Sanctions step up threat of war

26th August 2018

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 Donald Trump continues to ramp up tensions with Iran

The next step in the undeclared war on Iran has been taken by the United States, with the first wave of sanctions in place, following the unilateral withdrawal of the US from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).  Jane Green reports on the short term impact and possible long term consequences.

The JCPOA, widely known as the Iran nuclear deal, was agreed in 2015 by the United States, Russia and the European Union to halt the domestic uranium enrichment programme in Iran, in exchange for the relaxation of previously imposed sanctions.  The deal was being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and, up until the most recent inspection earlier in 2018, Iran was deemed to be following the terms of the agreement.

US President Donald Trump has never been a fan of the deal and promised to withdraw as part of his election campaign rhetoric.  For Trump, relaxing sanctions on Iran simply allows the regime in Tehran to draw down international resources which it can then use to support its adventurous foreign policy, through what the US deems to be its proxies in the Middle East.

There can be no doubt about the anti-people credentials of the Iranian regime.  For over 40 years the Islamic Republic has been to the forefront in its abuse, arrest and torture of the political opposition, trade unionists, women’s organisations and in suppressing student protests.  The regime in Iran is only matched in its vicious response to internal criticism by the United States’ key allies in the region, Israel and Saudi Arabia.

However, the sanctions imposed last week by the United States, which will be further intensified on 4th November, are not about acting in the interests of the Iranian people and freeing them from an oppressive regime.  The US sanctions are entirely about the power balance in the Middle East, with the US seeking to impose its will and maximise control of the region’s resources.

Ironically, the path being pursued by Trump was initiated under President Obama, as part of the United States’ New Middle East Plan, to reassert influence and bolster resource control in the region.  Obama’s version of the Plan resulted in the JCPOA, a more nuanced approach to containing the perceived threat of Iran to the regional power balance.

For Trump there are no such niceties.  To all intents and purposes, the gloves are off and the New Middle East Plan mark 2 is simply to bring Iran to its knees, whatever the cost to the prospects for peace in the region or to the plight of the people of Iran.

The latest round of US sanctions has resulted in those European companies which had begun to re-engage with Iran, in putting plans on hold.  German car and truck manufacturer, Daimler, has dropped plans to expand its business in Iran.  French companies, Peugeot and Renault, have suspended operations in Iran and have said they will comply with the US sanctions.

French energy giant, Total, has said it will quit the multibillion-dollar South Pars gas project if it cannot secure a waiver from the U.S. sanctions.

Total signed a contract in 2017 to develop Phase II of the South Pars field with an initial investment of $1 billion and has not yet said what it will do with its 30 percent stake should it pull out. It has until 4th November to wind down its Iran operations, barring any surprise exemption.

The widespread withdrawal and suspension of economic activity by European companies is remarkable because the US sanctions have no international force and no United Nations backing.  The US strategy is essentially that of the playground bully.  Companies are free to deal with Iran if they choose but they may find it difficult to do business in markets with the US.  For most companies the choice between sticking with Iranian business or losing access to the US market is no choice at all.  The United States knows this and the international community appears powerless to prevent it.

The latest round of sanctions will cripple even further an already crumbling Iranian economy.  The confrontational position taken by the US is encouraging the hardliners in Iran to feel emboldened.  Former president Ahmadinejad has recently called upon current President Rouhani to resign.  Those who have always opposed the JCPOA are now regarding the word of the US as valueless and are seeking to turn the current turmoil to their advantage.

Further information at www.codir.net

 

 

 

 

 

Fooling no-one

14th July 2018

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Protesters in London object to the visit of US President, Donald Trump

The current UK heatwave, or what used to be known in the past as Summer, seems to have addled the brains of both inhabitants and visitors to these sceptre isles over the past week.  As TV drama it would have been reviewed as far-fetched, implausible and unworthy of the high standards we have come to expect from British TV culture.

Yet the improbable political soap around Brexit continues to throw up new plot lines and unlikely character twists on a daily basis.  A bit like the most intricate Scandi noir, it is not always possible to know what is going on exactly, but it is still sufficiently gripping to make you want to know the outcome.

UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, must have thought last week that the main drama was behind her and she could look forward to a satisfactory denouement.   At a four hour session in her country retreat at Chequers last Friday, May cajoled and coaxed agreement from a recalcitrant Cabinet around her Brexit ‘vision’, published later in the week as the White Paper, The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union.

The news on Friday night was that they had all signed up and yes, May was right, this is the way forward to an acceptable UK Brexit.  By midnight on Sunday the Secretary of State with responsibility for Brexit, David Davies, had resigned from the Cabinet, unable to sign up to May’s vision.

Unable to miss a ride on any passing political merry go round, bungling Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, decided to catch a ride out of the Cabinet chamber and back onto the Tory backbenches, proclaiming in characteristically histrionic style that the ‘Brexit dream is dying’….

May attempted to swat aside the loss of two Cabinet ministers in less than 24 hours and published the White Paper anyway.   Dominic Raab was appointed as the new Brexit Secretary and given orders to get the White Paper up and running in the House of Commons.  MPs who dutifully assembled to hear the new boy on his first day in the job were disappointed to find that, while the Secretary of State was about to make a statement, there were no copies of the White Paper for them to scrutinise.

The Speaker suspended the session and MPs rushed off to scurry around the darkest corners of the House of Commons print room (or wherever White Papers emerge from) before emerging with boxes full of the worthy document.  Distribution followed and scrutiny ensued…..

Enter stage right, the fool….

A stock element of Elizabethan drama first time round, the Fool seems to have taken on a new lease of life in the second Elizabethan age, not least in the form of the current President of the United States, Donald Trump.

Trump arrived in the UK with all of the pomp and ceremony a non-State visit allowed, which included meeting the Prime Minister, taking tea with the Head of State and having dinner with business leaders.  Quite how this will be topped if there is a formal state visit remains to be seen.  In any event it appears that the UK is all too willing to suffer fools gladly, especially if they are going to make a trade agreement.

However, this fool was not going to do that, according to an interview he gave to that high powered journal of record, The Sun, because Theresa May’s White Paper was rubbish and left the UK too close to the EU for comfort.  He also thought Boris Johnson would make a good Prime Minister and did not think that Theresa May was any good a negotiating deals.  That sorted, the fool, who had already told NATO leaders that they did not spend enough on weapons for his liking, set off for tea and cake with the Queen, making sure he and his wife got a nice pic for the photo album.

The joint press conference between Trump and Theresa May, looking as though she could be sick at any moment, saw Trump proclaim that all of the bad things he had said about May were simply ‘fake news’ and that the UK/US relationship was ‘super special’.  He also said she would do a good Brexit deal, so it turns out that he was just kidding about the other stuff all along.  That’s alright then…..

Trump is such a fool that he believes, in spite of the thousands on the streets protesting against his presence, that the people of the UK love him, so he jetted off to Scotland to play golf, in preparation for his summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Somewhere in the middle of all of this there is a discussion going on about the White Paper, the UK’s negotiating position on Brexit and whether the EU will even tolerate it.  Maybe some rain in the coming weeks will help dampen things and proper political discourse will emerge.  Unfortunately, history suggests that the Summer is not the time for that.

Trump’s America Poles Apart

30th June 2018

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 Further anti-Trump protests scheduled for 13th July in the UK

A divided nation and a divisive President pretty much sums up the position in the United States of America at the moment.  Well into the second year of his presidency, Donald Trump is showing no sign of being any less idiosyncratic in his behaviour or any less unpredictable in his policy pronouncements.   His arrival in the UK on Friday, 13th July for a three day “working visit”, will nevertheless involve him meeting the Queen, as Head of State in the UK’s archaic system, as well as meeting Theresa May at the PM’s country retreat, Chequers.

Protests are being organised across the UK, with the focus being upon London, to mobilise opposition to the politics of xenophobia, race hate and bigotry which Trump represents.  In the past six weeks almost 2,000 children have been forcibly separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border.  While their parents have taken the decision to flee their countries of origin for a variety of reasons, associated with drug cartel killings and the lawlessness which still characterises parts of Central America, this is no reason to criminalise four year olds who have no choice but to flee with their families.

Typically, the US has a different approach to migrants arriving from El Salvador, Guatemala or Mexico to those arriving from Cuba, who are greeted as anti-Communist heroes.  If the resources currently directed towards undermining democracy in Cuba were used to restrict the supply lines and activities of the drug barons in other parts of Latin America the flow of migrants at the US border would be stemmed.

For Trump though the numbers are not necessarily the issue.  Blaming immigrants for the problems of crime, social disorder and the economy is the last resort of every fascist scoundrel in history, so for Trump any level of migration would be deemed undesirable in his quest, as characterised by House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, to “make America white again.”

Trump’s UK visit will be preceded by a NATO summit in Brussels on 12th July and followed by a meeting with Russian President, Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki on 16th July.  It promises to be an interesting few days.  Trump has made clear on many occasions his contempt for NATO, regarding it as an organisation into which the US pays too much and gets too little back in return.  The expectation on NATO members is that they spend 2% of their GDP on ‘defence’, a target which the UK is the only European government fool enough to meet, part of the reason for its crumbling transport infrastructure and public services.

It is anyone’s guess how Trump will play his hand at the NATO meeting but his discussions with Vladimir Putin, following close on, have made NATO generals nervous that Trump will make a major concession to Putin on arms or troop deployments, in order to grandstand on the world stage.  Both the NATO generals and US security services are well aware that Putin’s greater nous, political experience and KGB training are likely to mean he is more disciplined in any negotiation and capable of getting the upper hand over the bungling game show host.

Meanwhile, back in Trump heartland, where even the east coast is regarded as a foreign land, a storm has broken out over the actions of a small town restaurant in Lexington, Virginia.  Last Friday night Trump’s press secretary, Sarah Sanders, was half way through her meal at the Red Hen in Lexington when owner Stephanie Wilkinson asked her to leave.  This was based upon a staff vote in protest at the president’s policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.

The Red Hen has been bombarded with eggs and excrement, besieged by angry protesters and as a result has been forced to close.  “Bikers for Trump” (not the environmentally friendly cyclist type) are planning a rally outside the restaurant.  A Greek restaurant next door, not involved in the original incident, has received a bomb threat.  The wine store next door has received abusive phone calls, including one suggesting that the owners should “rot in hell”.  At the same time the Red Hen has been inundated by flowers from those supporting the stance of the staff.

This is the politics of Trump’s America at the moment.  The Red Hen incident has prompted a national debate on civility and politics.  Needless to say, the positions taken on the issue are poles apart.  The debate will no doubt continue to rage back home, while Trump takes to Airforce One and pedals his poison overseas.  For action in the UK, in order to make 13th July a day for Trump to remember,  go to https://www.stoptrump.org.uk/

 

 

Pouring gasoline on the fire

7th May 2018

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Netanyahu alleges Iranian nuclear capability

Events in the Middle East are building towards a critical point over the coming days with a combination of key decisions and key anniversaries combining to make what could be a potentially explosive mix of circumstances.  Added to which is the volatility of the key protagonists, not least US President, Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who have done their best to ramp up tensions in recent weeks.

Further uncertainty, provided by the theocratic dictatorships of Saudi Arabia and Iran, locked in a struggle for supremacy in the Muslim world, means that the chances of emerging from the next fortnight without a significant flashpoint are precarious.

The first key date is 12th May, when Donald Trump has a deadline by which to decide whether the US will continue to adhere to the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which limits the capacity for Iran to develop nuclear technology.  The deal was signed in 2015 under the Obama administration and engaged the key EU nations along with the US, China and Russia.  In spite of the fact that the deal has barely made an impact upon the international sanctions imposed upon the Iranian regime, Trump regards the deal as “the worst deal in history” and has pledged to pull the US out of it.

The Israelis and Saudis, in a somewhat unholy alliance, back the US on the basis that anything which brings pressure to bear upon Iran, weakening the chances of Iranian economic recovery, is in their interest.   In a bizarre television performance last week Netanyahu took to the airwaves in Israel to allegedly reveal evidence of Iran’s development of nuclear weapons technology.

Quite where Netanyahu sourced his information is unclear, as the inspection regime headed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as part of the JCPOA, has verified 10 times, most recently in February of this year, that Iran is in compliance.

Netanyahu has stated that Israel is prepared to go to war with Iran in order to stop Iranian influence in the war of intervention in Syria, stating,

“We are determined to block Iran’s aggression against us even if this means a struggle. Better now than later.  Nations that were unprepared to take timely action to counter murderous aggression against them paid much heavier prices afterwards. We do not want escalation, but we are prepared for any scenario.”

Iran’s aggression against Israel appears to be the support provided to the government of President Assad in Syria.  This has resulted in the striking of Iranian targets inside Syria, by the Israelis, several times in recent weeks.

The provocation from Netanyahu and Trump is matched in kind by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has pitched in to suggest that,

“If the United States leaves the nuclear agreement, you will soon see that they will regret it like never before in history.  Trump must know that our people are united, the Zionist regime (Israel) must know that our people are united.”

Iran has said that if the US reimposes sanctions it may resume enriching uranium.

Israel on the other hand has an undeclared nuclear arsenal of an estimated 200 nuclear warheads and is not a signatory to the international non-proliferation treaty.

The next date of significance, 14th May, is the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel.  It is closely followed by the day commemorated by Palestinians as the Nakba or ‘catastrophe’ on 15th May when thousands were driven from their land to make way for the Israeli state.

The wave of protests building up to these dates has already seen the Israeli Defence Force shoot dead 40 Palestinian protesters and injure countless others, as peaceful protests have been targeted by the Israeli state with live ammunition.

Jerusalem’s status has been a major obstacle in peace negotiations.  The international community, through the United Nations, hold that sovereignty over the city should be agreed between the two sides. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as a capital of a future independent state, but Israel captured it in 1967. It later annexed the city and claims the entire area as its “eternal and undivided” capital.

During the course of this week of significant anniversaries the contribution of the US will be to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  Writing in Israeli paper Haaretz, Ilan Goldenberg, who was part of the US team during the 2013-14 Israeli-Palestinian negotiations stated that the embassy move,

“…could explode – and we could find ourselves in the middle of a new war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Nobody knows, but it is irresponsible for the US to be dumping gasoline on this potential fire.”

European leaders, Emmanuel Macron of France, Angela Merkel of Germany, even UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson has attempted to persuade Donald Trump this week not to cut loose from the Iran deal and open the pandora’s box which would follow.  Will Trump listen to reason?  The track record so far is not good.  The clock is ticking….