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Who Was Secretly Behind America’s Invading and Occupying Syria?

Eric Zuesse

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The invasion and occupation of Syria by tens of thousands of jihadists who were recruited from around the world to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, was financed mainly by U.S. taxpayers and by the world’s wealthiest family, the Sauds, who own Saudi Arabia and the world’s largest oil company, Aramco. America’s international oil companies and major think tanks and ‘charitable’ foundations were also supportive and providing propaganda for the operation, but the main financing for it came from America’s taxpayers, and from the Saud family and from the Government that they own.

One of the best articles that the New York Times ever published was by Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo, on 23 January 2016, “U.S. Relies Heavily on Saudi Money to Support Syrian Rebels”. They reported that, “the C.I.A. and its Saudi counterpart have maintained an unusual arrangement for the rebel-training mission, which the Americans have code-named Timber Sycamore. Under the deal, current and former administration officials said, the Saudis contribute both weapons and large sums of money, and the C.I.A takes the lead in training the rebels. … From the moment the C.I.A. operation was started, Saudi money supported it.” Furthermore, “The White House has embraced the covert financing from Saudi Arabia — and from Qatar, Jordan and Turkey.” But “American officials said Saudi Arabia was by far the largest contributor to the operation.” The invasion and occupation of Syria by jihadists from around the world was primarily a Saud operation, though it was managed mainly by the U.S. Government.

Prior to the failed U.S.-backed coup-attempt on 15 July 2015 to replace Tayyip Erdogan as Turkey’s President, Turkey was part of the U.S-Saudi alliance to overthrow and replace Syria’s Government. But afterwards, Turkey increasingly switched against the U.S. and Sauds, and toward instead supporting the target of the Sauds and of America’s aristocrats: Syria. And, so, Turkey has increasingly joined Syria’s alliance, which includes Iran and Russia. That’s one of the major geopolitical changes in recent decades.

The NYT continued: “The Saudi efforts were led by the flamboyant Prince Bandar bin Sultan, at the time the intelligence chief, who directed Saudi spies to buy thousands of AK-47s and millions of rounds of ammunition in Eastern Europe for the Syrian rebels. The C.I.A. helped arrange some of the arms purchases for the Saudis, including a large deal in Croatia in 2012.”

The U.S. preferred to be supplying the jihadists weapons that weren’t from U.S. manufacturers, in order to impede any tracing back to the United States the arming of the movement to oust and replace Syria’s secular, committedly non-sectarian, Government. The Sauds — who are just as committedly sectarian, and are even supporters of the extreme fundamentalist Wahhabist sect of Sunni Islam — likewise tried to cover their tracks in this operation, but their tracks were financial. The Sauds have been especially skillful at covering their tracks. Prince Bandar bin Sultan al-Saud was a buddy of George W. Bush, and had secretly donated over a million dollars in cash to Al Qaeda prior to the 9/11 attacks, according to Osama bin Laden’s financial bagman, who had picked up personally each one of the million-dollar-cash donations to that organization until 9/11 and who named amongst those donors not only Prince Bandar but also Prince Salman al-Saud, who subsequently became King Salman, who is now the father of Crown Prince Salman, who recently murdered the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. Crown Prince Salman is also a close friend of America’s current ‘prince’, Jared Kushner, the U.S. President’s son-in-law. So, the Saud family are very close with America’s Republican aristocrats, perhaps even closer than they are with America’s Democratic aristocrats. But especially because of the business links, the Sauds are deeply influential throughout America’s aristocracy. Not only is Saudi Arabia the world’s most oil-rich country, but it is also the world’s largest purchaser of weapons from Lockheed Martin and the other American ‘defense’ contractors, which sell exclusively to the U.S. Government and to the governments that are allied with it (such as to Saudi Arabia). So, those corporations depend upon the Sauds more than upon any other family, even than any single American family.

The Saud family are also crucial allies with Israel’s aristocracy, who include such American billionaires as the Republican Sheldon Adelson and the Democrat Lesley Wexner.

Prince Bandar was also reported by the FBI to have financed directly from his personal checking account the U.S. stays, and the pilot-training, of at least two of the 15 Saudis who were among the 19 jihadists who carried out the piloting and plane-seizings on 9/11. So, if Bandar didn’t (perhaps in consultation with George W. Bush) actually plan those attacks himself, he at least was one of their chief financial backers.

The NYT article also mentioned that “In late 2012, according to two former senior American officials, David H. Petraeus, then the C.I.A. director, delivered a stern lecture to intelligence officials of several gulf nations at a meeting near the Dead Sea in Jordan. He chastised them for sending arms into Syria without coordinating with one another or with C.I.A. officers in Jordan and Turkey. Months later, Mr. Obama gave his approval for the C.I.A. to begin directly arming and training the rebels from a base in Jordan, amending the Timber Sycamore program to allow lethal assistance. Under the new arrangement, the C.I.A. took the lead in training, while Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, the General Intelligence Directorate, provided money and weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles,” so as to conquer Syria, for the Sauds.

These authors were, however, misguided when they wrote that “While the intelligence alliance is central to the Syria fight and has been important in the war against Al Qaeda, a constant irritant in American-Saudi relations is just how much Saudi citizens continue to support terrorist groups, analysts said.” That “support” to jihadists, to the extent that it was financial, came actually not from “Saudi citizens,” but from the Saudi aristocracy, mainly from the Saud family itself. Moreover, in a monarchy — which Saudi Arabia is — there are no actual “citizens”; there are only the monarch and his or her “subjects” not “citizens” (citizens such as exist in a democracy — even it’s only a so-called one). There are only the monarch and his/her subjects — especially in an absolute monarchy, such as Saudi Arabia. So: that term “citizens” was a false and misleading term in that context.

On 6 March 2013, Britain’s Guardian bannered regarding General Petraeus “From El Salvador to Iraq: Washington’s man behind brutal police squads” and reported his having created the death squads in El Salvador and designed the post-Saddam Iraqi torture program for trying to extract from detainees (though the Guardian failed to note this) whatever information they might have about Saddam Hussein’s role in the 9/11 attacks. Nothing was mentioned in the Guardian, about 9/11, but only that “The aim: to halt a nascent Sunni insurgency in its tracks by extracting information from detainees” — but nothing was said there about what type of “information” was being sought, or why. “With Petraeus’s almost unlimited access to money and weapons, and Steele’s field expertise in counterinsurgency, the stage was set for the commandos to emerge as a terrifying force.” But force for what? The Guardian offered nothing on that.

Thierry Meyssan at Voltairenet, on 9 May 2011, headlined “What you don’t know about the Bilderberg-Group” and he wrote: “The operation was controlled in reality by William J. Donovan, the former commander of the OSS (the U.S. intelligence service during the war), now in charge of building the American branch of the new secret service of NATO, Gladio [2]. … Moreover, the security of each subsequent meeting was not provided by the police of the host country, but by the soldiers of the NATO Alliance.” Meyssan said that “Henry Kissinger is the main person responsible for invitations to the Bilderberg Group.” Another of the “core group” was “Henry R. Kravis: U.S. financier, investment fund manager KKR. He’s a major fundraiser for the Republican Party.” Meyssan called this “The Lobby of the most powerful military organization in the world [NATO].”

Furthermore:

During the last U.S. presidential elections, it was reported that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton disappeared on June 6, 2008, in order to negotiate an end to their rivalry. In reality, they participated in the annual conference of the Bilderberg Group in Chantilly, Virginia (USA). The following day, Mrs. Clinton announced that she was retiring from the race. … According to our sources, something else happened. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton concluded a financial and political agreement. Senator Obama bailed out his rival financially and offered her a position in his administration (Clinton refused the vice-presidency and instead chose the State Department) in exchange for her active support during the campaign against McCain. Then, the two leaders were presented by James A. Johnson to the Bilderberg Conference, where they assured the participants that they would work together. [Hillary had a solid record and reputation as a neoconservative and as a supporter of overthrowing Syria’s Government.] Barack Obama had already been NATO’s candidate for a long time. [But his campaign rhetoric had nonetheless caused worries amongst the Establishment.] Mr. Obama and his family have always worked for the CIA and the Pentagon. [3] Moreover, the initial funds for his campaign were provided by the Crown of England, via a businessman named Nadhmi Auchi. [See, e.g.: this and this and this and this.] In presenting the Black Senator to the Bilderbergers, the Atlantic Alliance was, in fact, organizing public relations at the international level for the future president of the United States.

Of course, that was even before Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

On 11 December 2018, Meyssan headlined “Whom does Emmanuel Macron owe?” and he wrote that, “he owes his electoral campaign mostly to Henry Kravis, the boss of one of the world’s largest financial companies, and to NATO – a considerable debt which weighs heavily today on the solution to the Yellow Vests crisis.” Macron had first met “Henry and Marie-Josée Kravis, in their residence on Park Avenue in New York [1]. (This meeting probably took place in 2007. Thereafter, Emmanuel Macron systematically visited the Kravis couple whenever he was in the USA, and Henry Kravis welcomed him in his offices on Avenue Montaigne when he visited Paris.) The Kravis couple, unfailing supporters of the US Republican Party, are among the great world fortunes who play politics out of sight of the Press.” Furthermore:

In December 2014, Henry Kravis created his own Intelligence agency, the KKR Global Institute. He nominated at its head the ex-Director of the CIA, General David Petraeus.  With the Kravis couple’s private funds (the KKR investment funds), and without referring to Congress, Petraeus pursued operation «Timber Sycamore» which had been initiated by President Barack Obama. This was the largest weapons traffic in History, implicating at least 17 states and representing many thousands of tons of weapons worth several billion dollars. As such, Kravis and Petraeus became the main suppliers for Daesh..

On 6 June 2017, Meyssan headlined “Confrontation at Bilderberg 2017” and wrote:There exist no photographs of the meeting of the Bilderberg Group, whose work is confidential. Security for the meeting is not handled by the FBI, nor the Virginia police force, but by a private militia organised by NATO.

The Bilderberg Group was created in 1954 by the CIA and MI6 in order to support the Atlantic Alliance.

The 2017 meeting is also described there: Among the Board of Directors, mostly international corporate luminaries, was “Marie-Josée Drouin-Kravis: Economic columnist in print and broadcast media in Canada. Researcher at the very militaristic Hudson Institute. She is the third wife of Henry Kravis.”

Both Petraeus and his two KKR sponsors are regular attendees at the Bilderberg meetings. What financial stake — if any — in assisting the Sauds to take over Syria, KKR has, is not known. But if there is such, then the U.S. Government’s recent decision to quit its military occupation of Syria will presumably be, to that extent, unfavorable for KKR, and unpopular amongst the 150 companies in which it holds stock.

The great investigative journalists Dilyana Geytandzhieva, Andrey Fomin, Manlio Dinucci, Thierry Meysan, and the South Front site, have, in several articles, documented that the Governments of U.S., UAE, Qatar, and mainly Saudi Arabia, are financing and overseeing a multibillion-dollar privately operated weapons-smuggling operation to Sunni jihadist groups such as Al Qaeda in Africa, the Middle East, Pakistan, and Asia. Meyssan writes:

In less than three years, Silk Way Airlines transported at least one billion dollars’ worth of armament.

One thing leading to another, journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva uncovered a vast system which also supplied the jihadists not only in Iraq and Syria, but also in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Congo – also paid for by the Saudis and the Emiratis. Some of the arms delivered in Arabia were redirected to South Africa.

The arms transported to Afghanistan were delivered to the Talibans, under the control of the US, which is pretending to fight them. …

Although, according to the international treaties, neither civil nor diplomatic flights are authorised to carry military material, requests for recognition as «diplomatic flights» require the explicit detailing of the cargo transported. However, at the request of the US State Department, at least Afghanistan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Bulgaria, Congo, the United Arab Emirates, Hungary, Israël, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Turkey and United Kingdom closed their eyes to this violation of international law, just as they had ignored the CIA flights to and from their secret prisons. …

According to Sibel Edmonds – ex-FBI agent and founder of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition – Azerbaïdjan, under President Heydar Aliyev, from 1997 to 2001 hosted in Bakou the number 2 of Al-Qaïda, Ayman el-Zawahiri. This was done at the request of the CIA. Although officially wanted by the FBI, the man who was then the number 2 of the international jihadist network travelled regularly in NATO planes to Afghanistan, Albania, Egypt and Turkey. He also received frequent visits from Prince Bandar ben Sultan of Saudi Arabia [11].

International relations are controlled by international corporations, but the identities of the persons who control those are often hidden; so, it’s not easy to say whom has been enriched by the invasion and occupation of Syria. And, probably, there won’t be funding for investigative journalists to do the costly research to find out whom those persons actually are. But they controlled both Obama and Trump, both of whom carried out their policy on Syria.

Author’s note: first published at strategic-culture.org

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Iran-US Tensions Are Unlikely to Spill into War

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To the south of Georgia trouble is brewing as Iran and the US (and its allies) are almost openly engaged in a military competition around the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.

True, Georgia does not share a border with Iran, but its close economic and cultural relations with Tehran might be further endangered. It is unlikely that the US will tolerate Georgia’s neutral position in a potential conflict between the two states. Therefore, the Georgian government will find itself in a difficult position but will most likely act according to wider US interests in the South Caucasus. Even if a military conflict does not ensue (as explained below), Georgian-Iranian relations will take a hit.

The US recently announced plans to set up a multinational military coalition to protect the waters around Iran and Yemen, particularly commercial routes where about $554 billion worth of trade, mainly oil and gas, passes through the Straits of Hormuz each year. The military confrontation between Iran and the US could cause disruption, costing the biggest trader, Saudi Arabia, $3.5 billion a week, but also negatively impacting many Asian shippers.

This comes on top of what happened last month when Iran came close to war with the US after Tehran’s unprecedented decision to shoot-down a US drone with a surface-to-air missile. Back then, the US officials, including President Donald Trump, said that this could trigger retaliatory strikes. According to various sources, Trump green-lighted a limited air-strike against Iran’s surface military capabilities but cancelled the decision some minutes later when fighters were in the air.

The root of Iranian-American tensions lies in the differences regarding Tehran’s nuclear program. Washington abandoned the nuclear agreement the world powers reached in 2015 and Iran recently announced it has reached a high level of uranium production.

The tensions, as said above, induced the US and its allies, primarily in the Persian Gulf, to create a coalition. This is a very good example of what kind of future naval coalitions the US will be able to muster to prevent a certain group of countries from controlling vital economic choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz or the Strait of Malacca in Asia. But this also raised an alarm among politicians and the world’s analytical community that we might see a military confrontation between the US (and its allies) and Iran. First, it should be emphasized that Iranians understand well that a military confrontation would be deadly for the country’s economy, leading to potential unrest in various regions. Second, a military confrontation with the US is simply beyond the Iranian resource base. However, it is also true that the US does not want to engage Iran as the latter is a completely different story from what the American forces did during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And it is not about Iran’s far superior military capabilities than those of Iraq: the major difference lies in geographic factors.

A look at the map shows that Iran’s major population centers are surrounded by almost impregnable mountains and deserts as well as water barriers. In the west and northwest are the Zagros Mountains, which bar Iran from Iraq. In the north, the Elburz Mountains as well as Armenia’s mountainous lands serve as a defensive shield. The Caspian Sea to the north and the Arabian Sea to the south are yet more impregnable barriers. To the east and northeast lie the harsh climate of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Turkmenistan’s semi-barren steppe-lands keep Iran’s provinces more or less safe (barring occasional attacks by nomadic peoples).

The fact of being both geographically contained and geographically defended has defined the Iranian grand strategy from the ancient Persian empires to modern Iran. The country’s mountains and deserts have made it almost impossible to conquer and then keep under control. Consider, for example, several of history’s greatest conquerors. The Mongols and, later Tamerlane successfully invaded the Iranian plateau, but to keep it, they either had to deploy tens of thousands of troops (which they were unable to do) or co-opt the local population (which they did) by allowing them to participate in the country’s governance. The same goes for Alexander the Great, Iran’s most successful conqueror. Following his conquest of the land, he co-opted the local elites to hold onto the state – and after he died, Iran quickly regained its independence.

Iran and the US want to avoid a direct military clash, but also do not want to lose their face among their respective allies. Still, the attempts to diminish tensions between the two powers become less and less effective as Iran grows its nuclear-related capabilities and the US sees less and less room to entice Tehran into a mutually beneficial understanding.

Author’s note: first published in Georgia Today

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Algerian soccer success is a double-edged sword

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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It took Algeria barely two weeks to charge Algerian soccer fan Samir Sardouk and sentence him to a year in jail for harming the national interests of his country.

Mr. Sardouk was convicted for shouting “There is no God but Allah, and they will come down” during the African Cup of Nation’s opening match in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on June 21.

Four other Algerians were given six-month suspended sentences for lighting firecrackers in the stadium.

Mr. Sardouk’s slogan referred to demands put forward in months of mass anti-government protests that all those associated of Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the country’s long-standing president who was toppled in April, be removed from office.

Mr. Sardouk’s sentencing casts a shadow over the Algerian squad’s achievement in reaching the African Cup final for the first time in 29 years after defeating Nigeria.

Together with celebrations of Algeria’s earlier qualification for the African Cup’s semi-finals after defeating Ivory Coast, it demonstrates the risk for autocrats and illiberals who use sports in general and soccer in particular to project their country in a different light internationally and polish their tarnished images by associating themselves with something that evokes the kind of deep-seated passions akin to the power of religion.

If celebrations of Algeria’s semi-final qualification and subsequent victory over Nigeria are anything to go by, an Algerian triumph in the finals, like past soccer victories in countries like Egypt and Iran, are likely to inspire rather than distract anti-government protesters.

Algerians fans in France took to the streets in Paris, Marseille and Lyon within hours of Algeria reaching the final. Their celebrations were mired by violence.

Similarly, the semi-finals celebrations spilled over into mass anti-government protests despite a huge police presence on the streets of Algiers and Paris added to the significance of Mr. Sardouk’s conviction. The protesters demanded a “civilian, not a military state”

Algerian police reportedly detained a dozen demonstrators. “There is a clear desire to prevent peaceful marches in Algiers, the deployed security device says it all.” tweeted Said Salhi, vice president of the Algerian League for the Defense of Human Rights (LADDH).

African Cup-related Algerian fan violence precedes the 2019 tournament. A massive brawl between players and fans mired a 2014 Libya-Algeria African Cup qualifier.

Violence associated with this year’s tournament was nonetheless minimal when put into the context of violence in Algeria having become a norm prior to this year’s revolt and the fact that the uprising has been largely peaceful.

The apparent shift away from violence is all the more remarkable given Algerian psychologist Mahmoud Boudarene’s assessment in 2014, a time of multiple soccer-related incidents.

“Violence in Algeria has become ordinary and banal. Hogra, the word Algerians use for the government’s perceived contempt for ordinary citizens, has planted a sickness in Algerian society. People feel that the only way to get anything done is to have connections or threaten the peace. It is a system where hogra and social injustice rule. Social violence has become the preferred mode of communication between the citizen and the republic — today in our country everything is obtained through a riot,” Mr. Boudarene told the Associated Press at the time.

This year’s popular revolt, inspired by lessons learnt from the 2011 popular Arab revolts, has emboldened protesters and given them a sense of confidence that is likely to ensure that potential African Cup final celebrations-turned-protest remain largely peaceful.

With Algeria having qualified for the final, the Algerian defence ministry, despite the police posturing, was preparing six military planes to fly 600 fans to Egypt for the African Cup final.

The gesture underlined soccer’s political importance and constituted an attempt by the military to align itself with the Algerian squad’s success.

The significance of soccer makes Mr. Sardouk’s sentencing all the more remarkable despite the assertion that his slogan mired Algeria’s march towards soccer victory.

For starters, it sought to draw a dividing line between national honour and protest in a country where a majority are likely to be soccer fans.

He was convicted at a time that Algeria has been wracked by protests since February in support of political reforms that would dismantle the country’s long-standing, military-dominated regime with a more transparent and accountable government.

The conviction is also noteworthy because Mr. Sardouk’s protest, coupled with acts of defiance by militant Egyptian soccer fans, threatened to turn the African tournament into a venue for the expression of dissent from across the Middle East and North Africa, a region populated by autocratic, repressive regimes and wracked by repeated explosions of poplar anger.

Finally, the sentencing was striking because it violated the spirit of both the military’s effort to retain a measure of control by co-opting the protests and a long-standing understanding with militant soccer fans that preceded the recent demonstrations that allowed supporters to protest as long as they restricted themselves to the confines of the stadium.

The Algerian military’s attempt to curtail fans and co-opt the revolt bumps up against the fact that the protesters, like their counterparts in Sudan, Morocco, Pakistan and Russia, have sought to avoid the risks of the military seeking to implement a Saudi-United Arab Emirates template to blunt or squash the protests.

The core lesson protesters learnt is that the protests’ success depends to a large extent on demonstrators’ willingness and ability to sustain their protests even if security forces turn violent. An Algeria that emerges from the African Cup final as the continent’s champion would give the protesters a significant boost.

It also constitutes an opportunity to ensure that Algeria does not revert to an environment in which violence is seen as the only way to achieve results.

Said a former senior Algerian intelligence official: “We will return to violence if there is no real democratic transition. The African Cup doesn’t fundamentally change that but does offer a window of opportunity.”

Author’s note: This story first appeared on Africa is a Country

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Iran: Second stage of suspension of commitments under JCPOA nuclear deal

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On May 8, 2019 – exactly a year after President Donald Trump’s catastrophically ill-advised decision to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and impose financial and economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that Tehran was suspending the implementation of two of its commitments under the landmark nuclear accord, signed in 2015.  “Tehran has spent a whole year waiting for the remaining signatories to the agreement to fulfill their part of the obligations,” Rouhani said in televised remarks.  

Tehran insists that since the parties to the 2015 nuclear deal, above all the Europeans, have failed to fully meet their commitments concerning the economic part of the agreement, maintaining the JCPOA in its present form makes no sense. Iran did not follow the US example and leave the JCPOA though. It only warned the other signatories that it might do so, giving them two months to compensate for Washington’s withdrawal and guarantee Iran’s interests. This deadline expired on July 7.

During those past two months, Tehran refused to sell uranium enriched up to 3.67 percent to either Russia or the United States above the 300 kg limit.  By the time the JCPOA deal was signed, Iran had accumulated 10,357 kg of such uranium, and 410.4 kg of uranium enriched up to 20 percent. By 2019, Tehran had eliminated its stocks of 20%-enriched uranium and was selling surplus low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and the US.  According to the terms of the JCPOA deal, Iran was allowed to enrich limited quantities of uranium for scientific purposes, and export surplus quantities exceeding the 300 kg limit. Now Iran is stocking up on LEU again. Tehran has been doing the same with its surplus heavy water necessary for the production of plutonium, which is at the heart of the production of plutonium-based nuclear weapons. Iran has a heavy water producing plant, which is not on the list of facilities banned by the JCPOA, but it is still not allowed to store more than 130 tons of heavy water. Tehran previously exported 32 tons of heavy water to the United States and 38 tons to the Russian Federation. After May 8, however, it started accumulating heavy water.

President Rouhani insisted that Iran’s interests, above all the freedom to sell oil and the lifting of sanctions imposed on its banking sector, be ensured.  No miracle happened though, as the European Union, above all Germany, France and Britain the United Kingdom have failed to create an effective mechanism to compensate for the negative impact of US sanctions on the Iranian economy.

On June 28, Germany, France and the United Kingdom set up INSTEX (Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges) – a new transaction channel that will allow companies to continue trading with Iran despite US sanctions. However, this system has so far focused on the supply of humanitarian goods to Iran (medicines, medical equipment, food). Iran wants more though: it needs free oil exports and free banking.

Sadly, the European powers are not yet ready to guarantee this, apparently hating the prospect of coming under Trump’s sanctions.

Iran is now announcing a new stage of its struggle. As it earlier promised, within the next 60 days Tehran will lift restrictions on the level of uranium enrichment (currently at 3.67 percent) bringing it to a level it needs. Weapons-grade uranium is enriched to 90 percent. It’s really a long way moving from 3.67 percent all the way up to 90 percent. What is really dangerous, however, is that Iran is now moving exactly in this direction. Back in January, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said that his country was now all set to resume uranium enrichment in a wider scale and with a higher level of enrichment.

On June 7, AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said that Iran was fully prepared to increase uranium enrichment to any level, adding that the enrichment level would soon be brought to 5 percent. The following day, he said that “Iran has surpassed the uranium enrichment level of 4.5 percent. The level of purity is sufficient to meet the country’s needs in providing fuel to our power plants,” he added.

In the second stage of suspensions of its commitments under the JCPOA deal, Iran will move forward also on the plutonium track. It has just announced the termination of work done by a special group of experts concerning the reconstruction of a heavy water reactor in Arak. The IR-40 reactor was designed to produce up to 10 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium a year, which is enough fissile material for making approximately two plutonium bombs. The JCPOA envisages reformatting the reactor so that it is not capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium. It is exactly for this purpose that a working group was set up consisting of representatives of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Atomic Energy Authority of China and the US Department of Energy. In 2017, experts from the United States replaced their British colleagues during the Arak reactor redesign process. According to an official Iranian report released in April 2018, “conceptual reconstruction of the reactor” had already been completed. However, the reconstruction process is slow and easily reversible. At the end of May, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that “We don’t count on JCPOA and JCPOA participants in the Arak project anymore. We will do it ourselves.”

Finally, it was announced that the process of accumulating heavy water for the IR-40 reactor was in full swing. Allaying all doubts, President Hassan Rouhani said loud and clear that after July 7, Iran would refuse to reformat the Arak reactor and would bring it back to a state, which foreign countries describe as dangerous and capable of producing plutonium, if the other signatories to the JCPOA agreement failed to honor their obligations.

Unpleasant news, but fully predictable too, following the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal. It took the whole world by surprise.

Berlin has expressed “grave concern” overTehran’s plans to enrich uranium above levels allowed by the JCPOA deal.

“We have repeatedly appealed to Iran not to take further action to destroy the nuclear deal. And now we are urging Tehran to refrain from any steps that are contrary to its commitments under the JCPOA system,” the German foreign ministry said in a statement.

Paris was seriously alarmed by Tehran’s stated desire to raise the level of uranium enrichment above 3.67 percent fissile purity set in the JCPOA.

“We urge Iran to cease all activities that do not meet its obligations under the JCPOA,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

According to the Élysée Palace, President Emmanuel Macron will soon resume consultations on this issue with the Iranian authorities and concerned international partners, and will, before July 15, examine conditions for resuming dialogue with all parties.

London will remain committed to the nuclear deal with Iran, although it believes that Tehran’s actions breach the terms of the agreement, the British Foreign Office said. Simultaneously, the Foreign Office is coordinating its actions with the other signatories to the JCPOA deal and discussing with them what should be done next.

The European Union is extremely concerned about Iran’s plans and is urging Tehran to roll back its nuclear activities, which are not covered by the JCPOA agreement. However, the EU is waiting for official conclusions by the IAEA concerning Tehran’s steps before it outlines its official response.

Iran will take center stage at the meeting of EU foreign ministers, scheduled for July 15.

The EU countries, as co-authors of the JCPOA accord, are mulling the possibility of holding a summit to discuss the situation.

Tokyo is equally worried about Iran’s intention to begin uranium enrichment above 3.67 percent, and urges Tehran to immediately resume the implementation of the JCPOA accord. Japan believes that the Islamic Republic should stick to its commitments under the nuclear deal.

Jerusalem believes that the steps being taken by Iran to raise the level of uranium enrichment are “moderate.” Meanwhile, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that Iran is on its way to producing nuclear bombs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, for his part, described Iran’s new decision as “very dangerous,” and urged France, Britain and Germany to impose “paralyzing sanctions” on Tehran.

Washington, in the person of President Trump, called the Iranian officials “bad guys,” just as he usually does, and advised Tehran to be careful about what it says and does.

“Iran does a lot of bad things. The Obama agreement [on this deal in 2015] was the most foolish agreement that you will ever find,” Trump said. He added that there will be a very serious discussion of this issue, either now or within the next few days. “Iran will never have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said bluntly.

Echoing the president, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is equally tough on Iran intimidating Tehran with new sanctions and threatening to completely isolate the country if it makes no concessions.

The truth is, however, that all this mayhem around Iran was provoked by Washington, while Tehran is just trying to push back the best way it can.  Moreover, it is doing this strictly in the framework of the JCPOA, a document approved by Resolution 2231 of the UN Security Council. Article 26 of the JCPOA prescribes the European Union and the United States to refrain from re-introducing or re-imposing sanctions against Iran. Moreover, the Article states that Iran will treat a re-imposition of sanctions or the introduction of new nuclear-related sanctions “as grounds to cease performing its commitments under this JCPOA in whole or in part.” This is exactly what Tehran is doing.

Beijing describes President Trump’s policy of “putting maximum pressure” on Iran as the main reason for Tehran’s retaliatory decision to suspend the implementation of some of its commitments under the JCPOA deal. Simultaneously, China regrets the measures being taken by Iran, and calls on all parties to show maximum restraint and stick to the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord in order to avoid any further escalation.

Russia fully understands the reasons behind Iran’s actions, but still urges Tehran to refrain from taking any further steps that could complicate the situation. Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s Permanent Representative at International Organizations in Vienna, hopes that the level of uranium enrichment in Iran will not exceed 5 percent. He also believes that there is no danger of nuclear proliferation.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned against attempts to overdramatize the whole situation and urged the parties to show restraint and keep the nuclear deal alive.

“We urge everyone to show restraint, we urge the European signatories to the JCPOA not to ramp up tensions over the issue. We urge our Iranian colleagues to be extremely responsible, as before, in what they do in this respect, especially where it comes to the implementation of a comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA and an additional protocol to this agreement, not to mention maintaining Iran’s participation in the NPT accord. There have been alarming signals to this effect coming from Tehran and we would certainly not welcome, to put it mildly, any movement in this direction,” Ryabkov emphasized.

The IAEA has decided to hold an emergency meeting on the Iranian issue and the Agency’s Board of Governors met on July 10 to discuss concerns about the nuclear report issued by the Iranian authorities.

Virtually the entire world understands Tehran’s position and the measures it has been taking to counteract the US sanctions, but it still urges it to show restraint in order to avoid any further spike in tensions.

Is it really possible to defuse tensions? Well, this depends on multiple factors, both internal and external.

The main thing, however, is whether the European Union is able to make a dent in Washington’s financial, economic (and, above all, oil) blockade of Iran. Will Europe face a serious confrontation with the United States? How satisfied will Tehran be with the EU’s actions and assistance it could get on the matter from China and Russia?

Presently, these questions defy easy answers, although many observers believe that, unfortunately, these answers could be pretty pessimistic. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said that Iran would suspend ever more commitments to the JCPOA once every 60 days if its signatories failed to adhere to the terms of the landmark deal. 

What are the further steps that the Iranians could take as they roll back their commitments under the JCPOA deal? According to political analysts, a discontented Iran could keep stocking up on low-enriched uranium and heavy water above the caps set by the nuclear deal. The most dangerous thing, however, is that if Tehran starts to raise the level of uranium enrichment to 20 percent or above, it will restore the nuclear reactor in Arak to the condition it was in before the nuclear deal was signed, and limit, or even end, any oversight by IAEA inspectors. 

According to experts, the next, “reverse” re-equipment of the reactor to its pre-2015 state will take a lot of time and cost a lot of money. Despite the really drawn out process of conversion to a “safe” state, the head of AEOI Ali Akbar Salehi said in 2016 that after reconfiguration, the reactor would take between three and four years to go on-stream – sometime around 2020. The reactor, modified according to JCPOA specifications, is about 75 percent ready now. This means that “reverse-converting” it to a working “plutonium” state will take at least several years.

The same is true with the uranium program. According to the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), in 2013, at the height of its nuclear infrastructure development, of all enriched uranium stored in Iran, about 120-130 kg of 93 percent-enriched uranium could be obtained, which is enough for building five nuclear charges.

US and Israeli physicists believed that it would take between a year or two for Iran to achieve these indicators. It was a purely mathematical calculation though, which ignored a whole variety of external and internal factors. The specialists were not sure that Iran possessed sufficiently advanced technology and chemically pure substances to ensure a gradual increase in uranium enrichment up to 90 percent and be able to turn uranium from gaseous state to that of a high-quality metal, necessary for the creation of a nuclear charge.

Therefore, it would actually take Iran at least a decade to create a ready-for-use nuclear weapon (a missile warhead). And this provided there is no outside interference.

In view of the above, it would be safe to assume that Iran will take months, and in some cases even years, to restore the highest level of its nuclear infrastructure development. This is the relative time frame within which Iran’s nuclear program could get a new start. If, of course, it is allowed to make such a start.

How to prevent a military solution to the Iranian nuclear issue? This question takes us back again to the year 2012. There are two answers: war or negotiations. Since no one wants war, either in Tehran, Washington, Jerusalem or anywhere else, then negotiations are the way to go.

Washington appears ready for negotiations with Tehran without any preliminary conditions, that is, with continued US pressure on Iran and tough sanctions.

Tehran may start negotiations with Washington if these sanctions are lifted and with a permission from the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

On May 31, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “We will welcome the start of negotiations between the US and Iran … <…> But we are convinced that negotiating from the position of “first, I will strangle you economically, and then you will beg us to negotiate,” is not something we perceive as a model for behavior on the foreign policy front.”

From our partner International Affairs

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