22 May 2018   Leave a comment

Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel have done an interesting and bold analysis of the human impact on the natural environment over time.  The study is important because it places the human impact of climate change in context:  many climate change deniers believe that it is unlikely that human activity could change the global environment because the environment is determined by many other–and in their minds, more substantial–effects.  The researchers–Yinon M. Bar-OnRob Phillips, and Ron Milo–have found that humans have had a profound effect on the planet.    The research–which is rooted in a number of assumptions that deserve close inspection–found that

“The world’s 7.6 billion people represent only 0.01% of all living things, according to researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. However, our impact on nature is disproportionately huge. After Ron Milo and colleagues in Israel estimated all of the different components of biomass, they eventually calculated that humans have caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants….The researchers estimate that of all birds on the planet, 70% are farmed poultry, with just 30% being wild. For mammals, the picture is even grimmer: 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are the humans themselves, and a mere 4% are wild mammals.

“Five-sixths of wild land animals have been lost since the industrial revolution began, over than a century and a half ago. Meanwhile, in the oceans, three centuries of whaling and aggressive fishing have reduced marine mammals to a fifth of what they were.”

The research suggests that “about half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the last 50 years.”

 

Weather and violent conflicts account for most of the world’s refugees.  About 12 million people last year were displaced by weather events and 18 million because of violent conflicts.  That means that about 80,000 people lost their homes every day in 2017.  Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the top two countries responsible for refugees, but there are only incomplete counts for Yemen because of the violence in that country.   The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) is an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) that attempts to monitor the flow of refugees in the world and their website contains a wealth of information about people that are generally forgotten by most in the world.

 

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has given a speech in which he outlines a number of steps to which the Iranian government must agree in order to revive US participation in a nuclear agreement.  Those demands were as follows:

  • Declare to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a full account of the prior military dimensions of its nuclear programme and permanently and verifiably abandon such work in perpetuity.
  • Stop enrichment and never pursue plutonium reprocessing, including closing its heavy water reactor.
  • Provide the IAEA with unqualified access to all sites throughout the entire country.
  • End its proliferation of ballistic missiles and halt further launching or development of nuclear-capable missile systems.
  • Release all US citizens as well as citizens of US partners and allies.
  • End support to Middle East “terrorist” groups, including HezbollahHamas and Islamic Jihad.
  • Respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi government and permit the disarming, demobilisation and reintegration of Shia militias.
  • End its military support for the Houthi rebels and work towards a peaceful, political settlement in Yemen.
  • Withdraw all forces under Iran’s command throughout the entirety of Syria.
  • End support for the Taliban and other “terrorists” in Afghanistan and the region and cease harbouring senior al-Qaeda leaders.
  • End the Islamic Revolutionary Guard corps-linked Quds Force’s support for “terrorists” and “militant” partners around the world.
  • End its threatening behaviour against its neighbours, many of whom are US allies, including its threats to destroy Israel and its firing of missiles at Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, and threats to international shipping and destructive cyberattacks.

This list is symptomatic of profound delirium.  It appears as if the list of demands are calculated to ensure Iranian non-cooperation since they essentially demand that Iran agree to submit its foreign policy to American interests.  The step suggests that the only recourse for the US is to use violence to achieve its ends with respect to Iran.

For those who like to make analogies with history, here is the list of similarly unreasonable demands made by the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to Serbia after the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand in July of 1914:

“In order to attain this end, the Imperial and Royal Government finds itself compelled to demand that the Serbian Government give official assurance that it will condemn the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Monarchy territories that belong to it; and that it will obligate itself to suppress with all the means at its command this criminal and terroristic propaganda. In order to give these assurances a character of solemnity, the Royal Serbian Government will publish on the first page of its official organ of July 26/13, the following declaration:

“The Royal Serbian Government condemns the propaganda directed against Austria-Hungary, that is to say, the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro- Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it, and it most sincerely regrets the dreadful consequences of these criminal transactions.

“The Royal Serbian Government regrets that Serbian officers and officials should have taken part in the above-mentioned propaganda and thus have endangered the friendly and neighborly relations, to the cultivation of which the Royal Government had most solemnly pledged itself by its declarations of March 31, 1909.

“The Royal Government, which disapproves and repels every idea and every attempt to interfere in the destinies of the population of whatever portion of Austria-Hungary, regards it as its duty most expressly to call attention of the officers, officials, and the whole population of the kingdom to the fact that for the future it will proceed with the utmost rigor against any persons who shall become guilty of any such activities, activities to prevent and to suppress which, the Government will bend every effort.”

“This declaration shall be brought to the attention of the Royal army simultaneously by an order of the day from His Majesty the King, and by publication in the official organ of the army.

“The Royal Serbian Government will furthermore pledge itself:

1. to suppress every publication which shall incite to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy, and the general tendency of which shall be directed against the territorial integrity of the latter;

2. to proceed at once to the dissolution of the Narodna Odbrana to confiscate all of its means of propaganda, and in the same manner to proceed against the other unions and associations in Serbia which occupy themselves with propaganda against Austria-Hungary; the Royal Government will take such measures as are necessary to make sure that the dissolved associations may not continue their activities under other names or in other forms;

3. to eliminate without delay from public instruction in Serbia, everything, whether connected with the teaching corps or with the methods of teaching, that serves or may serve to nourish the propaganda against Austria-Hungary;

4. to remove from the military and administrative service in general all officers and officials who have been guilty of carrying on the propaganda against Austria-Hungary, whose names the Imperial and Royal Government reserves the right to make known to the Royal Government when communicating the material evidence now in its possession;

5. to agree to the cooperation in Serbia of the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government in the suppression of the subversive movement directed against the integrity of the Monarchy;

6. to institute a judicial inquiry against every participant in the conspiracy of the twenty-eighth of June who may be found in Serbian territory; the organs of the Imperial and Royal Government delegated for this purpose will take part in the proceedings held for this purpose;

7. to undertake with all haste the arrest of Major Voislav Tankosic and of one Milan Ciganovitch, a Serbian official, who have been compromised by the results of the inquiry;

8. by efficient measures to prevent the participation of Serbian authorities in the smuggling of weapons and explosives across the frontier; to dismiss from the service and to punish severely those members of the Frontier Service at Schabats and Losnitza who assisted the authors of the crime of Sarajevo to cross the frontier;

9. to make explanations to the Imperial and Royal Government concerning the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian functionaries in Serbia and abroad, who, without regard for their official position, have not hesitated to express themselves in a manner hostile toward Austria-Hungary since the assassination of the twenty-eighth of June;

10. to inform the Imperial and Royal Government without delay of the execution of the measures comprised in the foregoing points.”

We all know the outcome of this ultimatum.

 

 

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Posted May 22, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

11 May 2018   Leave a comment

Peter Harrell has written an essay for Foreign Affairs on the difficulties the US will have re-imposing sanctions on Iran.  Unfortunately, Foreign Affairs has a harsh paywall so I will quote extensively from it because Harrell has information about which I was unaware.  One of the more interesting bits of evidence was that the Europeans have figured a possible way to avoid financial sanctions that might come about if the US tried to penalize companies and governments that continue to trade and invest with Iran:  “A determined Europe could take steps to undermine the impact of U.S. unilateral sanctions, such as routing Iran-related financial transactions through the European Central Bank.”  That course of action would undoubtedly roil the global financial infrastructure and I have doubts about whether the European Central Bank would be willing to defy the US Treasury Department.  But Harrell argues that there are strong incentives to maintain current economic relations:

“Since sanctions were suspended in early 2016, however, Iran’s oil exports have rebounded, reaching approximately two million barrels per day in 2017. China and India are the largest importers, with South Korea, Japan, and several European states also buying significant quantities of Iranian crude. China appears particularly unlikely to reduce its purchases of Iranian crude, given heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington over bilateral trade and investment issues.

“Trump will also face significant diplomatic hurdles in Europe, where trade with Iran has surged since the JCPOA went into force. From 2015 to 2017, European imports from Iran rose by nearly 800 percent (primarily driven by renewed European imports of Iranian oil), while European exports to Iran rose by more than four billion euros ($5 billion) annually over the same period. Major European companies have also resumed investing in Iran: France’s Total, for example, has announced plans to invest $1 billion in one of Iran’s largest offshore gas fields. Although European governments broadly supported sanctions on Iran between 2010 and 2016, governments today would resist pressure to curb oil imports and trade with Iran given anger at Trump for withdrawing from the JCPOA and ongoing U.S.-EU tensions over trade policy.”

Europe would probably have strong support from China and Russia which have already indicated that they will not support the re-imposition of sanctions.

 

Satellite radar imaging, called SAR (synthetic aperture radar) has been conducted on Mt. Mantap at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site for North Korea.   According to the British newspaperThe Express: “Thermal imagery, radar snapshots and seismic readings from before and after the nuclear test, reveal the mountain’s surface was pushed upwards by 11 feet and crumbled down by 20 inches.”  North Korea had announced that it had paused testing at the site in advance of the summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim and US President Trump.  But it may be the case that the testing site is no longer viable. 

six bomb tests on Mt. Mantap, North Korea

 

The upcoming week in Israel, the West Bank, and Iran merits close attention. 13 May is “Jerusalem Day” in Israel as Israelis celebrate their control over the city.  The holiday is an occasion where parades are conducted by Israeli nationalists to demonstrate their deep commitment to the city and those parades have invariably enraged the Palestinian residents of the city.  That holiday will be followed by the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem which has also rouse the ire of Palestinians.  According to Neri Zilber in The Atlantic: “A large dedication ceremony is planned, with dozens of U.S. lawmakers, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, set to attend. The chosen date was no coincidence: It falls on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, with Washington now recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”  The Palestinians view 15 May as Nabka (“catastrophe”) Day which for them represents their displacement from land they consider their own upon the creation of the state of Israel 70 years ago.   That day also is the final day of the protests in the Gaza Strip which have been organized by Hamas to call the world’s attention to the dire situation of Palestinians in the Gaza.  Over 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire since the protests began on 30 March.   Finally at sundown on 15 May the holy month of Ramadan begins for the world’s Muslims.  Ramadan has often been the occasion of protests against Israeli control of the Occupied Territories.  On top of all of these events, the prospect of continued fighting between Israel and Iran over the situation in Syria and the Golan Heights remains highly likely.

Posted May 11, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

10 May 2018   Leave a comment

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a speech in which the divisions between Europe and the United States became glaringly obvious.  Merkel is quoted as saying: “It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands. That’s the task of the future.”  The speech came after the US pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal and as Merkel and French President Macron began efforts to preserve the agreement even without the participation of the US.  Much depends on whether the US imposes sanctions on European companies if they continue to trade with Iran.  The extra-territorial reach of US law would be intolerable, but most companies do more business outside of Iran than within it and would therefore have little choice but to drop their Iranian contacts.  The divide between the US and Europe is reflected in the growing trade disputes between the Union and the US in addition to the US withdrawal from the Paris climate accords.  The US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and its threats to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) also raise serious questions about whether the US can be considered a reliable partner in any agreement.

 

We need to wait know how the US intends to implement sanctions against Iran now that it has withdrawn from the JCPOA.  There is, however, a clear worst case in which the US imposes sanctions on any government or company that conducts business with Iran, including barring those entities from participating in the global financial transaction network know as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT).  According to the SWIFT website:

“SWIFT is a global member-owned cooperative and the world’s leading provider of secure financial messaging services.

“We provide our community with a platform for messaging, standards for communicating and we offer products and services to facilitate access and integration; identification, analysis and regulatory compliance.

“Our messaging platform, products and services connect more than 11,000 banking and securities organisations, market infrastructures and corporate customers in more than 200 countries and territories. Whilst SWIFT does not hold funds or manage accounts on behalf of customers, we enable our global community of users to communicate securely, exchanging standardised financial messages in a reliable way, thereby facilitating global and local financial flows, and supporting trade and commerce all around the world.”

In 2012 the US Congress persuaded SWIFT to exclude Iranian banks from participating in the SWIFT network.  According to Wikipedia:

“In January 2012, the advocacy group United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) implemented a campaign calling on SWIFT to end all relations with Iran’s banking system, including the Central Bank of Iran. UANI asserted that Iran’s membership in SWIFT violated U.S. and EU financial sanctions against Iran as well as SWIFT’s own corporate rules.

“Consequently, in February 2012, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee unanimously approved sanctions against SWIFT aimed at pressuring the Belgian financial telecommunications network to terminate its ties with blacklisted Iranian banks. Expelling Iranian banks from SWIFT would potentially deny Iran access to billions of dollars in revenue and spending using SWIFT but not from using IVTSMark Wallace, president of UANI, praised the Senate Banking Committee.

“Initially SWIFT denied it was acting illegally, but now says “it is working with U.S. and European governments to address their concerns that its financial services are being used by Iran to avoid sanctions and conduct illicit business.” Targeted banks would be—amongst others—Saderat Bank of IranBank MellatPost Bank of Iran and Sepah Bank On 17 March 2012, following agreement two days earlier between all 27 member states of the Council of the European Union and the Council’s subsequent ruling, SWIFT disconnected all Iranian banks from its international network that had been identified as institutions in breach of current EU sanctions and warned that even more Iranian financial institutions could be disconnected from the network.

“In February 2016, most Iranian banks reconnected to the network following lift of sanctions on Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

United Against Nuclear Iran is a private advocacy group and thus we know little about how it is funded.  But Eli Clifton wrote an article for The Nation on the group in which he stated:

“Nearly one-third of anti-Iran pressure group United Against Nuclear Iran’s 2013 budget came from the country’s foremost Republican megadonor, a man who invested a reported $98 million to defeat Barack Obama in the 2012 election, casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Adelson routed his $500,000 donation to UANI through his family foundation, according to tax documents.”

Adelson was a very strong supporter of the decision to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

If the US implements similar types of sanctions on Iran, then the implications for oil prices could be significant.  When the earlier sanctions were imposed in 2011 and 2012, oil production in Iran plummeted.  The impact of the Iranian decline, however, was mitigated at that time by increased US production because of fracking but also because economic demand for oil was suppressed because global economic growth was so sluggish.  This time, however, supplies of oil are much tighter.  Economic growth is more robust and oil production in Venezuela, Libya, and Nigeria is well below normal because of political turmoil.

Oil prices currently are at their highest level in three years.   The Bank of America predicted today that oil prices could soon reach $100 per barrel from its current level of $71 per barrel.  One of the chief beneficiaries of such a high price for oil will be Russia and Vladimir Putin.

 

Posted May 10, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

9 May 2018   Leave a comment

There are reports that Israeli and Iranian forces have exchanged fire in Syria, around the Golan Heights.  ZeroHedge  has written up a timeline of the most recent events:

1. Trump withdraws from Iran Nuclear Deal

2.Israel Instantly activates bomb Shelters in Golan Heights

3.Israel reports unusual Iranian activity in Syria border areas

4. Sources/Reports begin discussing imminent threat of Iranian led attacks on Israel from Syria

5. Israel strikes Al-Kisweh industrial area around Damascus with two rockets

6. Syrian State Media claims two further rockets were downed

7. Reports that Eight Iranians among 15 foreign pro-government fighters were killed in the attack which took place yesterday

8. Israel continues a steady build up of troops/tanks on Syrian border this morning

9. Heavy Israeli air activity over the Golan Heights today

10. Israeli rocket flies over Qunaitra going towards Damascus, Syrian air defense fired at it

11. Reports claim that the rocket was downed South East of Damascus, Israeli Jets still heavily present in the skies

12. Numerous artillery and mortar strikes from Israel targeted areas around Al-Baath City in Qunaitra province

13. Israeli Tanks firing at Syrian positions also, no reports of casualties so far

14. Sirens reportedly heard on Israeli side of border

15. Numerous Israeli strikes now reported in Hadar in Qunaitra

16. Syrian air defense firing at Israeli rockets targeting Hadar in Qunaitra.

17. Al- Mayadeen reporting numerous Syrian army strikes (Mortars, Artillery) on Israeli positions near border with Syria. Most of the Syrian missiles fired at #Israel were reportedly intercepted by the Iron Dome

18. Pro Gov Al-Mayadeen stating that 4 Israeli locations have been targeted

19. Reports of more Israeli strikes on Hadar in Qunaitra

The Washington Post provides additional information about the strikes which follow a series of strikes several weeks ago by Israeli forces which reportedly killed Iranian militiaIsraeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with Russian President Putin presumably to discuss the Israeli attacks against Iranian forces.  Iran and Russia both support the Syrian government of President Assad, but Russian and Iranian interests are not completely consistent in the region.  Netanyahu is likely assuring Putin that Israeli attacks will not compromise the pro-Assad alliance even though the attacks will undoubtedly weaken Iran in Syria.  At the same time, Iranian-backed Houthi Rebels in Yemen fired missiles toward the Suadi Arabian capital city, Riyadh.

Map of Parts of the Golan Heights

 

Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has won a shocking victory over incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak in national elections.  Mahathir’s party won 115 seats in the Parliament, three more that the majority necessary to form a government.  It appears as if charges of corruption against Razak persuaded Malaysians to change the government.   Mahathir had been Prime Minister for 22 years and he is now the oldest leader in the world at the age of 92.  Razak,  has been in office since 2009 and his party, Barisan Nasional (National Front), has held power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1957.

 

In Italy, the 5-Star Movement, an anti-establishment party pioneered by an Italian comedian, has joined forces with the far-right party, the League (once known as the Northern League) have reportedly reached agreement to form a coalition government.  The agreement comes after 9 weeks of political wrangling after an inconclusive national election.  There is still more political maneuvering before the agreement comes into force, and it is unclear what the new government hopes to accomplish.  But the stalemate was becoming dangerous for Italy’s financial standing and there was no evidence that any other alternative was possible.  We shall see how stable the new government is.

Posted May 9, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

8 May 2018   Leave a comment

US President Trump has announced that the US will withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Program of Action (JCPOA–the Iran Nuclear Agreement).  Here is a transcript of his speech with my annotations to the President’s comments.

My overview:  One can believe everything that President Trump said about Iran that threatens US and global security.  Yesterday, all those concerns were valid BUT Iran was constrained from developing nuclear weapons until at least 2025.  And all US intelligence verified that Iran was adhering to those constraints.  Tomorrow, all those concerns may be valid BUT Iran is free to develop nuclear weapons without any constraints whatsoever.  There was nothing in President Trump’s speech that suggested a plan to either tame Iranian behavior or to prevent its immediate pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Is the world better off tomorrow than it was yesterday?

We should also be aware that it is the US that is breaking the agreement, not Iran.  Since the US cannot identify any breach of the agreement by Iran, then the US withdrawal without a good reason is itself a breach.  The credibility of the US is now open to question.  What does its signature on an agreement really mean?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: My fellow Americans, Today, I want to update the world on our efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The Iranian regime is the leading state sponsor of terror. It exports dangerous missiles, fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terrorist proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

President Trump does not acknowledge that it was US action that gave Iran a decisive role in Middle East politics.  The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who was an ardent foe of Iran and fought a disastrous war against Iran from 1980-88, in 2003 created an opportunity for Iran to increase its influence in the predominantly Shia population of Iraq.  Hussein was a bulwark of Sunni interests in the Middle East, protecting Saudi Arabia and, coincidentally, Israel.

Iran is a sworn enemy of the Taliban and al Qaeda.  They support Sunni regimes.  Iran supports Shia regimes.

Over the years, Iran and its proxies have bombed American Embassies and military installations, murdered hundreds of American service members, and kidnapped, imprisoned, and tortured American citizens.

The 1998 United States embassy bombings in Uganda and Kenya were committed by Egyptian terrorists.  Egypt is an ally of the US.  A pro-Iranian group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organization took responsibility for the bombing of the US Embassy in Lebanon in 1983.  It was never established that the Iranian government was involved in that attack.

The Iranian regime has funded its long reign of chaos and terror by plundering the wealth of its own people.

No action taken by the regime has been more dangerous than its pursuit of nuclear weapons — and the means of delivering them.

In 2015, the previous administration joined with other nations in a deal regarding Iran’s nuclear program. This agreement was known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or J.C.P.O.A.

In theory, the so-called “Iran deal” was supposed to protect the United States and our allies from the lunacy of an Iranian nuclear bomb, a weapon that will only endanger the survival of the Iranian regime.

In fact, the deal allowed Iran to continue enriching uranium and — over time —reach the brink of a nuclear breakout.

The key phrase is “over time”.  Iranian enrichment has verifiably stopped but those constraints will begin to end in 2025.  That gives the world 7 years to work on persuading Iran to continue to adhere to the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  After President Trump’s announcement toady, those 7 years could be lost.  As of yet, we do not know if Iran will begin to enrich Uranium again because of the US action.  It may, however, continue to adhere to the agreement in order to persuade Europe, China, and Russia to not follow the US lead.   We will soon find out.

The deal lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for very weak limits on the regime’s nuclear activity — and no limits at all on its other malign behavior, including its sinister activities in Syria, Yemen, and other places all around the world.

It is not clear that any agreement could ever have been reached that prevented Iran from aiding its allies or working on ballistic missiles capable of carrying conventionally armed warheads.  Today, it remains unclear if those objectives are achievable.  President Trump gave no indication of a plan to achieve those objectives.

In other words, at the point when the United States had maximum leverage, this disastrous deal gave this regime — and it’s a regime of great terror — many billions of dollars, some of it in actual cash — a great embarrassment to me as a citizen and to all citizens of the United States.

President Trump neglected to note that these billions of dollars were Iranian money that been frozen in US banks.  The US did not “give” the money to Iran;  it returned the money to Iran.

A constructive deal could easily have been struck at the time, but it wasn’t.

Again, it is easy to say that a deal could “easily” have been struck.  Details of a plan are necessary to be persuaded.

At the heart of the Iran deal was a giant fiction: that a murderous regime desired only a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Today, we have definitive proof that this Iranian promise was a lie.

Note the use of the present tense.

Last week, Israel published intelligence documents — long concealed by Iran — conclusively showing the Iranian regime and its history of pursuing nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s presentation used documents that were all written before 2007.  The world was well aware of Iranian plans after 2003 but Iran decided not to develop nuclear bombs although it continued to develop the technology and resource base for nuclear bombs.  One should not look at the Iranian program in isolation, however.  Iran was surrounded by nuclear armed powers:  Russia, China, Pakistan, India, and Israel.  In addition, US forces were on Iranian borders in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan and all US forces had access to nuclear weapons.  In that context, the pursuit of a nuclear capability does not necessarily indicate offensive intentions.

More importantly, all US intelligence agencies were in agreement that Iran had adhered to the agreement on enrichment.  The US officials that have testified publicly about that assessment include Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John Hyten, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, General Paul Selva, Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Lieutenant General Vincent R. Stewart, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and current Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo.

The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.

In the years since the deal was reached, Iran’s military budget has grown by almost 40 percent — while its economy is doing very badly. After the sanctions were lifted, the dictatorship used its new funds to build its nuclear-capable missiles, support terrorism, and cause havoc throughout the Middle East and beyond.

The agreement was so poorly negotiated that even if Iran fully complies, the regime can still be on the verge of a nuclear breakout in just a short period of time.

The deal’s sunset provisions are totally unacceptable.

Probably better than zero days.

If I allowed this deal to stand, there would soon be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Everyone would want their weapons ready by the time Iran had theirs.

Making matters worse, the deal’s inspection provisions lack adequate mechanisms to prevent, detect, and punish cheating and don’t even have the unqualified right to inspect many important locations, including military facilities.

The inability to inspect military facilities is a feature of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.  No signatory to the NPT ever gave rights to the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect military sites.  That exclusion was demanded by the US in 1968 as a condition for its signature.  Why should Iran be the only country required to open up its military bases to outsiders?

Not only does the deal fail to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but it also fails to address the regime’s development of ballistic missiles that could deliver nuclear warheads.

Finally, the deal does nothing to constrain Iran’s destabilizing activities, including its support for terrorism.

Since the agreement, Iran’s bloody ambitions have grown only more brazen. In light of these glaring flaws, I announced last October that the Iran deal must either be renegotiated or terminated.

Three months later, on January 12th, I repeated these conditions. I made clear that if the deal could not be fixed, the United States would no longer be a party to the agreement.

Over the past few months, we have engaged extensively with our allies and partners around the world, including France, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

This history, if accurate suggests that no amount of negotiation will ever attain the objectives that President Trump desires.  If previous negotiations have been sincerely pursued and failed, then if President still wants to attain those objectives, then the only alternative is war. 

We have also consulted with our friends from across the Middle East. We are unified in our understanding of the threat and in our conviction that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.

After these consultations, it is clear to me that we cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement. The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen.

Which may be the same thing that will now happen. 

In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.

Therefore, I am announcing today that the United States will withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

In a few moments, I will sign a presidential memorandum to begin reinstating U.S. nuclear sanctions on the Iranian regime. We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanction. Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.

We do not know exactly what this means.  All of the partners to the JCPOA have signed oil contracts with Iran.  Does this mean that the US will penalize Germany, France, and Great Britain for buying Iranian oil?  Switzerland, China, Pakistan, India, and Italy have also bought oil from Iran.  Will they be punished?  Does Trump’s threat include the exclusion of Iran from The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) which would prevent Iranian banks from engaging in international financial transactions?  Iranian banks were invited back into SWIFT in February 2016 after the JCPOA was signed.  Will SWIFT, which is based in Belgium, follow an American demand to exclude Iranian banks in the absence of a clear violation by Iran of the JCPOA?

America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. And we will not allow a regime that chants “Death to America” to gain access to the most deadly weapons on Earth.

Today’s action sends a critical message. The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them. In fact, at this very moment, Secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. Plans are being made, relationships are building.

A very interesting pivot.  We will see how the US decision affects the upcoming summit between the US and North Korea.  As I posted on 27 April, I am quite skeptical of any agreement on denuclearization. 

Hopefully, a deal will happen, and with the help of China, South Korea, and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone.

As we exit the Iran deal, we will be working with our allies to find a real, comprehensive, and lasting solution to the Iranian nuclear threat. This will include efforts to eliminate the threat of Iran’s ballistic missile program, to stop its terroristactivities worldwide, and to block its menacing activity across the Middle East.

In the meantime, powerful sanction also go into full effect. If the regime continues its its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before. Finally, I want to deliver a message to the long-suffering people of Iran.

The people of America stand with you.

The people of Iran remember that the US helped to overthrow the Iranian government in 1953.  And that the US invaded Iran to rescue American hostages in in 1980.

It has now been almost 40 years since this dictatorship seized power and took a proud nation hostage. Most of Iran’s 80 million citizens have sadly never known an Iran that prospered in peace with its neighbors and commanded the admiration of the world.

But the future of Iran belongs to its people. They are the rightful heirs to a rich culture and an ancient land, and they deserve a nation that does justice to their dreams, honor to their history and glory to God.
Iran’s leaders will naturally say that they refuse to negotiate a new deal. They refuse, and that’s fine. I’d probably say the same thing if I was in their position. But the fact is, they are going to want to make a new and lasting deal, one that benefitsall of Iran and the Iranian people.

When they do, I am ready, willing, and able. Great things can happen for Iran.

And great things can happen for the peace and stability that we all want in the Middle East. There has been enough suffering, death, and destruction. Let it end now. Thank you. God bless you. Thank you.

Posted May 8, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

7 May 2018   Leave a comment

Spiegel has published an article on US President Trump’s strategy in pursuing what looks like a trade war with both the European Union and China.  The article uses game theory to reveal the US strategy prior to Mr. Trump’s election and how he wishes to undermine this strategy with bilateral trade agreements.

“This development isn’t without irony. It was largely the United States that initiated the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) after World War II and later the WTO. It enabled the U.S. and other countries to escape a dilemma they were facing. ‘It’s the prisoner dilemma that explains the existence of the WTO,’ says Gabriel Felbermayr, director of the ifo Center for International Economics in Munich.

“Under this game theory model, two prisoners who have been accused of a crime committed jointly are interrogated separately. If neither says anything, then they are both convicted and sentenced to shorter jail sentences for smaller, provable offenses. If only one confesses, then that prisoner is freed and the other receives the stiffest sentence. If both confess, then both get stiff sentences, but not the stiffest. The dilemma for the prisoners is that they are unable to coordinate their responses. That’s why the rational decision is for both to confess to avoid the maximum penalty. But the two would be in a better position if they had been able to cooperate with each other.

“It may also be just as rational for two countries to protect their own economies through tariffs, but if both of those countries make the same decision, then both will fare worse economically than they would have if they had cooperated in ways that could have benefited both.”

Mr. Trump prefers the game of chicken to the prisoner’s dilemma game.  In chicken, one eschews the possibility of cooperation with any others other than the principal target.  In chicken, one either chooses to concede or die.  In such a game, then bluster becomes an essential tactic to intimidate the possible trading partner.

Prisoner’s Dilemma

 

The trade talks with China did not go very well.  Had they gone well, many analysts had expected that Chinese President Xi would meet with the US negotiators.  No meeting took place–the Americans simply left Beijing with little fanfare.  The US negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, is a well-known hardliner on the issue of trade, and the US position reflected that hardline.  According to The Economist:

“The American demand that made the most headlines was that China should cut its massive bilateral trade surplus by $200bn by the end of 2020. That would amount to a roughly 60% reduction in China’s surplus within three years, which is far from credible. But numbers are at least negotiable. More troubling from China’s perspective were demands focused on its economic policy. The Americans asked China to stop providing subsidies to a range of sectors that the Chinese government has deemed strategic, from robotics to electric vehicles. They demanded that Chinese tariffs on American products be no higher than American tariffs on Chinese products. And they told China to open its market much more widely to foreign investors, setting July 1st as a deadline.”

These demands are non-starters, and it is not unusual for opening negotiating positions to be extreme.  But, given that the meeting was in Beijing and that Lighthizer led the delegation, the Chinese likely did not interpret the US position as a bargaining gambit.  More likely, they interpreted it as an insult.  The judgement of The Economist was: “Taken in its entirety, though, the American position amounts to a demand for a new economic model in China.”

 

Diplomacy is often a matter of paying excruciating attention to the specific culture of the interacting parties.   There have been some stunning faux pas in recent history/  In 2000 German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, guided by Israeli PM Ehud Barak.  There is an eternal flame burning at the memorial in honor of the millions killed in the Holocaust.  Schröder turned the switch in order to make the flame higher.  Unfortunately, he turned it the wrong way and extinguished the flame.  Efforts to relight the flame failed until someone came with a cigarette lighter.  The tables were turned in the recent visit by the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, to Israel.  He was hosted by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at a dinner that was, by all accounts, fabulous.  Until dessert.  The dessert was put into a shoe designed by renowned artist Tom Dixon.  Unfortunately, anyone who knows Japanese culture knows that shoes are forbidden in the house and putting a shoe on the dinner table was a gross insult.  It is time for Netanyahu to get a new protocol officer.

Posted May 7, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

6 May 2018   Leave a comment

As we move close to 12 May, the deadline for US President Trump to certify the Iranian nuclear agreement (The Joint Comprehensive Program of Action–JCPOA), we should ponder the alternatives available toMr. Trump.  Philip Gordon has an excellent article in The Atlantic which outlines why preserving the agreement does not prevent Mr. Trump from pursuing his other goals vis-a-vis Iran: “Trump has three grievances with the deal. They include sunsets for several provisions, restrictions on which military sites inspectors can demand to see and the deal’s failure to cover other Iranian activities like its ballistic missile program or support for terrorist groups.”

What will Trump do on 12 May?

Trump is trying to damage the people who negotiated the agreement.  The Guardian reports that “Aides to Donald Trump, the US president, hired an Israeli private intelligence agency to orchestrate a “dirty ops” campaign against key individuals from the Obama administration who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal, the Observer can reveal….People in the Trump camp contacted private investigators in May last year to “get dirt” on Ben Rhodes, who had been one of Barack Obama’s top national security advisers, and Colin Kahl, deputy assistant to Obama, as part of an elaborate attempt to discredit the deal.”

If he fails to certify that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA.

Option 1.  Do nothing

Then the question is what will Iran do? The other parties will likely maintain current positions and if they openly support the continuation of the agreement then Iran will continue to comply.  That situation might satisfy Mr. Trump’s domestic political base, but will have no practical effect on the status quo.

Option 2.  Renegotiate the Agreement

Iran says that it will not renegotiate the agreement.  According to the BBC: “In remarks carried live on Iranian state television on Sunday, President Rouhani said: “If America leaves the nuclear deal, this will entail historic regret for it.”  He warned Iran had “a plan to counter any decision Trump may take and we will confront it”.

For the Europeans a safe option.  It allows them to agree with the US without serious consequences.  That proposal would take years.  Even if Iran refuses to negotiate, as long as no new sanctions are imposed, the status quo would rest in limbo.

Option 3.  Reimpose sanctions

National Public Radio describes the very unusual sanctions framework for the JCPOA: “If U.S. officials believe Iran is violating the deal, they would bring the allegation to the Security Council. At that point, sanctions would be imposed automatically — the first unusual twist in the deal. If members of the security council — Russia, China or others — rise to Iran’s defense, they can block the new sanctions only by passing a new resolution….That could be stopped by a U.S. veto. The U.S. is one of five permanent council members — including Great Britain, France, Russia and China — with veto power….In other words, instead of making sanctions vulnerable to a veto by the five permanent Security Council members, the deal flips that around, and gives the U.S. (or others) power to stop any attempt to block the imposition of sanctions.”

What will the US do?  That likely depends on the British, French, and the Germans who oppose breaking the agreement.  Russia and China will not wish to reimpose sanctions and will probably ignore any call to do so.  Neither do the Europeans, but the US is leaning on them.  Mr Trump may dangle trade deals in front of them to secure their cooperation.  Such a move would be very tempting for the Germans and the British, but the Swiss and the Italians have already re-established strong economic links with Iran, so the issue would be  Europe-wide discussion (Switzerland is not part of the European Union.  Reimposing the sanctions will take a long time and much depends on which ones would be reimposed and how strictly they will be enforced.

There will also be collateral damage to such a move as the North Korea negotiations would be affected.  The credibility of the US would be damaged and the most significant rule of the liberal world order–the Non-Proliferation Regime–would come under serious stress.

Option 4.  Provoke Iran

This is the spookiest alternative.  It already been foreshadowed by Israeli actions in Syria which have sharply escalated military conflict with Iranian units.  Additionally, Netanyahu’s speech about Iranian duplicity on nuclear weapons, although consisting largely of old and already-known news, suggests the very hard line of Israel toward the agreement.  Furthermore, most of Mr. Trump’s advisers–Bolton, Pompeo, Guiliani–are fiercely opposed to the agreement and have replaced the advisers, McMaster and TIllerson, who favored keeping the agreement.  The three new advisers are notorious hard-liners on the JCPOA.  Guiliani also has strong contacts with the MEK –the People’s Mujahedin of Iran–which is a well-heeled anti Iranian cleric group once listed as a terrorist organization supported by Saddam Hussein.  The MEK could be the tip of the spear in any military conflict with Iran.  It has some support within Iran, but I sincerely doubt that that support is significant.  But the belief that an exiled group was a profound motivating rationalization in both the Bay of Pigs fiasco in 1961 in Cuba as well as in the failed invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The objective would be to create some sort of confrontation with Iran which would arouse nationalist sentiment in the US to support military action in support of an Israeli attack on Iran.  It is unclear how closely the US public has been following the Iranian issue, but there remains significant anti-Iranian sentiment in the US from the hostage crisis which persisted between 1979 and 1981.  But the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have taken place in the mean-time and there may not be much support for another war in the Middle East.  But a nationalist inspired crisis would certainly divert attention away from the Russian meddling/Stormy Daniels stories currently dominating the media.

But a war with Iran suffers from the same problem with scrapping the JCPOA: there is no vision of what comes after either event.  Getting rid of something bad is only the right move when it can be replaced by something better.  I personally do not believe the JCPOA is not a “bad” agreement–it has accomplished its very crafted objectives and given the world plenty of time to work out a better relationship with Iran.  That the world has not taken advantage of that opportunity is not a failure of the agreement.

Posted May 6, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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