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The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Years Conflict with Iran

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Relations with Iran have challenged every U.S. administration since the 1979 revolution, and all U.S. presidents since Jimmy Carter have had to address the regime’s attempts to export its Islamist revolution abroad, its fierce opposition to the Arab-Israeli peace process,

and its dogged nuclear quest. As President Barack Obama begins a second term in office, it would serve the president and those advising him well to truly understand the mindset of the revolutionary regime in order to avoid repeating past mistakes.

warThe task of untangling that history, facilitated by such books as Kenneth Pollack’s The Persian Puzzle[1] and Patrick Clawson and Michael Rubin’s Eternal Iran,[2] has now received a major boost with David Crist’s excellent new title The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Years Conflict with Iran.[3] Based on twenty years of archival research and four hundred interviews, it is a serious contribution to our understanding of the turbulent relations between Washington and Tehran during the past three decades. Crist highlights both the immaturity of the revolutionary regime in Tehran and errors in judgment by Washington that have led to numerous missed opportunities to normalize relations over the years.

The book’s most important shortcoming, however, is its lack of primary source material in the Persian language. In most cases, this material would have reinforced Crist’s arguments, yet in a few important instances, this deficiency leads to questionable conclusions. In particular, his judgments about the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88)—the formative experience shaping the minds of the current crop of Iranian decision makers—would have greatly benefited from the use of such sources. Its proper understanding offers insights into the Islamic Republic’s strategy today that might help avert looming catastrophes.

The Iraqi Invasion

According to official Islamic Republic historiography, the war with Iraq began on August 22, 1980, when Iraqi forces conducted a surprise invasion of Iranian territory.[4] Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini himself made a point of stressing the element of surprise when addressing ambassadors of Islamic countries in October 1980: “The usurping government of Saddam attacked Iran from the sea, air, and on the ground without any excuse acceptable to the governments of the world and without prior information or warning of conquest.”[5]

285Notwithstanding Khomeini’s public pronouncement, he had been warned of an imminent Iraqi invasion well in advance. Crist perceptively cites a meeting on October 1979 between CIA officer George Cave and then-foreign minister Ebrahim Yazdi, in which such a warning was given.[6] Cave also instructed Yazdi to reactivate a signals intelligence collection station in Ilam to “find out what Iraq is up to,” but Yazdi dismissed the advice saying: “They wouldn’t dare!”[7]

Persian language primary source material reveals other early warnings ignored by the supreme leader. In a September 22, 1991 interview with the weekly Payam-e Enghelab, Ahmad Khomeini, son of the grand ayatollah, disclosed that Shapour Bakhtiar, the last prime minister of the shah, had reached out to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris through his chief of staff. When denied an audience with Khomeini, Bakhtiar’s chief of staff met with Ahmad and warned him of suspicious movements by Iraqi forces detected by Iran’s military intelligence.[8] Ayatollah Khomeini dismissed Bakhtiar’s warnings as a scare tactic.

On June 15, 1980, Iran’s first post-revolutionary president, Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, sent a letter to Khomeini warning of suspicious movements of Iraqi forces.[9] A September 19, 1980 letter from the president is even more revealing:

I don’t know what happened at your residence last night and what the army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] discussed with you. But I find it necessary to report this: … One month ago I sent you the exact same commanders who passed you information about today’s conspiracy. Afterward you told me that you didn’t believe in such intelligence. Today the intelligence has been proven right, and there is a strong possibility of an extensive battle from the Turkish border to Pakistan.[10]

Why did Yazdi dismiss the CIA’s alert? Why did Khomeini ignore Bakhtiar’s, Bani-Sadr’s, and the army commanders’ reports on developments on the Iraqi side of the border? And why did the grand ayatollah isolate Iran diplomatically by continually threatening its neighbors with “export of the revolution” at a time when he was perfectly aware of the Iraqi threat?[11]

Crist correctly concludes that the Iraqi invasion provided Khomeini with an opportunity to consolidate his rule.[12] This is further confirmed by a 2008 interview in Persian between political scientist Sadeq Zibakalam and former Iranian president Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. In the course of the conversation, Zibakalam told Rafsanjani: “My conclusion is that deep down, the imam [Khomeini] was happy about the war. He never said so directly, but deep down he thought that it was not us who wanted to attack the Baath regime of Iraq, but now that they have attacked us, we will pursue it [the war] to the very end.” To which Rafsanjani responded: “I agree with your view. But it is not true that it was deep in his [Khomeini’s] heart. He would also say that aloud. He did not hide it. … The war gave us a path to solve the regional problems and build our nation. We all said this, and the imam too was of this belief.”[13]

Thanks to the Iraqi invasion of Iran, Khomeini was able to rally a fragmented nation around the revolutionary leadership and hoped to use the war to overthrow the Baath regime in Baghdad. The revolutionary leadership also used the war instrumentally, to keep the remnants of the shah’s army busy at the front and effectively out of politics. Finally, the invasion gave the Islamist regime the necessary excuse for suppressing popular demands for political freedoms by imposing a state of emergency. The war, indeed, proved a “divine blessing” for the regime—one actively sought and called for by Khomeini.[14]

Why the War Continued after 1982

On April 3, 1982, Saddam Hussein offered a cease-fire, which was dismissed by Tehran. Not long thereafter, on May 24, Iranian forces liberated the border city of Khorramshahr, ending Iraqi occupation of Iranian territory. Why then did the war continue?

According to Crist, a “divided Iranian leadership” debated its next steps in the war, but “[n]o one advocated accepting the cease-fire.” He claims that Ahmad Khomeini pressed for continuing the war on Iraqi soil, but then-president Ali Khamene’i, foreign minister Ali-Akbar Velayati, and Rafsanjani (then parliamentary speaker) were “less sanguine about invading Iraq proper.” Most importantly, he suggests that to some degree, Khomeini himself opposed an invasion of Iraq.[15]

Access to Persian language documents corroborates this. In his September 22, 1991 interview with Payam-e Enghelab, Ahmad Khomeini revealed,

The imam believed that it was better to end the war, but those responsible for the war said that we had to move toward Shatt al-Arab so that we could demand war reparations from Iraq. The imam did not agree with this line at all and used to say that if … one didn’t prevail in the war now, this war couldn’t be ended at all. We must continue this war to a certain point. Now that Khorramshahr had been liberated, it was the best time to end the war.[16]

Rafsanjani’s memoirs also stress Khomeini’s opposition, conveyed through his son on March 26, 1982, and at a meeting with military commanders on June 10, 1982.[17] According to Rafsanjani, three days after the liberation of Khorramshahr, the grand ayatollah argued against invasion before the Supreme Defense Council, stating that

(1) After invading Iraq, the Arab countries will support Baghdad more overtly and will display Arab extremism.

(2) The people of Iraq have not supported Saddam until now because he was on our soil. But should we invade Iraq, they will support him; we should strive not to drive the Iraqi people to oppose us.

(3) Should we invade Iraq, the Iraqi people will be harmed. Thus far, those Iraqis who have not fought have not been harmed.

(4) The world will present us as invaders and will subject us to propaganda pressure.[18]

If Grand Ayatollah Khomeini was so adamantly opposed to an invasion of Iraq, how and why did the war drag on for another six years? Who were the supporters of the continuation of the war?

Persian language primary source material shows that it was the Revolutionary Guards’ leaders who managed to persuade an unwilling grand ayatollah to continue the war. And in contrast to Crist’s view, they were supported in this position by Rafsanjani himself.

In his April 18, 1982 diary entry, Ayatollah Rafsanjani writes:

The country’s warlike atmosphere and the high expectations of the people, especially the combatants, are such that they ridicule such propositions [of peace negotiations] and do not consider immediate but conditional withdrawal enough and criticize those responsible for the war effort … [as to] why they don’t immediately enter Iraqi soil.[19]

Further, Khomeini withdrew his opposition since the “armed forces made solid military and technical arguments, and the imam, in a limited and conditional way, capitulated to their view.”[20]

In his memoirs and interviews, Rafsanjani has deftly avoided clarifying his own position concerning the continuation of the war after Khorramshahr, but Mohsen Rezaei, then-commander of the Revolutionary Guards, shed light on this in his own war memoirs:

Following the liberation of Khorramshahr, the imam said: “You stay at the border and fight here” … [but] Rafsanjani said that we should move beyond the international borders. Should we desire to end the war, we need to have something we can use in the [cease-fire] negotiations.[21]

Rezaei also claimed that Rafsanjani had urged the military to occupy Basra, to be used as a bargaining chip.[22]

Different proponents of continuing the war had their own motives for doing so, but the Revolutionary Guards had the strongest. When Rezaei was appointed commander on August 24, 1981, there were only “20 to 30,000 members of the Guards and the Basij [its closely allied paramilitary force].”[23] That number increased to a quarter of a million members by 1988 with the lion’s share of Iran’s military budget allocated to it. This development would not have been possible had it not been for the continuation of the war. The IRGC essentially sacrificed Iran’s national interest and hundreds of thousands of Iranian lives for the sake of its corporate and organizational expansion.

Apart from this, Khomeini’s acquiescence in the IRGC’s demands for continuing the war after Khorramshahr’s liberation illustrates the clerics’ dependence on the IRGC to suppress domestic opposition. Beyond its historical relevance, this mechanism may also in part explain Supreme Leader Ali Khamene’i’s position on the nuclear crisis today.

Why the War Ended

In The Twilight War, Crist echoes the widely held belief that the accidental and tragic July 3, 1988 downing of Iran Air flight 655 by the USS Vincennes convinced the Iranian leadership to end the war with Iraq.[24] Yet while Khomeini’s July 20, 1988 acceptance of the cease-fire agreement happened in the immediate wake of the civilian airliner tragedy,[25] Persian primary source material reveals that the decision had been maturing for quite some time prior to the incident.

On June 3, 1988, Rafsanjani was appointed commander-in-chief. In his account, Ayatollah Abd al-Karim Mousavi Ardebili, the judiciary’s chief, President Khamene’i, Ahmad Khomeini, and Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi had all concluded by June 1988 that “they [the West in general and the United States in particular] will not allow us to win in the war.”[26] A number of Revolutionary Guards commanders endorsed this view, and on June 10, 1988, Ali Shamkhani, then-Revolutionary Guards ground forces commander, urged Rafsanjani to end the war.[27]

On June 16, Rafsanjani met with Khamene’i, Mousavi, and Ahmad Khomeini and concluded that Iran would either have to mobilize all the resources of the state for the war effort or end the conflict. Despite their passing this on to the grand ayatollah, Khomeini still opted for total war. However, barely a month later, on July 14—eleven days after the downing of the Iranian airliner—Khomeini decided to end the war.[28] Yet rather than being impelled by the civilian disaster, this decision was based on a letter Khomeini had received from Rezaei in which the Revolutionary Guards commander confessed there would be no victory in the next five years unless almost unlimited resources were to be directed to the IRGC and the military and unless Tehran developed a nuclear bomb and managed to force the United States to leave the Persian Gulf.[29] Since none of these options seemed realistic, Khomeini chose to drink from the poisoned chalice and end the war with Iraq. Thus, the IRGC had the final say in both continuation of the war after 1982 and its end in 1988.

Conclusions

Iranian archives remain closed to scholars, and few individuals involved in the shaping or execution of Tehran’s policies are willing to risk their lives giving interviews. Outside of Western intelligence experts with access to classified documents, there is little that academics or nongovernment analysts can rely on for accurate information. In spite of the lack of Persian source material, Crist’s Twilight War is among the best works we have.

What is most sobering is that twenty-four years after the end of the war with Iraq, the leadership of the Islamic Republic faces many of the same challenges seen during that conflict. The regime in Tehran combines an incredible degree of unpreparedness for conflict with the greatest degree of provocation against regional countries and great powers alike. Threats to annihilate Israel, rivalry with Sunni Arab states, systematic provocations against the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with its clandestine nuclear program, have left Tehran largely isolated and friendless in a dangerous world. The regime hopes to rally a fragmented nation around the flag by maintaining Iran in a permanent state of crisis, just as it did during the Iran-Iraq war. Yet in the midst of the crisis, political factions, in particular the Revolutionary Guards, sacrifice the welfare of the Iranian nation on the altar of their own narrow interests, following the exact path as in the 1980s.

In the meantime, the Iranian regime’s occasional offers of rapprochement, such as the much debated May 4, 2003 fax to the U.S. State Department,[30] carry little weight in reality. Civilian leaders may have sounded out Washington at a time when the U.S. military surrounded Iran, but were the officers of the Revolutionary Guards on the same page? Even if they were, would Tehran have honored its obligations once the vulnerabilities of the U.S. positions in Afghanistan and Iraq had become apparent? On the whole, one cannot help but think that the fundamental obstacle between the two states is the nature of the regime in Tehran. Absent external enemies, how else can Iranian leaders legitimize their repression of internal opposition?

The balance between bellicosity and faux rapprochement is delicate. One day Tehran will cross the red lines of Washington and its allies thereby igniting a disastrous war, which is likely to prove another poisoned chalice waiting for Iranian leaders to drink.

Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

[1] Random House, 2005.
[2] Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
[3] New York, Penguin, 2012.
[4]Aghaz-e Jang-e Tahmili-ye Eragh Alayh-e Iran Va Hafteh-ye Defa’-e Moghaddas,” Markaz-e Asnad-e Enghelab-e Eslami website, Tehran, accessed Sept. 13, 2010.
[5] Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, CD-ROM, Tehran, vol. 13, p. 276.
[6] “Toward an International History of the Iran-Iraq War, 1980-1988: A Critical Oral History Workshop,” Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Washington, D.C., July 19, 2004; David Crist, The Twilight War: The Secret History of America’s Thirty-Years Conflict with Iran (New York: Penguin, 2012), p. 87.
[7] Crist, The Twilight War, p. 87.
[8] Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Emam Khomeini, Majmou-eh-ye Asar-e Yadegar-e Emam—Hojjat al-Eslam va Al-Moslemin Hajj Seyyed Ahmad Khomeini (N.P., 1996), p. 715.
[9] Abol-Hassan Bani-Sadr, Nameh-ha Az Agha-ye Bani-Sadr Be Agha-ye Khomeini va Digaran (Frankfurt Am Main: Enghelab-e Eslami Zeitung, 2006), p. 55.
[10] Ibid., p. 156.
[11] See Khomeini’s Dec. 17, 1979 interview quoted in Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 11, p. 290; idem, Dec. 19, 1979 interview quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 11, p. 336; idem, Jan. 5, 1980 interview with Time quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 12, p. 37; idem, Mar. 21, 1980 new year address quoted in Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 12, p. 202.
[12] Crist, The Twilight War, p. 89.
[13] Sadeq Zibakalam and Fereshteh Sadat Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush (Tehran: Rowzaneh, 2008), p. 277.
[14] Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Eslami, Gozari Bar Do Sal Jang (N.P.: Daftar-e Siasi-ye Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enghelab-e Eslami, n.d.), p. 21.
[15] Crist, The Twilight War, p. 94.
[16] Khomeini, Majmou-eh-ye Asar-e Yadegar-e Emam, pp. 716-17. The same claim was also made in the memoirs of Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khaterat-e Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri (Los Angeles: Ketab Corp., 2001), p. 330.
[17] Fatemeh Hashemi, ed., Pas Az Bohran. Karnameh va Khaterat-e Hashemi Rafsanjani Sal-e 61, (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr-e Ma’aref-e Enghelab, 2000), pp. 40, 137.
[18] Zibakalam and Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush, pp. 285-6.
[19] Hashemi, Pas Az Bohran. Karnameh, pp. 68-9.
[20] Zibakalam and Sadat Ettefaghfar, Hashemi Bedoun-e Routoush, p. 286.
[21] Mohsen Rezaei Mir-Qaed, Jang Be Revayat-e Farmandeh, Pezhman Pourjabbari, ed. (Tehran: Bonyad-e Hefz-e Asar va Nashr-e Arzesh-ha-ye Defae-e Moqaddas, 2012), pp. 140-1.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid., p. 42.
[24] Crist, The Twilight War, pp. 370-1.
[25] Moassesseh-ye Tanzim Va Nashr-e Asar-e Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, Sahifeh-ye Hazrat-e Emam Khomeini, vol. 21, p. 95.
[26] Rezaei, Jang Be Revayat-e Farmandeh, p. 289.
[27] Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Payan-e Defae—Aghaz-e Bazsazi, Ali-Reza Hashemi, ed. (Tehran: Daftar-e Nashr-e Maaref-e Enqelab, 2012), p. 163.
[28] Ibid., pp. 171-2, 210.
[29] Hossein-Ali Montazeri, Khaterat-e Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri, pp. 571-2.
[30] Crist, The Twilight War, p. 476.

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Of Dissemblers And Dismemberers

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The maliciously mocking, malevolent, maladroit, misfit, malappropriating the White House got his comeuppance this week … at least for a while.  Senator Elizabeth Warren released her DNA test results conducted by noted Stanford University expert Professor Carlos D. Bustamente.  The results prove a Native American ancestor six to ten generations ago, supporting her claim that her great-great-great grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith was at least partly Native American.

Donald Trump who mocks her as ‘Pocahontas’ had this summer upped the ante by his offer to pay $1 million to a charity of the Senator’s choice if she took a DNA test.  She has, and she has named the charity, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, which protects Native American women from violence, including sexual violence.  The onus is now on Mr. Trump to make good his word.

Of course he is not going to.  Somewhat lacking in grace, Mr. Trump says he will pay the $1 million only if he can test her personally.  Later, he also disavowed the offer.  And so it goes on … vintage Trump.  Suppliers to his businesses also had great difficulty getting paid.

By the way, he did say when he made the offer that he would toss the  DNA kit to her gently as it is the #MeToo generation, etc.  But most people would consider that to be theatrics, not literal.  Perhaps Senator Warren ought not to have bothered … it is almost impossible to win a facts contest against the dissembler-in-chief.

Remember the birther movement when Mr. Trump insisted President Obama was not born in Hawaii or anywhere in the U.S., thus ineligible for the presidency.  When proven wrong, he did a quick turnaround, blaming Hillary Clinton falsely for starting the whole birth issue.

There should have been more serious issues occupying President Trump.  Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and journalist posting a monthly column for the Washington Post, disappeared after he went into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to sign some divorce papers.  He expected to be about ten minutes according to his Turkish fiancee waiting outside.  He never reappeared.

Imagine a country in the 21st century, an absolute monarchy, and a de facto ruler so thin-skinned that he has a critic silenced, not by wit or sophistication, but by turning a consulate into an abattoir.  The chief butcher, a forensics man holding a senior position in the country’s Interior Ministry slaps on earphones to listen to music and advises the onlookers to do likewise while he dismembers the body.  The hapless Khashoggi first had his fingers cut off while alive, presumably as symbolism for his writing.

The remains were then stuffed into diplomatic bags immune to customs inspection, and the 15-man hit squad flew home in their private jet.  The latter acquired from an airline shut down earlier.  Or, did they bury their gruesome opus in a forest outside Istanbul?  Forensic technicians are searching.

How did the Turks piece up the story.  They have a tape recording, presumably because they had the place bugged — a 20th century practice the hit squads’ master never suspected.  Perhaps it is what happens when the methods are medieval.

The world is revulsed and nauseated.

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The future of Russia- Mexico Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Mexico has impressive bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. During the last decade, Mexico has been exploring new opportunities with its partners in this part of Europe, in particular, with Russia. In this interview, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mexico to the Russian Federation, H.E. Norma Pensado Moreno, talks about the key priorities, challenges and the economic changes that could possibly influence future bilateral directions of Mexico-Russia.

What are your Government’s priorities in and expectations from the Russian Federation?

Mexico´s Government issued new objectives of foreign policy; one of them is building stronger relations with our partners beyond North America. In this endeavor, Eastern Europe plays a key role. Moreover, due to its dynamism during the last decade, Mexico has a special interest in exploring new cooperation opportunities with its partners in this part of Europe, in particular with Russia.

For Mexico and the Russian Federation, there is great potential in their bilateral relationship. In 2017 and 2018, considerable progress was made in its political dialogue and cooperation in various areas, but a real deepening still remains, mainly in the economic field, in order to match the size of its economies, being both among the 15 biggest in the world.

Both countries are of decisive importance in their respective regions. Within the group of Latin American countries, Mexico occupies an important place for Russia’s foreign policy agenda. For Mexico, Russia is a country with high political, scientific, cultural, energy, tourist, investment and commercial potential.

The bilateral dialogue between the two countries has focused on the Mechanism of Political Consultations, official reciprocal visits, exchange and cooperation (educational, cultural, scientific and technical), energy, economy, trade and tourism. Mexico and Russia agree on positions in many International Forums and on principles such as the promotion of multilateralism. In this context, they have prioritized the issues of international security, the pacific use of cosmic space, the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime.

The bilateral relationship is in a very good dynamic, due to the presidential meetings in BRICS and APEC summits, as well as the meetings of foreign ministers, in August and November of 2017. The celebration of the V Joint Commission of Cooperation in Culture, Education and Sports took place last February after many years, and the VI Economic Commission Mexico-Russia is expected to take place during 2019.

In short, our Government priorities and expectations are to continue and deepen the cooperation Mexico and the Russian Federation have both in our bilateral relationship in all areas and in the multilateral agenda, as well as to exploring new cooperation in areas such as energy and telecommunications, in which Russia has strengths.

Do you have the same business agenda in other ex-Soviet republics where you are accredited?

I am also accredited as Ambassador to Armenia and Belarus. Overall, Mexico’s business agenda is similar in the three countries. We want to expand trade, promote investments and connect our business community to their counterparts in these countries through the organization of business missions and participation in commercial promotional events. It is also a common goal in the three countries to promote Mexico as a tourist destination.

However, we have also set specific goals based on the prospects identified in each country. Russia is a big country and it represents a wide scope of opportunities. In the case of our Armenian counterparts, we have talked about the many opportunities in the IT and renewable energies sectors. As for Belarus, we are aware of its potential in the production of tractors and agriculture machines as well as in its new industrial technologies. We need to do some work to translate this flow of information into real opportunities that can be explored by our business communities.

Could you please discuss the level of Russia’s economic engagement in Mexico? Is your Government satisfied with Russia’s investment interest as compared to, most probably, other foreign players in Mexico?

Both Russia and Mexico are conscious that there is significant room to grow in our bilateral economic relations given the size of our economies and the possibilities of complementarity. We want to increase economic exchanges and investments.

That said, I want to highlight that Russia has made significant steps regarding its economic engagement in Mexico. It is Mexico’s most important investment partner among Eastern European countries, with a total investment of $20.9 million between 1999 and 2017. There are Russian investments in more than 80 Mexican companies, in fields such as transportation, hotels, and mining.

In June 2017, as a result of Mexico’s public tender process in its oil industry, Lukoil was awarded an exploration and extraction contract in the Gulf of Mexico. In March 2018, the company announced that, in consortium with the Italian company Eni, it had been awarded another contract. This consolidates its presence in Mexico since it started to cooperate with Pemex in 2014.

Last year Minister of Trade and Industry visited Mexico heading a business delegation in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, equipment and energy. And this October, the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry also went to Mexico with a delegation of companies in the construction sector. I can thus say that we see a positive trend in Russia’s engagement in Mexico and we hope it will remain.

On the other hand, how does Mexico engage Russia? How do you view the possibility of effective trade exchanges between the two countries?

Mexican investment in Russia is also growing. In 2017 Gruma, one of the biggest producers of tortillas and other agro products opened a plant in the Moscow region with an investment of $50 million. Other companies with presence in the country are Kidzania –with an entertainment center in the Moscow region- and Nemak –with a manufacturing center for automotive components in Zavolzhie, near Ulyanovsk. Also, the Mexican air company Interjet has acquired several Russian-developed units, the Sukhoi SuperJet-100.

In addition, different Mexican governmental agencies have been encouraging Mexican producers from the agricultural sector to explore opportunities in the Russian market. As a result, representatives from more than twenty companies have visited Russia in the last four months to get acquainted with potential partners. We had a big delegation in Moscow last June, within the framework of the FIFA World Cup, and the second one in mid-September, which attended the World Food fair in Moscow.

Therefore, I can confidently say that there is keen interest from the Mexican side to strengthen its economic ties with Russia. Our goal is to translate all these steps into a substantial growth in trade exchanges.

How is Mexico’s tourism business developing in Russia? Are the number of Russian tourists increasing compared to the previous years? What strategies have you adopted to further popularize your country’s recreational destinations?

One of the main priorities of the Government of Mexico is tourism. Thanks to the efforts of our government in this area, in 2017 Mexico ranked sixth in the world in reception of foreign tourists, according to the World Tourism Organization, with almost 40 million visitors (39.3 million). Out of this amount, only 37,300 Russian visitors entered Mexico by airplane (an increase of 21.5% in comparison to 2016); it means less than 0.1% of all the tourists we received last year; even if it is increasing, it does not correspond to the importance of Russia in the world.

We strive for having again the numbers we had in 2013 when almost 108,000 Russians visited Mexico. The good news is that in the first 8 months of 2018, Mexico received more Russian visitors than in the whole 2017. If this trend continues we will receive more than 50,000 Russian tourists at the end of the year -something not seen since 2014-, it means almost 65% more than two years ago.

For the coming years, we are confident that the number of Russians who will visit Mexico will continue increasing thanks to the actions implemented by the Government of Mexico to popularize my country in Russia, among them:

1) the organization or participation in events aimed at the main Russian tour operators; 2) the participation in tourism exhibitions in Russia;

3) the publication of brochures or information in Russian language including the version in this language of the Website of our Tourism Office, which will be in force in the next weeks.

In this framework, a key role play the recent visit to Russia of more than 45,000 Mexican football fans to attend the World Cup who brought with them our “Fiesta”, something that Russians liked very much and has motivated them to visit Mexico in the near future.

What are views about economic changes in Russia and the Eurasian region? And how would the changes possibly influence future directions in economic cooperation in Mexico?

We closely follow the economic developments in Russia, Armenia, and Belarus, including the regional integration efforts within the Eurasian Economic Union. We are aware of the challenges the countries are facing, but also of the opportunities that are being open. We want to focus on the opportunities. As I mentioned before, the interest in deepening economic relations is mutual and is growing. We will carry on with the work that has been done in the last years.

In the case of Russia, we have still to agree on a date for the next meeting of the Economic Intergovernmental Commission, which will be key to strengthen our cooperation framework. Experts from the two countries are engaged in processes that we hope will lead to the reopening of the Russian market for Mexican beef and seafood products. The trends are very positive, and we can remain optimistic in that regard.

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Venezuelan refugee crisis and how it is altering the surrounding regions

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Venezuela’s migration crisis has been in the news lately and recent UN polls show that nearly 2.3 million have already migrated from their homeland over the past few years. However, other estimates show a figure closer to four million Venezuelan immigrants.

This crisis is rapidly sinking its claws in the neighbouring countries and if the amount of people migrating keeps increasing, it might become the worst man-made disasters since the First and Second World Wars after the Syrian refugee crisis. The Syrian crisis gave birth to more than six million refugees, and although the number here is still around half of that toll, the Venezuelan crisis doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. The inflation over there is nearly a million percent – a number so absurd that the common people around the world are not able to even grasp the sheer magnitude of the situations developing every day in this country. The minimum monthly wage is a few American dollars, putting essentials like food – particularly rations like chicken – into the category of luxurious items. The economy has shrunk by half in five years. To explain the extent of this downfall, Girish Gupta – founder of Data Drum and former investigative, multimedia journalist in Venezuela/LatAm – tweeted: If you’d bought a million dollars in Venezuela’s local currency when President Nicolás Maduro came to power in 2013, it’d now be worth $3.40. Diseases that were once overcome – like measles and diphtheria – are making a comeback. Infant mortality rates are going up while approximately 1.3 million refugees who have already escaped Venezuela were suffering from malnourishment (according to UN officials).

However, these are not the last of the Venezuelans’ problems; the nations to whom the refugees sought to escape to are closing their doors on their faces – literally. Sunday saw Ecuador closing border crossings with Colombia to people who don’t have passports. This was seen as a certain way to reduce the bulk of refugees from entering other countries as passports are fairly difficult to obtain amidst the economical and political chaos. Jonnayker Lien, a migrant standing outside the Peruvian border with his entire family said, “Imagine people like us who have sold everything, down to our beds, to come here, and they close the door on us. We don’t know where to sleep, and we don’t have money to go back.” Crisis broke out in the town of Pacaraima, north Brazil, after local throngs started struggling against the refugees and pushed them back to the border. Already a penurious town, the locals resent sharing their remaining resources with these migrants. However, even a strong military force could not stop these migrants from coming into Brazil. Peru had twenty thousand migrants arriving in the past week.

An emergency regional summit has been called by officials from Ecuador where Venezuela and its neighbours could deal with the crisis. Yukiko Iriyama, a representative in Colombia for the U.N. refugee agency said, “The capacity of the region is overwhelmed. The magnitude of the situation really requires a regional comprehensive approach.” The recently implemented passport checks by Peru and Ecuador aimed to reduce the flow of refugees into the countries. However, all it did was reduce the legal way of entering into these nations and increased the illegal border crossings.  To deal with this disaster and the refugee predicament, representatives from Colombia, Ecuador and Peru will meet in Bogota next week. Christian Kruger, the head of Colombia’s migration authoritysaid in a statement, “The exodus of Venezuelan citizens is not a problem exclusive to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador or a single country. This is a regional problem and as such we must address it. Demanding passports from a nation that does not have them and whose government does not facilitate the issuance of this document is to encourage irregularity.” Peru is also calling a meeting at an individual level of the permanent council of the Organization of American States to discuss the migration.

The toll of migrants entering Colombia is around a million in fifteen months but nations like Chile, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru are also receiving these refugees. Low skilled Venezuelans have flooded some Latin American job markets to find work and send money back home. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo that he will set up a UN team that will respond to the crisis. UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Guterres “told him that he would put together an internal coordination mechanism to make sure that the UN regional response is well coordinated.” “This is something that is not uncommon in these types of crises,” he added. Dany Bahar of the Brookings Institution suggested declaring this as a refugee crisis in order to seek help, saying, “It is up to the United Nations, together with the Organization of American States, to step up and recognize this problem as a refugee crisis so that the world can turn the proper attention to it and provide solutions.” He also added that none of the nations in the regionhave taken the initiative to provide a sustainable solution to the problem.

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