Archive for the ‘Diplomacy’ Category

Ban Ki-Moon: Puppet without a string ….

January 22, 2014

The UN Secretary General is a puppet on many strings. And when the puppet tries to write the screen-play or to manipulate the puppeteers, the play usually suffers.

Ban Ki-Moon seemed to have forgotten that when he issued his invitation to Iran to the Geneva II talks about Syria last week and tried to write his own script for the talks. It didn’t take long before he had to backtrack.

Iran has insisted all along that it would only attend if it was without conditions. The US has long held that Iran could attend only if they accepted the results of Geneva I (where Iran was not present). So why Ban Ki-Moon tried act independently is not very clear. Presumably he was persuaded to by his staff who believe that the UN has some legitimacy beyond what is provided by the puppeteers.

(Also inviting Australia and Mexico and Korea and Luxembourg leaves me mystified.)

I have decided to issue some additional invitations to the one-day gathering in Montreux. They are: Australia, Bahrain, Belgium, Greece, the Holy See, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and Iran. I believe the expanded international presence on that day will be an important and useful show of solidarity in advance of the hard work that the Syrian Government and opposition delegations will begin two days later in Geneva.

As I have said repeatedly, I believe strongly that Iran needs to be part of the solution to the Syrian crisis.

I have spoken at length in recent days with Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mr. Javad Zarif.  He has assured me that, like all the other countries invited to the opening day discussions in Montreux, Iran understands that the basis of the talks is the full implementation of the 30 June 2012 Geneva Communique, including the Action Plan.

Foreign Minister Zarif and I agree that the goal of the negotiations is to establish, by mutual consent, a transitional governing body with full executive powers.  It was on that basis that Foreign Minister Zarif pledged that Iran would play a positive and constructive role in Montreux.

Therefore, as convenor and host of the conference, I have decided to issue an invitation to Iran to participate.

It didn’t take very long before the US made it impossible for his invitation to remain valid:

NY TimesMr. Ban announced the Iran invitation on Sunday a little before 6 p.m. Eastern time. By that time, it was the middle of the night in Tehran — way too late for government officials to respond, but early enough for Washington to do so. …. 

Less than two hours after Mr. Ban’s briefing, the State Department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, said in a statement: “The United States views the U.N. secretary general’s invitation to Iran to attend the upcoming Geneva conference as conditioned on Iran’s explicit and public support for the full implementation of the Geneva Communiqué, including the establishment of a transitional governing body by mutual consent with full executive authorities.”

As the New York Times puts it “But in diplomacy, there are no dress rehearsals. Mr. Ban’s choreography went awry, forcing him into a corner. Less than a day after issuing the invitation, the secretary general reversed course. Iran could not attend the talks, he said, because it had not affirmed the ground rules as he said he had been assured.”

It could be that even Ban Ki-Moon’s perception of his own independence was manipulated. Whether the invitation and its withdrawal were orchestrated by the US State Department, and whether the US was reacting to the fears of the Sunnis in the Middle East is unclear. (The report published with great fanfare yesterday about the human rights violations, detentions and executions by the Assad Government yesterday was apparently commissioned by the Government of Qatar. The timing of the publication of this report was also dictated by Sunni interests). I believe that the invitation and its withdrawal – paradoxically – strengthens Iran’s hand since they are conspicuous by not being present – and through no fault of their own.

The barbarism in Syria continues. I have no great expectations of Geneva II but it is part of a necessary process. If Al Qaida is to be kept in check, I think the involvement of Iran is both necessary and unavoidable. Without Iran not all of the Syrian opposition groups will be represented. And without Iran the Al Qaida factions could dominate the opposition.

A puppet with a broken string does not gain an extra degree of freedom. The UN Secretary General cannot entertain any delusions of grandeur or any thought that he can act independently of his puppeteers.

Obama arrived 8 minutes early, Swedish Television caught napping

September 4, 2013

It has been a glorious day in Stockholm today. Blue skies, sunshine, 20°C and Obama touched down 8 minutes early. His arrival was being carried live by Swedish TV (Sveriges Television) on one channel and by Independent TV on another.  The Swedish TV channel literally “blacked-out” for about 5 minutes but the Independent channel coped though their audio feed went haywire for a few minutes.

Somebody should have told Obama that the correct form would have been to circle around in a little loop and land precisely on time. While punctuality is almost a religion here, and being late is a qualifier for eternal damnation, being early is not considered very polite either.

I remember the birthday parties for our kids when we were still new to Sweden and I could not quite understand why all the guests – and their parents – were hanging about down the street for a good 5 to 10 minutes before ringing the bell precisely – but precisely – at the appointed time. Mind you I quickly grew to appreciate that punctuality. Especially the custom of always having a  specified start and an end time for birthday parties. The relief after four hours of enduring 30 hyperactive kids when they all disappear at exactly the stipulated time is something close to ecstasy!!

Half the day’s program is over. A joint press conference with the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt has been held. Nothing of any great significance was said. The full transcript is here. The most profound part was when Obama said:

It’s only been a short time, but I already want to thank all the people here for the warm hospitality that’s been extended to me and my delegation. This is truly one of the world’s great cities. It is spectacularly beautiful. The prime minister tells me that the weather is like this year ‘round. 

Only 2 Swedish journalists were permitted to ask questions and behaved themselves very correctly. Of course Syria and Putin and the NSA came up but little was said beyond the level of platitudes. Reinfeldt took the opportunity to mention that Sweden would now give refugees/ asylum seekers from Syria permanent residency and thereby avoided having to support or condemn military action.

But this is the first ever bilateral visit by a serving US President to Sweden and the value is more symbolic and it would be quite wrong to expect this visit to contain much substance on controversial matters. I had lunch today at my circular club and there was some little comment about the “circus” but nobody was really negative to Obama’s visit. Most were quite pleased that the President of the USA was visiting little Sweden.

Apart from the little TV glitch, everything else seems to have gone according to plan.

So far so good.

No surprise: US diplomats acted as Boeing salesmen

January 3, 2011

It comes as no surprise that diplomats and government officials are heavily involved in lobbying and “advocacy” in favour of major corporations in international trade. This applies for sales of all defence equipment, commercial aircraft, major rail transport projects, nuclear and conventional power plant and -in short – virtually all large projects where jobs at the seller’s establishment are involved.

Virtually every visit of a head of government to another country reserves a great deal of time for commercial lobbying activities. Large companies look to such visits to bring purchasing decisions to a head and the months preceding such visits are periods of intense co-operation between commercial sales people, diplomats, bureaucrats and politicians in both countries. So called “agents” (essentially middle-men with “sticky” fingers) thrive on such activity.  During such periods I have seen how diplomats take directions from sales people at private companies or from the “agents”. The ability to access and trigger such “advocacy” is of huge competitive advantage for the companies involved. It is here that large international companies can bring factors outside the conventional sales criteria into play.

It is not just the US or just Boeing involved in such advocacy. Nearly every country indulges in this. The UK (British Aerospace for example), France (Areva and nuclear power or Alstom and High speed trains) or Germany (Siemens for power plants or trains or VW at car factories) are all engaged in similar advocacy. But the particular case of US diplomats acting as salesmen for Boeing is reported by the New York Times from the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables and these reveal some of the “perks” and extra factors that are brought into play. Such as

The king of Saudi Arabia wanted the United States to outfit his personal jet with the same high-tech devices as Air Force One. The president of Turkey wanted the Obama administration to let a Turkish astronaut sit in on a NASA space flight. And in Bangladesh, the prime minister pressed the State Department to re-establish landing rights at Kennedy International Airport in New York. Each of these government leaders had one thing in common: they were trying to decide whether to buy billions of dollars’ worth of commercial jets from Boeing or its European competitor, Airbus. And United States diplomats were acting like marketing agents, offering deals to heads of state and airline executives whose decisions could be influenced by price, performance and, as with all finicky customers with plenty to spend, perks.

To get the interest of their own politicians and governments every large corporation knows that the magic key is being able to link the sale being pursued to jobs in the home-country and especially in the constituency of the home-politician. “Job creation” is the magic mantra that no politician can resist or can afford to ignore. The use of dubious agents or the use of “undue” influence or the flow of a few percent of the contract value  through some side-channels or the provision of some “perks” to politicians and bureaucrats through the entire chain from supplier to purchaser become critical and pervasive.

When the potential of job creation is involved, questions of ethics are rarely raised and the system of high level corruption is perpetuated.

NYT report

Diplomacy in action? Two nuclear scientists attacked in Teheran, one killed

November 29, 2010

In view of the latest Wikileaks revelations where the Saudi’s were aggressively pushing for the US to attack Iran, this story about two nuclear scientists being attacked by car bombs, killing one, becomes particularly interesting. Perhaps this is an example of modern diplomacy in action. Whether carried out by Saudi or US or Israeli agents, the use of car bombs – long associated with terrorism – smacks of hypocrisy. But then in modern “diplomacy”, hypocrisy is not – it seems – considered particularly unethical and it seems that in relationships between nations the end does in fact justify the means. Judging from the reaction of the US State Department to the publication of their confidential cables, it could be concluded that politicians and diplomats do not think it necessary to have  – and are not expected to have  –  any firm ethical standards.

The BBC carries the story:

An Iranian nuclear scientist has been killed and another wounded in two separate but similar attacks, according to Iranian media reports. The scientists were targeted in Tehran by attackers who attached bombs to each of their cars, reports said. The scientist killed has been named as Majid Shahriari of Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran, according to the official Irna news agency.

Another scientist was killed in a bomb blast at the beginning of the year.

The state television website says attackers riding on motorcycles attached bombs to the car windows of the scientists as they were driving to their workplaces on Monday morning. “In a criminal terrorist act, the agents of the Zionist regime attacked two prominent university professors who were on their way to work,” Iran’s state television’s website reported.

Dr Shahriari was a member of the nuclear engineering department of Shahid Beheshti University. His wife is said to have been injured in the attack. The nuclear scientist injured in the second attack was named as Fereydoon Abbasi. His wife was also wounded. According to the conservative news website Mashreghnews, Dr Abbasi is “one of the few specialists who can separate isotopes” and has been a member of the Revolutionary Guards since the 1979 revolution.

The Iranian scientist killed in January this year, Masoud Ali Mohammadi, was said to be a nuclear scientist assassinated by counter-revolutionaries, Zionists and agents of the “global arrogance”, Iranian media said at the time.

But I cannot help reflecting that as ethics and values become selective or are diluted as and when judged to be necessary, then decadence has set in and civilisation begins to crumble. As Einstein once said “Relativity applies to physics not to ethics”.


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