirayesh, an Iranian-German with German firm Richter Lighting Technologies GmbH, who participated in a German business delegation to Iran last September. Mr. Pirayesh said Richter is in the process of building a local office in Tehran but was not yet exporting to Iran.
Despite the removal of many nuclear-related sanctions imposed by U.S., the European Union and United Nations, other U.S. sanctions on Iran persist. The U.S. still designates Iran a State Sponsor of Terrorism, which blocks loans to the country by international banks with ties to the U.S., and consequently Iran’s access to global markets.
“Monetary transactions with Iran have been severely penalized by the U.S.,” said Ludovic Subran, chief economist at Euler Hermes Group, a German trade-insurance provider backed by Allianz SE. “Everyone is waiting for the Americans to take the first step.”
Nevertheless, the payment situation has eased since last year, experts say. At that time, German firms active in Iran had to route payments through indirect channels such as the United Arab Emirates or Turkey.
Now German companies have a few more options, said Amir Alizadeh, deputy managing director at the Tehran-based German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce.
Hamburg-based European-Iranian Trade Bank AG, which until January had been blocked by sanctions, is back in business and a conduit for German firms to receive payments, Mr. Alizadeh said. Some smaller banks with limited ties to the U.S. have also begun working with Iran, he said. The trade bank could not be reached for comment.
The German government in June settled a longstanding debt dispute with the Iranian government, handled through Euler Hermes, which reopened export-credit guarantees for companies that want to trade with Iran. This could pave the way for more German firms to establish business ties in coming months, Mr. Alizadeh said.
Some deals have taken time to conclude. Siemens in May signed agreements with Iran to modernize its energy infrastructure, including providing Iran with the technological know-how to build some gas turbines. Siemens also aims to develop Iran’s wind-power capabilities and its railway sector.
A spokesperson for Siemens said the company’s portfolio in Iran was “precisely aligned” to help the country achieve plans to increase steel and cement production, export cars and become a gas-and-electricity hub.
Siemens declined to elaborate on how it would obtain payments from Iran.
Beyond the challenges of payment, obstacles remain for German and other western firms pursuing opportunities in Iran, according to experts. These include currency instability, a complicated bureaucracy, a shaky legal system and ongoing political risk in the country and throughout the wider Middle East.
“Nevertheless, Iran is going to be an interesting market in the long term, especially for German exporters,” Euler Hermes’s Mr. Subran said. “In the best case, German exporters could double their exports in the coming years.”

Financial Times September 3, 2016
Isis is down, but not yet out
John Sawers
There has been welcome news recently on the fight against Isis. The killing in an air strike of Abu Mohammad al-Adnani is a significant gain. Adnani was a respected figure in the terrorist group, both as its leading ideologue and head of external operations. His death follows the removal of other leading Isis figures, including the group’s second-in-command, and its military chief. Others will step up, but it will take time for them to gain experience and credibility.
This is the latest in a series of setbacks for Isis, prompting some analysts to claim that it is in terminal decline. Isis has also lost territory, which is important to it as it claims to be building a caliphate, a region where a supreme Islamic leader prevails.
The attempt to create a caliphate has clearly failed: the parastatal structures have not delivered essential services and Isis has been violent and oppressive. People in liberated towns have celebrated its ousting. And Isis morale seems to be slipping: its online narrative is less polished and has become more sectarian and hectoring as it tries to explain its setbacks.
But Isis cannot be written off. It remains dangerous, with a large area under its control. It has yet to be challenged in its strongholds in Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in northern Iraq. Ground operations against either city will be difficult and bloody, especially if non-native forces — Kurds in Arab Raqqa, Shia militias in predominately Sunni Mosul — are deployed.
The Syrian theatre remains a mess. Russia and Iran are propping up the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Arab and western efforts to bolster opposition forces are doing little more than keeping them going. No one expects President Barack Obama in his remaining months in office to raise the level of US military exposure beyond the anti-Isis campaign. In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is focused on cementing his power following the recent attempted coup. The Syrian conflict is set to rumble on, and as long as Syria has no popularly accepted government in control of its territory, there will be space for terrorist groups to operate.
It is impossible to judge just how weakened Isis is. It could take many months, maybe years, to remove it from its strongholds. Eventually it will be forced to disperse, with fighters returning to their home countries or to places where they can operate more freely, such as across the Sahel or in Yemen. As you squeeze the terrorist balloon, it bulges out in multiple new locations. The individuals and their networks are more important than any particular territory. A “virtual” Isis will emerge.
The terror threat in Europe in the short term could well increase as Isis responds asymmetrically to the pressure it faces. The group is close to Europe and has a large pool of foreign fighters at its disposal, and there seems to be no let-up in terrorist planning.
Instant Insight
Europe is now on high alert after the terrorist attacks of the past two years. The flow of new recruits to Syria has slowed to a trickle, and returnees face closer scrutiny and surveillance. But some of those already back in Europe are committed to the extremist cause: returnees from Syria took part in the atrocities in Paris and Brussels. Others little-known to western security services will be inspired to violence in the name of Isis. Across Europe, the risk of further attacks remains high.
In terms of threat, Isis is the crocodile closest to the canoe, but al-Qaeda remains in the picture. There is a watchful coexistence between the two movements for now, tinged with animosity. In the long term, al-Qaeda is a more sustainable organisation than Isis and remains a major problem.
To some extent, the west can shield itself from the threat by active intelligence operations and close links between intelligence and law enforcement. Gradual stepping up of security measures to meet the rising threat is a much better course than a sudden populist lurch in the wake of the next ghastly atrocity.
As Isis loses territory, the battle will shift back to the internet. Both Isis and al-Qaeda pursue an active online narrative, aimed at known supporters and potential lone wolves. Co-operation between technology companies and security agencies is improving again as the impact of the Edward Snowden affair fades, but there is a long way still to go, especially in terms of the tech companies policing the communications channels they provide. For example, UK government agencies alone still have to demand the removal of around 1,000 postings a week. This should be the companies’ responsibility.
There is no single way to defeat Isis and al-Qaeda. It will require sustained military pressure, which the west can lead, but which on its own will not be enough. The root causes of discontent also have to be tackled, especially in the Arab world, and that can only be done by Muslims themselves. There are encouraging moves towards a different economic and political dispensation in Saudi Arabia under deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, but there is a long and difficult path to pursue before that becomes a reality. Syria and Libya are nowhere near even starting down that road. For the foreseeable future, the west will need to keep its guard up.

 


Published on The National Interest (http://nationalinterest.org)
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Iran's Financial Long Game to Beat the Nuclear Deal


Greg Everett Sep 3, 2016
Recent diplomatic efforts on the part of Tehran reveal it to be pursuing a two-pronged strategy towards attracting investment and reintegrating with the global economy: (1) seeking foreign capital to rebuild the country’s domestic infrastructure, while (2) using Iranian capital to finance the construction of oil refineries throughout the world. With Iran’s infrastructure investment needs estimated at $1 trillion over the next ten years, Tehran will be heavily reliant on project finance arrangements in order to rebuild its infrastructure. Under these arrangements, investors put up large sums of money in exchange for a return based on long-term cash flows—often for up to thirty years.
Iran’s heavy reliance on project financing arrangements will have consequences that far outlive the initial terms of the Iranian nuclear agreement, while creating a potentially unique set of incentives for the various parties in the event Iran defaults on its commitments or resorts to old patterns at the expiration of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). As such, Tehran’s strategic thinking is clearly calculated well beyond the terms of the JCPOA. In its strategy to reintegrate with the world economy, Iran is playing the long game.
Sanctions Snapback and Incentives
The three main players involved in the sanctions regime were the United States, EU and UN. One of the most significant features of the JCPOA is the provision for the “snapback” of sanctions in the event of “significant non-performance by Iran.” In the event of a sanctions “snapback,” companies would not be punished directly for having entered into agreements with Iran at the time sanctions were lifted. Moreover, such contracts may also benefit from a grace period for investors to wind down operations in Iran. In the case of basic trade relations, the flow of goods must simply cease before the expiration of any wind-down period. What is less clear, however, is how this provision will be applied in the context of large infrastructure projects, which are often built and financed on the basis of cash flows that will last well beyond the terms of the JCPOA. Indeed, this provision could be applied to allow anywhere from a significant amount of time to wind down investments all the way to a more aggressive application that leads to absolute and immediate loss.
Given the possibility of total loss, European governments are likely to only seek “snapback” in the most egregious of circumstances—for example, an increase in Iran’s uranium stockpiles beyond the agreed limits. Of course, after the expiration of the JCPOA (in roughly fifteen years), UN and EU sanctions will completely terminate, making any reimposition of UN sanctions subject to the veto power of the UN Security Council. Any reimposition of EU sanctions will require the unanimous consent of the member states in the Council of the European Union. The United States can always unilaterally reimpose its secondary sanctions (which pre-JCPOA applied extraterritorially to non-U.S. entities that invested in Iran’s petroleum sector), but will likely find itself increasingly isolated and alone if it chooses to do so.
Iran’s strategy of utilizing long-term financing arrangements with foreign investors will thus give Iran additional leverage against efforts to rigorously enforce the JCPOA before it expires in roughly fifteen years. After the expiration of the JCPOA, however, Iran’s leverage will only increase, as any reimposition of UN sanctions will require significant international coordination. Such coordination will likely prove more difficult to come by, as non-U.S. investors will have made significant financial commitments while sanctions were lifted, and therefore have the most to lose.
Building at Home
Estimates place Iran’s infrastructure development needs at anywhere from $200 billion for its oil infrastructure alone to $1 trillion for the wider economy over the next ten years. Iran’s banking sector is made up of eight state-owned and nineteen privately owned banks with a market cap of roughly $582 billion, falling well short of the amount needed to rebuild the country’s flagging infrastructure. To make up for this shortfall, Iran is engaging in extensive discussions with private and state-owned firms to rebuild its domestic infrastructure, in countries as varied as Russia, Ukraine, France, Italy, China, India and South Korea. While foreign investment in Iran has been limited to date, India’s recent commitment to construct the $500 million Chabahar Port in southeastern Iran demonstrate that this trend may start moving in the opposite direction. The Treasury Department’s recent clarification on its regulations governing the ability of U.S.-owned (or -controlled) foreign entities to do business in Iran is another step in this direction.
From Iran’s perspective, allowing foreign firms to rebuild its domestic infrastructure carries three primary advantages: First, it will give Iran access to superior technology and expertise, which it can then acquire under technology transfer agreements. Second, it will give the relevant players a vested interest in the success of the nuclear deal and the maintenance of its terms beyond the initial periods—significantly increasing international pressure to keep Iran integrated with the global economy. Third, Iranian capital will be “freed up” to invest abroad by seeking out strategic areas to gain a return on investment and further the Iranian state strategy of expanding and securing long-term markets for Iranian crude oil.
Building Abroad
This past January, Abbas Kazemi, head of the state-run National Iranian Oil Refining and Distribution Company, expressed Iran’s official state policy as being committed to investing in overseas refining capacity in order to boost and secure its crude oil markets over the long-term. Iran is achieving these goals through the construction or purchase of ownership shares in refineries throughout Europe, South America, Southeast Asia and Africa.
Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh and South African energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson announced an agreement in April to build petrochemical plants and oil refineries that will process Iranian crude through a Joint Venture (JV) arrangement. In February, Iran announced that it was in negotiations with six countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, over the construction of oil-refinery capacity. In June 2015, Iran finalized an agreement with China and Indonesia over the construction of a refinery that will process 150,000 barrels per day of Iranian crude. Iran’s ambitions also extend to Europe and South America, where it is in talks with local companies in Spain to build a refinery with a capacity of two hundred thousand barrels per day and to purchase troubled refinery projects in Brazil. In December 2015, Iran also announced the construction of an oil refinery under a JV arrangement with a private-sector partner in Brazil that will have a processing capacity of three hundred thousand barrels per day.
Iran’s outward-facing oil policy also has a domestic component. Despite being the third-largest OPEC producer, Iran is an importer of refined product (that is, gasoline). Taking a page right out of the Saudi playbook, Iran plans to decrease its reliance on foreign gasoline imports by boosting its domestic refining capacity by 2020, allowing Iran to increase its share of the domestic market at the expense of foreign exporters. Iran is once again seeking foreign investment to finance this increase through the construction of five new refineries and the upgrading of five other refineries.
Conclusion
The Islamic Republic’s strategy of seeking foreign investment to rebuild its domestic infrastructure under long-term financing arrangements, while using Iranian capital to build oil refineries abroad, will have consequences beyond the terms of the JCPOA while affecting its current enforcement. Nevertheless, the private sector has the potential to play a significant role in strengthening the enforcement of the JCPOA depending on how its investment contracts are structured. Indeed, aggressive contract provisions that allow any “snapback” of sanctions to be grounds to immediately terminate the contract, seek damages through arbitration, and enforce arbitration awards in foreign jurisdictions, will likely encourage Tehran to hew closer to the letter and spirit of the JCPOA than it might be willing to do otherwise.
Of course, this approach assumes some degree of coordination between the various players seeking to do business in Iran over the coming years. The potentially diffuse set of actors, however, may create a situation where the rush to invest in Iran becomes a race to the bottom. Under both scenarios, by building refineries abroad to secure its market share, while allowing foreign investment to rebuild its flagging infrastructure, Tehran has signaled that it has ambitious plans for how it will leverage its position under the JCPOA to reintegrate and remain reintegrated with the world economy.
 


The Guardian
Obama administration denies secret loopholes in Iran nuclear agreement
A Washington thinktank report claims a joint commission in Vienna deal allowed Iran to keep more than the agreed upon enriched uranium

Julian Borger in Washington
Friday 2 September 2016 03.39 BST
The Obama administration has insisted that the terms of a nuclear agreement signed last year with Iran were being upheld after a Washington think tank alleged that Tehran had been granted secret exemptions.
A report by the Institute for Science and International Security alleged that a joint commission set up to implement the Vienna deal had allowed Iran to keep more than the agreed maximum of 300 kg of low enriched uranium (LEU) by excluding waste material in Iran’s nuclear facilities. If enriched further, LEU could be used in a nuclear warhead.
The institute’s director and co-author of the report, David Albright, said that this and other exemptions were granted by the commission in secret.
 “One of the biggest problems is we are being denied information in these cases,” Albright said. “If the joint commission has so many powers to change this deal, shouldn’t we know what they’re doing?”
The state department denied that the 300 kg LEU limit set down in the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Programme of Action (JCPOA), had been breached.
“There’s been no loosening of the commitments and Iran has not and will not under the JCPOA be allowed to exceed the limits that are spelled out in the JCPOA,” spokesman John Kirby said.
He added the only violation of the terms of the deal had been a temporary surplus in Iran’s export of heavy water (which can be used in nuclear reactors to produce plutonium), but that had been corrected.
Kirby also said the secrecy of the work of the joint commission, which represents all parties to the deal, was stipulated in last year’s deal, signed by six world powers (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China), the EU and Iran.
“This is in compliance with the JCPOA which says the commission’s work should be confidential unless all parties agree otherwise,” Kirby said.
However, while he repeatedly stated there had no been “no exceptions” to the quantitative limits set down in the agreement, Kirby did not respond directly to the question of exemptions.
Albright’s report claimed certain waste products and residues were not being included in the joint commission’s inventory of nuclear materials. Kirby said he would not “talk about the specific work of the joint commission”
As well as noting the heavy-water surplus, Albright’s report said that “lab contaminant” containing 20% enriched uranium was being overlooked by the commission, and that Iran had been allowed to retain 19 “hot cells” larger than the specifications laid down in the JCPOA. Hot cells are special containers that allow technicians to handle radioactive matter with special gloves while being shielded. They can be used to separate plutonium from spent fuel on a small scale.
Kirby noted that the joint commission was given the authority to approve larger hot cells than envisaged in the agreement.
“We aren’t saying anything has been violated here,” Albright said. “But the number of these hot cells is surprising. We don’t know how many are being monitored by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency], and again, why is this secret?”
Jim Walsh, an international security expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that it was the norm for arms control agreements to have secret sections.
“Secret doesn’t mean evil. It’s just standard operating procedure, and as this report says itself, Obama notified Congress. Congress has known this from the beginning,” Walsh said. On the question of the “hot cells”, Walsh added: “The report admits these are being used for producing medical isotopes. There is no plutonium reactor in Iran. A reactor is years away, so allowing the existing hot cells is not a proliferation danger.”
James Acton, the co-director of the nuclear policy programme at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: “The more complicated and comprehensive your arms control agreement, the more questions it throws up in implementation.
“Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, the US had to destroy its stockpile by 2012, but it wasn’t possible to meet that deadline. People didn’t see that as an attempt to undermine the convention, and a pragmatic solution was found,” Acton said. “There is the same principle at work here.”

 


Obama Administration Denies Allowing ‘Secret’ Exemptions in Iran Deal
• By John Hudson, Dan De Luce September 1, 2016 - 6:10 pm john.hudson
• foreign Policy
The Obama administration denied claims by a former U.N. weapons inspector on Thursday that the United States and other countries agreed to allow Iran to evade restrictions in last year’s historic nuclear deal.
“There has been no loosening of Iran’s commitments and there have been no exceptions given,” said State Department spokesman John Kirby at a daily press conference.
The comments came in response to a new paper by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. The report claims that the United States and other countries granted Iran exemptions regarding certain aspects of the nuclear deal so that Tehran would be eligible to receive relief from punishing economic sanctions earlier this year. David Albright, the president of the organization and co-author of the study who has often voiced skepticism over provisions of the nuclear deal, says his findings are based on interviews with government officials but he declined to name them.
The alleged exemptions included allowing Iran to exceed limits on how much low-enriched uranium (LEU) it can store in its nuclear facilities, the study claimed. LEU stockpiles are monitored because they can be purified into weapons-grade uranium. The study said that the exemptions were made by the joint commission tasked with overseeing implementation of the deal — a body comprised of the P5+1 and Iran.
“The Joint Commission’s secretive decision making process risks advantaging Iran by allowing it to try to systematically weaken the [Iran deal],” said the study.
Republican critics of the deal, including Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, immediately seized on the study, calling it an “alarming” example of the Obama administration hiding details of the deal from the American people.
But the Obama administration flatly denied the the group’s claims. Kirby said the Iran deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, set the limit of low-enriched uranium at 300 kilograms and since implementation day, “Iran has been in compliance with holding to that limit.”
Albright’s report also said the joint commission allowed Iran to keep 19 functioning radiation containment chambers that are larger than provided for under the deal. The chambers, or “hot cells,” are made for handling radioactive material but the report says they can be “misused for secret, mostly small-scale plutonium separation efforts.”
Kirby said that the text of the Iran deal explicitly permits Iran to use larger hot cells if approved by the joint commission.
“Iran has been in full compliance of their JCPOA commitments,” he said
Ever since the Iran nuclear negotiations became public, Albright has offered criticisms of certain aspects of the agreement, but remained neutral on whether or not it should be implemented. His study claims that the exemptions given to Iran were made so that it would meet a deadline to start receiving economic sanctions relief.
Non-proliferation groups and arms control experts have largely been supportive of the deal and some openly dismissed the report.
“It is a bridge too far to call this a secret exemption necessary to reach implementation day,” Kelsey Davenport, director of non-proliferation policy at the Arms Control Association, told Foreign Policy.
She also defended the joint commission as a necessary component to a complex agreement that involves an array of technical issues. “The Joint Commission was created in part to address implementation issues and distinguish between attempts to circumvent the deal’s limits and technical issues,” she said.
Experts said there is nothing clandestine about the joint commission — which is made up of the major powers that signed the deal along with Tehran — working out details on how to carry it out, especially given that Congress was briefed on those details.
“Every nuclear agreement has had confidential annexes,” said Jim Walsh, a contributor with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, and a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s security studies program.
The text of the 2003 agreement in which Libya agreed to give up its nuclear weapons has never been released and key provisions in arms control deals with the Soviets were kept secret and classified, Walsh said.
“Every nuclear agreement has had confidential annexes,” he said. “If countries had to negotiate their nuclear particulars in front of television cameras, we would have no nuclear agreements,” he said.
The report seemed to imply that the Obama administration should have shared more information about the implementation details with Albright and other experts in the think tank and academic community. In that case, that would represent a criticism about how the White House handled its public relations for the deal, but it would not constitute a “secret” arrangement with Iran that violated the spirit of the accord, said Richard Nephew, who was on the U.S. negotiating team for the Iran agreement and is now a fellow at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy.
The report failed to make the case that something secret or covert had taken place, he said.
“There’s no allegation there that this wasn’t briefed to Congress,“ Nephew told FP. “I find it hard to see anything nefarious in what went on here.”
 


How MasterCard debacle got one Iranian minister in trouble
Author Maysam Bizær Posted August 29, 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — Before the July 2015 nuclear deal, most banking and finance headlines about Iran concerned individuals or banks being fined or coming under investigation for allegedly violating US sanctions. These days, news of banks and financial institutions working with Iran no longer necessarily raise eyebrows. However, an Iranian minister’s recent inference that MasterCard services will become available to Iranians has caused a stir.
On Aug. 13, several Iranian media outlets quoted Minister of Communication and Information Technology Mahmoud Vaezi as saying that Iran Post Company has signed a deal with a foreign firm to make MasterCard services accessible to Iranians for the first time. “Credit and debit cards, accepted in more than 210 countries where MasterCard is valid, will be distributed at financial branches of Iran Post Company from Aug. 23, which coincides with the beginning of Government Week,” Vaezi said.
The news quickly made headlines around the world — but there have been doubts about its accuracy. MasterCard itself quickly reacted by denying any activity or cooperation with Iran. “MasterCard does not have any activities in Iran, as sanctions have remained in place for US-based companies for some time,” the company’s spokesman Seth Eisen said Aug. 15.
While the reported announcement by the Iranian minister and later denial of cooperation by MasterCard resulted in wide speculation in the Iranian media, Vaezi later tried to clarify what he described as a “misunderstanding” about his remarks.
“What we announced was that the removal of sanctions has started a new phase of international cooperation in various fields of communications, and due to this opportunity, Iran Post Company has signed a deal with an intermediary firm that will offer international credit cards to Iranians,” Vaezi said in another speech on Aug. 21. “At that time, we did not mention MasterCard at all, but some media outlets assumed that the services were going to be provided by MasterCard.”
Based on statements by Iranian officials, it appears that the Malaysia-registered Vision Card Iranian Co. will roll out a debit card service. According to the company’s website, it is the official representative of TransForex — an official prepaid issuer of MasterCard — in Iran.
Al-Monitor has learned that Vision Card Iranian will issue prepaid debit cards known as “Vision Cards” in cooperation with Iran Post Company. The prepaid and rechargeable debit cards can be credited with up to $50,000.
Hamed Zolfaghari, the managing director of Vision Card Iranian, told the official IRNA news agency that his employer is a private Malaysian firm that is entering Iran’s financial market after the removal of sanctions and after obtaining all the necessary legal licenses from the Iranian authorities.
Despite the sanctions relief under the nuclear deal, major European banks that have deep ties with the US banking system have refrained from resuming cooperation with Iran. There are still some restrictions in place that ban American banks from doing business with Iran, and all dollar-denominated transactions continue to be prohibited for Iran. As such, notwithstanding several attempts by US and European officials to assure European banks about the legality of resuming cooperation with Iran, nearly all major global banks have refrained from dealing with the Islamic Republic.
Nevertheless, many Iranians have needed access to the global financial system both under the sanctions era and at present, and many businesses have emerged to meet this demand.
There have, in fact, been more than a dozen companies that have been providing prepaid Visa and MasterCard debit cards to Iranian customers in past years. These companies enable Iranians to acquire debit cards in their own names or even purchase prepaid debit cards from neighboring countries such as Georgia or the United Arab Emirates, with higher rates and service fees.
Al-Monitor spoke to the managing director of a Tehran-based company who frequently travels abroad. He said on condition of anonymity, “I’m so happy to hear about this service. It is the first time that we can obtain a genuine international debit card that is actually approved by the government. Before we could only get these kinds of services from unreliable companies and there was always the risk of losing your money or being overcharged.”
Despite the hurdles in approaching Western financial institutions, the Central Bank of Iran has reportedly held regular talks with Visa and MasterCard to make their services accessible to Iranians. Iran has also taken measures to allow the use of debit cards issued by Asian banks until restrictions preventing the entry of global electronic payment operators, such Visa and MasterCard, are removed. The Turkish credit card company Iyzico signed a deal with Iran in February to provide its services, while other international companies such as Japan Credit Bureau and China UnionPay have made similar efforts.
Despite Vaezi’s denial that he never named MasterCard and the credit giant’s repudiation of reports that it is operating in Iran, Iran Post Company has begun accepting applications for prepaid debit cards in selected offices in Tehran and will begin registration at 170 of its offices across Iran by late September.


Why Iran is desperate for U.S. passenger planes, but can't have them
Shashank Bengali August 30, 2016 Los Angeles Times
Behrooz Ghamari recalled flying in Iran aboard a moldering, Russian-made Tupolev jet, a workhorse of the country’s beleaguered passenger fleet.
“When you’re taking off, the pilot says, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, trembling and shaking is normal,’” said Ghamari, a history professor at the University of Illinois.
“And when it’s taking off, the whole plane shakes like mad. It was so scary. The planes are so heavy, it’s like they are made of steel. It was bizarre to think these machines fly.”
They weren’t airborne in Iran for much longer. That flight was in 2009. Two years later, Iran grounded the country’s 23 Tupolev jets after a series of crashes.
Iran’s reliance on an aircraft that has been banned from Western airports for years — in part because of its engine noise, which one enthusiast described as “vacuum-cleaner-meets-rotary-phone-ringing” — showed how badly its commercial aviation sector was hobbled by U.S. sanctions.
Since the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, U.S. trade restrictions have barred the sale of American-made aircraft and parts to Iran. European sanctions instituted more recently to discourage Iran’s nuclear program further limited what Iran could purchase. Today, Iran operates one of the world’s oldest passenger fleets and has managed to keep flying mainly with aging Russian jets and some U.S.-made planes it purchased through third-party dealers in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia — probably in violation of U.S. laws.
When sanctions were eased in January after Iran certified that it had shelved its nuclear program, Tehran immediately opened talks with Boeing Co. and the European manufacturer Airbus to buy hundreds of aircraft. The deals — potentially worth tens of billions of dollars — represent the biggest commercial result of the nuclear accord.
“Airplanes have real political and symbolic significance for the Iranian government,” Ghamari said. “Whenever ordinary people and politicians referred to how immoral and cruel these sanctions are, they brought up the example of the Iranian airlines and their aging commercial fleet.”
Iranian officials have long argued that U.S. sanctions forced its aviation industry to rely on outdated jets, making air travel less safe for civilians. Iran has one of the world’s worst air safety records; since 1979, 1,672 people have died in 92 aircraft-related accidents in the country, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.
Whenever ordinary people and politicians referred to how immoral and cruel these sanctions are, they brought up the example of the Iranian airlines. — Behrooz Ghamari, a history professor at the University of Illinois
In June, Iran announced that it had reached a $25-billion agreement to purchase or lease more than 100 aircraft from Chicago-based Boeing — the biggest U.S. business deal with Iran since Washington cut diplomatic ties with Tehran in 1979.
But Republican opponents of the nuclear deal in the House of Representatives approved legislation in July to block the sale. In a letter to Boeing, two Republican lawmakers cited accusations that Iran’s commercial aviation sector has been used to funnel troops and weapons to terrorist organizations and dictators such as Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“These terrorist groups and rogue regimes have American blood on their hands,” the letter said. “Your potential customers do as well.”
Although President Obama has said he would veto any attempt to stop the sale, in the heat of an election campaign in which Republicans are eager to paint Democrats as soft on Iran, it seems unlikely that any planes will be delivered before November.
Boeing representatives continue to travel to Tehran for meetings with Iranian aviation officials, most recently in early August at the former Sheraton hotel. Iranian officials say they have an agreement in principle, but cite the delay as evidence that the U.S. isn’t living up to its end of the nuclear pact.
“It is certainly a violation of [the agreement] and we will confront it,” Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Hamid Baeidinejad, said in July.
Some analysts say Iran can’t afford the planes and lacks the technicians and airport space to operate them.
Patrick Clawson, director of research at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote last month that the more than 100 Boeing aircraft, plus a similar number Iran wants to purchase from Airbus, together exceed the entire fleet of Air France — which operates in a country that has seven times the number of air travelers as Iran.
But the Boeing deal is important symbolically for moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who is expected to seek reelection next year in part by arguing that he has improved Iran’s relations with the West.
“They are using this to strengthen connections with the U.S.,” said Fariborz Raisdana, an independent economic analyst in Tehran.
“But I hope they come to their senses. They need to find a solution that is pro-people, not pro-West.”
Iran’s aviation industry says the deal would stabilize the country by bringing jobs, stimulating a moribund economy and promoting tourism across a land four times the size of California, with a roster of historic and religious sites.
Iran Airtour, a quasi-private airline, is down to half a dozen aircraft after its Tupolevs were grounded. Its remaining planes are all McDonnell Douglas jets more than two decades old. Still, the carrier manages to squeeze out 800 flights a month, an average of four per plane per day.
Managing director Mehdi Hamidanpour called the Boeing delay “illogical.”
“They’re prolonging a process that is very simple,” Hamidanpour said. “There’s a buyer and there’s a seller. When Washington wants to pass new sanctions, they do it in 10 minutes. So why is buying a plane so hard?”
 


 The New York Times
Iran Revokes Russia’s Use of Air Base, Saying Moscow ‘Betrayed Trust’
By ANNE BARNARD and ANDREW E. KRAMERAUG. 23, 2016
BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran on Monday annulled permission for Russian planes to fly bombing runs into Syria from an Iranian base, only a week after having granted such extraordinary access, saying that the Kremlin had been unacceptably public and arrogant about the privilege.
The about-face and the explanation for it from Iran’s foreign and defense ministries appeared to reflect deep-seated and longstanding suspicions of Russia despite their tactical alliance in the Syria war.
The abruptness of the termination, even if temporary, also suggested that the Russians, eager to show widening influence in the Middle East, had seriously misread how a public announcement of their use of the Hamadan base in western Iran would reverberate among Iranians.
Russia state news media had been trumpeting the deal as a sign that its partnership with Iran was deepening. No foreign power has based forces in Iran since World War II.
In response to the annulment, the Russian military issued a statement saying its planes had already completed their missions.
“The Russian military aircraft involved in launching airstrikes from the Iranian Hamadan base against terrorist sites in Syria successfully accomplished the tasks they had set out to complete,” Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement. “All aircraft involved in this operation are now on Russian territory.”
The agreement had seemingly marked a milestone for Russian foreign policy and a strengthening alliance with the region’s Shiite powers of Iran, Iraq and the government side in Syria’s civil war. And it would have allowed Russia to use greater firepower more easily in Syria, a new threat to opposition fighters.
It was not clear why the agreement appeared to unravel so soon, and experts and American officials cautioned that it remains to be verified via satellite images that Russia’s operations from Iran have stopped.
But Iran’s minister of defense, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, accused Russia of having publicized the deal excessively, calling the Kremlin’s behavior a “betrayal of trust” and “ungentlemanly.” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Bahram Ghasemi, told reporters in Tehran that the permission had been temporary and “it is finished, for now.”
Maziar Behrooz, a history professor at San Francisco State University and an expert on Iran-Russia relations, said Iran’s withdrawal of permission, at the very least, signaled “a lack of coordination between the Iranians and Russians” over how — or even whether — the deal would remain secret.
“The Russians went public with this without assuring adequate sensitivities to Iran’s internal dynamics, in order to perhaps score a point and boost their prestige,” Mr. Behrooz said. “If the Russians hadn’t exposed this, no problem would have arisen.”
It was only the latest in a series of ups and downs in the important but often uncomfortable relationship between Iran and Russia regarding the Syria war. Both sides have signaled they do not expect to agree on every issue. Their strategic collaboration is not considered under threat.
But the perceived Russian arrogance may have been a step too far for Iranian sensitivities since the Russian takeover, nearly a year ago, of Iran’s role as the Syrian government’s leading ally.
The Russians have deployed formidable air power since September to help the forces of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, who had been ceding ground. Iran and its militia allies still bear the brunt of the casualties as Russia has few troops on the ground.
Iran and Russia share major goals, chiefly preventing the ouster of President Assad by force. And they each have a stake in battling Islamist extremists they see as threats to their own security.
But they have very different approaches, roles, and long-term visions.
Russia’s priority is to block what it sees as Western-engineered regime change, part of its policy of opposing interference in any country’s internal affairs, and to preserve Syrian state institutions. It has signaled that it is not wedded to Mr. Assad’s long-term rule.
Iran appears more focused on preserving and expanding its projection of power into the Middle East through relationships with the Lebanese group Hezbollah, other Shiite militias and with Mr. Assad, who has long guaranteed Hezbollah an arms supply route from Iran and belongs to the Alawite sect, a branch of Shiite Islam, the dominant faith in Iran.
At the same time, Iran fueled the growth of Syrian pro-government militias, preferring to work with them. Since jumping into the conflict at a point where Iran seemed unable to keep Mr. Assad from faltering, Russia has tried to integrate these militias into the army.
Iran and Russia face challenges collaborating in the field. Hezbollah fighters and supporters openly disdain the Syrian Army, and grumble that Russia has not given air support to its fighters. And Russian officials feel more comfortable dealing with Syrian Army commanders – many of them educated in Russia — than with the Shiite religious trappings of the militias.
Russia and Iran also differ sharply on Israel. Iran and Israel see each other as irreconcilable enemies, while Russia maintains close relations with Israel, home to a million Russian emigrants.
Then there is Iran’s long memory of the Russian empire battling the Persian Empire and gobbling up its periphery. To Iran, with its millennia-old national identity, it was not that long ago that the Russians were the enemy, fighting for control of Central Asia and the Caucasus
“Russia is not trusted. They just don’t trust each other,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a Washington-based political risk consultancy. Russia’s flaunting of its Iran base privilege, he said, “was just too much for Iranian domestic politics to bear.”
With a history of meddling by Western powers, notably Britain, Iran guards its sovereignty closely.
After Russia’s Tupolev and Sukhoi bombers started flying last week, Iranian members of Parliament said the agreement might be in violation of the Constitution.
“We have not given any military base to the Russians and they are not here to stay,” General Dehghan said. The two countries had “no written agreement” for use of the base, he said, adding that it was only a temporary agreement on refueling.
Russia announced what it described as a deal to use the Iranian base on Aug. 16, saying it would shorten the distance flown by long-range bombers, which had been flying from southern Russia.
A Russian analyst of the Middle East, Yuri Barmin, posted on Twitter that it was clear the base was “a temporary arrangement due to logistical difficulties” but added that the termination “was too quick.”
Victor Mizin, a professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, Russia’s university for diplomats, said the symbolism of the air base deal had been important in Moscow.
“The message was a continuation of what Russia started in Syria,” Mr. Mizin said, “which is saying that Russia has returned to the status of a great power, like the Soviet Union, only without the ideology


What's behind the Turkey-Iran tango?
Author Ali Hashem Posted August 22, 2016 Almonitor
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s surprise Aug. 12 visit to Turkey may always be remembered in Ankara, as well as in Tehran, for having opened a new chapter in regional cooperation between the two neighbors. The visit was the first by an Iranian official since the failed July 15 coup to overthrow Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. As such, it was part of Tehran's show of solidarity that began during the coup attempt, with phone calls from Zarif, Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, and Qasem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ (IRGC) external operations wing, the Quds Force.
“Zarif went to Ankara to discuss bilateral relations and Syria,” a senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, without providing specifics. To get an idea of what transpired in Zarif’s three-hour meeting with Erdogan and his talks with Prime Minister Binali Yildirim and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Al-Monitor had to dig deeper, in several places.
“It’s an overstatement to say that Iran and Turkey have agreed on what to do on Syria,” an Iranian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor. “The good thing is that now there is solid ground to stand on, and goodwill, and it’s obvious that Turkey showed readiness to go further in discussing serious options to draft, along with Iran and Russia, a serious exit strategy that would put an end to the bloodshed in Syria.”
As for Tehran, it is clear that there is no chance of a solution in Syria without a serious regional partner, and that partner has to be either Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Given that Tehran’s relations with Riyadh grow worse by the day — amid a war of words, the conflicts in Yemen and Syria plus tensions over Bahrain and Lebanon — a Saudi-Iranian rapprochement is a dream unlikely to come true anytime in the near future.
In contrast, Turkey and Iran have preserved good relations despite sharp differences over the crisis in Syria. Indeed, one striking example is how, as the battle for Aleppo raged, Zarif and Erdogan were worshipping together at Friday prayers at the presidential mosque in Ankara.
Turkey and Iran both feel the Syrian heat, but they also believe that surrender is not an option. Turkey is ready to talk, perhaps about many things, among them the future of Syria’s defiant president, Bashar al-Assad, including how many months he might stay on or if he can run in the country’s next election. This is all on the agenda, but that doesn’t mean Turkey is relinquishing its objectives in war-torn Syria.
Iran is also ready to talk, and Assad’s future is part of the conversation that Tehran is willing to have. This is not, however, the same as Iran being willing to walk away from the sacrifices made by IRGC members killed in action in Syria or the many Hezbollah, Iraqi and Afghan fighters who lost their lives after having joined forces under the banner of the “Resistance Axis.” Both Iran and Turkey are trying to preserve their interests as they discuss a potential compromise. Thus, the best approach for the two countries is to focus on common interests or common threats while at the negotiating table.
One of the main threats both countries, as well as Syria, face is the prospect of the emergence of an independent Kurdish state, despite the differences among the Kurds, who are spread over the territories of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Kurdish challenge in Iran may not be identical to that in Turkey, but the danger of a domino effect in the region is so strong that no party wants to take any chances. In this equation, Russia also has a role to play in thwarting any attempt to carve out an independent Kurdish state in Syria.
The shared interest in preventing the emergence of a Kurdish state puts Iran and Turkey on the same page when it comes to exerting all possible efforts to keep Syria united and under centralized rule. In other words, Iran and Turkey may be on the path to once again being able to reach compromises. In this vein, another Iranian official who spoke to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity said that in addition to the public high-level meetings that have taken place or are slated to take place between Iranian and Turkish political officials, there are military and security meetings ongoing behind the scenes.
The Iranian official added, “We will probably not hear whether Haj Qasem [Soleimani] has visited Istanbul or Ankara, or whether a high-level Turkish security official has come to Tabriz or Tehran. In practical terms, these men are the ones who can help craft the road map [for how to jump-start Iranian-Turkish cooperation].”
On Aug. 19, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu had made an unannounced visit to Tehran the day before, meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Zarif, for five hours. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said the top Turkish diplomat “made a short visit to Tehran to follow up on the agreements and consultations held between the two countries during Zarif’s visit to Ankara last week.” Qassemi noted that during Zarif’s visit, the two sides had agreed to hold intensive talks at various levels and that senior officials would hold several meetings at various levels in the near future.
One Iranian official said on condition of anonymity, “The [Cavusoglu] visit was to provide answers [to Iranian queries] on several issues raised in the last [Aug. 12] meetings, but the important issue here is that it comes as Erdogan’s visit to Tehran is being prepared

 


Five Revealing Truths About the Hijab
Society tends to judge women who wear the headscarf.
By Peter Hopkins On 8/19/16 at 12:37 PM Newsweek

Rio 2016 is proving not just to be a platform for sporting prowess, it is also helping to shake up some traditionally-held cultural misconceptions too.
In the West, many regard traditional Muslim dress like the hijab as a sign of oppression, with women forced to wear the garments by men. But it is not as simple as that: many women choose to wear the hijab as a sign of faith, feminism, or simply because they want to.
Recently, 19-year-old Egyptian volleyball player Doaa Elghobashy’s decision to wear a hijab while competing against Germany caused a stir. Her and partner Nada Meawad’s team uniform of long sleeved tops and ankle length trousers were already a “stark contrast” to the German competitiors' bikinis, yet it was Elghobashy’s hijab that media attention focused on.
Elgobashy and Meawad were the first team to represent Egypt in volleyball at the Olympics and, in the words of Elgobashy, the hijab she has worn for ten years “doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do”.
The determination and sporting prowess that Elgobashy displayed is a polar opposite to the assumption that all hijab-wearing Muslim women are passive and oppressed. The support and celebration that Elgobashy’s hiajb has also received is in direct contrast to the banning of burkinis in several French towns—though to look at both outfits, they cover the same amount of the body.
Many Muslim women today are wearing hijabs and other traditional dress to challenge the assumption that these are symbols of control. In fact, there are several revealing truths about Muslim dress that society must hear.
1. Women are not forced to wear hijabs
Some women choose to wear the hijab because it is a national tradition of their country of origin, or because it is the norm in their local area, city or country. Others wear it to demonstrate their commitment to dressing modestly and for religious reasons. Like any item of clothing, some women wear the hijab for specific occasions, such as for family or community events, or during particular times of day but take it off at other times, such as wearing the hijab to and from school or work but taking it off while studying or working.
A very small minority may claim to be forced to wear the hijab. However, many studies show that in fact Muslim women choose to wear the hijab as a way of showing self-control, power and agency.
2. You’re not sexually oppressed
Many hijab wearers have said that they wear the veil not as a symbol of control by a man, but rather to promote their own feminist ideals. For many Muslim women, wearing a hijab offers a way for them to take control of their bodies and to claim a stance that challenges the ways in which women are marginalized by men.
Research has shown that for young Muslim women, wearing a hijab says little about the likelihood of them having a boyfriend or participating in a sexual relationship. Indeed, some young women have said they would wear the hijab to give them more space to engage in such activities.
3. You’re not more likely to be linked to terrorism
Since 9/11, negative media coverage of Muslim communities, alongside government counter-terrorism policies in many Western countries, has further demonized Muslims. British research has shown that government policies have resulted in Muslims receiving unjustified attention in airport security, for example. They have also been shown to have created extra tensions and divisions between Muslim communities and the police.
For some hijab wearers, the hatred towards Muslim communities pushed them to stop wearing the veil after terrorist incidents, like the 7/7 London bombings, in order to minimize the chance of them experiencing racism. However, at the same time others started to wear the hijab to show their commitment to their religious faith. The hijab therefore cannot be a fixed symbol, but is far more flexible and changeable—and certainly cannot be deemed a marker of terrorism.
4. It’s not a ‘West versus rest’ division
There are many different styles, colors and shapes of hijab including different ways of wearing it. There is also a rising transnational Muslim fashion trade focusing particularly on younger women. In many respects, the hijab is similar to any other item of clothing with businesses marketing different styles and brands in order to maximize sales.
This global fashion trade transcends national and regional boundaries. It is about maximising the market rather than reinforcing divisions between the West and the Muslim “rest”. Rather than asking why a women is wearing a hijab to reinforce difference, we should ask what high street store or online retailer she purchased her clothing from and what attracted her to this brand. For some wearers, this is far more pertinent and telling of their personality.
5. The hijab is not something to be feared
A recently published report of anti-Muslim abuse in England found that more than 60 percent of victims are women, and 75 percent of these women were visibly Muslim so were likely to be wearing some form of head-covering. Women were also more likely than men to suffer anti-Muslim attacks on public transport or when shopping. The vast majority of the perpetrators in these incidents were white men, motivated by stereotypes. So rather than being feared, it’s more likely that women wearing hijab might fear others.
Muslim women wear the hijab for many different reasons all of which can change over time. This applies if the wearer is a community activist, an Olympic athlete like Elghobashy, a PhD student, a mother of young children or some or all of these. Any assumption that society attaches to the veil will never be right for each individual wearer, and it is for that very reason that we need to start changing the way we view it.
Peter Hopkins is professor of Social Geography at Newcastle University
Iran woos Japan with huge natural gas endeavor but commitments elude
by Yoichi Kosukegawa Aug 21, 2016
ASSALUYEH, IRAN – After about a half-hour drive on an almost straight road by car from an airport in Assaluyeh on the Persian Gulf coast in southern Iran, high stacks emitting orange flames of burning natural gas begin to come into view against a backdrop of mountains.
The flames tower over huge gas refinery facilities constituting a maze of pipes, valves and storage tanks in the Pars Special Economic Energy Zone, where gigantic petrochemical complexes also sit.
“The height of the tower reaches 140 meters,” Morad Dehdari, a PSEEZ tour leader, told reporters who visited the zone in Assaluyeh, about 900 km south of Tehran, where the mercury topped 40 degrees under a scorching sun.
PSEEZ is an ambitious project for Iran aimed at using resources fed from the South Pars natural gas field in the Persian Gulf, the world’s largest gas field, some 100 km away from the zone, through undersea pipelines. The project is still underway and consists of many phases.
Iran started developing the 46,000-hectare industrial zone before its nuclear program became a bone of international contention in 2002. “This place was once a desert where there was nothing,” Dehdari said.
The country takes pride in the project and is pressing ahead despite economic sanctions imposed by the international community over its nuclear program.
Amir Hossein Zamaninia, deputy petroleum minister for trade and international affairs, said Iran has invested more than $80 billion over the past eight to 10 years to develop the zone.
“Despite the economic sanctions and despite the fact that all foreign partners, foreign engineers, foreign companies, left, we have been able to develop Assaluyeh at a good pace with all-Iranian human resources as well as home-grown technology,” he said in an interview in Tehran, describing the development as “one of the silver linings of the international economic sanctions.”
The South Pars field in Iranian territorial waters is adjacent to the North Dome field, which is in Qatari territorial waters. They cover an area of 9,700 sq. km — 3,700 sq. km for South Pars and 6,000 sq. km for North Dome. The South Pars/North Dome field is the world’s biggest gas field, with some 51 trillion cu. meters of reserves.
“Given that Iran’s oil and natural gas reserves are one of the world’s biggest, there is a possibility that Iran will play a part if Japan seeks to diversify its supply sources,” a Japanese gas and oil industry source said.
Iran, however, has not been able to fully hawk its rich natural gas resources on the international market, with most of it consumed by the domestic market.
With international sanctions lifted this year following the nuclear deal Iran reached in July with six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — Iran hopes to increase natural gas production and export part of it.
According to the deputy petroleum minister, Iran is now producing more than 750 million cu. meters of gas per day, but wastes the equivalent of about 200 million cu. daily because of old infrastructure and the lack of updated technology.
Iran plans to increase output to about 1 billion cu. meters per day within three years while implementing energy efficiency projects worth $20 billion over five years to curb domestic energy consumption.
With the planned increase, Iran hopes to export gas to neighbors including Iraq, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. “Within two to three years, we will be a major supplier of gas to our neighbors,” Zamaninia said.
He also said Iran hopes to eventually export natural gas to East Asia, including Japan. “Gas prices are more attractive in East Asia than in Europe,” he said.
Yoichi Yamamoto, adviser in charge of the Middle East at the Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo, said petrochemical products, rather than natural gas itself, might be more attractive for Japanese companies for now.
“To transport gas across the sea, it is necessary to convert gas into liquefied natural gas and use special tankers, resulting in relatively large investment. Considering the future stability of Iran, there remain uncertain factors regarding how far Japanese companies can invest,” said Yamamoto at the Middle East and Africa Division of the JETRO’s Overseas Research Development.
“If Japanese companies are to form joint ventures or invest funds in the PSEEZ, petrochemical products produced there would be attractive,” he said. “They cannot sell all the products in Japan. If they could draw up a business model in which they will sell the products also to third-party countries, I think it would be possible for them to invest.”
Iran plans to present various projects in its energy sector in a comprehensive manner in the near future, along with new model contracts for them to attract investment from foreign companies.
Zamaninia was confident the proposed projects and contracts will draw positive responses abroad. “I’m very optimistic that things will pick up within a few short months,” he said.
The Japanese gas and oil industry source, however, cited relations between Iran and its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia, lingering sanctions from the United States and the slow reform of Iran’s financial sector as major uncertainties impeding investment in Iran, on top of the Iranian presidential election next year.
“Probably Japanese companies cannot decide anything for now because there are too many uncertain factors,” the source said.
Japanese companies also have bitter memories of doing business with the Iranian oil and petrochemical industries in the past.
Due to the prolonged Iran-Iraq war, a multibillion yen petrochemical project led by Iran-Japan Petrochemical Co. came to an end in 1991 without even getting off the ground. More recently, Japanese oil company Inpex Corp., which had a 75 percent stake in a development project in Azadegan in southwestern Iran, one of the world’s largest oil fields, was forced to withdraw in 2010 as the U.S. toughened sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program.
Zamaninia said he can understand the degree of cautiousness Japanese companies are now showing.
At the same time, however, he said Japanese companies are very interested in being re-engaged in the Iranian energy sector, and expressed hopes for active roles by Japanese companies, especially in the gas sector, saying he thinks Japan’s current policy seems to be focusing less on crude oil.
It is “quite possible” for Iran and Japan to form a long-term partnership for the supply of Iranian LNG to Japan,” Zamaninia said. “Japan has a great potential of becoming a major partner for Iran in developing its gas industry.”

 

 


The Shias are winning in the Middle East – and it's all thanks to Russia
Just as Erdogan has become pals with Putin, the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers have been embracing in Ankara with many a promise that their own talks will produce new alliances
•    Robert Fisk
•    Thursday 20     August 2016   Independent
The Shias are winning. Two pictures prove it. The US-Iranian photo op that followed the signing of the nuclear deal with Iran last year and the footage just released – by the Russian defence ministry, no less – showing Moscow’s Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers flying out of the Iranian air base at Hamadan and bombing the enemies of Shia Iran and of the Shia (Alawite) regime of Syria and of the Shia Hezbollah.
And what can the Sunni Kingdom of Saudi Arabia match against this? Only its wretched war to kill the miserable Shia Houthis of Yemen – with British arms.
Poor, luckless Turkey — whose Sultan Erdogan makes Theresa May’s political U-turns look like a straight path – is at the centre of this realignment. Having shot down a Russian jet and lost much of his Russian tourist trade, the Turkish president was quickly off to St Petersburg to proclaim his undying friendship for Tsar Vladimir. The price? An offer from Erdogan to stage Russian-Turkish “joint operations” against the Sunni enemies of Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Turkey is now in the odd position of assisting US jets to bomb Isis while ready to help Russian jets do exactly the same.
And Jabhat al-Nusrah? Let’s remember the story so far. Al-Qaeda, the creature of the almost forgotten Osama bin Laden, sprang up in both Iraq and Syria where it changed its name to the Nusrah Front and then, just a few days ago, to “Fatah al-Sham”. Sometimes allied to Isis, sometimes at war with Isis, the Qatari-funded legion is now the pre-eminent guerrilla army in Syria – far eclipsing the black-costumed lads of Raqqa whose gruesome head-chopping videos have awed the West in direct proportion to their military defeats. We are still obsessed with Isis and its genocidal creed. We are not paying nearly enough attention to Nusrah.
But the Russians are. That’s why they are sprinkling their bombs across eastern Aleppo and Idlib province. Nusrah forces hold almost all the rebel areas of Syria’s second city and much of the province. It was Nusrah that fought back against its own encirclement by the Syrian regime in Aleppo. The regime kicked Isis out of Palmyra in a short and bloody battle in which Syrian soldiers, most of whom are in fact Sunnis, died by the dozen after stepping on hidden land mines.
But Nusrah is a more powerful enemy, partly because it has more Syrians among its ranks than Isis. It’s one thing to be told that your country is to be ‘liberated’ by a Sunni Syrian outfit, quite another to be instructed by the purists of Isis that your future is in the hands of Sunni Chechens, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Saudis, Qataris, Egyptians, Turks, Frenchmen, Belgians, Kosovars and British. Isis has Sunni Saudi interests (and money) behind it. Nusrah has Sunni Qatar.
As for Turkey – Sunni as well, of course, but not Arab – it’s now being squeezed between giants, the fate of all arms smuggling nations as Pakistan learned to its cost. Not only has it been pushed into joining Moscow as well as the US in waging war on Isis, it’s being politically attacked from within Germany, where a leaked state intelligence summary – part of a reply to a parliamentary question by the interior ministry – speaks of Turkey as a “central platform for Islamist and other terrorist organisations”. State interior secretary Ole Schroder’s remarks, understandably stamped “confidential”, are flawed since he lumps Erdogan’s support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas with armed Islamist groups in Syria.
The Sunni Brotherhood, prior to its savaging by Egypt’s President-Field Marshal al-Sissi, did indeed give verbal approval to Assad’s Sunni armed opponents in Syria, and Sunni Hamas operatives in Gaza must have cooperated with Isis in its struggle against Sissi’s army in Sinai. But to suggest that Turkey is in some way organising this odd triumvirate is going too far. To claim that “the countless expressions of solidarity and supportive actions of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) and President Erdogan” for the three “underline their ideological [affinity] to their Muslim brothers” is going too far. “Ideological affinity” should not provide a building block for intelligence reports, but the damage was done. In the report, the Turkish president’s name was written ERDOGAN, in full capital letters.
Someone in the German intelligence service – which regularly acts as a negotiator between Israel and the Shia Hezbollah in Lebanon, usually to exchange bodies between the two sides – obviously decided that its erring Sunni NATO partner in Ankara should get fingered in the infamous “war on terror” in which we are all supposed to be participants. So Erdogan offers help to Russia in the anti-Isis war, continues to give the US airbases in Turkey – and gets dissed by the German federal interior ministry, all at the same time. And the only Muslim state in Nato, which just happens to be Sunni Muslim, is now being wrapped up in the Sunni-Shia war. What future Turkey?
Well, we better not write it off. Just as Erdogan has become pals with Putin, the Turkish and Iranian foreign ministers have been embracing in Ankara with many a promise that their own talks will produce new alliances. Russia-Turkey-Iran. In the Middle East, it’s widely believed that Tehran as well as Moscow tipped Erdogan off about the impending coup. And Erdogan himself has spoken of his emotion when Putin called after the coup was crushed to express his support.
The mortar to build this triple alliance could well turn out to be the Kurds. Neither Russia nor Iran want independent Kurdish states – Putin doesn’t like small minorities in nation-states and Iran’s unity depends on the compliance of its own Kurdish people. Neither are going to protect the Kurds of Syria – loyal foot-soldiers of the Americans right now – in a “new” Syria. Erdogan wants to see them crushed along with the dreams of a “Kurdistan” in south-east Turkey.
Any restored Syrian state will insist on national unity. When Assad praised the Kurds of Kobane for their resistance at the start of the war, he called their town by its Arab name of Ein al-Arab.
It is, of course, a paradox to talk of the Middle East’s agony as part of an inter-Muslim war when one side talks of its enemies as terrorists and the other calls its antagonists apostates. Arab Muslims do not deserve to have their religious division held out by Westerners as a cause of war.
But Saudis and Qataris have a lot to answer for. It is they who are supporting the insurgents in Syria. Syria – dictatorial regime though it is – is not supporting any revolutions in Riyadh or Doha. The Sunni Gulf Arabs gave their backing to the Sunni Taliban in Afghanistan, just as they favour Sunni Isis and Sunni Nusrah in Syria. Russia and America are aligned against both and growing closer in their own weird cooperation. And for the first time in history, the Shia Iranians have both the Russians and the Americans on their side – and Turkey tagging along.

 


Why Iran’s diplomatic success to its north isn’t replicated to its south
Author Hamidreza Azizi Posted August 20 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, hosted the presidents of Iran and Russia on Aug. 8 for the first trilateral summit of the three countries. The three leaders reached agreements on a range of issues, from efforts to pave the way for the development of the North-South Transit Corridor, to coordinating their fight against terrorism and extremism.
Summary⎙ Print Under President Hassan Rouhani, Iran has managed to greatly improve its relations with its northern neighbors, but why has Iranian diplomacy succeeded in the South Caucasus and Central Asia and not in the Arab Middle East?
On the bilateral level, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s visit to Azerbaijan could also be seen as the beginning of a new era in Baku-Tehran relations. Indeed, among other developments, the Azerbaijani government agreed for the first time to facilitate entry visa issuance for Iranian citizens.
If the achievements during the Baku summit are put in the context of Iran’s broader ties with its northern neighborhood, it appears that relations are entering an unprecedented phase. For instance, earlier this year the Georgian government removed visa requirements for Iranian citizens — restrictions that strikingly were imposed just years prior. Indeed, Iran and Georgia have in past years been engaged in serious negotiations to expand bilateral cooperation, especially in the energy sector. Armenia, another South Caucasus country, has also experienced a thaw in its relations with Iran. On Aug. 13, it was announced that the visa waiver agreement between Tehran and Yerevan has entered the implementation phase. To its northeast, Iran’s relations with the Central Asian republics have also been considerably growing in past years. The latter has been symbolized in the 2014 inauguration of the railroad connecting Iran with Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.
Iran’s diplomatic success in the Caucasus and Central Asia comes at a time when the situation in another neighboring region, namely the Arab Middle East and the Persian Gulf, is growing increasingly challenging for Tehran. Not only have past tensions in this region continued, but in some important cases — including ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia — there has been an unrelenting escalation of hostility. Thus, why has Iran been able to secure unprecedented diplomatic achievements in the South Caucasus and Central Asia but not in the Arab Middle East? There are five main answers to this important question.
First, it should be noted that almost all of Iran’s diplomatic focus during the first two years of Rouhani’s presidency was on the nuclear negotiations with the six world powers, which ended in success. Thus, serious maneuvering on other dossiers was delayed. In fact, in the Rouhani administration’s view, resolving the nuclear issue was seen as key to the greater aim of improving Iran’s relations with the world.
Second, the differing structures of the regional orders in the Middle East as well as Central Asia and the South Caucasus have played an important role in determining the success of Iranian diplomacy. Seen through the lens of the so-called regional security complex theory, it can be argued that the prevailing regional order in the Middle East is mainly pillared on Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey — each of which is continuously vying for the upper hand in a game focused on balance of power. In this fundamentally competitive environment, any type of cooperation is inherently difficult. In contrast, the structure of the regional order in the former Soviet Union is rather unipolar and greatly built on Moscow playing the role of a nexus for regional interactions. In this context, nations that enjoy favorable relations with Russia are predisposed to benefit from more room for maneuvering in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. In this equation, Iran’s increasingly positive relations with Russia in recent years have thus been an important factor in the improvement of Tehran’s relations with former Soviet republics.
Third, Iran’s approach toward Central Asia and the South Caucasus has under Rouhani become greatly pragmatic and based on pursuit of economic interests. This is evident in the nature of the agreements¬ and collaboration between the sides, which greatly focuses on boosting trade and economic cooperation. Meanwhile, Iran’s approach toward the Middle East is dominated by considerations related to ideology and security. For instance, the relationship — and rivalry — between Iran and Saudi Arabia is greatly driven by the two countries’ different agendas for the leadership of the Muslim world — a leadership position that they dispute. Iran also sees its actions in West Asia as geared toward preventing the collapse of the regional balance of power, thus making its perception of regional developments greatly security-oriented.
Fourth, the United States plays fundamentally different roles in the Arab Middle East compared to the South Caucasus and Central Asia. Indeed, US interests in the latter two regions are in no way comparable in terms of weight and strategic importance when contrasted with the Middle East. While one of the main goals of US policy in the Middle East is to contain the Islamic Republic of Iran, its primary focus in the former Soviet republics has been on the containment of Russia. As such, since the “Iran factor” does not play an independent role in the latter, Tehran faces less obstacles from Washington in its pursuit of engagement with its northern neighbors.
Fifth, cultural factors play an important role in the shaping of Iran’s relations with its neighbors. The nations in Central Asia and the Caucasus have strong historical and civilizational ties with Iran. In contrast to the Arab Middle East, there is an absence of historical and ethnic feuds, such as the Arab-Iranian rift. Thus, the “social infrastructure” in these countries — meaning the intellectual environment, general attitudes in the media and public opinion — is comparably rather conducive to the development of relations with Iran.
Expanding relations with Central Asia and the South Caucasus could indeed contribute to increasing Iran’s economic clout in the post-sanctions era while also offering Iran an opportunity to play an active and influential diplomatic role. Indeed, in the long term, the development of Iran’s relations with its northern neighbors may in itself become a tool that Tehran can use to further strengthen its broader international position — including in the Middle East. However, such a development remains far on the horizon given the many and varied obstacles to Iranian diplomacy in the Arab Middle East.
 


•    Bloomberg
Iran Puts Trust in Market to Deliver Currency Boost to Recovery
Ladane Nasseri LadaneNasseri
August 20, 2016 — 6:00 PM EDT
Iran’s central bank is signaling that it will loosen its grip on the rial in an effort to end a dual-exchange rate system seen as an obstacle deterring foreign investment needed to rebuild the economy.
Policy makers, in a decision reported earlier this month, allowed commercial lenders to buy foreign currencies using rial rates set by the market rather than those dictated by the central bank. Akbar Komijani, a deputy governor, said the regulator will be “responsible for this market and will guide it.”
Authorities are “laying the foundation” for plans to unify the existing two rial-to-dollar exchange rates, said Kamal Seyedali, a former deputy governor. The move will lead to more cash entering the banking system rather than circulating through exchange houses, he said.
Luring overseas companies is central to Iran’s push to revive an economy that was cut off from global commerce by international sanctions imposed over its nuclear program. Foreign direct investment rose to $4.5 billion in the first quarter of this year, according to fDi Intelligence, a division of the Financial Times Ltd. That’s still way below the government’s hopes of drawing $30 billion to $50 billion in foreign financial resources a year.
As ever tighter sanctions pushed Iran deeper into financial isolation and weakened the rial, the gap between the two existing exchange rates widened. Iranian lenders were compelled to stick to the official rate set each morning by the central bank. Registered exchange houses, though, could buy and sell using the rate in the market, where the rial traded at 35,350 per dollar on Thursday, compared to 31,071 cited on the central bank’s website.
Key sanctions have now been lifted, following the successful diplomatic offensive unleashed by President Hassan Rouhani after he took office in 2013. The government has also worked to narrow the gap between the two rial rates, and has lowered inflation from a pre-Rouhani peak approaching 40 percent to single digits in July.
Yet substantial barriers to investing in Iran remain, resulting in a growing mood among Iranians that the 2015 nuclear deal isn’t improving their lives. Obstacles include still-in-place U.S. curbs linked to Iran’s missile development and its support for groups classified as terrorist organizations in Washington and some European capitals, and the economic power of non-transparent state agencies. Another is the dual exchange rate.
Rouhani last month underscored the need for Iran to move toward unification. Days later, Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif, who had announced plans to adopt a single rate within months following the January implementation of the nuclear deal, said the policy would be in place before the end of the Iranian year in March 2017.
Simplification could help “attract foreign investors,” said Seyedali, who was at the central bank until January 2012 and looked after foreign-exchange affairs and is now chairman of the state-owned Export Guarantee Fund of Iran. “Bringing foreign currency inside Iran, changing it to rials using the official rate and then returning their revenue at the market rate can lead to diminished profit,” he said.
For local businesses, using exchange houses “is not the most reliable medium and leads to higher costs,” said Mousa Ghaninejad, an economist and adviser to Iran’s chamber of commerce.
A single rate will also “cut down on corruption by increasing transparency,” said Amir Naghshineh-Pour, managing director of Vistar Business Monitor, a Dubai-based consulting firm that focuses on Iran. There will be “less confusion and more confidence for foreign companies planning to enter the Iranian market.”

 


Post-nuclear deal, Iran looks to expand ties with Latin America
Author Arash Karami Posted August 18, 2016 Almonitor
An Iranian delegation is heading to South America in hopes of capitalizing on the economic potential after the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Aug. 17 that an Iranian delegation will travel to six Latin America countries in order to “strengthen political and economic ties.” This will be the first trip to Latin America for Zarif, who also tweeted the news in Spanish.
According to Deputy Foreign Minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi, a 60-person delegation consisting of business executives from the private sector will accompany Zarif. The trip will begin in Cuba on Aug. 21, then proceed to Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia. The weeklong visit will end in Venezuela.
Takht-Ravanchi said the trip will be “the beginning of a new chapter in relations between Iran and Latin America,” adding, “Latin America is very important for Iran, and despite the long distance there is various cooperation in many fields.”
Iran has a good political relationship with many countries in Latin America, according to Takht-Ravanchi, who said he “does not see any major problems in expanding [political] ties.” Economically, however, he said, “There exist many areas for cooperation and joint ventures, but until now we have not been able to benefit completely from these capacities.”
Takht-Ravanchi said Latin America’s primary exports to Iran are meat, rice, wheat and vegetable seeds, and Iran exports nuts, rugs, pharmaceuticals and agricultural equipment to South America. One of the areas for growth, according to Takht-Ravanchi, is the export of Iranian technical and engineering services to Latin America, particularly in the fields of pharmacy, dam building, housing and the dairy industry. He said there will also be discussions about growing ties in the fields of oil and gas.
On the decision by Chile to reopen its embassy in Tehran after 36 years, Takht-Ravanchi credited the nuclear deal, which resulted in the lifting of international sanctions and opening the door for the improvement of ties between Iran and countries in Latin America. He added that Chile appointed a charge d’affaires and will soon appoint an ambassador. In 1980, in protest of then-Chilean leader Augusto Pinochet’s repressive domestic policies, Iran severed diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Takht-Ravanchi also accused countries such as Israel of attempting to damage relations between Iran and Latin America. He called accusations of military cooperation between Iran and Latin American countries “ridiculous” and said that the post-nuclear deal will have “an economic aspect.”
On relations between Iran and Venezuela, Takht-Ravanchi said the Islamic Republic considers Venezuela a “friendly country.” He said it was natural for there to be objections to some of the policies of President Nicolas Maduro given there is a new parliament, but he added that Maduro is the constitutional leader of the country and that Iran does not interfere in the domestic or partisan affairs of Latin American countries.
On the $164 million debt Nicaragua owes Iran, Takht-Ravanchi said the two countries agreed on a payment the previous year. According to a Nicaraguan newspaper report in 2012, Iran had agreed to forgive the debt. Takht-Ravanchi also said that it is unlikely that Zarif will meet Fidel Castro during his Cuba visit.
 


Turkey, Iran rekindle courtship but take things slow
Author Semih Idiz Posted August 16, 2016 Almonitor
Turkey, Iran rekindle courtship but take things slow

Like Moscow, Tehran is capitalizing on the favorable Turkish mood toward Iran because of its immediate support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party as the coup attempt unfolded July 15.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was among the first world leaders to call Erdogan after the failed coup to offer his support.
The optimistic mood on Turkish-Iranian ties was also discernible during last week’s unscheduled visit to Ankara by Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu could not shower enough praise on his Iranian guest during a joint press conference.
“During the coup night, I did not sleep until morning, nor did my friend Javad Zarif. He was the foreign minister I talked to most, calling me five times during the night," Cavusoglu said. Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also received Zarif warmly.
Turkey has been grateful for Iran’s position on the coup attempt in part because it contrasts sharply with the reticence of the West. Moscow’s similar early move to support Ankara and statements from Russian and Iranian government officials since the coup have fed speculation about a “new axis” between Ankara, Moscow and Tehran that could work together to end the Syrian crisis.
Abdulkadir Ozkan, a veteran Turkish columnist from the Islamist Milli Gazete, pointed out in a recent article that there are no lasting ties or enmities in Turkey's international relations, which he said are determined by other interests.
“These interests can change over time. Sometimes new alliances can be sought as protection against enmity, and sometimes existing alliances may start operating against a country’s interests,” he argued, claiming that the less-than-friendly positions toward Turkey taken by the United States and Europe were forcing Ankara to seek new arrangements with Russia and Iran.
Official Russian and Iranian statements have also encouraged such views. Zarif expressed satisfaction in Ankara over the improvement in ties between Turkey and Russia, which soured in November after Turkey downed a Russian jet on a bombing mission against anti-regime forces in Syria.
“We are very happy over the cooperation between Turkey and Russia, and are prepared to help this along. These three countries have to work for regional peace,” Zarif told reporters after his talks with Cavusoglu.
Zarif’s visit took place within days of an Aug. 9 summit between President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan in Moscow. The day before, Putin met Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Baku.
The Russian Sputnik agency quoted Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ibrahim Rahimpour as saying prior to the Baku meeting that Putin and Rouhani would also discuss how they could help Erdogan. Pointing out that “Arab countries and the West could not provide this help,” Rahimpour said, “Our region requires that Russia, Turkey and Iran have good relations.”
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov also fueled speculation about a new axis when he said in a statement after Zarif’s talks in Ankara that the three countries could meet soon on Syria. However, prospects for a genuine “axis” between the three countries remain questionable at best, given the significant differences that remain between Ankara and Tehran, and Ankara and Moscow regarding Syria.
Ankara remains opposed to President Bashar al-Assad staying in power, even though there are signs that it will accept a Syrian administration that includes Assad supporters. Moscow and Tehran, however, have made it clear that they are not prepared to bargain over Assad’s future. Ankara is also unhappy about Russian military operations against what it considers legitimate anti-Assad fighters as well as Iran’s overt and covert efforts to keep the regime standing.
Russia and Iran, for their part, continue to believe that radical Sunni groups in Syria they call terrorist organizations are being facilitated by Ankara, which they claim has prolonged the Syrian crisis. There are areas, though, where Turkish-Iranian interests overlap. For example, both countries underscored the importance of maintaining Syria’s territorial integrity during Zarif’s visit. Both countries are also united in their desire to block the aspirations of Kurds for an autonomous region in northern Syria, although Cavusoglu and Zarif did not spell this out openly during their press conference in Ankara.
Cavusoglu touched on the topic, merely saying that Ankara considers Iran’s security and stability on par with Turkey’s security and stability, adding that the Kurdistan Workers Party in Turkey, the Kurdistan Free Life Party in Iran and the Democratic Union Party in Syria pose threats not only to the two countries, but the whole region.
Turkey and Iran also agree on the need to fight the Islamic State and similar groups operating in Syria and Iraq.
Given its strategic military ties with the West that are expected to continue despite current tensions and its developing ties with Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional rival, Ankara also has to tread cautiously to avoid giving the impression that it is realigning its foreign policy in a way that would be detrimental to other countries.
Turkey got a taste of just how strained ties between Tehran and Riyadh are during the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Istanbul in April, when the tensions between the two sides surfaced openly, leaving Ankara caught in the middle.
Bozkurt Aran, a former Turkish ambassador to Tehran, points out that Iran is in the stronger position currently and is unlikely to accept Turkey’s stance on Syria. “Iran’s position with regard to Syria is a historic one. It is not realistic to expect this to change at a time when its influence in the Middle East is increasing,” Aran told Al-Monitor.
Aran likened Turkey and Iran to porcupines, saying, “When the weather is cold, porcupines stick close to each other to keep warm, but not so close that they prick each other.” He added, “Both sides are aware their political and military ties can only go so far.”
It is equally unlikely Ankara will do a complete about-face on Syria and accept Iran’s position, even if it is being forced by circumstance to recalibrate its policy to make it more realistic.
Instead of “strategic ties” between Turkey and Iran, the trend appears more to be the two countries moving toward restoring the status quo that existed before the Syrian crisis strained their relationship. Turkey’s improving ties with Iran while developing its ties with Saudi Arabia appear to suggest that Ankara is aiming for the middle ground it held in the region prior to the Arab Spring, from which it could also act as a mediator or facilitator in regional crises.
This fits in with Ankara’s new foreign policy orientation defined by Yildirim after he assumed power in May, when he declared that “increasing the number of Turkey’s friends while reducing the number its enemies” would be his priority.
The bottom line is that Turkey and Iran will most probably return to their traditional position of agreeing to disagree on specific issues while continuing to pursue their specific interests, but not allowing differences to undermine their overall ties. In the meantime they will cooperate on regional issues to the extent possible.
 


Israel Loses Secretive Oil Pipeline Case To Iran, Ordered To Pay $1.1 Billion Plus Interest
Tim Daiss ,  Contributor  August 15, 2016 Forbes
The Swiss Federal Tribunal, Switzerland’s highest court, ordered Israel to pay $1.1 billion plus interest to Iran in a decades old dispute over a secretive oil pipeline  predating Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution. The verdict was dated June 27, while media broke the story late last week.
Until the Islamic revolution and the fall of the Pahlavi dynasty in 1979, Israel and Iran maintained close ties. In fact, after the Six-Day War (1967 Arab-Israeli War), Iran supplied a large part of Israel’s oil demand while Israel returned the favor.
When Egypt blocked the Suez Canal, making Iranian oil transport impossible to Europe by tanker, Israel allowed Iranian oil to be shipped 158 miles (254 km) to the Mediterranean Sea via the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline where it could unload at Eilat, a Red Sea port, then delivered to European markets.

The pipeline was a project of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company (EAPC), an Israeli-Iranian joint venture set up in 1968. The joint venture pipeline was operational for a decade though it never reached maximum capacity of handling 60 million tons of crude per year.
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According to the EAPC corporate website, the pipeline system serves as a land bridge for transporting crude oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and vice versa. The crude oil pipeline system consists of three separate pipelines.
After the fall of the Shah of Iran, however, Israel and Iran became the region’s most stringent antagonists and bitter enemies. In the ensuing years, EAPC grew into a large energy company with considerable assets, now mostly handling oil from former Soviet states. EAPC is the largest oil distributor in Israel and is closely controlled by the Israeli government.
Iran first pursued the arbitration case in 1994 in France, then in Switzerland, demanding its share of the company’s revenues and assets that remained in Israel.
Israeli media said that Iran had tried for years to recoup its disputed assets from EAPC, despite decades of refusing to recognize Israel.
Israel Haymon News said that it remains unclear whether Israel will pay up, given its laws restricting “trading with the enemy.” Lawyers from both countries have failed to comment on the verdict.



 


Iranian military official: We will ‘uproot’ Jabhat al-Nusra
Author Ali Hashem Posted August 15, 2016 almonitor
When Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of what used to be the al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, on July 28 announced the rebranding of his group, there were few reactions in Tehran. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi made a brief statement describing the rebranding as a game “aimed at delisting the group as a terrorist organization,” adding that “the ugly image of extremism and terrorism cannot be purified though such moves.” Qassemi further noted that the move indicates the “political bankruptcy of the extremists' regional sponsors, led by Saudi Arabia as the founder and principal supporter of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Daesh [Islamic State], Jabhat al-Nusra and many other terrorist groups in the region, and particularly in Syria.” Moreover, Qassemi called on the international community to pay serious attention to the root causes of terrorism and its repercussions, and to pressure the founders and supporters of terrorist groups to end extremism.
Even among Iran’s allies, there was no direct reaction to the rebranding of Jabhat al-Nusra — which was the talk of the region for days — reflecting the view of the “Resistance Axis,” which brings together Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. This was strange given the fact that the Iranian-led coalition is the main — if not only — ground force in direct war with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, and that implications related to the group’s rebranding could affect the course of the war, which has been stuck between two edges of an abyss.
“Nothing really happened,” an Iranian military source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “What does it really mean in the field? … It's only a public relations move that makes it easier for backers of the terrorist group to pay money and send arms [to it] without being criticized. So rather than paying in secret, they'll do it openly.”
To Iran, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Fatah and Ahrar al-Sham are much more dangerous than the Islamic State, the Iranian military source told Al-Monitor. “International and regional backers are doing whatever possible to tell the world that these groups are moderate Islamists, while they know that they are all — like Daesh — of the same origin, which is al-Qaeda.” The Iranian military source said, “Today, the central command of al-Qaeda is weak. The killing of Osama bin Laden left the group with nothing but some heritage that’s being exploited every now and then by its leaders to preserve influence, but now that even this heritage is gone, the [al-Qaeda-linked] groups are giving up their ‘mother’ because of her enemies. But this means that one day, when they are stronger, they [al-Qaeda affiliates] won’t mind giving up their new allies for whoever will preserve their existence. That’s why we are going to rid the world of them.” The Iranian military source told Al-Monitor, “For years now, we’ve been doing our duty without looking at names and without giving attention to whoever is backing and supporting [these groups]. We’ll continue to do what we have to do, wherever we need to be, and whether it’s Nusra, al-Qaeda, Daesh — or the new name it [Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham] was given — our mandate is to uproot it and rid the region of such a terrorist group.” He told Al-Monitor, “But it’s not us who should be on alert; it’s their backers who will be the first to be hit. Those who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks were one day sweethearts of the United States in Afghanistan, and there’s no doubt that those in Syria, when strong enough, will want to do 10 times what happened in New York in 2001. We know our enemy well, but others — despite their advanced techniques in foreseeing dangers — are still supporting their real enemies.”
Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of Iran’s parliamentary national security and foreign policy commission, said Aug. 4, “Dividing terrorists between good ones and bad ones doesn’t change anything.” Following a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Boroujerdi said, “Changing the names of terrorist groups doesn’t change the fact that they are terrorists. This won’t change the nature of such groups, and Jabhat al-Nusra continues to embrace the same radical, terrorist mentality despite the name change.”
Since the beginning of the crisis in Syria, Iran has stood by the defiant Assad and viewed any armed group fighting to topple him as terrorists. This included the Islamic State, al-Qaeda affiliated groups and the Free Syrian Army even when Iran was only defending Assad politically. From the day that Iran decided to send senior officers to help the Syrian army with their expertise, the Iranian encounter with anti-regime militant groups became physical, with reports indicating that the number of Iranian casualties since 2012 has jumped to over 300, including members of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Iranian army and the paramilitary Basij militia.
Of note, Golani’s announcement of Jabhat al-Nusra’s rebranding July 28 came only a few days before opposition factions, including his group, launched a fierce attack on Aleppo in northern Syria to end the government force’s siege on opposition-held areas. A senior Iranian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, suggested in a phone call with Al-Monitor that the rebranding of Jabhat al-Nusra was related to this attack. In his telling, “The attempt to rebrand was the prelude to open cooperation during the recent Aleppo operation,” suggesting that the latter move was made with the blessing of regional and international backers of the opposition in Syria.
 


National Catholic Reporter
Republicans, Democrats alike still level threats at Iran
Stephen Zunes  |  Aug. 15, 2016
The 2015 Iran nuclear deal should have curbed the longstanding bellicose rhetoric coming from Republican and Democratic political leaders toward the Muslim country. Signed by Iran and six other nations (including the United States) and ratified by the United Nations Security Council, the comprehensive agreement contains strict provisions limiting Iran’s nuclear capabilities to well below the threshold necessary to develop atomic weapons and subjects Iran to the most rigorous inspection regime in history. The result has been dramatically reduced regional tensions and the elimination of any potential threat to U.S. national security.
Despite this, the Republican and Democratic platforms adopted at their respective conventions last month are both more belligerent toward Iran than they were four years ago.
The Republican platform claims that the U.N.-sponsored and -endorsed treaty was nothing more than "a personal agreement between the President and his negotiating partners and non-binding on the next president." Despite making it technologically impossible to weaponize Iran's fissionable material, the platform instead claims that the agreement has somehow enabled Iran to continue to "develop a nuclear weapon."
It even blames the treaty for somehow allowing Iran to "sponsor terrorism across the region," "abuse the basic human rights of its citizens" and other crimes that were not addressed in the agreement.
Insisting that, despite the agreement, Iran is somehow "close to having" nuclear weapons and therefore "gravely threatens our security, our interests, and the survival of our friends," the platform insists that a Republican president "must retain all options" in dealing with Iran.
Unlike the Republicans, the Democratic platform does endorse the nuclear deal. However, it declares that a Democratic president "will not hesitate to take military action" if Iran violates the agreement.
The promise to "not hesitate" to launch what would inevitably be a major war with disastrous consequences is disturbing on a number of levels. Among these is the fact that in the unlikely event Iran decided to violate the agreement, it would take Iranians at least a few years to rebuild their nuclear program to the point where they could develop even a single nuclear weapon, thereby allowing plenty of time for the international community to apply nonmilitary pressures to force the regime to resume its compliance.
U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which codifies the agreement, was adopted under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter, which empowers the Security Council to "decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions." This is distinct from Article 42, which allows for military force only if nonmilitary means "have proved to be inadequate" and only if the Security Council specifically authorized it.
Therefore, the Democrats' insistence that the United States should "not hesitate to take military action if Iran violates the agreement," like the Republicans' promise to "retain all options" regarding Iran, is nothing short of rejection of U.S. obligations under the United Nations Charter.
Hillary Clinton's insistence that the 2016 Democratic Party platform include the threat to unilaterally resort to military action against Iran in response to potential violations of limits on its nuclear program bears disturbing parallels to her insistence that the United States had the right to unilaterally resort to military action against Iraq due to its alleged violations of limits on its nuclear program.
Indeed, during the 2008 presidential campaign, she accused Barack Obama of being "naive" and "irresponsible" for wanting to engage with Iran diplomatically. According to a story in Time magazine on her tenure as secretary of state, Obama administration officials noted how she was "skeptical of diplomacy with Iran, and firmly opposed to talk of a 'containment' policy that would be an alternative to military action should negotiations with Tehran fail."
While there are many legitimate criticisms of Iran's reactionary theocratic regime, the two party platforms appear to go overboard with their accusations. For example, Iran is the only country mentioned by name in the Republican platform as being a "sponsor" of "Islamic terrorism," despite the fact the majority of such groups are Salafist and strongly oppose the Iranian regime. Iran has been directly involved in fighting such groups in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.
In a similar manner, the Democratic platform states that "Iran is the leading state sponsor of terrorism," though many analysts would argue that Saudi Arabia plays a more significant role in that regard. (Ironically, the Democratic platform calls for the United States to "maintain our robust security cooperation" with Persian Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia.)
The Democratic platform also blames Iran for its alleged "support for terrorist groups like Hamas" and pledges to "push back" against such actions. However, despite some limited aid to Hamas for a short period several years ago, the Iranians have since severed their ties due to some major policy differences, including Hamas' support for Islamist rebels fighting the Iranian-backed regime in Syria. (In yet another irony for the Democratic platform, the Persian Gulf country of Qatar is currently the major foreign supporter for Hamas.)
There are also some other dubious charges, such as claiming the regime denies the Nazi genocide of the Jews, which -- while alleged by a former Iranian president -- has never been government policy, and insisting that Iran "has its fingerprints on almost every conflict in the Middle East." (The platform fails to note that in the two regional conflicts of most critical importance to the United States -- Iraq and Afghanistan -- the Iranians have been on the same side as the United States.)
It is striking how such threats and hyperbolic language were largely absent from the 2012 Democratic platform, which emphasized the need for diplomacy, while the Republican platform was somewhat less belligerent as well.
Historically, successful arms control agreements have resulted in lessening rather than escalating such hostile rhetoric. That does not seem to be the case, however, during this election year.

 


The $400 million payment to Iran was American diplomacy at its finest

By Allen S. Weiner and Duncan Pickard August 11 Washington Post
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The latest victim in the presidential race’s assault on truth — to say nothing of nuance — came last week in the flurry of accusations surrounding the United States’ payment of $400 million to Iran. Donald Trump called it ransom, and Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) accused the United States of acting like a “drug cartel.”
In reality, the payment represented continued adherence to a masterful feat of American diplomacy and to the peaceful resolution of disputes under international law. Ronald Reagan understood how important it is for us to keep our promises — which is why, as president, he upheld the agreement negotiated by the Carter administration that led to the recent payment.
The payment was not a ransom but rather part of a settlement agreement that the United States reached with Iran for claims arising out of the 1979 Iranian revolution, which toppled the pro-American shah and brought the current Islamist government to power. Before the revolution, the United States had signed hundreds of contracts with Iran, then an ally, to sell it military equipment. When the hostile Islamist regime took power, the military sales relationship collapsed. That left hundreds of millions of dollars of outstanding claims between the two countries and their citizens: claims both by U.S. companies for breached contracts and expropriated properties, and Iranian demands for the delivery or return of equipment that Iran had already paid for but not received — not to mention the issue of the 52 Americans that Iran then held hostage.
The United States and Iran had severed diplomatic relations, leaving no forum in which to settle these disputes. The countries worked through Algerian intermediaries to negotiate the Algiers Accords, in which Iran agreed to release the hostages in exchange for the United States’ unfreezing Iranian assets. The agreement also established a tribunal in The Hague to settle the outstanding disputes, including many claims for which American companies had already filed lawsuits in U.S. courts. Iran conditioned the release of the hostages on the transfer of the pending claims to the Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal in The Hague.
Soon after taking office as president, Reagan issued an executive order to suspend those claims in U.S. courts, which the Supreme Court upheld in Dames & Moore v. Regan. In a testament to the urgency of the case, the court issued its decision a mere eight days after it heard oral arguments. Justice William Rehnquist described the need for the president to respond with flexibility to “international crises” — as commander in chief and diplomat in chief.
Reagan’s executive order implementing the Algiers Accords was a remarkable endorsement of the power of international law to peacefully resolve a violent crisis abroad. He transferred claims under U.S. jurisdiction to an international court — a striking departure from those today who question our fundamental commitment to international alliances such as NATO and who flatly reject widely adopted treaties such as the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. Reagan saw international law as an important mechanism by which the United States could secure peace and security for its citizens.
The Iran-U.S. Claims Tribunal, which has equal numbers of American, Iranian and neutral judges, has settled more than $2.5 billion in claims, including many in favor of U.S. nationals. Nearly 35 years on, it continues to be a hallmark of peaceful dispute resolution and has contributed greatly to the development of international law.
The $400 million itself was the balance in a “trust fund” account into which Iran, under the shah, had made advance payments on military contracts with the United States. In a claim before the tribunal, Iran had demanded return of these funds plus 35 years of accumulated interest. U.S. diplomats negotiated the interest amount down to $1.3 billion (much less than they feared the tribunal would award if the case proceeded to a final judgment) to generate a $1.7 billion total. The two sides announced the settlement on Jan. 17 — one day after their groundbreaking nuclear agreement, and the same day that each released a few of the other’s prisoners. The Obama administration has repeatedly made clear that the negotiations regarding the prisoners and the trust fund settlement were “completely separate.”
All of this information has been publicly available since January. All that is new is last week’s disclosure that part of the payment was transferred in cash — due to U.S. government restrictions on making wire transfers to Iran — and renewed expressions of Trump’s dangerous ignorance.
The payment, then, reflects the United States’ commitment to respect the rule of law, keep our promises, and pursue peace and accountability under international law. These are characteristics of our strength in the international community that we must steadfastly promise to uphold.
 


Will film on 2015 hajj disaster further tarnish Iran-Saudi relations?
Author Zahra Alipour Posted August 12, 2016 Almonitor
Sept. 24, 2015, was a tragic day. More than 700 people were killed in a stampede during the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. The disaster occurred on the first day of Eid al-Adha, when pilgrims perform the ritual known as "stoning the devil" in Mina, near the holy city of Mecca. In Iran, the event is remembered as the “Mina tragedy,” given that some 500 Iranian pilgrims lost their lives. Now, nearly one year later, an Iranian filmmaker is preparing to unveil “September 24”; probably the first cinematic depiction of the tragedy.
One of the film’s main characters is Mohsen Haji Hassani Kargar, an Iranian “qari” (reciter of the Quran) who was killed in the disaster. The 27-year-old, who was known as Haji Hassani, had won first prize at the 57th International Quran Competition in Malaysia in June 2015 and was performing the hajj with a delegation of Quran reciters. “September 24” revolves mostly around the story of Haji Hassani’s life — and death. It has already stirred controversy, with one Saudi website saying that it could become a “new source of tension in Tehran-Riyadh relations.”
Maryam Ebrahimi, director and producer of the movie, told Al-Monitor, “When Iran’s leader said the Mina tragedy must not be forgotten, I thought the language of art could help do this and keep the memory [of the stampede] alive. At the time, I was busy with another film about a martyr, who had nothing to do with the Mina [tragedy]. So I put that project aside and decided to make this film instead, with my own personal budget. The Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization of Iran as well as other relevant organizations only offered spiritual support. No financial aid was provided.”
Ebrahimi, who is fascinated with recitations of the Quran and has been memorizing its verses for the past two years, told Al-Monitor, “This is why Mohsen Haji Hassani’s character was interesting to me, since he was also a reciter. Of course, there were — and are — a lot of sensitivities about this film. These same sensitivities led to the writing of eight different screenplays for the movie.”
“September 24” is Ebrahimi’s first experience as a director. In the past, she has produced several films for Iran’s home video entertainment industry. She told Al-Monitor, “This film is based on a real event. It would have been easier if we were making a documentary. However, retelling a tragedy where the main character is a reciter of the Quran makes the work more sensitive. There was also a great deal of sensitivity about how the Mina tragedy should be defined in the film. In fact, the key concern was how we wanted to portray this tragedy.”
The movie begins with a scene from Haji Hassani’s childhood and ends with a scene in Mina. The main locations used for filming were Iran’s capital Tehran and the northeastern Iranian city of Mashhad. According to Ebrahimi, the tense relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia made it impossible to film the relevant parts on Saudi soil.
There is of course the question of how intertwined the film has become with the political tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Ebrahimi said, “The tragedy took place in Saudi Arabia, and so I think this country [Saudi Arabia] is definitely responsible [for the stampede] and should be condemned. Yet we have tried very hard not to enter the political arena. We are not looking for someone to blame, and have tried to portray the tragedy through the eyes of those families who lost their loved ones.”
The Arabic-language website Eremnews described the film as a criticism by Iran of Saudi Arabia’s management of the hajj and says it could become a new source of friction between the two countries.
Iranian actor Amin Zendegani, who plays Haji Hassani in the film, has dismissed the idea that “September 24” has a political angle that could further tarnish relations between Tehran and Riyadh. In an interview with Al-Monitor, Zendegani said, “I do not believe in this prediction. Crises happen when a certain angle is pursued. However, this film has only tried to show what happened to the victims’ families following the tragedy, without taking any specific angle. Therefore, this movie is just an account of the disaster and a reminder that no official apology or move was made to help them cope with the pain. We must acknowledge that such an incident, with its vast dimensions, requires accountability. Yet the film has taken no political angle and its main focus is on the situation of the families of the martyrs [of the Mina stampede].”
Meanwhile, the film’s screenplay has been criticized by Haji Hassani’s family. According to his brother, only half of the film is about Haji Hassani’s life. “The other 50% has been altered in order to make the film more attractive,” Haji Hassani’s brother said. “When we asked the director for the reason behind this alteration, we were told that this kind of drama is needed to attract an audience and make the movie more appealing.”
Zendegani thinks that in addition to its documentary sections, some storytelling is needed to help make the movie more interesting. He told Al-Monitor, “For me, playing the role of a reciter of the Quran — who was real and lived in my lifetime — was very alluring. We tried very hard to do justice to his true character. However, imagination and storytelling are part of cinema. I hope that this reciter’s family can accept this, so that the dimensions of this tragedy, which has affected many families in Iran and other countries, can be shown more broadly through cinema. I hope works of art such as this movie can play a role in preventing unfortunate incidents such as the tragedy in Mina from happening [again].”
With the anniversary of the disaster in Mina coming up in six weeks, the movie — which was initially entitled “Ms. Sadat” — is in its final stages of production. According to Ebrahimi, the movie will be dubbed in several languages and be screened internationally. She told Al-Monitor, “This film is about the families of those who were killed in this tragedy from everywhere around the world. That’s why we changed the name. We thought the name should be shared by all languages.”
Ebrahimi said that if the production is finalized by Aug. 21, it will be submitted to the Resistance International Film Festival in Tehran. She added, “Otherwise, its first debut will be on the anniversary of the Mina tragedy, and for the martyr’s families. The film’s next destination will be the International Fajr Film Festival.”
 


Confiscated $2 billion could spell legal trouble for Ahmadinejad
Author Arash Karami Posted August 11, 2016 Almonitor
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s personal letter to US President Barack Obama asking the American president to return $2 billion in Iranian funds blocked in the United States could become a legal headache for the former president, who some believe is eyeing a political comeback.
The Central Bank of Iran under Ahmadinejad’s presidency purchased the $2 billion of US bonds at a time when the country was facing off against the West over its nuclear program. The money was later confiscated and awarded to victims of terrorism by a US court, a decision that was upheld by the US Supreme Court in April.
According to current members of Hassan Rouhani's administration, it was becoming increasingly clear Iran would soon face international sanctions over its nuclear program, and many experts advised against the move to invest in the funds. Now, just as Ahmadinejad may want the money retrieved in order to eliminate a potential political attack from his opponents should he or one of his allies run for president in May 2017, it seems some Iranian political figures will use this issue to keep the former president far away from political office.
During a Cabinet meeting Aug. 10, President Rouhani said that before the funds were confiscated in 2009 “there was a golden opportunity at our discretion to remove all of our money from American access, but it was neglected.” Rouhani, without mentioning Ahmadinejad’s name, said that the judiciary and Supreme National Security Council should investigate the matter.
Saeed Laylaz, an outspoken economist, also spoke about the blocked money and Ahmadinejad’s role. He said that America’s confiscation of the money, and awarding it to terror victims, was an “unprecedented act.” Laylaz said that had America confiscated US bonds belonging to any other country, it would have undermined America’s credit. However, he said since there has been a “global consensus” against Iran since Ahmadinejad’s presidency, such acts have no effect on America’s credit.
Laylaz said that the people responsible for allowing the United States to confiscate the funds must be dealt with “in the worst possible way, whether it is Ahmadinejad or Rouhani.” He echoed Rouhani’s comments that there was a 10-month opportunity to pull the money out and even suggested it was “intentional” to not pull out the money. He added, “This act was more treacherous than any betrayal.”
While there was indeed a “national consensus” against Iran under Ahmadinejad, the current administration feels that there have been positive results from the nuclear deal. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters that while the US House might pass a bill against Iran, it would not pass the Senate today. Zarif also said that had there been no nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, Iran’s oil exports today would be 294,000 barrels a day.
However, Zarif conceded that problems remain and will likely remain between Iran and the United States. “The Americans by nature are bad toward us,” Zarif said. “In the last 37 years, enmity and hostility between Iran and America has been proven.”
 


Can Iran go around Turkey to reach Europe?
Author Maysam Bizær Posted August 9, 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's geostrategic location, along with its historic role as a conduit for the exchange of goods — especially its position on the ancient Silk Road — has made the country one of the most active transportation hubs in the world.
Through both its northern land borders and the Caspian Sea, Iran has access to Central Asia, the Caucasus and Russia. To its south, it is connected to international waters through the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman. Iran's unique access to landlocked countries and its exceptional location make it an ideal transit hub — both in terms of cost and time efficiency.
This position has so far granted Iran membership in several international corridors with multiple transport routes passing through the country. These corridors include the North-South Transport Corridor, East-West Transport Corridor (the ancient Silk Road), South Asia Corridor and the Transport Corridor of Europe-Caucasus-Asia.
In recent years, and especially since Hassan Rouhani was elected president in 2013, the number of international flights that have crossed Iranian air space has tripled, while the volume of goods transiting through Iranian railways has doubled. Yet despite this increasing interconnectivity, Iranian officials say the country is still using only half of its total transit capacity, which is around 10 million tons per year.
Cognizant of the important role it can play in the transportation of goods in the region, and also aware of the economic benefits that can be reaped — such as job creation and increased earnings — Iran has sought to diversify its transit routes.
Given Europe's stated desire to become Iran’s largest trading partner once again with the lifting of sanctions, and considering the recent turmoil in Turkey, Tehran has sped up efforts to establish new routes to Europe.
For years, Turkey has been the best conduit for the transportation of Iranian goods to reach Europe. Yet in terms of transit, things have turned ugly between the two countries in recent years. Attacks against Iranian trucks and drivers on Turkish soil, rows over fuel prices and tariffs imposed on Turkish drivers in Iran — not to mention the frequent Turkish border closures, which greatly impact Iranian trucking, have been among the main sources of friction between Tehran and Ankara.
These issues, coupled with the worsening security situation in Turkey, have prompted Iran to seek alternative transit routes to Europe on the ground that relying solely on its western neighbor does not, and will not, benefit the Iranian transportation system. In this regard, Iran has moved to revive its decade-old plan to connect to Europe via a new multimodal route.
The Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor, which involves road, rail and sea transport, begins from the Persian Gulf to the south of Iran, stretches to the north of the country and then goes to Armenia and Azerbaijan, from where it reaches the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi in the Black Sea. In this vein, Bulgarian ports also play a role via roll-on/roll-off ships used to get trucks to Greece. Trucks that head to Italy can also depart from southern Greek ports using these kinds of ships.
Indeed, Iran, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Bulgaria and Greece recently agreed on a draft plan to press ahead with the project, which is expected to be finalized by the end of 2016.
To learn more about the significance of this corridor, Al-Monitor spoke with Homayoun Karimi, head of the International Agreements Group at Iran's Road Maintenance and Transportation Organization. Karimi, who attended the first of several rounds of talks between the involved countries, told Al-Monitor, "The political and international aspects of this multimodal corridor is of high importance as it will further increase the importance of our transit position in the region and globe alike."
The Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor holds numerous economic advantages for participating countries as it helps them facilitate trade. On the European side, the project is also regarded as significant because it facilitates European states' access to the Persian Gulf, which in turn provides them with a shorter route to the Indian and Pacific oceans.
"Having a safe, cost-effective and fast route is of high importance for transportation companies, forwarders and owners of the cargo. We need to have good marketing of the corridor to further inform business owners and transportation companies about the benefits of this new route," said Karimi.
Akbar Khodaei, senior expert at the Economic Cooperation Organization, believes that Iran has a unique position as far as geopolitics is concerned. "By participating in the Persian Gulf-Black Sea Corridor, Iran is actually utilizing its geopolitical position in global interactions, something that definitely rebuilds the country's ability to play roles in the economic arena," Khodaei told Al-Monitor.
Khodaei added that the project has already turned global, as other countries — including Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean littoral states as well as European nations — are expected to join the corridor. Of note, Romania has requested to join the Persian Gulf-Black Sea corridor.
Iranian officials have stated that this corridor is not meant to replace the trans-Turkish route to Europe. Rather, Iran says it will provide the country with an additional route, which will give it the upper hand in case of any obstruction by Turkey.
While security and ease of transportation plays a crucial role in global trade, Iran, which unlike many of its neighbors enjoys a high level of stability, is expected to play a much greater role as a transit hub that bridges the East with the West and the North to the South.
As such, with more countries discovering this significant potential, and as Iran continues its efforts to become a regional transit hub, experts like Karimi believe that the new corridor will play an important role. According to Karimi, the multimodal approach to trade with Europe "would further increase Iran's transit importance and pave the ground for greater foreign investments in the country's transportation infrastructures."

 


Ahmadinejad wants Obama to give back Iran’s $2 billion
Author Arash Karami Posted August 8, 2016 Almonitor
According to Iranian media outlets, Iran’s former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written President Barack Obama a letter.
The letter stated that despite Obama’s campaign slogans promising change, “the same hostile policies along with the same trend of enmity were pursued” against Iran. One of the many instances of the continued hostility toward Iran, according to Ahmadinejad, was the Supreme Court ruling that blocked $2 billion of Iran’s assets in the United States and awarded it to victims of terrorism. Ahmadinejad wrote that this ruling was “counter to legal principles” and asked Obama that the “seized property [be] released and returned.”
Ahmadinejad concluded that his letter is “by no means of political nature, but merely of standpoint of human rights and for protecting the inalienable rights of my nation.”
The timing and focus of Ahmadinejad’s letter is perhaps revealing of the former president’s future intentions. While Ahmadinejad has been relatively quiet as a former president, he has been speaking at events and rallies across the country in recent months. Whether in Tehran or other provinces, Ahmadinejad still draws a large enough crowd to pack venues. It is no surprise then that some view the timing of the letter to be linked to speculation that Ahmadinejad intends to run for president again, hoping to deny President Hassan Rouhani a second term.
If Ahmadinejad does run for office, his opponents will certainly blame him for the seizure of $2 billion in the United States, a decision that was upheld by the US Supreme Court in April. It was under Ahmadinejad’s administration that the decision was made by the Central Bank of Iran to purchase American bonds, despite the objections of experts and analysts at the time, according to Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. Given that Iranian laws restrict electioneering to a few weeks before the election, Ahmadinejad wisely stressed that the letter was not political. Ahmadinejad is well-known for writing letters, and this likely will not be his last before the May 2017 election. Ahmadinejad wrote Obama in 2008 congratulating him on his victory. In 2010, Ahmadinejad told Iranian television that he had written Obama another letter. Ahmadinejad had also written an 18-page letter to former President George W. Bush offering solutions to resolving the differences between the two countries. Ahmadinejad had also once written a letter to Pope Benedict XVI.
It seems unlikely that Obama will intervene with a Supreme Court ruling and give Iran back $2 billion, especially after the January transfer of $400 million of Iran’s money back to the country, a case dating to before the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Critics accused Obama of giving back the money in exchange for Iranian-American prisoners held in Iran, calling it a “ransom.” The transfer took place as Iran and the United States implemented the nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had previously said that the negotiations over the nuclear deal and the release of prisoners were two separate negotiations and their timing was coincidental. The United States also released a number of Iranians who were held for sanctions violations.
Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani echoed the comments by Zarif Aug. 8. He said that the original money given to the United States for the sale of arms was suspended after the revolution. He added that Iran had attempted to retrieve the money on previous occasions as well.
 


•    Bloomberg
Russia, Iran Consider Rail Link to Snag Share of Suez Traffic
Zulfugar Agayev
Ilya Arkhipov world_reporter
August 8, 2016 — 11:04 PM IRDT
Russia and Iran agreed to strengthen transport connections, including a potential railway link through Azerbaijan that would aim to grab a share of the cargo now being shipped through the Suez Canal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, discussed the plan during a rare joint visit to Azerbaijan on Monday. The fight against terrorism and maritime boundaries in the Caspian Sea were also among the topics of discussion, according to a statement distributed to journalists in the Azeri capital, Baku.
“If the rail link to Iran is built, it can take some share of the cargo that’s being transported via Suez,” Russian Transport minister Maxim Sokolov said in an interview. Plans for the railroad may be completed next year, he said.
Azeri President Ilham Aliyev has offered to help finance the so-called North-South transportation corridor, which he touted as a project of “great importance” in connecting Europe and Asia. Rouhani earlier said Azerbaijan had agreed to provide half of the funding needed to extend the Iranian rail network to the Azeri border.
The only country bordering both Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan is seeking to position itself as a major transportation hub. The former Soviet Union’s third-largest crude producer is using oil revenue to build the Caspian region’s biggest seaport 70 kilometers (44 miles) south of the capital. It’s also funding the construction of a railway link that will connect central Asia with Europe via Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey.
The North-South corridor would have some advantages over existing routes, including the one running through the Suez Canal, Yuriy Ushakov, an aide to the Russian president, said last week. The project, which has been discussed since 2008, is expected to get a major push after the three countries’ presidents discussed it for the first time, he said.
Russia would be able to use the new route to export goods to Asian markets and the Gulf region, Elxan Shahinoglu, head of the Atlas research center in Baku, said by e-mail. It would also provide a shorter passage for Iranian goods to northern and eastern Europe, he said.
Azerbaijan’s railway system is already connected with that of Russia. The state-owned International Bank of Azerbaijan will lend Iran $500 million to extend the Iranian network to the border, Trend news service reported in June, citing Ali Noorzad, head of the Iranian Co. for Construction and Development of Transportation Infrastructure. Talks continue on the loan agreement, Noorzad said, adding that the estimated cost of the project is $1.1 billion.

 


 Swiss Court Orders Israel to Pay NIS 1 Million to Iran for Shah-era Debt
The lost appeal is the latest round in the legal campaign being waged between Iran and Israel for 37 years over the oil transporting and marketing partnership that the two countries formed before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Aluf Benn Aug 08, 2016 4:34 AM Haaretz

The Trans-Asiatic Oil Company, which is controlled by Israel, lost its appeal of the arbitration decision that obligates it to pay back a debt of $1.2 billion to Iran’s national oil company.
The Swiss Supreme Court in Lausanne ruled on June 27 that Trans-Asiatic must pay the Iranians 250,000 Swiss francs (about 1 million shekels, or $260,000) of the monies that have been deposited with the court, and another 200,000 francs in court costs.
According to Global Arbitration Review, which published the Swiss court’s ruling, Iran’s oil company has been removed from the sanctions regime, so there is no legal obstacle to paying it any money.
The lost appeal is the latest round in the legal campaign being waged between Iran and Israel for 37 years over the oil transporting and marketing partnership that the two countries formed before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The partnership consisted of two enterprises, the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline, which operated as a land bridge for streaming Iranian oil from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, and Trans-Asiatic Oil Ltd., or TAO, which was registered in Panama, run in Tel Aviv and operated a fleet of tanker ships and marketing channels to sell Iranian oil to European customers.
The partnership, launched in 1968, stopped operating after the Islamic Revolution, when Iran cut off diplomatic relations with Israel. But despite the diplomatic disconnect, the Iranians pursued three different arbitration procedures against Israel and the companies it controlled, in an effort to get paid for oil supplied to Israel on credit before the revolution, and to obtain the value of half the partnership. The total estimated sum in dispute is some $7 billion.
So far the Iranians have won two of the arbitrations that focused on payment for the oil that had been supplied. The primary dispute, over the revenues and assets of the partnership, is still being deliberated.
Last year, the Iranian oil company won a lengthy arbitration procedure when two of three arbitrators ordered TAO to pay the Iranians $1.2 billion for 50 oil deliveries that were made before the revolution erupted, along with $362 million in interest. They rejected a counter-suit by Israel, which demanded that the debt be erased to compensate Israel for all the oil that wasn’t supplied after the revolution. According to Israel, the original partnership agreement called for Iran to supply oil until 2017.
An Iranian source last year revealed the results of the arbitration, but Israel, which has kept the arbitration with Iran classified, refused to address the details other than to announce that it would not be paying hostile Iran a thing.
This new Swiss verdict officially confirms that the Iranian information last year was correct, though the ruling does not mention the names of the firms involved. TAO had appealed one component of the arbitration decision, arguing that the procedure in which compensation to Israel had been debated wasn’t conducted properly and that there were contradictions in the majority’s opinion on this issue. But the Swiss High Court denied the appeal and ordered the compensation and court costs paid to Iran.

TAO operates as part of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co. with offices in Tel Aviv’s Amot Hamishpat building. The original claim over the partnership itself, which is still being arbitrated, relates to Iran’s shares of the Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Co., two oil ports and storage facilities, and the fleet of tankers which were seized by Israel. The Iranians are trying to establish that Israel must cover the debts of the Panama-based company, apparently on the assumption it will be easier for a functioning government to pay the debt than a straw company whose assets will be hard to identify.


Turkey may part ways with the West after failed coup attempt
By Oliver Tempest on August 6, 2016
As Turks celebrate the defeat of the recent coup attempt with night rallies, the government continues its massive purge of army and civilian state staff to prevent future coup attempts. But the number of people jailed or dismissed is so massive that it is hard to see how they can get a fair trial. Scared by the violent deaths of 260 people, angry at Gülen and his presumed Western protectors, Turks feel inclined to nurse their wounds in isolation
In towns across Turkey, banners are fluttering and giant portraits of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hang above meeting places decked out with flags and facilities for Islamic prayers — and perhaps also food for those who attend nightly rallies to celebrate the defeat of the 15 July attempted coup.
Turks are holding night rallies to celebrate the defeat of the 15 July attempted coup
The meetings, which even resident foreigners describe as “fairly enjoyable occasions”, began the night after the coup and will continue until 7 August.
If the gatherings sound a little like revolutionary occasions, that is because they are. By night, the ruling AKP celebrates its victory. By day, it is reshaping the country, swiftly remodeling institutions going back 200 years to the start of the westernization process in Turkey.
At the start of this week, the Official Gazette published a framework decree giving the government sweeping powers to restructure the 620,000-strong Turkish Armed Forces, the second largest armed force in NATO. For many years, the soldiers ran the army as an autonomous corporation, answerable only to the prime minister—and before the AKP took power in 2002, one able to do what the generals wanted on many matters without consulting the politicians.
Thanks to the 15 July coup attempt, 119 Turkish generals and admirals are now under arrest in prison. This is exactly one in three of the total and a much larger number than seem to have taken part in the putsch. But the background picture of dismissals is at least equally startling.
As of the end of July, 67,000 civilian government officials had been removed from their duties. The purge has affected every government agency and every one of Turkey’s 81 provinces. Universities and academics are also affected and the former deputy prime minister, Ali Babacan, has pledged that there will be a strict purging of the private sector.
This last step indeed started for the private sector in 2015 with moves by the government to take over media firms and some conglomerates owned by businessmen linked to the Gülen movement.
Though the arrests and sackings have caused an outcry in Western Europe, many Turks have greeted them without demur, invariably pointing out that it seems to be only Gülenists who are being removed. “All those dismissed were known Gülen-supporters,” is a remark one hears again and again from university teachers and civil servants about former colleagues. Possession of over 600 Gülen-movement books is now a serious crime.
Claims that the lists of dismissals were prepared before the coup and consist simply of opponents are firmly rejected by government officials who say that they are based on the Gülenists’ own internal lists, intercepted earlier this year when Turkish intelligence cracked ByLock, an internet app for sending coded data.
The discovery took place months before the coup bid and did not affect it. The argument is that Turkey faced an enormous, and invisible, but deadly secret society and must proceed ruthlessly against it.
Most Turks go along, at least more or less, with this line of argument since they know that despite the authoritarian features of Turkey’s present government, the coup, had it succeeded, would have to have been fiercely repressive in order to hold down what would probably have been a tidal wave of opposition across the country.
Though some indictments, including one for Fethullah Gülen, the United States-based Sufi leader of the movement, have now been issued, it is hard to see how such a vast number of people can receive a fair trial or what the criteria for evidence will be, with the judiciary itself drastically purged: the Justice Minister announced in July that 3,000 new judges are currently being recruited.
To make matters worse, there is fairly strong circumstantial evidence that some confessions were extracted through ill-treatment. One lawyer even boasts that he was able to beat up a coup general in prison.
Relieved that normal life has been resumed, after an uprising which saw the bombing of parliament, most Turks are not quibbling over these points. The storm of criticism and cynicism about the coup in Europe and the Western world, has thus annoyed even opponents of President Erdoğan—partly because they perceive likely connections between the Gülen movement and some of the hostile media coverage.
Feeling deeply misunderstood, scared by the violent deaths of 260 people, angry at Gülen and his presumed Western protectors, Turks feel inclined to nurse their wounds in isolation. Opinion polls suggest that about 80% believe the US had a hand in the coup.
A parting of the ways between Turkey and the West would be complex and painful but one has never looked more likely.


 


Iran To Approve Terms Of New Oil Contract 'This Week'
Dominic Dudley Aug 1, 2016 Forbes
Contributor
I write about business and economics in the Middle East
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.
Petroleum Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh has said that Iran’s government will approve the terms for new investment in the country’s oil industry by Wednesday, according to a report by the official IRNA news agency.
The development is eagerly awaited by international oil companies (IOCs), who have watched while Iran has missed a series of previous deadlines for the launch of the Iranian Petroleum Contract (IPC), as the new model is known.
An outline of the contract was unveiled at a conference in November last year in Tehran, but a planned follow-up event in London in February was cancelled at the last moment. At the time the authorities said this was due to the difficulty in securing visas to the UK, but domestic opposition to the contract was also building up, meaning the delay was politically useful for the government.
In May, officials said the contract should be approved in June or July, but that target was also missed. If the approval process does now go ahead this week, it should open the way for the world’s oil majors to pour back into the country.
There has been a heated debate inside Iran about the contract and what concessions Iran can and should make to encourage investment in its oil infrastructure. The latest comments from Zangeneh, which were made on the sidelines of a ceremony to mark the 50th anniversary of foundation of National Iranian Gas Company, suggest that a compromise has been reached or that the critics have been sidelined – which of those is true should soon become apparent.
The new contract is expected to provide more enticing terms to international oil companies than the short-term ‘buyback’ contracts that Iran used to offer. In particular, the new contracts are expected to last for 25 years or more, rather than the 5-10 year period of the old contracts. IOCs are also expected to have a greater say in the development of oil fields as they will be joint venture partners with their Iranian counterparts. IOCs may also be allowed to book the reserves. All this should make it easier for them to make a profit on their investments.
Zanganeh has previously said that Iran’s oil industry needs $200bn of investment in the wake of international sanctions being lifted. Of that total, $130bn would go into upstream projects and $70bn into downstream refineries and petrochemical plants. It is not just a matter of money though. Iran also needs international expertise and technology if it is to make the most of its hydrocarbons riches.
Even if the contract’s terms are published later this week, there will still be some other important elements that have to be put in place before oil companies’ capital starts to flow into Iran, most notably the need to restore full banking links between Iran and the rest of the world. In addition, some oil companies may decide to wait until after next year’s presidential election, due to be held on May 19, before fully committing. Even so, the publication of the IPC should mark an important point in Iran’s gradual progress back into the international mainstream.


Why Iran’s property market is unlikely to boom anytime soon
Author Alireza Ramezani Posted August 1, 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — Signals from the Iranian real estate market suggest that a recovery is on the way, after an almost three-year-long recession. Yet there are contradictory statements being made about the likelihood of a property boom. Indeed, those who are practically engaged in the housing industry are relatively optimistic about speedy growth, while analysts believe a sharp hike in prices is unlikely.
The number of property deals in the 12-million-strong market in Tehran rose by 27.6% in the month to July 21, compared with the same period last year. However, the figure dropped 4% compared with the month before, according to the Central Bank of Iran’s latest housing report. Meanwhile, trading of mortgage bonds in the over-the-counter Iran Fara Bourse rose 11% in the week to July 21, ILNA reported, citing data released by the Central Securities Depository of Iran.
The head of Tehran’s real estate union, Hessam Oghbai, and his predecessor, Mostafa Khosravi, are both of the opinion that demand for residential buildings is on the rise. Khosravi predicts that growth will reappear in the second half of the Iranian fiscal year running to March 20, 2017, and that it will probably jump in the subsequent year. Yet the market is still a long way from the 14,000 deals per day during 2011 and 2012, when housing prices doubled as a result of intensified financial sanctions, which led to the harsh depreciation of the rial.
Many housing experts such as Hossein Raghfar, a Tehran-based economist and university lecturer, believe that the government has to step in and increase lending in such a way that mortgages will cover 80-85% of home values; otherwise, demand for residential units is predicted to remain low, even though there are signs of steady growth.
During the past winter, the number of new residential construction permits issued around the country reached 92,843 — an increase of 34.6% compared with the quarter before, according to the Statistical Center of Iran. Construction activity, however, is still considered weak by many experts.
One indicator of the state of the market is demand for luxury residential property in Tehran, which has reached rock bottom. The market share of luxury apartments, which are classified as properties with square meter prices of at least 80 million rials ($2,589, or $240 per square foot), decreased to 1% in the first quarter of the current Iranian year (beginning March 20) from 5% in the same period last year, the leading economic newspaper Donya-e Eqtesad reported July 24. The dropping demand for luxury apartments in well-off neighborhoods has pushed sellers to squeeze down prices, but it doesn’t appear to have had any impact on demand for such properties.
The same trend is evident when it comes to commercial real estate. Two prominent housing pundits stated at a recent gathering in Tehran that for investors pouring cash into commercial units, the good days are over. Hossein Abdoh Tabrizi, an adviser to the minister of roads and urban development, warned investors that they must learn from their costly mistakes, referring to the excess supply of luxury and commercial units in the past decade that has left financial resources trapped in vacant and unaffordable buildings.
According to Donya-e Eqtesad, the market share of apartments sold at a value of 20 million to 40 million rials per square meter in the first quarter of the current Iranian year was 51%. Given that the average property price in Tehran hovers around 42 million rials per square meter, the report shows there has been a rise in demand among the middle- and lower-middle-class residents of the Iranian capital. This could be a sign that the government’s attempt to provide more mortgage loans to buyers of small- and medium-sized homes has been somewhat successful, though not yet enough to give a major boost to the residential property market.
Abdoh Tabrizi and Teymour Rahmani, an economist at Tehran University, said at the recent gathering in Tehran that the housing market could grow in the coming months if investors shift their energy from the luxury and commercial property market to the untapped build-to-rent market for the middle class and those with low incomes; Tabrizi and Rahmani said this has been a popular investment model in developed countries. However, both economists noted that there would be no “high” demand in either market in the short run. The latter argument means that Iran’s real estate market will most likely remain stable rather than jump in the next couple of years, even as demand is expected to steadily increase. One of the main reasons for this prediction is the decline in the country’s population growth. Indeed, some experts believe Iran’s population growth rate, which dropped from 1.6% in 2006 to 1.3% in 2011, has had a negative impact on the housing market.
Behrouz Maleki, author of a new book titled “An Analysis of Iran’s Real Estate Market,” blames banks for their inflexibility when it comes to financing of housing projects, calling for further lending. He also criticizes the government for failing to adopt a mechanism that could help investors have a better understanding of the boom and bust periods in the real estate market. But the government says it has already come up with solutions.
Minister of Roads and Urban Development Abbas Akhoundi has unveiled an initiative to revitalize old residential areas, a project that officials expect the private sector to be extensively involved in. The plan aims to encourage construction of residential property in 2,700 neighborhoods in 495 cities, where a total of 19 million Iranians reside. Akhoundi says the plan would meet the real needs of middle-class consumers by providing them with affordable housing.
Should this huge revitalization project be executed, construction in urban areas is likely to receive a boost. However, the project would need billions of dollars in investment, part of which could come from abroad, as some experts suggest. But the question is how interested a foreign real estate investor could really be in such a project, given the already-low demand in the market and inflation of around 9%, assuming that inflation will not rise again in the next couple of years


Long road ahead for Iran’s bid to join World Trade Organization
Author Maysam Bizær Posted August 2, 2016 Almonitor
TEHRAN, Iran — “Now that years of intensive negotiations have finally cleared all the misunderstandings around Iran's nuclear activities, we are taking the next step toward integrating more deeply into the global economy. … Finalizing WTO membership is therefore a priority for the Iranian government,” said Industry Minister Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh at a ministerial meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Nairobi late last year.
Unlike the UN Security Council, in which only the five permanent members wield veto power, any decision at the WTO must be approved by all member states. This means that even the objection of a single state effectively results in a veto.
As such, it was only in May 2005, after 21 failed attempts over the course of two decades — due to objections by the United States — that Iran’s application was finally approved unanimously to give it observer status. Yet Iran, the second largest economy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region after Saudi Arabia, is still the largest economy excluded from the WTO.
As part of Iran’s accession bid, a working party has been formed while Tehran has taken a series of steps, such as submitting a memorandum on its foreign trade regime in 2009 and replying to a set of questions in 2011. However, “the working party has not yet met,” according to the WTO.
Following last year’s landmark nuclear deal, which resulted in the removal of many financial and trade restrictions, the Iranian government has sought to build on the momentum and proceed with its WTO accession bid by gaining more international support, including backing from the European Union. Iran has also set up a team of economists and lawyers to evaluate the institutional and economic reforms required to make its trade regime WTO-compliant.
The 164-member WTO accounts for nearly all global trade. As such, for Iran’s trade-starved economy, accessing the global markets of WTO member states is particularly attractive as it can challenge economic sanctions against it through the organization’s dispute settlement system.
While Iranian officials argue that the main obstacle for Iran to join the WTO is political rather than technical, critics say that the political issues are only the tip of the iceberg and that the country is yet to be prepared for the fundamental changes required to join the WTO.
As history shows, WTO accession is a lengthy process, which on average takes nearly a decade. To complete its accession bid, Iran needs to make some painful measures to make its trade regime WTO-compliant. These steps include elimination or reduction of certain types of subsidies, lowering of tariffs, greater transparency about a wide range of policies including rules for importing and export goods as well as observing copyright laws.
Those opposed to Iranian WTO membership say accession without prior preparedness would only harm the already-troubled Iranian economy as it would probably lead to an increase of imported goods, due to a lowering of tariffs, and harm protected industries, leading to their closure and subsequent increased unemployment.
In an interview with Al-Monitor, Mohammad Reza Sabzalipour, the head of World Trade Center Tehran (Iran) said, “We have to improve our economy. If we join the WTO with the current economic situation, we won’t be successful, and even the industries which are functioning today will be destroyed.”
Those in favor of Iran’s accession agree that the country will be harmed if the economic situation is not properly prepared before joining the WTO. However, they insist that Iran has no choice but to prepare the ground and join the organization, since the advantages outweigh the disadvantages.
Economists such as Mohammad Gholi Yousefi of Allameh Tabatabai University say that development cannot take place while Iran remains in isolation, arguing that the country needs to establish international ties and attract foreign investment as a way to bring in modern technology to boost the economy.
WTO membership, Yousefi and others say, would help Iran achieve these goals while the economic restructuring that the country has to undertake will provide Iranian enterprises with the necessary framework to engage in business based on international regulations.
Despite the differing views of those against or in favor of Iran’s WTO membership, it seems that Iranian officials have a realist approach to joining the organization, saying that full membership cannot happen overnight.
Indeed, officials have said that the country plans to become a WTO member by the Iranian calendar year 1404 (beginning in March 2023), when its economy is projected to be stable and export-driven.
“Following the establishment of the WTO working party, it will take between eight to 10 years for negotiations to be completed,” Valiollah Afkhami Rad, the head of Iran’s Trade Promotion Organization, said in a January interview with Sharq Daily, adding, “The government can also demand an additional period of up to seven years to gradually make sensitive economic sectors compatible with the global system.”
Iranian government officials maintain that accession to the WTO is in line with the “resistance economy” outlined by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has stressed the importance of joining the WTO only when the country has become fully prepared by becoming an export-driven economy.
But as Iran’s experience with the WTO already shows, even if the country meets all the prerequisite trade commitments and economic reforms, full membership in the organization will be highly affected by the country’s international relations.
“Iran can’t achieve full WTO membership as long as it has political and ideological differences with most of the organization’s members, including Israel,” Sabzalipour told Al-Monitor. He added, “We should either end those differences — which will result in our humiliation in the world — or insist on them, in which case not all member countries will back Iran’s accession.”
Indeed, while it is clear that it will be years before Iran can become a WTO member, the country’s accession bid — even if all prerequisites were met today — would be at the mercy of not only US or Israeli objections, but potentially those of other WTO members — including Saudi Arabia. As such, despite the nuclear deal, the road to Iranian WTO membership remains long and blocked by hurdles.

 


By ARIEL BEN SOLOMON \ 07/31/2016 21:53
Iran and Russia discuss increasing military ties; Iran blasts US for 'violation' of nuclear deal
They officials after the International Army Games 2016 began on Saturday.
Senior Iranian and Russian defense officials discussed improving defense ties in a meeting in Moscow on Sunday.

“Iran and Russia have the needed capacities to broaden their mutual cooperation in the defense field,” Brig.-Gen. Vali Madani said during a meeting with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported.

They met after the International Army Games 2016 began on Saturday.

The Iranian commander voiced his satisfaction with the friendly ties between Tehran and Moscow, and the Russian defense minister said that the countries have agreed to expand their defense relations.

“Iran’s armed forces have good relations with Russia. We are sure the competitions will strengthen them more,” Madani said on Saturday according to the report.

“We are grateful to Russia for holding these very significant competitions. We are looking forward to winning them,” he said.

Contingents from Iran’s army, Islamic Revolutionary Guards, Basij militia and police are taking part in the competition in Russia and Kazakhstan, Russian state news agency Sputnik reported. Teams from 30 member countries, including China, Belarus and Azerbaijan, are participating.


Meanwhile, the spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Behrouz Kamalvandi, blasted the US for what he claimed was violating the nuclear deal signed last summer by preventing cooperation between large international corporations and Tehran.

“We have not violated the nuclear deal, but the other side has violated it through its political approach toward huge firms,” Kamalvandi said in an interview with Iranian staterun TV on Saturday night, Fars reported.

Sanctions regarding human rights and terrorism charges remain in force, the Atomic Energy Organization spokesman noted, claiming they violate the nuclear agreement.

On the Syrian front, Hossein Sheikholeslam, a senior adviser to Iran’s foreign minister, said the Islamic Republic would continue its “advisory” assistance to the Syrian government until the elimination of all terrorist threats to the country, Iran’s Tasnim News Agency reported.

He spoke about “Western countries plots” to topple from power Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Separately, Ankara’s ambassador to Tehran, Reza Hakan Tekin, praised Iran for quickly coming out against the Turkish coup attempt.

“Iranian officials, including the president and parliament speaker as well as the Iranian nation, stood by the Turkish government and nation,” he told Tasnim in an interview, the website reported on Sunday.

Tekin noted that President Hassan Rouhani told counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a recent phone conversation that he stayed awake all night to follow the coup developments.

Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Turkey are on opposite sides of the regional sectarian conflicts.

 


Rouhani’s bet on nuke deal may cost him at the polls
Author Ali Hashem Posted July 25, 2016 Almonitor
Halfway between the signing of the historic Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and their country’s next presidential election, Iranians are waiting to see how the former will influence the latter — and whether the US presidential election will affect the deal.
President Hassan Rouhani may very well end up facing his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in next summer’s vote. Indeed, the conservative former president appears eager to return to the presidential residence on Tehran’s Pastor Street — and he’s fighting for it by using the outcome of the nuclear deal as a weapon.
“Rouhani might become the first [Iranian] president not to secure a second term,” a prominent Iranian moderate-conservative figure told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Many of those in my camp prefer that he gets a second term. Yet, the other candidate is exploiting the setbacks of the nuclear deal to present himself as the only savior to the people.”
The source added, “If the situation continues this way, the entire country will have to face a serious challenge that not many in the upper echelons will prefer seeing.”
On July 8, the US House of Representatives passed a bill that seeks to block US aircraft sales to Iran, potentially undercutting the Boeing deal with Tehran estimated to be worth as much as $25 billion. Prior to that, there were several other US measures that some thought vindicated the nuclear deal’s opponents in Tehran. The US Supreme Court ruling to seize $2 billion worth of Iranian assets to compensate American victims of the 1983 US Embassy bombing in Beirut was one; financial restrictions by the United States on companies doing business with Iran was another. Indeed, it is clear in Tehran that, given the current circumstances, the deal has produced very few things that benefit the masses of urban Iranians.
Al-Monitor asked a senior Iranian official whether there is something wrong with the deal and whether Iranians are still convinced it was the best path forward. He told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “Iran has a wide spectrum of views. Many — maybe the majority — believe that Iran made the right decision but did not receive the full benefits that it was entitled to.” The senior official added that this was not because of any deficiency in the JCPOA, “but because of deceitful US behavior.” The official further said that if the United States continues with steps that could be seen as destructive, then “obviously Iran will not abide by a destroyed agreement.”
Yet, despite all the Iranian complaints, Tehran still views the JCPOA as “an opportunity more than an achievement,” according to Iranian diplomat Alireza Miryousefi, who was with the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna a year ago. Miryousefi told Al-Monitor that the deal was reached "with heavy expenses from both sides, and both should seize this unrepeatable opportunity.”
He added, “Missing this chance will be a big mistake.”
While the Rouhani administration might view the deal as having great potential, a group of young men in Tehran who are campaigning against the JCPOA regard it as a poison chalice. Alireza Mataji is the spokesperson for the hard-line Committee to Protect Iranian Interests, the main group within the coalition opposing the deal and the nuclear negotiations as a whole.
“The deal was clinched without Iran receiving any advantage, or even without the other party making any commitment to lift the sanctions,” Mataji told Al-Monitor while explaining why his group opposes the deal. “Instead, the deal destroyed Iran's nuclear industry, which was the symbol of the people's resistance, independence and self-esteem in the face of the West's bullying for years.”
He said, “The deal came at a time when it was getting more and more difficult and costly for the United States to keep its sanctions against Iran, and on the political side, it facilitates the United States' other plans to eradicate the Islamic Republic as its main ideological enemy in the world.”
Mataji added that, even though US Republicans have fiercely opposed the nuclear deal, he does not believe the next US administration will give up on the deal.
”I don’t imagine that the United States would turn its back on the JCPOA. … The difference between a [Hillary] Clinton administration and a [Donald] Trump administration is not whether to accept the deal, but how quickly or slowly they’ll use their capacities to change the structure of the Islamic Republic, its policies and causes.”
During the past year, the Committee to Protect Iranian Interests has organized an array of activities, such as coordinated demonstrations after Friday prayers and several technical conferences featuring speakers harshly opposed to the deal, including the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, who survived an assassination attempt in November 2010 by agents Iranian authorities say were linked to Israel and the United States. A week before the JCPOA was signed on July 14, 2015, anti-deal activists staged a three-day sit-in in front of parliament in Tehran, while rallies were held in other Iranian cities.
The Committee to Protect Iranian Interests has brought together under its flag several politicians, university professors, former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officers, journalists and students. Mataji told Al-Monitor he and his group believe that events over the past year “prove that we were right” to oppose the deal.
“Iran has fulfilled all of its commitments, which are nothing but losses. … The JCPOA couldn't prevent the imposition of fresh sanctions against Iran.”
 


 Erdogan's crackdown on enemies just getting started after failed coup
Turkish coup attempt had "nationwide tentacles"
Author Week in Review Posted July 24, 2016 Almonitor

On July 23, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan closed thousands of charities and private schools as he expanded his crackdown in the aftermath of the failed July 15 coup. A restructuring of the military is also in the cards. Kadri Gursel reports that 35% (124 of 358) of the generals and admirals in Turkey’s armed forces (TSK) have been arrested, and that the coup was “widespread” with “nationwide tentacles.” He writes that, except for the Turkish navy, “it would not be an exaggeration to estimate that between one-third and one-half of forces on the ground had joined the uprising at various levels.”
Erdogan has signaled that the coup aftermath will likely be a final reckoning for cleric Fetullah Gulen and his followers. The Gulen movement and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) had at one time been allies in advancing the AKP’s Islamist agenda, including purges of alleged Kemalist elements in the TSK. During these years, Gulen followers expanded their influence among the judiciary, police and armed forces. This was fine with AKP rulers until 2013, when Gulen fell out with Erdogan, then prime minister, who subsequently began a widely publicized purge of Gulen loyalists in the judiciary and military.
Gursel writes, “Of the 124 generals and admirals detained, 83 are brigadier generals and rear admirals. As far as can be determined, about half of them were promoted to the rank of brigadier and rear admiral in 2013 and later. This indicates that most of the generals who today are accused of coup plotting were promoted to fill the ranks vacated by their colleagues who were purged in the Sledgehammer and Ergenekon cases. It can't be a coincidence that they constitute the majority of the plotters of this failed coup.”
In addition to the Gulenists, those in the armed forces involved in the coup included “pragmatists who joined the plotters for career advancement and personal interests; soldiers who had to join under pressure or blackmail; and lower-ranking soldiers who couldn’t defy orders because of the TSK's absolute-obedience culture,” as Metin Gurcan reports.
Gurcan adds that the timing of the coup may have been related to a Supreme Military Council meeting scheduled for the first week in August to decide on senior military promotions and appointments. Gurcan wrote in August 2015 that then-newly appointed Chief of General Staff Gen. Hulusi Akar had been tasked to weed out Gulenists in the TSK as part of a broader purge authorized by the AKP.
An Al-Monitor correspondent who was an eyewitness to the failed coup and its aftermath writes, “The coup attempt was not the work of a small group of renegades, and the plan was not amateurish. The coup plotters had support from all segments of the armed forces and managed to seal all Turkey's borders. The coup was stillborn due to the efforts of the MIT [Turkish Intelligence Service], rather than simply failing on its own after being launched. … One unanswered question is why, despite knowledge of an imminent coup attempt, it was the police and members of the public — rather than the rest of the armed forces — who were on the streets trying to stop the F-16s and tanks. The coup was not an Erdogan plot, but if he succeeds in fully suppressing the takeover attempt, his hold over power will deepen. Mainstream media in Turkey have been instrumental in rallying support for Erdogan. Their unconditional support has prevented anyone from questioning the government’s calls for the public to attend rallies for democracy.”
Gursel concludes that the outcome is devastating for Turkey’s institutions and regional standing: “This TSK, infested with Gulenists, was not the national army of Turkey. The [Gulenist] Congregation had become an army within an army. In addition, the TSK is a NATO army. Any crisis, any weakness in its command and performance would also be a NATO crisis. The TSK is in a historic crisis and decline.”
Iran benefits from clear stance on coup
Erdogan is also keeping score with regard to the international response to the attempted coup and its aftermath. One possible outcome is an improvement in relations with Russia and Iran, as the Turkish government and media have been less than satisfied with the responses of the United States, the European Union and certain Arab countries, as Fehim Tastekin reports. Turkish officials and pro-government media have even alleged a possible US role in the coup, and Erdogan will be sensitive to Western criticism of his crackdown.
On July 22, US President Barack Obama condemned the coup attempt and rejected allegations that the United States had any advance knowledge of it. The US-Turkish relationship may be put to the test if Turkey formally requests Gulen’s extradition.
Iran seems to have benefited from its clear stance on the failed coup. Ali Hashem explains why Iranian leaders quickly and unequivocally opposed the coup and backed Erdogan as head of Turkey’s democratically elected government. Iran’s support came with a reminder, however, that Tehran hopes for a turnaround of Turkey’s Syria policy. Hashem reports that Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a former foreign minister, said while condemning the coup that he hopes “’the Turkish government will respect the views and votes of the Syrian people and allow them to decide their own government.’” Hashem adds, “It was a clear message from Iran to Turkey regarding Syria and the future of the struggle in the region. For five years now, Iranian officials have on repeated occasions stated that they have been trying to engage the Turks on a path to address the situation in Syria, and while unsuccessful, have never given up on this approach.”


Turkey and the war in Syria
Erdogan’s counter-coup weakens the Syrian rebels
Arrests of senior officers and a look inward in Turkey mean setbacks for rebels in Syria
Jul 24th 2016 | Economist
SYRIAN rebels looking to the heavens for salvation have grown used to seeing Russian incendiary and Syrian barrel-bombs raining down instead. But at least they could count on succour and sustenance from across the Turkish border. After the aborted coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, that seems in doubt.
The commander of the second army, who is entrusted with securing Turkey’s southern borders, is in prison, says a veteran Turkish commentator. So too are most of the commanders of combat units on Syria’s border. (They are among more than 100 generals and admirals and 9,000 security personnel arrested since the coup attempt.) As Mr Erdogan focuses on the enemy within, he has tried to batten down what hatches he can, periodically closing the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, hitherto the prime supply route to Syria’s Sunni opposition-held territory. “We’re seeing a more inward-looking, introverted posture,” says the commentator. “The military’s ability to project Turkey’s power regionally has been undermined.”
The downturn in Turkey’s relations with America, which harbours Fethullah Gulen, whom Mr Erdogan accuses of masterminding the coup, also fractures the external alliance backing Syria’s rebels. Irked by America’s sanctuary for Mr Gulen, Mr Erdogan temporarily cut electricity to Incirlik, a large air base, interrupting the American-led bombardment of Islamic State. The private American companies based near Turkey’s borders with Syria that are contracted to extend non-lethal support to Syrian rebels wonder whether they too might be swept into the fray. Both Turkey and America, for separate reasons, now appear to be hedging their bets on the war’s outcome. Both are seeking a working relationship with Russia, the prime sponsor of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president whom the rebels had vowed to overthrow. “We’ve staked everything on changing the regime,” says a glum spokesman of the Free Syrian Army, the umbrella group holding Eastern Aleppo, the largest urban centre still in opposition hands. “Instead everything has changed but the regime.”
Even as international support for the rebels recedes, external support for the regime is strengthening. Russia continues to command the skies, despite pledges to withdraw. Iran and its satellites, which include the southern Lebanese militia, Hizbullah, prop up the regime’s exhausted troops on the ground. Two days after Turkey’s military establishment launched its coup, forces allied to the Syrian government established positions on Castello Road, the last supply road into Eastern Aleppo, imposing a full siege on the opposition enclave. Four more field hospitals and a blood bank were struck from the air on July 23rd. “Where are your red lines, Mr Erdogan?” asks an exiled Syrian politician in Gaziantep, Turkey’s gateway to Syria. “It seems Turkey no longer has a long-term strategy in Syria.”
By contrast, regime forces cheer Turkey’s mayhem. In Damascus soldiers at government checkpoints greeted news of the coup with bursts of celebratory gunfire. In the almost ten months since Russia launched its aerial bombardment in support of Mr Assad, Syrian rebels have lost between a half and a third of their territory, says a Syrian opposition official in southern Turkey. South of Damascus Mr Assad’s forces have captured the farmland around Daraya, starving its population and bringing its fighters to the verge of defeat after nearly four years of siege. In Ghouta, another Damascus suburb where rebels are also losing territory, the regime is offering to bus rebels to safety if they surrender. It now appears to be applying the same tactics to eastern Aleppo after a counter-attack, in which some 200 rebels were killed, failed to reopen the road. UN agencies expect some food stocks to begin to run out after a month. The city’s plight, says a Red Cross official, is “devastating and overwhelming”.
Some still hope for a reversal of fortunes. Aleppo’s fighters say they have long anticipated a siege and built up supplies. Aided by Jabhat al-Nusra, an al-Qaeda affiliate, they suggest they could cut the road to regime-held Western Aleppo and impose a siege of their own. (Though the regime-held west hosts the bulk of the city’s remaining 1.4m people, students fleeing Syria’s former economic hub to Turkey say it suffers from collapsed services, and has no running water or electricity.) A few rebels argue that as part of his counter-coup Mr Erdogan might yet project his Sunni triumphalism abroad and come to their rescue. But among exiled leaders in Gaziantep and the Americans co-ordinating their logistical backup, the mood is one of despondency. “It’s game over [for Syria’s rebels] already,” says one.
 


We love to talk of terror – but after the Munich shooting, this hypocritical catch-all term has finally caught us out
How come a Muslim can be a terrorist in Europe but a mere ‘attacker’ in south-west Asia?
• Robert Fisk Independent Jul 24, 2016
The frightful and bloody hours of Friday night and Saturday morning in Munich and Kabul – despite the 3,000 miles that separate the two cities – provided a highly instructive lesson in the semantics of horror and hypocrisy. I despair of that generic old hate-word, “terror”. It long ago became the punctuation mark and signature tune of every facile politician, policeman, journalist and think tank crank in the world.
Terror, terror, terror, terror, terror. Or terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist, terrorist.
But from time to time, we trip up on this killer cliché, just as we did at the weekend. Here’s how it went. When first we heard that three armed men had gone on a “shooting spree” in Munich, the German cops and the lads and lassies of the BBC, CNN and Fox News fingered the “terror” lever. The Munich constabulary, we were informed, feared this was a “terrorist act”. The local police, the BBC told us, were engaged in an “anti-terror manhunt”.
And we knew what that meant: the three men were believed to be Muslims and therefore “terrorists”, and thus suspected of being members of (or at least inspired by) Isis.
Then it turned out that the three men were in fact only one man – a man who was obsessed with mass killing. He was born in Germany (albeit partly Iranian in origin). And all of a sudden, in every British media and on CNN, the “anti-terror manhunt” became a hunt for a lone “shooter”.
One UK newspaper used the word “shooter” 14 times in a few paragraphs. Somehow, “shooter” doesn’t sound as dangerous as “terrorist”, though the effect of his actions was most assuredly the same. “Shooter” is a code word. It meant: this particular mass killer is not a Muslim.
Now to Kabul, where Isis – yes, the real horrific Sunni Muslim Isis of fearful legend – sent suicide bombers into thousands of Shia Muslims who were protesting on Saturday morning at what appears to have been a pretty routine bit of official discrimination.
The Afghan government had declined to route a new power line through the minority Hazara (Shia) district of the country – a smaller electric cable connection had failed to satisfy the crowds – and had warned the Shia men and women to cancel their protest. The crowds, many of them middle-class young men and women from the capital, ignored this ominous warning and turned up near the presidential palace to pitch tents upon which they had written in Dari “justice and light” and “death to discrimination”.
But death came to them instead, in the form of two Isis men – one of them apparently pushing an ice-cream cart – whose explosives literally blew apart 80 of the Shia Muslims and wounded at another 260.
In a city in which elements of the Afghan government are sometimes called the Taliban government, and in which an Afghan version of the Sunni Muslim Islamic State is popularly supposed to reside like a bacillus within those same factions, it wasn’t long before the activists who organised the demonstration began to suspect that the authorities themselves were behind the massacre. Of course, we in the West did not hear this version of events. Reports from Kabul concentrated instead on those who denied or claimed the atrocity. The horrid Islamist Taliban denied it. The horrid Islamist Isis said they did it. And thus all reports centred on the Isis claim of responsibility.
But wait. Not a single report, not one newscast, referred to the Kabul slaughter as an act of “terror”. The Afghan government did. But we did not. We referred to the “suicide bombers” and the “attackers” in much the same way that we referred to the “shooter” in Munich.
Now this is very odd. How come a Muslim can be a terrorist in Europe but a mere “attacker” in south-west Asia? Because in Kabul the killers were not attacking Westerners? Or because they were attacking their fellow Muslims, albeit of the Shia Muslim variety?
I suspect both answers are correct. I can find no other reason for this weird semantic game. For just as the terrorist identity faded away in Munich the moment Ali Sonboly turned out to have more interest in the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik than the Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of Mosul, so the real Isis murderers in Kabul completely avoided the stigma of being called terrorists in any shape or form.
This nonsensical nomenclature is going to be further warped – be sure of this – as more and more of the European victims of the attacks in EU nations turn out to be Muslims themselves. The large number of Muslims killed by Isis in Nice was noticed, but scarcely headlined. The four young Turks shot down by Ali Sonboly were subsumed into the story as an almost routine part of what is now, alas, the routine of mass killing in Europe as well as in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
The identity of Muslims in Europe is therefore fudged if they are victims but of vital political importance if they are killers. But in Kabul, where both victims and murderers were Muslim, their mutual crisis of religious identity is of no interest in the West; the bloodbath is described in anaemic terms. The two attackers “attacked” and the “attacked” were left with 80 dead – more like a football match than a war of terror.
It all comes down to the same thing in the end. If Muslims attack us, they are terrorists. If non-Muslims attack us, they are shooters. If Muslims attack other Muslims, they are attackers.
Scissor out this paragraph and keep it beside you when the killers next let loose – and you’ll be able to work out who the bad guys are before the cops tell you.

 


Will Hillary Clinton's Choice of Tim Kaine as VP Reignite the Iran Deal Controversy?
Clinton critics have been quick to point out that Kaine was one of the first senators to announce he was boycotting Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress.
Allison Kaplan Sommer Jul 23, 2016 9:12 PM Haaretz
Hillary Clinton was no longer secretary of state nor a U.S. senator when the painful throw-down between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama over the Iran deal played out in the winter of 2015.
That’s been fortunate for Clinton when it comes to her relationship with Israel and the Jewish establishment. The rupture between Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and Israel’s leaders and their advocates in much of the American Jewish community was deep and bloody, and scars remain. But because Clinton wasn’t a key player in the drama, successfully downplaying her support for the deal and any role she had in its origins, it hasn’t proven a real obstacle to American Jewish leaders who support Clinton, especially in the current anti-Donald Trump atmosphere.
But now, Clinton's choice of Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate has handed a potentially useful new weapon to those who have misgivings about her and want to make inroads with her Jewish and pro-Israel supporters on behalf of Trump.
It wasn’t just that Kaine was among the Democrats who decided to boycott Netanyahu's speech in March 2015, just before the Israeli election, to a joint session of Congress decrying the brewing deal with Iran while it was still in the formative stages. Kaine was among the very first to announce that he would do so – the fourth senator, to be precise, after Vermont’s Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy, and then Hawaii’s Brian Schatz. Eyebrows were raised that a mainstream Democrat like Kaine would make such a move, which he explained in a statement saying: "There is no reason to schedule this speech before Israeli voters go to the polls on March 17 and choose their own leadership. I am disappointed that, as of now, the speech has not been postponed. For this reason, I will not attend the speech."
After Clinton's VP pick was announced this weekend, the pro-Trump Breibart news site wasted no time reminding the world of the fact that Kaine “joined anti-Israel radicals” in boycotting Netanyahu’s speech last year, characterizing the Israeli prime minister’s appearance as “the last plea of a beleaguered nation.”
Kaine, the article said, “represents the pro forma, dinner-and-fundraiser definition of 'pro-Israel,' which offers Democrats cover, and allows donors to rub shoulders with politicians, but which means little in practice.”
Republican Jewish Coalition Executive-Director Matt Brooks released a statement saying the Kaine pick showed that Clinton “cannot be trusted to keep our country safe," saying that the Virginia senator’s support of the Iran deal “paved the way to a nuclear-armed Iran” and calling him “out of touch … on the dangers facing our country.” Brooks tweeted that his behavior on Iran showed that Kaine “wasn’t there when the Jewish community needed him” and that when the chips were down he “chose to stand with Obama.”
Until the Iran deal cast its shadow, Kaine was viewed as a strong, friendly, classically moderate, Democratic “pro-Israel” politician who has cooperated in the past with the dominant pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC. While governor of Virginia, he took trips to the Israel to promote trade ties, and a warm relationship continued during his time as chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
In an intensive post-mortem discussion of his actions regarding the Iran deal with the Forward, Kaine said he had shared many of Israel’s concerns about Iranian behavior. He said the issue of Iran’s cheating was a “very very fair question” and that concern over Iran’s actions in Syria and Yemen and “whether sanctions relief — more dollars, gives them the ability just to do more of it, I think is a very fair worry."
He expressed those worries by co-authoring the Corker bill, which gave Congress the right to review any agreement reached in the Iran talks, despite threats by Obama to veto it – a threat he didn’t exercise.
In his role as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Middle East, Central Asia and terrorism, Kaine met with Netanyahu several times to discuss the issue as the Iran deal took shape, and at times appeared frustrated with the prime minister's unwillingness to bend. Returning from one such conversation in 2014, Kaine described Netanyahu's position to journalists as “no, no, no: No enrichment, no centrifuges, no weaponization program.”
It may have been this personal involvement in unsuccessfully trying to bring Netanyahu around on substance that fueled his anger when he perceived that the prime minister was using the dispute for political gain.
In the Forward interview, Kaine characterized Netanyahu's appearance in Congress as a political ploy that had been “carefully designed to keep the White House out, to keep all congressional Democrats in the dark, even those of us who had been strong pro-Israel supporters, and in my view it was being done purely to try and influence the Israeli elections and demonstrate American support for one person and one party, which is something we should never do.”
Kaine said that he had actively tried to delay the Netanyahu speech until after the Israeli elections, when a bipartisan invitation to the prime minister could have been made. “Then the prime minister could have come and talked about a framework of a deal that was actually on the table, and pointed out the good, the bad, the ugly – here’s what’s good, here’s what’s bad.”
But as it played out, “it was just an exercise to paint a straw man and knock it down. And I viewed it as purely an exercise focused on the politics, not the important substance.”
Conservatives in Virginia suspected Kaine of pulling a “politically calculated” ploy of his own by boycotting Netanyahu, namely “throwing Israel under the bus” in order to grab a headline and curry favor with the progressive wing of the party – intimating that the senator may have deliberately publicly snubbed the prime minister in order to improve his chances as an attractive vice presidential candidate.
Kaine may have mended fences with angry anti-deal forces in Jerusalem and Washington with his activities after the deal was done. He joined Democratic colleagues calling for the Obama administration to write a new and strengthened “Memorandum of Understanding” on security assistance to Israel the following November. And in January Kaine joined seven of his Democratic colleagues in a meeting with Netanyahu in Israel to discuss oversight of the agreement and went to Vienna to meet with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body monitoring Iranian compliance with the deal. Kaine said in the Vienna meeting that he “emphasized that the IAEA’s credibility is on the line with the nuclear deal’s implementation and monitoring and that it would be a destructive blow to the organization if it does not quickly catch any attempts by Iran to undermine or cheat on the deal and immediately report those findings.”
Perhaps with a different Republican presidential candidate opposing Clinton, Kaine’s history – along with the fact that, as an active proponent of a two-state solution, he is a favorite of J Street and a recipient of campaign donations from the dovish organization – might have substantively helped the GOP in efforts to woo hawkish American Jews from Clinton-Kaine to Trump-Pence.
But in this bizarre outlier of a presidential election, it is unlikely to have an effect.
While the voice of Republican Jews, the Republican Jewish Coalition, may have “congratulated” Trump in May when he received enough delegate support to win the nomination, it has not actively praised him in any way, only speaking out to shoot arrows at Clinton, and now at her running mate.
The continuing deep discord and discomfort among Jewish Republicans regarding Trump was reflected in the fact that so many of them steered clear of last week’s Republican National Convention where Trump was nominated.
It surely makes any misgivings about Kaine’s record on the Iran deal, the two-state solution – or any other issue – pale in comparison.
 


WORLDPOST
From Iran to Nice, We Must Confront All Terrorism to End Terrorism
07/23/2016
Seyed Hossein Mousavian Head of Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security
France has unfortunately been the epicenter for two terrorism-related events in recent weeks. The tragic truck attack in Nice, which received international attention, and a rally recently held in Paris by a notorious Iranian opposition group — the “Mujahedin-e Khalq,” or MEK, which for years has committed acts of terrorism against Iran. While it might not be immediately evident, there is a connection between the events — the groups behind them have been accused of atrocities and have historical ties to Saudi Arabia.
Both the MEK and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, which claimed the attack in Nice, are groups with a history of terrorism, and both, in some way or another, are influenced by the kingdom.
MEK’s Terrorism in Iran
While the group no longer has the distinction of a terrorist group in the United States and is not related to or as widely destructive as ISIS, in Iran the MEK is still very much a perpetrator of terror.
Since its founding in the late 1960s, the MEK’s favored tactic has been terrorism, which for years it directed towards Americans. An MEK leader by the name of Massoud Rajavi stated in 1972 that the group’s “main goal” was to “free Iran of U.S. imperialism.” As I documented in my 2014 book, “Iran and the United States,” the MEK’s assassination campaigns in the 1970s claimed the lives of several high-profile Americans. Among the victims were one colonel and one lieutenant colonel of the U.S. Air Force, along with other servicemen.
The MEK’s hands are tainted not only with American blood, but also with the blood of countless Iranians, Iraqis and Kurds. Since Iran’s 1979 revolution, the MEK has been responsible for the deaths of upwards of 17,000 Iranians, including senior officials and ministers. During the Iran-Iraq War, the MEK also sided with Saddam Hussein, earning the enmity of the vast majority of Iranians. An Iranian NGO, the Habilian Association, has gone so far as to document all the Iranian victims of the MEK in a comprehensive database that includes photos and biographies of each of the victims.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s, the MEK was responsible for several terrorist campaigns within Iran, one of which killed some 70 Iranian officials in 1981, including both the president and prime minister at the time.
While the group no longer has the distinction of a terrorist group in the United States, in Iran the MEK is still very much a perpetrator of terror.
After the Iran-Iraq War, the MEK resided in Iraq and took on the role of Saddam’s henchmen. An October 1994 Wall Street Journal report quoted a Clinton administration official as saying, “Saddam looked on the Mujahedeen as more loyal than some of his own army units.” After the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Massoud Rajavi lambasted the U.N. coalition that pushed Saddam out of Kuwait, stating, “Iranian national movements and their masses strongly denounce the Iranian regime’s alliance with U.S. imperialism, world Zionism, and regional reactionaries to launch aggression against Iraq.”
In recent years, Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated — in some cases murdered while driving to work. MEK is thought by many to be involved in these attacks, perhaps with the assistance of Israel. According to a 2012 NBC News report, Israel was “training MEK members” to carry out the killings. The group has also been held responsible for an April 2000 assassination attempt on the leader of the Iranian policy making center for the war in Iraq.
The Saudi Connection
This year, the annual gathering of the MEK in Paris featured Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence, as a speaker. The conference typically draws the attendance of politicians of many nations, including the U.S., Egypt, and this year, Saudi Arabia. In his remarks, al-Faisal praised the pseudo-Islamist-Marxist group and emphatically supported its objective of toppling the Iranian government. Al-Faisal’s comments, which come at a time when Saudi-Iranian relations are at an all-time low and have even been compared to a “Cold War” state, will have serious consequences for the Tehran-Riyadh relationship going forward.
During my trip to Iran a few weeks ago, I spoke with a senior official about the necessity of improving Iran-Saudi relations. He told me that Iran was willing to engage the Saudis but that Riyadh had devoted itself to a confrontational approach. This official informed me that Iran had detailed intelligence about Riyadh’s financial support to the MEK, which he said had increased 800 percent in the past two years. He also noted that Saudi Arabia would cover the cost of this year’s MEK conference in Paris and that Prince Turki would be present to publicly declare Saudi Arabia’s support.
In the fight against terrorism, European and Saudi leaders should know better than to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ terrorism, or tolerate any form of terrorism in the service of cheap geopolitical gains.
With Prince Turki’s speech to the MEK, Saudi Arabia has elected to destroy any chance of de-escalating tensions between the two nations. In pursuing this approach, Saudi leaders should be cognizant that not only are they imperiling regional and global security, but they are also following in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. Saudi Arabia has already separated itself from its traditional regional allies with its hyper-anti-Iranian posture, so much so that only Bahrain— which is effectively under Saudi occupation — is standing fully with it. Global powers, on the other hand, are pursuing ways to enhance ties with Iran. It is truly a shame that Prince Turki al-Faisal, a man of significant ability and experience, has committed himself to this doomed cause rather than searching for peace and friendship between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
Riyadh’s now open alliance with the MEK only solidifies its position as the sponsor of yet another extremist group that espouses perverted views of Islam. The barbaric Nice terrorist attack— later claimed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State — and Prince Faisal’s endorsement of the MEK have a common denominator: a connection to Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia and ISIS
It has long been evident to the global community that Saudi Arabia is a benefactors of Islamist militant groups, including likely the group that evolved into ISIS. Many U.S. officials have publicly acknowledged this reality. Even former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated at the Brookings Institution last year that, “Much of the extremism in the world today is the direct result of policies and funding undertaken by the Saudi government and individuals.” A recent British parliament report also stated that it is “very likely” that individuals close to the royals of the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf have donated money to ISIS, though it is unclear how directly those funds have been given. Historically, too, the ideology of the group has ties to Saudi Arabia’s own identity via Wahhabism.
While ISIS wreaks havoc on the world with its global acts of terror, the MEK ravages Iran. In much the same way ISIS is a twisted offspring of the Sunni world that has ravaged, among others, Sunni-populated areas, the MEK is its counterpart for Iranians in the Shia world. Iranians thus expect the world community to confront the MEK just as it confronts ISIS. At the very least, the group should not be hosted by countries like France and endorsed by Saudi Arabia. In the fight against terrorism, European and Saudi leaders should know better than to distinguish between “good” and “bad” terrorism, or tolerate any form of terrorism in the service of cheap geopolitical gains.
The Nice truck slaughter — indeed the slaughtering by ISIS in general — and the MEK’s killing of thousands of Iranians are both worthy of our attention and condemnation.
In light of the Nice terrorist attack, the international community should also view the threat from other groups such as the MEK as an interconnected phenomenon. The scourge of terrorism currently threatening the whole world can only be alleviated if it is addressed in a holistic way. The Nice truck slaughter — indeed the slaughtering by ISIS in general — and the MEK’s killing of thousands of Iranians are both worthy of our attention and condemnation. The territory the perpetrators of such violence use to plan and launch attacks, as well as the flow of cash, equipment and ideology they draw their support and influence from should all be considered as pieces of the same terrorism “puzzle.” The global terrorist threat simply cannot be solved until all these pieces are recognized as being a part of the same puzzle and dealt with in an effective and simultaneous manner. This means not only increasing security to prevent attacks, but also seriously confronting those who aid terrorism in any way — from the MEK to ISIS.
 


Iranian academics still divided over nuclear deal
Author Zakiyeh Yazdanshenas Posted July 22, 2016 Almonitor

TEHRAN, Iran — Just over a year after the signing of the nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, Iranians are divided over its achievements and weaknesses. There is no sign of the celebrations in the streets of Tehran that followed the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on July 14, 2015, let alone praise of Iran’s nuclear negotiators on social media.
Indeed, according to a recent survey by Iranpoll.com — an independent polling firm based in Canada — for the University of Maryland, 74% of Iranians believe their lives have not improved after the JCPOA, while a great portion accuse the United States of not fulfilling its commitments under the deal. The survey also shows that public awareness among Iranians of the dimensions of the JCPOA has increased dramatically.
One of the reasons for the increasing public awareness of the provisions of the JCPOA is the extensive debate over the deal in the local press and on Iranian state TV.
Tehran University professor Foad Izadi is one of the most prominent critics of the JCPOA. He has frequently criticized the negotiations, the terms of the deal and its implementation in meetings, forums and interviews. When asked about the achievements of the JCPOA, Izadi told Al-Monitor that they are on paper rather than in practice. Pointing at the recent accord between the Central Bank of Iran and the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, Izadi added, “This agreement shows that Iran has not been able to achieve the advantages, including free trade and financial transactions, incorporated in the JCPOA. Despite this, in order to reach this goal, Iran had already given advantages to the other side during the negotiations.”
On June 25, the Central Bank of Iran announced, “After the approval of the Law to Combat Financing of Terrorism in the Iranian parliament and considering other appropriate measures incorporated in the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering in its latest statement said that for the first time, it has moved Iran from the bottom of the list to a higher level.”
The deal's critics in Tehran also frequently bring up “excessive demands” on the part of the United States.
Mohammad Jamshidi, also a professor at Tehran University, is another critic of the JCPOA. He thinks that at the tactical level, the Iranian side’s negotiating method caused the “excessive demands,” telling Al-Monitor, “In the [April 2013] Almaty 2 meeting, the Western side had given in [to Iran’s initiative] in the negotiations room and asked for more time to get some advice from their high-ranking officials. Next, the American side announced that it would wait for the results of Iran’s [June 2013] presidential elections. The simple fact is that because the Iranian initiative for an agreement was so logical, the other side could not reject it. They only hoped for change within Iran.”
Seeing a grander US scheme at play, Jamshidi told Al-Monitor, “America expects to change Iran’s mentality and regional behavior. In fact, the US does not look at the JCPOA as a mere nuclear deal.” However, he added, “This kind of attitude results from a misperception of Iranian society.” Jamshidi emphasized, “Over the past eight years, Iranian society has tested America and witnessed a huge difference between beautiful words and hostile acts.” In Jamshidi’s telling, the most important achievement of JCPOA is that “It has led [Iranian] society and also elites to the conclusion that negotiation with the US will not be the solution to the country’s problems and that we must rely on domestic power resources.”
Proponents of the deal in Tehran often point to the change in global attitudes toward Iran and its nuclear program as one of the positive outcomes of the JCPOA. Indeed, the termination of UN Security Council sanctions, the closing of the possible military dimensions file with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to normalize relations with the world have all helped improve views of Iran.
Nasser Hadian, a professor of international relations at Tehran University, does not view the JCPOA as a zero-sum game. Rather, Hadian told Al-Monitor he considers the bringing of the nuclear issue onto the path of “de-securitization” and the normalization of Iran’s ties with the world as the most important achievements of the JCPOA. However, he believes that some US sanctions that remain in place violate the spirit of the nuclear deal. Hadian told Al-Monitor, “The lack of strategic coherence in Iran’s demands and advantages contrasted sharply with the other side’s coherent demands.”
Meanwhile, Hadian predicted potential gloom ahead. He told Al-Monitor, “Although the JCPOA will remain in force, America after [President Barack] Obama will push to strengthen the sanctions regime. While the [US] federal government is now trying to keep the sanctions under its control, the [individual] states will continue to adhere to their own bans and bring them out of the federal government’s prerogative. Therefore, implementation of the JCPOA will be harder in the future.”
While the JCPOA was signed just over a year ago, it was only formally implemented in mid-January. Given the long duration of the negotiations and the history of hostility between Iran and the United States, some Iranian experts say it's impossible to predict what will happen to the JCPOA and its goals. Nader Entessar, a professor of international relations at the University of South Alabama, has over the past year offered extensive analyses of the various dimensions of the JCPOA, many of them in his book “Iran Nuclear Negotiations,” which analyzes the steps of the process of the negotiations and their outcomes. Entessar told Al-Monitor, “Although the hoped-for benefits of the JCPOA have not yet been felt by the Iranian people, the jury is still out about the long-term viability of the nuclear deal. The next US president and Congress will determine if JCPOA is a mirage or not."
While it is hard to quantify the political and security implications of the JCPOA, its impact on the Iranian economy, though greatly contested, is perhaps easier to decipher. Prominent economic analyst Saeed Laylaz told Al-Monitor he expects relative gains from the nuclear deal and that he sees the successes of the administration of President Hassan Rouhani in the economic sphere, such as the reduction of inflation and expansion of oil exports, as positive achievements of the JCPOA that cannot be ignored. While these benefits have yet to trickle down, Laylaz concluded to Al-Monitor, “It is wrong to [immediately] expect the effects of the full removal of sanctions on the economy, as they were not imposed overnight. The economy, which for many years has suffered from sanctions, needs time to recover.”
 


Delays Threaten to Unravel Iranian Plans to Buy 200 Jetliners
By RICK GLADSTONE JULY 23, 2016 New York Times
Agreements for Iran to buy more than 200 jetliners from Boeing and Airbus, the most prominent commercial outcomes of the nuclear accord reached a year ago, face delays that could reduce or even unravel them, aviation lawyers and analysts said.
Legislation passed by the House of Representatives on July 7 would essentially block the multibillion-dollar agreements with Boeing and Airbus, despite provisions in the nuclear accord that allowed for such deals. While President Obama is expected to veto that legislation, it has pushed back the clock for the airplane deliveries, much to the annoyance of Iranian officials.
“I was not expecting it, but I’m not surprised, either,” said Farhad R. Alavi, managing partner at the Akrivis law group, a Washington firm that specializes in sanctions compliance. “It’s very consistent with past efforts by Congress to undermine the nuclear deal.”
Boeing’s chief executive, Dennis A. Muilenburg, speaking this month at the Farnborough International Airshow in Britain, an important annual industry event, may have added to the skepticism. He said that if his company could not sell planes to Iran Air, the state-run airline, under a memorandum of agreement reached in June, then “nobody should.”
Mr. Muilenburg was alluding to the Airbus deal, which was publicized to great fanfare when President Hassan Rouhani of Iran visited France, where Airbus has its headquarters, in January.
The Iranians are also finding it difficult to find financing from foreign banks still skittish about doing business with the country. The depressed price of oil, Iran’s main export, is not helping matters.
Further doubts have been stoked by presidential uncertainties in Iran and the United States. President Rouhani, a moderate who made the ending of nuclear-related sanctions a priority when elected in 2013, is now engulfed in a scandal involving inflated government wages that could doom his hopes for a second term, with Iranian elections less than a year away.
Iran is also warily contemplating the possibility that Donald J. Trump, the Republican nominee for president of the United States, whose disdain for the nuclear accord is well known, could win in November. Whether he would try to withdraw from the accord is unclear.
The delayed aircraft deals have sent ripples of uncertainty through the aviation industry, potentially affecting anticipated work by financial institutions, suppliers, service providers, insurers, reinsurers and others, according to lawyers knowledgeable about how large aircraft purchase contracts are handled.
Iranian aviation officials, impatient to begin rejuvenating the country’s aging fleet of 250 aircraft — of which more than a third are said to be grounded — have hinted they may go elsewhere to buy planes.
The Iranians have expressed interest in a midsize jet under development by Japan’s Mitsubishi conglomerate, Reuters reported recently. In another possible sign of reduced expectations, there is speculation that the Iranians may cancel orders for 12 Airbus A380 jumbo jets, part of the 118-plane deal with Airbus that Mr. Rouhani announced seven months ago.
Doubts also have emerged about whether Iran can lease new planes as an alternative, or a supplement, to buying them.
Industry analysts say leasing companies could have difficulties repossessing the planes in the event Iran is found to have violated the nuclear accord or to be using the planes for purposes other than civilian transportation.
Iran has not signed the Cape Town Convention, an agreement on international procedures for recovering “mobile assets” like aircraft.
“A lot of people who lease planes will look at that and say, ‘No, thank you,’” said Richard L. Aboulafia, vice president of analysis at Teal Group, an aerospace consulting firm in Fairfax, Va.
Mr. Aboulafia also expressed skepticism about the possibility of Iran’s becoming an important customer to either Boeing or Airbus. Most of the international routes to Iran have been claimed by airlines in neighboring Persian Gulf states, with service and reliability that Iran will have trouble matching.
“Iran’s jetliner requirements could be real, but only if Tehran also agreed to reform its miserable state-owned economy, create private-sector airlines and adhere to international finance norms,” Mr. Aboulafia wrote in an opinion piece published July 7 in Aviation Week, an industry magazine. “There are no plans to do anything like this.”
Even under a newly relaxed sanctions regime stipulated by the nuclear accord, both Boeing and Airbus need licenses from the United States Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to sell aircraft to Iran. Airbus planes use American parts that are subject to United States government approval.
Both Boeing and Airbus have repeatedly said they are awaiting the licenses and cannot proceed without them. Treasury officials have declined to comment on when the licenses might be issued.
Boeing has rejected accusations by some congressional critics that its desire to sell airplanes to a country hostile to the United States is wrongheaded.
“Basically what we’ve told them is, ‘Look: The U.S. government and five other governments negotiated this agreement. Airplanes were a part of it,” Tim D. Neale, a Boeing spokesman, said in a telephone interview.
He also suggested that Boeing was not prepared to relinquish any competitive opportunity to Airbus concerning the Iranian market. Iranian aviation officials have said they will need 500 planes in coming years.
“If Airbus were able to go into that market and we weren’t able to be in there, too, and if Iran stays on the straight and narrow path and the moderates prevail politically and the market really grows in years ahead,” Mr. Neale said, “they would have that market to themselves.”

 


Why Iran stood with Erdogan
Author Ali Hashem Posted July 19, 2016 Almonitor
As July 15 was coming to an end in Tehran, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was on the phone with his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose government was under the threat of being overthrown by a military coup. Meanwhile, Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), was on another line with security officials in Ankara. All the while, Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, Iran’s regional military arm, was busy pursuing and reviewing various scenarios that might emerge.
 “It’s not a secret anymore,” an Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Zarif, Shamkhani and Soleimani were executing higher orders. The whole establishment was too concerned. Turkey is a neighboring state. President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan and his government are strong partners of Iran. Our nations enjoy strong brotherly ties, so it’s the least we can do to show solidarity and try to offer any help they might need in such critical times.”
Within hours after the coup attempt began late July 15, the SNSC convened to discuss developments in Turkey. Following the meeting, which was chaired by President Hassan Rouhani, Shamkhani publicly condemned the coup attempt, telling local media outlets, “We support Turkey's legal government and oppose any type of coup — either [initiated] domestically or supported by foreign sides.” Shamkhani said, “What determined the fate of developments in Turkey were the will and presence of the [Turkish] nation and the vigilance of political parties, whose contribution thwarted this coup. Shamkhani concluded, “Our stance is not exclusive to Turkey either. We have pursued the same stance in Syria too. Our position toward all regional countries is that we always prefer people's votes [to decide governments] rather than tribal, sectarian and hereditary governments, and this means democracy."
“A coup in Turkey isn’t something Iran can tolerate,” another Iranian politician told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “It’s true that there are differences over Syria, and sometimes in Iraq. Yet the fact is that there is no direct problem between Iran and Turkey; on the contrary, [bilateral] relations are always advancing for the better. Besides, Iran is opposed to any kind of change by force, and especially when the government [in question] is democratically elected.” The Iranian politician said, “The most important thing is that this experience [the coup attempt] might be an opportunity for Mr. Erdogan to understand the situation in neighboring Syria.”
Indeed, multiple Iranian officials, including Ali Akbar Velayati — foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — brought up Syria in their condemnation of the coup attempt in Turkey. While condemning the coup, Velayati — a former foreign minister — said he hopes “the Turkish government will respect the views and votes of the Syrian people and allow them to decide their own government.” It was a clear message from Iran to Turkey regarding Syria and the future of the struggle in the region. For five years now, Iranian officials have on repeated occasions stated that they have been trying to engage the Turks on a path to address the situation in Syria, and while unsuccessful, have never given up on this approach.
But why is Iran so concerned about the coup attempt in Turkey?
“The stability of the region would have been seriously threatened if the coup attempt had succeeded. Turkey is a major player. Besides, there is the fear that such a move might trigger internal strife,” an Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. He explained that given the past five bloody years in the region, any such development in Turkey “will shake the whole region” in addition to “Europe, Iran and the Caucasus.” The Iranian official added, “Besides the already shaken Arab countries, what about the [various] ethnic groups within Turkey? Has anyone thought about what they might do?”
Some conservative figures and journalists in Tehran have shown a different reaction toward development in Turkey, influenced mainly by the crisis in Syria.
“It was clear that there’s a gap between the street and the government with respect to what was going on in Turkey," a conservative Iranian political figure told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. Many whose understanding of the region is influenced by the war in Syria think the fall of Erdogan would have been a positive development — not only in Iran but also in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. In this vein, the Iranian political source said that many within this camp “were surprised to see the Iranian government reacting before any other government in the whole world and backing the legitimate [Turkish] government.”
It is important to bear in mind the other important reasons why Iran sees the security and stability of Turkey as pivotal to its own national security. With an Islamic-oriented government in power in Ankara, bilateral relations have improved in the past decade, paving the way for common ground despite differences over regional developments. The latter has been possible thanks to Iranian-Turkish proximity in terms of grander objectives and also similarities in their ways of thinking. Indeed, at the height of the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran, Turkey played a vital role in easing the pressure on its eastern neighbor. Erdogan certainly paid the price for the holes he was accused of creating in the web of sanctions imposed on Iran through what came to be known as the "gold-for-oil scheme" — even while economic ties between the two countries greatly expanded in the sanctions era. With the implementation of the nuclear deal, the two countries now plan to triple their trade volume to $30 billion.
So, beside its public condemnations, did Iran play a role in directly thwarting the coup? Did it, for instance, share intelligence that helped Erdogan preserve his reign? Al-Monitor put forward this question to a senior Iranian official who was in direct contact with Turkish officials during the hours of the coup attempt. His answer was short but to the point: “No.”
Another Iranian official saw parallels between the successful coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953 and this year's coup attempt in Turkey. The official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “What we know is that this move was triggered by foreign hands. We went through the same in the past, and because Mr. Erdogan is today looking forward to playing a better role in the region, they want him down.” The Iranian official said “there was a message that was conveyed to Turkish security officials: Don’t leave the streets. This coup might be made up of several waves; it happened in Iran in 1953. When the first coup failed, they had another one ready — and they succeeded.”

 


Iran deal add-on will relax nuclear restrictions after Year 10, report says
Some restrictions on Iran's nuclear program will ease in slightly more than a decade, halving the time Tehran would need to build a bomb, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
By George Jahn, Associated Press JULY 19, 2016
VIENNA — Key restrictions on Iran's nuclear program imposed under an internationally negotiated deal will ease in slightly more than a decade, cutting the time Tehran would need to build a bomb to six months from present estimates of a year, according to a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press.
The document is the only part linked to last year's deal between Iran and six foreign powers that hasn't been made public. It was given to the AP by a diplomat whose work has focused on Iran's nuclear program for more than a decade, and its authenticity was confirmed by another diplomat who possesses the same document.
The diplomat who shared the document with the AP described it as an add-on agreement to the nuclear deal. But while formally separate from that accord, he said that it was in effect an integral part of the deal and had been approved both by Iran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the six powers that negotiated the deal with Tehran.
Details published earlier outline most restraints on Iran's nuclear program meant to reduce the threat that Tehran will turn nuclear activities it says are peaceful to making weapons.
But while some of the constraints extend for 15 years, documents in the public domain are short on details of what happens with Iran's most proliferation-prone nuclear activity — its uranium enrichment — beyond the first 10 years of the agreement.
The document obtained by the AP fills in the gap. It says that as of January 2027 — 11 years after the deal was implemented — Iran can start replacing its mainstay centrifuges with thousands of advanced machines.
Centrifuges churn out uranium to levels that can range from use as reactor fuel and for medical and research purposes to much higher levels for the core of a nuclear warhead. From year 11 to 13, says the document, Iran can install centrifuges up to five times as efficient as the 5,060 machines it is now restricted to using.
Those new models will number less than those being used now, ranging between 2,500 and 3,500, depending on their efficiency, according to the document. But because they are more effective, they will allow Iran to enrich at more than twice the rate it is doing now.
The U.S. says the Iran nuclear agreement is tailored to ensure that Iran would need at least 12 months to "break out" and make enough weapons grade uranium for at least one weapon.
But based on a comparison of outputs between the old and newer machines, if the enrichment rate doubles, that breakout time would be reduced to six months, or even less if the efficiency is more than double, a possibility the document allows for.
The document also allows Iran to greatly expand its work with centrifuges that are even more advanced, including large-scale testing in preparation for the deal's expiry 15 years after its implementation on Jan. 18.
It doesn't say what happens with enrichment past year 13. That indicates a possible end to all restrictions on the number and kind of centrifuges even while constraints on other, less-proliferation prone nuclear activities remain until year 15.
A U.S. official noted, however, that the limit on the amount of enriched uranium Iran will be allowed to store will remain at 300 kilograms (660 pounds) for the full 15 years as well as being restricted to a level used for reactor fuel that is well below weapons grade. Like the diplomats, he too demanded anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the document.
Iran insists it is not interested in nuclear weapons, and the pact is being closely monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA says Tehran has essentially kept to its commitments since the agreement was implemented, a little more than six months after Iran and the six powers finalized it on July 14, 2015.
Marking the agreement's anniversary Thursday, President Barack Obama said it has succeeded in rolling back Iran's nuclear program, "avoiding further conflict and making us safer." But opposition from U.S. Republicans could increase with the revelation that Iran's potential breakout time would be more than halved over the last few years of the pact.
In the U.S., one year after the deal, "there are few signs that a year of implementation has swayed either opponents or supporters to think differently," as The Christian Science Monitor reported last week:
This week, a group of 75 national security leaders released a letter to Obama extolling the deal’s accomplishments and called for using the landmark opening to expand engagement with Iran. Many of the prominent signers were supporters from the outset.
At the same time, dozens of pieces of legislation in Congress suggest unwavering opposition.
“There are 35 pieces of Iran-related legislation in Congress right now – that’s an enormous pushback,” says Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a critic of the deal. “The opposition is as intense and as focused as it was last summer.”
Also opposed is Israel, which in the past has threatened to strike Iran if it deems that Tehran is close to making a nuclear weapon. Alluding to that possibility, David Albright, whose Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security is a U.S. government go-to resource on Iran's nuclear program, said the plan outlined in the document "will create a great deal of instability and possibly even lead to war, if regional tensions have not subsided."
The deal provides Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for its nuclear constraints. But before going into recess, U.S. Congress last week approved a bill to impose new sanctions for Tehran's continuing development and testing of ballistic missiles, a program the White House says is meant to carry atomic warheads even if it is not part of the nuclear agreement.
It also approved a measure that calls for prohibiting the Obama administration from buying more of Iran's heavy water, a key component in certain nuclear reactors.
The White House has said removing the country's surplus heavy water denies Tehran access to a material that may be stored for potential nuclear weapons production. But critics note that the purchase was made only after Iran exceeded heavy water limits proscribed by the nuclear deal and assert it rewarded Tehran for violating the agreement.
Associated Press writer Matthew Lee contributed from Washington.

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One year after nuclear deal, Iran receives S-300 missiles
Author Arash Karami Posted July 18, 2016  Almonitor
One year after the signing of the comprehensive nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, a number of obstacles surrounding the landmark deal remain, most notably the remaining US sanctions on Iran that were not part of the deal. While Iran's top nuclear negotiators have been making media rounds selling the achievements of the deal to the Iranian public, which will be heading for voting booths in 10 months to elect a president, the delivery of the Russian S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile defense system stands out as one particular obstacle that has been removed as a result of the nuclear deal.
According to the Tasnim News Agency, the missiles for the S-300 have been shipped to Iran. In April, Iran's Foreign Ministry announced that the first phase of the delivery of the missile defense system had begun, just four months after implementation of the nuclear deal and one year after Russian President Vladimir Putin lifted the ban on the sale of the system as the result of the interim deal in the nuclear negotiations. On July 1, Brig. Gen. Farzad Esmaili, commander of the Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base, said the S-300 missile defense system would be fully operational by March 2017.
Tehran and Moscow had initially agreed to the S-300 deal in 2007, worth $800 million, but delivery was held up by UN Security Council resolutions prohibiting the sale of high-tech weapons to Iran. This led Iran to file a complaint with the International Court of Arbitration in Geneva.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who led the nuclear negotiations on behalf of Iran, spoke to Iranian television about the one-year anniversary of the deal. "If we want to give a grade to the BARJAM [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], in consideration of the time passed and international situation certainly, it will receive a good grade," Zarif said. "But if we want to give a grade to the method of implementation by the Americans, likely they will receive a low grade."
According to Zarif, some of the most significant accomplishments of the nuclear deal are that Iran's right to enrichment was recognized, UN Security Council resolutions against the country were removed and new sanctions against Iran were avoided. He added that in every agreement, most sides must leave happy, and there are no agreements where both sides acquire everything they want.
Abbas Aragchi, a nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister, spoke to the Young Journalists Club about some of the compromises Iran had had to make as a result of the nuclear deal. "No one can accuse us of making rogue decisions," Araghchi said. "On certain matters, red lines were moved [from one place to another], the first one being that all the sanctions would be removed. The Americans said that the administration cannot remove all the sanctions passed by Congress. If we would have insisted, it would have meant us not coming to an agreement. On two or three matters, the foreign minister [Zarif] gave reports to the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], and the red lines were moved. It was not like this that we took rogue actions."
Aragchi’s statement coincides with comments made by Khamenei in March on the occasion of the Iranian New Year. During that speech, Khamenei said that Zarif had told him that during the nuclear negotiations, "We were not able to maintain some of the red lines."

 


Turkey Faces Its Iran 1979 Moment
Empowered by surviving a coup, Erdogan may be tempted to encourage an Islamist counterrevolution.
By Soner Cagaptay July 17, 2016 7:20 p.m. ET Wall Street vJournal

Turkey is at a pivotal point in its history following the failed coup attempt of July 15. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, having survived the coup plot, won fresh legitimacy and gained a new ally: religious fervor in the streets. Mr. Erdogan can use this impetus either to become an executive-style president, or he can encourage the forces of religion to take over the country, crowning himself as an Islamic leader.
Though the incremental acquisition of power has been more his style in the past, the powerful eruption of Islamic support for him over the weekend may prove too tempting. This is Turkey’s Iran 1979 moment—will a brewing Islamic revolution overwhelm the forces of secularism?
As the coup plot was unfolding on Friday night, Mr. Erdogan appealed to religious sentiments in the country, rallying his supporters to launch a counter-coup. On his orders, calls for prayer were issued from Turkey’s over 80,000 mosques at 1:15 a.m.—not a time when people are supposed to be praying. The strategy worked, the call to prayer acted as a call to political action, and religious Turks took to the streets in defiance of the secularist military. Together with pro-government police forces, they overpowered the military’s botched effort.
Since July 15, pro-Erdogan sentiments in Turkey have been running high. Calls to prayer continue throughout the day (Islam requires only five calls to prayer at set times daily), reminding religious Turks of their political duty to stand with the president.
Mr. Erdogan, a politician with an Islamist pedigree, came to power in 2003 as prime minister and head of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). At that time, he followed a policy of economic growth to build a support base. He also moved away from Islamist politics, instead embracing reform and seeking European Union membership.
After winning electoral victories in 2007 and 2011 on a platform of economic good governance, however, Mr. Erdogan turned staunchly conservative and authoritarian.
He now regularly cracks down on freedoms of expression, assembly and association. He has shut down or taken over media outlets. He bans access to social media, locks up journalists and sends the police to harass opposition rallies.
Mr. Erdogan also promotes efforts to impose religion: In December 2014, Turkey’s Higher Education Council, a government-regulated body, issued a policy recommendation that mandatory courses on Sunni Islam be taught in publicly funded schools to all students, even ones as young as age 6.
In 2014, Mr. Erdogan, acceding to term limits, stepped down as prime minister and as the head of the AKP. He instead assumed the presidency—a formerly weak office that he has been steadily transforming. The coup gives Mr. Erdogan an excuse to press ahead with his plans to cobble together a parliamentary majority; he intends to amend Turkey’s Constitution and take over the posts of prime minister and AKP chairman in addition to being president.
This process, which would make Mr. Erdogan the most powerful person in Turkey since the country became a multiparty democracy 1950, fits into his gradualist approach to consolidating power. At the same time, it presents a risk: In the two most recent elections, Mr. Erdogan’s AKP has maxed out at 49.5% support, and although the president’s popularity has risen since the coup, there is no guarantee that this bump will last until the next elections, which, depending on when Mr. Erdogan calls them, could be as late as next year.
Enter a second, quicker path to power: Islamist revolution. Erdogan supporters—who took to the streets to defy the coup, and who have continued to rally throughout the country since then—are not the garden-variety conservative AKP supporters, but rather Islamists, and even jihadists. Over the weekend, pro-Erdogan mobs captured and beat soldiers who had supported the coup. Images were reportedly posted online, in the Islamic State style, of a soldier who had been beheaded.
Unfortunately, jihadist sentiments in Turkey have become increasingly noticeable lately, in no small part due to Mr. Erdogan’s education policy, as well as his Syria policy, which has allowed Islamist radicals to use Turkey as a staging ground. According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center, 27% of Turks don’t view Islamic State unfavorably. Mr. Erdogan can now harness these forces to usher in an Islamist revolution.
Revolutions don’t require majorities, but rather angry and excited minorities that are willing to act violently to take power. Following the failed coup plot, Turkish politics has not settled down. Mr. Erdogan is still not in charge of the whole country, which is why as of Sunday afternoon he hadn’t returned to the Turkish capital. It is not yet safe for him. Religious fervor is running high; mosques continue to call for prayers throughout the day. Islamists and jihadists who are angry at the military roam the streets, while most Turks of other political outlooks are scared to leave their homes.
If Mr. Erdogan were to pump up religious fervor further, he could convert the religious counter-coup d’état into an Islamist counter-revolution, ending Turkey’s status as a secular democracy. Adding to the temptation is the fact that the military, divided and discredited in the public eye following the failed coup, is in no position to prevent a counterrevolution.
But an Islamist revolution would carry risks. Turkey would be stripped of its NATO membership, exposing the country to nearby enemies, including Russia. It would also almost certainly lead to an economic meltdown, hurting Mr. Erdogan’s power base.
The first scenario, in which Mr. Erdogan uses the coup to consolidate power, is more likely than the second, but the chances of an Islamist revolution have never been higher in Turkey.

 


Financial Times July 17, 2016 3:03 pm
Iran opens talks with Siemens and Rolls-Royce on energy investment
Andrew Ward, Energy Editor
Iran is stepping up the hunt for overseas investment in its energy infrastructure after talks with Siemens and Rolls-Royce that point to the gradual opening of the country’s economy following the lifting of international sanctions.
Hamid Chitchian, Iran’s energy minister, met representatives of both companies in London last week to discuss collaboration in power generation technology.
The talks were focused on so-called decentralised power generators that can provide more localised and flexible supplies of electricity than big power stations.
No deals were struck but Mr Chitchian told the Financial Times that Siemens and Rolls-Royce were interested and he hoped to “reach a result” soon.
Rolls-Royce said last week’s talks with Mr Chitchian involved the potential use of piston engines made by the group’s power systems business in Germany.
“The minister requested a meeting with Rolls-Royce to discuss the renewal of Iran’s energy infrastructure and whether our diesel and gas power generation systems have a role to play,” it said.
Siemens said: “We have a close dialogue with the Iranian government and local partners in the area of infrastructure, energy and technology. We have been active in Iran for about 150 years . . . and we have never left the country.”
Any deals would add to a provisional licensing agreement in March to allow Mapna Group, an Iranian energy and infrastructure conglomerate, to manufacture Siemens’ F-class turbines in Iran for use in gas-fired power stations.
The lifting of international sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear activities in January has removed many barriers to foreign investment in the country, with its energy sector one of the areas of greatest interest.
Deals with western oil and gas groups are yet to fully materialise but energy infrastructure companies have been quicker to move in. Turkey’s Unit International last month struck a $4.2bn agreement with Iran’s energy ministry to build seven gas power plants.
Mr Chitchian said he expected more deals in future. “We have received various proposals for investment inside our country; some for building power stations and some to manufacture power plant equipment.”
Many companies and banks remain wary of Iran. While international sanctions have been lifted, some unilateral US sanctions remain.
Mr Chitchian acknowledged there were “still some problems” because of the “slowness” of banks in resuming relations with Iran but he said the “trend is positive”.
“Those companies and countries that can immediately adapt to the new situation will be the winners,” he added.
Iran needs investment to modernise and expand its power network to ensure the country has enough electricity to support economic growth.
It plans to add 26,500 megawatts of generating capacity in the next five years on top of the current 75,000MW, according to Mr Chitchian. Almost a fifth of the new capacity will come from renewable sources such as wind turbines as part of carbon-reduction commitments at the UN climate talks in Paris last year.
Dalga Khatinoglu, an expert on the Iranian energy market for the Natural Gas Europe news service, said Iran would need $15bn of investment in new generating capacity in the next five years and a further $5bn in the transmission network.
“Iran strongly needs immediate foreign investment because the country has no choice but to boost rapidly its power generation capacity,” said Mr Khatinoglu. “Iran’s electricity export plunged during the past two years due to the rapid increase of domestic demand and this summer they face power outages.”

 


Turkey's coup may have failed – but history shows that it won’t be long before another one succeeds
Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country – when you can no longer trust your army, there are serious issues that need to be addressed
• Robert Fisk 7/16/2016 Independent
Recep Tayyip Erdogan had it coming. The Turkish army was never going to remain compliant while the man who would recreate the Ottoman Empire turned his neighbours into enemies and his country into a mockery of itself. But it would be a grave mistake to assume two things: that the putting down of a military coup is a momentary matter after which the Turkish army will remain obedient to its sultan; and to regard at least 161 deaths and more than 2,839 detained in isolation from the collapse of the nation-states of the Middle East.
For the weekend’s events in Istanbul and Ankara are intimately related to the breakdown of frontiers and state-belief – the assumption that Middle East nations have permanent institutions and borders – that has inflicted such wounds across Iraq, Syria, Egypt and other countries in the Arab world. Instability is now as contagious as corruption in the region, especially among its potentates and dictators, a class of autocrat of which Erdogan has been a member ever since he changed the constitution for his own benefit and restarted his wicked conflict with the Kurds.
Needless to say, Washington’s first reaction was instructive. Turks must support their “democratically elected government”. The “democracy” bit was rather hard to swallow; even more painful to recall, however, was the very same government’s reaction to the overthrow of Mohamed Morsi’s “democratically elected” government in Egypt in 2013 – when Washington very definitely did not ask Egypt’s people to support Morsi and quickly gave its support to a military coup far more bloody than the attempted putsch in Turkey. Had the Turkish army been successful, be sure Erdogan would have been treated as dismissively as the unfortunate Morsi.
But what do you expect when Western nations prefer stability to freedom and dignity? That’s why they are prepared to accept Iran’s troops and loyal Iraqi militiaman joining in the battle against Isis – as well as the poor 700 missing Sunnis who “disappeared” after the recapture of Fallujah – and that’s why the “Assad must go” routine has been quietly dropped. Now that Bashar al-Assad has outlived David Cameron’s premiership – and will almost certainly outlast Obama’s presidency – the regime in Damascus will look with wondering eyes at the events in Turkey this weekend.
The victorious powers in the First World War destroyed the Ottoman Empire – which was one of the purposes of the 1914-18 conflict after the Sublime Porte made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany – and the ruins of that empire were then chopped into bits by the Allies and handed over to brutal kings, vicious colonels and dictators galore. Erdogan and the bulk of the army which has decided to maintain him in power – for now – fit into this same matrix of broken states.
The warning signs were there for Erdogan – and the West – to see, if only they had recalled the experience of Pakistan. Shamelessly used by the Americans to funnel missiles, guns and cash to the “mujahedin” who were fighting the Russians, Pakistan – another “bit” chopped off an empire (the Indian one) turned into a failed state, its cities torn apart with massive bombs, its own corrupt army and intelligence service cooperating with Russia’s enemies – including the Taliban – and then infiltrated by Islamists who would eventually threaten the state itself.
When Turkey began playing the same role for the US in Syria – sending weapons to the insurgents, its corrupt intelligence service cooperating with the Islamists, fighting the state power in Syria – it, too, took the path of a failed state, its cities torn apart by massive bombs, its countryside infiltrated by the Islamists. The only difference is that Turkey also relaunched a war on its Kurds in the south-east of the country where parts of Diyabakir are now as devastated as large areas of Homs or Aleppo. Too late did Erdogan realise the cost of the role he had chosen for his country. It’s one thing to say sorry to Putin and patch up relations with Benjamin Netanyahu; but when you can no longer trust your army, there are more serious matters to concentrate on.
Two thousand or so arrests are quite a coup for Erdogan – rather larger, in fact, than the coup the army planned for him. But they must be just a few of the thousands of men in the Turkish officer corps who believe the Sultan of Istanbul is destroying his country. It’s not just a case of reckoning the degree of horror which Nato and the EU will have felt at these events. The real question will be the degree to which his (momentary) success will embolden Erdogan to undertake more trials, imprison more journalists, close down more newspapers, kill more Kurds and, for that matter, go on denying the 1915 Armenian genocide.
For outsiders, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the degree of fear and almost racist disgust with which Turkey regards any form of Kurdish militancy; America, Russia, Europe – the West in general – has so desomaticised the word “terrorist” that we fail to comprehend the extent to which Turks call the Kurds “terrorists” and see them as a danger to the very existence of the Turkish state; which is just how they saw the Armenians in the First World War. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk may have been a good old secular autocrat admired even by Adolf Hitler, but his struggle to unify Turkey was caused by the very factions which have always haunted the Turkish heartland – along with dark (and rational) suspicions about the plotting of Western powers against the state.
All in all, then, a far more dramatic series of events have taken place in Turkey this weekend than may at first appear. From the frontier of the EU, through Turkey and Syria and Iraq and large parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and on to Libya and – dare one mention this after Nice? – Tunisia, there is now a trail of anarchy and failed states. Sir Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot began the Ottoman Empire’s dismemberment – with help from Arthur Balfour -- but it continues to this day.
In this grim historical framework must we view the coup-that-wasn’t in Ankara. Stand by for another one in the months or years to come.

 


Why Iran shouldn’t get too excited about Brexit
Author Alireza Ramezani Posted July 15, 2016 Almonitor

TEHRAN, Iran — Since Britain’s vote to exit the European Union (EU), Iranian media has barely been able to contain its excitement about this historic development. Indeed, many pundits believe the result of the June 23 referendum could positively affect Iran’s dealings with one of Europe’s largest economies.
With the exception of the Foreign Ministry, no top Iranian authority has publicly commented on Brexit. Immediately after the vote, the ministry released a statement affirming Iran's policy of expanding ties with all European countries and asserting that Britain’s decision to leave the EU would not have an impact on its approach. Some middle-ranking officials, however, applauded the leave vote.
Hamid Aboutalebi, President Hassan Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff for political affairs, tweeted that Brexit could be a signal that the EU's collapse is imminent, urging Iranian decision-makers to take advantage of the “historic opportunity” at hand. His comment proves that some, if not all, of the Iranian government sees Brexit as a political or economic opportunity that could strengthen Iran’s position on the global stage.
Indeed, two days after the Brexit referendum, Donya-e Eqtesad, Iran's leading business daily, which is close to the moderate camp, claimed that a more independent Britain would be more beneficial to Iran than a Britain in the EU, especially given that the bloc has been pressing Tehran for years over its human rights record, among other issues. Some Western analysts share this line of thinking. Compliance attorneys at New York-based Sheppard Mullin told International Business Times that Britain could lift human rights-related sanctions on Iran because the country would no longer be bound by EU decisions in this regard.
Donya-e Eqtesad also argued that Iran’s energy sector is in desperate need of the presence of British energy giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell for its overhaul and development. This argument sounds persuasive to many experts in Iran, as the UK economy has come under pressure since the vote to leave, putting the country in a weaker position in negotiations with other countries, possibly including Iran. Indeed, a day after the referendum, the BBC warned that demand for sterling would be weaker, British stock markets would plunge, bond yields would further fall, the housing market would slow and investment in the country would drop as a result of the leave vote.
Despite stock markets rebounding sooner than expected, political analysts and economic experts remain concerned that post-Brexit Britain could negatively affect the global economy, which of course includes Iran. The Tabnak news website, however, says Iran’s economy is too small to be affected either way. The conservative website, which is close to Expediency Council Secretary Mohsen Rezaei, recently urged Iranian officials to not exaggerate the impact of Brexit on Iran while acknowledging that the vote would undermine the integrity of what it called US-European anti-Iran plans.
The question is whether Iran will be a priority on the United Kingdom's post-Brexit economic agenda, given the poor global economic conditions. Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of the Europe-Iran Forum business conference series, thinks not. He wrote on June 24 that British executives will have “fewer resources to devote to developing opportunities in Iran, especially at the required senior levels.”
Academics Saeed Khalouzadeh and Abdoreza Farajirad, professors of international relations at Tehran universities, also believe that Brexit will have little impact on Iran. Khalouzadeh, a diplomat and senior researcher in European studies, told the conservative Fararu news website that it is too soon to comment on the issue, because the Brexit process could last seven to 10 years. Farajirad, a former ambassador to Hungary, said he is certain that Britain will retain its close relationship with the EU, as the union has been a large market for the United Kingdom.
Indeed, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics, last year 44% of UK exports of goods and services went to the EU, while 53% of British imports originated in the bloc; UK-EU trade volume was about £500 billion ($663 billion). Given these figures, if changes were made in Britain’s $8 billion worth of trade with Iran, it would be insignificant in the short run, according to Ferial Mostofi, head of the investment panel at the Iran Chamber of Commerce.
Thus, for Iran, it would be prudent to maintain positive relations with both the United Kingdom and the EU, as underlined in the Foreign Ministry’s statement, rather than to celebrate the possible collapse of the “tyrannical rule of the monarchy” and get emotional about Scotland and Northern Ireland potentially seceding to remain in the EU. If anything, it would be a strategic miscalculation for the Rouhani administration to exaggerate its position on Brexit, since a closer relationship with a single European country, even one as prominent as Britain, cannot remedy Iran’s structural economic and political problems.
Indeed, regardless of Brexit, Britain is very likely to maintain its role on the global stage, somewhere between the United States and Europe when it comes to political engagement with Iran. Given as much, in terms of trade, it is likely that Brexit will help reshape economic relations between London and Tehran, but not in the short run.
 


Democratic leaders counter Corker with an Iran sanctions proposal of their own
By Karoun Demirjian July 15 at 5:02 PM Washington Post
Senate Democratic leaders filed legislation late Thursday to extend current sanctions against Iran with no major changes, a sign that the party is not interested in helping the GOP secure more bipartisan support for a bill directing broader and stricter sanctions against Tehran.
The bill proposed by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and backed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), and 11 others, is a simple reauthorization of the Iran Sanctions Act, or ISA, which outlines trade, energy, defense and banking sector sanctions over Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.
The current ISA expires at the end of the year, and many lawmakers argue it is vital to renew it in order to keep a credible threat of “snap-back” sanctions alive, should Iran overtly break its obligations under its nuclear deal with the United States and other countries.
The proposal was filed just hours after Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) filed a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) to renew the ISA along with new mandatory sanctions against people and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and cyber-threats and espionage activities.
That bill would also prohibit the president from waiving such sanctions in order to implement any future agreements with Iran without congressional approval.
Though that proposal’s two Democratic supporters both voted against the Iran deal, Corker hoped that over time, he could build up more bipartisan support for the proposal, potentially enough to vote on it in September.
But Cardin and Schumer were the other two senators to vote against the Iran deal last year — and adding their names to the no-frills reauthorization of the ISA so soon after Corker’s bill was introduced is a sign Democrats won’t be joining Republicans in their effort to pass an Iran bill with stiffer waiver limitations than usual.
As recently as early spring, Cardin had been exploring with Corker a way to impose more-expansive sanctions on Iran, particularly over its ballistic missile activities. But their efforts began to move in different directions about three or four months ago, at which point Corker teamed up with Menendez to work on the bill they unveiled Thursday.
Some are also urging the White House to push for more transparency regarding how Iran is or is not complying with the nuclear agreement. On Friday, 15 Democratic senators led by Gary Peters of Michigan sent President Obama a letter urging the administration “to ensure that the IAEA releases all relevant technical information” about its compliance inspections, “so that we may continue to make our own judgments about the status of Iran’s nuclear program.”
They requested more information about the amount of low enriched uranium in Iran and the current centrifuge count, among other technical details.
“We supported the JCPOA,” the senators wrote, adding it was still “the best available option” to keep Tehran from getting a nuclear weapon. “We are committed to ensuring that the terms of the agreement are enforced.”
In prior legislation, Cardin also proposed measures to strengthen the Iran deal. But earlier this week, he said those suggestions had been an “area of contention” with Republican lawmakers.
That is one of the things that led Cardin to conclude that a straight, unadulterated reauthorization of the ISA was the best hope of getting something through Congress this year.
Administration officials “are not necessarily promoting any particular legislative strategy at this point,” Cardin told reporters Wednesday. “They’ll be very pleased if Congress does nothing.”
Menendez, independently, suggested it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if Congress simply passed a reauthorization of the ISA, and returned to work on a more comprehensive package of Iran sanctions after the election.
“There’s a lame duck session, where the politics don’t have to be a part of it,” Menendez said. Another alternative, he said, would be for lawmakers to simply use the next few months “to build a foundation” for next year.
Corker, however, did not want to commit to a backup plan if his measure failed to gain enough support to pass the Senate.
If the parties largely retreat to their camps over this, it will be difficult to get a bill through the Congress before the end of the year.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has already said that he would not bring up a bill that didn’t have at least 67 votes — that being the number of senators necessary to overcome a presidential veto.
And there is even less likelihood that senators will be able to build bipartisan compromise around Iran-related measures the House passed this week. Those bills would step up sanctions against Iran over its ballistic missile program, human rights violations and support for terrorism, prevent Tehran from engaging in offshore dollarized transactions and block the administration from striking any more deals to purchase heavy water from Iran. Each vote split the House nearly along the party line.

 


 One Year On, Kerry Satisfied With Iran Nuclear Deal
Tehran has voiced unhappiness about lack of economic benefits since pact agreed
By Felicia Schwartz Wall Street Journal
July 14, 2016 5:13 a.m. ET

PARIS—Secretary of State John Kerry said the Iran nuclear agreement “has lived up to its expectations,” marking the first anniversary of the landmark accord reached last year between six world powers and Iran to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Since the accord took effect in January, Iran has complied with the key nuclear parameters, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog. Tehran has slashed its stockpiles of uranium and heavy water in addition to pouring cement in the core of its Arak reactor as part of a process to convert it to a modified reactor that is seen as posing a much reduced nuclear-proliferation threat.
The IAEA has better access to Iran’s nuclear program and overall Iran is under much stricter limits, many of which expire in the next decade. Iran’s breakout time, or the time it would take Iran to amass enough nuclear material for a bomb, is one year, which was a key goal of the Obama administration.
Mr. Kerry said Thursday that so far Iran is “living up to it is part of this bargain and obligation.” He also acknowledged the challenges that remain between the U.S. and Iran, as tensions between them remain high.
“Nobody pretends that some of the challenges we have with Iran have somehow been wiped away. This program was about a nuclear track and about a nuclear program,” Mr. Kerry said.
Channels for discussion created by seeking the agreement have allowed the U.S. to pursue other concerns with Tehran, including its activities in Syria and Yemen, he said.
Iran’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and continued missile tests, as well as its complaints it hasn’t seen as much economic relief since the deal took effect in January has left the deal on shaky ground. The longer-term promise of the agreement, in that it could lead to improved ties between Washington and Tehran, has yet to be realized.
Tehran continues human-rights abuses, such as the detention of dual nationals, human rights groups say. Iran has also persisted conducting provocative behavior in the region, carrying out a series of missile tests in recent months that U.S. and U.N. officials have said contradict the spirit of the deal, but which the U.S. has found itself unable to pursue in the U.N. Security Council because of the language included in the accord.
On Wednesday, Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani, who is a strong proponent of the deal, warned that Iran would pull back from the deal if the other parties, including the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China, didn’t adhere to their promises of sanctions relief.
Iranian officials have accused the U.S. of deliberately discouraging business dealings with Iran, an allegation the Obama administration has denied. The Obama administration is exploring ways to further help integrate Iran into the global economy, including by giving Iran limited access to the dollar.
‘Nobody pretends that some of the challenges we have with Iran have somehow been wiped away. This program was about a nuclear track and about a nuclear program.’
—Secretary of State John Kerry
Iran is still subject to unilateral American sanctions and the country has struggled to attract big foreign investments, partly because it is having trouble gaining access to the international banking system. Mr. Kerry has made personal presentations to European bankers to encourage legal business allowed by the deal.
A recent billion-dollar deal announced by Boeing to sell jetliners to Iran could pave the way for future business deals but faces challenges from the U.S. Congress. The House voted to block the sale last week. The White House hopes such deals can help underpin the nuclear agreement.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program was purely peaceful. The Obama administration concluded, however, that uranium particles found last year at Iran’s secretive military base Parchin as part of an investigation tied to the nuclear deal were likely part of the country’s past covert nuclear weapons program.
German authorities detected repeated efforts by Iran-tied companies and organizations to illegally obtain nuclear equipment in the months after July 2015, when Tehran and six world powers reached the deal in Vienna. Efforts have continued this year, but at a significantly lower level, The Wall Street Journal reported, and U.S. and German officials said Iran hasn’t breached the agreement since it went into effect in January.


It’s pointless to be the last country sanctioning Iran
America will have more influence, not less, if we lift the embargo.
By Tyler Cullis and Trita Parsi July 12 at 9:30 AM Washington Post
In 1971, President Richard Nixon lifted the United States’ trade embargo of China — a decisive turn in U.S.-China relations that was part of a broader rapprochement. In doing so, the Nixon administration bet that American interests were best served with a globally integrated China, rather than one that remained isolated and insulated from American influence.
That bet paid off. And it’s one that President Obama should make now when it comes to lifting the U.S. embargo on Iran.
The ultimate objective of the embargo — blanket trade sanctions implemented through a series of executive orders — has been to change Iran’s foreign policy. But several decades of these unilateral American restrictions haven’t achieved that goal. Rather than softening Iran’s policies, a nuclear standoff escalated until the Obama administration eventually shifted toward diplomacy, backed by multilateral sanctions.
The result was last year’s nuclear agreement, the lifting of multilateral sanctions and Iran beginning to rejoin the global economy. The U.S. embargo, though, remains in place, limiting our ability to further shift Iranian policy. We would be better served by lifting the embargo, increasing commerce between Iranian and American firms, and drawing Iran into the American-led global economy, making Tehran more responsive to the United States economically.
To do this, Obama should begin to lift sanctions related to finance, energy and technology while maintaining targeted sanctions related to Iranian human rights abuses and sponsorship of terrorism. Critics will undoubtedly call this an unacceptable concession, particularly after trade-offs already made with Iran in the nuclear deal. But while Iran would certainly benefit economically from increased trade, lifting the embargo ultimately serves America’s long-term interests.
Americans won’t succeed at influencing the decisions of Iran’s leadership, or the opinions of the Iranian people, without increasing ties with Iran. The Obama administration has already taken steps to permit the export of personal communications technologies, which has begun to facilitate the integration of Iranians into the global tech community — imagine the impact on U.S.-Iran relations if leaders in Tehran were forced to factor in the impact of financial and energy sector ties in their policy deliberations.
And consider the purely commercial incentive for lifting the embargo. According to our 2014 study, unilateral sanctions have cost the U.S. economy as much as $175.3 billion in lost export opportunities over 18 years. Those costs are set to accelerate, particularly as Iran opens itself up to foreign business and reforms its markets. Over the long term, barring U.S. commerce with Iran would lead to an unnecessary loss in American prestige, power and profit.
This is, in part, because with or without U.S.-Iran trade, Iran is unlikely to remain economically isolated. Since the nuclear deal’s implementation, delegations from Europe and Asia have headed to Tehran seeking renewed business. Germany sent its first trade delegation to Iran soon after the signing of the nuclear accord. In May, South Korean President Park Geun-Hye led a 230-member delegation to Iran, where the two countries committed to tripling annual trade to $18 billion.
The pace of trade is still slower than it can and should be, in some measure because the “wariness of western banks to work with Iranian institutions” — a symptom of the embargo — has kept the brakes on Iran’s reintegration. Which in turn means that Iranians have, so far, not fully realized the benefits of its nuclear bargain with Western powers, and that the West hasn’t maximized its leverage with Iran. As Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif explains, the nuclear deal “will be sustainable if everybody feels they are making gains.” It will work better, in other words, if the Iranian regime stays invested in it.
The good news is that the current administration has signaled a subtle shift in U.S. policy, publicly stating that it will no longer stand in the way of legitimate business activities involving Iran and businesses around the world — a significant break with the recent past.
But if Obama is, indeed, breaking with the past and no longer committed to fencing Iran off from the world, he should consider completely lifting the embargo to boost America’s ability to meaningfully influence the Iranian regime. And, unlike America’s Cuba embargo, he has the power to lift the Iran embargo without Congress’s approval.
As the president has said, Iran has the opportunity and capability to become “a very successful regional power.” It should follow, then, that Iran is too important a country to cede to the influence of geopolitical rivals like Russia and China. But that’s exactly what we’re doing by fencing ourselves off from Tehran. Permitting competitors’ unrivaled influence over one of the region’s major powers, the United States risks losing its ability to shape favorable outcomes in the Middle East, whether in the Syria conflict, the sectarian stalemate in Iraq or the transit of U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf.
As President George W. Bush recognized, in 2004, when it comes to Iran, in the absence of commercial ties, Americans have been “relying upon others, because we’ve sanctioned ourselves out of influence with Iran.”
It doesn’t need to be this way. Just as commercial ties between the United States and China predated restoration of diplomatic relations, so, too, can lifting of the Iran embargo be a precursor to an eventual change in the tenor of a long-fraught relationship. If Obama lifts the embargo and draws Iran toward the U.S.-led economy, the dividend will be influence for years to come.

 


Here’s what could happen if a President Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal
By William Spaniel July 11 at 9:00 AM  Washington Post
What would happen if a President Donald Trump tore up the Iran nuclear deal?
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has said he would do that, calling it “disastrous.” A tougher negotiator, he has said, could get more concessions from Iran.
Iran is listening. On his official website, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, wrote that if the United States “tear[s] up the agreement, [Iran] will light it on fire.”
But is Trump right? Could someone willing to walk away from the bargaining table force Iran to accept terms more favorable to the United States? Or is Trump merely encouraging Iran to work secretly toward nuclear weapons, believing that no U.S. administration could guarantee that its successors would consider the deal binding — and thereby making any deal all but impossible to seal?
The logic behind nuclear agreements is a simple quid pro quo
A potential proliferator like Iran agrees to pause or rewind its nuclear program, while opponents like the United States reduce hostilities, deliver inducements, or do both. In theory, both sides win.
With the Iran nuclear deal, Tehran receives an end to sanctions; more short-term security due to reduced hostilities and a lower chance of a preemptive strike on its facilities; and the ability to shift the funds being spent on developing nuclear weapons to more productive programs.
Meanwhile, the United States halts a shift in the military balance of power that Tehran would enjoy should it successfully proliferate. Stopping this is good for the United States: Opponents of nuclear-armed states more frequently back down in military crises, and Iran could have leveraged a nuclear arsenal to achieve more of its policy goals. Even better, the deal came at a relatively low cost to Washington: primarily, the reduction of sanctions and the release of seized Iranian assets.
Furthermore, my research suggests, under the right conditions, a country like Iran has the incentive to comply with such agreements over the long term. Potential nuclear states might at first be tempted to enjoy the short-term benefits of being thought to comply with the agreement, while secretly developing nuclear weapons. Then they can eventually reap the security rewards of a completed bomb. Hence the Iran deal (and similar nonproliferation deals) includes strict verification measures.
In fact, if such a deal is structured right, the potential proliferator faces steep costs for violating its terms and many benefits for complying. That way, continuing the program isn’t worth the risk.
But that’s true only if the potential proliferator can count on future rewards. There’s no incentive to uphold an agreement if rivals might capriciously cut concessions, restore sanctions, or otherwise skip out on their end of the bargain.
That’s why, in an October 2015 open letter to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Khamenei stated that “new sanctions on any level with any excuse … will be considered a breach” of the agreement — and Iran would restart its nuclear program.
And that’s why Trump’s threat to tear up the agreement and renegotiate is a double-edged sword. Suppose Iran calculates that it is likely to be forced back to the negotiating table, either now or sometime in the future. That would be a reason to try harder now to develop a weapon — so that it’s holding a better negotiating hand when that time comes. The benefits of compliance may no longer outweigh the costs of developing nuclear weapons.
And if Iran does so, that would be a loss for just about everyone else. The United States would have to respond to a more complicated and dangerous new world in the volatile Middle East. Hawkish U.S. politicians would fail at their long-term goal of preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.
But both sides have to keep their commitments or it doesn’t work
Policymakers in Washington have been worrying about whether Iran will comply with the deal. But commitment takes two. Noncompliance on either end can sabotage the agreement on the other. Tehran now finds the deal attractive because of the rewards: the economic benefits of trade and the satisfaction of reentering the community of nations.
But if Tehran expects to be punished no matter what, then why would it comply in the first place?
Washington will never be able to eradicate Iran’s nuclear knowledge. Any threat to renegotiate will bring similarly bellicose responses from Tehran. Threatening to tear up the existing nuclear deal may result in a nuclear Iran.
 

 


Politicians, diplomats pen letter urging stronger ties with Iran
By Louis Nelson   Politico
07/11/16 05:25 PM EDT

With the one year anniversary of the Iran nuclear deal fast approaching, a bipartisan group of politicians, diplomats, military leaders and academics is calling for even closer relations between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic.
In a letter to President Barack Obama shared with POLITICO, more than 75 high-profile signatories praise the controversial nuclear accord and urge the president to bring the U.S. and Iran even closer together. Spearheaded by The Iran Project, a group dedicated to improving U.S.-Iran relations while preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the letter’s signatories include retired Sens. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), J. Bennett Johnston (D-La.) and Nancy Kassebaum (R-Kan.), as well as former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.).
The list of signers also includes former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Merrill McPeak and Nobel Prize winners Leon Cooper and Burton Richter.
“The U.S. should develop policies that increase the chances of cooperation with Iran, minimize confrontation, and influence Iran’s actions in the region,” the letter reads. “We acknowledge that opportunities will be limited for testing Iran’s willingness to work directly with the U.S. due to the political uncertainties in both countries in the coming year, but engagement should be the U.S. government’s long-term goal.”
The letter is part of a flurry of activity and discussion expected this week to mark Thursday’s anniversary of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the official name of the nuclear agreement between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany.
Outlined within the letter is a three-point plan that the signatories write that will create an “institutional structure” for ongoing communication between the U.S. and Iran. Its suggestions include “emergency communications capability” between the two governments to avoid misunderstandings and escalation of conflicts, as well as a “regular and direct bilateral channel” between the U.S. Treasury Department and the Central Bank of Iran to more easily address questions surrounding the relief of sanctions.
The letter stops short of calling on the president to reestablish diplomatic ties between the two nations, but does urge Obama to establish a “direct diplomatic channel at the deputy level” that will offer the next president a means by which to exert influence over Iran without the secretary of state and Iranian foreign minister having to communicate personally.
Even if such channels are created, there is no guarantee that the next president will be eager to use them. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has been loudly critical of the Iran nuclear deal and has pledged to tear it up if elected, a move that even some Republicans worry could alienate America’s allies who also worked to negotiate the agreement. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) led a group of 47 GOP senators last year, warning in a letter to the Iranian government that any agreement could be revoked by the next president with “the stroke of a pen.”
But to back away from Iran now, the Iran Project letter-writers said, would endanger U.S. interests in the Middle East and potentially lead to further open conflict for America in the region. The letter acknowledges the challenge presented by Tehran’s reluctance to negotiation with the U.S. beyond the nuclear deal and also urges the president to pair any warming of relations towards Iran with assurances of American commitment to allies in Israel and the gulf nations.
Ultimately, the letter’s authors argue, it is in America's interest to work more closely with Iran on issues where the two nations' interests intersect. Despite the decades-long history of hostility between the U.S. and Iran, the letter praises Obama and reminds him that “persevering patiently in pursuit of careful diplomacy can lead to progress.”
“You have shown that well-conceived and tough-minded diplomacy can protect U.S. national security interests,” they wrote, addressing Obama directly. “Given the stakes, the U.S. will need more, not less, engagement with Iran.”
 


In Common Occurrence, Iranian Boats Veer Close to U.S. Warship
Top U.S. general in region voices concern about how quickly such an encounter could turn lethal
By Gordon Lubold        Wall Street Journal
July 11, 2016 7:42 p.m. ET
ABOARD THE USS NEW ORLEANS—Boats from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps maneuvered dangerously close to a U.S. military vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on Monday, part of a pattern that the top American general in the region—who was on the ship at the time—said risked grave miscalculation.
“What concerns me is our people don’t always have a lot of time to deal with those interactions,” said Gen. Joe Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, as he stood on the bridge of the amphibious ship later in the day. “It’s measured in minutes to really have the opportunity to make the right decision.”
The five Iranian boats included four small patrol craft and a larger boat called a Houdong fast-attack craft. At least one of the patrol boats was equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun and what is known as a multiple rail rocket launcher. They came within several hundred yards of the American ship.
The series of encounters on Monday took place as the New Orleans sailed in international waters through the strait. Gen. Votel, on a swing through the Middle East this week, voiced concern about how quickly such an encounter could turn lethal for the ship, which was carrying about 700 Marines.
In the case of Monday’s incident, U.S. officials didn’t consider the Iranian ships to be technically harassing the American warship, but said they came unacceptably close to doing so. Iran officials couldn’t immediately be reached to comment.
The encounters might have been considered more dramatic if they weren’t so common. American Navy ships reported about 300 incidents with Iranian vessels during 2015, according to data provided by the Navy’s Fifth Fleet. Most of those “interactions,” as the Navy calls them, are considered safe or don’t rise to the level of harassment, according to Navy officials.
Navy officials essentially grade Iranian naval behavior on a curve. They said that the way the Iranians behave typically, even when they don’t actually harass American warships, is still not the way most professional navies behave at sea.
About 10% of all incidents are of greater concern, Navy officials said. These may entail Iranian craft crossing the bow of an American warship, approaching at a high rate of speed, or training weaponry on a U.S. vessel.
The IRGC’s routine actions in the region force American warships to have to determine just what their intent is, said one officer here.
“It’s very common for them to come up to within 300, 500 yards of us, and then they’ll turn, or parallel us and stop,” said Lt. Forrest Griggs, the New Orleans’s operations officer. “We try not to become accustomed to that because we don’t want to become complacent.”
Navy officials maintain they always navigate through the international waters of the strait—through which a third of all seaborne oil and other energy products are shipped—and Gen. Votel said the U.S. isn’t trying to provoke Iran with such operations.
Tensions at sea have been high since an incident in January in which two U.S. Navy riverine boats slipped mistakenly into Iranian territorial waters and became stranded before IRGC forces surrounded and boarded them and detained 10 American sailors at gunpoint.
The sailors were released hours later, but the U.S. determined that their treatment at the hands of the IRGC was at odds with international law. Navy officials also have disciplined several sailors and commanders involved in the incident.
In the first of the encounters Monday, a Houdong fast attack craft, one of the largest operated by the IRGC and typically carrying antiship weaponry and other guns, passed by the New Orleans and came to within 500 yards of the ship.
Later, four smaller patrol craft that resemble modified speed boats mounted with weaponry, approached the New Orleans as it moved through the strait. At one point, one of the boats cut its engine and then floated past both warships as its crew filmed the sailors aboard the warship.
A warship such as the New Orleans has a number of nonlethal actions it can take to prevent escalation, including an extremely loud whistle and a loudspeaker through which a sailor, speaking in Farsi, can demand the ships pull away. None of the Iranian ships on Monday triggered alarms or provoked the Marine sniper team which scans the horizon from the ship’s top deck, officials said.
The U.S. Navy sometimes provides assistance to Iranian vessels in need of help. Since 2012, the Navy in the Fifth Fleet area of operations in the Middle East has provided help to 30 ships, including 11 that were determined to be Iranian.
Sometimes calls come from the ships themselves, and the U.S. Navy will provide assistance, search-and-rescue capabilities if needed, as well as water, food and fuel, said Cmdr. Bill Urban, a spokesman for the Navy’s Fifth Fleet in Manama, Bahrain.

 


By MICHAEL WILNER \ 07/10/2016 19:56
Where are Clinton's VP candidates on Israel and Iran?
A look at contenders for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's vice presidential running mate.
WASHINGTON – Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has just two weeks left to choose her running mate, and sources close to the campaign say her list has shortened to a handful of names.

Judging from their public statements, all candidates under consideration advocate a strong and prosperous Israel that continues to enjoy robust American support. Those who have served in Congress also supported the Iran nuclear deal.

Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, considered a front-runner for the appointment, was one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s harshest critics during the debate over Iran in 2015.

He characterized Netanyahu’s speech to Congress as “highly inappropriate,” and was one of eight senators to boycott the event. He enthusiastically supported the nuclear agreement.

Kaine is listed as an “On the Street” candidate worthy of campaign donations by J Street, a Washington-based group which lobbies in favor of a twostate solution. Kaine maintains that the US must play a key role in facilitating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is perhaps the most expressive in her support for Israel, winning the praise of Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, who recently called her a “surprising Israel hawk.”

Warren opposes unilateral Palestinian moves toward statehood in international bodies, and has consistently advocated the US maintain robust defense aid to Israel. She took heat for supporting a funding bill during Israel’s war with Gaza in 2014, and defended it by explaining that “Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world... where there aren’t many liberal democracies and democracies that are controlled by the rule of law.”

She also voted in favor of the Iran agreement, calling it the “best available option” before Congress at the time, and boycotted Netanyahu’s speech, expressing concern over its proximity to Israel’s elections.

Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio regularly engages with his state’s Jewish community, and supported a resolution in 2014 declaring May Jewish American Heritage Month. He condemns violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories on a routine basis, but distinguishes events occurring in “Jerusalem” from those occurring in “Israel” – a possible point of contention with the American Jewish community.

Brown voted in favor of the US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act in 2014, and was vocal in his support of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, declaring it would “ensure the safety of the people of Israel.”

“I am dedicated to the continued protection of Israel, and will continue to support its right to self-defense,” he said last year.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro has reportedly lost traction in the running for Clinton’s nod, but remains a contender. Castro’s foreign policy experience is minimal given his career trajectory from being the mayor of San Antonio to his current role.

During a visit to Israel in 2011, however, Castro said he admired Israel’s “inspiring story” and in particular its entrepreneurial spirit. He has defended the nuclear deal, and the Obama administration’s overall approach to Israel.

As labor secretary, Tom Perez has had little reason or opportunity to comment on Israel policy. The same can be said for Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary, whose experience on Israel appears to be a work trip he took to the country in 2006. Both are considered serious contenders for the role.




 


Boeing Says If Congress Blocks Its Iran Jet Deal, Rivals’ Should Be Halted Too
Some members of Congress are vehemently against selling commercial airliners to Iran

By Jon Ostrower
July 10, 2016 12:24 p.m. ET Wall Street Journal
LONDON— Boeing ’s commercial jetliner chief said Sunday that if its deal to sell Iran passenger aircraft is blocked by the U.S. Congress, all other U.S. companies that supply to its rivals should be prohibited as well.
Ray Conner, the chief executive of Boeing’s commercial jetliner unit, said in a media presentation Sunday on the eve of the biennial Farnborough Air Show outside of London that any effort to legislatively block its 80-jet deal with Iran Air shouldn’t unfairly disadvantage the plane maker against its rivals.
The U.S. House of Representatives last week passed amendments that would block the use of Department of Treasury funds for granting licenses for export or re-export of commercial passenger aircraft and their parts and services as enabled by the six-nation Iran Nuclear Deal. A further amendment would prohibit any U.S. financial institution from participating the export of passenger aircraft to Iran.
Airbus has said it, too, requires Washington’s approval to export airliners to Iran because the planes involve U.S.-made parts.
The global business of selling jetliners means U.S. firms such as engine makers and providers of other components contribute significantly to the designs of Boeing’s biggest rivals like Europe’s Airbus Group SE. Airbus in January signed a cooperation agreement for 118 jetliners for Iran’s airlines.
The amendments passed last week by the House “will be between Congress and the administration and we’ll follow the lead of which the government tells us what we can do and what we can’t do,” Mr. Conner said. “If we’re not allowed to go forward, then sure as heck no other U.S. company should be allowed to go forward either. That would mean any other U.S. supplier to any other manufacturer.”
Boeing’s deal, worth $17.6 billion at list prices, has drawn vehement opposition from members of Congress who believe that delivering commercial aircraft to the Islamic Republic’s airlines would be equivalent of bolstering its armed forces and its sponsorship of terrorism.
Iran has sought to modernize its decrepit fleet of airliners, decimated by years of sanctions that prohibited it from acquiring new jets or buying spare parts from their manufacturers. The promise of renewed airlines in the Islamic Republic has been used as a significant incentive to enticing Iran to abide by the terms of the nuclear deal, which went into effect in January.


Are Iran, West on collision course over missiles?

Author Abbas QaidaariPosted July 7, 2016
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s defense minister, Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan, unveiled new military equipment during a June 1 event at the Defense Ministry-affiliated Malek Ashtar University of Technology. The most significant of these products was Hoda, the transmitter for a local positioning system (LPS). Dehghan said that Malek Ashtar had succeeded in building the 1 megawatt, half-cycle transmitter in the first phase of designing the system. Five ground stations equipped with the systems are expected to be built in different regions of the country. These will serve as stations for positioning guided missiles as well as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), warplanes and other military aircraft.
Iran is trying to develop an alternative to satellite positioning systems, in particular the Global Positioning System (GPS), to guide military hardware during battle. Within Iran, GPS systems have a margin of error of about 30 meters (98 feet), so the Islamic Republic is trying to decrease the distance to about a meter (some 3 feet) by improving its homegrown LPS system.
The current Iranian LPS has an accuracy of a few centimeters within a radius of 30 kilometers (19 miles) and an accuracy of about a meter within a radius of 150 kilometers (93 miles). A few years ago, Iran developed a similar program, the Persian Gulf Network Beacon that focuses on the Persian Gulf and the Sea of Oman to assist the navy with navigation of its aerial fleet and positioning.
The Iranian LPS is also designed to guide long-range drones, including combat and reconnaissance UAVs. Although this navigation system is outdated — many Western countries began developing LPS in the 1950s — it addresses the country's immediate needs in terms of positioning and thus can be considered to have been an important step forward.
At present, however, Iran's missile program suffers from three main weaknesses. It has issues of accuracy and guidance stemming from not utilizing satellites. As a result, key military targets cannot be targeted from afar. Moreover, there is the matter of destructive power. Iran’s most powerful missiles have warheads that are only slightly more destructive than laser-guided bombs. Thus, absent nuclear or chemical warheads, these missiles lack a high destructive capability.
At this stage, utilization of navigation and positioning systems is vital in Iran’s efforts to develop its missiles and UAVs. Short-range ballistic missiles — such as the Persian Gulf, Fateh A-110 andHormuz — can be guided with a high degree of accuracy optically and via radio. Moreover, considering their payloads, these weapons have a relatively high destructive capability. Indeed, these pieces of military hardware are Iran’s most important weapons against the fleets and military bases of the United States and its Arab allies in the Persian Gulf region and the Strait of Hormuz. Iran’s medium-range ballistic missiles, with ranges of 1,300 to 2,300 kilometers (808-1,430 miles), are less accurate, however, due to exceeding radio range.
Iranian officials are well aware of this problem, and President Hassan Rouhani and his Defense Ministry have been doing their utmost to solve it. During the past three years, the Defense Ministry has designed guided warheads and unveiled optical warheads. Furthermore, there were reports in June of the initial testing of the Simorgh space-launch vehicle in the deserts of Semnan, in central Iran, in Rouhani's presence. Analysts disagree on whether Iran had tried to utilize this North Korean missile platform for military purposes during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13). It is clear, however, that the Rouhani administration is not looking to expand the range of Iran’s ballistic missiles, but is planning to use the Simorgh program for space and reconnaissance purposes.
The big picture is that the Iranian missile program is becoming more complex. On the one hand, now that Iran’s nuclear program is no longer a source of international concern, Western countries and Iran’s regional rivals are increasing pressure on the Islamic Republic over its missile program. On the other hand, there is now a domestic dialogue and a deep dialectic over the missile program, including how and to what degree it should be expanded. Although Iranian political and military elites arrived at a clear consensus that the country’s missile capabilities must be maintained, disagreement remains over whether missile ranges need to be expanded or accuracy and guidance need to be improved. It appears that the Rouhani administration prefers the latter.
In addition, during the past year, there has been news of Iran using long-range combat UAVs in Syria. Images that have surfaced reveal these UAVs to be of the Shahed-129 type, guided in operations in northern Aleppo from the Konarak military base, near the Makran coast. The images, coupled with the announcement that a radio LPS station has been set up in Chabahar, strengthen speculation that the southern part of Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan province has become the center for guiding combat UAVs.
Iran has invested heavily in its missile and space programs and is making every effort to make them more effective and operational, including through the use of older technology, such as LPS. With international concern over Iran’s missile program growing as it expands, however, one must consider what Iran can depend on to protect itself in the world’s most heavily armed region. Its outdated aerial and naval fleets, in addition to its huge but worn out ground forces, cannot be considered the solution. Rather, it is Iran's missile program that provides it relative deterrence.
At the end of the day, one should also ask, would the Islamic Republic have sought to expand its ballistic missile program had the international community not refused to sell it conventional military equipment, including conventional warplanes? It appears that the missile program, which has become one of the main points of contention between Iran and the West, will soon — like the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program — become the most important political challenge for the two sides.
 


 The Guardian
Abbas Kiarostami obituary
Iranian director whose enigmatic approach enabled him to sidestep censorship

Ronald Bergan
Tuesday 5 July 2016 00.29 BST
Following the Iranian revolution in 1979, the country’s vibrant and original cinema took its place on the world stage. Among the many superb film directors who contributed to Iran’s new wave the most celebrated was Abbas Kiarostami, who has died aged 76. Kiarostami, whose subtly enigmatic films play brilliantly with audiences’ preconceptions, was considered one of the greatest directors in contemporary world cinema.
Of all the new wave cinemas, the Iranian was probably the most surprising, because it emerged from under an authoritarian religious regime. Kiarostami managed, on the whole, to avoid censorship by the government; rather than confront the censorship office, he accepted their general guidelines – and working within the framework, made films that imply meaning beyond it.
He was born into a large middle-class family in Tehran. His father, Ahmad, was a painter of frescoes on walls and ceilings, and as a child, Abbas’s expectations were to be a painter and designer. After winning an art competition in his late teens, he studied painting and graphic design at the University of Tehran. In the 1960s, he worked as a commercial artist, designing posters and eventually shooting scores of television advertisements. At the same time, he designed credit titles for films and illustrated children’s books.
During the period when a handful of Iranian films were starting to be shown in the west, thanks mainly to the success of Dariush Mehrjui’s The Cow (1969), Kiarostami helped found a film-making department at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in Tehran. It was there that he made several short films aimed at, and about, children.
The 60-minute film The Experience (1973) continued in that line, focusing on the efforts of a young man to attract a girl with whom he is infatuated. Kiarostami’s first feature, The Traveler (1974), released internationally only in the 1990s after he became famous, is a well-observed, witty and touching film about a 10-year-old boy’s determination to obtain enough money, by hook or by crook, to get from his small town to a big football match in Tehran.

In contrast, The Report (1977) was an adult drama about a weak civil servant, accused of taking bribes, whose marriage is crumbling. Because of its “immodest” view of women, the film was promptly banned after the revolution, when cinema was condemned for its perceived western attitudes.
In 1983, a foundation was established to encourage films with “Islamic values”, from which emerged, ironically, a number of cinematic masterpieces. Taking up from his pre-revolutionary films with children at the centre, Kiarostami began the new era with Where Is the Friend’s Home? (1987), a gently humorous film about a child’s loyalty, reminiscent of François Truffaut’s 400 Blows. It was to become an international success only after Kiarostami had made a name for himself with Close-Up (1990).
A superb blend of documentary and narrative film making, Close-Up tells the true story of a man who pretends to be the Iranian director Mohsen Makhmalbaf, in order to hoodwink a family into thinking they will be the subject of a film. This fascinating exploration into identity, fame and the illusion of film, was enacted by the real people involved. “I don’t invent material. I just watch and take it from the daily life of people around me,” Kiarostami once stated.
Life, and Nothing More... (1992) follows a director – a Kiarostami surrogate – making a film while searching for the children who featured in one of his earlier films in the hope that they had survived a severe earthquake in Iran. Through the Olive Trees (1994), set in the same area, is about a director casting and shooting another film. The most fascinating aspect of the film-within-a-film is that the audience never knows what is real and what is fiction. The celebrated final sequence follows the two main actors, who are having a “real life” romance, in extremely long shot as the boy persuades the girl to marry him. The film, at once simple and complex, intimate and distant, is full of insights into film-making, society and human relationships.
Kiarostami’s trademark of people driving over long roads is perfectly illustrated in Taste of Cherry (1997), which co-won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. Using long takes, a leisurely pace and periods of silence, it follows a middle-aged man who is bent on suicide (although the reason is never given). Desperately seeking people to help him, he drives up and down winding roads asking passers-by to bury him in the grave he has already dug for himself. He wants to pay someone to come around at 6am and call down to him. “If I answer, pull me out. If I don’t, throw in 20 shovels of earth to bury me.” The fact that suicide is forbidden in the Qur’an explains the paradoxical ending.

Continuing his minimalist style, The Wind Will Carry Us (1999) has more than 10 characters who are heard but never seen, or discussed but neither heard nor seen. This semi-comical parable of outsiders follows a three-man film crew arriving in a remote Kurdish village intent on photographing the ceremonial funeral rites of a dying 100-year-old woman for a television documentary. But she lingers on.
Kiarostami made a bona fide documentary outside Iran with ABC Africa (2001), a study of the Aids epidemic in Uganda. It was his first use of a digital camera. “I felt that a 35mm camera would limit both us and the people there,” he said, “whereas the video camera displayed truth from every angle, and not a forged truth... The camera could turn 360 degrees and thus reported the truth, an absolute truth.”
The car motif reoccurs in Ten (2002), which consists of 10 long takes in close-up of a woman navigating through the streets of Tehran, during which she has conversations with various women passengers, including a prostitute, and her brat of a son. Kiarostami’s subtle criticism of the male-dominated society is reflected by the boy.
Kiarostami explained why he liked to shoot characters in cars: it puts people in close proximity to allow natural two-shots and close-ups and, sociologically, it is space that allows women some freedom.
In Shirin (2008), a group of 114 women of different generations are photographed in an audience, ostensibly watching a film of a 14th-century Persian tale. Unlike the casts in other Kiarostami films, these women (who include Juliette Binoche) are all professional actors, some of them banned from performing under the present regime. We watch their reactions and hear only the soundtrack of the film, using their expressions to help us imagine the story. Here are defiant women from a strict Islamic society revealing their faces, and their emotions, with a few menacing out-of-focus glimpses of men in the background.
Binoche then starred in the first fiction feature that Kiarostami directed outside Iran. Certified Copy (2010) – shot in Italy, with dialogue in English, French and Italian – follows the relationship between a British writer (William Shimell) and a French antiques dealer (Binoche), and explores that which separates illusion from reality.
Like Someone In Love (2012), elegantly shot in Japan, and in Japanese, was ostensibly even more of a distance from Kiarostami’s world. Always more interested in characters than plot, he retained his oblique view of human contacts in the study of a high-class prostitute, her jealous boyfriend and an elderly former university professor.
By shooting in other countries, Kiarostami became a cosmopolitan figure, underlining how universal his film language was, though slightly diminished away from its roots. In addition to making films, Kiarostami wrote several books of poetry, had his photographs exhibited and directed a production of Mozart’s Così Fan Tutte in Aix-en-Provence, France, in 2008.
He is survived by two sons, Ahmad and Bahman, from his marriage to Parvin Amir-Gholi, which ended in divorce.





Inside the air base that held out against Isis for two years – and the death and destruction that was left behind
The relief of Isis-besieged Kuweires air base last year after an astonishing two-year hold-out was a major symbolic blow against Isis in Syria. Robert Fisk, the first Western journalist to visit the site, finds tales both of death and defiance
• Robert Fisk Independet July 3 2016
Remains of dead ISIS fighters lie beside the wreckage of their suicide tank after they tried to crash through the wall of the Koyeress airbase
The remains of the Isis fighters still lie on the desert floor outside the sand ramparts of the Kuweires air base in northern Syria. A skull, sockets staring at the sun; bones protruding from a military boot; and rotted torsos beneath a grey tarpaulin lie beside the colossal, burnt-out suicide tank they tried to drive through the earthen wall.
For three years, Syrian government soldiers and air force cadets and cooks and military teachers fought them off. By the count of air force Brigadier General Munzer Zaman, Syrian group commander of Kuweires, around 1,100 men defended their base. Eight hundred of them died.
Twice Isis managed to break through the perimeter of the 15-sq-km air base on the main highway to Raqqa, driving captured Syrian armoured vehicles packed with explosives and smashing them into hangars and an administration block. An intelligence officer called Maher leads us to a 30-metre high pile of concrete.
“Five of my friends died here,” he says. “We found a hand, part of a body, that’s all,” and he held his arms apart to show how little was left of them. The rest still lay beneath the rubble. “One of them was a general,” he says.
If the Syrian army survives this terrible war, the story of the siege of Kuweires, north of the great salt lakes in the desert 38 miles east of Syria’s largest city of Aleppo, will be told and retold as an epic of endurance and bravery. If it is defeated, the battles here will be denigrated as the brutal stand of a regime’s forces against the "martyrs" of Islam, the smashed villages and mosques surrounding the air base testimony to the cruelty of war. The crumpled villages are there all right, shell-holed, roofless, a cupola roof of a mosque lying on its own broken walls, a cemetery of powdered gravestones.
But after General "Tiger" Suheil and Major Saleh blasted their way down the highway to the relief of Kuweires six months ago, the battle did not end. All day while I am here, the batteries of 122mm guns are still banging their shells across the desert. Brig Zaman constantly breaks off his conversation to receive battlefront requests for artillery support from shouting soldiers, and he scrawls over his computer maps to check their coordinates and give permission to fire. The windows of his office rattle constantly with the blasts.
Even today, the lonely road to Kuweires runs up the eastbound side of the dual carriageway between burnt fields, scorched factories and blasted homes. "Liberating" besieged soldiers is a destructive business. You might find the villages of Fah and Meer el-Hossen on a map. But they are dead. Brig Zaman insists that Syria will be rebuilt “more beautiful than it was before the terrorists came” and one can only hope he is right.
"Terrorists" means Isis and the al-Nusrah Front – Zaman makes no difference between them – and he has a bleak, harsh memory of the battles to defend his air base. “Our enemy,” he says, “had two choices: death and death. There was no other.” When I ask if he knew the Syrian pilot, Major Nowras Hassan, who had just bailed out over Nusrah territory on the Syrian-Lebanese border far to the west and been promptly executed by his captors, Brig Zaman nods. “Of course I knew him well. He was a married man, no children. But the ways of terrorists will not terrorise us. Our base was under siege for three and a half years. It was the largest siege in history after Stalingrad.”
The casualties and the geography may be a miniature version of the German Sixth Army’s siege of the Soviet city, although there were some clear historical parallels. The "liberation" of Kuweires earlier this year could not have been achieved without Russian air support; and the graveyard of smashed Mig fighter-bombers, shell holes, dismembered trees and gun-pits have a distinctly Second World War flavour. So do the casualties. Nine air force students died when a suicide truck was crashed into the hangar in which they were sleeping. The Syrians buried their dead in cemeteries around the runways, 79 of them in separate graves beside the air-base swimming pool.
“Our mufti said prayers over them under the shellfire but there were no shots fired over their graves,” a major says. “When we were liberated, the bodies were dug up one at a time and placed in new coffins and inside was a glass jar with their names and details.” A wooden board with "grave No. 7" on it is marked: “Ahmed Ali Zohoud from Lattakia, died 7 July 2015.” Almost exactly a year ago. A mile away, rows of captured homemade mortars constructed by Isis mechanics lie in the grass near to an American-made construction vehicle attached to a massive iron drill that had ben used to build tunnels beneath the base.
“They tried to call up the officers on the base,” Brig Zaman says. “They sent papers over the walls with numbers of mobile phones our men could ring to defect. They offered safety corridors from the base if they wanted to desert. But our men were loyal. I even received a message with telephone numbers to ring in Saudi Arabia and Turkey. I gave the numbers to our intelligence people. These countries work for the Americans and for Israel. The only slogan we sent back was that we will win or face the consequences of being martyrs.”
For two years, helicopters could still land under fire in the base, but then flights became too dangerous. They then relied on air drops for essential supplies. General Hasham Mohamed Younis, a teacher at the air academy at Kuweires, was in charge of air drops throughout the siege. “Our helicopters flew over at an altitude of 4km,” he says. “Our problems were wind, the weight of the 75kg and 120kg packages – because the parachutes used in the drops were made for the weight of men – and the terrorists shooting at the drops when they were parachuted down to us. Some drifted down over the enemy, but not many. We successfully received most of the diesel and kerosene and food and letters for cadets from their families.”
War stories there were aplenty. Gen Younis recalls how one package of food from a cadet’s family was packed beneath a parachute which was blown down into the Isis lines. After a few hours, a message was thrown over the wall addressed to the cadet. “The enemy said they had enjoyed his mother’s food,” Younis recounts. “They asked him to tell his mother to send more for them.”
One fuel-carrying helicopter was shot down en route to Kuweires, all but one of its crew burnt to death. The other, Pilot Ali Hosman, jumped out of the machine holding on to one of the parachutes and landed on a 14-year old boy on the ground. The boy lived. Hosman died five minutes later.
Driving across the runways and perimeter ramparts of this huge air base – the first Western journalist ever to visit Kuweires – it isn't difficult to see what a prestigious target it made for Isis. Battered Mig jets – one with its tail broken off – stand beside more captured ordnance, two unexploded missiles clearly bear Latin letters and numbers of Western origin, another bears the inscription of an Arab government depot with its country of origin carefully scratched out. The tanks and BMP armour Isis used appear to have been captured from the Syrians at the start of the war – they include a T-72 tank which has its own Isis numbering ("311" is stencilled below the rear chassis) and it is remarkable that any serviceable aircraft still survive. But I drive past untouched Hind helicopters and several new Migs.
The soldiers at Kuweires are in some ways lucky. At least one other air base was overrun by Isis and its defenders captured - they were then beheaded on film. No wonder Brig Zaman is harsh in his commentary of war. “We had no messages for our enemies – we replied with our weapons. These people who have this ideology, you can’t change them – but you can kill them.” And he makes a reference to Hama in 1982, where Syrian forces killed thousands following a Muslim Brotherhood uprising. His lesson is a grim if rather startling one. “In Syria, we are defending all the world’s humanity. If Syria is defeated, even Britain will not escape, nor France, nor Turkey, nor Jordan. They will be darkened with the same blood.”
There are many, however, who would point out that Britain has not escaped Isis, nor France, nor Turkey, nor Jordan. All countries which – along with America, Israel and the Gulf – Syria blames for the "conspiracy" to destroy the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
 


The Guardian
Joe Biden calls king of Bahrain to raise 'strong concerns' amid violence
After explosion on Thursday, vice-president speaks to King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa as political crisis puts kingdom’s ties to US and Gulf states in jeopardy

Alan Yuhas 3 July 2016
Vice-president Joe Biden called Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa to express “strong concerns”, the White House said late on Friday, alluding to a political crisis in the tiny island kingdom that threatens its close ties to the US, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
In a description of the call, the White House said Biden and the king spoke of “recent negative developments in Bahrain and their implications for the wider region”.
On Thursday, an explosion south of the Bahraini capital, Manama, killed a woman and injured her three children. A day later, police said the blast was a “terrorist bombing” in the village of Eker and said officers had begun an investigation.
Violence has increased in Bahrain as the Sunni monarchy has cracked down on dissent among factions of the majority Shia population. Recent bombings have been blamed on radical Shia opposition groups, which were largely driven underground after failed protests in 2011.
About 1,200 troops from Saudi Arabia and 800 from the United Arab Emirates helped quash that uprising, which threatened to upend Bahrain as an Egyptian revolt had overthrown its government a month before.
In recent months, the Bahraini government has stripped away the citizenship of 250 people, including the country’s most prominent Shia cleric; suspended the largest Shia opposition group and extended a prison term for its leader; kept activists out of a United Nations human rights meeting; and rearrested a human rights activist for spreading “false news”.
The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, and his rights chief have called on Bahrain to respect human rights.
The US relies on Bahrain to house the navy’s fifth fleet. After a brief ban on military aid in 2011, it resumed selling ammunition, helicopters and military equipment to the kingdom.
Earlier this week, a group of senators, prompted by a state department report that found Bahrain had failed to enact reforms, urged Barack Obama to rethink the US arms deal with the kingdom.
In a letter to the secretary of state, John Kerry, the senators wrote: “Bahrain’s failure to address the legitimate grievances of its citizens has strained the country’s social fabric and invited outside actors to take advantage of the deteriorating situation.”
Lawmakers including the Democratic Oregon senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill to ban sales of weapons and riot control equipment to Bahrain until the country launches reforms, such as integrating its “Sunnis-only” security forces, commuting the sentences of political prisoners and ending all sanctioned and unsanctioned torture.
That political crisis “could quickly intensify and destabilize an important United States ally”, the senators warned. “Indeed, we believe the government’s harsh crackdown on the political opposition undermines the country’s stability and plays into the hands of Iran.”
While the 2011 uprisings were bolstered by pro-democratic sentiment around the Middle East, more recent protests and crackdowns have taken sectarian tinges. Bahrain is closely allied with Saudi Arabia, the dominant Sunni presence of the Middle East, and at odds with the dominant Shia force, Iran.
In June, one of Iran’s most powerful generals warned that Bahrain’s crackdown could “set the region on fire”.
On Thursday, a state department spokesperson, John Kirby, told reporters the Obama administration remained concerned about how the weapons it sells will be used.
“We continue to urge the government of Bahrain to reverse their recent harmful actions,” he said.
According to the White House, Biden made similar entreaties.
“The Vice President emphasized the importance of reducing ongoing tensions through dialogue and reconciliation with the opposition, and a commitment to reform,” its statement said.
 


The Chilcot Inquiry is unlikely to change anyone's mind about the Iraq War
The question on everybody’s lips is whether it will be worth the wait – and the weight
• Editorial
• 3 July 2016 Independent

It has become something of a maxim that the Chilcot Inquiry, set up in 2009 to consider the UK’s role in the Iraq war, has taken longer to conclude than the war itself. And at an anticipated 2.6 million words, the resulting report – to be published on Wednesday – is longer than War and Peace, the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible combined. The question on everybody’s lips is whether it will be worth the wait – and the weight.
When Gordon Brown announced the establishment of the inquiry, only six weeks had elapsed since the final patrol by British combat troops in Basra. By then, the UK’s involvement in a conflict that had begun six years earlier was the source of huge controversy. Many, including The Independent, were deeply opposed from the very beginning. By giving the inquiry’s committee members a broad remit, the Prime Minister appeared to be responding positively to public demand for a proper examination of why the country had gone to war and why the battle for Iraq had been so long and so bloody.
Indeed, there can be no doubt that an inquiry into the Iraq war was necessary. It was, after all, supposed to be a short, precisely-defined battle with the supposedly simple aim of securing regime change. But while shock and awe tactics were enough to topple Saddam Hussein and crush the Iraqi military, it soon became clear there was no advanced plan for securing a lasting peace in the country.
Moreover, the stated justification for the invasion of Iraq – the belief that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that posed a direct threat to the West – proved to be utterly unfounded.
In short, Britain had been taken into the war on a false pretext and had fought it without a properly thought out exit strategy, or indeed the right equipment for the conflict that developed. Such a catastrophic series of misjudgements required proper consideration.
Seven years on, there will be some who question the relevance of any findings Chilcot and his committee produce. Geopolitical events since the war’s notional conclusion have transformed both Iraq and the wider region to a further, remarkable degree. The Arab Spring came and went; Syria was plunged into a hideous civil war that rumbles on and which has had global ramifications; and large swathes of Iraq were overrun by Isis.
If Chilcot et al stick to the remit they were given, considering only the period ending July 2009, we may be left to draw our own conclusions as to the link between the war’s conduct and the grimness we have seen in its aftermath.
Still, parameters have to be drawn somewhere and this inquiry has had a broader remit than many. And it will surely draw important lessons from its investigations. At the very least, families of those who served in Britain’s armed forces have a right to know how it came to pass that UK personnel were improperly equipped in the face of improvised explosive devices and other guerrilla tactics.
It is to be hoped too that the inquiry will deliver insights into the wider planning failures that led the conflict to be so drawn out. If the UK is ever to face again the prospect of involvement in a ground offensive against a distant foe, we cannot repeat the mistakes of Iraq.
Yet it is perhaps inevitable that few expect Wednesday’s report to be brimful of shock revelations or damning indictments. We have, in truth, been here before. Both the Hutton Inquiry in 2003 and the Butler review of 2004 were greeted with disappointment, even cries of “whitewash”.
Both those inquiries were focused – albeit in rather different ways – on the intelligence that led Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, to tell the House of Commons that Iraq’s WMD programme was a genuine and present threat to British security. The famous dossier of evidence he set out, including the claim that Iraq could use WMDs within 45 minutes, has been the subject of endless debate and considerable criticism. A great many observers believe neither Hutton nor Butler got anywhere close to the bottom of how and why the case for war was presented in the manner it was.
Chilcot’s inquiry may have had a wider brief and greater powers to scrutinise both witnesses and documentary evidence than those earlier reviews; but whether it will reach startlingly different conclusions about the war – and about those who led Britain into it – remains to be seen.
Then again, if ever there was a time for shocks in British politics, it is surely now


 Westerners who don hijabs in Iran are a disgrace
By Amir Taheri July 3, 2016 | New York Post
In Iran, do as the mullahs say, not as Iranians do. This seems to be the motto adopted by a string of foreign dignitaries rushing to Tehran in the wake of the mythical “nuke deal” marketed by the Obama administration.
For more than a decade almost no one wanted to go to the capital of the Islamic Republic, designated by many as “the world No. 1 sponsor of international terrorism.” This year, however, heads of state and other senior officials from over 60 nations, including most Western powers, have taken the flying carpet to Tehran to pay tribute to Obama’s “new moderate Iran.”
President Obama’s seven-year campaign to restore diplomatic relations to Iran was never likely to alter the Khomeinist regime’s destructive behavior. But some European powers were keen to disregard the Islamic Republic’s visceral anti-Americanism and focus on obtaining juicy commercial deals.
The mullahs seized the opportunity to claim “total victory over the Great Satan” as part of a new narrative according to which “the whole world” was rushing to Iran to pay tribute to the “Supreme Guide” as the living incarnation of Islam.
It was no surprise that high-profile visitors like Russian President Vladimir Putin or his Chinese counterpart Xi Jingping failed to mention such issues as human rights, executions and terrorism in polite dinner-table conversation in Tehran.
The surprise came from Western leaders visiting the Islamic Republic and talking in strict accordance with scripts established by the ruling mullahs.
German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel went to Tehran twice, recalling their “common historic bonds” which presumably include the claimed “joint Aryan ancestry.” But he uttered not a word about such embarrassing issues as Iran topping the list of nations in the number of executions and political prisoners.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was warm in paying tribute to the “great Iranian culture,” but was too polite to mention that for three decades the Islamic regime has been busy trying to destroy that very culture to the point of establishing a list of words that cannot be mentioned in Persian poetry.
Meanwhile, Austrian President Heinz Fischer, whose term has since ended, put flowers at Ayatollah Khomeini’s mausoleum and praised the despot who had presided over the execution of more than 120,000 Iranians as “a man of peace and spirituality.”
Then we have Cardinal Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Vatican’s office on family affairs. He went to the “holy” city of Qom to persuade the ayatollahs there to enter an alliance with the Catholic Church in defense of “the sacred institution of marriage” and against “deviant ways.”
The cardinal’s visit came just two days after the massacre at a gay bar in Orlando, Fla., and was seized upon by the Tehran media as a reminder by the church that a “same-sex relation” is a sin.
The Western women officials who visited the mullahs didn’t always behave in a dignified manner either. They discarded their ordinary attire in favor of dress codes and hijab styles approved by the Islamic Foreign Ministry, the same dress codes and hijabs that millions of Iranian women are fighting against each day.
The European Union foreign policy tsarina Federica Mogherini, a frequent hobnobber with mullahs, came dressed in black, the color of Bani-Abbas. She went even further by inviting Islamic Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to join the dialogue on “human rights in Europe” and suggest measures in favor of Islam which Mogherini says is an “integral part of Europe.”
The Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop brought a whole delegation of “Islamic scholars” with her to Tehran. They went around claiming that Australia was “thirsty for Islam” while the Islamic Republic was hungry for the import of Australian mutton. Ayatollah Mohsen Araki, head of Office for Islamic Convergence, promised Bishop that Iran would open a full university in Australia to train “Islamic scholars” Down Under.
But the crown for vile flattery goes to Christine Defraigne, president of the Belgian Senate, who went around telling the mullahs and their minions that the West had “a lot to learn from Islam” to “improve the status of women.” She ignored the fact that, while she was flattering the mullahs, hundreds of Iranian women were arrested and insulted by Islamic vigilantes who claimed their hijab was “inadequate.”
Defraigne tried to justify her own wearing of the hijab by claiming that the headgear was “part of Iranian culture,” a manifest lie as it was invented in the 1970s and imposed from 1980 onwards.
Two officials behaved with dignity. One was South Korean President Park Geun-hye who dressed normally and wore a white, thin, headpiece and said not a word in praise of the mullarchy. Another was Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, who wore thin headgear covering half of her blond hair at official functions but not during unofficial sightseeing. The mullahs retaliated by posting photos of her in swimsuits on the Internet and even attacking her as “a slut with no qualms about wearing a bikini.”
However, the main prize for dignified behavior must go to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
She simply refused to visit the Islamic Republic because she would not wear the hijab and dress up for what amounts to a farce endorsing tragedy.


Naval commander surrendered to Iran to protect nuclear deal
By Rick Moran July 2, 2016

The commander in charge of the naval vessels that strayed into Iranian waters and were captured last January surrendered his command because he thought his sailors would be safe because Iran "wanted the nuclear deal to go through."
This is only one of several revelations found in the 170-page report issued by the Pentagon about the incident. The commander's name was redacted from the report.
Washington Times:
In an interview with investigators looking into the January incident, the commander said he surrendered the vessels after calculating that his sailors would not be in danger because Iran “wants this nuke deal to go through.”
The interview was one of several stunning revelations in the often scathing 170-page report compiled by Navyinvestigators, chronicling the chain of events that led to the apprehension and detention of the 10 American sailors by the Iranian military after a pair of U.S. patrol boats drifted into the country’s sovereign waters in the Persian Gulf.
The incident, which played out as President Obama was preparing his State of the Union address, proved deeply embarrassing to the U.S. military and roiled diplomatic relations between Tehran and Washington as they were trying to implement key measures in the deal to curb Iran’s suspect nuclear programs.
Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, said Thursday that the mishandling of the incident resulted from “the accumulation of a number of small problems” created by the U.S. sailors who strayed into Iranian waters all the way up to the senior commanders who led the Navy squadron and task force under which the unit served.
While contending Iran also violated international law with rough handling of its American captives, “this incident did not live up to our expectations of our Navy,” Adm. Richardson said.
America has been at war with Iran since 1979 – at least, Tehran thinks so. The commander put a childlike faith in the thinking that the nuclear deal would protect his personnel. He also didn't want to "start a war" – despite the fact that Iran has been ordering terrorist attacks against American military personnel for more than a decade.
Heavily outgunned and outnumbered by members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, the Navy commander — whose name was redacted from the report — told investigators he calculated that Tehran’s desire to keep the nuclear deal with the U.S. alive would also protect the 10 American sailors if they surrendered.
“I didn’t want to start a war with Iran. … I didn’t want to start a war that would get people killed,” the commander said.
“I guess this was a gamble on my part. … I made the gamble that they were not going to kill us. I made the gamble they were not going to parade us around like prisoners of war because they want this nuke deal to go through.”
His act of surrender could have easily resulted in what he claims he was trying to avoid – a war. As it is, his skewed thinking handed the Iranians their biggest propaganda victory ever.
I hope this commander was one of the nine officers cashiered as a result of this humiliation.
 


Analysis: New Ties With Russia Leave Turkey Stuck Between ISIS and Iran
Turkey's simultaneous reconciliation agreements with Russia and Israel provide a rare chance to design a new Middle Eastern policy.
Zvi Bar'el Jul 02, 2016 1:56 AM Haaretz
The attack at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul this week, apparently by the Islamic State, clearly shows how Turkey has become a secondary front of the war in Syria. It was the seventh mass terror incident this year and probably won’t be the last, because Turkey is one of the countries that have been marked by ISIS as enemies, both militarily and ideologically.
As long as Turkey was helping ISIS personnel move through its territory into Syria, providing medical aided to ISIS wounded and, in the best case, turnimg a blind eye to oil deals between ISIS and Turkish producers, the country had immunity.
But when it began to attack ISIS bases in Syria, it became a target, open to attack whenever the opportunity arose. To ISIS, Turkey is already part of “the West” – a front on which Turkey is not fighting alone.
New channels opened up for Turkey this week, the most important being its reconciliation with Russia. It was enough to persuse some Iranian newspapers to understand the importance of this channel.
“The end of the good days between Russia and Iran,” was the title of an article published on the Iranian website Aftab, which is close to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. “This is not ideological intervention but rather that which comes from diplomatic considerations with the goal of taking advantage of the new balance of power in the world after the withdrawal of the United States from the arena,” the article said.
Reconciliation with Russia only bolstered the feeling in Iran that Russia could join Turkey in demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and replacing Iran on the Syrian front.
Iran and Russia do not see eye to eye on how to conduct the war in Syria. While Iran wants to complete the conquest of Aleppo, Russia has made clear that such a conquest cannot be expected any time soon. Russia’s ambassador in Damascus stated as much in an interview with the Russian News Agency Interfax, explaining that he does not expect an assault on Aleppo or Raqqah (the ISIS capital in Syria) in the near future.

That contradicted the position of Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah, who called on all forces to come together to fight “the great strategic battle” in Aleppo.
Iran is not the only one pressured by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s race for reconciliation. The Kurds in Syria fear that rejuvenated ties between Turkey, Russia and Israel could compromise the assistance they are receiving from Russia and could establish a combined Israeli, Russian and Turkish aerial umbrella against an independent Kurdish entity in Syria.
“We must consider our path well in the face of this dangerous development” a senior Kurdish figure told an opposition Syrian website. That is because if in the past the Kurds in Syria could depend on Russian support no matter what, if only because of the rift with Turkey, from now on Russia might change direction. But it will probably not abandon the Kurds for now and let the United States be the only “landlord” in Kurdish operations against ISIS.
The United States is assisting an alliance of Syrian Kurds and Arabs it established called the Syrian Democratic Forces, specifically to mask assistance to the Kurds. Meanwhile, Washington has also adopted the New Syrian Army, a small militia established in late 2015 in the eastern part of Syria near the ISIS-controlled city of Bukamal on the border with Iraq, which is to be deployed to fight in the eastern part of Raqqah when a decision is made to capture it, while the Kurdish forces fight in the west of the city. In this way, Washington believes, the Kurds will be unable to take over Raqqah entirely and create Kurdish territorial contiguity from the Iraqi border to the main Syrian port city of Lattakia in the west.
That is Turkey’s nightmare scenario, which it might now be able to prevent if it persuades Russia to thwart American plans.
Iran has still not abandoned efforts to sideline Russia. The secretary general of Iran’s National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, was this month appointed senior coordinator on Syria between Iran and Russia. Iran fears that Russia does not want to work robustly against the militias trying to bring down Assad. Russia’s willingness to continue attacking the rebel bases from the air depends on Assad’s ability to take more territory, especially Aleppo, which Russia, as noted, is in no hurry to bomb.
This is the juncture at which Russian-Turkish reconciliation could lead to the turnaround Iran seeks, if Russian President Vladimir Putin is able persuade Erdogan to withdraw his demand for Assad to step down immediately.
That seems unlikely, considering Erdogan’s verbal assaults on Assad over the past five years. But Erdogan has also had a bellyful of anger against Israel for the past six years, has had harsh things to say about Russia, and has not spoken with Putin for eight months.

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim hinted at the possibility of renewed economic ties with Egypt in an interview with the Turkish website Haber.
With Erdogan taking steps to reconcile with all Turkey’s neighbors, Assad also might be considered a “good neighbor.” But such a turn could mean the end of the friendly relations created over the past year between Saudi Arabia and Turkey, after years of Turkish exclusion from the Arab sphere.
In any case, Turkey now finds itself in a supermarket of options. The tripartite reconciliation, beyond the huge economic benefits for all the partners, is a rare chance to design a new Middle Eastern policy in which Turkey could be an essential element.



 


Financial Times
Turkey and Russia reassess role in Syria
Erika Solomon in Beirut and Kathrin Hille in Moscow July 2, 2016
There have been few game-changing moments in Syria’s five-year civil war. But a shift by Turkey, the Syrian rebels’ biggest backer, has the potential to be one.
When Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, conceded to Moscow’s demand for an apology in his letter of “regret” for downing a Russian jet last year on the Syrian-Turkish border, he signalled Ankara may be softening its stance on Syria.
After years of ruptured alliances, lost trade and rising militant attacks, Ankara is feeling isolated internationally at a time when it is grappling with a domestic Kurdish insurgency and Isis. Its announcement this week of a rapprochement with Israel was another sign it is seeking to mend broken relationships.
Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, was quoted by RIA, the Russian news agency, as saying Ankara and Moscow should work together for a political solution on Syria after meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, on Friday.
Diplomats are, however, wary of any swift change of tack by Turkey and Russia, the outside forces arguably most integral to the continuation of Syria’s bloodshed. Turkey, by opening its southern frontier, has been the lifeline for rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule. Russia plays an equally important role in its support of Mr Assad through its air campaign.
But Turkey’s push for rapprochement is expected to gain momentum after Tuesday’s suicide bomb attack on Istanbul’s main international airport that killed 43 people. Turkish officials blame the assault on Isis, the jihadi group that built itself a stronghold amid Syria’s chaos and used Turkey’s porous border to spread its network. Pro-government Turkish newspapers appear to be laying the groundwork for a shift.
“A deadly terror campaign inside the country is pushing Ankara to change its priorities and to leave its Syria policy, which was mostly based on humanitarian principles, behind,” said Merve Oruc in the Daily Sabah on Thursday.
Turkey is looking to the “narrowing of its goals in Syria”, says Aaron Stein at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Its priority will be subduing Kurdish rivals and weakening Isis — aims for which it could expect Russian support in exchange for Ankara dropping its demand for regime change in Syria.
Russian officials argue that Moscow is not tied to Mr Assad, but to preserving the state and fighting terrorism. Moscow has grown increasingly frustrated with Mr Assad, whose forces have been unable to gain territory in recent months despite Russian support.
“Everyone is in a period of recalculating their positions because we all know there isn’t going to be a [Syrian] peace deal,” said a Syria-based diplomat close to Russia, referring to a growing sense that the US and Russia will not be able to agree the framework of a deal by their self-imposed August 1 deadline.
Turkey is also furious that Washington, its Nato ally, is working closely with Syrian Kurdish forces linked to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ party in its battle with Isis.
Kurds, the world’s largest ethnic group without a state, are spread across Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq. Most of these countries fear the semi-autonomy Syrian Kurds have carved out will inspire secessionist movements.
Ankara was quietly making moves well before its public diplomatic push began. Diplomats say Ankara have already opened a back channel to the Syrian regime, via Algeria, to discuss the Kurds.
In the week before its apology to Russia, Turkey arranged a secret meeting between Syrian opposition leaders and Moscow representatives, according to opposition figures close to those leaders.
But sudden shifts will be difficult, and some officials believe the Russia-Turkey detente will focus on economic interests.
“This doesn’t mean they’re going to be buddy-buddy. It means they’re going to try to regain their commercial relationships,” a western diplomat said. “These powers understand they can have opposing political interests and maintain economic interests.”
Nor would this seemingly contradictory position be unusual. Many of Syria’s rival foreign backers have maintained economic ties despite their proxies clashing in Syria. Russia has fostered economic relations with Saudi Arabia, another big opposition patron, while Ankara and Tehran have quietly maintained trade links despite backing opposing sides in Syria.
The opposing stances of Turkey and Russia on Syria predated the feud sparked by Turkey’s downing of the Russian jet that strayed into Turkish airspace in November. Russia imposed sanctions after the incident that dealt Turkey a heavy economic blow, but said it would review the sanctions after Ankara’s apology.
Several Syrian rebel leaders close to Turkey believe they will feel an impact from the detente. They also insist it will not jeopardise their cause, as many of their supporters fear.
“There will be trade-offs and concessions around the Kurds and the rebels . . . But the Turks will not give up on the opposition completely — it is not in their strategic interest,” said Ezzedine al-Salameh, a leader in the rebel group Fastaqem Kama Umirt.
Some opposition leaders privately say radical Islamist groups backed by Turkey may be hardest hit by any shift. Turkey recently sacked its intelligence official responsible for Syria, they say, in a sign it may move away from hardliners who would refuse any deal with Mr Assad’s regime.
“I’m actually pleased about this,” said another secular opposition commander. “Maybe we’ll have to keep Assad for a transition period . . . But maybe it means Turkey will come back to the moderates.”

 


 Feuding Friends Frustrate Saudi Efforts to Counter Iran
Fellow Sunni powers Egypt, Turkey disagree on greater threat: Shiite Iran or political Islam

Yaroslav Trofimov
June 30, 2016 5:30 a.m. ET Wall Street Journal
In its regional confrontation with Tehran, Saudi Arabia counts on the two fellow Sunni powers with the same heft as Shiite Iran—Egypt and Turkey.
In that strategic triangle, Turkey has indeed emerged as Saudi Arabia’s main ally in the Syrian conflict. Riyadh and Ankara both support Sunni Islamist rebels fighting against the Iran-backed Syrian regime, and have intensified their cooperation in recent months.
Egypt, meanwhile, has played a major role in Saudi efforts to offset Iranian influence in Yemen, joining the Saudi-led military coalition and dispatching its navy to help blockade the Yemeni ports controlled by Tehran-backed Houthi forces.
The problem for Saudi Arabia is that the third side of that triangle—Egypt’s relationship with Turkey—is one of open hostility.
While Turkey recently moved to reconcile with Russia and Israel, its relationship with Cairo has remained in deep freeze ever since the ouster of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
And, to Riyadh’s frustration, it is also becoming clearer that neither Turkey nor Egypt—both increasingly targeted by Islamic State—share Saudi Arabia’s single-minded focus on checking Iran’s growing influence across the Middle East.
Turkey, unlike other Saudi allies, didn’t follow Riyadh’s lead in severing or downgrading diplomatic relations with Iran after the Saudi Embassy in Tehran was vandalized in January. Egypt, whose own relations with Iran collapsed following Cairo’s 1979 peace deal with Israel, doesn’t endorse Saudi desires to overthrow the Syrian regime.
Such reluctance, naturally, worries Riyadh.
“Saudi Arabia wants its allies to state their policies very clearly. It thinks that the time for ambiguous positions is long gone and that the turmoil and violence in the region require very clear and decisive policies,” said Fahad Nazer, a specialist on Saudi affairs at the JTG intelligence firm and a former analyst at the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
Part of the reason for this hesitation is the complicated interplay between the two main conflicts rocking the Middle East: the Sunni-Shiite sectarian divide that preoccupies Riyadh and the clash between foes and supporters of political Islam that remains a key issue in Cairo and Ankara.
For Egypt, ever since Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi ousted President Morsi and outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, the need to confront political Islam and prevent the Brotherhood from gaining influence anywhere in the region remains the main national-security priority—and trumps concerns about distant Iran.
In Syria, this means that the Assad regime is seen by Cairo as a lesser evil than the Brotherhood-inspired and Saudi-backed “moderate” Sunni rebels, let alone the radicals allied with al Qaeda or Islamic State.
“The Saudi government is significantly more robust in wanting to change the Syrian regime as a priority issue. Our position is that this is not the priority issue,” said Nabil Fahmy, who served as Egypt’s foreign minister under Mr. Sisi in 2013-14. “For us, it is to ensure the stability of the Syrian state system, and then the Syrians will decide who changes and who doesn’t change. We do not want the collapse of the Syrian state, with all the implications this will have domestically and regionally.”
But for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, an Islamist politician who took the ouster and imprisonment of Mr. Morsi as a personal affront, ideological commitments outweigh the obvious geopolitical advantages of potential cooperation with Egypt, the most populous Arab country.
Turkey’s new prime minister, Binali Yildirim, this month called for renewed commercial and other ties with Egypt, but reiterated that Ankara won’t accept the 2013 “coup against democracy.” Egypt responded by demanding an official recognition of its new leadership.
Such a refusal to recognize Mr. Sisi has become “a fixed idea” for Mr. Erdogan, explained former Turkish Foreign Minister Yasar Yakis.
“The state of Egypt and the state of Turkey should not have any problems. Egypt is an essential partner for anything you want to do in the Middle East, and Turkey is depriving itself of this support,” said Mr. Yakis, one of the co-founders of Turkey’s ruling party and a former Turkish ambassador in Egypt.
Mr. Erdogan, he added, is making a strategic mistake by hewing too closely to Riyadh.
“Turkey should not take the risk of antagonizing Iran. It already went quite a long distance to that, and Turkey may suffer from this in the future, when the interests of Turkey and Saudi Arabia start to diverge.”
In part, it is the change in Saudi Arabia’s own attitude to the Muslim Brotherhood that fueled its rapprochement with Turkey. Ever since the ouster of Mr. Morsi, Riyadh—alongside the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait—has been an indispensable financial supporter of the Sisi regime. The previous Saudi ruler, King Abdullah, also shared Mr. Sisi’s animosity to the Brotherhood, declaring it a terrorist group.
But King Salman, who came to power last year, has adopted a much friendlier attitude to political Islam. He and his son, Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman, rapidly moved to accommodate Muslim Brotherhood affiliates in both Syria and Yemen, much to Mr. Sisi’s dismay and Mr. Erdogan’s delight.
“Foreign policy is not particularly well institutionalized in these countries. We’re not talking about government-to-government relations in a normal sense,” explained Shadi Hamid, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of a new book, “Islamic Exceptionalism.” “Take Saudi-Egypt, Egypt-Turkey or Turkey-Saudi. All of these relationships are dependent on the idiosyncrasies of erratic individuals.”
Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at yaroslav.trofimov@wsj.com


Senior American at IMF says Iran faces 'fundamental' economic choices
Author Barbara Slavin Posted June 30, 2016 Almonitor

A senior official from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says that Iran faces a challenge similar to post-Soviet Eastern Europe in modernizing and transforming its economy to take advantage of the opportunities presented by the landmark nuclear accord.
David Lipton, first deputy managing director of the IMF, told a conference at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington June 29, “Iran faces a fundamental choice.” The Islamic Republic can stick with a largely oil-based closed economy with heavy state involvement or seek greater integration, private enterprise and foreign investment, he said.
“The first will fail to generate employment” for Iran’s youthful population, Lipton said, while “the second can succeed but will require a transition on a scale and type countries in Eastern Europe went through” after the collapse of the Soviet Union and its hold over the Eastern Bloc.
Lipton said that while he was not sure what choice Iran would make, he and other members of the first IMF management team to visit Iran since the 1979 revolution found Iranian officials “very interested in restoring growth without rekindling inflation.”
Since Hassan Rouhani became president of Iran three years ago, Iran has cut inflation from about 45% to about 10%. Lipton said the IMF is predicting 4.5% growth for Iran this year, also a significant improvement over the economy’s performance under sanctions. But a number of factors are holding back more sustained progress.
During the delegation’s May visit to Tehran, Iranian officials raised concerns about difficulties in re-establishing links to foreign banks, Lipton said. These were similar to those expressed by Iran’s Central Bank Governor Valiollah Seif during a visit to Washington for the IMF/World Bank meetings in April.
Iranian bankers say that while they have been able to open correspondent accounts in smaller regional and third-tier banks in Europe and Asia, major financial institutions have stayed away for fear of incurring huge fines from the US Justice Department.
US officials counter that they are not “playing gotcha,” in the words of John Smith, the acting director of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, and will not penalize foreign companies that do due diligence about their Iranian counterparts but inadvertently make mistakes. Foreigners are particularly worried about a lack of transparency in Iranian banks and fear that they might unknowingly have contact with persons or organizations on a list of about 200 still sanctioned by the US government.
While in Tehran, Lipton said, the IMF team spent a lot of time discussing Iran’s efforts to get the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international intergovernmental body based in Paris, to lift its designation of Iran as a “high-risk" jurisdiction for money laundering and "non-cooperative" in countering financial terrorism. Iran and North Korea are the only two countries on FATF's blacklist, but the organization recently suspended counter-measures against Iran for 12 months to take account of new regulations the Central Bank of Iran is putting in place to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing.
In response to a question from Al-Monitor, Lipton distinguished between the sort of regime he said Iranian banks need to establish to prevent diversion of funds and the “activities of the state” in supporting groups such as Hezbollah. “Whatever a state does is a separate matter” from these banking procedures, Lipton said.
A cleaner bill of health from FATF might give more confidence to big foreign banks to return to the Iranian market, Lipton added. He said the IMF is providing technical assistance to Iran to carry out these reforms.
The IMF is urging Iran to make a number of other fundamental changes in its economy to fully profit from the relief from nuclear-related sanctions under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Iranians have complained that the economy has been slow to take off and there are concerns that that could undermine political support for the government of Rouhani, who faces re-election next year.
Iran, Lipton said, needs to modernize its economic structure by reducing regulation, high tariffs and state-granted monopoly rights that are limiting competitiveness and dampening job growth.
To attract needed private and foreign investment, Iran needs “a broad liberalization of the economy,” Lipton said, that would challenge “vested interests that have benefited” from a more closed system such as the Revolutionary Guard Corps and religious foundations.
Iranian officials at the Central Bank said Seif was not available to respond to a request for comment on the IMF suggestions. But in his April interview with Al-Monitor, Seif acknowledged deficiencies in the banking sector that he said he was addressing.
Lipton said he talked with Iranian officials about his experiences advising Poland in the 1990s after the collapse of communism and the problems that afflicted Asian countries during a banking crisis two decades ago because of an overly intimate relationship between the banks and local governments. He said he asked an Iranian official, “Does this sound familiar?” and the Iranian, whom Lipton did not identify, “smiled and nodded his head.”
A rare high-level American to visit Iran, albeit as an official of a multilateral organization, Lipton, a former undersecretary of the Treasury for International Affairs under President Bill Clinton and National Security Council senior director for Barack Obama, said he was impressed by what he called “a pretty normal and positive environment” in Tehran and by his interlocutors at the Central Bank, other banks, the chamber of commerce and at universities.
“These are people who really want to make change,” Lipton said. “Whether they will win the day with the senior government leadership and conservative side of society, I don’t know. They want to understand how to succeed.”


 


Why Iran was so quick to praise Brexit
By Melissa Etehad June 28 at 3:00 AM Washington Post
While the international community squirmed in distress when Britain voted to leave the European Union, there was one country that was quick to voice its optimism: Iran. Even though only a few Iranian political and military leaders decided to speak about Brexit, the ones who did expressed support and even enthusiasm for the referendum.
"The departure of England from the E.U. is a 'historic opportunity' for Iran — an advantage must be taken from this new opportunity," President Hassan Rouhani's deputy chief of staff for political affairs, Hamid Aboutaebi, wrote in a tweet.
“As a democratic establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran respects the British people’s vote on leaving the European Union, and considers that as being in line with the will of majority of that country’s people to adopt their own foreign policy,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Friday.
"A large earthquake shook Europe. The stars of the E.U. flag are currently falling. It is a long time that the E.U. has lost the trust of the people," Aboutaebi added.
With many political analysts and economic experts raising concern that a post-Brexit world could negatively impact the economy and fuel mistrust of Western institutions, WorldViews answers why Iran might support Brexit:
Why does Iran view Brexit as a 'win'?
Some Iranian officials see a Britain outside the E.U. as a major geopolitical reshuffle that might give Iran more leverage in a political environment that has historically been against it.
Iran's relationship with Britain and the rest of Europe is complex and dates back before the 1979 Islamic Revolution. In the 1950s, Britain opposed the nationalization of Iranian oil and eventually, with the support of the United States, backed a coup to replace Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh, who wanted to take back control over Iran's oil.
Why is this important to Iranians?
Iranians saw this as a direct attack on their sovereignty and independence. Along with other things, this remains a strong reason for continued mistrust between Iran and Britain and could partially explain the lingering resentment. As the deputy chief of staff of Iran's armed forces, Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, was quoted as saying after Brexit: "Britain must pay the price for years of colonialism and crimes against humanity."
Jazayeri's choice of words to describe Britain isn't uncommon. Many officials within Iran's establishment still hold resentment of British and U.S. meddling in Iran's affairs, and use it as part of their propaganda to maintain public support in post-revolutionary Iran. For example, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during his sermons or television appearances, has referred to Britain as "wicked" and "evil."
Despite this, President Rouhani did make it a point to establish ties by reopening the British Embassy in Tehran in 2015 after it had been closed for four years.
But could Brexit actually be a 'historic opportunity' for Iran?
Though they haven't gone into detail, it's possible to speculate that some Iranian officials were thrilled with the announcement for economic reasons. Europe is an important trading partner for Iran. And as an emerging market, some Iranian officials believe, Iran stands to benefit from business opportunities. In addition to having an easier time making business deals with individual European countries such as Italy, Greece or Spain, as BuzzFeed's Borzou Daragahi points out, Britain might also stand to benefit.
In fact, Britain has been trying to increase trade with Iran for two years with no success, according to Lobe Log's Esfandyar Batmangheldj. He also noted how Lord Norman Lamont, Britain's formal "trade envoy" to Iran, is a supporter of Brexit. However Batmangheldj, who is a researcher on Iranian political economy and social history, also expressed skepticism. "Practically speaking, Iran will not be a priority in the post-Brexit economic agenda," he wrote.
Why does Iran think Brexit would be a rejection of U.S.-style policies?
The British people's decision to leave the E.U. is a "rejection of America's imposition of will against European states," said Jazayeri, the armed forces deputy chief of staff, according to Mehr News. He added later that "the only path to protect the E.U. is the open and practical independence from the White House."
It's not clear how some Iranian politicians see a Britain separated from the E.U. as less open to American influence. But it is true that the United States influenced the E.U. to impose trade sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear program, which it curtailed under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), an agreement reached between Iran and six world powers almost one year ago. Perhaps officials in Tehran think that a Britain separate from the E.U. would have weaker relations with the United States.
But could Brexit affect the U.S. relationship with Britain?
Obama made it clear that the American relationship with Britain won't be affected by the vote. Although he was in favor of Britain remaining part of the E.U., Obama said in a statement in that "the special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring, and the United Kingdom's membership in NATO remains a vital cornerstone of U.S. foreign, security and economic policy."

 

 


June 29, 2016 3:04 am Financial Times
Iran looks to Iraq and even Syria for trade
Najmeh Bozorgmehr
Fresh milk, antibiotics and cement: Iran finds neighbouring Iraq its closest ally in the Arab world as well as a big market for its domestically produced goods. Once bitter enemies, non-Arab Iran and Arab Iraq were brought closer by the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein in a war that replaced a Sunni-dominated hostile regime with a government led by a friendly Shia majority.
“Iraq needs everything, which makes it the best market for Iranian-made goods,” boasts Yahya Ale Eshaq, head of the Iran-Iraq Chamber of Commerce.
Iran’s trade with the Arab world, however, has largely remained confined to Iraq while the United Arab Emirates, the top trade hub in the region, is Iran’s first destination for its re-exports. Despite the obvious benefits of more regional trade, politics has stood in the way.
Although officials and analysts in Tehran say that Iran’s high levels of security, diverse economy and educated workforce could make it a new conduit in a crisis-hit region, hopes of better commercial ties will continue to be stymied by power struggles and political tensions.
Last year Iran reached an agreement with major powers — the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany — to scale back its nuclear programme in return for a lifting of economic sanctions, and now Iranian businessmen regularly host western and Asian trade delegations.
Businesspeople in Tehran argue that Iran is no longer just a market of its 78m-strong population; it should be seen as a market of more than 300m people thanks to its location, allowing access to Arab states in the south and west; central Asia in the north; and Afghanistan and Pakistan in the east.
Mr Ale Eshaq says that Iran can position itself as a conduit to Iraq. “We can work with European partners who are not familiar with the Iraqi market and are worried about security there. They can rely on us because thanks to our historical and cultural commonalities we can operate in Iraq better.”
From Iran’s $42.4bn of non-oil exports during the last Iranian year (which ended on March 19), $6.2bn went to Iraq and about $4.9bn worth of non-oil goods were re-exported through the UAE.
Iranian businessmen speak of a day when they can exploit their country’s geostrategic position to export to many more Middle Eastern markets. For now, however, other than with Oman, to which Iran exported $375m of goods, trade with other Gulf states, Lebanon, Syria and North African Arab states remains insignificant.
Iranian businesses acknowledge that expanding trade with the Arab world will require improved relations with Saudi Arabia, the main Sunni regional rival power.
Tehran and Riyadh severed ties last year amid a steady escalation of tensions. They are fighting a proxy war on several fronts, including in Syria, where Iran backs the regime of Bashar al-Assad and Saudi Arabia is a supporter of the rebels. Iran accuses Saudi Arabia of financing jihadi groups like Isis while the Saudis say the Iranians are interfering and destabilising several Arab states.
Saudi Arabia and Bahrain took steps earlier this year to slow Iran’s efforts to increase oil exports by banning vessels that transport Iranian crude from entering their waters.
The move did not affect Iranian crude exports — Iran quickly regained its market share after sanctions were lifted — but it represented another indication that Tehran-Riyadh ties were unlikely to be normalised in the near future.
The tensions with Saudi Arabia affect Iran’s economic ties with other Arab states closely linked to Tehran. According to one senior Iranian banker, Emirati banks are more reluctant to deal with Iranian businessmen since Riyadh cut ties with Tehran.
Now that western sanctions are being lifted, Iranian companies are less dependent on the Dubai route for transportation. Imports from the UAE amounted to $7.8bn during the last Iranian year, down from $12.1bn the previous year.
Businessmen in Tehran lament that an economic opportunity is being squandered. “Like it or dislike it, we and Persian Gulf states are neighbours and have to redefine our trade relations,” says Masoud Daneshmand, chairman of a department of the Iran Chamber of Commerce which deals with UAE trade. “If Iran and oil-rich Arab states put capabilities together, a very good market can be created for production and trade to meet demands in Arab states, central Asia, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Mr Daneshmand says Iran is disappointed that Emirati companies have not lined up like Europeans and Asians to explore Iran’s untapped market. “Why do Emirati real estate companies like Damac Properties not think of Iran’s market when . . . Iran needs 5m houses?” he says.
One market that Iran is hoping to benefit from in the future is Syria, where Tehran is betting that its investment in the regime will pay off. When the Syrian war ends, Syria — like Iraq — is going to be a vast market. The country will have to be reconstructed from scratch. No one, however, is predicting that the war is about to end.

 

 


Khamenei appoints new head of Iran's armed forces
Author Arash Karami Posted June 28, 2016 Almonitor

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has appointed Mohammad Bagheri as the chief of staff of the Iranian Armed Forces, replacing Hassan Firouzabadi, who held the position for 27 years. Firouzabadi, an outspoken military commander who in recent years has been supportive of President Hassan Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts, will serve as an adviser to Khamenei, who is commander in chief of the armed forces.
Before his June 28 appointment, Maj. Gen. Bagheri, whose real last name is Afshordi, was not known as a high-profile personality in Iranian media. Bagheri joined the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in 1980 and eventually became one of the senior intelligence operational commanders of the Iran-Iraq War. Bagheri was serving as the deputy of intelligence and operations of the armed forces before his appointment. His brother, Hassan Bagheri, former deputy head of ground forces of the IRGC who died in 1983, was one of the famous commanders of the Iran-Iraq War and played an important role in the liberation of Khorramshahr.
“With consideration of your valuable experience during the Sacred Defense [Iran-Iraq War] and your responsibilities at the armed forces and Khatam al-Anbiya [IRGC engineering conglomerate], I appoint you as chief of staff of the armed forces,” Khamenei’s order read, which was shared by Iranian media.
Tasnim News Agency republished an older interview with Bagheri that was conducted when he was deputy of the armed forces. In a reference to his low profile in the media, particularly compared with the profile and name recognition of his brother, Bagheri said, “I don’t see myself as a significant person in order to be seen. It is natural that martyr Hassan Bagheri and other martyrs like him had this greatness, with their shadow cast over me and people like me.” Alluding to his work in intelligence, he added, “Of course, my work and employment is such that I have less opportunity for the media, and I am not inclined to have a presence in the public.”
On Iran’s security in the region, especially with respect to the rise of the Islamic State terrorist group, which has a presence on both sides of Iran’s borders, Bagheri said Iran’s security position is the best it has been in Islamic Republic history. He said there was a time that Iraqi troops had occupied parts of Iranian territory and a time when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 in which many people felt that Iran would be next. However, now there is no threat of such land invasions at the moment, Bagheri said.
On the origins of the intelligence operations of the armed forces, Bagheri said that after the Iraqi invasion and occupation of southwest Iran, many Iranians from all across the country volunteered. However, these forces did not know the terrain of that part of Iran nor did they have an understanding of the forces they were fighting, and it was necessary to set up intelligence units in order to study them.
When asked to compare Khamenei’s management of the armed forces to that of former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Bagheri described Khamenei as being directly involved in all of the military decisions. He said that Khamenei, due to his position as president before becoming supreme leader, has a firm understanding of managing the country and of the armed forces and has direct communication with all of the commanders.
Bagheri also said that he was part of the “second layer” of students who took over the US Embassy in November 1979. At the time he was an engineering student at Amirkabir University.
 

 

 


Why Iranians are turning against Leonardo DiCaprio
Author Zahra Alipour Posted June 27, 2016 Almonitor
Hollywood will soon roll out a biopic about 13th-century Persian poet and scholar Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi. Oscar-winning screenwriter David Franzoni, who wrote the script for the 2000 blockbuster "Gladiator," will be working on the film in collaboration with Turkey.
Known in Iran as Molana (Our Master) or Molavi (My Master) and in the West as Rumi, Balkhi was born in the city of Balkh in present-day Afghanistan, which then was part of the Persianate Khwarezmian Empire.
The announcement of the upcoming biopic has already stirred controversy. The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as the Persian poet has sparked an outcry centered on charges of "whitewashing" — especially in Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan, all of which claim Rumi as their national poet.
Iranian film critic and writer Ahmad Talebinejad told Al-Monitor, “The United States and the West’s fascination with Molana, or as they call him 'Rumi,' started just a few years ago. He is not only appealing in the world of cinema, but also in music and poetry. This is perhaps because of his all-encompassing view of the world. I mean, if we look at his interpretation of life and existence, we realize that he saw the entire world as his home and hence he does not belong to only one group of people.”
Talebinejad referred to the book "Rumi: The Fire of Love" by acclaimed writer Nahal Tajadod, which tells the story of Rumi’s life, and said, “It’s not clear how much of this story is rooted in reality. However, it portrays Molana as a unique individual. This is exactly how the public sees him, and in this context, perhaps the people in Hollywood also have a right to make a film about him.”
A child at the time, Rumi and his family fled Balkh during the Mongol invasion and traveled through Baghdad, Mecca and Damascus before settling in Konya, which is located in present-day Turkey. Molana taught Islamic theology until his late 30s when he met Shams of Tabriz, a Persian mystic who transformed his life and became the source of inspiration behind Rumi’s epic collection of poetry.
It is said that the meeting between the two lasted for 40 days, during which Shams taught Rumi in seclusion. Later, Rumi wrote thousands of verses expressing his spiritual love for Shams, which are collected in two masterpieces of Persian poetry: "Divan-e Shams-e Tabrizi" ("The Teachings of Shams of Tabriz") and "Masnavi-e Manavi" ("Rhyming Couplets of Deep Spiritual Meaning").
Iranian journalist and film critic Reza Sedigh told Al-Monitor he thinks that Hollywood producers are not capable of understanding the true relationship between Rumi and Shams. He said, “Perhaps a figure such as [medieval Persian poet] Omar Khayyam might have been of more interest for Hollywood, since his poems and manner are closer to modern times. For instance, Khayyam said, 'Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.' So when faced with the question of why Hollywood has gone after Molana: Do Western producers comprehend Eastern mysticism? What understanding do they have of Masnavi [one of Rumi’s most prominent works of poetry]? And can they reach the necessary understanding [of these things]? Unfortunately, the answer is 'no.'”
But what image do the film’s producers have of the Persian poet? In an interview with The Guardian, Franzoni said, “He’s like a Shakespeare. He’s a character who has enormous talent and worth to his society and his people, and obviously resonates today. Those people are always worth exploring.”
Sedigh told Al-Monitor he believes that Hollywood will present a “defaced” image of Rumi and Shams, saying, “This is exactly what Hollywood has done and will continue to do with history, and especially the history of the East. If one looks at the film 'Noah,' directed by Darren Aronofsky, one can see the huge gap between the real story and Hollywood’s distortions. How can Hollywood understand such events when it can’t identify with or has not lived with the Eastern mentality of such prominent figures?”
What has drawn the most ire is the casting of Leonardo DiCaprio as Rumi and Robert Downey Jr. as Shams of Tabriz. People have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration with the hashtag “RumiWasntWhite.” Critics asked “why no key or positive role is ever given to Middle Eastern actors,” with responses referring to “the dominant racial preferences in Hollywood.” Some netizens, however, wrote that such questions are “principally wrong, as they themselves give rise to racism.” Meanwhile, others have expressed concerns over the Turkish government’s “appropriation” of Rumi.
Talebinejad told Al-Monitor the key commonality of all these objections is political, saying, “We Iranians think Molana belongs to us, and the Afghans believe he belongs to them. However, it is Turkey that has actually seized Molana. In fact, our lack of political maneuvering has led to Molana being registered as Turkish property. I’m worried that the same thing will happen again in the future with poets Khayyam and Sa’adi [Shirazi].”
Commenting on the casting of DiCaprio, Talebinejad said, “He has attractive features and this could bring us closer to the spirituality in Rumi’s face. On the other hand, we don’t truly know which image of Molana is closest to reality.”
Sedigh, however, thinks the objections to the film stem from the lack of trust that Eastern peoples have toward Hollywood, saying that makeup and special effects can be effective to a certain extent but that “the presence of such an actor shows signs of a Hollywood project about Molana that makes Easterners pessimistic.”
In Sedigh’s opinion, the participation of Turkey in the project can in no way be viewed as a cultural issue. “It is clear that this is a political presence … both Hollywood and the Turkish government will achieve their goals. And amid all this, Molana and Shams, and the mystic history of the East, will be compromised while having the least importance for either side of the equation,” he said.
 

 

 


How Obama's Iran Policy Undermines Clinton's Campaign Message
June 27, 2016 3:39 PM EDT
ByEli Lake Bloomberg
In a year when the GOP has grown increasingly fractured, it's easy to lose sight of a foreign-policy schism inside the other major party. After all, the presumptive Democratic nominee was the current president's first secretary of state. Her Republican opponent, on the other hand, now touts his opposition to a war his party's last president launched in 2003.
Yet despite their governing partnership, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have very different views of Iran following last summer's nuclear deal. Both support that pact and say that it makes the region and the world safer. But Obama has sought to integrate Iran into the community of nations, while Clinton promises to punish Iran's bad behavior.
This rift came to the fore last week at a conference in Washington hosted by the Truman National Security Project, a group that was formed after the Sept. 11 attacks to develop young progressive foreign policy leaders. At the conference, Jake Sullivan, Clinton's top national security aide, said it was time to "rebalance" the U.S. position in the Middle East and address the proxy war between Iran and America's traditional Sunni allies. "We need to be raising the costs to Iran for its destabilizing behavior and we need to be raising the confidence of our Sunni partners," he said. Sullivan said persuading Sunni allies the U.S. intended to remain engaged in the region would be a way to blunt their own dangerous "hedging behavior" against Iran.
Now, it should be said that Obama has sought to reassure the Gulf kingdoms, particularly since completing the Iran deal nearly a year ago. He has sold more arms to U.S. Gulf allies than any U.S. president before him. The U.S. quietly supports the Saudi-led war in Yemen against Iran's proxies with munitions, mid-air refueling and intelligence on targeting.
But Obama has also sought reconciliation with Iran since the nuclear deal. His administration approved a deal for Boeing to sell new commercial aircraft to Iran, despite evidence that Iran has used its commercial aircraft to arm the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. In Iraq, the U.S. Air Force has supported military operations that include Shiite militias backed by Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Obama's secretary of state, John Kerry, has also tried to assure European banks that it's safe to invest in Iran's economy, even going so far as to propose ways for Iranian institutions to gain access to the U.S. dollar. Just last week, the White House endorsed a decision from the Financial Action Task Force, a governing body of the international banking system, to delay penalties on Iran's banks for money laundering and support for terrorism.
Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert in Iran sanctions, told me Monday that Sullivan's comments at the Truman conference were similar to what he has said to other experts. He said this Clinton policy would be one of "pushing back aggressively against Iran's malign behavior while reassuring fearful and anxious allies who are no longer confident about American leadership."
This approach veers away from Obama's. The president, for example, mused earlier this year to the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg that Iran and Saudi Arabia must learn to share the Middle East and work towards a cold peace.
Clinton, on the other hand, has emphasized how she will be watching Iran like a hawk.
Speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) in March, Clinton said, "The United States must also continue to enforce existing sanctions and impose additional sanctions as needed on Iran and the Revolutionary Guard for their sponsorship of terrorism, illegal arms transfers, human rights violations and other illicit behaviors like cyber-attacks."
Obama has been reluctant to punish Iran since the agreement. While his government belatedly imposed mild sanctions on Iran for its test of ballistic missiles, it has not sanctioned Iran for its support for terrorism or human rights violations since completing the nuclear agreement last July.
For now, many foreign policy progressives prefer Obama's Iran policy. After her Aipac speech, the National Iranian American Council issued a statement bemoaning Clinton's "containment" approach to Iran. "At a time when President Obama is seeking to make his historic Iran policy change as irreversible as possible," the statement said, "we are concerned by Secretary Clinton downplaying the possibility of a larger diplomatic opening."
Sometimes an outside group can say something a sitting president cannot. In this case, Obama's efforts to make his Iran policy "irreversible" could render Clinton's campaign promises hollow if she wins the election.
 

 

 


Iran’s Not Benefiting From The Nuclear Deal And That’s Bad News For Rouhani
06/26/2016 08:15 pm ET | Updated 12 hours ago
• Kourosh Ziabari World post
When Iran and the six major global powers reached an agreement last summer to put an end to the controversy surrounding Tehran’s nuclear program by announcing the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iranians flocked to the streets en masse, rejoicing at what they believed would be the emergence of a new horizon in their lives.
Most of them were youths, and the freshness of their teenage years had been spoiled by the adventurous policies of the former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who failed to fortify Iran’s oil-dependent economy in the years when the price of crude oil was at its all-time high and the nation allegedly earned something between $531bn and $800bn in oil revenues, all of which was literally frittered away due to mismanagement. During those turbulent years, corruption and embezzlement plagued the country like an infectious disease and foreign relations were aggravated as a result of Ahmadinejad’s inability to resolve the nuclear dilemma in a reasonable and sound manner.
The nuclear deal offered a glimmer of hope amid all the darkness that had overtaken the country. People had come to believe that more than a decade of grueling sanctions that had paralyzed their lives would be terminated, as world powers promised to annul all the economic penalties they had imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities. Iran mutually committed that it would disband the sensitive parts of its nuclear program as a confidence-building measure to demonstrate that it would not pursue nuclear weapons.
This breakthrough accord, which some global observers named as a successful example of peaceful settlement of diplomatic standoffs and a milestone in nuclear non-proliferation, was a result of President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s craftsmanship, and a testimony to President Barack Obama’s commitment to pursuing diplomacy with Iran. Beyond that, both President Rouhani and President Obama had defied the deafening cries of hardliners and hawks at home who were using every muscle to ruin the negotiation process and ensure that the nuclear deal, a sign of wisdom and rapprochement between the two arch-foes, would not come to fruition.
The nuclear deal was a promising sign of change in a region afflicted with tensions, violence and insurgency, and when it was inked, President Rouhani was showered with congratulatory messages from his counterparts from the four continents who hailed this diplomatic opening and talked of their ambitions for starting a new path of engagement with Iran in the post-JCPOA, post-sanctions era. Everybody was happy, and everybody imagined a successful implementation of the deal - there was no reason for it not to work.
Now, about five months after the official implementation of the deal, Iran has reportedly kept its word, delivered on its commitments and curbed its nuclear program in line with the technical provisions of the JCPOA. This is certified by the International Atomic Energy Agency that has confirmed Iran’s compliance with the deal. And even though diplomatic exchanges have been going on heatedly following the announcement of the Implementation Day on 16 January, manifested in the historic, first-time visits to Iran of the leaders of countries such as Greece, Ghana, Switzerland, Italy, South Africa, South Korea and Croatia, the dollars that were supposed to be filling Iran’s pockets are not coming, and in a nutshell, Iran is not benefiting from the nuclear deal tangibly.
What is happening is that the United States, which has through decades enmeshed itself in a web of multifarious, complicated sanctions against Iran, has failed to abide by its part of the bargain, and as a result of its secondary sanctions - which are still in place - the banking transactions between Iran and the European countries are virtually non-existent or taking place slothfully. As a result, Tehran is not able to access its frozen assets abroad and bring home its blocked oil revenues, including a gigantic $6.5bn which India owes to Iran for the crude it purchased from the oil-rich Persian Gulf country over the past years; a debt that has not been settled yet due to the international banks’ inability to process payments to Iran.
The facilitation of banking deals is pivotal to the successful enforcement of the nuclear agreement. If Iran simply keeps on restraining its nuclear program - a super-expensive program which has been equated with national sovereignty and dignity by the conservatives in Tehran - while not receiving any economic incentive, then would there be any point in the maintenance of such a pact?
Iran has agreed to 24/7 inspection of its nuclear facilities, something which President Obama described as being unprecedented in the history of nuclear inspections, and in return, the US has dismally failed to show that it equally has a vested interest in keeping the deal alive, and as said by several Iranian officials, is not doing enough to ensure that the international community’s legitimate trade with Iran goes on unimpeded.
Over the years, European banks have paid billions of dollars in penalties for their collaboration with Iranian financial institutions, which was at times considered a violation of US sanctions. In the most notorious case, French PNB Paribas paid $8.9bn in fines over breaching the Iran sanctions, and it really does not wish to get such harsh sentences again. As a result they approach Iran extremely cautiously, despite the fact that the nuclear deal lays down the conditions of legal trade with Iran quite clearly, and all the UN Security Council resolutions against Iran have been scrapped.
Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif has been pressuring his US counterpart John Kerry to come out and state expressively that the United States will not obstruct legitimate trade with Iran, and the European banks and financial institutions should not be fearful of handling monetary transactions with Iran. In response, John Kerry has traveled the world - and sent his representatives to different countries - to explain to banking institutions that the US will not stand in the way of their business ties with Iran in the aftermath of the nuclear deal and they should discard their reluctance for working with Tehran. After all, the global reputation of the United States would be at stake if the deal begins to unravel due to its failure in honoring the terms of the JCPOA.
The hardliners in Tehran are already honking horns and clamorously calling for the dismantlement of the nuclear deal, as they claim the United States has violated it. The termination of the nuclear deal would be the best-case scenario for them, and quite honestly they would endorse every hawkish contender in the US presidential race who would promise to rip up the nuclear deal if elected to the White House. That is why they were whispering praise for Donald Trump after he announced that he would also tear up the “disastrous” nuclear deal with Iran if elected president.
For the hardliners who are hell-bent on toppling President Rouhani, the malfunction of the nuclear deal would be the best news. They sincerely want this agreement to end in vain, as they were opposed to it since the early days of November 2013 when Iran and the United States sat together for the first time in some four decades to solve a common challenge and shift their strategy from squabbling and not talking to each other to wise, mature diplomatic engagement.
For the moderate President Rouhani, the collapse of the deal is tantamount to the transformation of his four-year term signature achievement into an Achilles heel that can risk his reelection in next year’s presidential vote, which will more than likely feature Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s comeback to Iran’s political scene.
Ahmadinejad is gearing up to announce his presidential bid sometime next year, and he is speaking quite forcefully. He has reportedly promised that he will quintuple the monthly cash subsidies for every Iranian citizen and is said to have plans for traveling to 15 Iranian provinces by the end of this Iranian year (ending 20 March, 2017) on lecture tours. These would be in effect his early campaign activities for next year’s poll.
Now, there is a hard truth which all the parties involved in the nuclear deal, and all the parties benefiting from it, need to embrace: if the West cannot honor its commitments as promised under the JCPOA and refuses to take the steps that concretely benefit Iran’s damaged economy, the hardliners in Tehran will have the pretext to intensify their propaganda campaign against Rouhani and the entire reformists camp, that recently made significant gains in the legislative elections, and lay the groundwork for defeating him in next year’s crucial race for presidency.
Their propaganda crusade, which has already started, will be aimed at instilling the conviction that President Rouhani has been unable to cure the nation’s economic woes, and his initiative for direct negotiations and rapprochement with the United States was fruitless and unproductive; and the country would need a true revolutionary like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to come back and solve the problems through his assertive, uncompromising approach and resistance against the “bullying powers”. This would also mean perhaps scrapping the nuclear agreement.
The hardliners dominate state TV, and the public sphere is easily influenced by their indoctrination. They can manipulate next year’s vote and unseat President Rouhani if the Iranian citizenry do not perceptibly feel the impact of sanctions relief and the full enforcement of the nuclear deal. This will be a blow not only to Rouhani and the reformists, but to more than two years of committed diplomacy to end an unnecessary crisis and introduce the first steps of reconciliation between two sworn enemies.
 

 

 


Is Iran’s Syria policy really about to shift?
Author Ali Hashem Posted June 24, 2016 Almonitor

On June 19, Iran’s Foreign Ministry announced that its spokesman, Hossein Jaberi Ansari, would be replacing Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who in turn had been appointed adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. It was also announced that Bahram Ghassemi would be the ministry's new spokesman and doubling as head of the Public and Media Diplomacy Center.
Ansari has a strong background in Arab affairs. Prior to serving as ambassador to Libya from 2005 to 2009, he had been Iran’s envoy to Syria. Moreover, before becoming spokesman in November 2015, Ansari had been the Foreign Ministry’s director general for Arab and African Affairs.
Amir-Abdollahian had served as deputy foreign minister since 2011. His role was boosted after the Arab Spring and became even stronger with the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani and the appointment of Zarif as foreign minister, despite rumors of a lack of chemistry between the two men. While Zarif was busy negotiating with the six world powers over Iran's nuclear file, Amir-Abdollahian was roving around the Middle East, from one capital to another, conveying messages from Tehran on various ongoing conflicts. Amir-Abdollahian is fluent in Arabic and English and holds a PhD in international relations. Indeed, alongside his government career, the veteran diplomat, who was born in 1964, lectures at the University of Tehran.
“The reshuffle in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was decided before the Iranian New Year [March 21, 2016],” an Iranian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “As for Mr. Abdollahian, the transfer was expected a year ago, but there were several obstacles. Some of them were related to the fact that he had some personal reasons that prevented him from traveling. Even when the appointments were made, he was expected to go to Oman as an ambassador, but he requested to stay in Iran and was thus appointed an adviser to Mr. Zarif.”
According to the source, Amir-Abdollahian’s new role might involve special missions. “The foreign minister will surely make use of Abdollahian’s experience and broad knowledge of the region,” he said. “On certain occasions, he might be a special envoy. This is yet to be decided in accordance with the needs of Iran’s diplomacy.”
The first question many asked after the reshuffle at the Foreign Ministry was whether it meant that Iran is planning to alter its foreign policy. Some observers were expecting Tehran’s approach toward the region to change with Amir-Abdollahian's replacement. Others have suggested that the shuffle stemmed from internal differences in Tehran over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“Assuming that a nation’s foreign policy is going to change because a deputy foreign minister has been replaced is laughable,” another Iranian diplomat scoffed to Al-Monitor, on condition of anonymity. “Iran is a country of institutions. Even if a foreign minister, or the whole government, is changed, this won’t change anything as long as there is no central decision to [make a] change.”
The diplomat elaborated, “Iran’s foreign policy goes through four levels of decision-making. It starts with the supreme leader, then the Supreme National Security Council, then the government and finally the Foreign Affairs Ministry.”
Indeed, Zarif publicly commented June 22 on the reshuffle, saying, “There’s no bigger insult to the Islamic Republic than to claim that the change of an official is because of this or that person.” He added, “Until now, no one in the region or outside of it has dared to make such a request of Iran, and they never will.”
Zarif was referring to claims by his domestic critics that his decision to appoint a new deputy had been influenced by US requests and was aimed at eliminating the Syrian strong man of the so-called resistance axis. The Iranian foreign minister said, “The resistance axis is stronger than being tied to one specific individual, and those who present such analysis, willingly or unwillingly, rather than strengthening the resistance are weakening the resistance.”
The resistance axis, led by Iran, is the umbrella that brings together the Syrian government, pro-Iranian Iraqi Shiite factions, Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Ansar Allah (the Houthi movement). Each member of the axis is fighting its own war on one or more fronts, and it is believed that the most influential Iranian among them is Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ foreign operations branch.
Zarif and Soleimani are national icons to many in Iran. The former negotiated the landmark nuclear agreement, and the latter has overseen the frontiers of his country’s zones of influence, reaching all the way to the Mediterranean. Now that both men are dealing with the same file, each from his own position of responsibility, the question of whose line of thinking will be adopted has been raised.
In direct response to such queries, Zarif said in the Netherlands on June 23, “There is consensus over Syria in Iran,” adding that he has had discussions with Soleimani about Syria and that they both agree that the crisis needs a political solution.
Indeed, Iran has for years expressed consistent support for a political solution while rejecting the immediate departure of Assad. In this vein, one senior Iranian official told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “There has been no change in our position [on Syria].” He added, “We have been saying the same thing since we presented the four-point plan. We should not focus on individuals, because it prevents a solution, but we need to focus on institutions and constitutional reform and allow the Syrian people to make their own choice.”
 

 

 


The Guardian
Russia and Iran delight in UK's rejection of EU
‘There won’t be anyone to so zealously defend sanctions against us,’ says Moscow mayor as Putin allies greet Brexit with glee

Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour
Friday 24 June 2016 13.57 BST Last modified on Friday 24 June 2016 23.00 BST
World leaders beyond the EU began the process of Friday of adjusting their relationship with the UK in the wake of the vote to leave, in reaction that ranged from trepidation to barely disguised glee in Moscow and Tehran.
A top military official in the Iranian capital predicted that Scotland and Ireland would soon be free of “the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, the so-called Great Britain”.
The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, sought to rebut suggestions that Brexit and the consequent weakening of the EU played into his hands.
Speaking to reporters on a visit to Uzbekistan, he said it would have “positive and negative consequences” for Russia and that “the situation will correct itself in the near future”. He put the outcome down to Britain’s concerns over migration and security, and dissatisfaction with EU bureaucracy.
Moscow’s mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, took a rosier view. “Without the UK in the EU there won’t be anyone to so zealously defend the sanctions against us,” he said.
Russia’s presidential business ombudsman, Boris Titov, said: “Leaving will tear the EU away from the Anglo-Saxons, that is from the US.” Reacting to sterling’s slide on the foreign exchanges, a Russian state TV anchor observed drily: “It’s no joke. The pound is the new rouble.”
In Washington DC, Barack Obama issued a statement saying the United States respected the British people’s decision and offering reassurance that both the UK and EU would remain “indispensable partners” of the US during the negotiation phase to come.
The president – who campaigned vigorously for a remain vote while in the UK in April – added: “The special relationship between the United States and the United Kingdom is enduring.”
The White House said Obama would talk to David Cameron on Friday in a statement that preceded Cameron’s resignation announcement.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic party’s presumptive nominee, said the US priority should be to ensure Americans would not be affected by the economic turmoil prompted by the Brexit vote. She also said the US needed to make clear that “America’s steadfast commitment to the special relationship with Britain and the transatlantic alliance with Europe”.
In a statement, she added: “This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm, steady, experienced leadership in the White House to protect Americans’ pocketbooks and livelihoods, to support our friends and allies, to stand up to our adversaries, and to defend our interests. It also underscores the need for us to pull together to solve our challenges as a country, not tear each other down.”
Beijing adopted a similarly cautious tone. The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, had argued during a visit to Britain last October that China wanted Britain to stay in a united EU to strengthen China’s bond with Europe.
On Friday, a foreign ministry spokeswoman signalled that while Beijing would “continue to work to build a sound relationship with the UK”, the bilateral relationship would have to be reviewed in light of Britain’s decision.
“It is true that with Britain leaving EU it will have an impact on different fields,” Hua Chunying said at a briefing in Beijing.
“Relevant departments [in China] will need time to go through this issue to determine the impact on China’s trade pacts and other agreements with the EU and Britain.”
The Turkish government said that Brexit was “bad for Europe”. Ömer Çelik, the country’s EU minister, said: “Isolationism would destroy European values. Turkey worked with the European Union to address the refugee crisis, one of the greatest challenges Europe faces today. What Europe needs is a fresh start including an update to existing mechanisms. We respect the British people’s decision, but the decision is bad for Europe.”
Earlier in the week, the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had hinted that Turkey might itself abandon hopes of joining the EU. On Friday, however, he suggested the country was still interested in joining.
“If [European leaders] would like to safeguard European values, they must leave aside anti-Turkey sentiments and promote closer cooperation with Turkey,” he said.
The possibility of Turkey joining the EU played a key role in the final weeks of the Brexit campaign, with leave campaigners saying a vote to remain would soon be followed by Turkey’s accession.
In Tehran, Hamid Aboutalebi, a senior political aide to the country’s president, Hassan Rouhani, tweeted that Brexit created a “historic opportunity” for Iran, but did not elaborate on how the country could benefit from the situation.
The deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Massoud Jazayeri, was quoted by the Fars news agency as saying “the European Union is a pawn in the hands of America”.
“England should pay the price of years of imperialism and committing crimes against humanity,” Jazayeri said, saying that the price would be Scotland and other parts of the UK demanding independence. “The people of Ireland, Scotland and others have the right to bring themselves out of the tyrannical rule of the monarchy, the so-called Great Britain”.
Like many other western leaders, Nato’s secretary general was left trying to make the best of a result he had strongly argued against.
Jens Stoltenberg, who had argued on the eve of the vote that British membership of the EU contributed to security against terrorism and other threats, said the UK would “remain a strong and committed Nato ally”, and noted that the weakening of Europe made Nato cohesion all the more significant.
“Today, as we face more instability and uncertainty, Nato is more important than ever as a platform for cooperation among European allies, and between Europe and North America,” he said.
 

 

 


How Turkish energy giant's plans to light up Iran could boost Rouhani
Author Barın Kayaoğlu Posted June 21, 2016  Almonitor
The Belgium-based Turkish global energy firm Unit International has reached an agreement with the Iranian Energy Ministry to build seven natural gas-powered combined-cycle power plants worth $4.2 billion in Iran.
While the seven power installations will certainly help improve Turkish-Iranian commercial and economic relations, Unit International is no stranger to energy markets in Iran and elsewhere. Since 1982, the company has built five power plants in Iran with a total output of 3,200 megawatts, four in Turkey and two in Europe.
Construction for the new plants is expected to start in the first quarter of 2017. Unit International will manage the installations under a build-operate-transfer license for 20 years. In the first six years after they come online, the plants will sell their output to Iran at a fixed price. Thereafter, Unit International will either export electricity to neighboring countries or sell to Iranian consumers.
The Turkish-built plants will be a major boon for Iran’s electric network. According to Unal Aysal, the founder and chairman of Unit International’s board of directors and former president of the Istanbul-based soccer powerhouse Galatasaray SK, the planned power stations will operate at more than 60% productivity (up from Iran’s average of 32%), adding over 6,000 megawatts to Iran’s grid and meeting 10% of its energy needs. Unit International also intends to invest in an 840-megawatt natural gas power plant in Iraqi Kurdistan.
All this is good news for Turkey and Iran. Although Turkish-Iranian trade rose to $21.9 billion in 2012, the US-induced global sanctions on the Islamic Republic and the chill between Ankara and Tehran over Syria brought that figure below $10 billion by 2015. On June 16, Turkish Customs and Trade Minister Bulent Tufenkci stated that Ankara wants to “triple trade with Iran to $30 billion as quickly as possible.”
But it is not clear whether signature projects such as the one by Unit International could lead to closer energy cooperation between Ankara and Tehran, boost Turkish-Iranian trade and break Turkey’s addiction to Russian gas.
Volkan Emre, an international energy expert and founder of the World Energy Security Analysis Platform in Washington, is cautious. Emre told Al-Monitor, “Although Turkey and Iran are trying to improve their energy ties despite all odds, given external factors and the dynamics between the two states and Turkish and Iranian private corporations, it is hard for Turkey to obtain a bigger slice of the Iranian [hydrocarbon] pie.”
One primary difference between the two countries, Emre pointed out, is “Iran’s wish to export liquefied natural gas [LNG] to Asian markets, especially India, and Turkey’s desire to buy gas on the cheap through pipelines.” He said the bigger problem is the poor state of Iran’s energy infrastructure. He said Iran's major energy infrastructure issue is developing "its production capacity, an area in which Turkish companies cannot offer much. Indian, Chinese, German and French firms can and will grab a piece of that pie — even US companies that specialize in LNG are seeking to enter Iran.”
Emre points to an even bigger challenge forecast by the Turkish economist and energy expert Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency. Birol recently said, “Massive quantities of LNG exports [are] coming on line while demand, despite lower gas prices, continues to soften,” adding that global LNG capacity will increase 45% by 2021, further decreasing prices.
As a result, Emre said, “Iran could only make use of its gas for domestic consumption, especially electricity production,” which is good news for Turkey. He said that a third of Turkey’s electricity production comes from natural gas plants and that "80% of the process is handled by private companies." He said this experience dealing with such a vast infrastructure shows that "Unit International and other Turkish companies could enter and succeed in the electricity production and distribution business in Iran.”
According to Hamed Mohsen, a Tehran-based journalist and analyst, the Iranian government’s agreement with Unit International is part of a much wider effort to boost foreign investment in the Islamic Republic. Mohsen told Al-Monitor, “The Iranian state wants foreign direct investment but it wants quality projects. These projects should aim for production, technology transfer and end products that could be sold on the Iranian market, but more importantly, exported abroad.” In that respect, he said, “There is an idea to build 'Turkish organized industrial zones' in Iran similar to the ones in Turkey.”
Although electricity is not a conventional industrial product, Mohsen points out that Unit International’s initiative and those by similar Turkish companies fits the “investment-production-export” model. He said, “Iran’s electricity production and distribution situation is good, but many of its neighbors — especially Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — need electricity, which such power plants could provide.”
Tehran’s choice of Unit International is no coincidence — the company has engaged in cross-national electricity trade for years and is one of the 42 companies from 35 countries that are part of the European Network of Transmission System Operators for Electricity.
Yet Mohsen points out two major challenges to greater Turkish investment in Iran. “President Hassan Rouhani’s administration wants these investments to happen very quickly. The investments should start arriving in a month or two because although the Iranian economy is in better shape compared to 2013 when Rouhani came to power, for him to get re-elected in 2017, he needs noticeable improvements in the economy. American and European companies are still worried about the sanctions after 'Barjam' [the Iran nuclear deal — officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] and cannot come that quickly — but Turkish companies could.”
According to Mohsen, Syria is the bigger issue. “Tehran will demand concessions from Ankara, especially in Syria, to offer contracts to Turkish companies and natural gas to Turkey. Does Turkey want to buy more gas from and more business in Iran? Yes, but can [Turkish] President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan take a step back in Syria and respect Iran’s red lines, I am not so sure,” he said.
Turkey and Iran’s fates are tied more closely than ever. Whether their leaders can act on that remains to be seen.

 

 

 


Iranian economists worry about both Clinton and Trump
Author Alireza Ramezani Posted June 21, 2016  Almonitor

TEHRAN, Iran — Among all the US presidential candidates, the Democratic contender Bernie Sanders was certainly a favorite of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the prominent Iranian economist Fariborz Raisdana told Al-Monitor. Sanders — who declared on Jan. 17 that America had to “normalize relations” with Iran — is now out of the race, however, with Hillary Clinton the presumptive Democratic nominee. Neither of the two remaining contenders, the other being the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, is likely to mean a boost for Iran’s faltering economy, said Raisdana.
“As far as economic issues are concerned, America will act only within the framework of capitalism, regardless of who is going to be [the next] president,” the socialist economist and university professor told Al-Monitor. He added that there is an “ongoing negative approach” toward Tehran in Washington that won’t change despite recent political developments in Iran that have seen pro-Western Reformists and moderates gain a stronger position in parliament.
In the best-case scenario, Raisdana said, the United States could export capital to Iran, but that would be insufficient because the Iranian economy is suffering from “injustice, high inflation and high unemployment.” In his view, neither Clinton nor Trump will have a “positive impact” on Iran’s economy.
Clinton, who claimed that she was the only adult in the presidential race when it comes to foreign policy, announced in January that her approach toward Iran would be to “distrust and verify.” She, however, welcomed full implementation of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a major part of which focuses on lifting economic sanctions on Iran. Clinton described the landmark nuclear deal as an important achievement of diplomacy “backed by pressure,” referring to her effort to intensify sanctions on Iran.
She said on Nov. 6 that while serving as secretary of state, she had spent 18 months “putting together the sanctions against Iran so that we could force them to the negotiating table.” In this regard, Raisdana has concluded that Clinton is similar to Trump, because both candidates believe in the “absolute domination” of the United States over other countries. Another prominent Iranian economist, however, disputes this argument.
“Though she’s been more hawkish than Obama, Clinton eventually endorsed the JCPOA,” noted Hossein Abdoh Tabrizi, an adviser to the minister of roads and urban development, arguing that Clinton and Trump could act very differently when it comes to actual policy toward Iran.
Trump has been critical of the nuclear deal, calling for an expansion of sanctions as a way to force the Islamic Republic to make more concessions, adopting “America First” and a “stay unpredictable” approach toward Iran. Yet, Raisdana believes that Trump could be more reliable as far as the nuclear deal is concerned given the GOP’s record on major foreign policy decisions. In this vein, Raisdana points out that the Republican President Richard Nixon ended America’s involvement in the war in Vietnam and opened diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China. Trump comes from the same party as Nixon, a party that can easily change its hostile approach toward Iran if need be, Raisdana said.
Abdoh Tabrizi disagrees. He told Al-Monitor that Trump is “too risky” to deal with, whereas Clinton is more predictable. In this vein, he acknowledged that Barack Obama has been an “exception” among US presidents. “We have to take advantage of the several months of his remaining term to hammer out agreements in favor of our country and economy,” Abdoh Tabrizi emphasized, implicitly agreeing with Raisdana that Clinton would not be as favorable to Iran.
One can perhaps argue that Clinton is more predictable than Trump, yet she has insisted that Iran “continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East” and that the country is “violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program.” These statements indicate that if her concerns are not addressed, Clinton could cause trouble for Tehran, just as she has in the past, pushing for tough sanctions.
Nevertheless, on the other hand, Trump has vowed to tear up the nuclear deal and wants to get people from Wall Street to run the US economy. Though scrapping the JCPOA sounds frightening, the latter idea could lead to closer ties between pragmatic Iranian and American economists. It cannot be denied, however, that unpredictability still looms when it comes to Trump.
Raisdana said he believes President Hassan Rouhani's administration, which is neoliberal and therefore very much interested in investment ties with the West, will in the upcoming months take a “wait and see approach” toward the US elections. He believes that the presidential nominees are the same in the eyes of the current administration. Rouhani will try to make a deal with whoever emerges victorious in November, a policy that Raisdana said will help the Iranian president implement his economic structural adjustment program in his second term.
 

 

 


The Guardian
Peugeot-Citroen back on the road in Iran with deal to build cars
Lifting of sanctions allows French carmaker PSA to resume partnership with Tehran-based Iran Khodro, while Boeing confirms contract for airliners

Staff and agencies   Wednesday 22 June 2016 03.17 BST
The French carmaker Peugeot-Citroen (PSA) has announced its return to Iran under a €400m joint venture with its old partner Iran Khodro in Tehran that has been made possible by the lifting of nuclear sanctions.
At the same time, Boeing has confirmed reports it will start selling airliners to Iran following the nuclear accord reached in 2015.
The first cars produced under the PSA venture are set to be sold in February, with the aim of producing 200,000 vehicles a year by 2018.
PSA is the first western carmaker to announce a return to Iran since many economic sanctions were lifted in January when a landmark nuclear deal with world powers took effect.
“Today is the comeback of PSA to Iran. We are very proud,” said Jean Christophe Quemard, who oversees PSA’s Middle East and Africa operations.
“This company is committed to Iran and through this Iranian company we show that we are really committed for the future and ready to invest in this country.”
The 50-50 joint venture will manufacture three models – the Peugeot 208, the 2008 sport utility vehicle and 301 compact – using parts mostly made in Iran.
Iran Khodro’s chief executive, Hashem Yekeh-Zareh, said 30% of the cars produced would be exported to the Middle East and beyond.
PSA had to pull out of Iran, its second-largest market, in 2012 when the toughest sanctions were imposed. The costs were heavy, with Yekeh-Zareh stating in February that Iran Khodro would receive €427m in compensation and debt write-offs for its French partner’s sudden departure – a figure that was never confirmed by PSA.
Iran’s industry and commerce minister, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, said more joint ventures were on the way.
“We are optimistic. We hope to hold a similar ceremony for one of Iran Khodro’s subsidiaries, Iran Khodro Diesel, with a German company,” he said.
Nematzadeh did not name the German company but Iran Khodro has been negotiating with Mercedes since the lifting of sanctions.
PSA also said it was working on new contracts with Iran Khodro regarding the building of older models such as the Peugeot 405 and 206. They are already being made in Iran and accounted for a third of new sales in the country last year at around 350,000 units, the company said.
Those units are not currently counted among PSA’s 2.97m global sales because they have been made entirely with Iranian and Chinese parts.
Iran is considered one of the most promising growth markets for cars in the world, with only one car for every 100 people – six times less than in the European Union – and a burgeoning middle class hungry for new models after years of sanctions.
Meanwhile Boeing on Tuesday said it had signed an agreement to sell jetliners to Iran Air, following previous Iranian statements about an historic deal for 100 planes.
Boeing said in a statement that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with state carrier Iran Air “expressing the airline’s intent to purchase Boeing commercial passenger airplanes”.
Boeing gave no figures but the head of Iran’s civil aviation organisation, Ali Abedzadeh, told the state-run daily newspaper Iran on Friday that the signed deal was for 100 Boeing aircraft.
Such an order would be worth about $11bn at list prices if Iran Air bought only Boeing 737 single-aisle jetliners, and perhaps twice that much if it included a significant number of twin-aisle planes such as the 777 or 787 Dreamliner.
Iran placed a $27bn, 118-plane order with Airbus in January.

 

 

 


Let Boeing sell to Iran: Our view
The Editorial Board5:16 p.m. EDT June 21, 2016
Don't ground this $25 billion deal.
Last year's deal to lift economic sanctions against Iran, in return for a lengthy suspension of the Iranian nuclear program, had many pros and cons.
But in at least one respect — trade — the deal only has an upside. Iran has a huge, pent-up demand for manufactured goods, consumer staples and oil field services as the result of sanctions and decades of isolation from the West. It also has oil, lots of it.
Iran provides a vast export market for everything from machine parts to smartphones. Its oil reserves, estimated at 157 million barrels, will help hold down gasoline prices at the pump for American consumers.
What’s not to like?
A lot, apparently, at least to a group of Republican lawmakers. They’ve set out to scuttle a plan, announced Tuesday by Boeing, to sell 100 jetliners to Iran for the tidy sum of $25 billion. They’ve sent a letter to Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg imploring him to walk away from the deal. They’re also hoping that the Treasury Department will nix the transaction.

This is the ultimate counterproductive behavior. Whatever one might think of the Iran nuclear deal, it won’t be reversed by attacking one of its undeniable benefits.
Airbus, Boeing's European competitor, Airbus, has already reached an even bigger deal with Iran than Boeing has. And, with minimal opposition to the nuclear deal in Europe, other companies there are racing ahead to be among the first in the door to the Iranian market.
If Boeing were to be denied, Iran would simply buy more planes from Airbus. And if General Electric, said to be in talks to sell oil field equipment, were to be told it couldn’t go forward, Iran would simply turn to European or Asian competitors.
It is not clear how the West should engage Iran, even after the conclusion of the nuclear deal. While the Islamist nation has shut down its enrichment program and met its obligations under the nuclear accord, it has pressed forward with a worrisome ballistic missile program. It also has a long history of supporting Hezbollah, Hamas and other militant groups.
That said, trying to keep Tehran in a state of economic isolation hardly seems the best solution. In fact, intertwining Iran’s economy with the economies of Europe and America might be one of the best approaches for attempting to coax it out of its belligerent ways.
Those opposing Boeing’s sale argue against any deal they say would subsidize a terrorism-supporting regime. They also point out that Iran’s national carrier, Iran Air, is largely owned by the government and has been used to transport arms.
This view is shortsighted. Iran does not need expensive, fuel-efficient, state-of-the art civilian aircraft to ferry arms. It has a fleet of planes it could use to those ends. And it could always acquire others.
Boeing should be allowed to go forward, for the sake of engaging Iran and for the sake of creating jobs in America.
 

 

 


The Guardian
Iran says Bahrain has crossed line by stripping Shia cleric of citizenship
Revolutionary Guards commander says Manama’s move against Ayatollah Isa Qassim will trigger armed resistance

Ian Black Middle East editor Monday 20 June 2016
Bahrain has stripped the spiritual leader of the kingdom’s Shia Muslim majority of his citizenship, resulting in protests outside his home and furious threats by neighbouring Iran over the escalating repression.
The move against Ayatollah Isa Qassim comes less than a week after a court banned the country’s main opposition group, al-Wefaq, accusing it of fomenting sectarian unrest and having links to a foreign power – a clear reference to Iran, which is a fierce critic of Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Gen Qassem Suleimani told Manama that it had crossed a “red line” by putting pressure on Qassim and that the move would trigger armed resistance, the Fars news agency reported.
“Al-Khalifa [the rulers of Bahrain] will definitely pay the price for that and their bloodthirsty regime will be toppled,” warned Suleimani, who heads the Guards’ elite Quds force and is seen as the ruthless face of Iran’s strategic reach across the Middle East.
Bahrain’s BNA state news agency, citing an interior ministry statement, said the cleric had been trying to divide Bahraini society, encourage young people to violate the constitution and promote a sectarian environment.
“Based on that, the Bahraini citizenship had been removed from Isa Ahmed Qassim, who, since he acquired Bahraini citizenship, had sought to form organisations that follow foreign religious and political reference,” BNA said. The ayatollah’s official website says he was born in the kingdom in the 1940s.
Reports quickly circulated on social media of a crowd marching outside Qassim’s house in Diraz, a village west of the capital. Video footage showed dozens of people chanting Shia slogans.
Bahraini media reported last week that authorities had been investigating a bank account of about $10m (£6.8m) in Qassim’s name to examine where it was getting funds from and how they were being spent.
The action spurred a strongly worded statement from senior clerics, including Qassim, against any attempt to meddle with the collection of a tax called khums, which is a pillar of Shia Islam.
The Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (Bird), an exiled opposition group, warned that the move against Qassim would stoke unrest. “We are deeply concerned that these actions will escalate tensions on the streets and may even lead to violence, as targeting the country’s leading Shia cleric is considered ... a red line for many Bahrainis,” said its director of advocacy, Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei.
The US State Department said it was “alarmed” by Bahrain’s action. “We are unaware of any credible evidence to support this action,” said John Kirby, a spokesman for the department.
Bahrain crushed a 2011 uprising by Shia Muslims and others demanding reforms and a bigger voice in the country, a close ally of neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the west, which is home to the US Fifth Fleet and a new British naval base..
The kingdom has stripped dozens of people of their citizenship over the past two years, apparently in a campaign to end opposition. Last month, an appeals court increased from four to nine years a prison sentence imposed on Sheikh Ali Salman, the al-Wefaq leader. Salman was convicted in 2015 of inciting hatred and disobedience, and insulting public institutions.
Growing international concern about the situation was highlighted last week when the UN high commissioner for human rights warned that repression “will not eliminate people’s grievances”. The criticism was flatly rejected by the Bahraini government.
An indefinite ban on gatherings in Manama has been in place since 2012. Dozens of people, including minors, have been prosecuted for participating in protests.
Bahrain is at the heart of the sectarian faultline running across the Middle East, flanked on one side by Saudi Arabia and Iran on the other. Iranian official media was quick to highlight the move against Qassim by what it called the “Bahraini regime”.
The Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran, said it “pushes the Bahraini people to difficult choices which will have severe consequences for this corrupt dictatorial regime”. It showed, said Hezbollah, that the Bahraini government had reached “the end of the road” in dealing with what it called a peaceful, popular movement.
On Twitter, one Bahraini individual portrayed Qassim as an insect with a spray can labelled “sectarianism”.
The UK is coming under mounting pressure to act more robustly towards its Gulf ally. In January, the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, called Bahrain “a country which is travelling in the right direction” and “making significant reform”.
Bird claims that the British government’s interest in Bahrain’s human rights and in promoting political dialogue has “declined precipitously” since a 2014 agreement to construct the Mina Salman naval base. It alleges that UK funding to improve Bahraini human rights institutions since the repression that followed the Arab spring has largely been spent on well-intentioned bodies that have proved not to be truly independent of the government.
 

 

 


Daesh is Daesh: Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia resembles this death cult

Kourosh Ziabari 18 June 2016
 

An opinion article recently published in Middle East Eye drew an analogy between the self-proclaimed Islamic State (Daesh), and my country, Iran. The author argued that Daesh’s ideology, worldview and modus operandi closely resonate with those of Iran. The argument went that if the people who are alarmed by the atrocities of IS would like to imagine what will happen if this death squad establishes a real, fully fledged “state”, they’d better look at Iran.
I am familiar with the previous works of the author and can confidently assert that he is an accomplished and well-spoken writer and analyst. He has penned many interesting articles, including on such crucial issues such as Islamophobia, and tackled these concerns from inventive perspectives. However, I feel his approach to Iran and characterising it as a Daesh incarnate has been somewhat emotive and inaccurate. I also think, however, that those who liken Saudi Arabia to Daesh are failing to adhere to the truth.
His article generated a widespread debate on social media and in the comments section of the column. Some of the commentators were supportive of his argument. Others were naturally critical. However, there was yet another group that was abusive towards him. A lot of these abusive people would have no problem if Saudi Arabia (or other states that they don't like) were compared to Daesh. They cheer, share and promote such false comparisons. But if the tables are turned, and the comparison involves Iran, then they – hypocritically – express outrage.
Some of the abusive commentators turned on the website for publishing his work. I can say confidentl