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The Trump-Putin informal meeting at G20 in Germany

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Entire world’s attention was focused on the first ever meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Germany where they had come to attend the G-20 meeting.

End of terror wars could lead to peace in the world. People across the globe think if USA and Russia come together, the world, living beings and human race could be saved. But USA and its allies like Israel do not want peace anywhere in the world as they cannot then sell their terror goods to the third world.  The merchants of terror goods (death) consider peace the potential enemy of those nations that thrive in arms trade.

USA and its allies therefore, do not want any credible relationship with Russia and China. They seek only businesses and finances form these countries.

A new bilateral phase?

World is guessing if Trump would go for friendly relationship with Russia and China. Gossip mill reports are highly confusing in this regard. 

The relationship between President Trump and President Putin has been under scrutiny amid allegations of Russian interference in the US election.  US intelligence agencies believe Moscow tried to tip the election in Trump’s favour, something denied by Russia. Trump has rejected allegations of any collusion. The two world leaders had a couple of undisclosed conversations at this month’s G20 on…….  The White House has confirmed that the leaders of rival super powers spoke towards the end of a formal dinner but the White House has not revealed what was discussed. President Trump has, in his characteristic say, condemned media revelations of the talks as “sick”.

An extra conversation also happened during a private meal of heads of state at the G20 summit in Hamburg earlier in the month. The an hour meeting, which came after a more-than-two hour formal sit-down the two men had earlier in the gathering, was previously undisclosed and, given the nature of Russia’s aggressive meddling in the 2016 election, is something we need to know more about.

The Kremlin said at the time that the two leaders had had “an opportunity to continue their discussion during the dinner”, but the extent of the meeting was not known. Trump had been seated next to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe’s wife, so the US interpreter at the dinner spoke Japanese, not Russian. No media were in attendance. Trump left his seat and headed to Putin, who had been sitting next to Trump’s wife, Melania, US media said. The US president was alone with Putin, apart from the attendance of the Russian president’s official interpreter.

Ian Bremmer, president of the US-based Eurasia Group, who first reported them in a newsletter to clients, said: “Donald Trump got up from the table and sat down with Putin for about an hour. It was very animated and very friendly.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the two leaders had “exchanged opinions and phrases in the margins of the visit on more than one occasion”. “There were no covert or secret meetings. It is absolutely absurd to claim this,” he was quoted as saying by Russia’s TASS news agency. Peskov also mocked the notion that the subject of a conversation between the two men could have been kept secret, saying that is a “manifestation of schizophrenia”.

The length of the talks has been disputed.

Bremmer had not been at the dinner but said details were given to him by unnamed attendees who, he said, were “flummoxed, confused and startled” by the turn of events. “At summit meetings you have little ‘pull-asides’ between heads of state to discuss business all the time – a one-hour pull-aside is highly unusual in any context,” he told the BBC.  “A one-hour pull-aside between Putin and Trump where only the Kremlin translator is there, where we don’t know what’s discussed, given the uniqueness of the US-Russia relationship… makes the US president, surprisingly and disturbingly, not credible.” 

Later, however, in a statement, a senior White House official said there was no “second meeting”, just a brief conversation after dinner. The official said: “The insinuation that the White House has tried to ‘hide’ a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd. It is not merely perfectly normal, it is part of a president’s duties, to interact with world leaders.” 

Rising son and son in law

The Senate, the House and a Justice Department special counsel are all investigating whether Russia interfered in the election to try to tip it in Donald Trump’s favour. They are also investigating whether there was any collusion with the Trump team, which both Russia and Trump have denied.  Trump Jr and Manafort have been called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday.

US President Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr, his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner and ex-campaign manager Paul Manafort are to testify before the Senate about their links to Russian officials, on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election and , over a meeting they had with a Russian lawyer in June last year.  One key subject will be their meeting with a Russian lawyer last year.

There are congressional investigations, and one by a special counsel, into the allegations of Russian interference in the US election and possible collusion with the Trump team. The Senate intelligence committee said it wanted to interview Trump Jr said he had attended the meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya as he was promised damaging material on Hillary Clinton, but it did not materialize. Ms Veselnitskaya told Russia’s RT television channel she would be willing to testify before the Senate on the matter.

Two days earlier, Kushner is to answer questions in a closed-door session of the Senate Intelligence Committee. The hearings will be the most high-profile since sacked FBI head James Comey gave testimony in June. The three members of Trump’s inner circle attended a meeting in New York in June last year with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya after being promised damaging material on Trump’s election rival, Hillary Clinton. A former Soviet counter-intelligence official, now a lobbyist also attended the meeting, Trump Jr, who confirmed the meeting in a series of emails, said that no information on Hillary Clinton was provided. The meeting is the firmest evidence yet of non-diplomatic interactions between Trump campaign aides and Russian figures. Ms Veselnitskaya told Russia’s RT television channel she would also be willing to testify before the Senate on the matter.

President Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, defended his son’s actions. He said he had spoken to a number of senators who agreed that if they had been called and offered information on an opponent, they would have attended such a meeting. In the same interview, Trump rounded on Sessions. The attorney general rescued himself from overseeing the Justice Department’s Russia investigation in March, after failing to disclose at his confirmation hearing at the Senate that he had met Russia’s ambassador to the USA. The president said: “How do you take a job and then recue yourself? If he would have rescued himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you’.”

 Uncomfortable inconsistency

Questions about what Trump and Putin talked about — we don’t really know since there was no a US official or translator present — need to be answered by this White House. Sadly, there’s little chance they will be. Instead, we’re likely to get more attacks on the media for their alleged role in the story.

Trump spoke about his conversation with Putin at the G20 dinner in Germany. The conversation came to light, with US media reporting it lasted an hour and was “animated”. But Trump said it lasted for only 15 minutes and was mostly “pleasantries”. He said the pair talked “about adoption”. Russia banned Americans from adopting Russian orphans as a reaction to US measures against Russian officials accused of human rights violations.

All G20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!” The dinner and its attendees have always been known. Only the Trump-Putin discussion had not been reported before. At the earlier, formal meeting, their first face-to-face encounter,  Trump said he had repeatedly pressed Putin about the allegations of interference in the US vote. “I said, ‘Did you do it?’ He said, ‘No, I did not, absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time, in a totally different way. He said, ‘Absolutely not.'”

Given the poor state of relations between Washington and Moscow since the onset of the so-called Cold War and the recent controversy surrounding Russia’s alleged efforts to interfere with the US presidential campaign, each and every encounter between Putin and Trump is bound to be carefully scrutinized. Thus the apparently impromptu discussion between the two men at the G20 dinner inevitably raises many questions. What was President Trump seeking to do in approaching the Russian president? Were matters of substance discussed? If so, why was it kept a top secret and no formal note taken? And why did the US president have to rely upon a Russian official for translation? This all may be highly unusual, especially at a time when relations between the two countries are laden with so many problems.

The US president has spoken about an undisclosed conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a G20 dinner, saying it was mostly “pleasantries”.  President Trump also appeared unaware of another dimension – the message that his tete-a-tete would send to other leaders in the room, who must have watched the US president’s gambit with some unease. Trump’s spokesperson Sarah Sanders told reporters at the White House that the dinner was part of the president’s publicly released schedule. “You guys came and took pictures of it,” she told journalists. “It wasn’t like this was some sort of hidden dinner. To act as if this was some secret is just absolutely absurd.”

National Security Council spokesman Michael Anton said: “A conversation over dessert should not be characterized as a meeting.” Trump later said on Twitter: “Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is ‘sick.’

Trump and Putin

US President Donald Trump comes face-to-face with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for the first time on Friday. The formal meeting will be scrutinized across the world, set as it is against the backdrop of US investigations into possible collusion between Russia and Trump campaign figures during last year’s election.

At the outset it should be noted that both the leaders have one important idea in common- both want to make their respective nation great. Neither man hides his ambition to recover some sense of lost grandeur for his country. That in itself is not a negative aspect. Putin famously called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th Century”. His moves in Ukraine and Syria are seen as attempts to bolster Russia’s power and influence, and hit back at the West for the expansion of NATO into Eastern Europe that he so resents. And Western European officials accuse him of meddling in their elections to try and weaken the European Union.

First meetings between major world leaders can be unpredictable affairs.  Trump has in the past suggested he could get along with Putin and praised him as a “strong leader” but it is unclear how he feels now.

In Moscow, the Kremlin is painting the meeting as an opportunity for the pair to “get acquainted and finally understand the true approach of each other”. But looking beyond the testy politics of US-Russia relations, what do Trump and Putin have in common, and what sets them distinctly apart?

If there’s one sharp difference between these two men, it is their back stories.

Vladimir Putin spent his early career in the world of Cold War espionage, and was working as a Soviet spy in East Germany when the communist state crumbled. He is used to operating in the shadows, and kept a low profile as an aide to the mayor of St Petersburg in the 1990s before taking the reins of the FSB intelligence agency and later the presidency.

Putin has been at the top of Russian politics since 2000 and has the reputation of a cunning street fighter, an image that can be traced back to his days growing up in a tough communal housing block in Leningrad. He has said those years taught him that “if a fight is inevitable, you have to throw the first punch”.

Donald Trump, in contrast, was born into wealth as the son of a New York real estate tycoon. He managed to avoid being drafted into military service during the Vietnam War, and got started in real estate himself with a $1m loan from his father, eventually building a property, hotel and Entertainment Empire.

Far from keeping a low profile like Putin, Trump shot to stardom as host of reality TV show The Apprentice’. He later used his fame and wealth as a springboard to make a bid for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2015. Yet though his public style is very different – brash and unpredictable where Putin is comfortable yet controlled – like the Russian leader he doesn’t shy away from a fight.

Trump refused to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand during an awkward March photo-op, and pushed past Montenegro’s prime minister at a NATO summit in Brussels in May to ensure he was front and centre. Vladimir Putin uses more calculated means to intimidate others, once letting his large labrador into a meeting with Mrs Merkel, who is afraid of dogs.

Both leaders the target of media and both criticize the media opportunism and hollow news and views. Trump might have popularized “fake news” as a pejorative term that politicians the world over can now hurl at journalists, but he’s not alone in describing critical coverage as false. Putin’s government keeps a public list of foreign press stories that it says contains “false information about Russia”. In dealing with the media, however, Vladimir Putin normally remains calm. Unlike Trump, he does not fire off angry tweets about coverage he doesn’t like – he is calculating and level-headed when taking questions from journalists.

For Trump this means boosting US military spending, putting pressure on allies to pay for more their own defense, and pulling out of efforts to fight climate change to protect jobs in domestic industries like coal.

The Trump White House is a family affair, something that certainly cannot be said of Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has an office in the West Wing and advises her father in an unpaid role. Her husband, Jared Kushner, is a senior adviser to the president and a significant force in the White House. His responsibilities stretch from the Middle East and China to criminal justice reform and relations with Mexico.

President Putin, on the other hand, zealously shields his private life and family from scrutiny.. He and Lyudmila, his wife of nearly 30 years, announced their divorce in 2013, and his two daughters are kept well away from the public gaze.

Little was known about them until media reports in 2015 revealed his youngest daughter Katerina was living in Moscow under a different name and working in a senior position at Moscow State University. She is also an acrobatic rock and roll dancer. Maria, the elder daughter, is an academic specializing in endocrinology.

The differences in approach to family are stark. Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner’s five-year-old daughter Arabella sang in Mandarin to Chinese President Xi Jinping during his US visit in April. Putin, meanwhile, recently refused to disclose the names and ages of his two grandchildren.

Campaign promises

Donald Trump made a string of promises during his long campaign to be the 45th president of the United States. Many of them made headlines – from banning all Muslims entering the US, to building a wall along the border with Mexico. But as he and his White House team approach the 100-day mark of his presidency, it is clear he has shifted his stance on a number of key issues.

Trump said in September 2016 that he would reverse the deal President Barack Obama had struck to reopen diplomatic relations and improve trade. As president, he told an audience in Miami that he was “cancelling the Obama administration’s one-sided deal.” But in reality, he has only rolled back certain parts, placing restrictions on travel and business.

As a candidate, Trump derided climate change as a hoax concocted by China, and the regulations of Paris as stifling to American growth.  After three months of prevarications behind the closed doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the president came down decisively on the side near the exits. Quitting the Paris deal, signed by nearly 200 countries, will take a few years but this is unequivocally a promise kept.

His vow to build a wall along the US-Mexican border was one of the most controversial of Trump’s campaign promises.  Trump also insisted that Mexico would pay for it. Mexico maintains it will never pay for it, and even the president has conceded that the US will have to pay up front and then seek reimbursement in some way.

The US Congress is exploring funding options for the wall, but many Republicans will be unhappy about footing a bill which could rise to $21.5bn (£17.2bn), according to a Department of Homeland Security internal report.

That’s much higher than Trump’s estimated price tag of $12bn (£9.6bn). There are also landowners who protest against a “government land grab” – and a lawsuit from an environmental group launched in April.  “We’re building the wall,” he said in February. “In fact it’s going to start very soon.”

Rhetoric and substance: Can we trust Trump? 

Generally, most of the talks during the campaign is mere rhetoric meant to get votes of the majority community. Trump resorted this strategy to win the presidency against a very powerful Democratic candidate Mrs. Clinton with a lot of connections as former foreign minister of USA. And Trump won.

Trump initially promised to ban all Muslims entering the US – a “total and complete” shutdown should remain until the US authorities “can figure out what’s going on”. But he switched to “extreme vetting” after he became the party’s presidential candidate. As president, he has introduced two travel bans, which have both become ensnarled by legal challenges. The second was a slightly watered-down version of the first, but a judge in Hawaii said barring people from six mainly Muslim countries, even temporarily, violated constitutional protections against religious discrimination. Another judge in Maryland cited Trump campaign statements as evidence.

President Trump has railed against “judicial overreach” and hinted that he may take the case to the Supreme Court, but has said little on the matter in a round of media interviews this week.

Trump repeatedly told his supporters that every single undocumented immigrant – of which there are 11.3 million – “have to go”. As polling day approached, his stance began to soften slightly, then after the election he scaled it back to some two to three million deportations of people who “are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers”.

The Migration Policy Institute, a US-based think tank, has one of the higher figures for illegal immigrants with criminal records, which it puts at 890,000, including people charged with crossing the border illegally. The number of removals peaked in 2012 and has been falling since. It is too early to say if there has been an increase since President Trump’s inauguration.

During a speech in Iowa in November 2015, Trump warned that he would, using an expletive, bomb so-called Islamic State into obliteration. The president dropped the biggest non-nuclear bomb in the US arsenal on an IS-stronghold in Afghanistan.

Trump repeatedly questioned the NATO military alliance’s purpose, calling it “obsolete”. One issue that bugged him was whether members were pulling their weight and “paying their bills”. In one New York Times interview in July 2016, he even hinted that the USA would not come to the aid of a member invaded by Russia. But as he hosted Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House in April, the US president said the threat of terrorism had underlined the alliance’s importance. “I said the NATO was obsolete,” Trump said. “It’s no longer obsolete.”

Trump repeatedly pledged to label Beijing a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office, during an election campaign when he also accused the Asian powerhouse of “raping” the US. China has been accused of suppressing the yuan to make its exports more competitive with US goods.  He told the Wall Street Journal in April that China had not been “currency manipulators” for some time and had actually been trying to prevent the yuan from further weakening.

Trump’s supporters want to see Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in prison over the use of her private email server while secretary of state. And Trump was more than willing to back their calls for, at the very least, a fresh investigation. During the debates, he told Mrs Clinton: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation.”

The president-elect’s tone changed almost as soon as he had won, describing the woman he had said was “such a nasty woman” as someone the country owed “a debt of gratitude”. Later, he said he “hadn’t given the prosecution a lot of thought” and had other priorities. On 22 November, Trump’s spokeswoman said he would not pursue a further investigation – to help Mrs. Clinton “heal”.

Apparently, Trump is not eager to punish Madam Hillary Clinton. He repeated his vow to spend big on the country’s roads, rail and airports, but no sign yet of action. The country’s infrastructure “will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people back to work as we rebuild it”, he said in his victory speech in November. :

Trump pledged during his campaign to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a divided city which both Israelis and Palestinians claim.  He approved a waiver to keep the embassy in place, but suggested in a statement that it would be eventually relocated. “The decision was taken in order to “maximize the chances of successfully negotiating a deal between Israel and the Palestinians”.

His decision not to hurriedly move, as Israel has been directing Washington, the  embassy to Jerusalem is noteworthy.

President Trump has not yet initiated any worthwhile step to the establishment of the State of Palestine deal to take place, although his decision to visit Palestine West Bank to meet PLO leader and President Abbas against the will and usual pressure tactics of Israel, gives us the hopes, however, meek they maybe, of his pro-active role and active participation in the establishment of Palestine. .

Trump, Putin could end terror wars, creation of Palestine and peace in Middle East

That President Donald Trump huddled with Russian President Vladimir Putin for almost an hour at a G20 dinner in Germany earlier this month is news, notwithstanding the confusion about the details. What’s as telling as Trump’s willingness to chat with Putin with no US translator or any other US official around, however, is the way in which the president responded to the news of the meeting. He did it via his preferred communication tool: Twitter.

This is not a media story. This is a story about an undisclosed meeting between the presidents of the United States and Russia at a time when relations are very much in flux between the two countries. Making it about anything else is a purposeful diversionary tactic by Trump. Simple and plain!

This is a classic bit of Trump misdirection. No media outlet reported anything about a “secret dinner.” No one is making the dinner look “sinister.” And, no one is suggesting that the media was unaware that the dinner was taking place. That is not the story. The story is that the president of the United States had a somewhat lengthy sidebar conversation with the president of Russia and with no other US officials present. And that we didn’t know about it until Ian Bremmer reported on it next night.

Trump, of course, knows all of that. The shrewd business magnet for all of his life time is also smart enough to understand that this is a bad story for him — particularly in light of the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 election and the drip-drip-drip of details about a meeting his son, Don Jr. had with a Russian lawyer in hopes of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton.

And Trump is working to change the story into one that he knows will score points with his hardcore base: “The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest!” The media is “sick!” That will, of course, work for some segment of people who take Trump’s words for, well, everything, or only get their news from the president’s most ardent media defenders. The media is terrible!

Meanwhile, the White House said Trump would nominate former Utah governor Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia, a key post for a president who promised to improve relations with Moscow.  Huntsman, who served as ambassador to China and Singapore, needs to have his name confirmed by the Senate. The suspicions over Russian interference are likely to play a significant factor in his confirmation process, correspondents say.

Question is not how many times the two world leaders met in Germany at or on the sidelines of G20. But the outcome of the meetings significant if anything emerged. Any positive development, if any, would automatically get reflected in their bilateral ties from now on. Russia’s foreign minister said President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump may have met more than three times at the G-20summit, but he shrugged off the importance of the encounters Lavrov made light of the situation in the interview, comparing it to children mingling at a kindergarten.

Whether Trump will ever raise the issue of election hacking is the million-dollar question, given he has downplayed Russia’s alleged role.

They control their respective nation and also share a “strongman” style and macho attitudes which have shone through in meetings with world leaders.

Trump and Putin could work towards peaceful resolution of the worst global crises: Palestine in West Asia and Kashmir in South Asia. However, the immediate issue is to end the illegal terror war in Syria and make the West Asia a peace zone to make an impact on the global stability.

USA and Russia make it sure not to let fast growing Israeli fascist regime control their policies in West Asia.  Both need to coordinate their efforts to get Israeli military regime punished by ICC and ICJ for its crimes committed humanity in Palestine and Mideast at large.

The perpetual clashes between the super powers let fascist regimes like Israel to become criminal states threatening the regional as well as global peace, stability  and prosperity.   

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Americas

America’s Deep-seated and Almost Universal Bigotry

Eric Zuesse

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On May 12th, Politico headlined “‘A dream ticket’: Black lawmakers pitch Biden-Harris to beat Trump”, and reported that:

The Congressional Black Caucus may have found an answer to its Joe Biden dilemma: Vice President Kamala Harris.

Some black lawmakers are agonizing over whether to back Biden or two members of the close-knit caucus — Sens. Harris and Cory Booker — who are also vying for the White House, according to interviews with a dozen CBC members.

But with the former vice president jumping out to a huge, if early, lead in the polls, several CBC members are warming to the idea of a Biden-Harris ticket to take on President Donald Trump.

“That would be a dream ticket for me, a dream ticket!” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “If she is not the nominee, that would be a dream ticket for this country.”

Harris is everything the 76-year-old Biden is not. The freshman senator from California is younger, a woman and a person of color. …

America’s billionaires — who love it when the public are so obsessed with “Blacks versus Whites” or “women versus men” or other such distinctions amongst the public — hire politicians and ‘news’-media that play up to those distinctions instead of to themselves versus the public, because this way the public will accept those billionaires’ controlling the government — as they do.

Blacks are just as bigoted as Whites, and women are just as bigoted as men — and that goes also for Jews, Christians, Muslims, and every other distinction within the public — every other rage by the public, that’s being redirected away from the billionaires (who virtually own the government) to being instead against some mass of the public who DON’T control the government, and who AREN’T the cause of this country’s massive economic inequalities of opportunity, and who DON’T benefit from extending the American empire by bombs (or otherwise) to Afghanistan, and Iraq, and Libya, and Syria, and Iran, and Venezuela, and Ukraine, and Russia, etcetera.

Therefore: the first question that should be asked of every Democratic Presidential candidate isn’t (like it is) “man or woman?” or “Black or White?” or “Muslim or Christian?” or anything like that, but instead: Did you vote for the invasion of Iraq, and of Libya, and for economic sanctions (which are the first step toward declaring a nation officially as being an ‘enemy’ and thus the first step toward war) against Iran, and Syria, and Venezuela, and Russia? 

Those international hostilities are just great for the billionaires’ corporations, such as Lockheed Martin, but they bring billions to the billionaires and nothing but increased taxes and death and disabilty to the public and to our soldiers — and vastly worse to the people who live in the tragic lands where we are sanctioning or invading, or doing regime-change by means of coups. So: they hire the distractors. 

This isn’t to say that Trump isn’t a racist, but it’s about how the billionaires’ Democratic Party agents who are in Congress deal with this in such a way that the racist distractionism is on both sides and drowns-out any authentic progressivism (that being what the billionaires of both Parties fear). Part of progressivism is an opposition to regime-change wars — international dictatorship (including not only invasions but also the earlier stages: economic sanctions, and coups). The U.S. violates international law whenever it does those, and it does the vast majority of the ones that are done. The U.S. is thus the last nation in the world that should be pontificating to other countries. Whenever the U.S. Government does it, we should all be ashamed of it. 

So: the billionaires need the distractionaires. 

The Congressional Black Caucus, according to Fact Check, as posted in 2008 and never since revised, “has never had a white member in its 36-year history” (and, today, that would be never in its 47-year history), so that if for example Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg or maybe even the warmongering Joe Biden himself, were to apply to join and then be turned down by them, and this were to become public, then the resultant bad publicity for that Caucus would likely reduce, instead of increase, that candidate’s standing with black voters. Consequently, he probably won’t even apply to join.

In any case, being a member of a victimized group doesn’t mean that one is less bigoted than other groups are. And who is to say that Americans weren’t bigoted against Iraqis when we did to them the catastrophe that we did

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A More Nakedly Aggressive United States

M Waqas Jan

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Of all the instability and unrest the US has been accused of fomenting over the last three years, no other example comes close to the lengths the US has gone to in its unilateral attempt at isolating Iran. Long accused by Russia and other major powers as the leading cause of instability in the Middle East, the recent escalation of tensions between Iran and the US forms part of a wider more troubling trend. This has included the US ratcheting up tensions with both friends and foes alike such as the escalating trade war with China, calls for regime change in Venezuela and the estrangement of its allies across both the European Union and NATO.

The last bit, regarding the US’s growing differences with the EU’s major powers such as France and Germany is also to a large extent directly linked with its hardline stance on Iran. This is evident in the clearly divergent stances both the US and EU have taken regarding Iran’s Nuclear program. President Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) last year had brought about considerable shock and dismay amidst European powers that had spent years negotiating the agreement with Iran alongside the US. Signed back in 2015, the JCPOA had set a historic precedent in international diplomacy, garnering support from China and Russia as well as the US, UK, France, Germany and the EU. Based on years of painstaking negotiations it was widely hailed as presenting a successful model for Nuclear Arms Control and non-proliferation.

In fact, a number of experts had hailed the JCPOA as being even better than the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a number of ways. Its emphasis on monitoring other research and attempts at nuclear weaponisation beyond the involvement of nuclear materials was a major step in further expanding the role and scope of the IAEA’s monitoring mechanisms. These same mechanisms which based on the consensus of world powers have been successful in both monitoring and limiting Iran’s attainment of Nuclear weapons capability. The only exception has been the United States, and particularly the Trump White House that has made it a policy imperative to undo the years of work put in by both former US President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.

President Obama had even quite recently publicly lamented how reneging on the JCPOA not only undermined the United States credibility as a negotiating partner, but also dismantled a whole non-proliferation mechanism that was to prove crucial in addressing the growing threat from North Korea as well. As apparent in the failure of the recent talks between the US and North Korea in Vietnam, the US’s seriousness and commitment to the non-proliferation regime has been openly questioned as it continues to prioritize its own geo-political imperatives. Its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign on Iran, which is flirting dangerously with yet another large-scale military conflict involving US armed forces, threatens to undo the last decades’ painstaking rollback of US troop deployments throughout the Middle East.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US’s unilateralism and more maximalist approach was never in question considering its series of interventions particularly in the Middle East. There was however a semblance of unity and International leadership which either under the aegis of the UN or NATO still more or less carried the garb of a multi-lateral consensus. That instead of simply employing naked aggression as accused of by its adversaries, the US was justified by its ideology and the success of its international diplomacy. This perhaps was best and most positively evident in the JCPOA, which had brought all the world’s major powers into a concerted agreement on one of the world’s most pressing issues, namely Nuclear Proliferation.

However, as the Trump administration beats its war drums to the tune of nothing short of a regime change in Iran, there is most definitely a marked difference in how the US has previously built its cases for military intervention in the Middle East. In the absence of any international support from its partners, or in the lack of any overarching ideal based on non-Proliferation or plain old human freedoms (à la Iraq), the recent case for the US military intervention in Iran appears outright indolent if not unjustified as has mostly been the case with US hegemony over the last few years.

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The crisis in Venezuela and its strategic significance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Venezuela’s economy – in a country that has better oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Iran – began with the OPEC oil price crisis, when Chavez was still alive, until the heavy fall in oil prices in 2013.

  The social spending of Venezuelan “Bolivarianism” was very high and a country living on oil permanently needs stable and growing markets. This is inconceivable with the current dislocation of strategic roles within OPEC and in the context of the struggle between Iranian Sunnis and Shiites.

  Saudi Arabia will decrease production as soon as prices fall – and this will be the rule for everyone.

 With Maduro, the primary choice for oil – i.e. Venezuela’s true economic policy -has remained in the wake of Bolivarianism. Oil resources, however, have fallen to less than half of those recorded during the Chavista boom and inflation has quickly grown to such a point that it is currently the largest in the world. It reminds us of the Weimar Republic and for the same reasons. The State of Caracas prints money with the same criterion with which newspapers in crisis print more copies.

 At the beginning of the Chavista era, the inflation rate was already 29.5%. In 2005, when the oil market was still bullish, the inflation rate dropped to 14.4% instead.

 Eight years after the former city bus driver in Caracas, namely Chavez, had risen to power, food prices in the capital city were nine times higher than at the beginning of Chavez’ new Bolivarian regime, while salaries had decreased by 40%.

 The full nationalization of the oil company PVDSA was the first step that Chavez made down to the road for total economic disaster.

 Currently the oil companies operating in the Orinoco Basin – which is one of the largest in the world – do no longer make the necessary investment to make extraction possible, and nowadays oil extraction has leveled off at merely one million barrels a day.

 Certainly, we need to consider the US sanctions on exports, but extraction could still halve down to half a million by the end of 2019.

 Companies such as Malaysia’s Petronas and even the Russian Lukoil already left Venezuela in 2014. The Iranian company Petropars did the same in early 2015 and PetroVietnam in late 2015. Finally Exxon and Conoco had to leave quickly under the threat of Venezuela carrying out a punitive nationalization, with both companies’ related and immediate starting of formal proceedings before the international courts.

 Moreover, there is no legal framework – not even in Venezuela-delimiting possible operations, in the case of ongoing confiscations of foreign capitalists’ assets or of nationalizations. Hence those who remain, paying bribes left and right, obviously do not extract the amount of oil they could. This also applies to the Venezuelan non-oil economic sector.

 Even PDVSA – the always open coffer of Bolivarianism – has reduced its oil production from 5 million barrels a day to the current one million barrels a day. Later, with the embargo imposed by the United States, this trend will continue.

 The national oil company has long been heavily indebted with China and Russia, as well as with other countries, such as Iran.

 China has already requested the quick and full payment of its credits. China is not used to the structural inefficiency of Latin American countries.

 It is a process that China has started also with Brazil.

 Furthermore, Russia has already granted a rescheduling of its Venezuelan debt, which is already three billion and seven hundred million US dollars.

 Obviously, from a strategic viewpoint, Russia is interested in maintaining its own area of influence in a Latin American continent that, after Bolsonaro’s victory in Brazil, is fully siding with President Trump’s policies.

  Hence, where possible, it is subject to Russian specific pressures.

As can be easily imagined, Venezuela’s weight in the OPEC area is now less than minimal- and this creates further difficulties.

 But the entire oil producers’ organisation, whose relations of its Sunni area with Trump’s America are currently very strong, has now a fixed rule we have already clarified: cutting production when the oil barrel prices decrease –  exactly the opposite of what Venezuela currently would like to do.

 Moreover, Venezuela keeps on exporting only 800,000 oil barrels a dayto the United States.

 Here not only geopolitics, but also the first global commodity, namely oil, has a role to play in this respect.

 For the United States, buying oil from Venezuela means trying to counter Russia’s weight – although with increasing difficulty.

 The United States clearly sees how Russia and China still support Venezuelan Chavism – also to recover their huge credits. Hence a geopolitical rather than economic clash between opposing blocks emerges in the country with the largest oil and gas reserves in the world.

 Inter alia, with shale oil and gas the United States is becoming a net oil exporter. Hence it is ever less interested in the fate of the countries that were once powerful suppliers, but are currently only tired competitors.

 Even the deep crisis of Madurism could favour the US oil and natural gas export market. Hence there is not much desire in the USA to solve the Venezuelan crisis, but only the desire to prevent Venezuela from choosing Russia, Iran, China or even the crazy and silly European Union.

 Moreover, the United States has an extreme need for high oil barrel prices, so as to recover the extraction costs which are still higher than the traditional ones.

 Hence, paradoxically, a regional production crisis near the US territory could even be good for the United States in the medium term.

 Therefore, apart from the usual creation of petrodollars, the United States is entirely in favour of an increase in the oil barrel price- and hence indirectly in favour of tension in Venezuela.

 The United States does no longer even need Venezuelan oil – as was the case in the past.

 There is no more room for Venezuela to even export its oil to the Caribbean at the usual low prices – a clear sign of an old and now impossible local hegemony.

 Hence, as is currently the case, the Hezbollah – currently guarding also Maduro – set in, while the Cuban intelligence services have defined a precise program for opposing Guaido’s possible “counter-revolution” and also the Russian contractors of the Wagner group are present, in force, in the Venezuelan territory to defend the wells and the other nerve centres of the former Chavista regime and, currently of Maduro’s regime, for which Russia has no esteem.

 The relationship between Hezbollah and Chavez was very complex – and it is still so currently with Maduro.

 At the beginning of Guaidò’s campaign against Maduro, the members of the Lebanese militia – that was Imam Khomeini’s “eye – hoisted a poster with Chavez’ and Maduro’s faces alongside that of Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Shiite militia.

 Furthermore, the Hezbollah were the first to advertise and make public the US hidden presence in favour of Guaidò in Venezuela.

 The reason for this particular relationship between the pro-Iranian Lebanese Shiites and the “Bolivarian” regime is simple and concrete: right from the start, Chavez and Maduro gave carte blanche for the laundering of Hezbollah’s secret funds in Venezuela, especially through drug trafficking activities.

  Furthermore, the Lebanese group operating in Venezuela collected essential data on international crime, which was useful exactly for Hezbollah to find its place into the global cycles for money laundering and acquisition of illegal funds.

 Even Cuba – which, despite the all-too-touted “liberalization” of the post-Castro regime, kept on serving as air passage of drugs to the United States – used the Venezuelan “Bolivarians” for money laundering activities, as well as a basis for the operational shift of South American drugs to the ever more drug-addicted United States.

 Some Hezbollah’s people also have important positions in Maduro’s government.

 Just think about Tarek el Assaimi, the 28thVice-President of Venezuela and later Oil Minister, who currently “covers” many of the Lebanese from Hezbollah that very easily acquire a Venezuelan passport.

 El Assaimi has also been reported to the US Drug Administration since 2017.

 Why does Iran need Venezuela?

 Firstly, to avoid US trade restrictions. Iran sees the US support for Guaidò as a direct threat to its interests in Latin America, which are manifold and very widespread.

 Coincidentally, the Venezuelan gold – that was said to have so far been exported to Turkey for security reasons -is currently heading for Iran.

Cuba’s drug system has been essential to maintain Castro’s regime as early as the time of Ochoa, who had supported the Medellin cartel in the cocaine shipments to the United States. At the time, however, the proceeds were in the banks of Noriega, the President of Panama who laundered 80% of Cuban illegal cash flows.

 Now the system works in favour of Venezuela, which no longer has the financial controls that were previously unavoidable in a fully pro-American country like Panama.

 Certainly, for Cuba, the Medellin cartel’s drug transfer to the United States was also a purely political operation to plague the American society and make it powerless and unproductive.

  It has largely already succeeded to reach this goal.

 After Noriega’s fall, that network has largely moved to Venezuela and is currently operating at full capacity and in full swing.

 Meanwhile, the Cuban intelligence services were directly connected to the Colombian FARC and later to the Venezuelan security forces, formerly regional leaders of drug trafficking at the time.

 As is the case today, since then the Cuban secret services have trained the Bolivarian intelligence services. In fact, at the time, the former eliminated most of the Venezuelan opposition to Chavez.

 Indeed, after the Cuban training, Chavez’ intelligence services established the Cartel de los Soles(the “Cartel of the Suns”) and in fact the name comes from the “sun” insignia of Venezuelan generals.

 Currently, it is precisely corruption and the illegal drug trafficking led by Maduro’s generals to directly support the regime and to strengthen and fund the fight against Guaidò’s forces.

 The Venezuelan narcomilitaries know all too well that, if they lose power, they will soon be judged by some US or international court.

 This kleptocracy removes from Venezuela’s coffers an officially declared sum worth around 70 billion US dollars, but some Latin American security services speak of about 300 billion US dollars taken away for paying bribes inside the kleptocratic regime in Venezuela.

 Hence an inflation triggered and maintained only by the criminal kleptocracy of those who also organize a highly lucrative drug trafficking, even within the regime and the whole country.

 Furthermore the controls on money and prices, introduced by Chavez in February 2003, quickly turned Venezuela into a Mafia-State.

 At the time of the founder of “Bolivarianism”, the illegal system created by those price controls, was even larger than it currently is.

 It should be remembered that in 2002 a military coup  ousted Chavez from office for 48 hours only.

 With a view to avoiding the return of the military, Chavez delegated most of the State functions to criminal gangs – and also to the very inefficient Armed Forces.

  The illegal gangs were mainly two, namely the Colectivos and the Pranes.

 The Colectivos took power mainly in the suburbs of Caracas.

 Currently, despite having been supported and often created by the government, the Colectivos are not answerable to anyone – much less to the opposition.

 The democratization of kleptocracy.

 They live mainly on extortion and drug dealing.

 Currently, however, they have been essential to repress Guaidò’s insurgency and make some areas of Caracas  support Maduro again.

 The Pranes are instead criminal gangs operating within the Venezuelan prison system.

 However, they have also expanded outside prisons, in collaboration with the so-called megabandas.

 The “peace zones”, reached after a long negotiation between criminal gangs and what remains of the police, are just eight in Venezuela.

 Nowadays, the most widespread illegal activities among criminal gangs are those relating to the smuggling of subsidized fuel to Brazil and Colombia.

 There is an ever more limited market for this fuel in the countries of arrival and an increasing number of buyers in Venezuela, which experiences the paradox of being a huge oil producer, but with empty pumps for its citizens.

 Other key sectors, left in the hands of the bandas, are the smuggling of food and pharmaceutical products. This was the reason why the Red Cross aid could not work at the beginning of the crisis.

 In Caracas people die very easily: 89 murders per 100,000 people a day.

 In 2017 there were 26,616 murders – over 5,535 of which carried out by the security forces, while the others were carried out by the gangs of the Operativos para la Liberacion del Pueblo.

 A network created exactly by Maduro.

Furthermore, as already seen, Venezuela is the favorite base for the Colombian narcocrime, while the hungry e Venezuelan proletariat is pushed right out of the cities of Bolivarianism towards Colombia, where the Venezuelan poor people become members of the “cartels” or victims of them.

 In just one year, the last for which we have complete statistics, namely 2017-2018, at least one million Venezuelans fled to Colombia alone, with a rate of at least 37,000 citizens of the Bolivarian State who crossed the border with the territory of Bogotà everyday.

 Panama, which now has no interest in the survival of Maduro’s “Socialist” regime, also included 37 “big shots” from the current Venezuelan regime into a “high-risk list” for money laundering, including Maduro himself, as can be easily imagined.

 That list also included Diosdado Cabello, the No. 2 of Venezuela’s regime and Party, as well as other figures, well known to the Venezuelan public, such as Gustavo Gonzales Peres, the former Head of the Bolivarian Intelligence Service.

 Panama is also part of the “Lima group”, an organization of 14 Latin American countries in the region, which is above all opposed to maintaining the Maduro system in Latin America.

 Even the European Union – with its well-known quick decision-making in foreign policy – imposed personal sanctions on figures such as Interior Minister Nestor Revarol, the President of the Supreme Court, Maikel Moreno, and even the Head of the External Intelligence Service, Gustavo Gonzales Lopez and, finally, to the aforementioned No. 2 of the regime’s Party, Diosdado Cabello.

  They can no longer travel to EU countries and their bank funds deposited there will be frozen.

 The appeal for a general upheaval that interim President Juan Guaidò had announced on the morning of April 30th – together with the recently-released military Leopoldo Lopez, and with a military group from La Carlota air base – seems to have failed.  In a country like Venezuela, the “Arab Spring” model does not work at all.

 US intelligence services’ greater intellectual imagination would be needed.

 Meanwhile Lopez has recently taken refuge at the headquarters of the Spanish embassy in Caracas, while the Spanish government has declared it will never release Lopez to the Maduro government.

  25 other rebel military applied for asylum at the Brazilian embassy, but it should be noted that Lopez had previously addressed to the diplomatic offices of Chile, although he declared – after being accepted by the Spanish diplomacy in Venezuela – he had never asked for political asylum.

 Nevertheless many Venezuelans have anyway agreed to take to the streets, where two other young people have recently died, thus rising to 55 the number of victims of Maduro’s repression since the beginning of this year.

 Meanwhile, the opposition denounced a toll of other 74 severely injured people, followed by 168 arrests, including at least a dozen journalists.

 Meanwhile Guaidò goes from one hiding place to another, but he was seen by the crowd on May 1stwhen he called for a strike of all Venezuelan workers in the short term.

 Maduro responded to Guaidò’s call to strike only the day after, but it was a clearly recorded TV broadcast.

 Shortly afterwards, in his official capacity as Trump’s National Security Advisor, John Bolton – an old heir to the neocon foreign policy – informed the international media that Defense Minister Valentin Padrino Lopez, Supreme Court President Maikel Moreno and the Director of the DG for Military Counterintelligence, Ivan Hernandez Dala, had negotiated directly with the USA to oust Maduro.

 Instillation of suspicions in Maduro’s elite, or also truth? Hence evident psychological war or US indecision between the choice of staging a coup inside Maduro’s Party, with some US trusted elements, or the reaffirmation of US trust in Juan Guaidò?

Mike Pompeo, Trump’s Secretary of State and former CIA Director, also stated that Maduro was already on a plane to Cuba, immediately after the May 1st demonstrations, but that Russia harshly ordered him to stay in Venezuela.

 Could the reason underlying the US support to Guaidò’s attempted coup – which is now not matched by the same support it had gained at the beginning of the insurgency – beoil, as usual?

 With the oil barrel price around 50-60 US dollars, the price of Venezuelan oil is still acceptable, but we are talking about heavy hydrocarbons, which need successive and obviously expensive further refining.

 Exxon-Mobil is still trying to acquire the Essequibo extraction area, where sovereignty over it is still being discussed between Venezuela and Guyana.

 In Venezuela, there are still 15 billion barrels a day of not extracted oil, in addition to as many as 42 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

 It should be considered that Venezuela is still the second country – if not the first, depending on explorations- in terms of oil and gas reserves available.

 The USA, however, is mainly exploiting its national basins and is selling natural gas and oil, by sea, even to some European countries.

 Hence, currently for the United States the issue of Venezuelan oil and gas is not to acquire them – although the oil barrel production cost in Venezuela is still lower than the shale oil and gas of the US Permian basin – but above all to prevent those oil and gas reserves from being used by China and the Russian Federation.

 In fact, in the years of the sharp drop in the oil barrel price, until 2016, Maduro chose to assign as much as 49.9% of a PVDSA subsidiary, namely CITGO, to Russian Rosneft – in exchange for a loan against the transfer of the company shares to the tune of 1.5 billion dollars directly to the Venezuelan State.

 Also Russia, however, is a net exporter, and Goodness knows how powerful that country is in terms of oil and gas, with a primary focus of its markets on the EU.

 In this case, however, for Russia the Venezuelan oil could be a strong way to put pressure on the United States – exactly due to the lower price of the Venezuelan crude oil – with a view to reducing the negative impact of the US (and EU) sanctions on Russia for the Ukrainian issue.

 Hence, by spending a relatively little sum, namely 1.5 billion US dollars, Russia became the true arbiter of Venezuelan oil to use it as a leverage over the United States – indeed, really for purposes of blackmail against the United States.

 In fact, it is by no mere coincidence that, in February 2018, a group of US investors of unclear complexion tried to buy back the Russian shareholding of CITGO, asking the Venezuelan government to accept payment to them of the remaining Russian loan and also asking Rosneft to transfer the remaining amount of the loan already granted in Venezuela to the new CITGO.

 Needless to say, the offer was declined.

 As always happens in these cases, the United States is also operating with economic pressures and embargoes.

 It is imposing a further embargo for Petroleos de Venezuela SA, namely the whole PDVSA, which legally began in early January 2019.

 This means that the proceeds from Venezuelan oil will be very limited, as if Venezuela were an economic hostage.

 With a view to favouring – even among the elites of the “Maduro system” – the shift to the US camp, instead of remaining within the sphere of Russian economic control (and of Iranian control for the non-oil criminal economy).

 President Trump’s desire to invade Venezuela is now well-known to the international public, at least based on his statements of June 2018, when, at a meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump expressed that clear desire to the then Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, former President of Exxon-Mobil, and also to the then National Security Adviser, General MacMaster.

 It should be clarified that neither of the two advisors was favourable to the operation.

 In late 2018,Maduro – increasingly under pressure as a result of the international economic crisis and of the huge internal crisis, particularly heavy for the oil-dependent countries – gave to the companies of the strong Russian mining sector access to the Venezuelan gold mines – those that had created the myth of Eldorado in Spain in the  seventeenth century.

In Venezuela there are also mineral reserves of nickel, diamonds, iron, bauxite and aluminum.

  Clearly, however, Latin America’s new strategic and political positioning – especially after Bolsonaro’s victory in  Brazil – is fully in favour of the United States and, specifically, of President Trump, while the assets in favour of the Russian Federation are diminishing.

   This means that Russia, along with its traditional allies, such as China, will keep Venezuela very close, especially for geopolitical purposes and ever less for strictly economic ones.

  While the real strategic variable will soon be China. Will it accept to participate in Russia’s very interested support for Maduro’s regime, taking what remains of the Venezuelan economy, or will it accept the US proposal of taking a large part of Venezuela after breaking China’s ties with Russia, at least in Latin America?

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