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The failure of the Palermo Conference on Libya

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Why did the Conference on Libya organized by Prime Minister Conte’s government at Villa Igiea in Palermo fail?

Firstly, it was a chaotic and hastily organized Conference, with evident signs of oversimplification, which became evident both in the logistics and in the policy line.

At the time of Presidents Moro, Cossiga and Craxi, the Conference would have certainly been a real success. Why? Because, at that time, Italy still counted much in the Mediterranean region and was taken very seriously by everyone. Italy knew what its interests were, not the usual “seductive attractions” of peace, development, etc. -just to put it in Benedetto Croce’s words.

It would not have been possible for France and Great Britain  to pressurize and blackmail Italy to bomb a country, namely Gaddafi’s Libya, which was our always open merchant  bank. It was also our strategic partner in the Maghreb region and our military guarantee against the so-called Françafrique and the defender of the equilibria with Egypt and Algeria, as well as the protection of ENI wells from many dangers.

The current Italian government has reduced the Libyan issue to a problem of mere reunification between the two parts, namely Cyrenaica’s area and Tripoli’s area, which is much loved by the United Nations, but no one knows why.

What is missing is the whole Fezzan region, an area of autonomous tribes in which interests intersect with illicit trafficking and with migrant flows. The Fezzan region was controlled by Gaddafi with a very effective system of stick (much) and carrot (sometimes).

It is fully inconceivable to think that all this can disappear thanks to the mere good will and good heart of al-Sarraj in Tripoli or of General Haftar in Benghazi.

Furthermore, a great and so sensitive foreign policy operation is never arranged for the migrant issue alone.

Migrants are above all the result of Great Britain’s and France’s extreme idiocy on Libya and of their desire to oust a “tyrant” (it is their eighteenth-century political rhetoric) that was instead a wonderful asset for the hated Italy.

Certainly, General Haftar could not even accept that Italy was the sole sponsor and funder of the Tripoli Coast Guard, which coordinated the “Operation Nauras” to stop the migrants’ ships and the NGOs that protected them.

One cannot fund either contenders and think that the other is happy with it.

Migrants, however, are a social, political and economic emergency that cannot be the only matter for a peace Conference on Libya.

In fact, for too long in Italy foreign policy has been confused with domestic policy, however without ever getting a grip on either of them.

We should not even forget the fully offensive action on European defence organized on November 12, by President Macron with Presidents Trump and Putin and Chancellor  Merkel.

The “European defence” is a huge nonsense invented by the childish President, Emmanuel Macron, who even wanted to merge the French and German armies at the beginning of his term of office.

Some of Cambronne’s words of the other French high military ranks have so far stopped this process, thus preventing the French Armed Forces from merging with the current chronic disaster of the Bundeswehr.

Nevertheless, at the Palermo Conference, Russia was represented by an influential deputy-Minister, Bogdanov.

What did Russia want from the Conference held in Sicily? Obviously a recognition of his new role in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Russia no longer thinks about the Mediterranean as in the Cold War phase -i.e. to divide it into two areas – but imagines it as a united region and probably under its sole  hegemony.

Russia has excellent relations with most African countries, strengthened by economic treaties, whereas this is certainly not the case with the European Union, while the rebellion against the CFA franc on the part of the 14 countries that are forced to adopt it is mounting ever more.

The fact of not having invited China to the Palermo Conference makes us smile.

This oversight is strange. China is the largest trading partner of African countries, with the exception of Swaziland.

A donor country, an investor and a lender.

With a mass of investment throughout Africa, which this year has reached 600 million dollars, in addition to a traditional presence in the infrastructure of Nigeria and Angola which is currently unparalleled.

They are the countries that, together with others, generate the flow of migrants reaching the Libyan coasts. Therefore, the fact of not having invited China is self-destructive.

It would also be interesting to know who is behind the many recruiters of men who can be seen in African squares. Certainly, many Western “operators” and some gangmasters of local leaders, who want to get rid of former convicts and “dangerous masses”.

Hence why China was not invited? For parochialism. Because we cannot imagine how such a huge country can be interested in peace in Africa, and probably we do not know what it wants. Simply China wants the absolute stability of the whole African continent.

But can we ensure it to Africa? No, we cannot. France still has its Operation Barkhane in place between Chad and Mauritania, which serves above all to let migrants move to Libya. Furthermore the North American troops of AFRICOM are everywhere on the Dark Continent with a view to opposing China.

Let us consider also the case of Djibouti, where a new Chinese base was built very close to the US one.

After the phase of economic investment, there will certainly also be the phase of Chinese military positions and I am not so sure that a Chinese base will not come out on the shores of the Maghreb region. Moreover, it should not be forgotten that China is a friend of Israel.

In short, it was real madness to do without the clout and influence of the People’s Republic of China in the Palermo Conference.

Why? Is it because we do not want to annoy America? Needless. Is it because it is too big and hence could say quia sum Leo? The Chinese diplomacy is so subtle that it does not permit such deductions.

As already mentioned, I think that ignorance is at the basis of China’s exclusion from the Conference. In fact, our diplomats come from years of “reforms” that have turned them into mere sales representatives.

They are all obsessed with an economy they do not know – hence they are probably not familiar with the evolution of Chinese business in Africa.

As for France and Great Britain, they came to use the Conference for their own purposes.

The French Foreign Minister, Jean Yves Le Drian, is a widely experienced old Mitterandian Breton.

The organization of the Conference based on bilateral meetings – as established by the regulation – favoured confidential agreements and “covert” meetings. For someone like Le Drian, who is a member of the Grand Orient of France, a covert approach is easy to take. France’s primary interest is to limit ENI’s presence as much as possible and exclude Italy from the African games.

Furthermore, Great Britain has the same style as the United States: they bring democracy somewhere and then, immediately after, they forget about it.

Therefore, bilateral relations were favoured, instead of a general and overall picture, which would have been in Italy’s interest.

It would have been very useful to have a Summit involving all parties, so as to break any stalemate and overcome rejections.

However, the Italian government’s approach was not a foreign policy approach, but a domestic policy one, i.e. to stop the migrant flows.

Hence no other idea for Libya, if not “dialogue” or the usual “peace”.

Platitudes for newspapers. In fact, how is it possible to put together al-Sarraj and General Haftar, who want dominance over coastal and productive Libya implying the usual principle of King Francis I and Emperor Charles V, epitomized by the statement “my brother and I want the same thing”. It was the Duchy of Milan.

Why should al-Sarraj commit suicide-probably only at political level – for General Haftar? Obviously, General Haftar pays heed only to the Russian and French intelligence services, which support him in his actions.

Furthermore, why should we try to achieve the goal of a “United Libya”, when currently no faction has difficulty in just seeing the other?

Let us face reality and state it clearly: the only way to unify Libya is to give a real Rais back to it.

Only those who credibly threaten to have maximum strength and power can stop the smaller forces of insurgency.

Perhaps it would be better if we read Machiavelli’s books more often, instead of those of the heart-rending political scientists.

In short, the Palermo Conference was a good idea – in principle – but organized by a country that was previously a second-class power and, currently, not even that.

Decades of destruction of Italy’s foreign policy, in the period from the end of the so-called “First Republic” to present times, have left their mark. Politicians are now reduced to vociferous tenants or to shortsighted semi literates who are unable to contemplate anything beyond their own national navel.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Middle East

Chinese purchases of Iranian oil raise tantalizing questions

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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A fully loaded Chinese oil tanker ploughing its way eastwards from two Iranian oil terminals raises questions of how far Beijing is willing to go in defying US sanctions amid a mounting US military build-up in the Gulf and a US-China trade war.

The sailing from Iran of the Pacific Bravo takes on added significance with US strategy likely to remain focused on economic rather than military strangulation of the Iranian leadership, despite the deployment to the Gulf of an aircraft carrier strike group as well as B-52 bombers and a Patriot surface-to-air missile system.

As President Donald J. Trump, backed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appears to be signalling that he is not seeking military confrontation, his administration is reportedly considering a third round of sanctions that would focus on Iran’s petrochemical industry. The administration earlier this month sanctioned the country’s metals and minerals trade.

The sailing raises the question whether China is reversing its policy that led in the last quarter of 2018 to it dramatically reducing its trade with Iran, possibly in response to a recent breakdown in US-Chinese trade talks.

“The question is whether non-oil trade remains depressed even if some oil sales resume, which I think it will. That’s the better indicator of where Chinese risk appetite has changed. Unfortunately Iran‘s reprieve will be limited—but better than zero perhaps,” tweeted Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, head of Bourse & Bazaar, a self-described media and business diplomacy company and the founder of the Europe-Iran Forum.

A Chinese analyst interviewed by Al Jazeera argued that “China is not in a position to have Iran’s back… For China, its best to stay out” of the fray.

The stakes for China go beyond the troubled trade talks. In Canada, a senior executive of controversial Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei is fighting extradition to the United States on charges of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Reports that Western companies, including Kraft Heinz, Adidas and Gap, wittingly or unwittingly, were employing Turkic Muslims detained in re-education camps in China’s north-western province of Xinjiang, as part of opaque supply chains, could increase attention on a brutal crackdown that China is struggling to keep out of the limelight.

The Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the crackdown but has stopped short of sanctioning officials involved in the repressive measures.

Bourse & Bazaar’s disclosure of the sailing of the Pacific Bravo coincided with analysis showing that Iran was not among China’s top three investment targets in the Middle East even if Chinese investment in the region was on the rise.

The Pacific Bravo was steaming with its cargo officially toward Indonesia as Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was touring his country’s major oil clients, including China, in a bid to persuade them to ignore US sanctions.

A second tanker, the Marshal Z, was reported to have unloaded 130,000 tonnes of Iranian fuel oil into storage tanks near the Chinese city of Zhoushan.

The Marshall Z was one of four ships that, according to Reuters, allegedly helped Iran circumvent sanctions by using ship-to-ship transfers in January and forged documents that masked the cargoes as originating from Iraq.

The unloading put an end to a four-month odyssey at sea sparked by buyers’ reticence to touch a cargo that would put them in the US crosshairs.

“Somebody in China decided that the steep discount this cargo most likely availed … was a bargain too good to miss,” Matt Stanley, an oil broker at StarFuels in Dubai, told Reuters.

The Pacific Bravo, the first vessel to load Iranian oil since the Trump administration recently refused to extend sanction exemptions to eight countries, including China, was recently acquired by China’s Bank of Kunlun.

The acquisition and sailing suggested that Bank of Kunlun was reversing its decision last December to restrict its business with Iran to humanitarian trade, effectively excluding all other transactions.

The bank was the vehicle China used in the past for business with Iran because it had no exposure to the United States and as a result was not vulnerable to US sanctions that were in place prior to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

China’s willingness to ignore, at least to some extent, US sanctions could also constitute an effort to persuade Iran to remain fully committed to the nuclear accord which it has so far upheld despite last year’s US withdrawal.

Iran recently warned Europe that it would reduce its compliance if Europe, which has struggled to create a credible vehicle that would allow non-US companies to circumvent the sanctions, failed to throw the Islamic republic an economic lifeline.

In a letter that was also sent to Russia and China, Iran said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.

Russian president Vladimir Putin warned in response to the Iranian threat that “as soon as Iran takes its first reciprocal steps and says that it is leaving, everyone will forget by tomorrow that the US was the initiator of this collapse. Iran will be held responsible, and the global public opinion will be intentionally changed in this direction.”

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The Iran Question

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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Will there be war with Iran?  Will there not be war with Iran?  The questions are being asked repeatedly in the media even though a single carrier task force is steaming up there.  The expression is old for the latest carriers are nuclear powered.  Imagine the mess if it was blown up.

There are two kinds of weapons in the world … offensive and defensive.  The latter are cheaper, a fighter plane compared to a bomber.  If a country does not (or cannot afford to) have offensive intent, it makes sense to focus on defense.  It is what Iran has done.  Moreover, its missile centered defense has a modern deadly twist — the missiles are precision-guided. 

As an Iranian general remarked when questioned about the carrier task force:  some years ago it would’ve been a threat he opined; now it’s a target.  Iran also has a large standing army of 350,000 plus a 120,000 strong Revolutionary Guard and Soviet style air defenses.  In 2016 Russia started installation of the S-300 system.  It has all kinds of variants, the most advanced, the S-300 PMU-3 has a range similar to the S-400 if equipped with 40N6E missiles, which are used also in the S-400.  Their range is 400 km, so the Iranian batteries are virtually S-400s.  The wily Putin has kept trump satisfied with the S-300 moniker without short-changing his and China’s strategic ally.  The latter continuing to buy Iranian oil.

Iran has friends in Europe also.  Angela Merkel in particular has pointed out that Iran has complied fully with the nuclear provisions of the UN Security Council backed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action i.e. the Iran nuclear deal.  She is mustering the major European powers.  Already alienated with Trump treating them as adversaries rather than friends, they find Trump’s bullying tiresome.  President Macron, his poll ratings hitting the lowest, is hardly likely to engage in Trump’s venture.  In Britain, Theresa May is barely able to hold on to her job.  In the latest thrust by senior members of her party, she has been asked to name the day she steps down.

So there we have it.  Nobody wants war with Iran.  Even Israel, so far without a post-election government does not want to be rained upon by missiles leaky as its Iron Dome was against homemade Palestinian rockets.

Topping all of this neither Trump nor Secretary of State Pompeo want war.  Trump is as usual trying to bully — now called maximum pressure — Iran into submission.  It won’t.  The wild card is National Security Adviser John Bolton.  He wants war.  A Gulf of Tonkin type false flag incident, or an Iranian misstep, or some accident can still set it off. 

In Iran itself, moderates like current President Hassan Rouhani are being weakened by Trump’s shenanigans.  The hard liners might well want to bleed America as happened in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Iran’s game just started

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By announcing that Iran will begin keeping its excess uranium and heavy water, the Islamic Republic now sends a firm and clear message to the west, exactly one year after U.S. president, Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from its nuclear deal with Iran. 

At this point, it seems that Iran has made a wise decision. Over the last year, the European troika has not only done anything to revive the nuclear deal or bring any kind of benefit to the Iranian nation, but they have actually backed up U.S. by developing new plans to undermine Iran’s “missile work”, and diminish its “power in the region” as well as its “nuclear technology”.  

As stated in clauses 26 and 36 of Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), if the other side fails to meet its obligations, Iran is entitled to partially or completely end its commitments as well. So, Iran’s recent decision could be analyzed both on legal and strategic terms. 
However, it seems that the strategic aspects of Iran’s decision are even more important than its legal aspects. This decision is strategically important because it stops Washington and European troika to carry out their anti-Iran scheme, a dangerous scheme that they actually started devising when Trump took the office in 2017.  

At the time, Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, and Emmanuel Macron, the French president played a major part in carrying out the west scheme. A scheme based on enforcing Iran to keep its “nuclear promises” and stay committed to a “distorted nuclear deal” while “U.S. had abandoned the deal”, and at the same time, trying to “diminish Iran’s power in the region” and “reduce its missile activities”. 

All other actions of Europeans toward Iran were also simply targeted at carrying out this major plan, including how they constantly changed their strategies toward Tehran, and how Germany, U.K. and France intentionally delayed in launching the alternative trade mechanism (Instex) with Iran.  

Now, Iran’s decision to keep its Uranium and heavy water is definitely in compliance with JCPOA, and more importantly, it will seriously undermine the “American-European” joint plan against Iran. This also explains why French government was so distressed by Iran’s new nuclear strategy and had such a quick reaction, considering that Emmanuel Macron, the French president and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Foreign Minister both have had important roles in carrying out the American-European anti-Iran scheme. 

At any rate, what is clear now is that the game has just started! And the Iranian political system and specially the foreign ministry have a great mission to run this game wisely.  

In following days, the European troika might want to force Iran into changing its decision by threats such as reviving the European Union sanctions against Iran or even taking Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council (so that Trump administration can meddle in Iran’s affairs). But, it is time for Iran political system to be adamant in its decision.  

The Iranian Foreign Ministry should clearly ask the Europeans to choose one of these options, either Iran will “further reduce its commitments to the nuclear deal” or the Europeans should do something practical to “protect the rights of Iranian nation”. 

It is also necessary that the Iranian political system reveals the American-European joint anti-Iran scheme to the people so that the true nature of Europeans is showed to Iranians. In that case, Europe and specially the European troika will completely lose their reputation.    

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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