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Iran: How to keep the nuclear deal alive

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The situation around the Iran nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – JCPOA) is getting worse every day as US President Donald Trump and his administration keep ramping up and diversifying financial and economic sanctions against Tehran. Speaking at a summit of Islamic states held in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) on December 19, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said: “The Islamic Republic of Iran has been under oppressive sanctions of the United States of America. Recently, they were seeking the collapse or surrender of the Islamic establishment through the imposition of the heaviest sanctions or so-called crippling sanctions. While only since May 8, 2018, when the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, more than 93 sanctions measures have been imposed on Iran…”

On May 8, 2019, exactly a year after the United States pulled out from the JCPOA agreement, Tehran, tired of waiting for a solution to the problem, started gradually cutting down its commitments under the nuclear deal. Stage 4 of these reductions will be completed on January 6, 2020. During the intervening period, Tehran has managed to rebuild a significant portion of its nuclear infrastructure. The permissible amount of its stored enriched uranium and heavy water has been increased, the enrichment level has risen to 4.5 percent from 3.76 percent before, more advanced and efficient centrifuges have been introduced into the test stage and used in production – a measure banned by the JCPOA – and the process of uranium enrichment at the Fordo plant has been resumed, which also violates the terms of the 2015 nuclear accord.

During the next, fifth, stage of reduction of its compliance with the terms of the landmark nuclear deal, Iran may resume uranium enrichment to 20 percent – an alarming situation that could put the Islamic Republic on course to obtaining 90 percent weapons-grade uranium.

For fairness sake, however, it should still be borne in mind that Tehran’s reaction to Trump’s unfaithful moves is fully in line with Article 26 of the JCPOA, which stipulates that Iran will consider a re-introduction of sanctions or introduction of new sanctions pertaining to its nuclear sector as enough reason for complete or partial suspension of its commitments under the nuclear accord.

This is exactly what Iran is doing now.

Moreover, Russia’s envoy to the EU, Vladimir Chizhov, has gone on record saying that: “It should be admitted that everything the Iranians have done so far [in terms of non-compliance with the requirements of the JCPOA – V.S.] is reversible. One should give them credit: they think through their every step and are not doing anything which could not be reversed.”

The Iranians are clearly taking their time, hoping for the better and avoiding a final breach of the nuclear accord, even despite their increasing loss of faith in Europe’s ability to stand up to the US sanctions against Tehran and keep the JCPOA alive.

With the year 2019 on its way out, however, Vladimir Chizhov believes that a “critical moment” has arrived.

And it certainly has, as the continued US policy of bringing “maximum pressure” to bear on Tehran, leaves no chance for dialogue. Under the circumstances, Iran will definitely refuse to engage in humiliating talks with Washington on resuming the JCPOA. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, has repeatedly said that as long as the US sanctions remain in place, there will be no talks with Washington.

In recently televised remarks, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that “Iran can’t be treated in a way Washington is trying to do. Not just flagrantly violating the United Nations Charter, refusing to implement the binding United Nations Security Council resolution but rudely addressing demands to Iran, a country with a millennia-old civilization, traditions and immense self-esteem.”

Meanwhile, many “hawks” in the United States see the October mass protests in Iran, sparked by gasoline price hikes, as a sign of the US sanctions taking their toll. They believe that even if the Iranian regime survives, it will still be shaken to a point when, bending under popular pressure, the country’s authorities will be forced to come to the negotiating table.

In this case, the United States will be ready for dialogue (on its own terms, of course). Until this Iranian “surrender” happens, however, the Americans will keep their sanctions in place, all the more so since the situation with Donald Trump’s continuing impeachment saga in Washington is doing little to ensure such a political decision, so important for the ongoing political struggle inside the United States.

All this means a no-go situation relative to the survival of the JCPOA agreement.

What needs to be done?

This is something all the authors of the JCPOA deal, with the obvious exception of the US, are concerned about. (Well, who knows, maybe during a rare break in the ongoing tug-of-war around his proposed impeachment, President Trump might be giving a thought to the Iranian problem after all).

On December 19, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov met with the UK, German and French foreign ministries’ political directors for security Richard Moore, Jens Ploetner and Philippe Errera to discuss just one issue – how to preserve the JCPOA.

Even though the outcome of that meeting was not made public, it still can be assumed that a very important moment is coming not only for the JCPOA, but for the entire security system in the Middle East (if it still exists) as well.

What is crystal clear, however, is that the problem of the 2015 nuclear deal must be solved without any further delay, as the whole process is now approaching the “go/no-go” point, as pilots say during takeoff. Now is the   time to decide whether to save the JCPOA or let it fall apart with unpredictable consequences. Besides, there are certain things limiting the time frame for a possible mutual agreement.

The first is January 6 – the start of the fifth stage of Iran’s reduction of its compliance with the nuclear accord. Cautious as it is to make a “soft” way out of the JCPOA, and its desire to maintain a face-to-face dialogue, Tehran’s next step in reviving its nuclear infrastructure could sow panic even among Europeans who are critical of Washington’s sanctions against Iran, resulting in the EU joining the US sanctions that it hates so much. This will mean a return to a dangerous confrontation with Iran.

The second one – other milestones are positioned closer to February 21 – is the day of parliamentary elections in Iran. It is clear that if the present state of things continues, President Rouhani and his supporters’ chances of faring well in the polls will be close to zero. Their radical opponents in the newly-elected parliament will be doing all they possibly can not to engage in any dialogue with the American “shaitan” and rule out any concessions regarding the country’s withdrawal from the JCPOA, which will effectively render the milestone agreement null and void.

Moreover, the parliamentary opposition will certainly try to further undermine President Rouhani’s ability to build consensus as part of a much-needed deal with Washington.

How to prevent this happening?

Well, perhaps one way of doing this could be to get back to and adopt a roadmap proposed by the French President Emmanuel Macron this past fall, which provided for a $15 billion loan to Iran for trade and economic operations and a permission to export at least 700,000 barrels of oil a day. According to various sources, Iran is currently selling between 100,000 to 350,000 barrels per day.

In addition, in October, France and Japan proposed a joint plan to give Iran with a loan of about $18.4 billion to be secured by oil if Tehran returns to full compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on its nuclear program.

Implementation of these plans will certainly require a more active and focused effort by diplomats from many countries, concerned about the situation around the JCPOA and in the Middle East as a whole, above all France, Japan and Russia, which are acting as mediators, or, rather, peacekeepers in the standoff between Iran and the US. How to convince President Trump and President Rouhani of the need to adopt such a plan?

First of all, if implemented, this project will not destroy the system of US sanctions and will actually help the Trump administration to “save face” amid its aggressive confrontation with Tehran. As recently as in September, Donald Trump was almost ready to agree with Macron, but backed off following rocket attacks on Saudi oil facilities, which Washington was quick to blame on the Iranians. Unfortunately, the political situation now existing in Washington has seriously complicated the diplomatic efforts to keep the JCPOA alive.

In Iran, all final decisions are made by the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei, but local JCPOA supporters could present Macron’s idea as a crushing defeat for the country’s sworn enemy, the global hegemon and the most powerful imperialist force around. Such an interpretation would make it possible for Tehran to curry public support for such a settlement plan. In this case, Ayatollah Khamenei would most likely endorse this whole idea and, by extension, the idea of a dialogue with the United States.

All this being said, Macron’s plan, backed by all signatories to the JCPOA (minus the US), and many other countries, is still a necessary, but temporary measure.  

The plan does not ensure the preservation of the nuclear deal, but it still allows postponing the final and destructive moves by both Iran and the EU that could seal the fate of the 2015 nuclear accord. Macron’s plan wins some additional time for dialogue between Iran and the United States, and offers an opportunity to work out more reasonable and mutually beneficial options for resolving the conflict around the JCPOA in the best long-term strategic interests of the United States, Iran, and other countries of the Middle East, in the interests of preserving and safeguarding the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

From our partner International Affairs

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Middle East

Why is Melih Bulu Seen as a Pro-AKP “Trustee” Rector?

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Photo: Youth Committees / Twitter

The new year started under the shadow of social tensions triggered by Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Professor Melih Bulu had founded the Sarıyer district organization of the incumbent AK Party in 2002. Bulu who in 2015 became a candidate for being a deputy from AK Party could not gain nomination to run in the elections. Bulu also worked as a rector in two private universities before: İstinye University and Haliç University.

On December 31 2020, Bulu was the rectorate of Haliç University. The abrupt appointment of Bulu as the rector to Turkey’s most prestigious university prompted a major outrage since the move was regarded as a direct interruption of academic freedom.

Melih Bulu’s appointment to the rectorate of Bosphorus University caused a large unrest among Bosphorus students, graduates and scholars. In addition, people coming from different sectors of society who are critical of Erdoğan administration have also joined the “anti-Bulu” protest campaign on social media. After Bulu’s appointment, Bosphorus University students protested the appointment on social media by using the hashtag #KayyumRektörİstemiyoruz (“We don’t want a trustee rector”). For a couple of days, students of Bosphorus University have been making protests calling Bulu to resign. However Bulu posted an announcement on his Twitter account saying that he will embrace everyone and he is very excited and happy for his new duty.

After Bulu’s appointment, not just his political identity affiliated with AK Party was put under debate but also his academic background was put under scrutiny as well. Allegations of plagiarism against him broke out especially on Twitter. Bulu defined these allegations as “slander” and argued that this was the literature survey part of his PhD thesis and said, “I did not write some parts between quotation marks. We did not have something written available. There were different citation rules but I put it in the bibliography section.”

According to the Global Academic Freedom Index Turkey has only 9.7 points out of 100 and it is in the rank of 135 out of 144 countries. Turkey is in the similar level with Syria and Turkmenistan.

In previous weeks, journalist Cüneyt Özdemir hosted Bulu in his live Youtube programme and in live broadcast, Bulu saluted the students from the window of his office at rectorate building while the students yelled asking for his resign and this act of Bulu caused surprises and ironies on social media. Amid this environment, on January 5, a group of Bosphorus University academics staged a peaceful protest by standing with their backs to the rectorate building during the handover ceremony for Bulu. The academics of Bosphorus University  made a public statement underlining that this appointment is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

Their full statement is as follows:

“’We don’t accept, we don’t give up!’

On January 1, 2021 at midnight, an academic outside Bogazici University community was appointed as rector, which is a practice introduced for the first time after the 1980s military tutelage.

This is yet another case of many ongoing anti-democratic practices since 2016, aiming at abolishing rectorial elections. We do not accept it as it clearly violates academic freedom and scientific autonomy as well as the democratic values of our university. We refuse to compromise the principles the University Senate officially stated in 2012:

1. To enhance scientific research and social development, it is indispensable that universities be free from any pressure or influence from a person or an institution and not be used as a political tool.

2. For academic freedom, it is imperative that decision-making processes be delegated to democratically elected academic administrators and boards. All academic administrators including the Rector, Deans, Directors of Institute, Directors of Schools and Department Heads can be appointed only after being elected by the university community.

3. As universities are autonomous constitutional establishments, it is vital that university instructors and/or university boards decide on academic programs and research policies, which is an essential prerequisite for scientific freedom and creativity.

We strictly adhere to the principles above and we pledge to follow them up with all the other members of our university community.”

On the other hand, police forces detained more than 20 university students in home raids after the protests against the appointment of Bulu. In the mainstream pro-government media actors’ coverage of these events, it is argued that the detained people are not students, but they are members of illegal organizations whereas Canan Kaftancıoğlu, the Republican People’s Party’s current provincial president in Istanbul rejected this and argued that they are students.

According to Althusser (1971), the modern state keeps the authority and control through two main systems: Repressive State Apparatuses & Ideological State Apparatuses. One of  areas concerning the ideological state apparatuses is known as education. In this regard, Erdoğan’s appointment of Bulu can be seen as a step of using ideological state apparatuses.

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Morocco Increases Pressure on Hezbollah by Arresting One of its Alleged Financiers

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At a time when global attention is focused on the fight against the pandemic and the global effort to vaccinate populations, terrorist organizations and organized crime are trying to take advantage of the situation to carry out operations to finance their operations. In this context, Morocco’s announcement of the arrest of an alleged international con man linked to Hezbollah is considered a success for the Moroccan security services.

According to an official statement relayed by the Moroccan Official Agency, a suspect was arrested last Wednesday by the National Brigade of the Judicial Police (BNPJ). The 57-year-old Lebanese national is linked to the Hezbollah movement, an organization supported by Iran and considered as a terrorist group by the United States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. During the search conducted by the Moroccan police force, following intelligence and investigative work carried out by the Directorate General of Territorial Surveillance (DGST), investigators found European passports – French and Italian – as well as identity documents listed in the Interpol database as stolen. The suspect was taken into custody and brought before the King’s Prosecutor in order to continue the investigation, in partnership with Interpol and the countries involved in the alleged identity document thefts.

U.S. Recognition of Moroccan Sovereignty over Western Sahara

Moroccan authorities believed the suspect used these false identities to present himself as holding important roles in multinational corporations to defraud victims with promises of juicy deals and quick profit. While it is unclear at this stage of the investigation whether the international swindler intended to raise funds for Hezbollah, the arrest comes at a particularly crucial time for Morocco, following the recognition by the United States of America of Moroccan sovereignty over the disputed territory of Western Sahara on December the 10th, and the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israël. After this recognition, The US announced a 3 billion dollars investment plan to help Morocco boost its economy and development, as well as the opening of a regional office of its “Prosper Africa” initiative. Moreover, this Sunday, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker came to Western Sahara on the 9th of January to inaugurate a U.S. consulate in the coastal city of Dakhla, alongside the Moroccan minister for foreign affairs, Nasser Bourita.

Morocco Broke off diplomatic relations with Iran in 2018

Since 2018, Morocco has vigorously denounced Hezbollah’s alleged links with the Polisario Front separatist movement, and broke diplomatic relations with Tehran in the process, as explained by the Think-Tank Atlantic Council . Although both Iran and Hezbollah immediately refuted Morocco’s accusations regarding the organization’s alleged links with the Polisario Front, Rabat continued to increase its pressure and has since taken substantive action to curb the actions of the organization’s agents. In March 2017,  Kingdom arrested at the Casablanca airport Kassem Tajjedine, described by the Americans as the main financier of the organization. The latter was wanted for fraud, money laundering, and financing of terrorist activity, according to Reuters. Tajjedine was extradited to the US where he was sentenced to five years in Prison, and was released on July 2020 as part of a secret US-Iran deal.

Morocco is considered a stable country in North Africa, both on the political and economic level, as well as an important Hub for doing business in Africa and Europe. Over the last twenty years, the Kingdom had a steady growth rate of its GDP at around 4% and built top-class infrastructures, including the largest African port in Tangiers, 2000 Miles of Highway, a High-Speed train between Tangiers and Rabat, and the largest solar station of Africa in the south of the country.

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Egypt’s search for a fig leaf: It’s not the Handball World Championship

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Photo: Flickr/Ninian Reid

Hosting major sports tournaments can confer prestige on a country, but in the case of Egypt, the 2021 Handball World Championship will do little to repair its relations with the US, Italy and states in the Gulf, argues James M. Dorsey in this analysis.

***

Egyptian general-turned president Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sees the 2021 men’s handball world championship in Cairo and Alexandria as an opportunity to put his best foot forward at a time when Egypt’s relations with its closest regional and global partners are encountering substantial headwinds.

Successful hosting of the championship, the first to involve 32 rather than 24 competing teams, would also serve to  counter criticism of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Egyptian health minister Hala Zayed recently admitted that many more Egyptians contracted the virus than the government has so far reported. A successful hosting would further put a crown in the feather of Egyptian-born International Handball Federation (IHF) president Hassan Moustafa.

Egypt has put strict pandemic-related precautionary heath measures in place for the tournament from the moment teams, officials, and journalists arrive at Cairo International Airport. The measures apply to training, lodging and media arrangements as well as the transport to and from hotels and the championship’s four designated match venues. Egypt is determined to ensure that the championship does not turn into a spreader of Covid-19.

That concern prompted the IHF and Egyptian authorities at the last minute to shelve a plan to allow fans into the four venues that include the Cairo Stadium Sports Hall, the New Capital Sports Hall in Egypt’s newly built desert capital east of Cairo, the Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall in Giza, and the Borg Al Arab Sports Hall in Alexandria.

The IHF said the decision was taken “considering the current COVID-19 situation as well as concerns that have been raised, amongst others by the players themselves.”

Critics charge that Egypt is hosting the tournament even though it seems unable to meet the basic requirements of medical personnel who are on the frontline of the fight against the pandemic.

Doctors and nurses have protested against the high number of infections in their ranks because  they lack access to sufficient personnel protection equipment and are threatened with imprisonment if they fail to report to work despite the risk to their lives.

Symptomatic for Mr. Al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on any kind of criticism, several doctors have been arrested on terrorism charges for voicing their grievances.

Putting aside the fact that the impact of a handball tournament pales when compared to the prestige of hosting a mega-event like the World Cup or the Olympic Games, the handball tournament is unlikely to provide much of a fig leaf for Mr. Al-Sisi’s hardhanded repression of anyone voicing an opinion but his sycophantic supporters.

That is particularly true for the incoming administration of US President-elect Joe Biden that has not only promised to emphasize human rights in its foreign policy but also needs to do so in its bid to repair America’s image and restore its credibility, severely damaged by four years of Donald J. Trump, widely viewed as an authoritarian who undermined foundations of democracy.

Similarly, the tournament will not change perceptions in Italy and much of Europe that hold Mr. Al-Sisi’s intelligence service and law enforcement responsible for the kidnapping, torture and killing of Giulio Regeni.

A 28-year-old postgraduate student at Cambridge University, Mr. Regeni had been researching Egypt’s independent unions before he went missing in late January 2016. His body was found in a ditch so badly mutilated that his mother could only identify her son by the tip of his nose. He reportedly had sustained a broken neck, wrist, toes, fingers, and teeth before his death, while initials were carved into his severely burned and bruised skin.

Relations between Egypt and Italy last month deteriorated further when Egypt’s public prosecution closed its investigation into Mr. Regeni’s murder, rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings that accused four Egyptian security officials of responsibility for his death.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s abominable human rights record may not be of concern to the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia but equally the tournament will do little to repair cracks in his relationship with the two Gulf states, his main financial backers.

In a move that will not have gone unnoticed in Gulf capitals, Egypt anointed the newly opened, Qatari-owned St. Regis hotel on the banks of the Nile River in Cairo as one of the tournament’s key logistics nodes, including its media center.

Qatari Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi landed in Cairo last week to inaugurate the hotel hours after a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit lifted a 3.5-year long Saudi-UAE led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar, in which Egypt as well as Bahrain participated. Mr. Al-Emadi was the first Qatari Cabinet official to visit Egypt since the boycott was imposed in 2017.

Showcasing the hotel was meant to counter-intuitively signal to Saudi Arabia and the UAE Egypt’s concern that reconciliation with Qatar involved far too many concessions, including dropping demands for the closure of Qatar’s state-funded, freewheeling Al Jazeera television network and a halt to support of political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt was forced to reluctantly agree to lifting the boycott even though it accepted continued Qatari investment and Qatari gas supplies over the last 3.5 years.

Egypt also felt sidelined by the UAE and Bahrain’s establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel. The move deprived Egypt of its role as Israel’s primary official diplomatic conduit to the Arab world at a moment that the Al-Sisi regime is seeking to put its best foot forward in anticipation of Mr. Biden taking office.

Mr. Al-Sisi’s concerns are compounded by Emirati support for Ethiopia with which he is at odds over the construction of a dam on the Nile that threatens Egypt’s water supply; the UAE’s growing influence in neighboring Sudan; plans to link the UAE and Israel through a pipeline that would compete with Egypt in selling gas to Europe; and Emirati interest in the port of Haifa that could create an alternative to the Suez Canal.

All of this could undermine Egypt’s position as a key pillar of US Middle East policy and persuade the US to further shift the focal point of its broader Middle East and North Africa policy to the Gulf.

Mr. Al-Sisi has sought to pre-empt an incoming Biden administration by releasing prisoners, highlighting his good relations with Egyptian Christians, and hiring US lobbying firms to plead his case to the Biden camp as well as Capitol Hill.

Hosting a handball world championship is a minor maneuver in the mountain that Mr. Al-Sisi is trying to move, particularly one that Mr. Trump tarnished by describing the Egyptian leader as “my favorite dictator.” That is a label a handball tournament is unlikely to alter.

Author’s note: This article first appeared on Play the Game

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