‘The time to invest in Iran is now’

March 08, 2017

by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times‘The time to invest in Iran is now’

The shift in the global balance of financing power towards Russia, India and China — especially China — is opening up opportunities for Tehran

It’s a beautiful late winter morning, the snowy Alborz mountains glittering under the sun, and Professor Mohammad Marandi from the faculty of world studies at the University of Tehran is taking me on the road, westbound.

Sprawling west Tehran is a decentralization/connectivity spectacular, with its brand new highways, metro lines, artificial lakes and megamalls. While not on the epic scale of the construction rush in Beijing or Shanghai, it is similar in spirit and comparable to what’s going on in Istanbul.

The professor — arguably Iran’s leading political and cultural analyst —and I had been on a running conversation for days on all aspects of an evolving Russia-China-Iran strategic partnership, the massive Eurasia integration project pushed by China, and its myriad interconnected challenges.

Watching west Tehran go by, it was hard not to connect this new normal to the atmosphere of excitement surrounding the Iran nuclear deal struck in Vienna in the summer of 2015. But this had actually started even before President Hassan Rouhani came to power in 2013, “linked to Iran’s stability and rising regional status,” Marandi said.

Cue to the former head of the Iranian National Security Council’s Foreign Relations Committee and professor at Princeton, Seyed Hosein Mousavian. He has been adamant that “America’s four-decade push for regime change in Iran is a failure.” On the nuclear deal, Mousavian noted, regarding the Trump administration rumble, “it is 170 pages, too much technicalities, they might not have time to go through different resolutions – and therefore they really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

The implementation of the deal should have signaled the acceptance of Iran by the West – hence renewed trade and commerce. Instead, the new normal points towards the China-driven New Silk Roads, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the Russia-driven Eurasia Economic Union; and towards Iran, alongside other emerging economies, seeking infrastructure finance and foreign investment from BRICS nations, especially the RIC triumvirate. In sum: look east.

Tehran did sign a rash of memorandums of understanding with French industry. But the heart of the trade and investment action is China. When President Xi Jinping visited Tehran in January last year, Rouhani said, “Iran and China have agreed to increase trade to US$600 billion in the next 10 years.”

Most deals, of course, involve oil and gas – but crucially they also span cooperation on nuclear energy and Iran’s positioning as an absolutely crucial hub of One Belt, One Road.

Compared to it, Russia-Iran trade, at almost US$2 billion last year, is not exactly newsworthy, although rising rapidly.

Post-sanctions, Russia-Iran signed almost US$40 billion in MoUs – but projects are mostly still only on paper. The problem is the overwhelming majority of Iranian companies are cash-strapped, so financing should come from Russian sources. “Secret code” exports – as in weapons – are back, as in the US$900 million contract for the S-300 defense missile systems, the first batch delivered to Iran last April.

The real secret though in reference to incipient trade is that Russia and Iran do not have much to exchange at globally competitive rates. Russia exports mainly metals, wood, electrical machines, paper, grain, floating structures, mechanically engineered products and weapons. Iran exports agricultural and seafood products.

 

With India, the heart of the matter is the development of the port of Chabahar. Here’s where China’s Maritime Silk Road meets India’s drive to connect the Indian Ocean to Afghanistan bypassing Pakistan and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.

Enter Indian investment on the Chabahar-Zahedan railway, ending in Sistan-Balochistan, close to the Pakistani border, as well as in the still-in-planning Chabahar-Hajigak railway, which translates as a direct connection to Afghanistan. All this spells out Iran blooming as a crucial integration/connectivity hub for China, India and the intersection of South and Central Asia.

 

On the energy front, the news is also encouraging. According to the head of National Iranian Oil Company, Ali Kardor, by next month Iran will be producing 4 million barrels of oil a day (there was a peak at 4.2 million before sanctions were tightened in 2011).

Iran used to be the second-largest OPEC producer. Sanctions forced it down to 2.5 million barrels a day and exports of just above 1 million. Now it’s back to OPEC’s number three, behind Saudi Arabia (10 million barrels a day) and Iraq (4.5 million).

Natural gas production will reach 1.3 billion cubic meters a day by 2021. For that to happen, NIOC needs to drill at least 500 new offshore wells. The problem is NIOC is deep in US$50 billion of debt; not only because of low oil prices but also bad financial and management decisions. Royal Dutch Shell and Total are keen to strike deals, but nothing has been signed yet.

Once again, I got a similar figure to what NIOC provided me roughly 10 years ago; Iran needs at least US$200 billion to upgrade its energy industry infrastructure, and to really start profiting from an astonishing US$7 trillion in gas reserves. It’s fair to assume substantial funds could be provided, eventually, by the AIIB and other sources from Russia and China. Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia expects major developments “in a few months.”

Socially, Iran is not a powder keg. The average standard of living improved roughly 70% since the Islamic revolution. Women accounted for 70% of Iran’s science and engineering students in 2015. The healthcare system, by 2014, was the 30th most efficient in the world, way ahead of the US (in 50th).

Much will depend on the upcoming presidential elections. Former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was politely dissuaded by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in person, from running again. Marandi confirms President Rouhani, up for re-election, is way less popular than Foreign Minister Zarif, who in turn is less popular than the number one superstar: Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force — who’s not running for office. The reason for Rouhani’s woes; his record on the economy has been far from stellar.

Tehran will soon drop the US dollar in its financial and foreign exchange reports. That will certainly imply more currency swap agreements, and Iran only accepting payment for oil and gas in euros or in a basket of currencies.

Iran trades mostly with China, the EU and the UAE. Trump claimed during his campaign that Iran was handed a US$150 billion gift by the nuclear deal. Not true. The Central Bank’s frozen oil funds repatriated since January 2016 from the UAE, Britain, India, Greece, Italy and Norway amount to less than US$10 billion. And only US$12 billion of blocked assets were released from Japan, South Korea and India, on installments.

Before we arrived back in Tehran, Marandi told me that all in all, “ I believe whoever invests now in Iran will have an amazing return. The time to invest is now.” The RIC in BRICS are doing it. Europeans are doing it – although not much so far. And Americans are not doing it – at their loss. We wrapped it up at a traditional Iranian restaurant downtown, serving first-class food to middle and upper middle class families. The bill: less than US$30 for two. A fabulous return on investment.

Signs of the Times: A Cashless Society in India

A good portion of this video by Sheikh Imran Hosein is devoted to discussion around current events in India, where the government has taken major steps toward transformation of the entire country into a cashless society. This “demonetization,” as it’s called, has implications not only for the people of India, but for all of us. The following article will offer a bit more insight into that.

You will perhaps not be terribly surprised to learn that a US government agency, USAID, seems to have been a key player in engineering events in India. This of course is the same agency that has engineered regime changes in other countries. In this case, however, they seem to be quite fond of the Modi government of India.

The Truth About ‘Digital India’

By Ajiesh Thuvanoor Kayi

India is descending into one of the most unfavorable entanglements since her independence. This historic conspiracy gripping the subcontinent is utter cosmic. Since the announcement of so-called “Demonetization,” we have come up with several articles shedding light on possible issues. Some of the theories and predictions drafted in the 3rd week of Demonetization seem to be becoming more true and are still gaining momentum. Surprisingly, the most intriguing information of all is the whole lot of Indian population inadvertently or knowingly continuing endorse this mission – most are unaware of the real plot while others are obsessed with irrational character adoration. The “soft coup” timetable initiated the United States is in action and Indians live in an exaggerated bubble which will soon be deflated. The Indian public is largely ignorant and unconcerned, and their reliance on fallible Indian mainstream media throttles further Information Blockade. A series of corroboratory reports rightly available but in bits and pieces need to be a pieced together for an aggregated view.

The threatening geopolitical environment posed by the Asian Block/BRICS union compelled the United States to initiate strategic partnership with India. This is intended to counter the Chinese military and economic dominance in Asia and elsewhere. During the reign of Obama, the Indian Prime Minister visited Washington over 18 times within a mere span of two years. USAID under the Obama Administration successfully plucked a deal with the Indian Finance Ministry. This ministry covering the banking sector is already facing a series of internal yet undisclosed crises. The deal was to destroy the cash ecosystem in India and push digital payment methods, a multifaceted program with several goals. The project’s catalyst was commissioned in November 2015 by the government of India and USAID in order to destroy cash, targeting low-income groups. It is not evidently clear if the CIA is directly involved, but the fact is prevalent that the CIA is a constant factor in USAID.

Continued here

Game-changers ahead on the (long) Maritime Silk Road

February 04, 2017

by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times

Game-changers ahead on the (long) Maritime Silk RoadFrom the Bab al-Mandab to the strait of Malacca, from the strait of Hormuz to the strait of Lombok, all the way to the key logistical hub of Diego Garcia 2,500 miles southeast of Hormuz, the question pops up: How will the unpredictable new normal in Washington – which is not exactly China-friendly – affect the wider Indian Ocean?

At play are way more than key chokepoints in an area that straddles naval supply chains and through which also flows almost 40% of the oil that powers Asian-Pacific economies. This is about the future of the Maritime Silk Road, a key component of the Chinese One Belt, One Road (OBOR), and thus about how Big Power politics will unfold in a key realm of the Rimland.

India imports almost 80% of its energy from the Middle East via the Indian Ocean. Thus, for Delhi, protection of supply chains must be the norm, as in the current drive to develop three carrier battle groups and at least 160 naval vessels, including submarines, before 2022. That also implies boosting a cooperation agreement with the nations bordering the strait of Malacca – Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia – and developing military infrastructure in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

China for its part advances a relentless economic / infrastructural drive from Myanmar to Pakistan, from Bangladesh to the Maldives, from Sri Lanka to Djibouti – a counterbalance to the impossibility of fully implementing “escape from Malacca”, the complex, multi-pronged Beijing strategy for diversifying energy supplies.

The privileged infrastructure connectivity hub remains the megaport of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea – which will be controlled for the next 40 years by a Chinese company. Gwadar is the naval destination of the US$46 billion (and counting) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) originating in Xinjiang, which will be the economic New Silk Roads game-changer in South Asia.

This implies everyone jumping aboard the new Karakoram highway, currently under construction in Pakistan’s sublimely mountainous northern Gilgit-Baltistan, with the military watching over a frantic maze of Chinese engineers.

Islamabad/Rawalpindi took no prisoners in offering a sprawling support system to prevent possible interference by Uighur separatist groups. For all practical purposes, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is now focused on resident Uighurs in Pakistan like a laser, while not forgetting Balochistan’s separatist groups, who, with the right “incentive”, might also derail CPEC further on down the road.

Beijing treads a very fine – soft power – line. Islamabad offered the Chinese Navy a base in Gwadar, but was politely declined: the graphic message would totally freak out both Delhi and Washington. Gwadar will be inevitably developed over time as a trade hub for a vast swathe of South Asia, but Delhi’s anxieties relate to its virtually ready-to-roll capability for monitoring the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean and the US Navy in the Persian Gulf.

Go North-South, young Eurasian

Gwadar happens to be not far away from Chabahar, in Iran – which is being designed as an Indian trade hub towards the markets of Central Asia, connecting India with Afghanistan via Iran and thus bypassing Pakistan. That’s the Southern – or Indian – Silk Road in action. Gwadar and Chabahar are the top two new hubs bound to link the Indian Ocean to central Eurasia, with Iran, India and Russia featuring as key members of the slowly-developing but potentially spectacular International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

Moreover, Iran, China and India may all eventually converge towards a free trade zone with the Russia-led Eurasia Economic Union (EEU), as the CPEC for its part will allow Russia and Central Asia to boost trade with the Indian Ocean Rimland.

Then there’s the fascinating case of Sri Lanka. According to the 
Institute of Policy Studies in Sri Lanka, from 2006 to 2015 China invested over US$5 billion, with Sri Lanka’s minister of development strategies and international trade adding that China has pledged over US$10 billion more up to 2019.

The key project is the deep-sea port at Hambantota – plus an international airport in nearby Mattala. Sri Lanka struck a deal with China Merchants Port Holdings at the end of 2016 to sell 80% of Hambantota for US$1.1 billion and to lease 15,000 acres of nearby land for 99 years.

Needless to add, the proverbial “concern” with this Chinese win-win was registered in both Delhi and Washington. The possibility that China will eventually acquire a permanent naval military base in the Indian Ocean is a full-time obsession of US Think Tankland. Colombo, though, has always been adamant: Chinese-financed infrastructure does not imply basing rights for the Chinese Navy.

In fact, any Chinese move – from leasing a Maldives island for 50 years for US$4 million to building a military base in Djibouti (officially a base for “technical and logistical support” to the Chinese Navy) by the end of 2017, close to the Americans and the French, is a source of “concern”.

Where China in South Asia is concerned, the Pentagon / Naval War College always fall back to the “string of pearls” threat. Especially now with the Maritime Silk Road, a “string of pearls” is a categorical imperative for Beijing. But that does not imply Chinese military hegemony.

For Beijing, conscious of cost-efficiency, the logistical nightmare of maintaining naval bases in foreign lands far, far away from the Middle Kingdom is definitely not a win-win. So the notion of having a Chinese carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean ready to confront the Indian Navy is idle geostrategic speculation. The very long game is all about establishing key trade nodes for the Maritime Silk Road.

I got a naval offer you can’t refuse

It will be fascinating to watch how mechanisms such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) develop.

Let’s see what Delhi – deeply committed to an official Make in India campaign – may offer in the way of “free” markets to Nepal (which is leaning towards China), Bangladesh (always in a complex relationship with Pakistan) and Sri Lanka.

Since 2008, China has been India’s largest trading partner. China and India will be involved in deeper cooperation inside the BRICS, and in managing the New Development Bank (NDB). Moreover, India is about to become a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The notion of Delhi reigning supreme in the Indian Ocean is misguided. From now on, with the emphasis on the Maritime Silk Road, it will be more a case of serious India-China economic competition and/or cooperation, as both countries invest in the protection/expansion of their extensive, complex supply chains.

The Pentagon, under James “Mad Dog” Mattis, will, of course, be watching closely. India’s NDTV recently reported that the US Pacific Command had tacitly admitted the obvious: that the US and India are sharing intel on Chinese warships and submarines in the Indo-Pacific. Moreover, there was a hint that Beijing could deploy a carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean today if it saw fit.

It’s unlikely Beijing will accept the challenge – just to be slapped with more charges of “Chinese aggression” and “threatening freedom of navigation”. Better invest in non-stop, cumulative Maritime Silk Road deals.

ترامب وأفول العولمة الأميركية

يناير 25, 2017

صفية سعاده

تقهقر الاقتصاد الأميركي

أحد الأسباب الرئيسة لفوز ترامب في الانتخابات الرئاسية على منافسته هيلاري كلينتون، هو الانهيار الاقتصادي الحاصل في الولايات المتحدة الأميركية. ولطالما كان الاقتصاد هو المحرك الفعلي في ترجيح كفة أصوات الأميركيين، إذ إنهم يعيشون في جزيرة قارة ضخمة، وبالتالي لا يأبهون كثيراً لمجريات السياسة الخارجية.

بعد إخفاق رئاسة بوش الابن في تحقيق انتصارات مدوية في افغانستان والعراق، وتوريط الجنود الأميركيين في هذين البلدين، بدأت ملامح فيتنام جديدة تتكوّن مع ما يعني ذلك من تآكل النفوذ الأميركي في مستنقعات آسيا الوسطى والغربية، وتراكم العجز المالي.

وصل باراك أوباما الى سدة الرئاسة، لأنه وعد الناخبين الأميركيين بأنه سينهي الحروب خارج الأراضي الأميركية، وسيعيد الجنود الأميركيين إلى الوطن. وسرعان ما واجهته أزمة سيولة مالية كادت تطيح بالمصارف الكبرى ليس فقط في الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، بل في العالم أجمع.

بسبب هذا الانهيار الذي تلافاه أوباما بحجز أموال المواطنين الأميركيين، أعادت دول العالم النظر في نظام معولم قد يطيح بها من دون أن تكون هي مسؤولة عن أخطاء ارتكبها النظام المالي الأميركي الذي أفلت العنان للمصارف الأميركية التي تتصرّف من دون أيّ ضوابط أو رقابة.

العامل الاول إذاً هو زعزعة ثقة العالم بالنظام المصرفي الأميركي، وبالتالي أخذ الاحتياطات اللازمة لدرء تبعات انهيار هذا النظام، كانت نتيجتها إنشاء نظام مالي بديل تترأسه كلّ من الصين وروسيا ويضمّ دولاً أخرى، يتبادل السلع على أساس عملات محلية غير الدولار، ويقوم بمشاريع إنمائية مستقلة.

بالإضافة الى تحوّل العالم باتجاه التفتيش عن حلول بديلة للنظام المالي الأميركي المعولم، نشأت أزمة اقتصادية كبرى داخل الولايات المتحدة الأميركية من جراء العولمة نفسها التي نادى بها، وشجّعها، ونشرها الرأسماليون الأميركيون في الدرجة الاولى.

لقد أخذ الرأسمال الأميركي يتسرّب خارج أراضي الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، ما يعود بالنفع على أقلية محدودة العدد من كبار الرأسماليين الأميركيين، لكنه يؤدّي الى إغلاق المصانع والمعامل والصناعات في أرجاء الدولة الأميركية. انتقل العمل من داخل هذه الأخيرة الى خارجها، وبشكل خاص الى غريمتها: الصين. فلا دولة تستطيع منافسة اليد العاملة الرخيصة الصينية، وأيّ منافسة للسوق الصينية محتومة بالفشل.

التتمة ص8

انهارت الطبقة الوسطى الأميركية، وأصبحت البطالة عالية، وتبخر الحلم الأميركي بإمكانية الحصول على منزل وسيارة لكلّ عائلة، وتشرّدت ألوف العائلات، خاصة أنّ الولايات المتحدة الأميركية ليست بدولة رعائية، فهي لا تؤمّن ضماناً صحياً مجانياً، ولا ضماناً اجتماعياً كما تفعل دول أوروبا، أو كندا أو اوستراليا، أو حتى دول أميركا اللاتينية، على فقرها، ككوبا مثلاً. هذه الشريحة هي التي صوّتت لدونالد ترامب، لأنّ هيلاري كلينتون أرادت أن تكمل مسيرة العولمة، فلقد وعد ترامب بإعادة تفعيل الاقتصاد والمصانع، وإعطاء الأولوية لرفاهية الشعب الأميركي.

العودة إلى ترسيخ القومية

مسار العولمة الذي خطته أميركا يستوجب الهيمنة الاقتصادية الشاملة على العالم، ومن أجل بلوغ هذا الهدف كان من الضروري إلغاء دور الدول الوطنية/ القومية الأخرى عبر محاربة كلّ أشكال الأنظمة الاشتراكية أو القومية، ودفع دول العالم الثالث خاصة الى خصخصة ممتلكات الدولة، وتخلي الدولة عن لعب أيّ دور ناظم في المجتمع أو الاقتصاد. تحرير السوق أدّى الى القضاء على اقتصاد الدول النامية التي لا تستطيع منافسة الدول الصناعية الكبرى، وحوّلها مراكز استهلاك لا إنتاج.

أهداف العولمة اذاً تتضارب مع وجود الدولة القومية التي تدافع عن مواطنيها وعن حقوقهم المادية والمعنوية. فالعولمة تلغي نهائياً مفهوم الدولة الديمقراطية، حيث يقرّر الشعب مصيره، ويُستبدل ذلك بهيئات ناظمة عابرة للدول، كما حصل في الاتحاد الاوروبي، ومثال هذا الاتحاد هو الأقلّ بشاعة من أمثلة دول أفريقيا والعالم العربي. فلقد وجدت دول الاتحاد الأوروبي الفقيرة كاليونان واسبانيا وإيطاليا أنها خسرت قراراتها المستقلة واصبح البرلمان الاوروبي هو الذي يبادر الى توجيه مسار هذه الدول شاءت أم أبت. وفي وضع من هذا النوع يبدو جلياً أنّ الدول القوية هي التي ستطغى على الدول الضعيفة، وفي حالة الاتحاد الاوروبي، اصبحت المانيا هي القاطرة التي تملي على الجميع ما عليهم فعله. الا ان الاتحاد الاوروبي، بما فيه المانيا، هو بدوره فريسة النفوذ الأميركي.

التمرّد على العولمة حاصل اليوم في الدول المتقدّمة والتي عملت جاهدة لإرغام الجميع الدخول في شبكتها. تمرّد مواطنوها، من الولايات المتحدة الأميركية إلى بريطانيا، لأنّ شعوبها لا تريد أن تصادَر حرياتها وقراراتها ومصيرها.

ترامب يتكلم باسم هذا المنحى الجديد، وكما يشدّد على أهمية الحفاظ على قومية ومصالح الولايات المتحدة الأميركية، فإنه أيضاً يؤكد بأنه لن يتدخل في أمور الدول الأخرى، وليس في صدد شنّ حروب على دول لتغيير أنظمتها.

هذا الموقف يقود الى النتائج التالية والتي هي معاكسة تماماً للسياسات التي سبقته:

أولاً: الاعتراف بالدول الأخرى وقبول الاختلاف بين نظامه وأنظمتها.

ثانياً: الاعتراف بتعدّد الأقطاب في العالم، بالرغم من هدف ترامب جعل أميركا الأقوى والأفضل بين الدول.

ثالثاً: الالتزام بالقوانين الدولية في فضّ النزاعات بين الدول.

رابعاً: اعتراف ترامب ان لا وجود للدولة الديمقراطية الا في إطار الدولة القومية التي يقرّر شعبها مصيرها، ورفض خزعبلات الـ establishment الأميركي الذي يتظاهر بأنه يريد فرض الديمقراطية على الشعوب الأخرى بحدّ السلاح والدمار.

خامساً: يريد ترامب القضاء على الإرهاب التكفيري الآخذ في التفشي في العالم، وهو يقول صراحة إنه نتاج الإدارات الأميركية السابقة. أما لماذا أرادت هذه الإدارات دعم وتمويل الإرهاب التكفيري المبني على الفكر الوهابي الإلغائي، فلأنّ هدفها كان استعمار العالم ووضعه تحت الهيمنة الأميركية من دون اللجوء الى جنود أميركيين يقومون بهذه المهمة ويُقتلون، فالمواطنون الأميركيون يرفضون الحرب الا في حال الدفاع عن ارضهم القومية. هيمنة الإسلام السياسي الذي أدرجه أوباما تتطابق مع معايير العولمة العابرة للدول القومية، لكنه لا يتماشى البتة مع مفاهيم الدولة القومية العلمانية، وبالتالي يرفضه ترامب.

Trump Will Try to Smash China-Russia-Iran Triangle… Here’s Why He Will Fail

 

Trump Will Try to Smash China-Russia-Iran Triangle... Here's Why He Will Fail

TEHRAN (FNA)– China, Russia and Iran are the three key players in what promises to be the Eurasian Century.

Donald Trump may be The Joker; The Fool; The Ace of Spades; the ultimate trickster. What nobody can tell for sure is how this shifty chameleon will seduce, cajole, divide and threaten these three countries in his bid to “Make America Great Again”.

Considering the composition of his cabinet, as well as his motormouth twittering, the world according to Trump sees radical Islam as the No 1 threat, followed by Iran, China and Russia.

The strategy of Henry Kissinger, Trump’s unofficial foreign policy guru, is a mix of “balance of power” and “divide and rule”. It will consist of seducing Russia away from its strategic partner China; keeping China constantly on a sort of red alert; and targeting Islamic State while continuing to harass Iran.

All this has the potential to backfire splendidly. Even a real “reset” with Russia, of the non-Hillary Clinton kind, is not exactly assured.

Trump’s pick for secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, may in fact be a cipher, a privileged ExxonMobil dealmaker, or a Trojan Horse for Kissinger’s views. Tillerson is a trustee of the hardline Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank, along with Kissinger.

So let’s see how Kissinger’s shadowplay might develop on the new geopolitical chessboard.

Trump starts out already pitted against America’s vast and powerful intelligence apparatus. The American “deep state” – the military-industrial complex that survives regardless of what political party is in power – requires an existential threat to operate. And that threat, according to the Pentagon, is Russia.

The ever-shifting “war on terror” is dead. The new normal, as demonstrated by the Obama administration, is the second cold war.

It all hinges on how – and if – Trump will be able to inflict pain on the US deep state, and how this might affect its “humanitarian” imperialist leanings.

Kissinger’s strategy implies having closer relations with Russia, whilst cajoling Moscow to betray its Eurasian ally Iran. Moscow is unlikely to betray Iran, and pursuing that strategy will only exacerbate Trump’s conflict with the deep state.

A Trumpian trade-off though is already on the cards; no more US sanctions on Russia if Moscow and Washington manage a common mechanism to smash Islamic State, as well as a new framework on nuclear disarmament.

There’s guarded optimism in Moscow that Trump’s business acumen will eventually lead him to discard counterproductive containment of Russia, freeing it to profit from the real deal across Eurasia: economic integration, via the Beijing-backed One Belt, One Road trade initiative to link economies into a China-centred trading network, and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Sensing a credible opening, Moscow has invited the Trump administration – represented by national security adviser Michael Flynn – to join the Syrian peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, alongside Iran, Turkey and the regime of Bashar al-Assad, due to start on Monday, only three days after Trump’s inauguration.

Russia and Iran are working as one in Syria. Russia has actively campaigned to bring Iran into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, the regional security group. Bilateral trade – from energy to railways, mining and agriculture – is booming. Russia and Iran are set to ditch the US dollar and use rials and rubles for trade. This means bypassing the usual US weapon of choice: sanctions. Thus, betraying Tehran is out of the question for Moscow.

Trump, for all his rhetoric, cannot renegotiate the Iran nuclear deal signed by the members of the UN Security Council plus Germany in 2015. Tehran has met all its obligations. Trump also cannot fulfil his campaign promise to smash Islamic State, without Iran. Instead of his army of Iranophobic generals, he would do better to listen to the National Iranian American Council in Washington, which really understands Tehran’s stakes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and the volatile Iran-Saudi cold war.

And Trump “getting tough” on China will hit a BRICS wall. The next summit between those five leading emerging market economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) is in Xiamen (廈門), southeast China, next autumn, and the hosts will press for further integration.

Trump’s generals will also have to inform him that America cannot afford a war in the South China Sea or the western Pacific, wars it would have no guarantee of winning.

Trump’s advisers – even the Sinophobes – must have told him that Taiwan and the South China Sea are Beijing’s top priorities.

As Beijing’s foreign ministry put it: “The one-China principle… is non-negotiable.”

Then there’s the 45 per cent tariff that might be slapped on Chinese products, and possible import quotas. Chinese scholars have concluded it is the United States that has most to lose in a trade war.

After Xi Jinping’s (習近平) masterclass at Davos, is that all there is? Kissinger, 93, had better get back to the drawing board.

By Pepe Escobar

This article first appeared on South China Morning Post on January 22.

Global helmsman Xi Jinping steps up with charm offensive

January 17, 2017

by Pepe Escobar for the Asia TimesGlobal helmsman Xi Jinping steps up with charm offensive

He did it, his way; Chinese President Xi Jinping descended on the Swiss Alps; profited from a geopolitical vacuum only three days before Donald Trump’s inauguration with the Atlanticist West mired in stagnation and/or protectionism; unleashed a charm offensive; and deftly positioned China in the lead of “inclusive” globalization.

In a wide-ranging speech that went from global angst to China’s new normal, Xi sounded all the right notes that global capital needed to hear; protectionism is like “locking oneself in a dark room,” and “no one is a winner in a trade war.”

His speech delved into the necessity of peace in Syria, the perverse effects of the absence of financial regulation, and the struggle for “balance between efficiency and equity.”

So onwards with the fourth industrial revolution – and may China deliver.

Xi, the first Chinese president to visit the turbo-capitalist World Economic Forum talkfest, meant business from the start.

He arrived with an 80-strong delegation that included Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Dalian Wanda’s Wang Jianlin – China’s top two billionaires – as well as Baidu’s Zhang Yaqin.

Compare these “globalist princelings” with the Trump camp, represented by one of his official business advisers, Anthony Scaramucci, founder of hedge fund SkyBridge Capital and Salt, a not exactly stellar Las Vegas investment conference (the next one is at the Bellagio in May).

Where’s the ticket to the Rothschild party?

A “humanized” Davos 2017 is very worried about saving the world – or at least saving the wealthy from most of the world. The WEF has suddenly discovered that globalization as we know it fosters massive inequality, as much as globalization’s self-appointed managers remain inflexible about their moral right to bend whole nations to their will, as the “miraculous” numbers of the Irish economy attest.

Thus an alarmed WEF is promoting at least six sessions discussing inequality, from “Combating Rising Insecurity and Inequality” to “Squeezed and Angry: How to Fix the Middle Class Crisis,” starring IMF’s Christine “Vuitton” Lagarde and a bunch of hedge funders.

And this while Oxfam revealed to the world the real G8 of inequality – as in those individuals who own as much wealth as the poorest 50% of the world combined. Call them the Kings of Globalization – featuring, among others, Bill Gates, Amazon supremo Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Michael Bloomberg, .

In pure neo-Dadaist fashion, there could not be a more graphic emblem for inequality than Davos itself. To get a green card all-area-access, mostly in and around the Grandhotel Belvedere, corporations must become strategic partners of the WEF.

The list is a beauty. Each membership costs a whopping US$600,000, allowing a CEO to bring up to four cohorts; but still they must pay for each individual ticket. And even that does not guarantee an invitation to the glitziest party in town, thrown by Nat Rothschild in tandem with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.

Still, those who shelled out the cash will hardly resist the chance to hear Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg (with a US$1.3 billion fortune) expand on how “older” global leaders can profit from the optimism of youth. Eric Schmidt (worth US$11 billion), chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, is also in town, but this time he opted for discretion.

Listen to the sound of my ‘win-win’ clapping

Xi was very careful not to advertize a new “Chinese consensus,” or model, as the model itself is being carefully, and painstakingly, tweaked.

What stood out in his presentation is that Beijing does not interpret globalization in a Western, turbo-neoliberal sense.

There are indeed benefits. They also do mask the plunder of the developing world’s resources via stealth “international laws” and (now dead in the water) trade agreements such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership  (TPP), mostly for the benefit of the West’s 0.01%, who then become alarmed by “inequality.”

A passerby casts a shadow over a map illustrating China's "One Belt, One Road" megaproject at the Asian Financial Forum in Hong Kong, China, on January 18, 2016. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip

A passerby casts a shadow over a map illustrating China’s One Belt, One Road project. Photo: Reuters/Bobby Yip

Xi instead is promoting the notion of serial win-win deals; and that’s why his positioning is essentially the ultimate glorious pitch for the New Silk Road, a.k.a. One Belt, One Road (Obor) project, largely featured in the last part of his speech.

Everyone knows about Obor as an essential tool to tweak the Chinese model; develop the Chinese Far West; open an array of Eurasian markets; promote the internationalization of the yuan; and of course consolidate a major geopolitical shift, not least by neutralizing most of the Obama/Clinton “pivot to Asia.”

So when we get the concerted firepower of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB); the Silk Road Fund; and the New Development Bank (NDB) under Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), we have enough capital to generate generous financing for an infrastructure bonanza from China, across Central Asia, and all the way to Western Europe and Eastern Africa.

Only in Kazakhstan, for instance, there are more than 50 deals valued at over US$20 billion in effect. The new peace in Syria negotiations – Russia, Iran and Turkey – will take place in Astana, not Geneva. Kazakhstan represents the intersection of the New Silk Roads and the Eurasia Economic Union (EEU). Russia and China are luring Iran – and later on Turkey – into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) fold. Syria, pacified and rebuilt, will be a key plank of Obor. It’s all interlinked.

So what China is proposing has nothing to do with deglobalization. It’s rather about “localization.”

But trade deals never die. With the death of TPP, Xi had to extol the merits of the pan-Asian Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which excludes the US but crucially merges all of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations members with everyone ASEAN has trade deals with; China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

RCEP will be a boon for manufacturing within the vastly complex and broader supply chain across Asia, smashing tariffs across the board. That will include China-India trade. Yet it remains to be seen how Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Make in India campaign will cope with opening up its markets to Chinese imports.

And, of course, Xi had to refer to the yuan question. The yuan is currently overvalued. The People’s Bank of China does not want it to slide down even further; its priority is a stable exchange rate – to stabilize trade. Still, Danske Bank strategist Allen von Mehren, who’s usually spot on, predicts the yuan falling to 7.26 to the US dollar by the end of September.

Somebody’s got to explain all this to Trump, implications included. It won’t be Scaramucci. Not to mention Peter Navarro, Wilbur Ross, “Mad Dog” Mattis or Michael Flynn. It has to be global helmsman Xi in person.

Pepe Escobar is correspondent-at-large for Asia Times. His latest book is 2030, published by Nimble Books.

Making Sense of Trump

December 17, 2016

by Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich

Making Sense of TrumpA month has passed since Donald Trump was declared president-elect soon to be the 45th president of the United States. Since his win, pundits, analysts, and experts continue to debate the victory – a surprise to most. While the reason/s for this victory depend on one’s perspective, most agree on one thing: Trump is unpredictable.

But is he really?

There is clear indication that US foreign policy will not change course under a Trump administration – it will simply change tactic. Those who continue to believe that the relations with Russia are headed for a reset are more optimistic than analytical. US may deviate from the path previously trodden, but it is still headed for the same goal/s.

Trump resembles Loki – a colorful character in Norse mythology. Similar to Loki, what is thought and said about Trump depends on the source. And similar to Loki, Trump is a trickster, a shape shifter (policy shifter). So to understand him better, we should concentrate on what we do know – his team.

Judging from his picks, Trump considers Islam as the number one enemy, followed by Iran, China, and Russia. The ideology of those he has picked to serve in his administration are supporters of this continuity in US foreign policy, and, contradicts his campaign slogan of ‘non-interference’. Numerous articles analyzing Trump’s choices point to the mindset of his team (click on names to read relevant articles) including Mike Pence , General Flynn, James Mattis, and John Bolton, (see footnote for additional links)[1]

Additionally, Israel’s domination of US policy has never been more apparent. Decades earlier many considered other than occupied Palestine “….the White House occupied territory”. Donald Trump proved them right. His son-in-law Jared Kushner will have an office in the West Wing of the White House. Kushner has financed illegal, Jewish settlements on Palestinian land.

The above stated information is the obvious – what meets the eye. What is more crucial is obfuscated. While Trump has made his position vis-à-vis China, Iran, and “radical Islam” abundantly clear, the media has led us on a different path where Russia is concerned. As such, one could be forgiven for thinking that Trump will reset the button with Russia. In fact, in the scheme of things, Trump is attempting to wean Russia away from China, Iran, and Syria in order to continue and accomplish US goals: Total domination, prevent Russia from re-emerging, contain China, contain Iran, Israel expansion.

It is important to Trump team to weaken both Russia and China by creating a divide between them – favoring one over the other. Trump defends Russia against allegations of hacking. To the unsuspecting eye, he has appointed a seemingly “Russia friendly” Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson (though undoubtedly the hawkish under-secretary of state John Bolton will be behind the wheel). Though under close scrutiny, Tillerson as Secretary of State is certainly not an ‘offering’ to Putin, although but he may well be a Trojan Horse.

What we are told of him is the fact that he is the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corporation. That he knows Putin; and that he opposed sanctions against Russia. What we are not told is that he is also a Trustee at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) – a neoconservative think tank. (Click HERE for full description of CSIS). Henry Kissinger, Richard Armitage, and Zbigniew Brzezinski are some of his trustee colleagues at CSIS.

Further, while Tillerson/Exxon has ties to Russia, it also has ties to Ukraine. In 2010, CIA/State Department propaganda voice, Radio Free Europe, announced that “Ukraine has been the target of democracy-promoting Western foundations, such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), for a quarter of a century”. NED’s counterpart in England, the UK funded Westminster Foundation for Democracy was an active partner in the endeavor. It was the Westminster Foundation that coopted the “Ukrainian Foundation for Democracy” – The People’s First Foundation that later same year would become a member of the U.S.-Ukraine Business Council (USUBC).

Senior advisors to the USUBC came from pro-Israel think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation and Brookings, and Board of Directors executives selected from powerful players such as Raytheon and Boeing. Exxon joined USUBC in 2010.

Why has the media left out this contentious fact? And is this censorship directed at the West, or at Russia?

It is worthwhile mentioning that Exxon recently signed deals for oil exploration in Iraq and in defiance of the Iraqi government who asked President Obama to halt the exploration for fear that it would cause instability. Of note, Turkey is a part of this deal! Iraqi oil has been exported to Israel by the Kurds, and Israel considers oil from Iraq’s Erbil to be profitable for Israel. Aware of the Israeli domination of Washington, the Iraqi Kurds are in league with Israel and have solicited their help in establishing independence.

As with every other administration before it, the Trump administration will serve Israel. Serving Israel will come at the expense of the region, and Russia. There has always been a conflict between Israel and Russian interests (see for example the Ukraine case HERE). Netanyahu, exuberant with a Trump victory and Kushner in the White House, this week embarked on a visit to two vitally imported states: Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

These two countries have been on Israel’s radar for well over a decade. Since Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are not OPEC members, and both produce high volume of oil, control of these would erode OPEC’s power. US administration promotion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline has been to bypass Iran and Russia.

Netanyahu aims to promote business with Kazakhstan – a founding member of Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO). The import of SCO in countering American-led ambitions cannot be adequately emphasized. No doubt it is this significance that has renewed Israel’s interest and taken Netanyahu there – to divide, corrupt, and weaken. A similar undertaking was taken with regards to BRICS.

Azerbaijan has particular value for Israel. Israel views Azerbaijan as an ally against Iran and Russia. As reported by JTA in 2002: There were many similarities between Israel and Azerbaijan. “Fear of Iran and radical Islam; suspicion of Russia; friendship with Turkey, and a desire to be part of the West.” It is also hoped that Azerbijan would fan flames of hostility and stir up discontent among the Azari population in Iran.

As the incoming Administration continues to take shape, and we are being distracted with “news”, battle lines are being drawn up. Perhaps the most important thing to remember and believe about Trump is his fondness of ‘surprises’.

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the role of lobby groups in influencing US foreign policy.

  1. Mattis approved by Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) – one of the most powerful Jewish lobby groupshttp://www.jta.org/2016/12/01/news-opinion/politics/trump-taps-gen-james-mattis-an-iran-deal-foe-for-defense-secretary?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=6d358233e0-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2016_12_02&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-6d358233e0-25418681Mattis on Syria and Iranhttp://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/04/11/syria-iran-mattis-central-command-chief-interview/2069935/

    http://www.vox.com/world/2016/12/1/13718282/pentagon-jim-mad-dog-mattis-trump-iran-hawk-russia-secretary-of-defense-general

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