Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

TOM LUONGO | 20.03.2019 | FEATURED STORY

Crimea: The Geopolitical Jewel Russia Continues to Polish

With all that is happening in the world Crimea has taken a bit of a backseat recently. Yes, the US, EU and Canada just added more sanctions on Russia via the odious Magnitsky legislation but this is inconsequential.

There’s been a flurry of good news coming out of Crimea and the Black Sea recently that bears discussion. Let’s start with the most important. President Vladimir Putin was in Crimea earlier this week to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the peninsula’s reunification with Russia. There he also officially inaugurated two major upgrades to Crimea’s power grid.

Located in Simferopol and Sevastopol, two new power plants will produce 940 megawatts and secure Crimea’s energy needs for now and into the future.

Power has been Crimea’s Achilles’ heel since breaking off from Ukraine in 2014. It received almost 90% of its power from the mainland. In November 2015, the trunk lines into Crimea were sabotaged by Ukrainian nationalist radicals, encouraged by President Petro Poroshenko plunging it into darkness as winter took hold.

Does this sound familiar? A place that defies US edicts geopolitically is first hit with a full trade embargo, sanctions and threatened militarily by proxies before having its electricity shut off?

*Cough* Venezuela *Cough*

And there are reports that the US has game-planned a similar fate for Iran as well. For Crimea it was easy because of the single-point-of-failure, the trunks from the mainland. For Venezuela it was as well, with the Guri dam, which affected nearly 70 percent of the country.

So, Putin timing the fifth anniversary of reunification with the announcement of the plants moving to full operational status was yet another smooth bit of international political maneuvering.

A not-so-subtle poke in the eye of the Gang Who Can’t Sanction Straight in D.C. as well as lame duck Poroshenko. Elections are at the end of the month and this celebration by Russia and Crimea will not sit well with many Ukrainians, especially the diaspora here in the US which is virulently anti-Putin in my experience.

Secure and stable power generation is a hallmark of a first world territory. Without that economic growth and stability are impossible. This is why to first help stabilize the situation in Crimea after the blackout Russia brought in 400 MW of power across the Kerch Strait from Krasnodor.

Tying Crimea to the mainland via the Kerch Strait bridge was a masterstroke by Putin. The initial power lines were simply a necessity. For those that complain he isn’t doing enough to counter US and European aggression need only look at the Kerch Strait bridge.

Not only did the Russians not seek international approval given the nearly universal refusal to recognize Crimea as Russian they built the thing in a time frame that defies description.

Imagine if this had been an EU project. They would still be debating the initial engineering plans and the political effects on some protected minority.

Not only does it open up the Eastern Black Sea to trade via Crimea but it ends the use of the Sea of Azov as a potential staging ground for naval provocations as last fall’s incident proved. Ukraine is cut off from acting aggressively and cannot count on any help from the US and Europe.

Moreover, Crimea is now permanently Russia’s. And every bit of infrastructure Russia builds there ties the two further together and weakens any bonds Crimea had with Ukraine. The resultant growth and modernization will make its way, economically and culturally back into southern Ukraine and erode the hard border over time.

This is far more important than striking out and metaphorically punching Poroshenko in the mouth, that many of Putin’s detractors wish for.

Presidents change, after all. Patience and attrition is how you beat an aggressive, distant enemy like the US

To remind everyone just how insane the Trump White House has become on matters international, no less than Vice President Mike Pence lobbied Germany to provoke another naval incident at the Kerch Strait.

If there was ever an example of how little Trump’s gang of moldy neocons think of Europe it is this bit of news. In effect, Pence was saying, “We can’t start a war with Russia because it would go nuclear, but you can because Russia can’t live without your trade.”

This coming after the US unilaterally pulled out of the INF treaty and is now flying nuclear bombers to eastern Europe. The message is clear. If the EU doesn’t get with this open-ended belligerent program against Russia and China of John Bolton’s they will be the ones paying the price when chaos breaks out.

On the other side there is Putin; building bridges, pipelines, power plants and roads.

He’s making it clear what the future holds not only for Europe but the Middle East, central Asia and India. We will defend Crimea at all costs, develop it not only into a tourist destination but also a major trade hub as well.

You are more than welcome to join us. But, we don’t need you.

These power plants will raise Crimea’s power output well beyond its current needs, allowing first export of power as well as providing the foundation for future growth.

And as if it weren’t coordinated in any way, the Chinese, on the morning of Putin’s speech, announced that Crimea would be an excellent fit for investment projects attached to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

That’s according to the head of the association of Chinese compatriots on the peninsula, Ge Zhili. “Our organization is bolstering cooperation ties, exchanges and friendly contacts with the Crimean society,” he said at an event dedicated to the fifth anniversary of Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was held in the Russian Embassy in Beijing on Monday.

It is also ready to contribute to the establishment of “reliable partner ties” and the explanation of legal details of business cooperation with Crimea, Ge Zhili said. “The Chinese society hopes for the development of friendly cooperation with Crimea; we are ready to overcome difficulties for fruitful results.”

Again this is a direct challenge to the US who has Crimea under strict sanctions in the West. China is happy now to move forward with integrating Crimea into its plans. It’s just another example of how Russia and China simply ignore Trump’s fulminations and move on.

I can’t wait until I get to write this article all over again, this time about North Korea, now that Bolton has thrown Russian and Chinese assistance in getting North Korea to the negotiating table back in their face by destroying the Hanoi talks.

This announcement is not to be underestimated given that Chinese Premier Xi Jinping is in Rome this week to open up relations with the new Italian government. Five Star Movement’s Leader Luigi Di Maio said he would welcome becoming a part of BRI, much to the consternation of Trump, German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as his coalition partner Lega Leader Matteo Salvini.

It’s already well known that Salvini is interested in ending sanctions on Crimea and re-opening trade with Russia. Italy is desperate for new markets and opportunities, currently stifled under the euro itself as well as Germany’s insistence on austerity hollowing out Italy’s economy and its future prospects.

These issues as well as energy security ones are coming to a head this year with Brexit, the European Parliamentary elections in May and the completion of the Nordstream 2 pipeline later this year.

As Putin continues to polish his Black Sea jewel, Europe has to decide if it is going to continue playing the U.S’s games over Ukraine or begin the next phase of its independence. Salvini will lead a Euroskeptic revolt within the European Parliament in May. It may be big enough to finally defy Merkel and end EU sanctions on Russia over Crimea.

At that point the US will also have a choice, burn down the world economy with even more sanctions, tariffs and acts of war or accept the facts on the ground.

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لبنان والأردن وتركيا والتكتل الإقليمي الجديد؟

مارس 20, 2019

ناصر قنديل

– لم تعد ثمّة حاجة لوضع التساؤلات او رسم الشكوك حول وجود قرار إيراني سوري عراقي ببناء تكتل إستراتيجي جديد يستوعب التمايزات في أوضاع الدول الثلاث وتباينات تكوينها السياسي لصالح تكامل قطاعاتها الاقتصادية والخدمية، وتناغم سياساتها الأمنية، وربطها بشبكات نقل متعدّدة من طرق دولية وسكك حديد، وربط شبكاتها الكهربائية، وتشبيك وسائط الاتصالات بينها، وتكامل منتوجاتها الصناعية والزراعية والخدمية مع أسواق بعضها البعض وحاجاتها. وعندما يستند هذا التكتل الجديد إلى عدد سكان يقارب مئتي مليون، وقدرات اقتصادية وموارد طبيعية هائلة، وأيادٍ عاملة متنوّعة الخبرات، وأسواق واسعة وحاجات سياحية واستهلاكية تلبي بعضها البعض، فمن الطبيعي أن تشكل ولادته بالإضافة لما توفره لشعوب هذه الدول وحكوماتها، مصدر خلاص من الكثير من تعقيدات التبادل المالي التي تفرضها العقوبات الأميركية.

– الولادة التدريجية لهذا التكتل الذي بدأ يبصر النور بعد قمّتين واحدة سورية إيرانية وأخرى إيرانية عراقية، وتجسّدت أولى خطواته باجتماع رؤساء أركان جيوش الدول الثلاث، ومقرراتهم بتأمين التواصل الجغرافي الآمن بين بلدانهم من جهة، وتعاون جيوشهم في إنهاء الحرب على الجماعات الإرهابية، خصوصاً في سورية. من جهة مقابلة، سيطرح تحديات عاجلة ومتصاعدة أمام دول الجوار الثلاث الأهم، البعيدة بدرجات مختلفة على الصعيد السياسي عن هذا التكتل الجديد، والمحكومة بلغة المصالح والجوار بحسابات لا مفرّ من إقامتها، تجاه كيفية التعامل مع هذه الولادة. فتركيا التي تقيم تبادلاً تجارياً واسعاً مع إيران وتملك حدوداً مشتركة يتداخل فيها الأمن والسياسة مع هذه الدول، وتتشارك مع الدول الثلاث الهمّ الكردي، ستجد نفسها معنية بالبحث الجدي في شراكة لتوسيع هذا التكتل بصورة تجعلها شريكاً نوعياً لتكبير حجم السوق أمام بضائعها، وتوسيع نطاق التدفقات السياحية إلى أسواقها، وضمان معاملة موحّدة مع المسألة الكردية، ومثلها الأردن المعني حكماً بحاجته للموارد النفطية والمتطلع لاكتساب المزيد من السياح، ومثلهما لبنان الهادف لتسويق بضائعه الزراعية والصناعية، ولاستقطاب كتلة من السياح الذين يوفرهم هذا التكتل، سيجد نفسه، رغم التذاكي السياسي لدى بعض اللبنانيين والكيدية لدى بعضهم الآخر، معنياً من موقع المصالح بالمبادرة في البحث عن سبل التشبيك مع هذا التكتل الجديد.

– عملياً وبسبب غياب مركز عالمي قادر على قيادة العام اقتصادياً وسياسياً وعسكرياً، بعد التراجع الأميركي المشهود، ستنمو التكتلات الإقليمية. وهذا هو الحال على المقلب الآخر للحدود الإيرانية مع كل من باكستان وافغانستان، وصولاً إلى الصين وروسيا والتعاون في أفغانستان سياسياً وأمنياً، والتعاون في مجالات الطاقة وتبادل البضائع. لكن الطبيعي أن يجذب هذا التكتل مع فرصه بالاتساع ليضمّ تركيا ولبنان والأردن اهتماماً خاصاً من روسيا والصين، فالأولى مهتمة بأنابيب النفط والغاز وبتوليد الكهرباء من الطاقة النووية وبيعها، والثانية معنية بشبكات سكك الحديد وتوسيع الأسواق لبضائعها، وتكتل مرشح لبلوغ الثلاثمئة مليون بهذه المقدرات الاقتصادية سيعادل حجم أوروبا، وأميركا، ويزيد عن حجم روسيا، ما يجعله مرشحاً للتأثير على شكل الخريطة التجارية والاقتصادية للعالم، وفرض معادلات جديدة لا بدّ لأوروبا الجارة من أخذها بالحساب.

– عملياً العقوبات الأميركية تلعب دوراً عكسياً. فهي تشكل اليوم الحافز لنجاح هذا التكتل، وهي ستشكل مصدر آليات تعامل مالي تتخطى المرور بالعملة والمصارف الأميركية، وعملياً هي سترتب تراجع المكانة التي تحتلها أميركا في الاقتصاد العالمي كمركز، ولو بقيت تمثل الاقتصاد الأول تقنياً وهي المرشحة لخسارة موقع الاقتصاد الأكبر حجماً امام الصين. فعلاقة أوروبا بهذا التكتل الجديد ستكون مختلفة عن علاقتها بإيران وحدها، ومنطق المصالح يقول إن هذا التكتل سيكون فرصة أوروبا الوحيدة لمواجهة خطر الركود الاقتصادي والكساد الصناعي، وعندما نقول إن عالماً جديداً يولد، لا نقصد فقط سياسياً وعسكرياً بل اقتصادياً أيضاً.

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ELIJAH J. MAGNIER: “IRAN UPSTAGES THE US IN IRAQ”

South Front

Written by Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai; Originally appeared at his blog

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is visiting Iraq for three days, leading a large political and business delegation to deepen the relationship between the two countries. Rouhani met with the Iraqi President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament. The Iranian President visited Karbalaa this afternoon, is spending the night in Najaf and will be visiting on Wednesday the highest religious authority (Marjaiya) in the city the Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, Sayyed Mohamad Saeed al-Hakeem, Sheikh Ishaq al-Fayyad and Sheikh Bashir al-Najafi. Rouhani’s public visit contrasts starkly with Trump’s recent covert visit to Iraq. Moreover, the projected economic and commercial cooperation between Iraq and Iran will not only mitigate US unilateral sanctions but will likely contribute to their failure. The bottom line question now arises: will Trump accept his loss to Iran or will he choose to lose Iraq as well by imposing sanctions on Mesopotamia?

Elijah J. Magnier: "Iran upstages the US in Iraq"

During the last week of 2018, President Trump’s plane turned off its lights to land safely in the US part of Ayn al-Assad base in Anbar province. Trump’s visit was kept secret and the Iraqi Prime Minister was informed on the same morning. Trump refused to land on the Iraqi side of the same base (Iraq and the US share the same military base with US forces holding full sovereignty over their area). For this reason, Prime Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi, the Speaker Mohamad al-Halbousi and the President Barham Saleh refused to meet Trump, who stuck to his schedule and landed at night.

Trump concluded his visit in three hours and left under darkness of the night. He is reported to have murmured that it was not right that, for security reasons, the US president was forced to visit in secrecy in the middle of the night a country where the US has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its stability.

On the other hand, Rouhani informed the Iraqi presidency of his visit a week in advance; the visit was publicly announced at the same time. Iraqi officials coordinated the schedule of the Iranian President’s trip with their Iranian counterparts. Rouhani is due to remain in Iraq for three days to conclude important economic-commercial deals, raising the level of commerce between the two countries to 20 billion dollars.

Elijah J. Magnier: "Iran upstages the US in Iraq"

The conclusion:

  1. Iran has prevailed over the US because the Iraqi officials have rejected any unilateral sanctions on Iran, insisting on commercial exchange, including energy supply and selling.
  2. Major General Qassem Soleimani achieved Iran’s goal of developing a friendly relationship with Iraq, where officials are ready to suspend relations with the US if Trump insists on imposing sanctions on any country dealing with Tehran. This achievement (and others) earned Soleimani Iran’s most prestigious medal of honour, “the order of Zulfiqar” awarded by Sayed Ali Khamenei. Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif was the first to congratulate Soleimani, describing him as “the man who made the Middle East a safer place”. It is Soleimani’s second medal; the first was “the order of Fath” received in 1989 from the same Khamenei.
  3. Iran will sell electricity to Iraq and will use dollars and the local currency in its exchange. The Islamic Republic has found new ways to counter the US sanctions by building industry infrastructure and railways, and by establishing large commercial exchanges with Iraq. This will bring more dollars to Iran and will, simultaneously, help the country rely less on US dollars by doing business in the local currency.

Trump’s foreign policy and sanctions around the world are forcing countries to find alternatives to the US monetary system and trade. Although so far with little impact, Europe is introducing a special purpose vehicle (SPV) to support trade with Iran as an alternative to the US Swift global financial messaging service. China, Russia, India and many other countries dealing with Iran have agreed to carry on their exchanges mainly but not exclusively in local currency to bypass US sanctions.

Iraq today is divided between a large faction of politicians calling for the total withdrawal of US forces from the country, and another which wants to maintain a reduced US force in charge of training and intelligence exchange. Both factions want to see most US forces leave the country, and can likely reach an agreement on accepting a small specialised force on the ground. The Iraqi government would like to strike a balance and maintain both a fair relationship with the US and excellent ties with Iran.

Trump has two choices. He could choose to cut his relationship with Iraq, which would amount to shooting himself in the foot. The presence of US forces in Iraq is essential to US objectives and hegemony in the Middle East. Moreover, it is unclear for how long US forces will be able to occupy Syria. The alternative would be for Trump to accept the fact that his sanctions against Iran will fail as Iranian-Iraqi energy and commercial deals develop. In this case, the US President would be accepting the failure of his sanctions and his plan to change the Iranian regime “in a few months”.

Whatever he decides, Trump has lost: the US establishment failed in its attempt to damage Iran and either change its ruling system or bring the country to its knees. All Trump has accomplished is to put stress on the Iranian economy, bringing hardship to the population while forcing local officials to find new solutions, with the help of Iraq’s new leadership. The US failure to impose its proxies as rulers of Iraq helped Soleimani win his medal of honour.

Proof-read byC.B.

Rouhani’s Visit to Iraq: Huge Economic Cooperation at Eastern Gate of Arab World

Wed Mar 13, 2019

Rouhani’s Visit to Iraq: Huge Economic Cooperation at Eastern Gate of Arab World

TEHRAN (FNA)- The agreements sealed during the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to Iraq mark the start of the largest economic cooperation project between the two neighboring states in the region.

In the 1990s, when the US decided after Operation Desert Storm and annihilation of 70 percent of Iraq’s Army to re-instate Saddam Hussain rather than conquering Baghdad, there was only one thing revolving in the mind of Washington’s politicians: to prevent the Shiite revolutionary movement, which was gaining momentum after the Intifada (uprisings) in Southern Iraq and becoming an independent powerhouse, from getting strengthened.

Despite the fact that in 1991 the Iraqi army had lost control of all Shiite regions, the scale was tipped in favor of Saddam’s regime when the US-led coalition allowed the dictator to fly his Mil Mi-24 helicopters which led to the largest massacre of the Shiite population in Iraq.

Interestingly, in 2014, when the ISIL terrorists conquered Mosul, one of the biggest cities in Iraq, a parallel course of event was to happen. While the terrorists were approaching the gates of Baghdad and the repetitive calls of the Iraqi government for winning the air support of the US-led coalition had failed, Iran’s strong entry into war to help its Western neighbor turned the whole tide. Now after 5 years, not only nothing has been left of the ISIL in Iraq, but also the position of Shiite-led central government in the Arab country has been cemented more than ever.

From The Fall of the Eastern Gate To The Resistance Front  

Iraq was the Eastern Gate of the Arab World, in the mindset of Saddam Hussain, to resist against Iran’s infiltration. Wafiq al-Samarrai, Director of Iran desk in Iraqi Army’s Intelligence Organization during the 8-year war of the Baathist regime against Iran has thoroughly evaluated and discussed this concept in his book of memoirs, ‘The Ruins of the Eastern Gate’.

Now after the falloff of the ISIL in a few-year-old war, Iraq has become part of an alliance which is called the Resistance Front. A front which is based on not religious motives as claimed in the West’s Shiite Crescent theory, but on a pro-independence essence opposing the Westerners’ interference in the fate of Muslim countries.

Heading Toward $20Billion Trade

President Rouhani’s visit to Iraq is exactly highlighting the same strategic cooperation. Although the Tehran-Baghdad strong ties in security areas have fruited great successes in the past couple of years, it seems that the ties are expected to develop at a serious level to other areas.

Economy is one of the main areas which was placed under the spotlight by the officials of the two countries during the recent visit of President Rouhani to Iraq. Undoubtedly, Iran enjoys a unique status for develop economic cooperation with Iraq.

The two countries share more than 1000 kilometers of borderline fittingly tied with identical ethnic patterns across the borders. For instance, Iran’s Kurdish provinces share borders with the Iraqi region of Kurdistan and accordingly can serve as an economic hub in the region because of the ethnic and lingual commonalities.

Also most of Iran’s Southwestern provinces which share border with Iraq are resided by Arab and Shiite Iranians which again positively contribute to cross-border interactions.

Besides, despite the fact that Iraq’s Western and Northern governorates like al-Anbar and Nineveh are home to bloody battles with the ISIL terrorists, security has been preserved so far in Eastern governorates which share border with Iran.

All these realities as well as the nearly 2 million Iranians who travel to the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Najaf in Arbaeen pilgrimage season have ushered in good trade between Iran and Iraq.

However, a study of economic figures shows that Iran’s share of Iraq’s market, particularly its growth in the past couple of years, still fails to match the two sides’ potentials.

This is exactly one of the very issues which drew much of the attention in the recent visit of President Rouhani to Iraq. Iranian and Iraqi officials held countless meetings and seminars before the Rouhani visit to discuss proper and wide avenues for expanding relations.

The truth is that Iran is competing with serious regional and international rivals in Iraq’s market. Turkey is one of the countries which are seriously marketing and expanding their share of the market in the food products section in Iraq.

Nevertheless it has to be born in mind that Turkey’s presence in Iraq’s market is nothing anew and an outcome of the last years. Rather, Turkey was one of the big suppliers of Iraq’s market during the reign of Saddam Hussain. Yet, the facts stated earlier display that Iran enjoys better capabilities for exporting goods to Iraq.

China and the UAE are among the other competitors in Iraq’s market, specially in the field of consumer durable goods.

Considering the situation, Iranian and Iraqi merchants held numerous meetings on the ways to expand trade between the two countries during President Rouhani’s visit.

Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad Iraj Masjedi had already said at an economic seminar in Baghdad that the two countries have set a $20 billion objective for the volume of their trade.

This figure may seem a bit out of reach at the first sight, but it is assuredly accessible considering that Iraq is now entering a phase of reconstruction after the war against terrorism and peace has been restored in its cities.

The decision to issue visas for the nationals of the two countries free of charge was another important accomplishment of President Rouhani’s visit to Iraq which can act as a catalyst further facilitating cross-border travels for the nationals of the two sides.

US Worried About Sanctions-Busting

One of the motives behind President Rouhani’s visit to Iraq was the capacities of this Arab country in helping Iran to bypass the US’ unilateral sanctions.

Tehran is going to use Iraq’s help for finding a way around new sanctions to meet its financial needs, as it did in the last round of bans with the help of Turkey.

The fact is that thanks to broad suitcase trade between Iran and Iraq in areas of trade of commodities and foreign currencies exchange, the typical sanctions imposed by the US Treasury Department are unable to cause a sensible disruption in the bilateral channels between the two sides.

The reiterations of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warning Iraqi officials about the suitcase trade of hard currency across the border of Iran and Iraq is reflecting the same very concern.

Iran is capable of importing many of its needed goods, which are not easily accessible because of financial and insurance limitations caused by sanctions, immediately through re-exporting them from Iraqi market. Accordingly, Iraq would be playing the same role once played by the UAE.

Many hold that oil rich port of Basra in Southern Iraq which is also the richest city of the country is enjoying the potential to become the second Dubai in the region. Iran can play the same role it played for flourishing Dubai in the 1980s.

The recent visit of the Governor of the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) Abdolnasser Hemmati and the serious memorandum of understanding signed on banking relations between Tehran and Baghdad underlines the importance of Iraq’s banking system for Iran. Besides, Iraq has a broad network of currency relations with the world, through a system of exchange centers, particularly with East European countries, which is of high value for Iran.

One of the objectives of President Rouhani’s visit to Iraq which was not announced publicly was to expand these very kind of relations, and assuredly the officials of the two countries have discussed this issue in their meetings, and certainly the Americans are after stopping these relations at any level.

Iran and Iraq as Pillars of Future Energy Exchange Hub in Region

Expanding cooperation on energy was also among the issues discussed for broadening bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the meetings of President Rouhani in Iraq.

This was the very same demand that made US President Donald Trump to agree with granting exemptions to Iraq to import energy from Iran during the first batch of sanctions against Tehran. However, some US-backed regional countries are after undermining Iran’s position in Iraq.

For example Saudi Arabia is after weakening Iran’s role in this area with exporting electricity to Iraq. The main point is that Rouhani’s visit to Iraq can mark a starting point for broader energy cooperation of the two countries in the region’s energy market.

Iraq has three gas fields and the country will start producing gas by the next five years. Although the early production of gas by Iraq may make the country needless of importing the energy carrier, the growing demand for electricity in the Arab country means Baghdad will continue importing energy from Iran.

In addition, Iraq is bordering Kuwait and Jordan which both are electricity thirsty and Iraq can act as an energy hub in the region to export Iran’s gas to the two countries besides meeting its own needs.

The same scenario is applicable to electricity to let Iraq play a stabilizing role in the region. The path may seem very long but Prescient Rouhani’s visit to Iraq marked a golden start for this long march.

Start of Huge Economic Cooperation in Region

Eleven years ago, when Iran’s ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled to Iraq, the country was still under the US occupation.

And now in era of Rouhani, these are the Iraqi security forces who are providing security in Baghdad with the help of their Iranian partners.

Moving along the same line, we may rightfully expect inaguration of mega projects during the visit of the next Iranian president to Baghdad. This path, despite being long, is the future within the reach of the hands of the two nations.

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Rubio’s Gloating Betrays US Sabotage in Venezuela Power Blitz

Rubio’s Gloating Betrays US Sabotage in Venezuela Power Blitz

FINIAN CUNNINGHAM | 14.03.2019 | WORLD / AMERICAS

Rubio’s Gloating Betrays US Sabotage in Venezuela Power Blitz

US imperialists are so desperate in their regime-change predations over Venezuela, they seem to have a problem controlling their drooling mouths.

The latest orgy of American gloating was triggered by the massive power outages to have hit Venezuela. No sooner had the South American country been blacked out from its power grid collapsing, senior US officials were crowing with perverse relish.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio – who has become a point man for the Trump administration in its regime-change campaign in Venezuela – was a little too celebratory. Within minutes of the nationwide power outage last Thursday, Rubio was having verbal orgasms about the “long-term economic damage”… “in the blink of an eye”. But it was his disclosure concerning the precise damage in the power grid that has led the Venezuelan government to accuse the US of carrying out a sabotage.

Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez noted how Rubio, in his tweeted comments “three minutes” after the power outage, mentioned failure of “back-up generators” in Venezuela’s main hydroelectric plant, known as the Guri Dam, located in Bolivar State. The dam supplies some 80 per cent of the Venezuelan population of 31 million with its electricity consumption.

Rodriguez mockingly ascribed “mystic skills” to Rubio because the Florida Republican senator appeared to know the precise nature of the power failure even before the Venezuelan authorities had determined it.

The Venezuelan government has since claimed that the failure in the electric grid was caused by a cyber attack on the computer system controlling the Guri Dam turbines. Caracas said it will present proof of its claims to the United Nations.

Apart from Rubio’s apparent insider information, there are several other indicators that Venezuela’s latest turmoil from power blackout was indeed caused by US sabotage, and specifically a cyber attack.

The South American country has experienced recurring power cuts over recent years due to economic problems and Washington’s sanctions. But the latest outage was widespread – at least 70 per cent of the country – and sustained for more than four days, rather than being rectified within hours. That scale of disruption suggests an unprecedented event, way beyond intermittent problems of maintenance.

The duration of the blackout in the capital Caracas and other major cities also indicates that the nature of the problem was difficult to reverse, which would be consistent with a cyber attack on the power grid. “It was a kill-shot,” says American political analyst Randy Martin.

Furthermore, US officials like President Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton as well as “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams have been warning that Washington is seeking new ways to pile pressure on Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro to stand down.

Abrams was caught out last week in a prank phone call made by two Russian entertainers posing as Swiss President Ueli Maurer in which Abrams openly advocated crushing the Venezuelan banking system in order to topple the government in Caracas. The American envoy, who was convicted over the Iran-Contra affair in the 1980s for sponsoring terrorism to sabotage Nicaragua, appeared to balk at using overt US military power against Venezuela. That suggests Washington was persuaded on the efficacy of cyber warfare to inflict social chaos and incite popular anger against the Maduro government.

The immediate reaction by Washington officials and the US-backed political opposition in Venezuela was to blame the Maduro government for the power disorder. The failure was flagged up as a sign of “incompetence” and “mismanagement” of the oil-rich country by the socialist administration. Opposition leader Juan Guaido, who has declared himself the rightful president with Washington’s blessing, conveyed the logic of blackmail when he declared, “the lights will come back on when usurper Maduro is gone”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in with repulsive gloating within hours of Venezuela’s power crisis. Pompeo tweeted: “No food. No medicine. Now, no power. Next, no Maduro.”

The delight openly displayed by Washington officials in regard to aggression against Venezuela has broken new ground in terms of the brazenness of US imperialism.

Only a few weeks ago, Bolton announced that the objective for seeking regime change in Venezuela against the elected President Nicolas Maduro was for US corporations to seize the South American state’s vast oil wealth – reckoned to be the largest known reserves on the planet, far exceeding those of Saudi Arabia.

Such is Washington’s unbridled lust for Venezuela’s natural resources that its imperialist advocates are falling over themselves with naked lies and crimes.

When a US Trojan Horse aid convoy was blocked from entering into Venezuela from Colombia last month, American politicians and media immediately blamed the Maduro government for sabotaging the effort. An aid truck was set alight on a border crossing on February 23. US Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Rubio, as well as CNN, condemned the Venezuelan authorities for “callous” destruction of vital aid delivery to its long-suffering people. It turns out, as even the New York Times has now admitted three weeks later, that the aid truck was torched by US-backed opposition supporters on the Colombian side of the border.

The obscenity of American imperialism is that it has inflicted huge social misery in Venezuela from years of sanctions and illegal confiscation (theft) of billions of dollars in assets belonging to the nation. Then it has the audacity to mount a charade seeming to deliver humanitarian aid.

The latest twist to this sadistic game played by Washington is turning the lights off across the entire nation, in homes, hospitals, airports and schools, among other essential services, and attempting to lay the blame on the Venezuelan government.

We may, however, be thankful for Washington’s overweening arrogance and criminality. Because, as Marco Rubio’s rash remarks concerning the latest power outage show, the American gangsterism towards Venezuela is being exposed for the naked aggression that it is.

US-based political analyst Randy Martin, in comments for this column, says that what Washington is doing to Venezuela is tantamount to the “rape of democracy”. “American imperialism has no longer any shame,” he said. “It used to rape countries under the cover a seedy alleyway of false excuses and hollow claims of righteousness. Now it has its trousers around its ankles and trying to rape Venezuela right on the global Main Street.”

Is a War With Iran on the Horizon?

Source

ICH

The Trump Administration Is Reckless Enough to Turn the Cold War With Iran Into a Hot One

By Bob Dreyfuss

March 12, 2019 “Information Clearing House” – Here’s the foreign policy question of questions in 2019: Are President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, all severely weakened at home and with few allies abroad, reckless enough to set off a war with Iran? Could military actions designed to be limited — say, a heightening of the Israeli bombing of Iranian forces inside Syria, or possible U.S. cross-border attacks from Iraq, or a clash between American and Iranian naval ships in the Persian Gulf — trigger a wider war?

Worryingly, the answers are: yes and yes. Even though Western Europe has lined up in opposition to any future conflict with Iran, even though Russia and China would rail against it, even though most Washington foreign policy experts would be horrified by the outbreak of such a war, it could happen.

Despite growing Trump administration tensions with Venezuela and even with North Korea, Iran is the likeliest spot for Washington’s next shooting war. Years of politically charged anti-Iranian vituperation might blow up in the faces of President Trump and his two most hawkish aides, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton, setting off a conflict with potentially catastrophic implications.

Such a war could quickly spread across much of the Middle East, not just to Saudi Arabia and Israel, the region’s two major anti-Iranian powers, but Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and the various Persian Gulf states. It might indeed be, as Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested last year (unconsciously echoing Iran’s former enemy, Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein) the “mother of all wars.”

With Bolton and Pompeo, both well-known Iranophobes, in the driver’s seat, few restraints remain on President Trump when it comes to that country. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, President Trump’s former favorite generals who had urged caution, are no longer around. And though the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution last month calling for the United States to return to the nuclear agreement that President Obama signed, there are still a significant number of congressional Democrats who believe that Iran is a major threat to U.S. interests in the region.

During the Obama years, it was de rigueur for Democrats to support the president’s conclusion that Iran was a prime state sponsor of terrorism and should be treated accordingly. And the congressional Democrats now leading the party on foreign policy — Eliot Engel, who currently chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Bob Menendez and Ben Cardin, the two ranking Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — were opponents of the 2015 nuclear accord (though all three now claim to havechanged their minds).

Deadly Flashpoints for a Future War

On the roller coaster ride that is Donald Trump’s foreign policy, it’s hard to discern what’s real and what isn’t, what’s rhetoric and what’s not. When it comes to Iran, it’s reasonable to assume that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo aren’t planning an updated version of the unilateral invasion of Iraq that President George W. Bush launched in the spring of 2003.

Yet by openly calling for the toppling of the government in Tehran, by withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement and reimposing onerous sanctions to cripple that country’s economy, by encouraging Iranians to rise up in revolt, by overtly supporting various exile groups (and perhaps covertly even terrorists), and by joining with Israel and Saudi Arabia in an informal anti-Iranian alliance, the three of them are clearly attempting to force the collapse of the Iranian regime, which just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There are three potential flashpoints where limited skirmishes, were they to break out, could quickly escalate into a major shooting war.

The first is in Syria and Lebanon. Iran is deeply involved in defending Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who only recently returned from a visit to Tehran) and closely allied with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite political party with a potent paramilitary arm. Weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu openly boasted that his country’s air force had successfully taken out Iranian targets in Syria. In fact, little noticed here, dozens of such strikes have taken place for more than a year, with mounting Iranian casualties.

Until now, the Iranian leadership has avoided a direct response that would heighten the confrontation with Israel, just as it has avoided unleashing Hezbollah, a well-armed, battle-tested proxy force.  That could, however, change if the hardliners in Iran decided to retaliate. Should this simmering conflict explode, does anyone doubt that President Trump would soon join the fray on Israel’s side or that congressional Democrats would quickly succumb to the administration’s calls to back the Jewish state?

Next, consider Iraq as a possible flashpoint for conflict. In February, a blustery Trump told CBS’s Face the Nation that he intends to keep U.S. forces in Iraq “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is the real problem.” His comments did not exactly go over well with the Iraqi political class, since many of that country’s parties and militias are backed by Iran.

Trump’s declaration followed a Wall Street Journal report late last year that Bolton had asked the Pentagon — over the opposition of various generals and then-Secretary of Defense Mattis — to prepare options for “retaliatory strikes” against Iran. This roughly coincided with a couple of small rocket attacks against Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone and the airport in Basra, Iraq’s Persian Gulf port city, neither of which caused any casualties.  Writing in Foreign Affairs, however, Pompeo blamed Iran for the attacks, which he called “life-threatening,” adding, “Iran did not stop these attacks, which were carried out by proxies it has supported with funding, training, and weapons.” No “retaliatory strikes” were launched, but plans do undoubtedly now exist for them and it’s not hard to imagine Bolton and Pompeo persuading Trump to go ahead and use them — with incalculable consequences.

Finally, there’s the Persian Gulf itself. Ever since the George W. Bush years, the U.S. Navy has worried about possible clashes with Iran’s naval forces in those waters and there have been a number of high-profile incidents. The Obama administration tried (but failed) to establish a hotline of sorts that would have linked U.S. and Iranian naval commanders and so made it easier to defuse any such incident, an initiative championed by then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Admiral Mike Mullen, a longtime opponent of war with Iran.

Under Trump, however, all bets are off. Last year, he requested that Mattis prepare plans to blow up Iran’s “fast boats,” small gunboats in the Gulf, reportedly asking, “Why don’t we sink them?” He’s already reinforced the U.S. naval presence there, getting Iran’s attention. Not surprisingly, the Iranian leadership has responded in kind. Earlier this year, President Hassan Rouhaniannounced that his country had developed submarines capable of launching cruise missiles against naval targets.  The Iranians also began a series of Persian Gulf war games and, in late February, test fired one of those sub-launched missiles.

Add in one more thing: in an eerie replay of a key argument George Bush and Dick Cheney used for going to war with Iraq in 2003, in mid-February the right-wing media outlet Washington Times ran an “exclusive” report with this headline: “Iran-Al Qaeda Alliance may provide legal rationale for U.S. military strikes.”

Back in 2002, the Office of Special Plans at Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon, under the supervision of neoconservatives Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, spent months trying to prove that al-Qaeda and Iraq were in league. The Washington Times piece, citing Trump administration sources, made a similar claim — that Iran is now aiding and abetting al-Qaeda with a “clandestine sanctuary to funnel fighters, money, and weapons across the Middle East.”  It added that the administration is seeking to use this information to establish “a potential legal justification for military strikes against Iran or its proxies.” Needless to say, few are the terrorism experts or Iran specialists who would agree that Iran has anything like an active relationship with al-Qaeda.

Will the Hardliners Triumph in Iran as in Washington?

The Trump administration is, in fact, experiencing increasing difficulty finding allies ready to join a new Coalition of the Willing to confront Iran. The only two charter members so far, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are, however, enthusiastic indeed. Last month, Prime Minister Netanyahu was heard remarking that Israel and its Arab allies want war with Iran.

At a less-than-successful mid-February summit meeting Washington organized in Warsaw, Poland, to recruit world leaders for a future crusade against Iran, Netanyahu was heard to say in Hebrew: “This is an open meeting with representatives of leading Arab countries that are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran.” (He later insisted that the correct translation should have been “combating Iran,” but the damage had already been done.)

That Warsaw summit was explicitly designed to build an anti-Iranian coalition, but many of America’s allies, staunchly opposing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord, would have nothing to do with it. In an effort to mollify the Europeans, in particular, the United States and Poland awkwardly renamed it: “The Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East.”

The name change, however, fooled no one. As a result, Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Pompeo were embarrassed by a series of no-shows: the French, the Germans, and the European Union, among others, flatly declined to send ministerial-level representatives, letting their ambassadors in Warsaw stand in for them.  The many Arab nations not in thrall to Saudi Arabia similarly sent only low-level delegations. Turkey and Russia boycotted altogether, convening a summit of their own in which Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Iran’s Rouhani.

Never the smoothest diplomat, Pence condemned, insulted, and vilified the Europeans for refusing to go along with Washington’s wrecking-ball approach. He began his speech to the conference by saying: “The time has come for our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.” He then launched a direct attack on Europe’s efforts to preserve that accord by seeking a way around the sanctions Washington had re-imposed: “Sadly, some of our leading European partners… have led the effort to create mechanisms to break up our sanctions. We call it an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime.”

That blast at the European allies should certainly have brought to mind Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld’s disparaging comments in early 2003 about Germany and France, in particular, being leaders of the “old Europe.” Few allies then backed Washington’s invasion plans, which, of course, didn’t prevent war. Europe’s reluctance now isn’t likely to prove much of a deterrent either.

But Pence is right that the Europeans have taken steps to salvage the Iran nuclear deal, otherwise known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). In particular, they’ve created a “special purpose vehicle” known as INSTEX (Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges) designed “to support legitimate trade with Iran,” according to a statement from the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain. It’s potentially a big deal and, as Pence noted, explicitly designed to circumvent the sanctions Washington imposed on Iran after Trump’s break with the JCPOA.

INSTEX has a political purpose, too. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA was a body blow to President Rouhani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and other centrists in Tehran who had taken credit for, and pride in, the deal between Iran and the six world powers (the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia, and China) that signed the agreement. That deal had been welcomed in Iran in part because it seemed to ensure that country’s ability to expand its trade to the rest of the world, including its oil exports, free of sanctions.

Even before Trump abandoned the deal, however, Iran was already finding U.S. pressure overwhelming and, for the average Iranian, things hadn’t improved in any significant way. Worse yet, in the past year the economy had taken a nosedive, the currency hadplungedinflation was running rampant, and strikes and street demonstrations had broken out, challenging the government and its clerical leadership. Chants of “Death to the Dictator!” — not heard since the Green Movement’s revolt against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s reelection in 2009 — once again resounded in street demonstrations.

At the end of February, it seemed as if Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo had scored a dangerous victory when Zarif, Iran’s well-known, Western-oriented foreign minister, announced his resignation. Moderates who supported the JCPOA, including Rouhani and Zarif, have been under attack from the country’s hardliners since Trump’s pullout.  As a result, Zarif’s decision was widely assumed to be a worrisome sign that those hardliners had claimed their first victim.

There was even unfounded speculation that, without Zarif, who had worked tirelessly with the Europeans to preserve what was left of the nuclear pact, Iran itself might abandon the accord and resume its nuclear program. And there’s no question that the actions and statements of Bolton, Pompeo, and crew have undermined Iran’s moderates, while emboldening its hardliners, who are making I-told-you-so arguments to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader.

Despite the internal pressure on Zarif, however, his resignation proved short-lived indeed: Rouhani rejected it, and there was an upsurge of support for him in Iran’s parliament. Even General Qassem Soleimani, a major figure in that country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the commander of the Quds Force, backed him. As it happens, the Quds Force, an arm of the IRGC, is responsible for Iran’s paramilitary and foreign intelligence operations throughout the region, but especially in Iraq and Syria. That role has allowed Soleimani to assume responsibility for much of Iran’s foreign policy in the region, making him a formidable rival to Zarif — a tension that undoubtedly contributed to his brief resignation and it isn’t likely to dissipate anytime soon.

According to analysts and commentators, it appears to have been a ploy by Zarif (and perhaps Rouhani, too) to win a vote of political confidence and it appears to have strengthened their hand for the time being.

Still, the Zarif resignation crisis threw into stark relief the deep tensions within Iranian politics and raised a key question: As the Trump administration accelerates its efforts to seek a confrontation, will they find an echo among Iranian hardliners who’d like nothing more than a face-off with the United States?

Maybe that’s exactly what Bolton and Pompeo want.  If so, prepare yourself: another American war unlikely to work out the way anyone in Washington dreams is on the horizon.

Bob Dreyfuss, an investigative journalist and TomDispatch regular, is the founder of TheDreyfussReport.com. He is a contributing editor at the Nation, and he has written for Rolling StoneMother Jones, the American Prospect, the New Republic, and many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Bob Dreyfuss

 

Fighting Terrorism Intellectually and Ideologically Is More Important than Fighting It Militarily

Sunday, 10 March 2019

DAMASCUS, (ST)– President Bashar Al-Assad has reiterated that the war on terrorism in Syria is part of a broader war in the international arena and that terrorism can’t be limited in a specific geographic area, because distance has never been a barrier hindering the expansion of extremist mentality.

President Al-Assad made the remarks during his meeting on Sunday with China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong and the accompanying delegation. Talks during the meeting dealt with the strong and historical relations between Syria and China and the need to consolidate coordination and cooperation in the political, military, economic, cultural and technological domains.

“It is not enough to fight terrorism militarily…fighting it intellectually and ideologically is more important,” President al-Assad said.

The war on Syria has started to take a new form based on sieges and economic war, President Al-Assad affirmed, pointing out that the tools of the international politics have changed today, and the differences that had previously been resolved through dialogue are now being addressed in a different method based on boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, economic siege, and the use of terrorism.

He stressed that combating terrorism will lead to a political solution in the end, and that any talk of political solutions while terrorism spreads is an illusion and a deception.

The Chinese guest official, on his part, said that China has a strategic long-term view regarding relations with Syria, stressing that thanks to the steadfastness of the Syrian leadership and people, the situation on the ground has started to improve.

He voiced his country’s readiness to keep supporting Syria and providing it with all forms of support.

 

Within the same context, Deputy Premier, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, during his meeting with Xiaodong and the accompanying delegation, affirmed that Syria welcomes China’s participation in the program of reconstructing what the terrorist war on Syria has destroyed, expressing the government’s keenness on providing necessary facilitations to the Chinese companies in this regard.

Al-Moallem hailed the political and humanitarian support that have been provided by China to Syria, noting that this support has contributed to the steadfastness of the Syrian people over the past years.

The Chinese senior diplomat stressed his country’s keenness on boosting bilateral relations with Syria in all domains, including in economy.

He pointed out that China will take part in reconstruction and will continue to provide humanitarian aid to help the Syrians withstand the crisis.

Hamda Mustafa

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