[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] S [/yt_dropcap]ix years ago, USA successfully instigated a civil war in Syria by using its opposition in order to remove President Assad from power and now with Russia supporting the Assad regime, escalation has reached the zenith. They now seek de-escalation of crisis in Syria without any sincere intention even as there is no possibility for Assad to step down or removed in any way.
In fact, USA did not want to remove or kill Assad as it had done with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. It only wanted to destabilize entire Arab world one by one. While President Saddam Hussein was a threat to US imperialism and its efforts to control Arab oil, Libyan leader President M. Qaddafi challenged US power, Syrian leader Assad was never such a threat to US power and control mechanism. That is the prime reason why Pentagon-CIA duo has left Assad alive. After all, he is only helping with the execution of US agenda of destabilization of Mideast.
That is the reason why all the peace efforts by UN have failed.
The United Nations has now convened a new round of indirect Syrian peace talks in Geneva, despite President Bashar al-Assad dismissing them as irrelevant. De Mistura met the government’s chief representative, Bashar al-Jaafari, at UN headquarters on Tuesday morning as the sixth round of talks got under way.
The UN envoy said he would see Nasr al-Hariri and Mohammad Sabra of the main umbrella group representing political and armed opposition factions, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). De Mistura told reporters the intention was to be “more businesslike, both in our meetings and in the way we hope we can get some progress”. The rooms would be small, the meetings would be more interactive and frequent, and discussions would be focused on particular subjects in an effort to achieve “more movement”, he said.
De Mistura told played down last week’s dismissive comments by Syria’s president, who said the Geneva talks were “merely a meeting for the media” and praised the parallel process taking place in Kazakhstan’s capital that has been organised by the government’s allies Russia and Iran, along with key opposition backer Turkey.
As the civilian death toll has mounted over the past six years, President Bashar Assad has rejected all allegations of atrocities as “devoid of logic” because “the Syrian Army is made up of Syrian people.” When confronted with overwhelming evidence of systematic violations of the laws of war, he has stuck to this line, insisting: “We don’t kill civilians, because we don’t have the moral incentive, we don’t have the interest to kill civilians.” Why don’t the Pentagon forces bomb the Assad palace and end the bloodshed? Apparently, without permission of Moscow, Washington simply cannot even think of doing that. Also, the great internationalization of Syria’s conflict and the fact that its rebels seek to topple the government work in Assad’s favor.
Syria is a strong state with well-organized military fighting territory-holding rebels who have significant popular support. The scale of civilian death and the pattern of violations constitute human horrors of rights: custodial torture and extrajudicial killings of suspected regime opponents, attacks on civilian targets including hospitals and aid conveys, and the use of prohibited weapons. And in both cases international audiences raised the alarm about mass atrocities.
Assad has said “nothing substantial” will come out of the talks. But UN envoy Staffan de Mistura insists that the government’s 18-strong delegation is in Switzerland “to work”. Five previous rounds of negotiations have made little progress towards a political solution to the six-year civil war, which has left more than 300,000 people dead.
The Astana process resulted in the three powers signing a memorandum on 4 May establishing four “de-escalation” zones in the north-western province of Idlib, north of the central city of Homs, the Eastern Ghouta area outside Damascus, and in the southern provinces of Deraa and Quneitra. “We are working in tandem, in a way,” de Mistura said. “Everybody’s been telling us and we agree that any type of reduction of violence, in this case de-escalation, cannot be sustained unless there is a political horizon in one direction or the other. That is exactly what we are pushing for,” he added.
The government and opposition have agreed to discuss four “baskets” – a political transition, new constitution, elections and combating terrorism.
Meanwhile, officials from the Syrian government denied accusations that a prison crematorium was being used to hide mass killings of political prisoners. The Syrian foreign ministry said the accusations – made by the US state department – were “a new Hollywood story” and “totally baseless”. An anonymous source quoted in the statement accused the US government of making the allegations up to justify US aggression in Syria.
Residents of a Damascus suburb are working to bring a sense of normality back to their lives after six years of war. When the rebel groups seized Eastern Ghouta in 2012, the Assad government responded by cutting basic services like power and water and also laying a military siege to the area, making life of people miserable. .UN has not made any speedy arrangements to mitigate the sufferings of such stranded populations.
Over time, residents have worked to provide the kind of basic functions that many urban communities take for granted. But their efforts are often hampered by the brutal and prolonged conflict that touches every aspect of life. “Our reality is being intentionally isolated from the rest of the world,” Abou Ramez, one of the pioneers of civil projects there told the BBC.
An elected “municipal council” for all opposition-held areas in the Damascus countryside was also formed, as well as an umbrella organisation representing over a hundred medical, relief, educational and other civil institutions..
Local councils were initially formed to provide relief work and basic municipal services, such as water and waste management. “We used cow manure to generate energy for generators to irrigate land,” Ramez says. Power is also generated from waste products, and heating oil extracted by melting plastic. Over time the councils’ role expanded to providing education and counseling centres. Projects are funded by external donors. Ramez, says that councils try to remain neutral towards militant groups, but they also recognize the opposition “interim government”, formed in 2013 and based in Turkey.
Today, Syria tops the list of deadliest countries for journalists, in large part due to regime attacks on the domestic press. Humanitarian aid delivery has been restricted since the conflict began. In Syria, these measures cut off nearly all sources of independent information.
In 2016, Assad disputed the existence of the Aleppo siege, arguing that if it were true, “people would have been dead by now.” (One estimate suggests that more than 30,000 people died in Aleppo between 2012 and 2016.) The regime has disputed the authenticity of photo and video evidence of chemical weapons attacks, barrel bombs, torture, and extrajudicial killings. Assad’s farcical suggestion last month that the dead children in the videos from Idlib were mere acting children. Syria disputed the attribution of all war crimes it can’t deny, and portrayed its opponent as the only blameworthy actor. Early in the conflict, Assad told international media that “Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government.” In 2013, he rejected responsibility for the sarin gas attack in Ghouta, insisting “We’re not there.” Finally, the Syrian government has accused the rebels of using civilians as human shields, and excused its targeting of hospitals and schools on the grounds that “terrorists” are using them as bases and weapons storage.
Obfuscation and denial can be enough to exploit this inertia and prevent intervention, especially when big powers like USA and Russia shield them. Syrian reality shows that even an international pariah can get away with mass murder.
The Syrian government does not recognize the councils and characterizes organised activity within rebel areas as the work of armed militia or “terrorist” groups. “It is exactly this kind of civil body that constitutes the biggest threat for the regime,” says Majd al-Dik, whose team works on opening support centres for children. It has also worked to put Eastern Ghouta’s large agricultural areas to use, by supporting local farmers to provide food for residents.
However, Syrian forces seized the farmland just one week before the harvest in 2016. “Turning people from service providers into dependents – this is the goal behind targeting civilians,” al-Dik told the BBC. Over 42 councils have been formed in the area since 2013, and members have been elected through democratic means since 2015.
Recurring internal fighting between rebel groups has also added to the obstacles facing civil work in Eastern Ghouta. When infighting first broke out in 2016, residents, activists and notable civil society figures staged demonstrations and sit-ins against the violence. Civil society figures also mediated between the disputing sides.
And in late April 2017 – exactly a year later – clashes broke out once again and several civilians were injured as they protested. Al-Dik says that movement around the area is severely restricted due to rebel snipers and checkpoints.
Meanwhile, the Syrian army and its allies have been advancing in the nearby strategic suburb of Qaboun, further tightening the siege and increasing the possibility of bombardment on the area.
Around two million people lived in Eastern Ghouta before the war began in 2011. Today there are just around 400,000. As well as the threat of violence, residents also face the fear of forced evacuation as the conflict turns in the government’s favour.
In recent months, thousands of people in rebel-held towns have left their homes as part of deals between the government and armed groups. “To evacuate the area is to destroy the civil body that has been established,” Majd al-Dik says. “It’s a catastrophe”.
The Syrian government maintains that evacuations are not being forced on civilians. Looking ahead to post-war Syria, Majd al-Dik says: “People ask about alternatives. But no-one talks about the local councils or civil institutions. Who is providing services in such areas now in the worst possible conditions?” Ramez says that many in Eastern Ghouta will never leave their homes. “Over 200,000 of our residents are capable of carrying weapons. Their united choice is to die and be martyred on this land rather than move to other areas only to be annihilated later on.”
Peace talks between Israel and Palestine have never been successful because Israel doesn’t want to give up the occupation posts and return the lands stolen from Palestinians. As talks have become bogus tools to gain legitimacy for illegal occupation and genocides.
In Syria, none is sincere about peace or stability, including the President Assad who just wants to be the permanent president without facing any elections. Maybe he thinks he has no death..
UN must step in to end hostilities in Syria and genocides and bring back normalcy. Peace task are necessary but without sincerity nothing is going to work. Both USA and Russia are fighting their old cold war in Syria.
The Assad regime’s close relationship with Russia means that it is well-protected. For six years, victims’ advocates, international human rights activists, and horrified onlookers have been asking themselves how high the death toll in Syria has to get before someone will step in. But international action on mass atrocities is the exception rather than the rule. Like Bush and Obama, Assad also should be tried for crimes against humanity.
Saudi sports diplomacy: A mirror image of the kingdom’s already challenged policies
Saudi sports diplomacy is proving to be a mirror image of the kingdom’s challenged domestic, regional and foreign policies.
Overlorded by sports czar Turki al-Sheikh, Saudi sports diplomacy, like the kingdom’s broader policies, has produced at best mixed results, suggesting that financial muscle coupled with varying degrees of coercion does not guarantee success.
Mr. Al-Sheikh, a 37-year old brash and often blunt former honorary president of Saudi soccer club Al Taawoun based in Buraidah, a stronghold of religious ultra-conservatism, and a former bodyguard of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, is together with Saud al-Qahtani among the king-in-waiting’s closest associates.
Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest investors, acknowledged Mr. Al-Sheikh’s ranking in the Saudi hierarchy when he made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to Saudi soccer club Al Hilal FC weeks after having been released from detention.
Prince al-Waleed was one of the more recalcitrant detainees among the scores of members of the ruling family, prominent businessmen and senior officials who were detained a year ago in Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton Hotel as part of Prince Mohammed’s power and asset grab.
Prince Al-Waleed said on Twitter at the time that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”
Mr. Al-Qahtani, who was recently fired as Prince Mohammed’s menacing information czar in connection with the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was banned this week from travelling outside the kingdom. Mr. Al-Sheikh has not been linked to the Khashoggi murder.
Nevertheless, his sports diplomacy, exhibiting some of the brashness that has characterized Prince Mohammed as well as Mr Al-Qahtani’s approach, has largely failed to achieve its goals. If anything, it appears to have contributed to the kingdom’s growing list of setbacks.
Those goals included establishing Saudi Arabia as a powerhouse in regional and global soccer governance; countering Qatari sports diplomacy crowned by its hosting of the 2022 World Cup; projecting the kingdom in a more favourable light by hosting international sporting events; becoming a powerhouse in soccer-crazy Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation; and using the competition for the 2026 World Cup hosting rights to bully Morocco into supporting the Saudi-United Arab Emirates-led boycott of Qatar.
To be sure, with the exception of a cancelled tennis exhibition match in Jeddah between stars Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic, most scheduled sporting events, including this season’s opening Formula E race in December and the Italian Supercoppa between Juventus and AC Milan in January, are going ahead as planned despite a six-week old crisis sparked by the killing of Mr. Khashoggi.
Yet, if last month’s friendly soccer match in Jeddah between Brazil and Argentina and this month’s World Wrestling Entertainment’s (WWE) Crown Jewel showpiece are anything to go by, major sporting events are doing little to polish the kingdom’s image tarnished not only by the Khashoggi killing but also the war in Yemen that has sparked the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two. The sports events have so far failed to push Mr. Khashoggi and Yemen out of the headlines of major independent media.
Mainstream media coverage of Saudi sports has, moreover, focussed primarily on Saudi sports diplomacy’s struggle to make its mark internationally. One focus been the fact that Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer body FIFA, has run into opposition from the group’s European affiliate, UEFA, to his plan to endorse a US$25 billion plan for a new club tournament funded by the Saudi and UAE-backed Japanese conglomerate SoftBank.
If adopted, the plan would enhance Saudi and Emirati influence in global soccer governance to the potential detriment of Qatar, the host of the 2022 World Cup. Saudi Arabia and the UAE spearhead a 17-month old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar designed to force it to surrender its right to chart an independent course rather than align its policies with those of its Gulf brothers.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE have sought to engineer a situation in which Qatar is either deprived of its hosting rights or forced to share them with other states in the region, a possibility Mr. Infantino has said he was exploring.
Mr. Infantino has also said he was looking into implementing an expansion of the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams already in 2022 rather than only in 2026. An expansion of the Qatari World Cup would probably involve including others in the Gulf as hosts of the tournament. Qatari officials have all but ruled out sharing their hosting rights.
Another media focus has been alleged Saudi piracy aimed at undermining Qatar-owned BeIN Corp, the world’s biggest sports rights holder, including the rights to broadcast last summer’s Russia World Cup in the Arab world.
Mr. Al-Qahtani reportedly played a key role in the sudden emergence of BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat that ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.
The piracy has sparked international lawsuits, including international arbitration in which BeIN is seeking US1 billion in damages from Saudi Arabia. The company has also filed a case with the World Trade Organization.
FIFA has said it has taken steps to prepare for legal action in Saudi Arabia and is working alongside other sports rights owners that have been affected to protect their interests.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s effort to create with funds widely believed to have been provided by Prince Mohammed an international Saudi sports portfolio that would project the kingdom as a regional power broker collapsed with fans, players and club executives in Egypt furious at the Saudi officials buying influence and using it to benefit Saudi rather than Egyptian clubs.
“No one, no one at all — with all due respect to Turki or no Turki … will be allowed to interfere in the club’s affairs,” said Mahmoud el-Khatib, chairman of Egyptian club Al Ahli SC, one of the Middle East’s most popular clubs with an estimated 50 million fans. Mr. Al-Sheikh had unsuccessfully tried to use his recently acquired honorary chairmanship of Al Ahli to take control of the club.
Al Ahli’s rejection of his power grab persuaded Mr. Al-Sheikh to resign in May and instead bankroll Al Ahli rival Pyramid FC. He invested US$33 million to acquire three top Brazilian players and launch a sports channel dedicated to the team.
The club’s fans, like their Al Ahli counterparts, nonetheless, denounced Mr. Al-Sheikh and the kingdom and insulted the Saudi official’s mother in crass terms during a match in September. Mr. Al-Sheikh decided to abandon his Egyptian adventure after President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ignored his request to intervene. “Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day. Why the headache?” Mr Al-Sheikh said on Facebook.
Mr. Al-Sheikh’s attempt to form a regional powerbase by creating a breakaway group of South Asian and Middle Eastern soccer federations beyond the confines of FIFA and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) collapsed five months after the formation of the South-West Asian Football Federation (SWAFF) when seven South Asian nations pulled out with immediate effect.
The collapse of SWAFF and Mr. Al-Sheikh’s withdrawal from Egypt were preceded by his backing of the US-Canadian-Mexican bid for the 2026 World Cup against Morocco after he failed to bully the North Africans into supporting the boycott of Qatar.
Adopting a Saudi Arabia First approach, Mr. Al-Sheikh noted that the United States “is our biggest and strongest ally.” He recalled that when the World Cup was played in 1994 in nine American cities, the US “was one of our favourites. The fans were numerous, and the Saudi team achieved good results.”
That was Mr. Al-Sheikh’s position six months ago. Today, men like Prince Mohammed and Messrs. Al-Sheikh and Al-Qahtani are seething. US President Donald J. Trump is proving to be an unreliable ally. Not only is he pressuring the kingdom to come up with a credible explanation for Mr. Khashoggis’ killing, Mr. Trump is also seemingly backtracking on his promise to bring Iran to its knees by imposing crippling economic sanctions.
Saudi distrust is fuelled by the fact that Mr. Trump first asked the kingdom to raise oil production to compensate for lower crude exports from Iran and then without informing it made a 180-degree turn by offering buyers generous waivers that keep Iranian crude in the market instead of drive exports from Riyadh’s arch-rival down to zero.
Seemingly cut from the same cloth as Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh, drew his pro-American definition of Saudi Arabia First from the crown prince’s focus on the United States. Prince Mohammed, Mr. Al-Sheikh and other senior Saudi officials may be considering whether putting the kingdom’s eggs primarily in one basket remains the best strategy.
Whatever the case, Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sweep through regional and global sports has left Saudi leaders with little to leverage in the kingdom’s bid to pick up the pieces and improve its image tarnished first and foremost by Mr. Khashoggi’s killing but also by the trail the sports czar has left behind.
Paris Peace Forum: A missed opportunity for the Middle East
Timed to coincide with the centennial of the World War I armistice, the Paris Peace Forum (PPF) launched by French president Emmanuel Macron adopted a welcome approach to the root causes of contemporary conflict, including climate change and the double-edged sword represented by new technologies.
The forum, which took place from November 11-13, showcased projects that spoke to the innovation and collaboration critical to improving lives and reducing tensions across the globe.
Conspicuous by their absence
Even though the summit saw 65 heads of state from all over the world come together to launch the event, precious few of those leaders came from the Middle East – even though the region could benefit as much as any other part of the world from this “Davos for democracy.” While this first peace summit represented a promising start, any future editions need to find a way to make inroads with citizens in the countries where they are needed most. Of course, this is a two-way street, with leaders in those countries needing to participate in and draw lessons from such gatherings.
The Middle East’s most notable representatives at the event were Qatari emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri. Their presence was fitting: while so many of their neighbors jostle with each other to secure their own geopolitical ends, Qatar and Lebanon have faced down the instability surrounding them to protect themselves from dangerous regional currents. Unfortunately, the leaders who could have really used reminding of the importance of peace were absent from the stage.
An “island” of stability
Qatar, for its part, has been the subject of a regional blockade for the best part of 18 months. A coalition of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have all severed ties with the country since June 2017 for its alleged “support for terrorism” but more realistically for its willingness to deal with Iran against a backdrop of acrimony between the two sides of the Gulf. The Saudis, for their part, have gone so far as planning to cut Qatar off from the mainland with a new canal.
Far from buckling, however, Qatar has proven remarkably resilient and stuck firmly to a strategy of de-escalation with both sides of the Saudi-Iranian cold war. Events since have rewarded that cool-headedness. Global markets nervous about the turbulence in Riyadh are now looking to Qatar as a regional investment driver instead. Ironically enough, none other than Saudi crown prince Mohammad bin Salman praised the performance of the Qatari economy last month.
Delicate peace in Beirut
Lebanon has had greater difficulty insulating itself from the instability across its border with Syria, but Saad Hariri has nonetheless maintained a fragile domestic peace even after an apparent kidnapping and forced resignation (later rescinded) orchestrated by bin Salman in November of last year. Hariri was detained for two weeks and only released on the back of intense international pressure, apparently out of Saudi anger with the Lebanese premier for cooperating with his Shi’a Hezbollah rivals in Lebanon.
In Lebanon’s torturous system of confessional politics, however, difficult compromises are the nature of the game. Hariri and his Sunni-led political movement have no choice but to negotiate with Hezbollah’s Shi’a faction over the balance of political power on an ongoing basis to keep the country stable. Hariri’s resistance to Saudi demands for aggression has helped keep the peace between Lebanese Sunnis and Shi’a, preventing the sectarian fires that have torn Syria apart from jumping across the border.
External actors have key roles to play
Of course, none of the crises in the Middle East can be viewed in a vacuum. One key part of the program at the Paris Peace Forum summit – entitled Global Powers and the Middle East – focused on the responsibility of outside powers like the United States, Russia, China, Europe and India to find common ground and address the causes of Middle Eastern instability. Left unsaid: these same countries are often deeply involved in perpetuating these crises.
If American, European, or Russian leaders truly want to prevent conflicts in the Middle East, their first step should probably be a sort of Hippocratic oath to “do no harm.” The arms trade is a notable case in point. The Middle East is responsible for 32% of global arms imports. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE are three of the five largest customers; their primary suppliers are the US, UK, France, Italy, and Russia.
Rather than encourage stability, this supply of weapons has fed a volatile arms race. Much of that equipment has been used by the Saudi coalition’s intervention in Yemen, which has left eight million Yemenis are the brink of starvation and the country confronting the fastest growing cholera epidemic the world has ever seen. Russia has openly used the civil war in Syria as a venue for showing off its military hardware to potential customers worldwide, even as Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to massacre civilians.
Instead of helping their local allies arm themselves to the teeth, these outside powers should push Middle Eastern governments to change their damaging patterns of behavior and undertake the kinds of social reforms that are instrumental in easing tensions. Otherwise, systemic inequality and unaccountable leadership will continue to lay the groundwork for conflicts and crises. That might enrich weapons manufacturers, but it will do nothing to achieve the goals pursued in Paris this week.
The sanctions of a split
The tough economic sanctions imposed by the United States against Iran have aggravated conflict between Washington and its close allies. The European Union, the United Kingdom, France and Germany have expressed regret over measures taken by American President Donald Trump and signaled the need to protect their companies. Simultaneously, eight countries have received a six-month “sanctions delay” from the United States, which produced a further negative effect on the balance of strength and set the scene for a further escalation of tension.
The United States announced the resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, which ban the purchase of Iranian oil and oil products, on November 5. The US Treasury Department pointed out that they were the “toughest” in history: “These are the toughest U.S. sanctions ever imposed on Iran, and will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy, such as the energy, shipping and shipbuilding, and financial sectors. The United States is engaged in a campaign of maximum financial pressure on the Iranian regime and intends to enforce aggressively these sanctions that have come back into effect.”
“The unprecedented financial pressure exerted by the US Treasury Department on Iran should make it clear to the Iranian regime that it will face ever-increasing financial isolation and economic stagnation until it radically changes its destabilizing behavior. From now on, the maximum pressure exerted by the United States will only increase,” – emphasizes US Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin. Washington makes it no secret that the ultimate goal of the sanctions is to reduce oil exports from Iran “to zero.”
Over 700 individuals and legal entities have been put on the sanctions list, including the Iranian national air company Iran Air, more than 65 aircraft it owns, and several dozen ships of the merchant fleet. The sanctions prohibit the purchase of Iranian oil and are directed against port operators, shipping and shipbuilding companies, the financial sector, – primarily tanker insurance companies, – and also restrict operations with Iran’s banks and Central Bank.
Fines will be imposed on anyone who trades oil with Iran and works with its banking system. Secondary sanctions (fines and shutout from the dollar system) may be imposed on companies of third countries. The US also demanded that Iran should be cut off from the SWIFT international payment system. According to reports, on November 5 SWIFT suspended access of some Iranian banks to its system, but without reference to the US sanctions.
This step followed President Trump’s announcement in May this year about Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action on the Iranian nuclear program. Adopted in 2015 with the participation of Iran, the USA, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the document envisages easing sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its measures to wrap up its nuclear program under the control of the IAEA. The US president dubbed it “the worst deal ever,” saying that it does nothing to stop Iran from pursing its nuclear and missile programs. After Washington’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, the other participants expressed their commitment to this document.
Two days before the sanctions package was put into effect, US President Donald Trump made it clear that the United States was ready to conclude a new agreement with Iran on more stringent conditions. “Our objective is to force the regime into a clear choice: either abandon its destructive behavior, or continue down the path toward economic disaster”, – the US president said on November 3: “The sanctions will target revenues the Iranian regime uses to fund its nuclear program, development and proliferation of ballistic missiles, fuel regional conflict, support terrorism and enrich its leaders”. At the same time, according to Donald Trump, “the United States remains open to reaching a new, more comprehensive deal with Iran that forever blocks its path to a nuclear weapon, addresses the entire range of its malign actions, and is worthy of the Iranian people. Until then, our historic sanctions will remain in full force”.
Having introduced “unprecedentedly tough” sanctions against Tehran, Donald Trump, as part of his business approach to international affairs, left substantial “windows of opportunity” for the subsequent bargaining on a wider range of issues of the international agenda. The USA made an exception for eight states. China, India, Greece, Italy, Taiwan, Japan, Turkey and South Korea were allowed to buy Iranian oil temporarily. According to the London-based Financial Times, these countries will be able to import a limited amount of Iranian oil over the next six months.
Simultaneously, US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that more than 20 countries have already cut down on oil exports from Iran, reducing purchases by more than 1 million barrels per day. Independent sources indicate that average daily oil production in Iran fell from 3.8 million barrels in May to 3.3 million barrels in early October. This is quite a lot: because of the reduction, Iran loses about 1 billion dollars a month.
Given that the above exemptions from the sanctions list are temporary, the United States will likely resume political and economic bargaining with the eight countries in spring, with a view to preserve a favorable regime for these countries. In the first place, it concerns China. President Donald Trump will try to use the “Iranian factor” in order to achieve maximum concessions on trade and economic issues from Beijing. Among other things, he will probably make an attempt to force the Chinese side to reconsider joint energy projects with Russia. In the meantime, China’s response to the US decision to resume the anti-Iranian sanctions has been markedly restrained. A spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has called on Washington to respect China’s trade rights and expressed “regret” that the United States relaunched sanctions against Iran.
A much more resolute response came from the European Union – whose trade and economic interests are affected by anti-Iranian sanctions first. EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, as well as the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement in which they promised to protect their companies from restrictive US measures. “Our goal is to protect the subjects of the European economy that have legal commercial ties with Iran,” the document states.
In the meantime, the European Union is confronted with the problem of creating a specific structure that would allow European companies to continue to trade with Iran without risking falling under Washington’s sanctions. Brussels reported in October that a new mechanism of payment for Iranian oil exports should be legally ready by November 4, and would go into operation in early 2019. However, according to The Financial Times, by the time the current sanctions were introduced, the Europeans did not have even a legal foundation for the defense mechanism and had not come to agreement on the location of the corresponding “special purpose structure” (SPV). “Now we are actively discussing where the SPV will be located, who will participate in it, and are launching the process of registering it. Time is short, and given the complexity and sensitivity of this issue in the light of its geopolitical consequences, we see very rapid and effective progress,” – said a representative of the French Finance Ministry.
For Europeans, sensitivity of this issue lies in their unwillingness to come under tough Washington’s sanctions themselves – especially in the context of deepening trade and economic differences between the US and the EU. “The US authorities are demonstrating that they will act aggressively towards violators of sanctions, which boosts the effect,” warns partner of law firm Morrison & Foerster and former director of the Office for Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Treasury John Smith. “When the United States threatens to punish violators and does it in practice, examples of punished companies force others to think seriously,” he said in an interview published by the American newspaper The Wall Street Journal.
Without waiting for the sanctions regime to come into effect, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani stated that Tehran would be able to overcome it. “America wants to bring down Iran’s oil sales, but we will continue to sell oil to break through the sanctions,” he said.
Tehran could not but point out the fact that the resumption of the US sanctions package against Iran coincided with the anniversary of the capture of the US embassy during the Islamic revolution in Tehran in 1979. Addressing his compatriots, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said: “The goal of American sanctions is to cripple and restrain the Iranian economy, but the result we obtained in reality was the country’s striving for self-sufficiency.” “The main objective of the United States in all this is to regain the supremacy it had in the period of tyranny. But this will not happen,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
Meanwhile, Tehran does not attach any fundamental significance to the exclusion of eight states from the sanctions regime. “The Islamic Republic could sell its oil even if these eight countries were not excluded, we would still sell our oil,” said Hassan Rouhani in this regard.
The anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by Washington have not yet had a direct impact on Russia. The sanctions list published by the US Treasury contains only the Russian “daughter” of the Iranian Bank Melli – the Mir Business Bank, registered in Moscow (MB Bank). Its shareholder is Bank Melli Iran, which, according to the United States, provides multi-billion financial, material and technological support to the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC). “Bank Melli enabled the IRGC and its related parties to transfer funds both inside and outside Iran,” the statement of the US Treasury said. JSC Mir Business Bank was registered in Moscow in 2002. Bank Melli Iran is its sole shareholder.
According to reports, the Trump administration has decided not to pursue the Russian direction in its pressure on Iran ahead of a new meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States due to take place at the end of this year. The meeting could be held on November 11 in Paris, at events dedicated to the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, or — more likely — at the G-20 summit in Argentina in late November – early December this year. However, regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Russia should bear it in mind that its trade and economic ties with Iran, and in a broader context – relations with OPEC – will become the target of a new round of global games of the US administration.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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