WASHINGTON — With only a few weeks remaining before the July 20 deadline, the Barack Obama administration issued a warning to Iran that it must accept deep cuts in the number of its centrifuges in order to demonstrate that its nuclear programme is only for peaceful purposes.
U.S. officials have argued that such cuts are necessary to increase the “breakout” time – the time it would take Iran to enrich enough uranium to weapons grade level to build a single bomb – from what is said to be two to three months at present to as long as a year or even more.
Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.
Tehran has made it clear that it will not accept such a demand. Dismantling the vast majority of the centrifuges that Iran had installed is a highly symbolic issue, and the political cost of acceptance would be extremely high.
But a closer examination of the issues under negotiation suggests that the ostensible pressure on Iran is part of a strategy aimed at extracting concessions from Iran on the issue of its longer-term enrichment capability.
The Obama administration has been aware from the beginning of the talks that the “breakout” period could be lengthened to nearly a year without requiring the removal of most of the 10,000 centrifuges that have been used over the past two and a half years.
U.S. officials were well aware that reducing the amount of low enriched uranium and oxide powder now stockpiled by Iran to close to zero and avoiding any future accumulation would have the same effect – and that Iran was willing to accept such restrictions.
David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security and Olli Heinonen, the former International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for Safeguards, warned in a June 3 article against a deal that would allow Iran to have more than 4,000 centrifuges in return for reducing its stocks of UF6 and oxide powder (UO2).
But they acknowledged that, if the Iranian LEU stockpile were reduced from the present level of 8,475 kg to 1,000 kilogrammes, the breakout time for 10,000 IR-1 centrifuges would be six months. And if the stockpile were reduced to zero, the breakout time would increase to close to a year, according to one of the graphs accompanying the article.
Experts from the Department of Energy as well as from the intelligence community certainly briefed policymakers on the fact that lengthening the breakout timeline to between six and 12 months could be achieved through reducing either centrifuges or the stockpile of low enriched uranium (LEU), according to Steve Fetter, who was assistant director at large for the White House Office of Science and Technology from 2009-12.
Eliminating the existing LEU stockpile and avoiding any further accumulation is the intent of an Iranian proposal formally handed over to EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Istanbul last month. Under that proposal, which Zarif revealed in an interview with IPS in Tehran June 3, Iran would convert all UF6 to Uranium oxide powder (U02) and then convert the U02 to fuel plates for Bushehr.
Iran has expressed the desire to fabricate fuel plates for Bushehr itself, but has not yet mastered the technology. The proposal would therefore involve shipping either UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent or the U02 to Russia for conversion into fuel plates until the expiration of the contract with Russia for fuel fabrication for Bushehr expires in 2021.
In the interim agreement, Iran committed to begin converting UF6 enriched to 3.5 percent to oxide powder as soon as its line for such conversion became operational. The Enriched U02 Powder Plant began operating in May, but the time required to reduce the existing stockpile to zero will depend on the capacity of the plant, which has not been announced.
Zarif told IPS he had unveiled the basic idea underlying the Iranian proposal in his PowerPoint presentation to European officials in Geneva in mid-October.
When Secretary of State John Kerry declared in April that he would demand a major increase in the existing “breakout” period to somewhere between to six and 12 months, therefore, he had good reason to believe that Washington could achieve that objective without cutting Iran’s centrifuges to a few thousand.
An agreement to freeze the existing level of 10,000 operating centrifuges while reducing the LEU stockpile to zero could place the 9,000 centrifuges that have never been operated in storage under IAEA seal. Those used centrifuges include 1,000 advanced IR-2 centrifuges that are estimated to be three to five times more efficient than the IR-1 model.
Iran’s policy of introducing thousands of centrifuges into the Natanz and Fordow enrichment facilities that were never used was aimed at accumulating negotiating chips for eventual negotiations on its nuclear programme.
In late August 2012, a senior U.S. official told the New York Times that Iran was being “very strategic” by “creating tremendous [enrichment] capacity,” but “not using it.” In doing so, the official said, Iran was acquiring “leverage” – obviously referring to future negotiations.
During the round of negotiations in Vienna in June, however, the draft tabled by the P5+1 apparently called for cuts going well beyond what U.S. officials knew would be acceptable to Iran. U.S. officials told the New York Times that the objective was now to lengthen the “breakout period” to more than a year – thus going beyond what Kerry had suggested in April.
The draft may have included an even more extreme demand from the French government. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius declared in mid-June that the West wants to cut the number of centrifuges to “several hundred”.
After the June round of negotiations, Zarif denounced the draft as containing “excessive demands” which Iran would not accept.
But those demands appear to be a negotiating ploy in which the U.S. would give up the demand for deep short-term reductions centrifuges in the coming years in return for Iranian concessions on the level of enrichment capability to be allowed in the later stage of the agreement.
The November 2013 Joint Plan of Action provided that the future enrichment programme would depend on Iran’s “practical needs”. Iran interprets that term to include the need to be self-reliant in providing reactor fuel for Bushehr, whereas the Obama administration argues that Iran can and should rely on Russia or other foreign suppliers.
Given the past record of political interference in fuel agreements Iran had negotiated with French and German firms in the 1980s and with Russia in 2005, however, Washington knows it faces a tough sell trying to get Iran to accept the U.S. insistence on reliance on foreign suppliers.
The “practical need” criterion suggests that Iran would have to provide concrete evidence of its need and ability to provide the fuel rods for the Bushehr reactor when the current contract with Russia expires in 2021.
Postponing the negotiations over that issue until a date much closer to 2021 would offer a period of a few years to negotiate an agreement on a regional fuel consortium for the Middle East that would be acceptable to both sides, as has been proposed by a group of Princeton University scientists and scholars.
Perhaps even more important, such a postponement would allow for increasing trust through the successful implementation of the agreement covering the next few years.
Explaining the Princeton group’s plan at a briefing in Washington, D.C. last week, nuclear scientist Frank N. von Hippel, who was assistant director for national security in the White House Office of Science and Technology in the Bill Clinton administration, said, “We would have five years to cool down this impasse.”
Officials from Iran and the US will meet in Geneva next week ahead of the next round of talks between the Islamic Republic and the six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear energy program.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry says the meeting between the Iranian and US delegations will be held in Geneva on the 9th and 10th of June. Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi will be heading the Iranian delegation in the talks. Other reports say the US delegation will be headed by US Under-Secretary for State Wendy Sherman.
The talks will come ahead of the next round of negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear energy program scheduled for June 16-20 in the Austrian city of Vienna, the Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
Iranian officials will later sit down with Russian diplomats in the Italian capital, Rome, on June 11-12.
Representatives from Iran will probably hold further meetings with other delegations from the six powers – the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany.
On Saturday, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said Iran has already held bilateral deputy-level meetings with some delegations from the six world powers.
Iran and the six countries have been holding talks to iron out their differences and reach a final deal to end the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program.
The two sides held the latest round of nuclear negotiations in Vienna in May.
Qatar has moved five Afghan Taliban prisoners freed in exchange for a US soldier to a residential compound and will let them move freely in the country, a senior Gulf official said on Tuesday, a step likely to be scrutinized by Washington.
US officials have referred to the release of the Taliban members as a transfer and said they would be subject to certain restrictions in Qatar. One of the officials said that would include a minimum one-year ban on them travelling outside of Qatar as well as monitoring of their activities.
“All five men received medical checks and they now live with their families in an accommodation facility in Doha,” the Gulf source, who declined to be identified, told Reuters. “They can move around freely within the country.”
Following the deal under which freed the last American soldier held in Afghanistan, concerns have been expressed by some US intelligence officials and congressional advisers over the role of the Gulf Arab state as a bridge between Washington and the world of radical Islam.
The Gulf official said the Taliban men, who have been granted Qatari residency permits, will not be treated like prisoners while in Doha and no US officials will be involved in monitoring their movement while in the country.
“Under the deal they have to stay in Qatar for a year and then they will be allowed to travel outside the country… They can go back to Afghanistan if they want to,” the official said.
The five, who had been held at the US Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba since 2002, arrived in Qatar on Sunday where US security personnel handed them over to Qatari authorities in the Udeid area west of Doha, where the US military is based.
US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl had been held for nearly five years by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan and his release followed years of on-off negotiations.
A diplomatic source said Qatar has flown in family members of the five released Taliban men and gave them accommodation paid for by the government.
On Sunday, Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah told a news conference that Doha got involved in the case because it was a “humanitarian cause,” but did not elaborate.
Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has reportedly engaged in an effort to broker the release of over 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by the Takfiri Boko Haram militants.
Obasanjo has met with people close to the radical militants in an attempt to negotiate the release of the abducted schoolchildren, AFP reported Tuesday, citing a source close to the talks.
The meeting reportedly took place last weekend at Obasanjo’s farm in Ogun State and involved the relatives of some senior Boko Haram militants as well as mediators, the source added.
“The meeting was focused on how to free the girls through negotiation,” said the anonymous source, referring to the girls who were abducted on April 14 from the remote northeastern town of Chibok in Borno State.
Nigeria’s Chief of Defense Staff Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh stated Monday that the whereabouts of the girls had been located but cast doubt on the prospect of rescuing them by force. He further noted that the risks of storming the area with troops in a rescue mission were too great and could prove fatal for the young hostages.
According to the source, Obasanjo had voiced concern over Nigeria’s acceptance of foreign military intervention to help rescue the abducted girls.
Obasanjo is reportedly worried that Nigeria’s prestige in Africa as a major continental power had been diminished by President Goodluck Jonathan’s decision to bring in Western military assistance, including by US forces.
Obasanjo, who left office in 2007, has previously sought to negotiate with the Takfiri militants, including in September 2011, after Boko Haram bombed the United Nations headquarters in Abuja.
From the droned villages of Pakistan and Afghanistan–
Bring back our girls!
From Nigeria, and the brothels of the Philippines–
Bring back our girls!
From the ruined cities of Detroit and Newark
And the ravished American Dream–
Bring back our girls!
From “Disaster Capitalism” and twerking jerks–
Bring back our girls!
From the “Occupied Territories” of Palestine
And from Israeli Porn Kings–
Bring back our girls!
From the “royal” slave-holders of Arabia,
And the crapulous monarchs of Britain–
Bring back our girls!
From our culture of destitution and prostitution–
Bring back our girls!
From “entrepreneurs” and exploiters
Of sex and violence and from those who confound and abuse–
Bring back our girls!
Restore them to their birthright dignity:
Co-creators; mothers; sisters; daughters; friends.
Bring back our girls
From the wars that have butchered them
From the silence that has answered their prayers
From the callous hypocrisy
Of scoffed-at dreams and snuffed-out hopes–
Bring back our girls!
Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the nuclear deal with the six-world powers, having curbed its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium gas by more than 80 percent, a quarterly report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said.
Most of the 209 kilograms of Tehran’s enriched uranium were either converted or diluted to less proliferation-prone forms, the document said.
It leaves Iran with just 39 kilograms of the material, which is miles away from the 250 kilograms which, the experts say, are needed to create a single nuclear bomb.
The report also revealed that Iran managed to provide the IAEA with information proving that it tested the so-called Exploding Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators, commonly used in nuclear arms, for civilian purposes.
“The agency’s assessment of the information provided by Iran is ongoing,” the report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog is cited by Reuters.
The moves came under the interim deal that the Iranian authorities signed with the six world powers on January 20.
They agreed to halt some aspects of its controversial nuclear program in exchange for a limited relief of international sanctions against the country.
Under new president Hassan Rouhani, who was elected last year, Iran is making steps to counter Western concerns that it’s trying to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
The IAEA report also outlined Tehran’s willingness to cooperate with the investigation into its nuclear related work.
“This is the first time that Iran has engaged in a technical exchange with the agency on this or any other of the outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear program since 2008,” the document stressed.
However, the IAEA remains concerned that Iran may possibly have undeclared military activities in the nuclear sphere.
The agency continues to insist on the opportunity to visit Parchin military complex, located about 30 kilometers southeast of Tehran.
According to the report, satellite surveillance has revealed that there’s been construction underway at the facility for the last three months.
During talks in Tehran this week, Iran has promised the IAEA to comply with five new transparency measures concerning its nuclear program.
Despite having the same aim, Iran’s talks with the IAEA go on separately from its negotiations with the six world powers.
It’s planned that Tehran will reach a final deal with the UK, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the US by July 20.
However, there are doubts that the deadline would be met after the latest round of talks last week proved fruitless.
WASHINGTON – In the stalemated talks between the six powers and Iran over the future of the latter’s nuclear programme, the central issue is not so much the technical aspects of the problem but the history of the Middle Eastern country’s relations with foreign suppliers – and especially with the Russians.
The Barack Obama administration has dismissed Iran’s claim that it can’t rely on the Russians or other past suppliers of enriched uranium for its future needs. But the U.S. position ignores a great deal of historical evidence that bolsters the Iranian case that it would be naïve to rely on promises by Russia and others on which it has depended in the past for nuclear fuel.
Both Iran and the P5+1 are citing the phrase “practical needs”, which was used in the Joint Plan of Action agreed to last November, in support of their conflicting positions on the issue of how much enrichment capability Iran should have. Limits on the Iranian programme are supposed to be consistent with such “practical needs”, according to the agreement.
Iran has argued that its “practical needs” include the capability to enrich uranium to make reactor fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant as well as future nuclear reactors. Iranian officials have indicated that Iran must be self-sufficient in the future with regard to nuclear fuel for Bushehr, which Russia now provides. It announced in 2008 that another reactor at Darkhovin, which is to be indigenously constructed, had entered the design stage.
Former senior State Department official on proliferation issues Robert Einhorn has transmitted the thinking of the Obama administration about the negotiations in recent months. In a long paper published in late March, he wrote that Iran had “sometimes made the argument that they need to produce enriched uranium indigenously because foreign suppliers could cut off supplies for political or other reasons.”
The Iranians had “even suggested,” Einhorn wrote, “that they could not depend on Russia to be a reliable supplier of enriched fuel.” This Iranian assertion ignores Russia’s defiance of the U.S. and is allies in having built Bushehr and insisting on exempting its completion and fuelling from U.N. Security Council sanctions, according to Einhorn.
Einhorn omits, however, the well-documented history of blatant Russian violations of its contract with Iran on Bushehr – including the provision of nuclear fuel – and its effort to use Iranian dependence on Russian reactor fuel to squeeze Iran on its nuclear policy as well as to obtain political-military concessions from the United States.
Rose Gottemoeller, now Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, described the dynamics of that Russian policy when she was director of the Carnegie Moscow Center from early 2006 through late 2008. She recounted in a 2008 paper how the Russians began working intensively in 2002 to get Iran to end its uranium enrichment programme.
That brought Russia’s policy aim in regard to Iran’s nuclear programme into line with that of the George W. Bush administration (2001-2009).
Russia negotiated an agreement with Iran in February 2005 to supply enriched uranium fuel for the reactor and to take back all spent fuel. Later in 2005, Moscow offered Iran a joint uranium enrichment venture in Russia under which Iran would send uranium to Russia for enrichment and conversion into fuel elements for future reactors.
But Iran would not gain access to the fuel fabrication technology, which made it unacceptable to Tehran but was strongly supported by the Bush administration.
Bush administration officials then began to dangle the prospect of a bilateral agreement on nuclear cooperation – a “123 Agreement” – before Russia as a means of leveraging a shift in Russian policy toward cutting off nuclear fuel for Bushehr. The Russians agreed to negotiate such a deal, which was understood to be conditional on Russia’s cooperation on the Iran nuclear issue, with particular emphasis on fuel supplies for Bushehr.
The Russians were already using their leverage over Iran’s nuclear programme by slowing down the work as the project approached completion.
A U.S. diplomatic cable dated Jul. 6, 2006 and released by WikiLeaks reported that Russ Clark, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear safety official who had spent time studying the Bushehr project, said in a conversation with a U.S. diplomat, “[H]e almost feels sorry for the Iranians because of the way the Russians are ‘jerking them around’.”
Clark said the Russians were “dragging their feet” about completing work on Bushehr and suggested it was for political reasons.
The IAEA official said it was obvious that the Russians were delaying the fuel shipments to Bushehr because of “political considerations,” calculating that, once they delivered the fuel, Russia would lose much of its leverage over Iran.
In late September 2006, the Russians changed the date on which they pledged to provide the reactor fuel to March 2007, in anticipation of completion of the reactor in September, in an agreement between the head of Russia’s state-run company Atomstroyexport, and the vice-president of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.
But in March 2007, the Russians announced that the fuel delivery would be delayed again, claiming Iran had fallen behind on its payments. Iran, however, heatedly denied that claim and accused Moscow of “politicising” the issue.
In fact, Russia, with U.S. encouragement, was “slow rolling out the supply of enriched uranium fuel,” according to Gottemoeller. Moscow was making clear privately, she wrote, that it was holding back on the fuel to pressure Iran on its enrichment policy.
Moscow finally began delivering reactor fuel to Bushehr in December 2007, apparently in response to the Bush administration’s plan to put anti-missile systems into the Czech Republic and Poland. That decision crossed what Moscow had established as a “red line”.
Obama’s election in November 2008, however, opened a new dynamic in U.S.-Russia cooperation on squeezing Iran’s nuclear programme. Within days of Obama’s cancellation of the Bush administration decision to establish anti-missile sites in Central Europe in September 2009, Russian officials leaked to the Moscow newspaper Kommersant that it was withholding its delivery of S-300 surface-to-air missile systems for which it had already contracted with Iran.
Iran needed the missiles to deter U.S. and Israeli air attacks, so the threat to renege on the deal was again aimed at enhancing Russian leverage on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, while giving Moscow additional influence on U.S. Russian policy as well.
The Russian attempt to exploit Iran’s dependence on Moscow for its reactor fuel for political purposes was not the first time that Iran had learned the lesson that it could not rely on foreign sources of enriched uranium – even when they had legal commitments to provide the fuel for Iran’s nuclear reactor.
After the Islamic revolution against the Shah in 1979, all of the foreign suppliers on which Iran had expected to rely for nuclear fuel for Bushehr and its Tehran Research Reactor reneged on their commitments.
Iran’s permanent representative to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, sent an official communication to IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano on Mar. 1, 2010, stating that specific contracts with U.S., German, French and multinational companies for supply of nuclear fuel had been abruptly terminated under pressure from the U.S. government and its allies.
Soltanieh said they were “examples [of] the root cause of confidence deficit vis-à-vis some Western countries regarding the assurance of nuclear supply.”
The earlier experiences led Iran to decide around 1985 to seek its own indigenous enrichment capability, according to Iranian officials.
The experience with Russia, especially after 2002, hardened Iran’s determination to be self-reliant in nuclear fuel fabrication. The IAEA’s Clark told the U.S. diplomat in mid-2006 that, if the Russians did cut off their supply of fuel for Bushehr, the Iranians were prepared to make the fuel themselves.
It is not clear whether the Obama administration actually believes the official line that Iran should and must rely on Russia for nuclear fuel. But the history surrounding the issue suggests that Iran will not accept the solution on which the U.S. and its allies are now insisting.
Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.
Moscow expressed disappointment over the EU’s newly imposed sanctions against Russia, stressing that it is not worthy of the European Union.
“Instead of trying to solve the situation through de-escalation, disarmament of the Right Sector, improvement of dialogue between Kiev’s authorities and Ukrainian regions, EU colleagues are demonstrating a one-sided and one-dimensional policy, not worthy of the European Union,” Itar-Tass quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov as saying.
Further sanctions were introduced on Monday following the results of referendums that have been announced in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, showing the majority of voters support self-rule, amid an intensified military operation by Kiev which resulted in several deaths.
EU foreign ministers have expanded their sanctions over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, adding two Crimean companies and 13 people to the bloc’s blacklist, EU diplomats stated.
The sanctions will come into effect Tuesday. Earlier, 48 Russians and Ukrainians were targeted by EU asset freezes and visa bans over Crimea joining Russia in March.
Among the individuals banned entry to the EU are the chief prosecutor of Crimea and Internet sensation Natalia Poklonskaya and her colleague from Sevastopol, Igor Shevchenko. Also the list includes influential individuals such as the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vyacheslav Volodin, the Commander of airborne troops Vladimir Shamanov, State Duma deputy Vladimir Pligin, Crimean administration chiefs and six pro-autonomy activists in eastern Ukraine, reported Itar-Tass.
Following the referendum results, Donetsk People’s Republic has proclaimed itself a sovereign state and has asked Moscow to consider its accession into Russia, the Republic’s council said.
Russia is taking its time before reacting to Donetsk People’s Republic’s plea while calling for dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions.
Russia is taking its time before reacting to Donetsk People’s Republic’s plea to consider its accession into Russia while calling for dialogue between Kiev and the eastern regions.
The Russian president’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov has told Kommersant newspaper Russia does not yet have a response to the plea.
Earlier on Monday the Kremlin’s press service issued a statement, saying: “Moscow respects the will of the people in Donetsk and Lugansk and hopes that the practical realization of the outcome of the referendums will be carried out in a civilized manner.”
It stressed the necessity of a “dialogue between representatives of Kiev, Donetsk and Lugansk.”
On Monday, Donetsk People’s Republic proclaimed itself a sovereign state and asked Moscow to consider its accession into Russia, the Republic’s council said.
Earlier in the day, the results of referendums were announced in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, showing the majority of voters support self-rule, amid an intensified military operation by Kiev which resulted in several deaths.
Experts on the issue have weighed in with their view on Russia’s response.
International legal expert Alexander Mercouris told RT that Moscow’s reaction was consistent with its previous policy on Ukraine.
“Moscow is following what has been its consistent policy right from the start, right from the moment when the coup took place in Kiev in February, which has been pressing for negotiations between Kiev and the actual true democratic representatives of the eastern regions in order to achieve constitutional change,” Mercouris told RT. “I do not think Moscow’s position has changed. But I think Moscow’s position may change in the future.”
International relations expert and senior lecturer at Moscow State University Mark Sleboda also told to RT that he does not view Moscow’s reaction as contradicting its previous stance.
“Moscow’s reaction to the referendum – they of course recommended that it be postponed, and they had a somewhat tepid reaction to it. But at the same time they did not completely disown it either,” Sleboda said.
“The first statement out of Moscow this morning that it looked forward to a dialogue between Donetsk, Lugansk and Kiev to resolve the situation and implement the people’s will was a very strong indication that Russia is still really trying for dialogue with Kiev,” Sleboda added.
Professor of History and Politics in Berlin Ronald Suni noted that Russia’s slow response will indeed provide room for international dialogue, which may help the situation.
“Vladimir Putin and his advisors decided a few days ago that we’ve got to pull back, that we’ve got to slow things down. That all these people acting in their own interest, out of their own emotions and passions could lead to some very dangerous situations – civil war or international war,” Suni told RT.
“So, why not postpone the referendum, which of course the locals did not want to do, recognize the May 25 elections, which part of Ukraine probably won’t do, and pull troops back from the frontier, which Putin did. Even so, these actions have not led to a response, on both sides it would allow for some kind of international negotiation,” he added.
Mercouris also explained the referendum results are a valid statement of opinion. “Yes, they were organized in great haste, in civil war, revolutionary conditions, but even people who are present, who are hostile to these referendums, from the Western media now accept that these are in fact representative of the powerful mass movement,” he said.
Sleboda stated that when examining Donetsk and Lugansk referendums, one must pay attention to three things. “One, the extremely large turnout, which is nearly impossible to deny. The overwhelming landslide victory – since the vote was essentially public with the glass ballot boxes and the Western journalists who served in place of international monitors, we could say, who clearly informally polled on the ground the strength of support for the independence vote.”
“And three, we have to remember that this did indeed happen under the barrel of a gun – but not the barrel of the gun of the self-defense forces, but under the barrel of the gun of this Kiev regime who was actually killing voters as they tried to vote against it on the referendum day,” he argued.
The foreign ministry said Monday that France and Germany intend to prevent Syrians living in their countries from voting in Syria’s presidential election, expected to return President Bashar al-Assad to power.
Germany and France are “preventing Syrians living in their territory from voting,” the foreign ministry said.
“France… is carrying out a hostile press campaign” against next month’s election, it said in a statement carried by state news agency SANA.
“It has officially informed our embassy in Paris of its opposition to the holding of the vote on French territory, including the Syrian embassy.”
French foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal implicitly confirmed the decision.
“The organization of foreign elections on French soil is covered by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of April 24, 1963,” he told AFP.
“As we are authorized by this convention, French authorities have the right to oppose the holding of this election anywhere on French territory.”
He reiterated France’s demand for a “political solution” to conflict in Syria as well as a transition process and Assad’s departure from office.
“Bashar al-Assad, who is responsible for the death of 150,000 people, cannot represent the future of the Syrian people,” Nadal said.
The foreign ministry said Germany had “joined the countries trying to block the presidential elections in Syria.”
It accused Berlin of “supporting, funding and arming terrorist groups in a bid to destroy Syria,” referring to the anti-Assad opposition.
“It is not surprising that these countries have taken the decision to prevent Syrian citizens living in their territory from exercising their constitutional right to vote in the embassies of their country,” the ministry added.
Damascus has set the presidential election for June 3, with expatriate voting to take place on May 28.
Donetsk People’s Republic has proclaimed itself a sovereign state and has asked Moscow to consider its accession with Russia, the Republic’s council said.
“We, the people of Donetsk, based on results of the May 11 referendum and the declaration of sovereignty of the Donetsk People’s Republic, declare that from now on DPR is now a sovereign state,” Republic Co-Chairman Denis Pushilin said.
Earlier on Monday the results of referendums were announced in Donetsk and Lugansk Regions, showing the majority of voters support self-rule, amid an intensified military operation by Kiev which resulted in several deaths.
Almost 90 percent of voters in Donetsk Region have endorsed political independence from Kiev, the head of the Central Election Commission of the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’, Roman Lyagin, announced.
“Counting the ballots proved to be surprisingly easy – the number of people who said ‘no’ was relatively small and there appeared to be only a tiny proportion of spoiled ballots, so we managed to carry out counting quite fast. The figures are as follows: 89.07 percent voted ‘for’, 10.19 percent voted ‘against’ and 0.74 percent of ballots were rendered ineligible,” Lyagin told journalists.
In Lugansk Region 96.2 percent of voters supported the region’s self-rule, according to the final figures announced by the local election commission.
DETAILS TO FOLLOW
Santa Elena de Uairen – A Human Rights bill proposed by Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which includes sanctions on the Venezuelan government, cleared its first legislative hurdle this morning after passing the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The bill, known as the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, will sanction individuals responsible for “serious human rights abuses” against those participating in the anti-government protests that have received widespread media attention since February. It also includes those individuals who have supported those acts, whether financially or otherwise, and those officials who called for the arrest of those “legitimately exercising their freedom of expression and assembly.”
The most recent draft presented to the Committee listed asset blocking and inadmissibility to the US as types of individual sanctions. It also included the possibility of a presidential waiver of the application of sanctions, if the U.S. president should consider national security interests call for it, or conditions in Venezuela have improved.
Section 7 of the bill outlines a “Comprehensive Strategy to Promote Internet Freedom and Access to Information,” including the expansion of activities to “train HR, civil society, and democracy activists” and the expansion of proxy servers for said activists, as well as access to “uncensored news sources.”
Section 8 asks that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, submit a “comprehensive strategy outlining how the US is supporting the citizens of Venezuela” in seeking basic civil liberties, development of an independent civil society, and free and transparent elections.
Section 9 offers refugee status or political asylum in the US to Venezuelan political dissidents if requested, and a direct effort on behalf of the US state department to identify cases of “prisoners of conscience and HR abuses in Venezuela.”
The bill ends with Section 10, the Authorization of Appropriations for Assistance to Support Civil Society in Venezuela, which pledges a minimum of $5 million through USAID, and finally, a Sunset Clause of two years after the date of enactment of the legislation.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has accused possible sanctions of being “encouragement to extremist groups,” those protestors who he believes have sparked violence in their widespread call for regime change. Members of the Venezuelan opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), have also expressed their misgivings at the prospect of sanctions.
This morning Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, heard testimonies from Venezuelan opposition representatives regarding the alleged use of extreme force on behalf of Venezuelan security forces. She admitted to hearing a “diversity of opinions,” from “different oppositional factions” but that the majority asked that the U.S. not impose sanctions “yet.”
“They have asked us not to introduce sanctions at this time,” Jacobson said.
A caravan of Venezuelans, residents of South Florida, traveled to Washington D.C. yesterday to show support for the bill.
Only two committee representatives, Gregory Meeks and Karen Bass, voted against the bill this morning. In recent weeks, many Latin American leaders have expressed their distaste for the possibility of US interference in Venezuela.
Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica said, “When the entire world asks the U.S. to shelve its economic blockade policy against Cuba, voices emerge from within that government threatening sanctions against Venezuela. Are the lessons of history never learned? (…) the first thing that Venezuela and all of Latin America need is to be respected.”
Many sources believe the bill will reach the House floor the week of May 12th, and will likely be approved with little resistance. A number of organizations, including the Alliance for Global Justice, have organized petitions in attempts to prevent this from taking place.