Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category

US and EU sidelined as Turkey, Iran and Russia sign Syria declaration

December 21, 2016

The opposition to Assad was primarily fueled (and maybe even initiated) by the EU and the US. It was a regime-change exercise where the expectations of the various rebel groups that Assad would be quickly overthrown did not materialise. The Obama/Kerry engagement in Syria can be characterised as being based on wishful thinking and without any implementable strategy.

Until the Russians intervened ISIS, the Al Nusrah front, Al Qaida and other diverse extremist and rebel groups were making daily gains. Turkey of course dislikes Assad, does not like any Kurdish success which helps the formation of a Kurdistan – or at least a Kurdistan which would include any part of Turkey. Nevertheless Turkey sees benefit in allying with Russia rather than with NATO – mainly because they always play both sides against the middle and certainly want to be part of any winning Russian coalition.

In any event, the EU and the US have had to accept a humiliating defeat of the opposition groups they supported in Aleppo. The French in particular have been extremely upset by the reverse suffered by their surrogates. (The attempt by Iraqi forces to retake Mosul with US support continues).

It has got to the point where now Iran and Russia and Turkey (along with Assad’s representatives) arrange meetings about the future of Syria where the EU and the US are not even invited.

But of course the EU and the US are full of high moral platitudes but have made it quite clear that they are not prepared to ‘walk their own talk’.

Countercurrents:

Yesterday, top Russian, Turkish, and Iranian officials met in Moscow and signed a declaration they billed as ending the US-instigated war in Syria. Coming after Russian-backed Syrian army units captured the key city of Aleppo from US-backed Islamist fighters, the deal shows that moves to improve ties between the three countries are continuing despite Monday’s assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov.

“Today, experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps towards resolving the Syrian crisis. It is a thorough, extremely necessary document,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a meeting with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Dehghan.

Shoigu dismissed US and European initiatives in Syria, declaring that “attempts to agree on joint efforts undertaken by the US or their partners were doomed. … None of them exerted real influence on the situation on the ground.”

The initiative was hailed by officials from Turkey, in a sharp turnaround from Turkey’s support for US-backed Islamist opposition militias in the early years of the war. “Now we are observing a very successful operation to liberate eastern Aleppo from fighters, the evacuation of the families of the opposition from Aleppo,” said Turkish National Defence Minister Fikri Işık.

Meeting with his Russian and Iranian counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Javad Zarif, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said cooperation between Russia, Turkey, and Iran had “brought about definite successes” in Aleppo. He said he hoped “to spread it to other districts of Syria.”

The expulsion of the Islamist opposition from Aleppo and developing collaboration between Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran mark a major setback for Washington and its European allies. For five years, US imperialism tried to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by backing Islamist militias, a strategy it later expanded to include backing Kurdish nationalist forces in Syria, as well. While this operation was marketed as a revolution in the US and European media, it collapsed because the US-backed forces lacked any real popular support.

Though Turkey is a NATO ally of the United States, Ankara is reacting to the victory of the Syrian regime, Russia, and Iran in Aleppo by developing ever closer ties to Russia. During the launch of a Turkish-Russian joint investigation into Karlov’s murder, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Ankara and Moscow would “not let anyone harm Turkish-Russian relations.” …….

It could well be that if Trump’s administration starts a pull-back from NATO expansionism, the much feared departure of Turkey from NATO could be on the cards again.

…… Amid escalating damage to the Turkish economy and fears that NATO allies, notably in Europe, might not intervene to aid Turkey in a war with Russia, the Turkish regime shifted its foreign policy. It began mentioning a possible rapprochement with Russia and the Syrian regime. In May 2016, Erdogan discharged his prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, who had previously declared that he ordered the shooting down of the Russian fighter, and apologized to Russia.

This set the stage for Washington and Berlin to tacitly back a coup attempt that nearly succeeded against Erdogan on July 15, and which Ankara blamed on Gülen’s movement. It was reportedly averted thanks to timely warnings from Russia. This inflamed the already explosive tensions not only inside Turkey, but above all, between Erdogan’s government and the major NATO powers.

The Turkish government has reacted by manoeuvring ever more desperately between its ostensible allies in NATO and the major Eurasian powers, Russia and China. In recent months, amid growing economic ties between China and Turkey, Erdogan has repeatedly declared that Turkey might join the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), claiming this would allow Ankara “to act more freely.”

This drew a sharp reaction from NATO. Visiting Istanbul last month for the NATO Parliamentarians Assembly, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met with Erdogan and said, “I am sure Turkey will do nothing that could impair the concept of joint defence … and NATO unity.”

Above all, however, Ankara sought closer ties to Russia. Earlier this month, the Russian and Turkish prime ministers, Dmitri Medvedev and Binali Yildirim, met in Moscow. They agreed that “the normalization of the Syrian situation is a priority task for our countries and it will definitely serve to the benefit of the whole region, not to mention Syria, which is currently in a very complicated situation.”

On December 6, Yildirim criticized NATO for “hesitation” and “foot-dragging” in Syria: “Nice words are exchanged about defending civilization against terrorism. But the big terrorist networks challenging us today operate across borders.” He described the Turkish-Russian initiative as a push for a “forceful and united international front to eradicate terrorism.”

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria

Turkey, Russia, Iran Sign Deal On Syria


 

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“No ransom policy” but Obama paid $400 million cash for release of 4 prisoners from Iran

August 3, 2016

The Obama/Clinton followed by the Obama/Kerry foreign policy legacy will come to be seen as a low point in US history. It has been a foreign policy dominated by their own fears and devoid of courage. Paralysis by analysis.

The much publicised US policy of not paying ransom for the release of US prisoners in foreign countries is not quite all what it seems. It would seem that secretly paid ransoms are OK.

MarketWatch:

The Obama administration secretly organized an airlift of $400 million worth of cash to Iran that coincided with the January release of four Americans detained in Tehran, according to U.S. and European officials and congressional staff briefed on the operation afterward.

Wooden pallets stacked with euros, Swiss francs and other currencies were flown into Iran on an unmarked cargo plane, according to these officials. The U.S. procured the money from the central banks of the Netherlands and Switzerland, they said.

The money represented the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement the Obama administration reached with Iran to resolve a decades-old dispute over a failed arms deal signed just before the 1979 fall of Iran’s last monarch, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. 

The settlement, which resolved claims before an international tribunal in The Hague, also coincided with the formal implementation that same weekend of the landmark nuclear agreement reached between Tehran, the U.S. and other global powers the summer before.

“With the nuclear deal done, prisoners released, the time was right to resolve this dispute as well,” President Barack Obama said at the White House on Jan. 17 — without disclosing the $400 million cash payment.

Senior U.S. officials denied any link between the payment and the prisoner exchange. They say the way the various strands came together simultaneously was coincidental, not the result of any quid pro quo. ……. But U.S. officials also acknowledge that Iranian negotiators on the prisoner exchange said they wanted the cash to show they had gained something tangible.

Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and a fierce foe of the Iran nuclear deal, accused President Barack Obama of paying “a $1.7 billion ransom to the ayatollahs for U.S. hostages.”

“This break with longstanding U.S. policy [not to] put a price on the head of Americans, and has led Iran to continue its illegal seizures” of Americans, he said.

Since the cash shipment, the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guard has arrested two more Iranian-Americans. Tehran has also detained dual-nationals from France, Canada and the U.K. in recent months.

To claim that it was coincidence is a little ingenuous and there seems little doubt it was a ransom:

IndependentSentinel:  January 22, 2016

Obama Paid Out A Ransom to Iran

The U.S. Treasury Department wired the money to Iran around the same time its theocratic government allowed three American prisoners to fly out of Tehran on Sunday aboard a Dassault Falcon jet owned by the Swiss air force. The prisoner swap also involved freedom for two other Americans held in Iran as well as for seven Iranians charged or convicted by the U.S. and another 21 under investigation.

“Based on an approval of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) and the overall interests of the Islamic Republic, four Iranian prisoners with dual-nationality were freed today within the framework of a prisoner swap deal,” the office of the Tehran prosecutor said.

Brigadier General Hassan Naqdi, the head of the Iranian regime’s notorious Basij militia, claimed on Wednesday that Iran had received $1.7 billion from the U.S. in exchange for the release of imprisoned Americans.

kerry-inshallah

image – Independent Sentinel


 

Germany pips France in the rush to Tehran

July 15, 2015

The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced yesterday that he had been invited by his counterpart to Tehran and would soon be visiting there. But he did not announce any date for his visit. In the meantime while Fabius was talking the Germans were making their travel arrangements. The German Economy Minister has moved fast and has already arranged to take a large trade delegation to Tehran in 4 days time on 19th July (Tehran and Isfahan).

Both France and Germany were major trading partners for Iran before the sanctions and are looking to take a serious chunk of the frozen moneys now being released (about €800 million every month) and which Iran will most likely use to get equipment and components it has long been starved of. There is likely to be a rush of trade delegations and Germany and France are sure to be in the front. However the three countries which have had most trade with Iran during the sanction years have been Russia, China and India and they will also be expecting to be preferred suppliers for whatever they can offer. In any event the world economy will see an increase of trade by about €10 billion per year and increasing as Iran’s oil revenues pick up.

France24:

Fabius noted that French firms were “very well thought of” in Iran but denied the nuclear deal was struck with an eye on business. “Trade is very important. It fosters growth. It’s important for the Iranians, it’s important for us,” he said.

“But when the president of the Republic (Francois Hollande) and I took the strategic decision (to agree to a deal) … we did not take it for commercial reasons, but for strategic reasons because we wanted to avoid nuclear proliferation,” stressed the minister.

France used to have a strong presence in Iran before the sanctions went into effect, with Peugeot and Renault being major players in the Iranian auto industry and energy giant Total heavily involved in the oil sector. But two-way trade has fallen from four billion euros ($4.4 billion) in 2004 to just 500 million euros in 2013, according to French statistics.

PressTV:

Germany sees a big rise in trade with Iran, preparing the first high-profile foreign delegation for visit to Tehran this week since the conclusion of nuclear talks on Tuesday. 

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel will arrive at the head of a large political and trade delegation on Sunday for a two-day visit which will also take him to the central Iranian city of Isfahan.

The 60-strong delegation will include representatives of big German industrial companies such as Linde and Siemens, Amir-Hossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy oil minister for commerce and international affairs, said.

Gabriel, who is also Germany’s vice chancellor, will meet with President Hassan Rouhani, Minister of Petroleum Bijan Zangeneh as well as Iranian ministers of trade and energy and the central bank governor.

“We expect to see a big increase in trade, especially in German sales of capital goods,” the Deutsche Welle website quoted Michael Tockuss, chief executive at the German-Iranian Chamber of Commerce, as saying.

According to the German Foreign Ministry, bilateral trade grew by 27% to 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in 2014 because of the sanctions relief. With the conclusion of nuclear talks on Tuesday, conservative estimates foresee bilateral trade expanding to 6 or 7 billion euros in 2016 assuming sanctions are dropped quickly, DW said.

 

Bibi Netanyahu loses his security blanket

July 14, 2015

I particularly like this from B Michael in a Haaretz opinion column, even if his sarcasm is a little over the top. But with Bibi nothing registers if it does not go over the top.

My heart goes out to Benjamin Netanyahu. With one cold, cruel stroke of the pen, the rulers of the world have taken away his most beloved toy – the apple of his eye and the joy of his heart, the rock of his existence and the source of his strength, and above all, the rock of his refuge and safe haven. Or in short, the Iranian bomb. ……… From now on, Netanyahu is like a baby that has lost its security blanket, or like one whose favorite teddy bear was thrown into the garbage – the one that warmed his heart during the long nights and infused him with calm and serenity during times of trouble and election campaigns.

But Bibi has an easy solution says Michael. He could just take one of Israel’s greater than 200 nuclear warheads and smuggle it into Iran and he can then rest easy that he can get back to crying “Wolf” whenever he has nothing else to say.

But our hope has not yet been lost. If salvation doesn’t come from without, we will bring it from within, from ourselves. ….. As everyone already knows, the State of Israel – of course only according to strange foreign sources – has a respectable arsenal of atomic bombs that long since crossed the 200 mark. More than enough to destroy half the world. 

And here, in these surplus bombs, lies the solution to Netanyahu’s distress. All he has to do is take one of those 200 bombs of ours (according to foreign sources), wrap it up nicely in gift wrapping and give it secretly, as an anonymous donation, to the Islamic Republic of Iran. …… To anyone who fears the move might be discovered and embarrass us, don’t worry; nobody will notice the loss of one bomb out of 200. And even if a curious journalist does discover that one is missing, it’s not so terrible. As is the norm in such cases, Israel will grab the lowly guard on duty and cast him into purgatory the way one usually does with scapegoats, and that will settle the matter.

And thus, everyone will once again be happy.

But to be serious for a moment, bringing Iran back into the fold and creating a more balanced situation could be the best thing to happen in the Middle East for a long time. It is actually the 3-pronged balance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran which gives hope. A military, political, financial and even a religious balance. Ultimately the Middle East has to find its own solutions for what constitutes “democracy” and of living together, without solutions being imported and imposed from Washington.

Iran deal is done, Bibi unhappy, Greek deal done, Greeks unhappy.

July 14, 2015

Reuters and other anonymous sources are reporting that an Iran deal has been done.

Greece yesterday, Iran today, what’s for tomorrow?

Bibi is neither pleased nor amused. A “pre-emptive” strike by Israel on Iran now becomes that much more difficult. Saudi Arabia will not be too pleased either. If sanctions are  lifted and also on weapons sales by Iran then we can see the pro-Iranian factions across the Middle East getting a boost. Which will probably constrain the advance of ISIS somewhat (and whatever the Saudis might say it is private Saudi money funding the barbarians). The pro-Iranian factions in Syria and Iraq will not only get a boost, they may also be more successful on the ground than the US-led coalition.

However Saudi Arabia will not be too unhappy about the additional downward pressure on oil prices. It will be sometime before Iran can ramp up production and during this time, low-cost Saudi oil will win further market share. Though Saudi Arabia failed to wipe out shale oil from the US, it is still increasing production and contributing further to the current oil glut. Saudi seems to be pursuing a revised strategy of keeping oil prices relatively low for 2 years or more in a war of attrition against the higher-cost oil producers. Market share is perceived as their prime weapon to try and get rid of the higher-cost producers. But I think they have miscalculated even here. A discontinued shale oil well can be restarted with very little investment and at very short notice. Production costs of shale oil have decreased sharply. Shale oil developers will just ramp their production up and down depending upon the prevailing oil price. And the larger shale oil wells can make money even with oil prices down at $40/ barrel.

It isn’t quite time for vacation yet in Europe (apart from Sweden which is closed for July). Some kind of framework resolution for the whole package of the 3rd bailout needs to be passed by the Greek parliament by tomorrow. Some resistance is showing today but the resolution will surely pass. Of course that says nothing about the Greek government’s implementation of all they have signed up for. Their track record of implementing what has been solemnly promised is not good. And if the reports today that the ECB will not be pumping liquidity willy-nilly into the Greek banks are correct, then the banking system will have to start issuing IOU’s to keep functioning while the negotiations are concluded. That will effectively be an alternative currency and it won’t be long before the IOU’s start trading at a different value to par. A currency by another name than “Euro” is still a Grexit for as long as that currency is used.

But an Iran back in the international fold is undoubtedly a good thing.

US, UK and Canada protect Israel’s nuclear weapons

May 23, 2015

An Egyptian proposal for a nuclear weapons free Middle East as part of the UN nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) was blocked by the US, UK and Canada. The blockage was not unexpected since Israel which is not a signatory to the NPT had already indicated its opposition and on such matters Washington generally obliges Israel. The NPT 2015 conference ended without agreement and the US representative blamed the Egyptians – of course – for making a proposal that had no chance of success. The status quo continues and Israel can maintain all its nuclear warheads. The NPT conference will next be held in 2020.

It is not so surprising that all the western countries which created Israel and now protect its not-so-secret stock of nuclear warheads are the same powers who don’t want any possibility of Iran developing its own nuclear weapons. I can quite accept that Israel will want to protect its own interests. The position of the US and its allies is entirely expected but is also just plain hypocritical. But the myth of Israel not having any nuclear warheads can be put to rest for ever. If they didn’t have any there would be no point in blocking the Egyptian proposal.

Jerusalem PostAfter four weeks of negotiations on ways to improve compliance with the pact, there was no consensus among its 191 signatories. US Under Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller announced there was “no agreement” and accused some countries of undermining the negotiations.  Gottemoeller did not name any countries but diplomats said she was referring to Egypt. ……. 

Last month, Egypt, backed by other Arab and non-aligned states, proposed that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon convene a regional conference on banning weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as called for at the 2010 NPT review with or without Israel’s participation, without agreement on an agenda and with no discussion of regional security issues.

Those conditions are unacceptable to Israel and Washington.

Decisions at NPT review conferences, which are held every five years, are made by consensus. ……. 

Egypt’s proposals, Western diplomats say, were intended to focus attention on Israel. Washington and Israel say Iran’s nuclear program is the real regional threat. Iran says its program is peaceful. It is negotiating with world powers to curb it in exchange for lifting sanctions. Israel has said it would consider joining the NPT only once at peace with its Arab neighbors and Iran.

There were disagreements on other aspects of the NPT but delegates said the Middle East issue was the most divisive.

And in the meantime ISIS has announced that it is trying to get hold of one of the Pakistani warheads to be able to do something spectacular.

The Israeli nuclear stockpile of nuclear warheads probably lies between 100 and 400.

Estimates for Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile range from 70 to 400 warheads. The actual number is probably closer to the lower estimate. Additional weapons could probably be built from inventories of fissile materials.   http://fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/

Estimates for Israel’s nuclear weapons stockpile range from 70 to 400 warheads. The actual number is probably closer to the lower estimate. Additional weapons could probably be built from inventories of fissile materials.
http://fas.org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/

Israel demands its monetary “pound of flesh” for any US-Iran deal

May 20, 2015

It would seem that much of the Israeli objections to any US-Iran deal regarding Iran’s nuclear programme may be more of a negotiating ploy than driven by any real concern about their own security. Everything has its price and Israel also seems to have a price for swallowing their public objections. The price for acquiescing to any US-Iran deal seems to be the “purchase” of additional military aircraft and weapons systems from the US. Israel’s “purchases” of US equipment are paid for from moneys received as “US Defense Aid”. Currently Israel gets a recurring grant of around $4 billion every year augmented by many additional “one-off” grants.

From this Haaretz article it would seem that Israel has determined the monetary value of the “pound of flesh” it requires to swallow its objections to any US-Iran deal. Israel has not failed to note that “According to Stockholm’s International Peace Research Institute, in 2014 Saudi Arabia bought $80 billion worth of weapons while the emirates bought $23 billion worth of arms.” It stands to reason that Israel’s total “price” will be something in excess of $100 billion. The US will not have missed in their calculation either that this will “enable” fresh, real sales of military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States of at least twice that amount.

Haaretz:

….. However, the Israeli defense establishment and the Pentagon have already begun preliminary contact on the type of defense package Israel would receive. Another incentive for these talks is the arms deals between the United States and the Gulf states, which have not waited for the final deal before acquiring defense systems designed to deter Iran. A well-placed source said that both countries have begun their “homework” ahead of such a deal. ….. 

The Israeli defense establishment estimates that the future weapons deal between Israel and the United States will include more F-35s. So far, the sides have agreed that Israel would buy 33 of these combat aircraft using U.S. defense aid. The first two planes are scheduled to arrive in late 2016. The first operational squadron of the planes will begin operations about two years later, with the last of the planes arriving in 2021. However the defense establishment believes this is not enough and hopes to acquire at least 50 of these fighter planes so the Israel Air Force will have two fully operational squadrons. Each plane in the current deal is priced at $110 million.

Another key component in any future arms deal with Washington will be an anti-missile system. So far Israel has acquired an Arrow 2 system to intercept long-range missiles and nine Iron Dome batteries against short-range missiles. Next year, the David’s Sling system for medium-range threats is slated to go into operation. All these systems were funded with American defense aid and the United States has invested about $1 billion in developing interception missiles, above and beyond the $3.1 billion annual aid.

Israel is also likely to request additional aid to finance an improved Arrow 3 battery and to acquire some more Iran Dome batteries. According to an analysis by the Knesset Foreign and Defense Committee from three year ago, which is also accepted by the army, Israel requires at least 12 or 13 batteries in order to effectively defend the country. Israel is also expected to ask the U.S. to allow it to buy advanced precision-guided munition, especially for the Air Force. The sides may also discuss the acquisition of technological systems for intelligence-gathering purposes. 

The defense industry in the US must be quite pleased.

Iran to the rescue as Obama’s moribund ISIS “strategy” stalls

May 19, 2015

Back in September last year, Barack Obama first admitted he had no strategy “yet” for ISIS and then announced his “hands-off” air-strike strategy

“Our objective is clear: We will degrade, and ultimately destroy, ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counterterrorism strategy,”

But what his strategy has achieved so far is an ISIS which hunkers down during air-strikes and then rolls over new strategic targets whenever the opposition is the Iraqi army or other Sunni opponents. Resistance and attrition only occurs when ISIS faces Assad or Iran-backed Shiite groups. If and when ISIS is stopped it may be enabled by US led air-strikes, but it will actually be achieved only by Iranian-supported boots on the ground. ISIS will not be stopped by a Sunni force. And that does not make Saudi Arabia very happy. I have a hypothesis that Barack Obama’s strategies both in domestic and foreign policy are driven primarily by the avoiding of his fears. In Iraq and Syria his strategy plays into Iran’s hands.

Foreign Policy: To date, the Obama administration’s claims of progress in the campaign against the Islamic State (IS) have been accompanied by qualifications and caveats. In January, the Pentagon claimed to have killed 6,000 IS fighters since the September start of “Operation Inherent Resolve,” a statistic that became less impressive when later that month it was reported that roughly 5,000 foreign fighters had joined IS since October. At the Munich Security Conference in February, Secretary of State John Kerry claimed the anti-IS coalition had “taken out half” of the terrorist pseudo-state’s senior leadership, a boast that was subsequently discredited as inexact at best. In early April — a month before the Islamic State captured Ramadi — Vice President Joe Biden declared: “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed. Thousands of ISIL fighters have been removed from the battlefield. Their ability to mass and maneuver has been greatly degraded. Leaders have been eliminated.” Add to this the analytical disputes over the Pentagon’s claim that the Islamic State has lost 25 percent of its territory since the start of Operation Inherent Resolve, and it is easy to see why skeptics believe the current strategy is insufficient to achieve the president’s stated goals of degrading and defeating the terrorist proto-state.

Now Ramadi has fallen to ISIS after it was abandoned without resistance by Iraqi Sunni forces. The US has been sending very confused messages with, on the one hand, increased air sorties against Ramadi while, on the other, sending diplomats (including John Kerry) to spin the story that Ramadi was not very important anyway. In the meanwhile Iran, through its Shiite Prime Minister, has called in the Shiite militia to retake Ramadi. The Shiite militias will now probably succeed in retaking Ramadi – as ISIS melts away to open another front, somewhere else, against the Iraqi Army.

Reuters:

Thousands of Shi’ite militiamen on Monday prepared to fight Islamic State insurgents who seized the Iraqi provincial capital Ramadi at the weekend in the biggest defeat for government forces in nearly a year.

A column of 3,000 Shi’ite militia fighters assembled at a military base near Ramadi, preparing to take on Islamic State militants advancing in armored vehicles from the captured city northwest of Baghdad, witnesses and a military officer said.

The decision by Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, who is a Shi’ite, to send in the militias to try to retake the predominantly Sunni city could add to sectarian hostility in one of the most violent parts of Iraq.

Washington, which is leading a campaign of air strikes to roll back Islamic State advances and struggling to rebuild Baghdad’s shattered army, played down the significance of the loss of Ramadi, the capital of the vast western Anbar province.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was a “target of opportunity,” that could be retaken in a matter of days, and U.S. officials insisted there would be no change in strategy despite a failure to make major advances against Islamic State.

Warplanes in the U.S.-led coalition had conducted 19 strikes near Ramadi over the past 72 hours at the request of the Iraqi security forces, a coalition spokesman said.

The Shi’ite militia, known as Hashid Shaabi or Popular Mobilization, “reached the Habbaniya base and are now on standby,” said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout.

It may only be a temporary alliance between the US and Iran for retaking Ramadi, but it will only reinforce my view that Iranian strategy is a relatively low-cost, proxy strategy which has succeeded in absorbing and diverting Obama’s strategy to its own advantage.

Saudi Arabia, Netanyahu and GOP make unusual bedfellows

March 16, 2015

The nuclear non-proliferation treaty is fundamentally flawed. Establishing a monopoly for some selected countries is unsustainable in the long run. But the opposition of the GOP, Benjamin Netanyahu and now Saudi Arabia to any nuclear deal with Iran makes an unholy alliance against a deal but which is counter-productive. It provides an unusual indication that Barack Obama – by accident rather than by design – is on the right track with his negotiations with Iran. The general expectation of course is that a deal is inevitable. It will be reached (at some time if not now) where Iran will – with certain safeguards – continue the enrichment of uranium for the production of nuclear fuels and the UN sanctions will be lifted. As far as nuclear weapons are concerned, no international treaty can succeed unless all member countries sign up to the same obligations. It cannot be a few reserving special positions for themselves and imposing different obligations on all others. Four of the nine nuclear countries are not signatories to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

SIPRI: At the start of 2014 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—possessed approximately 4000 operational nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states together possessed a total of approximately 16 300 nuclear weapons (see table 1) compared to 17 270 in early 2013.  

…. all five legally recognized nuclear weapon states—China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA—are either deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems or have announced programmes to do so. India and Pakistan continue to develop new systems capable of delivering nuclear weapons and are expanding their capacities to produce fissile material for military purposes.

There is an emerging consensus in the expert community that North Korea has produced a small number of nuclear weapons, as distinct from rudimentary nuclear explosive devices.

world nuclear forces 2014

* ‘Deployed’ means warheads placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces.

Source: SIPRI Yearbook 2014 

The GOP letter to Iran makes for an interesting precedent. It emphasises – again – that the US is now highly polarised  and that the government does not represent a very large section of the country. But the GOP actions (their Iran letter and their invitation to Netanyahu to make a speech) are primarily about opposing Obama and secondly about supporting Netanyahu. The support is for Bibi himself and not for any “socialist Israel” which they – and Netanyahu – fear. (In fact most of the Republican business world would quite welcome the lifting of UN sanctions).

Netanyahu’s opposition to any deal with Iran is not unexpected. Israel is the sole nuclear force in the region and this underpins its existence. Even its massive superiority in conventional forces could not prevail against another country in the region prepared to use nuclear weapons. The deterrence strategy – based on overwhelming superiority – which has served Israel very well would fail against a more “equal” opponent who was more ready to use nuclear force than Israel. “A mad mullah would be more ready to destroy himself while destroying the enemy than a mad rabbi”.

The Saudi Arabia opposition to anything which benefits Iran is the front-line of the Shia – Sunni war. Moreover Saudi has plans to build 16 nuclear plants over the next 20 years. The idea that Iran could produce nuclear fuel while they had to import all theirs is unthinkable. Anything Iran gets is something that Saudi Arabia also must have.

BBC: A senior member of the Saudi royal family has warned that a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme could prompt other regional states to develop atomic fuel. Prince Turki al-Faisal told the BBC that Saudi Arabia would then seek the same right, as would other nations.

Six world powers are negotiating an agreement aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear activity but not ending it. Critics have argued this would trigger a nuclear arms race in the region spurred on by Saudi-Iran rivalry.

“I’ve always said whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same,” said the prince, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief. “So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that. The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition, and that’s my main objection to this P5+1 [the six world powers] process.”

…… Riyadh has also signed nuclear co-operation agreements with China, France and Argentina, and intends to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. ….. 

Government policies shifting to encourage increase of fertility

March 15, 2015

Increasingly countries must now resort to long term and official policies to try and increase their fertility rates. In Japan government policy is all about providing incentives for couples to have more children. In Iran government policy is moving from exhortation to “go forth and multiply” to now the banning of vasectomies and discouraging contraception and abortion. Of course the Iranian measures are drawing much criticism from groups which believe that this is making women into baby-factories! European countries have been addressing this by their immigration policies even if they rarely admit that declining fertility is a problem. I note that addressing the ageing problem is politically acceptable but that admitting a fertility problem is not. Equally, promoting immigration as the combined solution for both fertility and ageing is not electorally attractive. But the reality is that fertility and ageing as potential problems are lowest in those European countries which have permitted significant immigration (UK, Germany, France, Sweden ….).  Over the next 20 years an increasing number of countries globally will have to include policies explicitly to address ageing and the decline in fertility. In European countries where the reaction to immigration is strong, there will inevitably be a move towards more restrictive abortion regulations since attempts to be restrictive on contraception would be futile. It will not have escaped the notice of demographers and policy planners that in Europe there are about 25 abortions for every 100 live births. I can envisage the situation where having a child (and especially a second child) is of such value to a society that it is prioritised over being free to work. A steady increase of incentives in the form of child benefits and tax breaks can be expected.

In Japan, of course the population implosion problem is real and is already under way. The fertility rate is currently at 1.29 (replenishment 2.1) and not only is population declining but the ageing problem is gathering pace. By 2050 population will drop by about 30 million from 127 million today to about 97 million. At the same time the proportion of the population over 65 will increase from about 25% today to about 40%. The impact on the critical ratio of “working population” to “supported population” is even more severe. And so the Japanese government is introducing further policy measures.

japan fertility berlin institut

japan fertility berlin institut

Japan’s fertility rate for decades has continued to decline. The sharp fall in 1966 is attributed to a superstition according to which women born in the year of the Fire Horse will bring grief upon their future husbands (Source: NIPSSR 2006; Schoppa 2008).

BBC: … Local authorities will get government support if they organise speed-dating or other forms of matchmaking, according to a draft policy outlining measures to increase the number of people having children…… 

The government wants to do more than just encourage those early days of romance, though. The draft includes plans to improve access to free nursery care, and for counselling centres to be set up across the country for people undergoing fertility treatment. There’s also a target to boost the number of fathers taking paternity leave immediately after their baby is born to 80% by the year 2020. …

Iran has been aware of their coming fertility problem since the late 1980s but has relied so far on exhortation to try and increase fertility. Last year the Ayatollah Khamenei issued a 14 point plan to improve fertility rate.

Iran has seen its fertility rate reduce from close to 7 children per woman in 1960 to around an implosion level of 1.8 per woman  at the current time. For a stable population the replenishment rate required is 2.1 children per woman. Through the 1980’s Iran ran a free contraception program and the birth rate plummeted. So much so that Iran is facing a coming crisis of population implosion.

The Ayatollah Khamenei has taken notice and issued a 14 point plan to increase the fertility rate.

Iran – Israel total fertility rate Google public data

But now legislation is being introduced and two new bills will ban voluntary vasectomies and be much more restrictive on contraception and abortion. Human rights and lobby groups such as Amnesty are opposing the legislation on the grounds that they would  “entrench discriminatory practices and expose women to health risks”.

I am not so sure that the Iranian legislation is coercive in itself. I think it  is attempting to make having a baby the default rather than not having a baby. Both Japan and Iran have very little immigration which can help their numbers though there are signs that Japanese politicians are  trying to pave the way for some future immigration.

But over the next few decades, an increasing number of countries will have to come to grips with population implosions and ageing.

 


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