Commentary on the economic , geopolitical and simply fascinating things going on. Served occasionally with a side of snark.
Thursday, December 19, 2013
War Watch December 19 , 2013 ...Syria’s Islamist Rebels Refuse Talks With US - without reason for refusal ( As they have the Saudis financial and arms support , no need for the US or even a need to explain ) , Al Qaeda / Jihadist forces continue eliminating Moderate US backed FSA leaders , Syria Army continues to take advantage of the split between Rebel forces by pressing forward on several War Fronts...... Iran nuclear talks at risk due to US Senate Bill , as well as the usual incoherent actions of the White House ?
Perhaps the biggest state sponsor of Islamic terrorism in the world, Saudi Arabai is very upset they can no longer pull the strings in Washington. They had a wonderful relationship with the Bush Administration whereby Prince Bandar said something in private and President George W. Bush repeated it in public. According to the New York Post the Bush Administration even covered up the Saudi government’scomplicity in the attacks of 9/11.
But now the American public seem fed up with being the unwitting thug squad for the House of Saud or at least fed up with the consequences. The grand sectarian cold war in the Middle East between Sunni based Saudi Arabia and Shiite based Iran is not really our concern. America’s interest in the Middle East was energy which we now produce enough of domestically.
However, the Saudis aren’t going to take America’s new independence lying down and still plan to fund Al-Qaeda and other jihadist groups in Syria. The Saudi government has even brazenly penned an op-ed in the New York Times pledging to do so.
We believe that many of the West’s policies on both Iran and Syria risk the stability and security of the Middle East. This is a dangerous gamble, about which we cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by…
The foreign policy choices being made in some Western capitals risk the stability of the region and, potentially, the security of the whole Arab world. This means the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has no choice but to become more assertive in international affairs: more determined than ever to stand up for the genuine stability our region so desperately needs.
The op-ed was penned by a member of the Saudi royal family and is a rather open admission and further commitment to funding terrorism. Of course you can only drone strike poor Muslims so I guess when oil billionaires and their progeny flagrantly and materially support Al-Qaeda we all have to just shrug right?
Meanwhile Saudi Arabia has emptied its prisons, including death row inmates, to fund the jihad in Syria and now that the “Free Syrian Army” has collapsed more of their oil money will have to flow to more extreme groups to take down the Alawite Assad government and his Shitte allies. The Saudis have been funding Al-Qaeda since its inception, now they will have to double down.
Are they really our friends? Or is it time to consider sanctions against Saudi Arabia for funding groups at war with America?
It’s been so long ago, it’s easy to forget that the Syrian Civil War began with peaceful protests. Now those organizers and human rights activists that initially called for the ouster of Assad are finding a rebellion that they recognize less and less, and that has less and less use for them.
Fleeing Assad-held territory, such activists took refuge in the rebel-held north. But as secular rebel fighters lose what little influence they have left, the activists are fleeing Islamist-dominated territory.
Reporters Without Borders and other groups have detailed scores of activists “detained” by al-Qaeda, and at least 150 were reported to have fled the country outright.
That reflects an ongoing shift in the nature of the war, from liberal protesters to military defectors to foreign jihadists dominating the opposition, and the goals of the ongoing war becoming less and less clear.
By Balint Szlanko – @balintszlankoFor Syria Comment, December 16. 2013
The Kurds of Syria have been in the news lately. Fighting—and beating—Al Qaeda-allied groups and other rebel militias in their struggle for Syria’s northeast, in the past year they have in effect set up their own ministate inside the country. Here is why they are winning.
1. Unified command and control structures. Unlike the rebel militias, the Kurdish armed group, the Yekineyen Parastina Gel (People’s Protection Units) or YPG, is controlled by a single general command. This allows it to effectively operate on a frontline more than 120 miles long by transferring people and other assets relatively easily to where the need arises and to coordinate operations effectively. Contrast this with its enemies, the mainly Arab rebels: they are splintered into at least six major groups (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham, the Kurdish Islamic Front, the Tawheed Brigade, and the Free Syrian Army, itself an umbrella organisation of smaller groups) that have a patchy record of coordination. Indeed, some of the rebel groups that fight together against the Kurds have often fought each other elsewhere.
2. Superior tactical skills and discipline. It’s hard to be entirely sure of this because YPG commanders provide journalists with only limited access to their operations. That said, the YPG frontline positions and checkpoints I have seen tended to look well-organised with properly dug trenches and positions for machine-guns, snipers and spotters. Their checkpoints tend to have sandbags for protection, rather than blocks of cement, which are easier to transport and set up but give less protection against gunfire because they tend to splinter upon the bullet’s impact. There is also evidence that the YPG receives training from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group that has decades of experience fighting the Turkish state. I met one PKK trainer in a town under YPG control who said he was teaching the YPG battlefield tactics.
3. Wide popular backing. The YPG’s political master, the Democratic Union Party or PYD, is not without its share of controversies and has plenty of detractors among the Kurds. But with only the YPG standing between the Islamists and the Kurdish towns, the militia is currently receiving plenty of genuine support from the population. This includes not only Kurds but Arabs and Christians, too, many of whom have much to fear from the rebels. The Kurdish areas are full of pictures of the YPG’s fallen, and funerals often turn into big celebrations that are not staged (though certainly encouraged). Contrast this with the enemy’s position: some of the rebel groups are feared, despised or even hated in the areas they control, partly because of the insecurity and corruption that have often followed them, and because the oppression some of the more extreme groups have instigated.
4. A powerful ideology. The YPG subscribes to a secular nationalism that has historically been highly effective as a force for mobilisation and war. Kurdish nationalism, which has so far been denied its own state, has a huge number of followers in the area and is less controversial than the ideology many rebels have subscribed to, political Islam. The Kurds’ ideology is also effective in that it doesn’t work to the exclusion of others: relations with the region’s minorities, Sunni Arabs and Christians, have so far been mostly good, thanks to the common enemy. Nationalism, of course, can easily turn into paranoid xenophobia, but so far there is not much evidence that this is happening.
5. A relatively open political system. The PYD has been often accused of cracking down on its political opponents and there is evidence that this has indeed been the case. That said, the political structure of the Kurdish autonomy is the most open in Syria right now, giving positions not just to the dominant PYD, but to its main political rival, the Kurdish National Council (itself an umbrella group of parties). In the recently announced temporary administration not just Kurds but also Christians have taken up positions. This helps ensure that representation—and therefore legitimacy and mobilisation—are on a far more solid ground than under the stifling dictatorship of the regime areas and the chaos of the rebel-controlled towns.
6. A good road network. The geographical shape of the Kurdish autonomy is in some sense unfortunate, being very wide and with a depth of only a few miles in places. Yet this also a source of luck, as there is a good paved road along the entire length of the area. This allows easy transport of troops and other assets from one part of the war zone to another. The entire of length of the autonomy can be travelled in half a day.
7. Access to fuel. Hasakah province is said to contain about 60 per cent of Syria’s (meagre) oil wealth. Not all of this is in Kurdish hands and most of the oil rigs are not working at the moment. That said, there is some refining going on, which provides the YPG with a reliable source of fuel for its trucks.
8. A safe and intact home front. The Kurds have so far avoided a clash with the government, which means they haven’t had to worry about airstrikes and artillery shelling. Many of Syria’s rebel-controlled cities, towns and villages have been reduced to rubble with little or no electricity and little food. These shortages always effect the civilians more than the fighters, but they still make it much harder to fight a war. They also tend to cause corruption and infighting, which the Kurds have so far been able to avoid.
9. Clever strategy. Many of the factors mentioned above stem from this. The Kurds have simple and clearly defined war aims—protecting and governing their own territories—and are focusing on the essentials to achieve this: running a single, well-organised security force, keeping hostiles—the Islamists and the FSA—out and compromising with those—the government—who present no immediate danger. They have also avoided looting and terrorising their own towns, unlike their opponents.
To be sure, the Kurds still face an uphill struggle. They are under embargo from all sides: the border crossings into Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan are closed, and until they can figure out the politics with their neighbours they will remain closed. This puts huge pressure on them economically and militarily. It is unclear where the YPG gets its weapons from but being under lockdown can’t be good. In this context, the recent capture of the Yaroubiya crossing into Iraq proper is a big success, because for the first time it gives them access to a non-hostile state.
The Kurds also face a well-supplied and dedicated—indeed fanatical—enemy that is unlikely to give up easily, though the recent government offensives in the west might refocus the rebels’ attention. The Kurds also have an odd relationship with the Syrian government, based essentially on a common enemy, the rebels. But this is not a real allience and could easily tip over. With the Syrian government still in control of an airfield and an artillery base in the middle of the Kurdish autonomy, things could quickly get ugly if that relationship breaks down.
Saudi Arabia intends to pursue an independent policy in the Arab world after the US resorted to a diplomatic solution to the Syria and Iran crises. The Saudi envoy to UK says the kingdom is ready to ensure “regional peace” without Western support.
The kingdom’s ambassador to London, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, said that the Western approach to the region is a “dangerous gamble” that jeopardizes stability in the Middle East. Instead Riyadh, a geopolitical rival of Iran and Syria, wants to independently arm the Syrian insurgents, saying the country “cannot remain silent, and will not stand idly by,” Abdulaziz wrote in a New York Times commentary.
The prince accused the US coalition of allowing “one regime to survive and the other to continue its program for uranium enrichment, with all the consequent dangers of weaponization."
In regards to Syria, Abdulaziz said that despite international effort to destroy the weapons of mass destruction the “West must see that the regime itself remains the greatest weapon of mass destruction of all.”
Saying that the kingdom has “global responsibilities,” Abdulaziz claimed that Riyadh “will act to fulfill these responsibilities, with or without the support of our Western partners.”
Despite standing “shoulder to shoulder” for years “this year, for all their talk of 'red lines,' when it counted, our partners have seemed all too ready to concede our safety and risk our region’s stability.”
Abdulaziz comments follow reports that Western diplomats hinted during a summit of opposition backers in London last week that they don’t really mind if Syrian President Bashar Assad stays in power, at least during a transition period.
“Our Western friends made it clear in London that Assad cannot be allowed to go now because they think chaos and an Islamist militant takeover would ensue,” an unnamed senior member of the Syrian National Coalition, close to officials from Saudi Arabia, told Reuters.
“Some do not even seem to mind if he runs again next year,” the source told Reuters, wondering whether the West has forgotten that Assad “gassed his own people.”
Reuters / Molhem Barakat
A rift between the countries’ foreign policy was also relevant on Sunday, when a former head of Saudi intelligence, Prince Turki al-Faisal, voiced concern that Saudi Arabia is being isolated from the diplomatic negotiations with Iran.
“It is important for us to sit down at the same table,” he said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.“We have been absent.” Speaking at World Policy Conference in Monaco same day he said, "What was surprising was that the talks that were going forward were kept from us.”"How can you build trust when you keep secrets from what are supposed to be your closest allies?"
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, a former Italian prime minister Massimo D'Alema blamed Saudi Arabia and Qatar for “supplying weapons and equipment” to the rebels in Syria, as cited by Itar-Tass.
In November, The Washington Post citing senior Gulf officials, reported that Saudi Arabia was trying to independently provide military support to the rebels after previously aligning itself with US interests in the region.
“The Saudis plan to expand training facilities they operate in Jordan and increase the firepower of arms sent to rebel groups that are fighting extremist elements among them even as they battle the Syrian government,” the paper reported.
The Post also reported that negotiations were under way between governments of setting up a “parallel operation” independent of the US.
Tuesday’s report by International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at King’s College estimated that over 1,000 Saudi fighters are fighting with the radicals in Syria from a total number of some 11 thousand, including many EU nationals.
The top five countries-contributors are all in the Middle East: with up to 2,089 from Jordan, followed by Saudi Arabia (1,016), Tunisia (970), Lebanon (890), and Libya (556).
A Free Syrian Army fighter runs to avoid snipers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in old Aleppo (Reuters / Mahmoud Hebbo )
Meanwhile, Russia and US continue their joint effort to stage the Geneva-2 conference set for 22 January 2014, which is aimed at bringing the sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiations table and find a diplomatic solution.
Abu Mohammed al Joulani, the leader of the Al-Nusra Front of up to 20,000 fighters, in an interview to Al Jazeera said that his group would not accept the outcome of the Geneva conference. The leader also cautioned Saudi Arabia against recently improved relations between the US and Iran.
“We will not recognize any results that come out of the Geneva-2 Conference, nor will the children or women of Syria. Those taking part in the conference do not represent the people who sacrificed and shed blood. Besides, who has authorized them to represent the people?”
“If the Assad regime remained in power, which is in the interest of the super powers and the Safavids, then the next target will be the Arabian Peninsula, now known as Saudi Arabia,” Joulani said.
Less than a week ago, jihadists from the Al-Nusra Front captured the town of Adra some 20 kilometers north of Damascus and carried out a brutal massacre of civilians. RT reported from the massacre site with witness accounts which tell horrific stories of people being burned alive and children slaughtered.
Al-Qaeda leader in Syria speaks to Al Jazeera
In his first-ever media interview, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, says conflict is nearing end.
Last updated: 19 Dec 2013 01:16
Al Jazeera's Tayseer Allouni met Abu Mohammed al-Joulani in an undisclosed location in Syria
The leader of al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, one of the most powerful groups in the war-torn country, has told Al Jazeera that that the conflict is nearing an end and that his fighters hold the upper hand.
In his first-ever televised interview, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, ruled out peace talks with President Bashar al-Assad and warned that Arab states should be cautious of the recent improvement of Iran-US ties.
“The battle is almost over, we have covered about 70 percent of it, and what's left is small. We will achieve victory soon. We pray to God to culminate these efforts with victory. It's only a matter of days,” he said in an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera’s Tayseer Allouni from an undisclosed location in Syria.
Al-Joulani added that al-Nusra - designated by the UN, the US and other western countries as a terrorist organisation - would not accept the outcome of the upcoming international conference in Geneva scheduled for January.
For the interview with Al Jazeera, al-Joulani asked that his face be hidden because of security fears. Little is known about the al-Qaeda leader, but it is believed that he had joined the self-declared jihadist group several years ago to fight US forces in Iraq.
Sunni states 'in jeopardy'
Al-Nusra, which wants to establish a Syrian state that is ruled under Islamic law (Sharia), keeps secret the number of its fighters in Syria, but estimates suggest that it could be anywhere between 5,000 up to 20,000 fighters and have strongholds in different parts of Syria.
Al-Joulani said his group is not seeking to rule a post-war Syria alone. Instead he said al-Nusra wants consultations with Muslim scholars and thinkers who supported the Syrian uprising, to draft a plan for running the country according to Sharia.
Known for using suicide attacks as part of its fight against Assad’s troops, al-Nusra, along with other Syrian rebel groups, has been accused by the UN of committing war crimes against government forces and civilians.
In his interview, al-Joulani warned that Sunni-led Arab states, such as Saudi Arabia, should be cautious of recently improved relations between the US and Iran.
Jabhat al-Nusra have strongholds in different parts of Syria
Last month, a breakthrough agreement was reached between Washington and Tehran, under which Iran would curb its atomic activities in return for some easing of the international sanctions that have battered the country’s economy.
“Those [Sunni-led] regimes are now running out of options as a result of the super powers turning against them. The ferocious tide of the Safavid [Iranian Shia] regime is now coming. All these states are now in jeopardy since the international community replaced them with a new ally, Iran."
The conflict in Syria, which began almost three years ago, has taken increasingly sectarian overtones.
Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, while most of the rebels trying to overthrow his regime belong to the Sunni majority.
“If the Assad regime remained in power, which is in the interest of the super powers and the Safavids, then the next target will be the Arabian Peninsula, now known as Saudi Arabia.”
The US and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies. But the recent improvement in relations between Washington and Tehran was one of the low points in US-Saudi ties.
“The majority of oil is located to the east of Saudi Arabia, in al-Ihsaa, Qateef, and Dammam. These areas would be targeted… taken away and given to the new ally, Iran”, al-Joulani warned.
Strict security measures
Al-Nusra suffered a blow in the recent months when hundreds of its foreign fighters defected with their weapons, to join another al-Qaeda linked group, known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
But along with other powerful rebel brigades, al-Nusra remains strong and does not recognise the Syrian opposition in exile.
“We will not recognise any results that come out of the Geneva 2 Conference, nor will the children or women of Syria do. Those taking part in the conference do not represent the people who sacrificed and shed blood. Besides, who has authorised them to represent the people ?
“Those are confined to newsrooms. In reality, they have no presence on the ground. We cannot allow the Geneva 2 game to fool the nation, to push us back 50 or 100 years,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Allouni is the first journalist to have met al-Joulani. He said he underwent strict security measures and was heavily searched ahead of the interview.
“The security measures were far stricter than those taken by the security team of Bin Laden,” Allouni said, referring to his interview with the now-deceased Osama bin Laden, the former al-Qaeda global leader, in 2001.
Translation and additional reporting by Basma Atassi
Syria rebels accused of torturing detainees
Amnesty International says rights abuses widespread in secret prisons run by al-Qaeda-linked group.
Last updated: 19 Dec 2013 05:35
Both sides in Syria's war have been accused of gross human-rights violations [AP]
Amnesty International has accused an al-Qaeda-linked group that controls large areas of northern Syria of torturing and killing detainees in secret prisons.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has "ruthlessly flouted the rights of local people", the rights group said in a report released on Thursday.
"Those abducted and detained [by ISIL] include children as young as eight who are held together with adults in the same cruel and inhuman conditions,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The report described individuals being seized by masked men, held for weeks on end in solitary confinement at unknown locations and tried by self-styled Sharia courts that mete out death or floggings with little if any due process.
It cited former detainees held in Raqqa and Aleppo provinces describing how they were flogged with rubber generator belts or cables, tortured with electric shocks or forced to adopt a painful stress position known as the scorpion, in which a detainee’s wrists are bound over one shoulder.
Amnesty said some people were detained for common crimes like theft while others were jailed for smoking, sex outside of marriage, or because they challenged ISIL's rule or belong to other armed groups.
It said a child of about 14 accused of stealing a motorbike was repeatedly flogged over several days.
The London-based group called on ISIL to end its "appalling treatment of detainees and for the group’s leaders to instruct their forces to respect human rights and abide by international humanitarian law".
It also called on Turkey and Gulf states - which support mainstream rebel groups - to take measures to prevent the flow of arms and aid to ISIL and other groups accused of human-rights violations.
In recent months, ISIL has kidnapped dozens of Syrian activists and news providers, as well as several foreign journalists.
ISIL has carried out scores of suicide bombings and other attacks in both Syria and Iraq.
It is believed to include large numbers of foreign fighters and aims to create an Islamic state that would supersede national borders.
Both sides in Syria's war have been accused of gross human-rights violations.
The UN General Assembly on Wednesday approved a resolution expressing outrage at "widespread and systematic gross violations" by Syrian authorities.
The resolution demands an end to all human-rights abuses, the immediate release of all detainees and immediate steps by the Syrian government to expand humanitarian relief operations.
More than 120,000 people have been killed since the uprising against the government of President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
Syria’s Islamic Front, a Salafist-dominated rebel faction, will not become the Obama Administration’s new official “US-backed” rebels any time soon, as the group has refused to have any talks with the US.
“The Islamic Front has refused to sit with us without giving any reason,” noted Ambassador Robert Ford, saying the US remains ready to “talk to all parties and political groups in Syria.”
The US interest in the Islamic Front comes as the previous “pro-US” faction, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) continues to lose territory and credibility. The US has cut off aid to the FSA since the Islamic Front seized several warehouses full of aid and chased FSA leader Gen. Idris out of the country.
Copies of the bill that Sens. Kirk, Menendez, and Schumer hope to introduce in the Senate this week — presumably to be pressed for passage after the Christmas/New Year recess — are circulating today around Washington, and, as predicted, it is clearly designed to sabotage last month’s first-phase deal (the Joint Plan of Action) on Tehran’s nuclear program, as well as prospects for a final agreement. The bill is called the Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, although I would prefer to call it the Wag the Dog Act of 2014, given the implicit discretion it gives to Bibi Netanyahu to commit the U.S. to war with Iran. Its key provisions, as described by the sponsors, are laid out at the end of this post.
A couple of very quick observations about the bill first:
1) Despite its prospective application, it is definitely a sanctions bill and thus violates at least the spirit — if not the letter — of the Joint Plan of Action.
2) It requires that any final agreement include the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities — a condition, which Iran has made clear repeatedly, is a non-starter.
3) As noted below, it expresses a “Sense of Congress” that “America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.” (Mind you, not against an actual or imminent attack, but against “Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” which, so far as Israel and the co-sponsors are concerned, Iran already has.) More specifically, the bill states:
…if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with the law of the United States and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence…
At least, Congress will have to approve an authorization to use military force (AUMF) before it can actually be employed.
4) As I’ve noted in past posts, the two main co-sponsors of this legislation are also two of the biggest recipients of campaign funding from “pro-Israel” political action committees (PACs) associated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in the U.S. Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets website. By a wide margin, Kirk was the biggest recipient of pro-Israel PAC money in Congress since 2002; in his most recent campaign (2012), Menendez received more than $340,000 from pro-Israel Pacs, beating out all other Senate candidates. Schumer, a major rainmaker for other Democratic candidates (which poses a very serious challenge to the Obama administration in keeping his party in line on any vote on this bill) ranked fifth in his 2010 race at more than $260,000, far behind Kirk, the year’s winner at nearly $640,000. Let there be no doubt about it: this bill was approved by AIPAC and is thus as close to the position of the Israeli government as its followers here believe will be politically palatable. (Saudi Arabia will also be pleased.)
There will likely be much more meticulous analyses of the Wag the Dog Act of 2014 that will no doubt point up other highly problematic elements, but here’s the summary of the bill that’s circulating on Capitol Hill today:
Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013
I. Findings and Sense of Congress.The bill expresses the following key principles:
1) The Government of Iran must not be allowed to develop or maintain nuclear weapon capabilities, and all instruments of power and influence of the United States should remain on the table to prevent the Government of Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities;
2) The Government of Iran does not have an absolute or inherent right to enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and technologies under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty;
3) A violation by Iran of any interim or final agreement with respect to the nuclear program of Iran should result in the immediate imposition of economic sanctions;
4) The United States should continue to enforce sanctions on the Government of Iran and its terrorist proxies for their continuing sponsorship of terrorism, ongoing abuses of human rights, and actions in support of Bashar al-Assad in Syria; and
5) America will have Israel’s back if Israel acts in self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program.
II. New Contingency-Based Sanctions to Protect Against Iranian Deception
The bill does not violate the Joint Plan of Action. New sanctions would only be imposed if Iran violates the interim agreement or does not reach a final agreement regarding its nuclear program. Such deceptive Iranian behavior would be met with the following new sanctions:
A) Sanctions on Condensates, Fuel Oil and other Unfinished Oils from Iran. Requires a significant reduction in the import of all petroleum products extracted, produced or refined in Iran, including lease condensates, fuel oils and other unfinished oils on top of crude oil.
B) Reductions in purchases of Iranian petroleum to de minimis levels. To avoid sanctions, countries must at a minimum reduce their purchases of Iranian-based petroleum products by 30% within one year and further reduce purchases to de minimis levels within two years.
C) Strategic Sector Sanctions on Iran’s Engineering, Mining, and Construction Sectors.Expands business and financial sanctions targeting Iran’s strategic economic sectors to include Iran’s engineering, manufacturing, and mining sectors.
D) Sanctions on Foreign Exchange Transaction by Designated Iranian Actors. Imposes sanctions with respect to transactions in foreign currencies with or for the Central Bank of Iran, a designated financial institution, or a person that is part of a strategic sector of Iran.
E) Sanctions on Countries Illicitly Diverting Goods to Iran. Authorizes sanctions against countries permitting diversion of goods and services to Iran that may be used to make a material contribution to Iran’s development of nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons; ballistic missile or advanced conventional weapons capabilities; support for terrorism; or a strategic sector of Iran.
F) Sanctions on Human Rights Abusers, Sanctions Evaders & Other Illicit Actors. Requires visa denial and asset blocking of those enabling Iran to evade sanctions, as well as senior officials of the Office of the Supreme Leader, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, the Council of Ministers, Ministries of Defenses and Justice, and others.
III. Suspension of Sanctions – Explaining the Contingencies
A) During the first 180 days of negotiations, the President can suspend the sanctions contained in this bill so long as he certifies to Congress every 30 days that—
Iran is complying with and transparently, fully, and verifiably implementing the provisions of the Joint Plan of Action and Iran has not breached the terms of or any commitment made pursuant to the Plan;
any suspension or relief of sanctions provided to Iran pursuant to the Joint Plan of Action are temporary, reversible, and proportionate to the specific and verifiable steps taken by Iran with respect to terminating its illicit nuclear program and related weaponization activities;
Iran has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or U.S. persons or property;
Iran has not conducted a ballistic missile test with a range exceeding 500 km; and
the suspension of sanctions is vital to the national security of the United States.
B) After these 180 days are up, 2 additional 30 day periods –
If the President certifies the above and certifies that a final agreement is imminent (and that such agreement will fully and verifiably dismantle Iran’s illicit nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology), sanctions can be delayed for another 30 days;
Then, if the President certifies the above AND certifies that such a final agreement with Iran is still imminent, sanctions can be delayed for another 30-day period.
C) If after this total period of 240 days there still is no final agreement with Iran as described above, sanctions are re-imposed, but President can waive sanctions for 120 more days. The bill provides the President with four 30-day national security waivers to delay the sanctions – ending at the 1-year mark from the start date of this bill. Sanctions must be re-imposed thereafter.
D) If at any time the President cannot certify the criteria listed above (that is, Iran violates the interim agreement or no final agreement is imminent after 180 days) –
sanctions waived or suspended under the interim agreement are re-imposed; and
the new sanctions in this bill must be implemented.
E) If a final agreement with Iran over its nuclear program is reached –
Subject to a Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, the President may suspend new sanctions for one-year if he certifies to the Congress that a final and verifiable agreement has been reached with Iran that will
i. dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, including enrichment and reprocessing capabilities and facilities, the heavy water reactor and production plant at Arak, and any nuclear weapon components and technology, such that Iran is precluded from a nuclear breakout capability and prevented from pursuing both uranium and plutonium pathways to a nuclear weapon;
ii. bring Iran into compliance with all United Nations Security Council resolutions related to Iran’s nuclear program, including Resolutions 1696 (2006), 1737 (2006), 1747 (2007), 1803 (2008), 1835 (2008), and 1929 (2010), with a view toward bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the Security Council’s consideration of matters relating to Iran’s nuclear program;
iii. resolve all issues of past and present concern with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program;
iv. permit continuous, around the clock, on-site inspection, verification, and monitoring of all suspect facilities in Iran, including installation and use of any compliance verification equipment requested by the IAEA, so that any effort by Iran to produce a nuclear weapon would be quickly detected; and
v. require Iran’s full implementation of and compliance with its Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA, including modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements to the Agreement, ratification and implementation of the Protocol Additional to the Agreement Between Iran and the IAEA for the Application of Safeguards in Connection with the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, done at Vienna December 18, 2003 (commonly referred to as the ‘‘Additional Protocol’’), and Iran’s implementation of steps in addition to the Additional Protocol that include IAEA verification of Iran’s centrifuge manufacturing facilities, including raw materials and components, and Iran’s uranium mines and mills.
If Congress enacts the Joint Resolution of Congressional Disapproval, any sanctions suspended under a final agreement would be re-imposed.
Additional 1-Year Suspension PeriodsIf Congress does not disapprove, the President must still renew the suspension of sanctions every year by certifying that Iran is complying with the final agreement criteria described above.
IV. Expedited Processing of Religious Minorities Fleeing Iran: Re-authorizes the Lautenberg Amendment, which expired earlier this year, until September 30, 2014.
What are President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry up to with Iran? First they boasted of a historic interim agreement with Iran regarding its civilian nuclear program — an agreement which demonstrates that the Islamic Republic won’t be making nuclear weapons — something it has shown no inclination to do anyway. Then they prevailed on the U.S. Senate to hold off on imposing more economic sanctions on the Iranian people before there’s been a chance to move from the six-month interim pact to a permanent agreement.
But there have been conflicting signals. While ostensibly defending the interim agreement before a pro-Israel audience at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, Obama put the chances of a permanent agreement at only 50 percent. Why the lack of optimism, given the recent successful round of negotiations? Was he playing the Israel card — the White House is in close consultation with Israeli officials — when he instead ought to be going out of his way to make sure that no war with Iran will occur? (Obama has repeatedly said “all options are on the table,” including military force.)
And as if that weren’t bad enough, his administration risked sabotaging the talks between Iran and the P5+1 by imposing new sanctions on over a dozen companies that do business with Iran (right before telling the Senate to hold off). The move initially prompted Iran to leave the negotiations, charging the United States with violating the spirit of the interim agreement, which is supposed to give slight sanctions relief in return for substantial Iranian concessions. Fortunately, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, now says Iran will continue to negotiate.
Why the new sanctions after blocking the Senate from doing essentially the same thing?
“Today’s actions should be a stark reminder to businesses, banks and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions, even as we explore the possibility of a long-term, comprehensive resolution of our concerns with Iran’s nuclear program,” said Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, the sanctions tsar. “Iran is still off limits.”
Do Obama and Kerry want peace with Iran or not? If so, they have a funny way of showing it.
The danger of Obama’s policy should be obvious. If Iranian officials come to believe that no matter what they do, U.S.-led economic warfare against the Iranian people — for sanctions are nothing less than this — will continue, the hope of a thaw in the absurd cold war will be dashed, and war could follow.
Iran has not been making — and has no intention of making — a nuclear bomb. U.S. and Israeli intelligence say so repeatedly. Just the same, Iran is bending over backwards to demonstrate this to the satisfaction of the U.S. and other governments, to the point that it has agreed to permit daily inspections of its facilities and to render its 20 percent–enriched uranium useless for weapons purposes. In exchange for these major steps, the interim agreement provides the most modest change in the sanctions regime, including freeing up a small amount of the Iranian assets that have been frozen for many years.
What does Iran get in return for this show of good will? New sanctions by the U.S. administration after consultation with Israel, which along with the United States has conducted covert and proxy war against Iran for decades.
This is disgraceful behavior from a Nobel Peace Prize winner, isn’t it?
Sanctions are an attack on blameless people. “The existing sanctions regime is inflicting hardship on millions of innocent Iranians, people as decent as the US citizens,” writes Peter Jenkins, former UK ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Administration. “Iran’s new government is signalling for all to see that it has no intention of ever posing a nuclear threat. So sanctions have become redundant, an unjust superfluity.”
“Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country’s top medical charity has warned,”reports the Guardian. “Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a non-government organisation supporting six million patients in Iran, has complained about a serious shortage of medicines for a number of diseases such as haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer.”