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Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

Russia’s presidential tag team continues, the U.S. plans to build new military sites in Central Asia and China’s growth hastens

The expected has happened, which somehow has stirred a lot of speculation about the future of Russia. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said he would consider taking back the country’s presidency during the 2012 elections.

“Naturally, I am already thinking about this issue with President Medvedev but have decided not to make much fuss about it, not to let ourselves be distracted by this problem,” Putin said to French media.

It appears that the Medvedev-Putin duo are working out plans for the next round of elections and are likely not going to run against each other but manage a deal in which they can together govern Russia as they have been doing after Putin stepped down from the presidency in 2008 and picked Medvedev as his favoured successor.

And it seems that Russia is playing with both Iran and the U.S. by sending mixed messages on its sale of anti-aircraft missiles. Iran wants what is called a S-300 missile defence system from Russia. The order has long been placed, and delayed. Shortly after UN Security Council sanctions were passed against Iran, a Russian arms supplier was quoted saying the missiles would never be delivered.

Russia’s Foreign Minister, on Thursday, responsed to Iran’s complaint and publicly gave hollow assurances. So the official line is that there are no legal constraints holding Russia back from selling S-300 milles (the fourth round of sanctions against Iran really didn’t add much that is new). But, this is a far cry from saying that Russia is prepared to complete delivery. So, it seems the ball is still in play on this one, and Russia is likely using this in negotiations with the U.S. and perhaps to make sure the U.S. keeps its end of any bargain in the long term.

Just a reminder, the U.S. is still set to implement and expand covert military activity inside and around Iran. A directive signed by General Petraeus in September 2009 is still in play, deepening related plans that began under the Bush administration and continue under President Obama.

“The seven-page directive appears to authorize specific operations in Iran, most likely to gather intelligence about the country’s nuclear program or identify dissident groups that might be useful for a future military offensive,” writes Mark Mazzetti in the New York Times.

More recently, it was revealed that the U.S. is indulging in a small building binge: it will be setting up new military facilities in all Central Asian countries. There seems to be a jostling for such facilities between both the U.S. and Russia.

China, meanwhile, is stamping its presence in the same Central Asian countries economically instead, such as by taking majority shares in a Kazakh oil venture in exchange for a US$10 billion line of credit to Kazakhstan. This sort of lavish spending and economic investment is made possible by its fast growing economy, and, maybe, we might also say that its fast growing economy is a little aided by its economic investments.

Numbers just came out: China’s exports have risen by almost 50% over the past year (no that’s not a typo). It rakes in US$1.2 trillion in export revenues in a year. The economy as a whole has grown at a rate of 11.9% in the first quarter, and all this heat is pushing up housing prices very rapidly which could be leading to a real estate bubble in China. Workers have been increasingly demanding that they get a fair share of all of these profits and have staged various actions including strikes. The most famous case, in a Honda plant, has seen wage levels for its workers rise by between 24% and 33%.

As for Turkey, it seems to expect to reap some economic rewards from the sanctions against Iran. Today’s Zaman writes:

“Strategic Thought Institute (SDE) President Professor Yasin Aktay said the sanctions bring advantages that outweigh any damage that they could present for Turkish-Iranian trade. ‘The sanctions are more concerned with weapons and [Iran’s] Revolutionary Guards; there’s not much activity between [Iran and Turkey] in these fields. Our trade with Iran is concentrated in oil, natural gas, industry and consumer products,’ Aktay said. He further commented that sanctions had above all a strong psychological effect and that this could lead to increased trade with Turkey in fields not covered by the sanctions. ‘It’s an important position to be in when you are a country that can say ‘no’ and remain on its feet; there’s no better public diplomacy than this,’ he said.”

Currently, a natural gas pipeline delivers US$1.5 to US$2 billion of energy from Iran to Turkey each year, and there is talk of more such ventures. In various statements in the early part of this year, Turkish leaders have suggested significantly multiplying trade with Iran, which is at the moment focused on transfers of energy.

(First published at Rabble.ca)

Israel threatens China; Iran barred from the SCO; Israeli document calls Gaza blockade ‘economic warfare'; US to display captured war documents

Israeli officials have said they threatened war against Iran in order to try and convince China to vote in support of economic sanctions at the UN Security Council.

The New York Times broke this story: “In February, a high-level Israeli delegation traveled to Beijing to present alleged evidence of Iran’s atomic ambitions. Then they unveiled the ostensible purpose of their visit: to explain in sobering detail the economic impact to China from an Israeli strike on Iran.”

One Israeli official they interviewed said that “the Chinese didn’t seem too surprised by the evidence we showed them, but they really sat up in their chairs when we described what a pre-emptive attack would do to the region and on oil supplies they have come to depend on.”

Essentially Israeli officials boast that they tried to threaten China by showing how they could undermine its energy security and damage its economy.

China imports some 15% of its oil from Iran and is reported to have more than $80 billion invested in that country’s energy sector.

Iranian president Mahmud Ahmadinejad will be traveling to China this week, this very day in fact, officially to take part in the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. It is expected that he will meet with Chinese officials to discuss the newly minted sanctions against it.

Meanwhile, no surprises for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting , it is will not be giving Iran permanent membership just yet.

The SCO, which has become one of Asia’s most prestigious multilateral organizations, has Russia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan as members. Iran, Pakistan, India, and Mongolia are observers, and it will have Afghanistan as an honoured guest this time around.

Iran, Pakistan, and India have been interested in becoming full members. There is jostling for whether Pakistan or India, or both could become full members. But Iran is essentially barred for now. The SCO is to adopt a new document outlining admission rules. The secretary general of the SCO, Muratbek Imanaliyev, has said that “the document contains a very important thesis that states under UN sanctions cannot become SCO members yet.” So, there, Iran can only watch for now.

Apparently Tajikistan lobbied in Iran’s favour, asking that the restriction based on UN sanctions not be included. Interestingly, president Ahmadinejad was just in Tajikistan, this very Wednesday. He was there for a UN-sponsored water security conference but was supposed to have met with the Tajik president to discuss regional security, and I suppose also push for support on SCO membership.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, there’s more fallout from the commando attack on the Gaza flotilla that saw 9 people die. An Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, has legally forced the government to explain its motives for a blockade of Gaza. Apparently the blockade is not for security reasons after all, though that is what is publicly stated to garner international support. The Israeli government document attained by Gisha says that the blockade is in fact economic warfare.

“A country has the right to decide that it chooses not to engage in economic relations or to give economic assistance to the other party to the conflict, or that it wishes to operate using ‘economic warfare’.” says the government document.

And in the US, some of the spoils of war from Iraq and Afghanistan will be on display. The Conflict Research Center will allow researchers to view archived digital copies of documents captured from Saddam Hussein’s government as well as some that were captured from al Qaeda and its affiliates. The facility boasts that it has a database of “1.5 million captured records.”

These records “consist of a wide range of files, including everything from al Qaeda “pocket litter” to financial records, theological and ideological documents, strategic plans, operational guidebooks, and histories of individual operations from the Afghan war in the 1980s through the early 2000s.”

The original Iraqi documents are supposed to be returned to Iraq after digital copies are made.

New sanctions on Iran, it’s an old story that started in 1951

The UN Security Council, on June 9, 2010, implemented new sanctions against Iran. US president Obama called this fourth round of sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear program as “the toughest ever faced by Iran.”

The new sanctions add little in the way of increased legal barriers to Iran’s trade, energy sector, or political organizations. It does create political and diplomatic barriers because of the heavy symbolic character of the sanctions, which will likely favour growing political and economic ties between Iran and eastern countries, particularly China, as the Western investors and diplomats bump their heads against a hardening wall of rhetoric (see an earlier post for details on this).

But is it true that Iran has not seen tougher sanctions in its modern history?

The Company [the Ango-Iranian Oil Company, now BP] is confident that no oil company of repute or any tanker owners or brokers of standing will countenance any direct or indirect participation in the unlawful actions of the Persian Government. Should, however, any concerns or individuals enter into transactions with the Persian Government in regard to the oil products concerned, they are warned that this Company will take all such actions as may be necessary to protect its rights in any country. (1)

This is a statement by the precursor of British Petroleum (BP), in 1951, while they had a monopoly on oil in Iran’s south, where lie the bulk of the country’s energy reserves. In 1951, the government of prime minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, held power in Iran. This government, over time, challenged and succeeded in temporarily ousting the last Shah during what became a popular democratic movement that drew an astounding number of people to the streets to defend the government. Mosaddeq infuriated the British by nationalizing the country’s oil and offering new terms to the British, who were, prior to this, reaping the benefits of a monopoly on Iran’s oil to the delight of their industries and economy.

Then, as now, oil was a significant source of government income, though it is much more important to Iran’s government today since Iran only received a tiny fraction of profits from the British. The British boycott of Iranian oil in 1951 was joined by the US and others, creating a very serious financial crisis for Iran. The boycott lasted until the summer of 1953, during which prime minister Mosaddeq was overthrown by a CIA orchestrated coup and the last Shah of Iran was reimposed as an increasingly autocratic monarch.

The boycott of Iranian oil at the time was used as economic warfare to maintain Britain’s established control of Iranian oil. This British led and US supported boycott was largely successful because the times were different. Petroleum companies and tanker fleets were largely under the influence of these two countries, a situation which is not quite true today. (2)

At the time, the US State Department gave strong support to the boycott, stating that “the US Government should not make the nationalization of Iranian oil a success for others to emulate.” (3) This was a serious problem, since other countries in the region also had significant oil concessions and they might have moved to nationalize their oil or use the threat of such to increase their share of spoils from sales.

Oil in hands

The US support of Britain’s boycott caught Mosaddeq off-guard. He had expected the US to assist Iran against the perceived holdover of a colonial and imperial era following the US promise of a new post-colonial world that would not be snared by the old European imperialism which saw the world plunge into the Second World War.

At that time, Mosaddeq tried to invigorate Iran’s non-oil based economy. Some of his measures at least succeeded. He managed to somehow take Iran’s trade balance from a significant negative to a significant positive by 1953. (4) Such rapid transition was made at least partially possible because of the situation of crisis; Iran simply had no other choice than to reform its general economy or have the government face the possibility of fiscal collapse from lack of oil revenues. This doesn’t mean that life was easy for the average person. The economy was in rough shape, and people suffered because of the boycott, but the worst case domestic political and economic scenarios were avoided.

In the end, the Mosaddeq government was able to break the long trend of government deficits under the Shah, and actually had a positive net balance. Even inflation was kept to reasonable rate, performing better than the previous government which was not even hamstrung by a boycott.

As for today, perhaps the UN Security Council would have done a service to Iran by really cutting off its sales of oil, forcing the country to reform its economy and government budget. However, an effective boycott of Iranian oil is no longer possible without a declaration of war. Other countries, such as Japan, and China, have their own capacity to extract and refine oil, as well as to ferry it in their own substantial tanker fleets. So these countries’ would have to willingly join in a Western boycott of Iranian oil or their vessels would have to be blockaded by US and allied naval power.

Well, it is possible that Obama was referring to these new sanctions being the toughest Iran has faced since the 1979 revolution which saw it become the Islamic Republic of Iran, so let’s for now forget pre-revolution 1951.

In that case, president Obama is forgetting the near decade long Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

The Iran-Iraq War

That period of long war began after an invasion by Iraq, which Saddam Hussein falsely believed would lead to a quick defeat of Iran. In that span of time, the Islamic Republic of Iran was internationally isolated and there was broad economic boycott of its products. During that period, the country not only suffered from economic sanctions, but was also burdened with the human and economic cost of a war that saw the death of one million people on both sides of the conflict.

As a child, I lived in Iran during the war. My family was comfortably in the middle class. Goods were scarce, the country was under military and economic siege. I was delighted when my family splurged every few months to buy me a single over-ripe banana, a luxury item that was caught up in the price hikes caused by sanctions and war.

Though it took a severe blow, the country’s economy did not collapse, nor did the post-revolution government collapse though it was internationally expected to fall under the weight of fiscal deficits. The war and severe sanctions put an end to the fervor of revolutionary competition for power, and what has emerged as Iran’s current political power-holders were aided by the international situation to consolidate their position: people were fighting for the very existence of the country in the face of foreign intervention, so how much would people be willing to risk internal division over the new government under the threat of national collapse and conquest?

So, let’s be clear, this is certainly not the worst economic sanctions Iran has faced in its modern history. Today’s sanctions engender tough talk, but to what end? What is the gain of distorting facts? What the US gains with such talk is the perception of Iran being faced by the toughest sanctions in its history, a narrative that flies in the face of truth. This perception serves to reinforce an increasingly hostile attitude between the West and Iran, shapes a US domestic image of jingoistic bravado that limits the possibilities of diplomacy while favouring antagonistic strategies.

This is a rhetoric that displaces facts and promises heightened tension and conflict disguised by empty gestures of a false diplomacy that doesn’t even regard the basic lessons of recent history as worth considering.

Sources:

(1) Gasiorowski, Mark J., and Byrne, Malcolm (ed.), ‘Mohammad Mosaddeq and the 1953 Coup in Iran.’ Syracuse University Press, 2004, Syracuse, New York, USA, p. 178.

(2) Ibid., p. 182

(3) Ibid., p. 186

(4) Ibid., p. 191

Why China supports sanctions on Iran: not much content but full of political implications

June 9, 2010 1 comment

The UN Security Council is to impose sanctions against Iran today.

These sanctions are being billed by the US as tough, effective, and the most severe Iran has yet faced.

The new sanctions, actually, add very little that is new. The passage of sanctions is opportunity for tough talk but little tangible difference is offered over previous sanctions (see the new sanctions document here).

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett pick the document apart on their site, The Race for Iran:

In the main body of the resolution, there are, literally, no sanctions limiting the capacity of the Islamic Republic to produce and export hydrocarbons.

[...]Likewise, there are no sanctions barring the extension of financial services, insurance, reinsurance, etc. to Iranian individuals and entities.

China and Russia will support this resolution since the situation will not substantially change for them in regard to their dealings with Iran. Russia will still be able to deliver sales of S300 anti-aircraft missiles, and China can still invest in Iranian business, import energy, maintain its existing financial dealing via Iranian banks (I think China often trades in hard cash anyway when it comes to purchase of oil from Iran), and maintain its growing trade with Iran.

The Race for Iran adds that:

Among the entities “involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities”, the United States was able to win the agreement of China and other Council members to include only one bank that had not been previously listed—and that bank is a subsidiary to Bank Mellat, which had been previously designated by the United Kingdom and the United States.

[...]Ostensibly, there are 15 entities listed as “owned, controlled, or acting on behalf of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps”.  But this is seriously misleading.  There is, in fact, only one Revolutionary Guard-affiliated entity captured in the annex—the Khatam al-Anbiya construction company.  The other 14 entities are all either subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya or subsidiaries of subsidiaries of Khatam al-Anbiya.

What the sanctions do embody is politics rather than economics. It hardens the political and diplomatic division between Iran and the US and Europe because of the rhetoric and symbolic quality attached to the application of sanctions as championed by the West. So, the rhetoric will make it more difficult for the West to conduct diplomatic dialogue and engage in economic transactions with Iran not because of new legal barriers but from political ones.

This will support and probably hasten the growing economic ties between Iran and China as well as other non-Western countries. This is to China’s advantage since it can deal with Iran while facing decreased international, mainly Western, competition; permitting it to more easily position itself as a vital economic and political entity to Iran. Essentially, the West is cutting itself out of the picture and giving China competition free access to Iran, which is geostrategically important: it can serve as a gateway to the Middle East and Central Asia, has access to the Persian Gulf and the Straight of Hormuz, has some of the largest deposits of oil and natural gas in the world, and has the potential to serve as an energy route to transit fuels from nearby countries that are also rich in hydrocarbons.

In 2009, China beat out the EU to become Iran’s largest trading partner. Trade with China amounted to some $36.5 billion while trade with the EU totaled $35 billion. Iran’s foreign minister indicated that trade with China had risen from $400 million in 1994 to $29 billion in 2008, growing at an average annual rate of 40% in the tail end of that period. In May 2009, China’s ambassador spoke at an Iran-China trade cooperation conference, stating that “The Chinese Embassy in Tehran will continue working with Iranian companies in order to expand cooperation between the two countries.”

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicates that its important economic projects with Iran include: “energy, transportation, machinery, building material, mining, coal, chemicals, nonferrous metal, etc. The main projects are subway in Teheran, multi-functional vessels, building of oil tanker, production line of cement plant, 4*32.5 thousand KW thermal power electrical machinery units in Arak, hydroelectric generation equipment, etc.”

More than “100 Chinese state companies” operate it Iran, according to Press TV. China is said to have more than $80 billion invested in the country’s energy sector, and Iran has, since 2009, opened five trade centres in China in Shanghai, Urumqi, Beijing, Hong Kong and Guan ju.

Israeli spy station in Turkey aimed at Iran; the Gaza aid flotilla; and China benefits from Iran sanctions

Following the operation in which nine civilians on an aid flotilla were killed by Israeli commandos, relations between Israel and Turkey have continued to take a dive. Most interestingly, The Times Online has this to say (found via Friday Lunch Club):

Israel has rejected much of the criticism of Operation Sky Winds, but the Israeli defence establishment, long friendly with the Turkish military, is extremely worried. Turkey’s government, itself religiously based, has aligned itself with public anger. Reports to the Israeli defence ministry indicated that it might close down an Israeli intelligence station based on Turkish soil, not far from the Iranian border.

“If that happens,” said a well-informed Israeli source, “Israel will lose its ears and nose, which watch and sniff the Iranians’ back garden.”

The same article also explains that the military team that confronted the aid flotilla was unused to such policing activities against civilians, and that it is more at ease with covert military missions. The example given by The Times was of an assassination it says was successfully conducted against a Syrian general.

Ehud Barak is supposed to have personally managed the flotilla operation from IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv, and was watching events live through military feeds. Currently the Israeli defence minister, Barak was once the commander of an elite force that had the current prime minister, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu under him.

The relationship between Bibi and Ehud goes back more than 40 years. Barak was a commander of Israel’s equivalent of the SAS and Bibi was one of his young officers. In 1972 they were among the commandos who stormed a hijacked Sabena jet at Tel Aviv airport. Bibi was injured by a bullet in his hand. Barak went untouched. Ever since, Netanyahu has regarded him as his mentor.

After they went into politics, Netanyahu became leader of Likud and Barak leader of the Labour party. (From the Times Online article linked above)

Iran has accused Israel of increased covert activity against it. The Iranian Press TV in January 2010 reported that “Sources in Turkey’s ruling party told Russia’s Mignews that Israeli spy agents ran an advanced electronic monitoring station from the Ankara military headquarters to keep tabs on communication networks in Iran and Syria.”

I am not certain how this allegation might be related to the Times Online revelation of an Israeli listening post in Turkey aimed at Iran.

Iran feels that the espionage is intended for use in sabotage and assassinations to slow or stop its uranium enrichment activity.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett have some great analysis on China’s approach to sanctions on Iran. They indicate that China has refused to fully oppose US-led sanctions in order to keep the US engaged within the UN Security Council and not have it be freed from the international body to go it alone. By refusing to use its veto in the Security Council, China has avoided a confrontational approach with the US and simultaneously been successful in negotiating for significant changes to each round of sanctions.

The sanctions have so far excluded any measures that would harm China’s trade and energy investments relationship with Iran.

From Race for Iran:

China succeeded in extracting extensive concessions from the Obama Administration with respect to the content of the specific measures contained in the draft sanctions resolution.  Since 2006, Beijing’s approach to the Iranian nuclear issue has been to give Washington just enough on sanctions in the Security Council to keep the United States in the Council with the issue, while watering down the actual sanctions approved so that they would not impede the development of Sino-Iranian relations.  Fundamentally, China is continuing that approach now.

[...]Not only does China buy a significant portion of its oil imports from Iran; as we have written previously, Chinese energy companies have, since the end of 2007, concluded a growing number of investment contracts for Iranian projects.  Beijing was determined that a new sanctions resolution that would not impede the implementation of those contracts or the conclusion of new contracts by Chinese companies, and the Obama Administration predictably caved on the issue.  Moreover, Beijing appears to have extracted a commitment from the Obama Administration that U.S. secondary sanctions will not be imposed on Chinese energy companies or other entities doing business in Iran. Chinese diplomats also negotiated the Obama Administration down with regard to the specific Iranian individuals and entities to be identified in the “annexes” accompanying a new sanctions resolution, to ensure that no individual or entity is included that Chinese companies might need to deal with in pursuing their activities in the Islamic Republic.

What I think is interesting here is that the sanctions seem to actually give China an edge over the US. The US continues to make it difficult for itself and its close allies (such as Europe) to maintain healthy diplomatic and trade ties with Iran. This has left a vacuum that China is handily filling in. China is becoming Iran’s leading trade partner, beating out the likes of Germany. China is also investing heavily in Iran’s infrastructure, including its energy infrastructure, which will help it secure a greater share of the valuable and scarce energy resources.

“In late May, China offered a one billion Euro ($1.2 billion) loan to finance infrastructure projects in Tehran.  Last week, it was announced that China is negotiating to extend another $1.2 billion in credit to Iran for the construction of six liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers,” according to the article posted on the Race for Iran.

China, the world’s second largest oil consumer, sources over 70% of its imported oil from the Middle East, according to the People’s Daily. According to CNN, 15% of China’s oil imports come from Iran.

With Iran and Pakistan moving ahead with a deal to run a US$7 billion natural gas pipeline into Pakistan’s Balochistan and Sindh provinces, there is talk of potential interest to set up a splinter line north and east from Pakistan to China to deliver gas to China. China, meanwhile, has heavily invested in and essentially led the construction of an energy processing and transit site in Gwadar, a significant Pakistani port city near the Persian Gulf.

Pakistan’s The News reports on the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline:

Under a deal signed in March, Pakistan will be allowed to charge a transit-fee if the proposed pipeline is extended to India. Iran, which makes $18 billion annually from the sale of gas from South Pars, sees its income to surge to at least $96 billion per annum if trans-country pipeline extends to India.

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad interview transcripts and video

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was interviewed by Charlie Rose on May 27, and the video of the full interview is available online. You can also read the full transcipt at Joshua Landis’ excellent website, Syria Comment. Syria comment also has the full transcript of a May 8 La Repubblica interview with Bashar al-Assad. The La Repubblica transcript is cleaner and easier to read.

Here are some highlights from the more recent Charlie Rose interview (video here):

Charlie Rose: How do you see Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, the northern tier in –

Bashar al-Assad: The northern tier of Iran and Iraq.  Normally you should have good relations with your neighbors, something we’ve learned from our experience in the last decades.  We’ve been in conflict, Syria and Turkey, Iraq and Turkey, and other countries.  What did we get?  Nothing.  We’ve been losing for decades.  We have learned here in the last decade that we have to turn the tide, so everybody is going for good relations with the other, even if it doesn’t have the same vision or they — even if they disagree about most of the things, not some things.  So, this relation, Syria/Iraq, we are neighbors.  Syria/Turkey, we are neighbors.  We’ll affect each other directly.  Iran is not my neighbor, but at the end, Iran is one of the big countries in the Middle East, and it’s an important country, and it plays a role and affects different issues in the region.  So, if you want to play a role and help yourself and save your interests, you should have good relations with all these influential countries.  That’s why this relation, I think, is very normal.

[...]

Charlie Rose: What is it we don’t understand, those in Washington, about the region, about the culture, about Syria’s role, about Iran?

Bashar al-Assad: They don’t understand that we want peace.  But if you want peace, doesn’t mean to — if you want to sign a peace treaty doesn’t mean that we accept to sign capitulation agreement.  That’s what they don’t understand, the difference between capitulation agreement.  That’s how I’m talking about the perception in our region, how we see it, and peace treaty.  Peace treaty means having all your rights.  This is the second about Iran very clear issue, nuclear issue.  It’s about Iran having the right to have peaceful nuclear reactor.  You cannot deal with Iran through the Security Council through threats and the evidence that they didn’t understand is the recent agreement between Turkey, Brazil and Iran.  And I told the official that I met recently from Europe after that agreement that this is going to be the proof that they didn’t understand this region because Turkey and Brazil succeeded in getting what the world has been asking for during the last year in a few weeks because they understand this region and they adopted different approach which is direct, not strict, not imposing.

Charlie Rose: Their interpretation of what happened between Iran and Turkey and Iran and Brazil is that it’s just another effort by Iran to delay sanctions –

Bashar al-Assad: We disagree.

[...]

Charlie Rose: Some find it interesting that your allies are Islamist, in one case of theocracy, and yet Syria is a secular state.

Bashar al-Assad: That’s true.  And that’s what they don’t understand.  This is one of the things that they don’t understand in the West, especially in the United States, because if I support you, it doesn’t mean I’m like you or I agree with you.  That means I believe in your cause.  There’s a difference.  Maybe if we don’t have this cause, we have different debate with them or different relations.  While now they have a cause and support the cause, we don’t support organization.  We support the Palestinian cause, and Hamas is working for that cause, and the same for Hezbollah.  Hezbollah is working for the Lebanese cause, so we support that cause, not Hezbollah, but Hezbollah is one of the means.  So, that’s what they have to understand in the West.

[...]

Charlie Rose: The relationship with Turkey is very good.  Turkey was serving as an intermediary between negotiations between you and the Israelis.

Bashar al-Assad: Yeah.

Charlie Rose: It came that close in which you would get back the Golan Heights, yes?

Bashar al-Assad: This is very important.  What we have now as reference is mainly the United Nations or Security Council resolution.  It’s very important reference but it’s not defined.  It talks about the land occupied in ’67 but how can you define this land?  Israel talking about a different line, how can you define this line, I mean?  We wanted in that inquisition to define the line through one point and Israel wanted to define its security requirements.  So if we define these two things and we move to the direct negotiation, whenever you have arbiter this arbiter can play its role only through this paper, not like what happened in the ‘90’s when some politicians, some of them with a good will spoiled the process with good will but with enthusiasm but less with a lack of knowledge.  And others, self-serving politicians, spoiled it for their own interests.  Now we had this paper, anyone who wants to play a role, any mediator, any official, any arbiter, should play it through this paper and this is where we can succeed, not to have 19 wasteful years.

[...]

Charlie Rose: You don’t think Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to make a deal.

Bashar al-Assad: Again, it’s not about him.  It’s about the whole government.  Can he lead the government toward peace?  Is he strong enough to lead this government toward peace?  Because you know, it’s a coalition now.  It’s coalition.  You do not have — he doesn’t have the majority to say I’m going in that direction.  So in reality, nothing is happening yet.  So why do we waste the time expecting.  He’s been for now in his position for a year and nearly a year and a half, something like this.  And he couldn’t do anything in peace.  So I don’t know if you have the will or he has the power.  We don’t know.

Charlie Rose: On the other side of the Palestinians, and they are not unified.

Bashar al-Assad: Yeah.

Charlie Rose: There’s Fatah, Hamas.  Can they be unified?

Bashar al-Assad: Of course they can.  If you help them, they can be unified.  And they have to be unified.  Without unification in the Palestinian really you cannot have peace.  You need this unification.  It’s not about who is going to sign the treaty.  At the end if you want to implement the treaty, you need unification.  You need unified policy.

[...]

Charlie Rose: Let me focus again on the dynamic of this region. There is Egypt, which has traditionally had the largest army and the most powerful force. There’s Iran, which has emerged as a regional power after 1979. There is now Syria and Turkey having a very interesting relationship. Some say Syria’s moving more to the East. How do you see the new forces shaping the region?

Bashar al-Assad: The criteria has changed in the positive. They used to say Egypt is a big country, Syria is a small country, but it’s playing a role which is bigger than your size. Of course –

[speaking simultaneously]

Charlie Rose: — beyond its weight.

Bashar al-Assad: Yeah, exactly. Qatar is a very small country. Nobody put it on the political map for inclusion. Actually the criteria has changed. Now we have the will, the vision, and the geopolitical position. We have these three.  Qatar has will and has vision. Turkey has the three criteria, the geopolitical position, big country, strong economy, will and vision. It was a strong and it was big 10 years ago, but they didn’t have the will and same vision, so it didn’t play that role, Turkey. So, the criteria have changed. Today you have Iran, you have Turkey, you have Syria, and you have Qatar.    If you want to talk about cooperation, for example, regarding the peace, we had a meeting in Istanbul, me and Erdogan and the prince of Qatar, and it was about the peace, because Turkey and Qatar are partners with Syria in the peace issue. So you have a different map regarding different issues. We had a meeting with Iran regarding defending our rights regarding the Israeli aggression, regarding the issue in Iraq. Regarding Iraq, there’s cooperation between Syria, Turkey, and Iran. So you have different [unintelligible]. But all of them in the same region, so this is the new dynamic that we have that depends on every subject.

[...]

Charlie Rose: There is no dialogue between Syria –

Bashar al-Assad: Between Syria and the United States regarding Iraq.  They only talk about borders, and they only talk about terrorists, because they deal with the terrorists like playing a game on the computer where you have terrorists, and they have to shoot him.  That’s how they deal with the terrorist issue.  They don’t understand that terrorism fighting means having the atmosphere, the normal situation, fighting the chaos.  You cannot fight the chaos while you have political anarchy.  You should have normal government with the police, with the army, with the normal situation, normal political situation.  This is where you don’t have chaos, this is where terrorists fail.  They cannot do anything.

Charlie Rose: So what is your big challenge today?

Bashar al-Assad: The biggest challenge is how can we keep our society as secular as it is today.

Charlie Rose: As secular.

Bashar al-Assad: Secular — the society, not the government.  It is secular.  You have diversity, very rich diversity in Syria we are proud of.  But at the end, you are part of this region.  You cannot stay unrelated to the conflicts from the conflicts surrounding you.  If you have sectarian Lebanon on our west and sectarian Iraq on our east, and you don’t have the peace process solved on our southern border, and you have the terrorists dominating the region, and let’s say growing with leaps and bounds, you will be affected some day.  You will be — you will pay the price.  So it’s not about being passive and saying I’m going to protect myself.  How can you be active and expand what you have to the other?  So the challenge is the extremism in this region.

Charlie Rose: But the extremism some people believe — those people who are never secular, who in fact find in religion a cause.

Bashar al-Assad: They always use religions to assume — to assume the mantle of religions or Islam, whatever, in order to have followers.  They only assume it.  I don’t think they are convinced about what they are doing.  Some of them, they are ignorant.  They believe it.  They think they are helping the religion this way.  But at the end, it’s not about those, about — it’s about the others.  How can they influence because, I mean, you always have extremists in everything.  In politics, in religions, in Christianity, in Islam, in Judaism, in every religion, you have extremism.  But it’s about how much can they influence the society.  As long as we have open-minded people, you don’t worry about them, they are going to be isolated.  So I’m not worried about what meant to be the few to convince the other, only about how much the other can protect himself from them.

Charlie Rose: But as I listen to you say that, it seems an incongruity between saying that and looking at who you have great relations with and who you support in the region.

Bashar al-Assad: That’s why I say it’s not about who is like you and who is not.  It’s about the cause.  They have cause they have to support.  And this is the second — there’s not extremist if you –

Charlie Rose: Hezbollah is not extremist?

Bashar al-Assad: No, it’s not.  They support peace.  If you want peace, they support peace.  They believe in Islam as — to be the government in their country.  This is their freedom of — this is — I mean, they are free to think whatever they want.  But they never try to implement it by force.  This is where you cannot blame a rebel as an extremist.  The extremist wants to force you to go in certain way.  And sometimes they attack you, and sometime they kill you.  This is extremism, not to have your idea, your idea, of course we’re going to have different ideas, different currents, political currents and treaty currents.  That’s normal.  And this is the diversity that we have.  But they are not extremists because they never try to implement by force their doctrine.

A U.S. nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier move toward Iran while Israel conducts its largest war exercises to-date

A US nuclear submarine has moved into the Persian Gulf, in advance of an aircraft carrier and its accompanying naval strike force. There will soon be two US aircraft carrier groups in the region facing off against Iran, also while tensions are on the rise between Israel on one side and Syria and Lebanon on the other. Currently, one carrier strike group is stationed in the Arabian Sea. The additional carrier group currently on its way will include 6,000 personnel and combatants.

DEBKAfile reports:

Tehran reports that an Iranian naval patrol Thursday, May 27, detected a US nuclear submarine sailing through the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which most of the oil produced by Persian Gulf states passes on its way to world markets.

[...] Western intelligence and naval sources confirm that a nuclear-armed American submarine has in fact entered the Persian Gulf.

Some 20% of the world’s oil leaves the Persian Gulf via the Straight of Hormuz.

Meanwhile, on Sunday, May 23, Israel began five day long war games. Numerous media reports present an Israeli war with Labanon and perhaps Syria as inevitable, if not this summer then within the next few years. I’m not sure about what inevitable means, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that drills and war preparations are used as threats against neighbours, or that Israel desires war at some point and that war is being planned for. Here is an example of statements from Israel’s daily, Ha’aretz: “The home front’s readiness for the next war was the focus of this past week’s national exercise.” And, paraphrasing Israeli Brig. General Uzi Moskovitch “Moskovitch, who speaks cautiously, does not think there is a big risk of a war in the north this summer. He does, though, believe such a confrontation will occur in the coming years.”

In response to the Israeli exercises, Lebanon has conducted its own drill on May 26.

Ynet reports:

A security source in Beirut said that Lebanese soldiers were dispatched across the border with Israel “in order to thwart any possible offensive from the enemy, and close any loopholes that it might use during an attack scenario.”

During its drill, Lebanon fired its anti-aircraft batteries on Israeli airplanes it said violated the national airspace.

Xinhua reports:

Lebanon accuses Israel of violating its airspace on a daily basis, also a breach of UN Resolution 1701 which ended the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah in 2006.

[...] Lebanese army also opened fires to Israeli warplanes in March and February, but none of Israeli planes were hit.

The Israeli war exercises included airplane flight distances that were similar to the length they would need to fly to reach Iran.

Iran’s army is not able to credibly threaten its neighbours with a land invasion, it simply does not have that capacity. It can, however, function to defend itself against invasion and has as focus internal security. Iran has not started a war in the past couple of centuries.

The Race for Iran has responded to talk of a US-Iran war scenario, stating that they “believe that Iran has an enormous capacity for ‘asymmetric’ resistance to armed violations of its sovereignty.”

The war drills in Israel are part of a yearly exercise of emergency preparedness, and includes not just war games but also emergency services, and also air raid sirens are set off requiring citizens to enter air raid shelters. This year’s exercise has been the largest in Israel’s history.

Israel’s IBA News television broadcast interviews a man discussing his and his children’s experience of the shelters drill (you can view this online, at Mosaic World News, 4 minutes and 40 seconds into the video). His children were told of the drill in kindergarten and are prepared for it through school. When asked how he talks to his children about these events the interviewee explains that “It doesn’t scare them but they have an understanding about enemies, Arabs, and people who hate the state of Israel. They have these vague concepts.”

Brazil and Turkey are at odds with the US over their negotiations with Iran to swap low enriched uranium amounting to nearly half of Iran’s current total. The US has said the deal is not good enough and has pressed for further sanctions against Iran while mobilizing its navy. Brazil and Turkey have said that US president Obama earlier gave them personal assurances that he was in support of their pursuing a nuclear fuel swap deal along the lines promoted by the US and Europe in October of 2009. Brazil has published the letter from the US to Brazil giving support for the deal while the US administration claims that the letter is taken out of context.

Iran’s nuclear program: Opposition between US-Europe versus a Turkey-Brazil consensus

Iran’s nuclear program and international negotiations around it have entered into a new stage of heated discussions which, this time, sees new countries enter the fray to challenge the usual position of authority wielded by the UN’s five permanent members of the Security Council.

On May 19, the US circulated a draft sanctions program aimed at forging consensus in the 15 member UN Security Council (5 permanent — the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France — and 10 rotating members, which currently includes Brazil, Turkey, and Lebanon).

The push for sanctions by the US implicitly rejects a tripartite diplomatic deal reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil.

The tripartite deal would see Iran swap almost half of its existing supply of low enriched uranium with Turkey. This is intended to add a measure of transparency to the process of enrichment in order to ensure that Iran’s uranium is used for research and medical purposes over what the US alleges might be an Iranian attempt to develop nuclear weapons. The fuel is intended to be used in the Tehran Research Reactor, which supplies the countries medical isotopes.

A similar deal was proposed by the US, France, and Russia in October 2009, which Iran rejected after long discussion. In that particular case, Iran claimed it was worried that the agreement left it vulnerable to the West. Essentially, Iran was worried that it might hand over its fuel to France, and then France would refuse to return it after processing, leaving Iran in the lurch. One of the key differences in the latest tripartite deal is that Turkey would act as the conduit, a country which actually has good relations with its neighbour, Iran. It is presumed, then, that Iran feels more secure having a country that has not publicly supported the possibility of war against it to act as guarantor. An example of the pressure (to put it lightly) that Iran faces is that, in April 2010, the US president Obama opened the door to the launch of nuclear weapons against Iran and North Korea if deemed necessary. The US excluded these two countries from limits placed on the use of atomic weapons.

It should be made clear that the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which both the US and Iran are signatories, states that “in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, States must refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations, and that the establishment and maintenance of international peace and security are to be promoted with the least diversion for armaments of the world’s human and economic resources.”

The idea is that if you threaten another country with war, especially if the threatening party rattles its atomic weapons, then there would be the danger of creating an incentive for non-nuclear weapons countries to pursue a weapons program in order to reduce the urgency of the threat.

Gary Swick writes:

The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.

The Turks and Brazilians, who felt they had “delivered” Iran on the terms demanded by the United States, were surprised and disappointed at the negative reactions from Washington. Little did they know that their success in Tehran, which had been given a 0-30 percent chance just days earlier, came just as the Americans were putting the final touches on a package of sanctions to be presented to the UN Security Council. The Tehran agreement was as welcome as a pothole in the fast lane, and the Americans were not reluctant to let their displeasure be known.

The sanctions proposed by the US would, according to the Washington Post, “expand an asset freeze and travel ban against individuals and entities linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps. A critical element still to be negotiated is a list of those names.” Sanctions would also include a ban on shipments of large weapons systems “such as battle tanks, combat aircraft and missiles.”

More from the same article: “Diplomats said that some of [the] sanctions were proposed with the full knowledge they would be removed by the Russians and Chinese — but then could be revived in an E.U. resolution. Individual country sanctions could follow, and would be led by the United States and like-minded nations.”

The Daily Start reports that although the agreement reached between Iran, Turkey, and Brazil “was hailed as a diplomatic coup by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the United States and its allies Britain and France said it did not go far enough to avert the sanctions push.”

Well-informed sources close to the Lebanese delegation to the UN in New York said: ‘Lebanon has always been against any sanctions against Iran because Lebanon believes it is the right of all nations or countries to own nuclear energy.’

‘Lebanon has repeatedly reiterated its stance against the sanctions, especially that Iran is saying that the proliferation of the enriched uranium is done for peaceful purposes,’ the sources said, adding that Lebanon will abstain from the vote on sanctions.

Nine out of fifteen security council members have to vote in favour for a resolution to pass. The five permanent members of the security council have veto power.

The Brazilian foreign minister on Tuesday stated that the “agreement [between Iran, Brazil and Turkey] is a new fact that has to be evaluated.” And “to ignore this agreement would be to discard the possibility of a pacific solution.”

The conflicting proposals from the US and Europe for sanctions on one side and a tripartite deal led by Turkey and Brazil on the other also reflects a tension in international affairs as countries outside of the framework of Washington’s consensus of world order vie for alternative visions of international affairs in general. This was voiced by some Brazilian newspapers, such as Folha de Sao Paulo (quoted in the Daily Star): “The US government is more than anything looking to show who runs a hierarchy of global power that emerging powers such as Brazil and Turkey see as outdated.”

Similar sentiments challenging the existing international model centered around overwhelming US power emerged during an April meeting between Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa at the Brazilian capital.

On Wednesday, Turkey’s foreign minister claimed that the US president had personally encouraged Brazil and Turkey to pursue the now contested deal with Iran. According to FP’s The Cable:

It’s true that Obama ‘encouraged’ Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions.

Nor did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke with Davutoglu by last Friday, give the talks an unqualified thumbs up. ‘During the call, the secretary stressed that in our view, Iran’s recent diplomacy was an attempt to stop Security Council action without actually taking steps to address international concerns about its nuclear program,’ State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

According to the White House, Obama did not mean to suggest that a fuel-swap deal alone would be enough to assuage U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Antonio Ramlho, a professor of international relations at the university of Brasilia has said that the “Brazilian government believes that new and tougher sanctions on Iran would not work.”

It would only contribute to strengthening Iran’s position in the region and strengthening the hardliners within Iranian society and within the Iranian government. They would be able to say that the economic problems they face were due to the sanctions imposed by the international community.

If we impose further sanctions, that will only increase the secrecy in Iran and increase the military orientation of this program.

He also expresses the view that the NPT is, in practice, discriminatory and does not treat all members as equal before international law. That some countries are viewed as irresponsible and are generally pressured not to pursue any nuclear technology despite the fact that the NPT clearly indicates their right to pursue civilian nuclear technology.

He says that, “In 1998, when Brazil signed the NPT treaty, there were arguments for and against. The argument against adhering to the NPT was that Brazil already made its program transparent, but at the same point, it had this principled position which is the one followed by India. Although we know that India had a military program, the Indian government has never agreed to adhere to the NPT [because] it is a discriminatory treaty. In 1998, the majority of the military, as well as many diplomats and experts, [thought] that Brazil should not sign the NPT, based on this argument. It is the tradition of Brazil to fight for a more fair international order that is ruled by institutions and norms [and] that considers states to be equally responsible from the point of view of international law. The argument was that we should not subscribe to a treaty that is discriminatory. This did not mean that Brazil aimed at developing nuclear artifacts or whatever.”

Despite US claims that it has Russia and China’s support in pushing for expanded sanctions, Russia has recently sent a contradictory signal, which goes some way to explaining why the US was not able to include its real wish list in the proposed sanctions. From Reuters: “A reactor being built by Russia at Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant is scheduled to begin operating in August, the head of Russia’s state nuclear corporation told journalists on Thursday.”

The US has rejected Turkey and Brazil’s initiative and is trying to quickly cobble together support for its proposed sanctions. The Russian foreign minister has “called on Iran to send details of its proposed uranium swap to the UN’s nuclear agency as soon as possible.” US secretary of state Clinton has said that her government has the support of Russia and China. I have not seen any clear message from either of these countries on whether and to what extent they might support the sanctions as presented by the US.

The position of the US is that new sanctions should be applied to Iran unless it halts all enrichment activity. Period. “But that had not been the [US] Administration’s position” since a similar fuel swap deal was first tabled in October 2009. “From that point until this Monday, the Administration repeatedly indicated that Iranian acceptance of the [October] Baradei proposal would preclude the imposition of further sanctions, at least until there had been further negotiations about the broader range of issues associated with the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.  At least in the near term, the avoidance of new sanctions was no longer linked to suspension.  (Senior British officials told us last fall that this was why, as a matter of policy, Her Majesty’s Government did not want to see the TRR [the Tehran Research Reactor] deal go through—because it would then be practically impossible to sanction Iran over its continued refusal to abide by Security Council resolutions calling for suspension.)” write Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at The Race for Iran.

They add that, “Now that Tehran has accepted the main elements of the Baradei proposal—the transfer of 1,200 kilos of low-enriched uranium out of Iran in exchange for new fuel for the TRR—the United States has unilaterally changed the game.”

Gareth Porter, writing for IPS, says that:

The Obama administration had not previously declared publicly that it was demanding an end to all enrichment by Iran, and had suggested directly and indirectly that it wanted a broader diplomatic engagement with Iran covering issues of concern to both states.

The new hard line, ruling out broader diplomatic engagement with Iran, and the new light on the strategy behind last year’s swap proposal confirms what has long been suspected – that the debate within the Obama administration last year over whether to abandon the demand for an end to Iranian uranium enrichment as unrealistic had been won by proponents of the zero enrichment demand by late summer 2009.

It is possible that the American claim of China’s ‘support’ of the sanctions program is in principle only. That China might support the writing of a sanction to be held in reserve but in fact back the tripartite Iran, Turkey, Brazil deal.

You can listen to an interview with Gareth Porter regarding these events on Antiwar Radio or click on the play button below.

Below are links to full texts of the proposed agreements:

The Iran-Turkey-Brazil agreement

Sanctions proposal against Iran

It’s true that Obama “encouraged” Turkey and Brazil to hold discussions with Iran, a White House official tells The Cable, but he never indicated that a deal like the one announced this week would be sufficient to alleviate international concerns or stave off sanctions

Turkey in context: The Turkey-Brazil-Iran nuclear negotiation

May 19, 2010 3 comments

On Monday Turkey and Iran agreed to swap nuclear fuel (low enriched uranium).

From Huffington Post:

The deal forged with Turkey and Brazil appeared to be another attempt to stave off U.N. sanctions – a doubtful endeavor judging by reactions from the United States and other Western powers.

This article, sent to me by a friend, has prompted a short response from me. I am particularly interested in the alternative fulcrums of international power that have increasingly been voicing their visions of international relations. This voice represents a share of those ‘developing’ countries that have grown to be economically impossible to ignore, such as Brazil, Russia, India, China (collectively known as the BRIC), and also including such regional influences as Turkey.

Given this context of new challenges to the traditional power of Western states and international institutions, the case of Turkish involvement in Iran’s nuclear deal is particularly interesting.

It is in line with what the April BRIC meeting in Brasilia had articulated regarding any sanction or deal to do with Iran’s nuclear program. Specifically, the BRIC nations indicated a support for diplomatic options to deal with Iran’s nuclear program and have strongly suggested they would resist harsh sanctions. The meeting took place after the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, and brought Brazil, India, Russia, China, and South Africa to the Brazilian capital.

The meeting in Brasilia was a step toward the generation of an international order that does not marginalize participating states, now representing some of the world’s largest economies. In that case, it was strategic that the group assembled only one week prior to the annual International Monetary Fund and World Bank meeting of 24-25 April. It also precedes the G8 summit to be held in Canada this June.

Turkey wants access to more energy. It has limited options for domestic electrical generation. According to an Asia Times article by Saban Kardas, “The country’s current total proven oil reserves could meet only its consumption for a year, and entire natural gas reserves could satisfy only one sixth of its consumption for one year.” It would like to import electricity from its neighbours, including from Iran’s grid. It also seeks to expand its gas and oil imports from Iran. Imports from Iran can be key to Turkey’s energy security, helping it diversify away from overwhelming dependence on Russian natural gas. Turkey imports 2/3 of its natural gas from Russia, according to the Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources. It imports 97.3% of its natural gas, and 93% of its oil.

Beyond meeting domestic demand and energy security desires, Turkey would like to improve its access to multiple sources of energy from throughout the Middle East and Central Asia in order to position itself as an energy hub. This is clearly indicated in Turkey’s latest five year energy and natural resources plan.

Turkey could then transit energy through its territory from its southern and eastern neighbours to energy consuming Europe. This transit infrastructure is to rely on pipelines, highways, and the Ceyhan port on the Mediterranean.

Its real options for sourcing such an energy corridor are Russia, Iran, Iraq, and under the Caspian Sea through Azerbaijan then Georgia or Armenia. The Caspian route will also be greatly facilitated if it has Iranian cooperation since Iran and other Caspian countries have been long negotiating how to collectively manage that body of water since the fall of the Soviet Union.

An alternative to the Caspian Sea route that Turkey seems interested in as well is to have gas pass from Turkmenistan, through northern Iran, to Turkey. Such an option would greatly facilitate access to rich deposits of natural gas in Central Asia. A submarine pipeline running under the sea would require the cooperation of many more countries via contested waters. Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Iran are engaged in protracted negotiations regarding how to collectively manage the Caspian Sea and how to finalize their individual zones of influence.  The submarine route would also be a lot more vulnerable to future disruption.

Turkey wishes to diversify its energy imports in order to maximize its energy security and maximize the potential of turning itself into an energy hub. Turkey’s recent energy and natural resources five year plan states that, “great importance is given to the improvement of the diversification of resources, technologies and infrastructure. For this reason, the oil and natural gas exploration operations both at home and abroad have been intensified in the recent years and these shall also be continued increasingly within the period of the Plan.” (p. 13)

Turkey has, in the new millennium, shown notable examples of greater independence from US dominance of NATO. I think this has been the result of various outcomes throughout the past decade.

The war in Iraq, which was seen as an unjustified and illegal war of aggression undertaken by the US, NATO’s leader, certainly served as a catalyst. The US tried to convince NATO allies, among others, to join it in a ‘coalition of the willing’. This didn’t play too well as an example of NATO’s new post Cold War direction and helped give voice to a more independent Turkish policy.

I think the war in Afghanistan has also had an impact in drawing Turkey’s gaze to events in the region of Central Asia, where a great number of cultural similarity (in that it is an older home to Turkic peoples prior to their migration to the Republic of Turkey) has raised ideas of the origins of Turkish identity prior to their push for Westernization by way of integrating some aspect of European identity. I don’t think that this trend is in fact what some have called pan-Turkish sentiments. It is simply a greater curiosity of their non-European roots coupled with an interest in seeing how this may be used to exert influence in the energy rich Central Asian region.

We must not forget the continued failure of the project to have Turkey be accepted as European and enter the EU. It is becoming increasingly clear that the EU is not interested in Turkish accession, and that a central component of European resistance stems from their perceiving the Turks as eternally non-European.

This notion of a difference in culture between Europe and Turkey has been quite unflattering and even at times publicly racist. Interestingly, the move to further democratize Turkey (namely to apply a representative form of democracy that is rooted in a framework of institution legality) has been disempowering the ‘deep state’ under the leadership of the military, thus eroding these leaders’ ability to push for the Westernization of Turkey.

Public opinion has also indicated at least significant strains of caution and resistance to turning the national identity into a ‘Western’ one. This resistance includes opposition to the West’s wars in that neighbourhood (Iraq and Afghanistan), as well as opposition to Western governments’ support of Israel following that country’s most recent invasions of Lebanon and Gaza.

Also, Europe is really waning politically and economically. It has essentially bent knee to the US politically, which I think many in Turkey would see as less incentive to join that bloc since they wanted to join in order to gain greater influence internationally not to be bound in a structure of subservience. Further, Europe’s economy continues to falter, and if Turkey was to join the EU it would be one of the only countries in that bloc with consistent and significant economic growth. It would also be the only EU country with a significant military to speak of. Yet, it is clear that it would remain an isolated member in the unlikely case of the EU taking it in, so Turkey feels even more indignant given this scenario. Why be, on paper, one of the most robust EU members yet be isolated by others who antagonistically see themselves as techno-economically and culturally superior? Turkey is no fool, it realizes that Europe has a significant degree of vulnerability to it as a gateway to the east, and if the West is stagnating why sell yourself short?

Iran, meanwhile, has significant domestic reserves of hydrocarbons, is positioning itself as an energy transit hub (though the success of this plan remains to be seen), and can also serve as a gateway to Central Asian energy and politics.

Regarding the development of nuclear technology, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are planning to set up their own facilities and have signed agreements with the US or Europe to this end. I think they realize it would be seen as so very hypocritical if they gave Iran no possibility of access to a civilian nuclear program. Turkey resides within the Middle East after all and it is not as easy to fool their own population about the fact of burgeoning nuclear programs in that region. After all the average person tends to know more about their neighbours than say someone an ocean and a continent away.

Shahid Sales’ ‘Still Life’, an Iranian film

May 16, 2010 1 comment

Painting, Sohrab Sepehri

Hamid Dabashi has written the following about the 1974 Iranian film, Still Life, by Shahid Sales (quote form Masters and Masterpieces of Iranian Cinema):

The story of Shahid Sales’ Still Life is, of course, not story at all — and that is how it borrows the spontaneity of modern Persian poetry and makes a permanent loan of it to Iranian cinema. An aged and anonymous railroad attendant and his equally old and sedate wife live in a remote and nameless spot in the middle of nowhere. The old man’s daily chore is to go to a particular spot at a railroad junction and switch the direction of the tracks for an oncoming train, about which neither we nor the man know anything. People enter and exit the couple’s life, very much like the train that punctuates their otherwise memory-less life. The mind-numbing routine is ultimately interrupted — ruptured — by a visit paid to the old man by an inspector from the central office, informing him that he has reached the age of retirement. As his successor comes to take charge, the old man goes to the city to ask to be allowed to continue to do his job. Denied, he returns home and collects his wife and belongings and they quit the premises.

That is all. The rest is pure visual poetry.

[...]The problem in this case is not with power but with its command to initiate something it calls retirement. Retirement from what? There has been no tiring effort in the old man’s life from which to retire and rest — as there is no conclusion to a life that has not, nor has it ever, even begun. Time and space are languidly stale in this purgatory — nothing really start or ends, nor does this couple move from one to another location.

Here is a short clip from the film Still Life:

Dabashi mentions the influence of the Iranian poet and painter Sohrab Sepehri, and the Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu on Sales.

Here is a clip from one of Ozu’s films:

I could not find many translations of Sepehri’s poetry on short notice. Below is a short excerpt from Traveler, translated by Dabashi.

At the sunset, amid the tired presence of things,
An expectant gaze could see the very depth of time –

Upon the table,
The commotion of a few first of the season fruits
Was flowing in the vague direction
Of acquaintance with death;
While the wind carried the aroma of the little garden
Over the carpet of idleness
As a gift to the soft margin of life;
And as the mind was holding the light surface of a flower
In hand — just like a fan –
Cooling itself.

The traveler stepped off the bus:
“What a clear sky!”
And the length of the street carried his lonesomeness away.

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