A report by respected Washington DC based journalist Hussein Abdul Hussein in the Kuwaiti al-Rai newspaper this week revealed details of an indirect US channel with Hizballah.
The report comes, of course, close on the heels of the interim agreement concluded between the P5 + 1 and Iran allowing the latter to continue to enrich uranium.
News items are also surfacing suggesting a stark split between the US and Saudi Arabia over regional policy in general and policy toward Syria in particular. Saudi officials are going on the record expressing their alarm at the direction of American policy. Happily stirring the pot, some Iran-associated outlets have suggested that Washington is actively seeking to rein back Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who favors a hard line against Iranian interference in the region.
Meanwhile, agreement has now been reached over the long postponed ‘Geneva 2’ conference to discuss the war in Syria. The conference will go ahead because US-backed Syrian opposition representatives abandoned their demand that President Assad could have no part in any transitional phase of government in the country.
What does all this add up to? There are an increasing number of voices who perceive a shape behind all these details: namely, an effort by the current US Administration to turn the Iranian regime from an adversary into a partner. The method: acceding in part or whole to key Iranian demands.
Let’s take a look at each item in more detail.
The usually reliable Hussein Abdul Hussein’s report details the mechanism by which the US is speaking to Hizballah, in spite of that organization being a US-designated terrorist group. British diplomats are the ones who do the talking. The channel of communication between UK officials and the ‘political wing’ of the movement was recently revived, in tune with the improving relations between London and Teheran. It is now serving to transfer messages between Washington and Teheran.
An un-named diplomatic source quoted by Abdul Hussein explained that this dialogue is ‘designed to keep pace with the changes in the region and the world, and the potential return of Iran to the international community.’ The official went on to explain that because the US does not concur with the (British, entirely fictitious) division of Hizballah into ‘political’ and ‘military’ wings, direct dialogue is currently not possible.
The report goes on to outline moments in recent months when the US has found itself on the ‘same page’ as Hizballah. One of these, very notably, was the occasion in June when the Lebanese Army, together with Hizballah fighters, fought against the partisans of the pro al-Qaeda Salafi preacher Ahmed al-Assir in the Lebanese town of Sidon. The US backed the army, without reference to the key role played by Hizballah fighters in the action, which resulted in al-Assir’s defeat.
The other was the US condemnation of the recent al-Qaeda linked bombing at the Iranian embassy in Beirut. The condemnation, well noted in Lebanon, did not contain any reference to the presence of Iranian and Hizballah fighters in Syria.
Thus far the Abdul Hussein report. It tells us that the US ‘outreach’ to Iran is not on the nuclear file alone. Rather, even before any comprehensive agreement is reached, Washington appears to have begun to dismantle the carefully assembled diplomatic structure seeking to contain Iranian regional ambitions.
Even Teheran’s proxy Hizballah, which killed 241 US Marines in Beirut in 1983, is evidently now a fit subject for communication, as part of Iran’s return to the ‘international community.’
Reports suggesting US reining in of Bandar are somewhat less reliable, coming as they do from pro-Iran and pro-Hizballah media outlets (al-Manar and the Revolutionary Guards associated Fars News Agency). But certainly the deep Saudi frustrations with the direction of US policy are not an invention of pro-Iran propagandists.
Nawaf Obeid, a senior adviser to the Saudi royal family, this week accused Washington of deceiving Riyadh over the Iran nuclear deal. ‘We were lied to, things were hidden from us,’ Obeid told an audience in London, as quoted in the Daily Telegraph.
He went on to vow continued Saudi resistance to Iranian machinations across the region. In particular, he expressed Saudi determination to turn back the Iranians in Syria. ‘We cannot accept Revolutionary Guards running around Homs,’ the adviser said.
But this defiant tone appears in stark contrast to the developing US position. The Geneva 2 conference is now scheduled to take place on January 22nd. It is a US-sponsored affair. It is not yet clear if Iran itself will be there.
But what is clear is that the conference will take place entirely according to the agenda of the Assad regime and its backers. That is – the US backed Syrian National Coalition will directly face the regime, while the regime now flatly rejects any notion of its stepping down.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, humming with the old Ba’athist rhetoric, the Syrian foreign ministry said that ‘The official Syrian delegation is not going to Geneva to surrender power… The age of colonialism, with the installation and toppling of governments, is over. They must wake from their dreams.’
The armed rebels will not be sending representatives to the conference. They, financed and armed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have formed a new ‘Islamic Front’ which is battling the regime around Damascus, in Aleppo, and in the border region of Qalamun this week. The military advantage continues to ebb and flow.
But the stark contrast between the US-led diplomacy and the events on the ground is another clear reminder of the extent to which Washington’s position has moved away from confrontation, away from Riyadh – and toward Teheran.
Assad has revived his fortunes in the course of 2013 mainly because of the massive Iranian assistance he has received. Washington, which officially backs the opposition, appears to be sponsoring a conference which will crown this achievement.
So is the US in fact changing sides in the contest between Iran and those regional forces seeking to contain and turn back its advance?
Michael Doran of the Brookings Institute, suggested this week that Washington is in the first phase of seeking a ‘strategic partnership’ with Iran, an ‘entente cordiale’ which would see a US-Iranian alliance forming a lynchpin of regional stability.
If this is indeed what the welter of evidence detailed above portends, then the Middle East is headed into a dangerous period indeed. As Doran also notes, there is no reason at all to think that Iranian designs for regional hegemony have been abandoned.
The effect of US overtures to Teheran and undermining of allies will be to build the Iranians’ appetite. This will serve to intensify their continued efforts at expansion. The corresponding efforts by other regional powers, Israel and Saudi Arabia chief among them, to resist this process will also increase. That, in turn, is likely to mean greater instability across the region. An eventual direct collision could result.
Future of BRICS: BRAXIT or ‘Power Next’?
The club of emerging political and economic powers of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa in response to new global challenges is famously known as BRICS. Since its inception in 2006, it has been a platform to highlight the prominence of multi-polar world order challenging the collision of G-7 members. These five countries account for 20 percent of world GDP and 40% of the world population. Further, they hold 40 percent of gold and hard currency reserves. Being collectively the largest market, their cumulative GDP has tripled in the last ten years.
With the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro on 28th October 2018, many are skeptical about the future of the BRICS as he comes from the far-rightwing camp which seems to be antagonistic to the BRICS. Brazil is the most populous nation in South America with the world’s eighth-largest economy of the world. Bolsonaro wants Brazil to be great as Trump wants America to be great. Even during Bolsonaro’s campaign period, he has reiterated that his foreign policy would be changed from his precursor. Further, he is a follower of conservative Christianity who profoundly believes in restoring Judeo-Christian tradition against communism.
With this scenario, the future of BRICS has been subjected to controversial as to Jair Bolsonaro would lead Brazil to exit the BRICS moving towards the pro-western camp. Another argues that this collision would last long due to their close trade relations.
The Origin of BRICS
In 2001 the term BRIC was firstly coined by Jim O’Neill, a British economist in a paper written for ‘Global Economic Paper’ of Goldman Sachs using the acronym stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China. The first summit was held in 2009 at Yekaterinburg, Russia emphasizing the need of reformations to be made to the international financial institutions. In 2011, South Africa became a member of this group at the third Summit held at Sanaya, China making BRIC into BRICS. The primary purpose of BRICS is to broaden the cooperation among members and enhances the support for multipolar world order. It is mainly an indication of the movement of world power from the west to the South. Since the inception BRICS conducts its annual summit of heads of the states to youth forums though the members don’t have their own permanent executive body or a secretariat.
Functions of BRICS
Two main functions of the BRICS are, to 1) liaise with meetings and international organizations such as IMF and G-20 Grouping and to 2) design a framework for BRICS members for multi-sectoral cooperation. Today it covers more than 30 sectors including agriculture, science and technology, culture, outer space, think tanks, Internet governance and security, social welfare, intellectual property, health, and tourism. The forum called BRICS Business Council promotes and strengthens business, trade and investment ties amongst the business communities of the members. Think Tank Council formulates long term economic strategies of the members.
Further initiatives have been made for establishing New Development Bank (NDB) to finance the infrastructure projects in emerging economies and developing countries and also for entering into Contingent Reserves Arrangement (CRA) to promote mutual support among the members in situations of instability in the balance of payments. Demands have also been made to reformulate the IMF but, they were not yet successive because of the resistance caused by the Western power. Moreover, the BRICS are open to cooperation and constructive engagement with other countries, as well as open with international and regional organizations in dealing with current global issues.
Despite this, one of the vital political demands that the BRICS has made to the United Nations Organization is to expand the number of members of the Security Council covering the BRICS members and making decisions of the UNO more democratic and accountable. This shows the importance of BRICS to balance the prevailing world order and also to voice for the global south in international relations.
However, as it is mentioned the foreign
policy of Bolsonaro is opposite to the leftist approach which was a blessing to
accelerate the activities of BRICS. It is more similar to the protectionist
approach followed by the US President, Trump. Once, Bolsonaro said at a press
conference as “It is about aiming for a great Brazil like that – the way Trump
wants America to be great”. This approach is contrary to the joint statement
made at the 2nd summit of the heads of the states held at Brazil
where the members pledged to resist all forms of protectionism and fight
disguised restrictions on trade. Further, criticisms made concerning
multilateralism and pulling out Brazil from Global Compact for Migration also
support Bolsonaro’s protectionist approach. With respect to the crisis in
Venezuela, Bolsonaro supporting the USA rejects Nicolas Maduro as the duly
elected President, while all other BRICS members accept Maduro as
democratically elected president.
Moreover, distant relations between China and Brazil also a reason to make BRICS in a more controversial position. With the Xi Jinping’s rise in China from 2013, China took the leadership of the BRICS group and proposals were made at the Fortaleza Summit in 2014 to establish NDB to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies, as well as in developing countries. However, Bolsonaro’s far right and anti-communist ideology is contrary to fundamental policies of China. His early visit to Taiwan and South Korea and China’s reaction on his visit has greatly influenced on assuming Bolsonaro would choose between BRICS and OECD members.
Nonetheless, since 2009 China is the top trading partner of Brazil and on the other hand export of soy to China from Brazil is as crucial as the arrival of Chinese investment into Brazil. According to a recent study carried by the Started Charted Bank, China will become the largest economy of the world in 2020. Hence, though there is much ideological dissimilarity, both the countries are dependent on each other concerning their trade relations.
If Bolsonaro is more driven by his far-right ideology than by pragmatism, he will not deal closely with the BRICS members. However, it is difficult to assume that he will abandon this BRICS group as Brazil is highly dependent on Chinese imports. It would be challenging for him to dramatically shift in his trade relations having with China and also with Russia. More importantly, in the middle of this year, it is Brazil’s turn to host the BRICS summit of 2019. Though there are no valid reasons for BRAXIT, i.e. for Brazil to exit from BRICS, Brazil would not be an active player in BRICS making BRICS into the most powerful allies of the South as it happened during LuizInácio Lula da Silva’s tenure. Skepticism arose even when Narendra Modi appointed as Prime-Minister in India coming from the far right wing that how BRICS is going to maintain cooperation among members with the rivalry between India and Russia. Further, Brazil was not prominent in BRICS during his predecessors Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer’s period. Conversely, it’s not only stance of Brazil has been changed even China doesn’t seem to be willing to invest much on the BRICS as in the past. As Lord Palmerston once stated, “in international relations, there is no eternal allies and no perpetual enemies. Only the interests are eternal and perpetual”. Hence, BRAXIT seems to be far away than we assume.
Sanders will criticize Trump
Of course, during the upcoming presidential elections in the United States, there will be a lot of criticism from the White House and the U.S. president. This is a matter of great concern to Donald Trump. On the other hand, Democratic Party elections will begin shortly. The common point of all candidates for this election is criticism of Trump’s policies.
Bernie Sanders, the old American senator, and one of Democratic nominees for the 2020 presidential election, continues to oppose U.S. President Donald Trump. This confrontation started at the time Trump entered the White House (by early 2017). Sanders called for an end to Washington’s support for Riyadh in the Yemeni war. Sanders also condemned Trump’s stance on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. At any rate, Sanders’s recent position against Trump has led to the U.S. President’s concerns.
Sen. Bernie Sanders says it would be an “impeachable offense” if President Trump were to fire Robert Mueller the special counsel leading the federal probe into ties between Trump campaign associates and Russia.
“I’ve been very reluctant to talk about impeachment until we have all the information coming in from the investigation. But that would be a major, major, major obstruction of justice. That would be an impeachable offense in my view,” Sanders said in an interview for The Intercept’s newly launched podcast “Deconstructed” released Friday.
In his tweet, Sanders was referring Jeff Sessions, Trump’s Justice Minister, and his forced resignation. Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing him with a loyalist who has echoed the president’s complaints about the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election interference and will now take charge of the inquiry.
Among all Democrat candidates, Sanders has a lot of motivation to challenge the trump!The fact is, according to polls conducted in 2016, Sanders had a much greater chance of winning the U.S. presidential elections. Many Democratic voters believed that Sanders could have an important role in regulating power in America as a symbol of change in the United States. Although such an idea was wrong due to the political structure in the U.S., it was, however, strongly accepted by some Democrat supporters.
On the other hand, Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate who was supported by her husband, Bill Clinton, and many influential figures in the party, managed to defeat Sanders with her secret lobbies, and went to fight Trump as Democrats’ final candidate. Anyhow, if Sanders were to reach the final round of the 2016 presidential competitions, he could have defeated Trump and enter the White House. Sanders, however, was the victim of Democrat leaders and Hillary Clinton’s secret lobbies. It was not without a reason that many Sanders advocates voted for Hillary Clinton’s rival, Donald Trump!
Ultimately, the tensions between Trump and Sanders in the U.S. presidential election of 2020 will be of great interest to many Americans. If the Sanders win in the Democratic Party, this conflict will become more intense and more serious. A topic that the president of the United States and his entourage are scared of.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
The collapse of American empire is a warning to Europe
The wars in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and threats and violence against Latin America, and imposition of sanctions on various nations, all can deface the United States and its unpopular policy in the international community, set to protect U.S. financial institutions.
Although the U.S. empire has already begun to crumble, U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy has sped the process. The wrong policy of the U.S. administrations has brought the nations to stand against the U.S. led-world order.
The U.S. has turned into the biggest threat to world peace with its duel policies, violence in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and support for Saudi Arabia and Israel. Obviously, the “regime change” in Venezuela, on the pretext of democracy, is nothing but a cover-up in the U.S. policy to seize Venezuela’s oil reserves.
American democracy means supporting U.S. foreign policy, privatization of public infrastructure, non-compliance with domestic laws and compliance with U.S.-dominated global institutions. Decades of war and U.S. military intervention, have brought nothing but violence, killing, and destruction on planet earth.
To the U.S., a country is considered democratic that follows its leadership such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, otherwise, that country is non-democratic and a foe. This policy is challenged by states like Iran, Russia, China, Venezuela and others which don’t bow down to Washington’s policy and seek to defend their own national interest.
Any international control system requires the rule of law to mediate in the world challenges. However, U.S. diplomacy contradicts international law. The American diplomats claim their better judgment on the world allows other nations to adopt a more prosperous lifestyle, and they don’t allow the intervention of international laws in the U.S. policy and diplomatic system.
The U.S. has the “power of veto” in the United Nations that enables Washington to prevent the adoption of any “substantive” resolution. In the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), they can easily veto any policy or loan. Without such powers, no international organization will join the United States.
Without having the power of veto, the U.S. doesn’t recognize the verdict of and authorities in the international court of Justice. If sentences issued by The Hague Court oppose the U.S. policy, they will be considered inadmissible to the U.S. For example, the verdicts issued on U.S. war crimes in Iran and Afghanistan, human rights abuse, and illegal sanctions are not recognized by Washington.
In September of last year, Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, a hawkish politician, strongly criticized the International Criminal Court and said, “The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court.”
Senior judge Christoph Flugge from Germany resigned from one of the UN’s international courts in The Hague in objection to the U.S. that had threatened judges after moves were made to examine the conduct of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Bolton vowed that the United States would retaliate by banning ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the U.S., imposing sanctions on any funds they had in the States and prosecuting them in the American court system. “If the court comes after us, Israel, or other U.S. allies we will not sit quietly,” he said, also threatening to impose the same sanctions on any country that aided the investigation. Bolton held a speech last September in which he wished death on the international criminal court. “We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead.”
The central banks of states have long maintained their gold and other monetary reserves in the U.S. and UK. Perhaps the approach seemed logical in 1945; however, the U.S. and UK orchestrated 1953 coup d’état against Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s prime minister, who nationalized Iran’s oil, and the Iranian revolution of 1979 which led to overthrow of the Shah, the American courts blocked Iran’s assets in the U.S. The movements showed that the IMF is an arm of the U.S. Department of State and the Pentagon. In today’s global politics, international finance and foreign investment have become leverage against nations who won’t bow down to U..S policies.
Lately, foreign countries are apprehensive about their gold holdings in the U.S. They know full well that their assets can be blocked unilaterally by the U.S. if Washington’s interests are threatened. That is why in 2017, Germany decided to repatriate half of its gold reserves from the U.S. The U.S. authorities have considered the act an insult to their own civilized state.
Now, it’s Venezuela’s turn. The country called on the Bank of England to return $1.2 billion of its reserved gold to repair the economy, which has been hurting by the American sanctions.
The Bank of England, however, froze Venezuelan gold asset following Mike Pompeo United States Secretary of State and Bolton’s instruction. Bloomberg wrote that the U.S. handed control of Venezuela’s bank accounts in the U.S. to the opposition leader Juan Guaido to have a better chance to control the self-claimed government.
In late January, a rumor broke out that a Russian Boeing 777 that had landed in Caracas to spirit away 20 tons of gold from the vaults of the country’s central bank, amounting to $840 million in return for food and medicine. Although Moscow rejected the report, the Nicolás Maduro government has the right to purchase food for the Venezuelans who are under brutal U.S. sanctions by the country’s gold reserve. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio called the act “stealing money” as if Maduro is a criminal for trying to reduce the pressure of U.S. unfair sanctions against his people.
The European countries, too, have to abide by the U.S. policy, otherwise, they will be threatened to sanctions. For instance, if the European Union wishes to remain committed to the Iran deal, it will have to surrender to the U.S. pressure and sanctions. European states have realized that Bolton and Pompeo’s threats can lead to confiscation of their assets by the U.S.
The U.S. threats are not merely military but a cyber-attack is a way of
confronting an enemy and crashing its economy. The main cyber money transfer is
led by Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT)
which is based in Belgium. Some countries are developing an alternative money
transfer system to protect themselves against U.S. threats.
In late January, Germany, France, and England launched INSTEX, a trade tool to counter U.S. sanctions in support of trade with Iran and other countries. Although for Iran, INSTEX is nothing but a similar U.S. humanitarian aid to Venezuela, for Europe it may be a way out of U.S. opposition to transporting Russian gas from Nord Stream to the European continent.
The U.S. energy official warned European official of the risk posed by
relying too heavily on Russia’s cheap gas and offered plans to sell America’s
liquid natural gas (LNG) at a higher price to Europe through ports, which don’t
exist for high volume yet. Trump stresses The North Atlantic Treaty
Organization (NATO) members spend two percent of its gross domestic product (GDP)
on weapons, preferably from the U.S. and not German or French.
It seems the IMF is administered from the Pentagon in Washington. Undoubtedly, Europe is aware of losing its international financial ties.
At the funeral of George H. W. Bush, EU diplomats were at the bottom of the list of candidates to sit in their seats; the United States no longer considers the European Union as a credible entity.
In December, Mike Pompeo delivered a speech on Europe in Brussels, in which he admired the virtues of nationalism, criticized multilateralism and the European Union, and said that “international institutions” that dominated national sovereignty “must be corrected or deleted.
On Twitter, Pompeo says with a mockery: “Europe was an enemy of Europe.
But it was Germany in World Wars 1 and 2. How did that work out for France?
They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for
NATO or not!”
The idea of creating a European army has been discussed in the European Union. The initial offer was from Germany, and then Macron in the commemoration of the centennial of the end of the First World War in France.
Sigmar Gabriel, former foreign minister of Germany, said in February 2018 at the Foreign Policy Forum in Berlin “that it’s time for Germany and Europe to put their agenda on the agenda because the United States no longer sees the world as a global community or shared interests.
French President Charles de Gaulle long ago believed that no nation could be considered an independent state and ordered the withdrawal of France from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1996.
Europe is at risk and knows it too, but it doesn’t have many options ahead. It has to choose either to use the historic opportunity to gain political, and economic independence, or give in to U.S. policy while it awaits the fall of U.S. which will jeopardize its economic and political future.
First published in our partner Tehran Times
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