Those who believe Israel can on its own launch an attack on Iran belong to the funny farm.....
India carries BRICS flag on Syria, P5+1, on smooth road to Baghdad....There is an Axis of Evil in the world today and it has nothing to do with Iran....
It gives me great pleasure to study the document which just reached me — ‘Explanation of Vote’ on the United Nations supervision mission for Syria by Ambassador Hardeep Puri at the UN Security Council in New York a little while ago. Before Puri spoke, External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna telephoned UN’s joint special envoy for Syria Kofi Annan to underscore India’s support for his mission.
The ‘P5+1′ - Iran talks in Istanbul on Saturday ended on a manifestly positive note. Why it is so is a long story, but suffice to say, Washington sifted through the complicated signals from Tehran and concluded a window of opportunity could be open for negotiations. That these signals have come from the top level of the Iranian regime enhanced their credibility.
By Juan Cole
Introduction by Tom Engelhardt: Negotiators for Iran, the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany - the P5+1 or "Iran Six" - meet in Istanbul, Turkey this weekend, face to face, for the first time in more than a year. There are small signs of possible future compromise on both sides when it comes to Iran's nuclear program (and a semi-public demand from Washington that could be an instant deal-breaker). Looking at the big picture, though, there's a remarkable amount we simply don't know about Washington's highly militarized policy toward Iran. Juan Cole does a remarkable job of offering us a full-scale picture of the complex economic underpinnings of the present Iran-US-Israeli crisis and the unnerving dangers involved.
It's a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians - and possibly in the long run among Americans, too. It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own. Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program. It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences.
The United States is already effectively embroiled in an economic war against Iran. The Barack Obama administration has subjected the Islamic Republic to the most crippling economic sanctions applied to any country since Iraq was reduced to fourth-world status in the 1990s. And worse is on the horizon. A financial blockade is being imposed that seeks to prevent Tehran from selling petroleum, its most valuable commodity, as a way of dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program.
Historical memory has never been an American strong point and few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States. The tactic is just as dangerous today.
Iran's supreme theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly condemned the atom bomb and nuclear weapons of all sorts as tools of the devil, weaponry that cannot be used without killing massive numbers of civilian noncombatants. In the most emphatic terms, he has, in fact, pronounced them forbidden according to Islamic law.
Based on the latest US intelligence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has affirmed that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear warhead. In contrast, hawks in Israel and the United States insist that Tehran's civilian nuclear enrichment program is aimed ultimately at making a bomb, that the Iranians are pursuing such a path in a determined fashion, and that they must be stopped now - by military means if necessary.
Putting the squeeze on Iran
At the moment, the Obama administration and the US Congress seem intent on making it impossible for Iran to sell its petroleum at all on the world market. As 2011 ended, congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that mandates sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran's Central Bank or buy Iranian petroleum (though hardship cases can apply to the Treasury Department for exemptions).
This escalation from sanctions to something like a full-scale financial blockade holds extreme dangers of spiraling into military confrontation. The Islamic Republic tried to make this point, indicating that it would not allow itself to be strangled without response, by conducting naval exercises at the mouth of the Persian Gulf this winter. The threat involved was clear enough: about one-fifth of the world's petroleum flows through the Gulf, and even a temporary and partial cut-off might prove catastrophic for the world economy.
In part, Obama is clearly attempting by his sanctions-cum-blockade policy to dissuade the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from launching a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. He argues that severe economic measures will be enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table ready to bargain, or even simply give in.
In part, Obama is attempting to please America's other Middle East ally, Saudi Arabia, which also wants Iran's nuclear program mothballed. In the process, the US Department of the Treasury has even had Iran's banks kicked off international exchange networks, making it difficult for that country's major energy customers like South Korea and India to pay for the Iranian petroleum they import. And don't forget the administration's most powerful weapon: most governments and corporations do not want to be cut off from the US economy with a gross domestic product of more than US$15 trillion - still the largest and most dynamic in the world.
Typically, the European Union, fearing congressional sanctions, has agreed to cease taking new contracts on Iranian oil by July 1, a decision that has placed special burdens on struggling countries in its southern tier like Greece and Italy. With European buyers boycotting, Iran will depend for customers on Asian countries, which jointly purchase some 64% of its petroleum, and those of the global South.
Of these, China and India have declined to join the boycott. South Korea, which buys $14 billion worth of Iranian petroleum a year, accounting for some 10% of its oil imports, has pleaded with Washington for an exemption, as has Japan, which got 8.8% of its petroleum imports from Iran last year, more than 300,000 barrels a day - and more in absolute terms than South Korea. Japan, which is planning to cut its Iranian imports by 12% this year, has already won an exemption.
Faced with the economic damage a sudden interruption of oil imports from Iran would inflict on East Asian economies, the Obama administration has instead attempted to extract pledges of future 10%-20% reductions in return for those Treasury Department exemptions. Since it's easier to make promises than institute a boycott, allies are lining up with pledges. (Even Turkey has gone this route.)
Such vows are almost certain to prove relatively empty. After all, there are few options for such countries other than continuing to buy Iranian oil unless they can find new sources - unlikely at present, despite Saudi promises to ramp up production - or drastically cut back on energy use, ensuring economic contraction and domestic wrath.
What this means in reality is that the US and Israeli quest to cut off Iran's exports will probably be a quixotic one. For the plan to work, oil demand would have to remain steady and other exporters would have to replace Iran's roughly 2.5 million barrels a day on the global market. For instance, Saudi Arabia has increased the amount of petroleum it pumps, and is promising a further rise in output this summer in an attempt to flood the market and allow countries to replace Iranian purchases with Saudi ones.
But experts doubt the Saudi ability to do this long term and - most important of all - global demand is not steady. It's crucially on the rise in both China and India. For Washington's energy blockade to work, Saudi Arabia and other suppliers would have to reliably replace Iran's oil production and cover increased demand, as well as expected smaller shortfalls caused by crises in places like Syria and South Sudan and by declining production in older fields elsewhere.
Otherwise, a successful boycott of Iranian petroleum will only put drastic upward pressure on oil prices, as Japan has politely but firmly pointed out to the Obama administration. The most likely outcome: America's closest allies and those eager to do more business with the US will indeed reduce imports from Iran, leaving countries like China, India, and others in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to dip into the pool of Iranian crude (possibly at lower prices than the Iranians would normally charge).
Iran's transaction costs are certainly increasing, its people are beginning to suffer economically, and it may have to reduce its exports somewhat, but the tensions in the Gulf have also caused the price of petroleum futures to rise in a way that has probably offset the new costs the regime has borne. (Experts also estimate that the Iran crisis has already added 25 cents to every gallon of gas an American consumer buys at the pump.)
Like China, India has declined to bow to pressure from Washington. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, which depends on India's substantial Muslim vote, is not eager to be seen as acquiescent to US strong-arm tactics. Moreover, lacking substantial hydrocarbon resources, and given Manmohan's ambitious plans for an annual growth rate of 9% - focused on expanding India's underdeveloped transportation sector (70% of all petroleum used in the world is dedicated to fueling vehicles), Iran is crucial to the country's future.
To sidestep Washington, India has worked out an agreement to pay for half of its allotment of Iranian oil in rupees, a soft currency. Iran would then have to use those rupees on food and goods from India, a windfall for its exporters. Defying the American president yet again, the Indians are even offering a tax break to Indian firms that trade with Iran. That country is, in turn, offering to pay for some Indian goods with gold. Since India runs a trade deficit with the US, Washington would only hurt itself if it aggressively sanctioned India.
A history lesson ignored
As yet, Iran has shown no signs of yielding to the pressure. For its leaders, future nuclear power stations promise independence and signify national glory, just as they do for France, which gets nearly 80% of its electricity from nuclear reactors. The fear in Tehran is that, without nuclear power, a developing Iran could consume all its petroleum domestically, as has happened in Indonesia, leaving the government with no surplus income with which to maintain its freedom from international pressures.
Iran is particularly jealous of its independence because in modern history it has so often been dominated by a great power or powers. In 1941, with World War II underway, Russia and Britain, which already controlled Iranian oil, launched an invasion to ensure that the country remained an asset of the Allies against the Axis.
They put the young and inexperienced Mohammed Reza Pahlevi on the throne, and sent his father, Reza Shah, into exile. The Iranian corridor - what British prime minister Winston Churchill called "the bridge of victory" - then allowed the allies to effectively channel crucial supplies to the Soviet Union in the war against Nazi Germany. The occupation years were, however, devastating for Iranians, who experienced soaring inflation and famine.
Discontent broke out after the war - and the Allied occupation - ended. It was focused on a 1933 agreement Iran had signed with the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) regarding the exploitation of its petroleum. By the early 1950s, the AIOC (which later became British Petroleum and is now BP) was paying more in taxes to the British government than in royalties to Iran for its oil. In 1950, when it became known that the American ARAMCO oil consortium had offered the king of Saudi Arabia a 50-50 split of oil profits, the Iranians demanded the same terms.
The AIOC was initially adamant that it would not renegotiate the agreement. By the time it softened its position somewhat and began being less supercilious, Iran's parliamentarians were so angry that they did not want anything more to do with the British firm or the government that supported it.
On March 15, 1951, a democratically elected Iranian parliament summarily nationalized the country's oil fields and kicked the AIOC out of the country. Facing a wave of public anger, Mohammed Reza Shah acquiesced, appointing Mohammed Mosaddegh, an oil-nationalization hawk, as prime minister. A conservative nationalist from an old aristocratic family, Mosaddegh soon visited the United States seeking aid, but because his nationalist coalition included the Tudeh Party (the Communist Party of Iran), he was increasingly smeared in the US press as a Soviet sympathizer.
The British government, outraged by the oil nationalization and fearful that the Iranian example might impel other producers to follow suit, froze that country's assets and attempted to institute a global embargo of its petroleum. London placed harsh restrictions on Tehran's ability to trade, and made it difficult for Iran to convert the pounds sterling it held in British banks. Initially, president Harry Truman's administration in Washington was supportive of Iran. After Republican Dwight Eisenhower was swept into the Oval Office, however, the US enthusiastically joined the oil embargo and campaign against Iran.
Iran became ever more desperate to sell its oil, and countries like Italy and Japan were tempted by "wildcat" sales at lower than market prices. As historian Nikki Keddie has showed, however, Big Oil and the US State Department deployed strong-arm tactics to stop such countries from doing so.
In May 1953, for example, sometime Standard Oil of California executive and "petroleum adviser" to the State Department Max Thornburg wrote to the US ambassador to Italy, Claire Booth Luce, about an Italian request to buy Iranian oil: "For Italy to clear this oil and take additional cargoes would definitely indicate that it had taken the side of the oil 'nationalizers', despite the hazard this represents to American foreign investments and vital oil supply sources. This of course is Italy's right. It is only the prudence of the course that is in question." He then threatened Rome with an end to oil company purchases of Italian supplies worth millions of dollars.
In the end, the Anglo-American blockade devastated Iran's economy and provoked social unrest. Mosaddegh, initially popular, soon found himself facing a rising wave of labor strikes and protest rallies. Shopkeepers and small businessmen, among his most important constituents, pressured the prime minister to restore order. When he finally did crack down on the protests (some of them staged by the Central Intelligence Agency), the far left Tudeh Party began withdrawing its support. Right-wing generals, dismayed by the flight of the shah to Italy, the breakdown of Iran's relations with the West, and the deterioration of the economy, were open to the blandishments of the CIA, which, with the help of British intelligence, decided to organize a coup to install its own man in power.
A danger of blowback
The story of the 1953 Central Intelligence Agency coup in Iran is well known, but that its success depended on the preceding two years of fierce sanctions on Iran's oil is seldom considered. A global economic blockade of a major oil country is difficult to sustain.
Were it to have broken down, the US and Britain would have suffered a huge loss of prestige. Other Third World countries might have taken heart and begun to claim their own natural resources. The blockade, then, arguably made the coup necessary. That coup, in turn, led to the rise to power of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter-century later and, in the end, the present US/Israeli/Iranian face-off. It seems the sort of sobering history lesson that every politician in Washington should consider (and none, of course, does).
As then, so now, an oil blockade in its own right is unlikely to achieve Washington's goals. At present, the American desire to force Iran to abolish its nuclear enrichment program seems as far from success as ever. In this context, there's another historical lesson worth considering: the failure of the crippling sanctions imposed on Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1990s to bring down that dictator and his regime.
What that demonstrated was simple enough: ruling cliques with ownership of a valuable industry like petroleum can cushion themselves from the worst effects of an international boycott, even if they pass the costs on to a helpless public. In fact, crippling the economy tends to send the middle class into a spiral of downward mobility, leaving its members with ever fewer resources to resist an authoritarian government. The decline of Iran's once-vigorous Green protest movement of 2009 is probably connected to this, as is a growing sense that Iran is now under foreign siege, and Iranians should rally around in support of the nation.
Strikingly, there was a strong voter turnout for the recent parliamentary elections where candidates close to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dominated the results. Iran's politics, never very free, have nevertheless sometimes produced surprises and feisty movements, but these days are moving in a decidedly conservative and nationalistic direction. Only a few years ago, a majority of Iranians disapproved of the idea of having an atomic bomb. Now, according to a recent Gallup poll, more support the militarization of the nuclear program than oppose it.
The great oil blockade of 2012 may still be largely financially focused, but it carries with it the same dangers of escalation and intervention - as well as future bitterness and blowback - as did the campaign of the early 1950s. US and European financial sanctions are already beginning to interfere with the import of staples like wheat, since Iran can no longer use the international banking system to pay for them.
If children suffer or even experience increased mortality because of the sanctions, that development could provoke future attacks on the US or American troops in the Greater Middle East. (Don't forget that the Iraqi sanctions, considered responsible for the deaths of some 500,000 children, were cited by al-Qaeda in its "declaration of war" on the US).
The attempt to flood the market and use financial sanctions to enforce an embargo on Iranian petroleum holds many dangers. If it fails, soaring oil prices could set back fragile economies in the West still recovering from the mortgage and banking scandals of 2008. If it overshoots, there could be turmoil in the oil-producing states from a sudden fall in revenues.
Even if the embargo is a relative success in keeping Iranian oil in the ground, the long-term damage to that country's fields and pipelines (which might be ruined if they lie fallow long enough) could harm the world economy in the future. The likelihood that an oil embargo can change Iranian government policy or induce regime change is low, given our experience with economic sanctions in Iraq, Cuba, and elsewhere. Moreover, there is no reason to think that the Islamic Republic will take its downward mobility lying down.
As the sanctions morph into a virtual blockade, they raise the specter that all blockades do - of provoking a violent response. Just as dangerous is the specter that the sanctions will drag on without producing tangible results, impelling covert or overt American action against Tehran to save face. And that, friends, is where we came in.
Those 241 dead Marines in lebanon in 1983. They were participating in the Lebanese civil war, and it's accepted practice for combatants in a war to try to kill the enemy's soldiers. That's not murder; it's just war. If anyone else's Marines invaded the United States and some American managed to drive a truck into their barracks and kill those occupiers, it think it unlikely that you would call that murder. Not only Americans but other human beings have the right to kill invading soldiers in order to expel them....
1. Those who believe Israel can on its own launch an attack on Iran belong to the funny farm.
2. Politicians seem to be ready to do anything to satisfy Israel. I would like to see them when Nutwityahu demands them to pull their jeans down.
3. The nuclear issue is just an excuse. The west wants the Iranian leaders to act like the subservient Persian Gulf Arab kings and sheiks.
4. Sanctions are criminal and illegal. They have been made possible because both the UN and the IAEA are in the pockets of the west.
5. In the event of war the U.S. will suffer the greatest. Ever seen a school bully with a bloody nose?
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
On Saturday, the world stepped back from the brink of a showdown on Iran's nuclear program as both sides in the multilateral nuclear talks emerged from 10-hour negotiations in Istanbul in a positive mood, setting the stage for a follow-up "substantive meeting" in Baghdad in late May.
The talks, after a 13-month hiatus, included representatives of the "Iran Six" - also known as the P5+1 - the United States, Great Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, labeled the talks as "constructive and useful" and added that the Baghdad meeting will be guided by "the principle of a step-by-step approach and reciprocity ... We were assured that Iran is serious."
Indeed, reciprocity and mutual respect are key ingredients of the confidence-building process that is the sine qua non for a successful nuclear diplomacy, given the preponderance of confidence deficit and mutual distrust that has dominated the negotiation scene until now.
The talks come after months of increased tensions between Iran and the US, along with other Western countries, which suspect that Tehran's nuclear program is not peaceful, as it claims. Sanctions have been placed on Iran by the United Nations as well as individual countries, including the US.
In his press conference after the talks, Saeed Jalili, the resourceful Iranian nuclear negotiator, spoke under a banner showing the faces of Iran's assassinated nuclear scientists, defending Iran's nuclear rights under articles of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) - to which Iran is a signatory - and elaborating on what the agenda of the Baghdad round would consist of. That is nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and access to peaceful nuclear technology.
On the sidelines, Jalili held bilateral talks with the Russian representative, Sergei Rybakov, and reportedly denied an American request to hold a similar bilateral meeting.
Irrespective, the mere fact that US and Iranian officials met for 10 hours, albeit in a multilateral setting, and then refrained from vilifying each other and, instead, praised the talks' "serious and constructive" atmosphere, is definitely a good omen for the much-troubled US-Iran relations.
Israel, on the other hand, has criticized the lack of concrete progress in the talks and the decision for a follow-up in Baghdad, Iran's backyard. Therefore, the powerful pro-Israel lobby might increase pressure on the Barack Obama administration for a "get tough" approach on Iran during the next 40 days.
According to reports, Jalili reiterated the religious edict, fatwa, by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei against nuclear weapons and sounded conciliatory on the subject of transparency, enhanced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and the prospects for Iran's adoption of the intrusive Additional Protocol of the NPT. He also indicated support for a uranium swap for the Tehran medical reactor, while rejecting the Western demand to shut down the uranium enrichment facility at Fordow and to suspend 20% enrichment activities, as anticipated by this author. (See Nuclear chess in Istanbul Asia Times Online, April 14).
The mere agreement by Western governments to adopt NPT standards as the framework for the discussions has been hailed in Iran as a major victory, since there is no legal bar to Iran's possession of a nuclear fuel cycle and, inevitably, this represents a US retreat from the previous "red line" of not tolerating any centrifuges spinning in Iran; that arbitrary line has now been replaced with a more realistic approach that is focused on objective guarantees that Iran is not engaged in proliferation activities.
"This was a victory for the supreme leader's strategy of 'threat and sanctions in response to threats and sanctions on same level' that was spelled out by Khamenei in two key speeches recently," says a Tehran University political science professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity. This was in reference to Iran cutting off oil supplies to some European countries and the threat to close the vital Strait of Hormuz.
According to the Tehran professor, Iran's successful counter-strategy had worked with China and Russia, both of whom have opposed Western unilateral sanctions and threats of military action, as a result of which "there was no united front against Iran in Istanbul, only a united concession on Iran's nuclear rights".
By all indications, at the Baghdad meet, hosted by the pro-Iran Shi'ite-dominated government, the US and other Western powers will be further oriented to Iran's regional clout that requires reckoning with along the lines of political realism. This is not to mention Tehran's clout with Damascus and Iran's nod to the Syrian ceasefire brokered by former United Nations head Kofi Annan, who was in Tehran recently and praised Tehran's constructive role.
On the other hand, coinciding with fresh, and impressive, assaults by Taliban insurgents in Kabul and three other Afghan provinces, thus reminding the world of the unfinished business of Afghan security, the Istanbul round may have served another purpose, that is, to at least indirectly flesh out the "common points" between Iran and the West.
Iran's moderate Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, who penned an opinion article in the Washington Post under the title "Iran does not want nuclear weapons", blamed the US for reneging on its contractual obligations toward Iran's US-built medical reactor in Tehran, and he implicitly touched on the subject of future US-Iran nuclear cooperation - that was also touted by the Barack Obama administration in the initial nuclear talks with Iran in 2009 and 2010.
Both in the areas of upgrading the Tehran reactor and managing nuclear waste, the US could provide key assistance to Iran, should Washington's concerns about Iran's "nuclear weapons intentions" be put to rest as a result of Iran's guarantees.
For the Obama administration, which badly needs some concrete evidence of foreign policy success to secure re-election, the renewed fighting in Afghanistan, whose government is backed by both Tehran and Washington, is a complicating factor that, once again, draws attention to the need for a "regional solution" encompassing Iran, which has long and porous borders with Afghanistan and which could play mischief if the nuclear talks failed and the US resorted to more coercive tactics against Iran.
In light of the above-said, it makes sense to add another item on the agenda for the Baghdad talks: regional security. Much as Baghdad may be elated by the instant global attention that will be accorded to it by hosting the next round, by the same token neither Saudi Arabia nor the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) appear to be very thrilled about this news, hence their lukewarm if not outright negative reactions to the results of the Istanbul talks.
The trip by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to the island of Abu Mussa last week has raised the ire of GCC states that support the United Arab Emirates' claim to that island, thus portending a vigorous Saudi-led campaign in the coming weeks to convince the White House to keep the pressure on Iran.
But, with Iran and the US as essentially de facto allies in their common support for the present regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the White House may now be caught in the dilemma of conflicting priorities.
In conclusion, we may now be on the verge of a new beginning marking the gradual end of the Iran nuclear crisis. The road ahead must be paved with good intention or it will be derailed by the multiple barriers that challenge both sides.