‘NSA ruined it!’
Brazil has rejected a contract for Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jets in favor of the Swedish Saab’s JAS 39 Gripens. The unexpected move to reject the US bid comes amid the global scandal over the NSA’s involvement in economic espionage activities.
The announcement for the purchase of 36 fighters was made Wednesday by Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorim and Air Force Commander Junti Saito. The jets will cost US$4.5 billion, well below the estimated market value of around US$7 billion.
Saito said the development of the fighters will occur in conjunction with Embraer and other unspecified companies.
The 12 Mirage aircraft currently in use by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB) will be retired at the end of this year. They were acquired by Brazil in 2005. As it waits for the new fighters, the FAB will use the F5 style, which will stay viable up to 2025.
During a visit in Brasilia last week, French President Francois Hollande was accompanied by an entourage that included the president of Dassault Group, stirring speculation that the French jet manufacturer had the edge over Saab and Boeing.
Competition over which company would win the right to supply Brazil with the fighter jets began in the late 1990s during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, continued during Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s time in office and into current President Rousseff’s term. A FAB report in 2010 indicated a preference in Saab, though then-President Lula leaned toward the cheaper Dassault jet, Rafale.
Boeing was considered to have the inside track to win the contract earlier this year, yet revelations of intrusive surveillance of global officials’ communications, including those of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, by the US government’s National Security Agency led to distrust of the American company.
“The NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,” a Brazilian government source told Reuters.
The Chicago-based Boeing’s bid was rejected because of Saab’s better performance and cost of its aircraft as well as “willingness to transfer technology,” defense minister Celso Amorim said, as cited by Bloomberg.
‘Economic espionage’ fallout
Brazil is currently probing reports released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden that the spy agency monitored the personal communications of President Rousseff and hacked into government ministries to gather information. Among the institutions targeted by NSA espionage were state oil giant Petrobras and the Ministry of Mines and Energy, contradicting claims by Washington that it did not engage in “economic espionage.”
Rousseff lambasted US spying on her country during the UN General Assembly in September, calling it a “breach of international law.” She further warned that the NSA surveillance, revealed since June, threatened freedom of speech and democracy.
“Meddling in such a manner in the lives and affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and as such it is an affront to the principles that should otherwise govern relations among countries, especially among friendly nations,” Rousseff said.
Just before her address at the UN summit, Rousseff canceled a state visit to Washington, scheduled to take place in October, because of indignation over spying revelations. Rousseff has stated she wants an apology from US President Barack Obama.
Snowden has promised to aid Brazil in a probe into the NSA’s spying program in the country.
“A lot of Brazilian senators have asked me to collaborate with their investigations into suspected crimes against Brazilian citizens,” said Snowden, in an open letter published by Brazilian paper Folha de S.Paulo. Snowden hinted in the letter that he may ask Brazil for asylum.
“The American government will continue to limit my ability to speak out until a country grants me permanent political asylum,” wrote Snowden.
The whistleblower is currently under temporary asylum in Russia. Brazil plans to host a global summit on internet governance in April 2014.
Brazil resident Glenn Greenwald, the former Guardian journalist renowned for publishing Snowden’s leaks, criticized on Wednesday European Union governments’ muted response to the revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance apparatus. He also contradicted Washington’s claim that no economic espionage is involved amid NSA spying.
“What a lot of this spying is about has nothing to do with terrorism and national security. That is the pretext. It is about diplomatic manipulation and economic advantage.”
The United States and Iran
By SASAN FAYAZMANESH | March 17, 2008
It is now nearly three decades since the Unites States adopted the policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq. While much has been written about the containment of Iraq, there has been very little in-depth analysis of this policy when it comes to Iran. In a book that is going to be released on March 31, 2008, entitled The United States and Iran: Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment (Routledge), I attempt to address this shortcoming by investigating when and why the US policy of containment of Iran came about, how it evolved, and where it stands today. To the extent that Israel has been involved in US policy making, the study will also include the role that Israel has played in the containment of Iran. Also, since the fate of Iran has been inextricably linked to that of Iraq, occasionally the investigation will overlap with the containment of Iraq.
The policy of dual containment of Iran and Iraq originated during the Carter Administration, but it was not until the Clinton Administration that the expression “dual containment” became popular. Despite its widespread use, the meaning of the expression is not crystal clear; different individuals have had different interpretations of “containment” of Iran and Iraq. For some, it has meant keeping the two countries militarily, economically, and politically in check. This was the case with Iraq between 1990-when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and United Nations sanctions were imposed on Iraq-and 2003-when the US invaded Iraq for the second time and occupied the country. In the case of Iraq, it was hoped initially that economic pressures through extensive United Nations sanctions, as well as some limited military actions, would create discontent and lead to “regime change.” But since sanctions did not result in the overthrow of Hussein, Iraq was not exactly contained. The 2003 US invasion and occupation of Iraq showed that containment could go beyond sanctions and limited military operations; it could involve outright invasion of a country to achieve the desired goals.
To this day, the US military adventure in Iraq has not been successful, and the future of Iraq and its government remains uncertain. In this sense, some may argue that Iraq has not been contained. But a few might disagree with this conclusion. For these individuals Iraq has already been contained, since the country has been economically ruined, militarily shattered, and politically disintegrated. For decades to come, Iraq will not be able to rise from the ashes and challenge the US and Israel; and this, in the opinion of these individuals, is a successful containment. Such a view might appear to be too cynical to be held by anyone. But, as I have argued in my book, the attitude of many US and Israeli officials toward the Iran-Iraq war indicates that this view did actually exist. Some American and Israeli officials wished to see Iran and Iraq destroy one another in a costly and protracted war. They helped to prolong the war and make sure that neither side had a decisive victory. The horrendous eight-year war, which resulted in a massive loss of human life and severe economic losses, was therefore viewed as a kind of containment. The same view of containment seems to exist today among many so-called neoconservatives who, after pushing for the Iraq invasion, show no remorse for the resulting carnage and advocate bombing Iran.
Whatever the interpretation of the dual containment of Iran and Iraq, one aspect of this policy has been to use war, or threats of war, to bring about the desired change. Another has been to rely on sanctions. US unilateral sanctions against Iran started shortly after the 1979 Revolution and continued throughout the Iran-Iraq war. In this period many of the imposed sanctions were intended to prevent Iran from winning the war against Hussein’s Iraq. But it was also hoped that sanctions would bring about popular dissatisfaction in Iran and result in the overthrow of the new government. Such sanctions continued and became even more intensified after the Iran-Iraq war, particularly in the 1990s. Yet, even though these sanctions did harm the Iranian economy, they did not bring about the intended “regime change.” The failure was attributed to the unilateral nature of these sanctions, and therefore multilateral sanctions, imposed through the United Nations, were sought. So far three such sanctions have been passed against Iran. Whether these sanctions will have the desired results and, eventually, would do to Iran what has been done to Iraq is hard to predict. But it is even harder to make any predictions about the future without knowing the past. It was in the spirit of documenting the history, in order to better understand the present and the future, that The United States and Iran Sanctions, Wars and the Policy of Dual Containment was written. An outline of the book is as follows.
The origin of the dual containment policy, as mentioned above, goes back to the Carter Administration. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that individuals within the Carter Administration, contrary to their denials, gave Hussein the green light to invade Iran and assisted him after the invasion. It was hoped that the war would not only lead to the resolution of the so-called hostage crisis, but that it might lead to the overthrow of the Iranian government and the restoration of the old order, where the Shah of Iran maintained a symbiotic relationship with the US and Israel. However, assisting Hussein in his war against Iran did not mean that the US was planning to establish a long-term relationship with him. Befriending Hussein was temporary; and while the US was helping the Iraqi government, the Israelis were selling arms to Iran with the full knowledge of the US. Indeed, the Carter Administration itself was considering the possibility of providing Iran with military spare parts as well. This was the beginning of the policy of dual containment, when the US, playing the role of a double agent, tried to make sure that neither side would achieve a decisive victory in the Iran-Iraq war.
The dual containment policy continued in the 1980s under the Reagan and George H. W. Bush Administrations. But while the US assisted Hussein covertly during the Carter period, it did so overtly during the Reagan Administration, despite the official US policy of remaining neutral in the war. The support also became more vigorous. US officials tried to prevent Iran from winning the war against Hussein by providing him with intelligence, weapons, and extension of credit. They also established full diplomatic relations with Hussein’s government, lifted trade sanctions against Iraq, and imposed new economic sanctions against Iran. In addition, the Reagan Administration closed its eyes to the use of chemical weapons by Iraq in the war, and, indeed, supplied Saddam Hussein with chemical compounds that had multiple uses, including making poison gas. Subsequently, with the Iranian military victories, the US entered the war against Iran directly to assure that Hussein was not defeated. With this direct US intervention, in 1988 Iran was forced to accept a humiliating ceasefire, especially after the USS Vincennes affair. In the end, the Reagan Administration had managed by means of indirect and direct war to defeat Iran for all practical purposes and contain it. Yet the policy of dual containment demanded that not only Iran but also Iraq be emasculated as a potential challenger. Therefore, while helping Hussein, the US also sold arms to Iran, mostly with the help of the Israelis, in what came to be known as the “Iran-Contra scandal.” Furthermore, the US administration provided both Iran and Iraq with deliberately distorted or inaccurate intelligence data on the other’s capabilities. More importantly, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war-and the emergence of Iraq militarily stronger at the end of the war than at the beginning-the US turned its attention toward containing Iraq. This was accomplished through manufactured sensational news and incidents, as well as a sudden US interest in the “gross violation of international law” by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. The final incident was Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait after the US gave confusing messages to Hussein. Following this invasion, the US tried to contain Iraq by means of a war, UN economic sanctions, and limited military operations.
The US policy of the dual containment cannot be understood without understanding the role that Israel has played in it. Following the 1979 Revolution in Iran, which ended a cozy and symbiotic relation between the Jewish state and the Shah, Israel started a campaign against the new Iranian government. However, once the Iran-Iraq war started, Israel began to sell arms to Iran. This was not because Israel was against the US policy of dual containment and the devastation of Iran and Iraq in a costly and protracted war, but because Israel wished to see Iraq contained before Iran. As a result, while the US was aiding Iraq, Israel was selling arms to Iran, and, eventually, got the US to sell arms to Iran in the infamous Iran-Contra scandal. When put in historical context the Iran-Contra affair does not appear as an aberration or isolated incident. It was part of the policy of helping to contain both countries. At the end of the Iran-Iraq war, however, Israel, like the US, largely concentrated on containing Iraq. In so doing, Israel contributed greatly to the propaganda campaign against Saddam Hussein before Iraq was invaded by the US. After the imposition of UN sanctions against Iraq in 1990 and the first US invasion of Iraq, Israel turned its attention toward containing Iran. With the help of its lobby groups in the US, particularly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel concentrated on strengthening US economic sanctions against Iran. In this pursuit, Martin Indyk, the head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an AIPAC affiliate, became instrumental. The meteoric rise of Martin Indyk to power in the Clinton Administration allowed him to carry on the policy of dual containment-which he took credit for devising-primarily by means of increasing sanctions against Iran. In this policy Iran was accused of three misbehaviors: sponsoring terrorism worldwide; opposing Middle East peace efforts; and developing weapons of mass destruction. Once formulated, these alleged misbehaviors became the rationale for maintaining and strengthening US sanctions against Iran. Indeed, during the Clinton Administration Israeli lobby groups became the major underwriters of US foreign policy toward Iran.
Besides Martin Indyk there were other individuals in the Clinton Administration who helped develop the Iran sanctions policy. One such individual was Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who had a particular animosity toward Iran since his hostage negotiation days. This animosity came in handy for Indyk and the Israeli lobby groups in implementing their sanctions policy against Iran. But this was not all; there was also a competition between a predominantly Republican Congress and a Democratic Administration as to which was more hostile to Iran and thus faithful to Israel. In this competition, the role of Senator Alfonse D’Amato in trying to pass sanctions acts against Iran is examined in my book. One major act, the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA)-which imposed secondary sanctions on foreign companies that would make new investments of at least $40 million in Iran-becomes a focus of my study. With the passage of ILSA, however, the US sanctions policy started to fall apart. Not only did many countries around the world defy it, the US corporate lobbies, too, began to organize to oppose various Israeli lobby groups. In this regard, I examine the role of some heavyweights that the corporate lobby brought forth to oppose the sanctions-such as two former national security advisors, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft-the formation of an umbrella lobby organization called USA*ENGAGE, various individuals or lobbyist groups working with the Iranian government who started to organize, and a number of US Congressmen who were lobbied by the corporations to oppose the passage of further unilateral sanctions against Iran. All this, as well as the appointment of a new Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, who tilted more toward the corporate lobby, resulted in an incoherent and inconsistent US policy toward Iran at the end of the Clinton era, a policy that tried to reconcile the irreconcilable aims and interests of Israel and the US corporations. It is worth noting that during the Clinton Administration the Mujahedin-e-Khalq-e-Iran (MEK), an Iranian exile group, became a convenient tool in the hands of strange bedfellows-namely Iraq, the US, and Israel-in a campaign to overthrow the Iranian government. Even though in 1997, as a result of some shifts in US foreign policy, the US State Department put MEK officially on the list of terrorist organizations, the group operates relatively freely in the US to this day.
The end of the Clinton era ushered in a new phase in the US policy of containment of Iran. The 2000 US presidential election brought uncertainty concerning the future policies of the Bush Administration toward the Middle East in general and Iran in particular. The fact that the new administration was top heavy with former oil executives added to this uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the uncertainty, Israel correctly perceived that the policy would be made more by the neoconservative forces within the new administration-such as Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle-than anyone else, including those in the State Department. Wolfowitz and Perle-who were on the Board of Advisors of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, an offshoot of AIPAC-had advocated, at least since 1992, the use of military force against Iraq. But Israel was more interested in containing Iran rather than Iraq and was hoping that the neoconservative forces, particularly those within the administration, would achieve that goal. The events of September 11, 2001 played a determining role in both containments. The neoconservative forces got what they had wished for when it came to invading Iraq. But as far as Iran was concerned, the initial reaction of the US State Department after 9/11 was to start a courtship dance with Iran, a dance that Israel, its lobby groups, and its neoconservative allies, in and out of the administration, watched with a great deal of trepidation. A concerted campaign was waged by Israeli officials, including Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, to end the dance. The US was warned by these officials not to cozy up to Iran. Such warnings, as well as the puzzling Karine-A affair, managed to end the US State Department’s attempt to approach Iran. The death of the rapprochement was made official by President Bush in his “axis of evil” speech on January 29, 2002, a speech in which Iran was accused, along with Iraq and North Korea, of aggressively pursuing weapons of mass destruction and exporting terror. In the end, Israel, its various lobby groups, and its neoconservative allies changed the direction of US policy toward Iran as conceived by the US State Department. A case had to be made as to why Iran should be targeted. Israel put forward a list of allegations against Iran that included everything from Iran’s involvement in the Karine-A affair to pursuing missiles capable of striking Israel with chemical and biological weapons, dispatching its Revolutionary Guards to foment anti-Israel activity in Lebanon, and being on schedule to develop a nuclear bomb by 2005. Yet even though Israel had made its case for targeting Iran, and wished to see Iran attacked before Iraq, it had to settle for second-best: wait until after the invasion of Iraq to contain Iran. Thus, in an interview with The Times (London) on November 5, 2002, Sharon stated that he considered Iran to be the “centre of world terror,” and “that as soon as an Iraq conflict is concluded, he will push for Iran to be at the top of the ‘to do’ list.”
How was Iran pushed to the top of the US’s “to do” list? As in the case of Iraq, Iran’s alleged development of weapons of mass destruction became the rallying point for targeting the country. The first step in the process came in late summer 2002, when, in a dramatic press conference, a representative of MEK revealed the construction of a uranium enrichment facility and a heavy water production plant in Iran, neither of which had been reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The actual source of the revelation appears to have been Israel, which passed the information to MEK. Once these constructions were disclosed, the US and Israel started to build a case for reporting Iran to the United Nations Security Council and for the imposition of sanctions. How the case proceeded is narrated in my book. Before that, however, the origin of Iran’s nuclear program is discussed. It is argued that the US and Israel had no problems with Iran’s nuclear program when the Shah of Iran was in power. Indeed, the US helped the Shah with nuclear technology and encouraged him to build nuclear power plants. Subsequently, the Shah signed an agreement to purchase two reactors from Germany to be installed at Bushehr. The construction of these power plants began in 1975, but after the 1979 Iranian Revolution the Germans left the country without completing the project. In 1995 Iran signed a formal agreement with Russia to finish the Bushehr reactor. But Russia continuously postponed the completion of the reactor and delivery of nuclear fuel. Given Russia’s foot-dragging, as well as the numerous US sanctions imposed on Iran, it appears that Iran had engaged in a number of nuclear-related activities not reported to the IAEA, including building the two structures that were disclosed by MEK. Even though, technically speaking, the construction of these facilities did not violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)-to which Iran is a signatory-it provided the perfect excuse to the US and Israel to argue that Iran was clandestinely developing nuclear weapons. Such claims, however, were not new. They were heard as early as 1984, when a neoconservative argued that Iran might be only two years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. Following this claim there were numerous others concerning the impending development of nuclear weapons by Iran. Indeed, in the 1990s a number of sources associated with Israel claimed that Iran had already purchased three or four nuclear warheads from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. That allegation and subsequent assertions concerning Iran developing nuclear arsenals all proved to be false. But the guessing game continued well into the late 1990s and early 2000s. With each day passing and no nuclear weapons or even evidence of development of such weapons showing up, the ever-changing prediction of doomsday appeared to attract little attention until the revelation of the two unreported nuclear-related facilities in Iran. Once this revelation was made, Israel could push for Iran to be at the top of the US’s “to do” list.
The road was being paved to report Iran to the Security Council. The 2003 IAEA report mentioned certain failures by Iran to disclose information. It also encouraged Iran to sign the “Additional Protocol” to the IAEA Safeguards Agreements. But the report did not show any smoking gun and, therefore, was not the report that the US and Israel needed to contain Iran. Nevertheless, the report left a number of open questions that made the US and Israel hopeful about taking Iran before the Security Council. For example, why was Iran developing a facility to produce heavy water, building a uranium enrichment facility, manufacturing uranium metal, hesitant to allow IAEA inspectors visit an electric workshop and take environmental samples? The last question, in particular, made the US and Israel contend that Iran was hiding something, and this could be an indication of a nuclear weapons program. In the end, this allegation proved to be incorrect. However, such allegations continued to be made until Iran was reported to the Security Council. In addition to making false claims, the US and Israel intensified their psychological warfare against Iran, threatening a preemptive military strike on her nuclear facilities. Such threats made the Europeans, particularly France, Britain, and Germany (EU 3), worry and start negotiating with Iran in October of 2003 to sign the “Additional Protocol,” stop nuclear enrichment, and provide full disclosure of its nuclear program. The Iranian government capitulated and signed an agreement in December 2003, even though the Iranian parliament refused to ratify the “Additional Protocol.” The US and Israel, however, continued their pressure on Iran by making false claims and portraying Iran as a threat to Israel and the world at large. Pressure mounted in summer of 2004 to report Iran to the Security Council. The EU 3 made a last-ditch effort to stop Iran’s enrichment activities. The result was the November 2004 Paris Agreement, which asked Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities voluntarily and temporarily in exchange for some vague and, for all practical purposes, undeliverable economic promises. The US gave this agreement guarded approval but made it clear that it was a kind of “good-cop, bad-cop arrangement,” where the Europeans and Americans were working together but playing different roles.
The US and Israel intensified their threats of a preemptive strike against Iran in 2005. By now the argument had changed from not allowing Iran to develop nuclear weapons to not even tolerating Iran having knowledge of nuclear enrichment. At the same time there were reports that the US might support EU negotiations with Iran and accept the so-called carrot and stick approach. Even though this was no more than the bad cop joining the good cop, Israel and its lobby groups were opposed to any shift in US policy and waged a campaign against it. In Iran, too, there was opposition to the Paris Agreement, especially after the US gave the agreement its tacit blessing. The opposition became stronger with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran, a man who was demonized by a massive US and Israeli disinformation campaign as soon as he took office. After protesting that the Paris Agreement was turning a voluntary and temporary halt in uranium enrichment activities into a permanent freeze and that the EU had not kept its part of the bargain, Iran ended the agreement. The campaign to report Iran to the Security Council by the IAEA gained momentum and a resolution to this effect was passed; however, the question of the timing of when the matter would be referred to the Security Council was left open. A number of events speeded up the process of referral. One such event was Ahmadinejad quoting Ayatollah Khomeini as saying that the occupying regime of Jerusalem must disappear from the page of time. The statement was translated in both Israel and the US as “wipe Israel off the map,” and was used in a massive campaign to portray Iran as Nazi Germany and Ahmadinejad as another Hitler poised to commit a holocaust. Another was the claim by American intelligence officials that they had discovered a stolen laptop showing Iran’s attempt to design a nuclear warhead. The contents of the laptop were shown to IAEA inspectors, but, IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the material, and believed that much of the intelligence provided by the US and other intelligence services had proved to be wrong. Numerous assertions, even though false, made any compromise solution impossible. In the end, a relentless effort by the US and Israel to bring Iran before the Security Council and impose UN sanctions against her paid off in early 2006. The IAEA was forced to issue an early update brief followed by a full report on Iran’s compliance with the earlier resolution. But even before the full report was issued, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany reached an agreement, and soon afterwards the US obtained the necessary vote to refer Iran to the Security Council. Iran, in turn, ended all voluntary cooperation with the IAEA.
Accusations and threats by US and Israel continued against Iran even after Iran’s referral to the Security Council. As the US allocated more funds to bringing “democracy” to Iran, AIPAC mounted another “largest ever policy conference” aimed at bringing about the harshest possible sanctions against Iran. Frantic efforts by those uneasy about imposing UN sanctions, including the Director General of the IAEA, failed as most US policy makers followed the lead of Israel and its allies in the US. The Security Council issued in late March 2006 a draft statement asking Iran to halt all enrichment activities, and ordered the Director General of the IAEA to report in 30 days on Iran’s compliance. This was not exactly the harsh resolution that the US and Israel were hoping for. The US pushed for the passage of a UN Chapter 7 resolution against Iran that could result in the use of military force against her. In this effort, parallels were continuously drawn between Iran and Nazi Germany and Ahmadinejad and Hitler. Iran’s alleged hidden nuclear programs were reported and talks of pre-emptive military attacks by either the US, Israel, or both were heard. In this atmosphere even the most outrageous tales would become credible news. One such story was an alleged new law in Iran that would force the Iranian Jewish population to wear yellow insignia. Even though the “news” proved to be a complete fabrication, it for some time and enabled many political figures around the world, particularly Americans, to condemn and demonize Iran. The US, however, still had to get the reluctant Russians and Chinese on board to impose sanctions against Iran. A new strategy was adopted: the US would join the EU 3 in negotiating with Iran if Iran halted all enrichment activities. The Bush Administration knew full well that this offer would not be accepted by Iran and was, indeed, worried about a possible positive response by Iran. The US gambit paid off, and the “carrot and stick” package offered was ultimately rejected by Iran. The US wielded more sticks, including financial sanctions to paralyze the Iranian banking system. Security Council Resolution 1696 was passed in July 2006, demanding that Iran suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and that the Director General of the IAEA give a report by the end of August 2006 on Iran’s compliance. If Iran did not comply, according to Resolution 1696, UN sanctions would be imposed. The stage was set for the imposition of the first set of UN sanctions against Iran.
The August 2006 IAEA report indicated that Iran was not complying with UN Resolution 1696. The report was followed by Iran’s adversaries calling for immediate imposition of sanctions. Any compromise offered, including a temporary suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, was ruled out by the US and Israel. The US further tightened its financial sanctions against Iran, and Israel raised, once again, the specter of Iran becoming another Nazi Germany determined to commit another holocaust. The campaign to impose UN sanctions against Iran was beginning to bear fruit. Draft resolutions for such sanctions began to circulate in November 2006. War drums beat intensely and there was again talk of a possible military strike by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities. US pressure mounted for adopting a sanction resolution. The push resulted in Security Council Resolution 1737 in December of 2006, the first UN sanction resolution against Iran. The resolution demanded that Iran halt all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities and suspend work on all heavy water-related projects. It asked all states to take the necessary measures to prevent the supply, sale, or transfer of all items, materials, equipment, goods, and technology which could contribute to Iran’s enrichment related, reprocessing, or heavy water-related activities, or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. It also asked all states to exercise vigilance regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of individuals engaged in Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems. In addition, the resolution provided a list of certain Iranians and asked all states to freeze their funds, other financial assets, and economic resources.
Moreover, the resolution established a sanctions committee to monitor Iran’s compliance with the resolution and collect information from countries about their trade with Iran. Finally, the resolution asked the Director General of the IAEA to provide a report in 60 days on Iran’s compliance. Resolution 1737 was the crown jewel of the US-Israeli policy of containment of Iran. More than a quarter of a century of US unilateral sanctions against Iran, many underwritten by forces close to Israel, had not contained Iran. Even though this resolution was too weak to contain Iran, it was hoped that future resolutions would do the job. Iran shrugged off the sanctions and reduced its cooperation with the IAEA. The US levied more accusations against Iran and engaged in more provocative acts. Israel continued to call Iran an existential threat. In early 2007 there were fears that a war with Iran might become inevitable. In the end, however, the threats of war were used to set the stage for the second round of UN sanctions against Iran.
After an IAEA report indicating Iran’s non-compliance with Resolution 1737, the US and Israel pushed for another resolution. The result was Security Council Resolution 1747 in March 2007, which extended previous sanctions. The resolution called upon all states to exercise vigilance and restraint regarding the entry into or transit through their territories of certain Iranians engaged in or associated with Iran’s proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities. In addition, it provided another list of Iranian entities involved in nuclear or ballistic missile activities and entities whose funds or assets shall be frozen. Among these was one of the largest banks in Iran. Resolution 1747 also stated that Iran shall not supply, sell, or transfer any arms or related materiel. Furthermore, it called upon all states to exercise vigilance and restraint in the supply, sale, or transfer of any battle tanks, armored combat vehicles, large caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles, or missile systems. Finally, the resolution asked all states and international financial institutions not to enter into new commitments for grants, financial assistance, and concessional loans to the Iranian government. As in the previous case, the resolution asked the Director General of the IAEA to prepare a report within 60 days as to whether Iran had complied with the demands of Resolutions 1737 and 1747. Iranian officials were defiant and shrugged off the effect of the resolutions. Yet Resolutions 1737 and 1747 put great pressure on Iran economically and politically, setting the stage for further, and harsher, resolutions to follow.
The next Security Council sanction resolution against Iran did not materialize until nearly a year after Resolution 1747. On March 3, 2008, the Security Council passed its third sanction resolution against Iran, Resolution 1803. The new resolution tightens two previously passed sanction acts by 1) asking states to exercise “vigilance and restraint” against a new set of Iranian nationals purportedly involved in “proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities or the development of nuclear-weapon delivery systems”; 2) extending the freezing of the financial assets of persons or entities allegedly “supporting” the above mentioned activities; 3) calling upon states to “exercise vigilance over the activities of financial institutions in their territories with all banks domiciled in Iran, in particular with Bank Melli and Bank Saderat”; and 4) continuing to block the import and export of allegedly “sensitive nuclear material and equipment.”
Resolution 1803 also added a new provision to the previous sanction acts: it called upon states to “inspect cargo to and from Iran of aircraft and vessels owned or operated by Iran Air Cargo and Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line, provided ‘reasonable grounds’ existed to believe that the aircraft or vessel was transporting prohibited goods.” This new provision is one of the most dangerous provisions in all the resolutions that have been passed so far by the Security Council against Iran. The term “Reasonable grounds” is ambiguous. What is reasonable or unreasonable is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, theoretically, any adversary of Iran can now stop an Iranian aircraft or vessel to inspect it because it is “believed” there is “reasonable grounds” for such an inspection. If the Iranian vessel refuses inspection, all hell could break loose.
The new provision was probably one of the reasons why four non-permanent members of the Security Council, Indonesia, Libya, South Africa and Vietnam, tried in vain to stop, revise or at least slow down the passage of Resolution 1803. At the end, however, under pressure from the US and its allies, three of the four countries caved in and went along with the resolution. The fourth, Indonesia, abstained. US and its allies, who wanted unanimous vote against Iran in the Security Council, and wished for a much harsher resolution, declared victory nevertheless. But this was not enough. A day after, US, France and Britain tried to introduce another resolution against Iran at the meeting of the IAEA. This time, however, Russia, China and a number of countries belonging to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) stopped the effort and argued that given the action by the Security Council a day earlier, a new resolution against Iran would be superfluous.
All this happened against the backdrop of two major reports undermining the necessity of passing a third sanction resolution against Iran. The first was the November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report, entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities.” The “Key Judgments” portion of the report that was made public stated:
We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program; we also assess with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons. We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran’s announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program and sign an Additional Protocol to its Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement, was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work.
The report, of course, claimed that Iran had exerted “considerable effort from at least the late 1980s to 2003 to develop such [nuclear] weapons.” But the assertion that such efforts had been halted in 2003 not only removed the rationale for the US and Israel to wage a military campaign against Iran but it apparently slowed down the attempt to pass a third sanction act through the Security Council. Indeed, the resolution which passed recently was supposed to have been passed in early summer of 2007. But almost immediately after the conclusion of the NIE report became public the US government, as well as its allies, belittled or even dismissed its value, and, in so doing, made the passage of a new sanction resolution against Iran appear to be urgent.
The second report that undermined the urgency of the 3rd round of UN sanctions was the IAEA report. The summary of the report stated that
The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran. Iran has provided the Agency with access to declared nuclear material and has provided the required nuclear material accountancy reports in connection with declared nuclear material and activities. Iran has also responded to questions and provided clarifications and amplifications on the issues raised in the context of the work plan, with the exception of the alleged studies. Iran has provided access to individuals in response to the Agency’s requests. Although direct access has not been provided to individuals said to be associated with the alleged studies, responses have been provided in writing to some of the Agency’s questions.
The summary also stated that the “Agency has been able to conclude that answers provided by Iran, in accordance with the work plan, are consistent with its findings.” But, the summary also added, the “one major remaining issue relevant to the nature of Iran’s nuclear programme is the alleged studies on the green salt project, high explosives testing and the missile re-entry vehicle.” According to the report, the documents related the allegations were only shown to Iran in February, as late as just a few days before the IAEA report. Iran the report states, “maintained that these allegations are baseless and that the data have been fabricated.” The Agency, the report stated, is examining the allegations and the statements provided by Iran.
The allegations apparently refer to the content of the “stolen laptop” that the US had in its possession and supposedly showed Iran’s plans to build a nuclear warhead. The content of this mysterious laptop had resurfaced a number of times before and its authenticity questioned by a number of sources, including IAEA’s own experts. For example, on February 22, 2007, the Guardian reported that, according to “informed sources” at the IAEA, “most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors.” The report quoted an IAEA “diplomat” as saying: “Most of it has turned out to be incorrect. . . They gave us a paper with a list of sites. [The inspectors] did some follow-up, they went to some military sites, but there was no sign of [banned nuclear] activities.” The report then referred to the mysterious “stolen laptop” that the US had in its possession and supposedly showed Iran’s “plans to build a nuclear warhead.” As the report pointed out, in “July 2005, US intelligence officials showed printed versions of the material to IAEA officials, who judged it to be sufficiently specific to confront Iran.” But the report pointed out that IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the laptop. “First of all,” the Guardian quoted one such official as saying, “if you have a clandestine programme, you don’t put it on laptops which can walk away [Moreover, the] data is all in English which may be reasonable for some of the technical matters, but at some point you’d have thought there would be at least some notes in Farsi. So there is some doubt over the provenance of the computer.” A similar report appeared on February 25, 2007, in the Los Angeles Times under the heading “U.N. Calls U.S. Data on Iran’s Nuclear Aims Unreliable.” The report quoted a “senior diplomat at the IAEA” as saying: “Since 2002, pretty much all the intelligence that’s come to us [by way of the CIA and other Western spy services] has proved to be wrong.” This report, too, pointed out that some IAEA officials doubted the authenticity of the laptop story.
Had IAEA officials changed their minds? Was there more to this report than had been divulged before? Or was the intense pressure exerted on the IAEA by the US and its allies, including repeated calls by the US and Israel to remove the IAEA Director, Dr. ElBaradei, resulted in the IAEA changing its position about the authenticity of the allegations? Given the number of false claims made by the US and its allies-which I have documented in my book-and given the intense pressure that the IAEA has been under to produce results agreeable to Iran’s adversaries, one cannot help but to suspect that story of the mysterious laptop might be another fabrication.
Whatever the nature of the US allegations, one thing is certain: even if the threat of military attack against Iran by the US, Israel or both has subsided for the time being, sanctioning of Iran has not. US unilateral sanctions, as well UN multilateral sanctions, are being intensified. Iran is clearly feeling the pain of numerous sanctions. It is, however, uncertain whether this pain is sufficient for Iran to relinquish its “inalienable right” to “develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination,” as guaranteed under Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The fact that after three rounds of UN sanctions Iran is still cooperating with the IAEA shows that Iran is bending under the pressure. But even if Iran does forfeit its right and capitulates, it is uncertain whether the US and Israel would stop their attempts to contain Iran. If containment means the destruction of any country that stands in the way of US and Israel, the fate of Iran might be similar to that of Iraq; ultimately an excuse will be found to do to Iran what was done to Iraq. The advocates of the dual containment policy, particularly those who had argued that Iran should be contained before Iraq, have been relentless. They will not stop until they achieve the ultimate containment of Iran.
 This essay is based on the Introduction of my book: http://www.routledgemiddleeaststudies.com/books/The-United-States-and-Iran-isbn9780415773966
 The text of Resolution 1803 is available at: http://www.counterpunch.org/2008/sc9268.doc.htm
 The text of the report is available at: http://www.dni.gov/press_releases/20071203_release.pdf
 The text of the report is available at: http://www.iaea.org/Publications/Documents/Board/2008/gov2008-4.pdf
 For more details about the “laptop” see my book, The United States and Iran, and a recent article by Gareth Porter, “Iran Nuke Laptop Data Came from Terror Group,” February 29, 2008: http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=41416.
Sasan Fayazmanesh is chair of the Department of Economics at California State University, Fresno. He can be reached at: email@example.com
In a historic move, Mexican congress members have voted to open the state-controlled energy sector to foreign investment for the first time in 75 years. On Thursday, President Enrique Peña Nieto applauded the legislation, which is poised to become the nation’s most significant economic reform since the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement.
“The energy reform marks a fundamental transformation that will allow us to increase our energy sovereignty and self-sufficiency in Mexico,” Peña Nieto wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “It will also drive productivity, economic growth and job creation in Mexico.”
The legislation will alter several articles of Mexico’s Constitution, allowing private multinationals to develop the country’s oil and natural gas resources for the first time since 1938, when former President Lazaro Cardenas nationalized the energy industry with the creation of Pemex, or Petróleos Mexicanos.
Though Mexico still owns its natural resources, foreign companies such as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp will be able to search, drill and open gasoline stations under contract with the Mexican state.
The end of the Pemex energy monopoly is expected to bring Mexico an additional $20 billion in foreign investment per year as multinationals race to tap vast deepwater oil reserves in the Gulf of Mexico. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the region is the largest unexplored oil patch outside the Arctic Circle.
Yet in a country where local oil production has long been a source of national pride and is often equated with sovereignty, the reform has been heavily contested by opposition leaders from the Party of Democratic Revolution (PRD), who have said the measure should go before a national referendum.
“We warn all private, national and, above all, transnational businesses and companies that want to come and invest in Mexico and petroleum, in order to expropriate Mexican petroleum, to think again,” said Jesus Zambrano, president of the PRD. “The most probable outcome is that within a year and a half, a recall referendum will reject this change.”
On Thursday, PRD members blocked the entrances to the lower house’s main voting hall to prevent discussion of the bill. Antonio Garcia, a PRD lawmaker, even stripped down to his underwear during to symbolize a nation stripped of its wealth.
Regardless, members from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the conservative National Action Party (PAN), met in an adjacent conference room where they passed the legislation with 353-134 vote. Peña Nieto is expected to sign the bill in February after it has been ratified by state legislatures.
Currently, Mexico is the 10th largest oil producer in the world and proponents of the reform say it could propel the nation into the top five by taking advantage of new extraction and deepwater exploration technologies that Pemex cannot afford.
After peaking in 2004, Mexico’s oil production has declined by 25 percent to 2.5 million barrels a day. During the same period, Pemex has more than doubled operational spending to $20 billion per year, gaining the company a reputation for inefficiency and corruption.
Still, Pemex revenues provide a third of Mexican government’s annual budget and the company’s 160,000 employees face an uncertain future as lawmakers finalize the reform details, which include the removal of all five representatives of Pemex’s worker’s union from the company board.
To put the PRI agenda in perspective, The Financial Times said “energy is the climax of a sweeping agenda of reforms, including telecoms, labor, tax and education, which Enrique Peña Nieto has championed in his first year as president.”
El Pais: México cambia su historia energética a contrarreloj – http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2013/12/12/actualidad/1386888542_011957.html
Bloomberg: Mexico Passes Oil Bill Seen Luring $20 Billion a Year – http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-12/mexico-lower-house-passes-oil-overhaul-to-break-state-monopoly.html
New York Times: Mexico’s Pride, Oil, May Be Opened to Outsiders – http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/13/world/americas/mexico-oil.html?hpw&rref=business
Financial Times: Mexico courts foreign investment with energy reform – http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e2242e2c-632e-11e3-886f-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2nIk7FhZe
Wall Street Journal: Mexico Congress Passes Historic Energy Bill – http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303932504579254013051981266
Reuters: Mexican Congress passes radical shake-up of oil industry – http://ca.reuters.com/article/businessNews/idCABRE9BB16820131212
Twenty years since its passage, NAFTA has displaced workers on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, depressed wages, weakened unions, and set the terms of the neoliberal global economy.
Foreign Policy In Focus is partnering with Mexico’s La Jornada del campo magazine, where an earlier version of this commentary appeared, to publish a series of pieces examining the impacts of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years since its implementation. This is the first in the series.
The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, was the door through which American workers were shoved into the neoliberal global labor market.
By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell their products back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II. The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth, and political power.
A Template for Neoliberal Globalization
NAFTA impacted U.S. workers in four principal ways.
First, it caused the loss of some 700,000 jobs as companies moved their production to Mexico, where labor was cheaper. Most of these losses came in California, Texas, Michigan, and other states where manufacturing is concentrated (and where many immigrants from Mexico go). To be sure, there were some job gains along the border in the service and retail sectors resulting from increased trucking activity. But these gains are small in relation to the losses, and have generally come in lower paying occupations. The vast majority of workers who lost jobs from NAFTA, therefore, suffered a permanent loss of income.
Second, NAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. In the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with unions, some companies even started loading machinery into trucks that they said were bound for Mexico. The same threats were used to fight union organizing efforts. The message was: “If you vote to form a union, we will move south of the border.” With NAFTA, corporations also could more easily blackmail local governments into giving them tax breaks and other subsidies, which of course ultimately meant higher taxes on employees and other taxpayers.
Third, NAFTA drove several million Mexican workers and their families out of the agriculture and small business sectors, which could not compete with the flood of products—often subsidized—from U.S. producers. This dislocation was a major cause of the dramatic increase of undocumented workers in the United States, putting further downward pressure on North American wages, particularly in already lower-paying labor markets.
Fourth, and ultimately most importantly, NAFTA created a template for the rules of the emerging global economy, in which the benefits would flow to capital and the costs to labor. Among other things, NAFTA granted corporations extraordinary protections against national labor laws that might threaten profits, set up special courts—chosen from rosters of pro-business experts—to judge corporate suits against governments, and at the same time effectively denied legal status to workers and unions to defend themselves in these new cross-border jurisdictions.
The U.S. governing class—in alliance with the financial elites of its trading partners—applied the NAFTA principles to the World Trade Organization, to the policies of the World Bank and IMF, and to the deal under which employers of China’s huge supply of low-wage workers were allowed access to U.S. markets in exchange for allowing American multinational corporations to invest there. The NAFTA doctrine of socialism for capital and free markets for labor also drove U.S. policy in the Mexican peso crisis of 1994-95, the Asian financial crash of 1997, and the global financial meltdown of 2008. In each case, the U.S. government organized the rescue of banks and corporate investors while letting the workers fend for themselves.
A Watershed in U.S. Politics
In U.S. politics, the passage of NAFTA under President Bill Clinton signaled that the elites of the Democratic Party—the “progressive” major party—had accepted the reactionary economic ideology of Ronald Reagan.
A “North American Accord” was first proposed by the Republican Reagan in 1979, a year before he was elected president. A decade later, his Republican successor, George H.W. Bush, negotiated the final agreement with Mexico and Canada.
At the time, the Democrats who controlled Congress would not approve the agreement. And when Democrat Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, it was widely assumed that the political pendulum would swing back from the right, and that therefore NAFTA would never pass. But Clinton surrounded himself with economic advisers from Wall Street and in his first year pushed the approval of NAFTA through the Congress.
Despite the rhetoric, the central goal of NAFTA was not “expanding trade.” After all, the United States, Mexico, and Canada had been trading goods and services with each other for three centuries. NAFTA’s central purpose was to free American corporations from U.S. laws protecting workers and the environment. Moreover, it paved the way for the rest of the neoliberal agenda in the United States: the privatization of public services, the deregulation of finance, and the destruction of the independent trade union movement.
The inevitable result was to undercut the living standards of workers all across North America: Wages and benefits have fallen behind worker productivity in all three countries. Moreover, despite declining wages in the United States, the gap between the typical American and typical Mexican worker in manufacturing remains the same. Even after adjusting for differences in living costs, Mexican workers continue to make about 30 percent of the wages that workers make in the United States. Thus, NAFTA is both symbol and substance of the global “race to the bottom.”
Creating a New Template
Here in North America there are two alternative political strategies for change.
One is repeal: NAFTA gives each nation the right to opt out of the agreement. The problem is that by now the three countries’ economies and populations have become so integrated that dis-integration could cause widespread dislocation, unemployment, and a substantial drop in living standards.
The other option is to build a cross-border political movement to rewrite NAFTA in a way that gives ordinary citizens rights and labor protections at least equal to the current privileges of corporate investors. For example, all three NAFTA nations should adopt similar high standards for the protection of free trade unions, collective bargaining, and health and safety—and their citizens should have the right to sue other countries for violations.
This would obviously not be easy. But a foundation has already been laid by the growing collaboration among immigrant, trade unionist, human rights, and other activist organizations in all three counties.
If such a movement could succeed in drawing up a new continent-wide social contract, North American economic integration—instead of being a blueprint for worker exploitation—might just become a model for bringing social justice to the global economy.
Jeff Faux is the founder, and now Distinguished Fellow, of the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC. His latest book is The Servant Economy.
A rare way of life is under threat in Spain where authorities have renewed attempts to evict dozens of cave-dwelling families from their homes in an ancient settlement in Granada. Residents say “it’s a disgrace”, and are determined to resist eviction.
Throughout the week dozens of activists have been protesting the eviction they deem unlawful and unfair.
The San Miguel cave dwellers say they have been the victims of the authorities, violating their human rights, and evicting people for cynical reasons only.
San Miguel is the site of one of the four main cave neighborhoods in Southern Spain. For over a thousand years, hundreds of caves carved out of the eye-catching hilltop have been home to gypsies and other homeless settlers.
Abandoned in the 1960s, in recent times eight caves have been occupied by squatters, who reclaimed them to turn them into modest and unconventional homes.
However, several years ago the council announced plans to turn the site into a tourist attraction. The Sacramento caveman heritage would include flamenco caves for tourists, a number of “artisan” and souvenir workshops, as well the main landmark – a hotel – which, according to the council, would “respect the harmony of the area”. The caves happen to be located in a lucrative location, affording the best views over the city, which relies on a robust tourism economy.
The authorities aren’t ruling out the possibility of going to court to get an eviction order. According to the cave dwellers, the court in Strasbourg has already ruled that eviction must be suspended until they have been provided with proper accommodation.
On Thursday, Granada’s city council proposed providing social housing to the cave dwellers.
RT’s Lucy Kafanov, reporting from the site, spoke to local residents and activists who told her it’s the third attempt by the authorities to clear cave dwellings in the past six years. Officials have repeatedly claimed that the “hand-made” homes built there are dangerous.
A spokesman for the cave dwellers argues their homes may be lacking fancy furniture but are perfectly habitable. Juan Antonio Parra told RT that should eviction take place this time round, people will band together to resist it.
“We certainly will resist, using every legal means available. Which is more than can be said of the city council, whose actions have been unlawful and underhand all along the way. First, they have no property rights on the caves. Secondly, they never did an expert assessment of the caves’ condition. There have been no cave-ins in any of the caves that the city council proclaimed to be crumbling as far back as three years ago, not even after the heavy rainfall we have had. So we can see their lie for what it is: they just need an excuse to throw us out.”
Parra says that what is happening these days is in fact highly reminiscent of past events.
“This has happened before, the seizures and the evictions: under the Francoist regime, and before that, during the reign of the Catholic kings. These caves have always sheltered Arabs, Gypsies, etc. The past still prevails in this part of Granada, so we believe the authorities will not succeed here.”
Local activist, Antonio Redondo, believes that plans to evict the cave dwellers have nothing to do with worries about comfortable and safe living conditions.
“It is a disgrace. This has nothing to do with concerns for the people. The government cares nothing for the fact that there are some 500 evictions administered in Andalusia every day. Instead, they keep trying to exploit the situation. They insist on eviction rather than carry out an assessment of the caves’ condition, or call a town hall meeting with the cave dwellers in order to explain the makeover plan and offer to relocate the inhabitants. This shows how totally unconcerned they are about these people.”
The government of Andalusia is expected to bring experts to the site to evaluate it. The cave dwellers are also looking for independent architects to confirm that their houses are a safe place to live.
In a bid to resolve the escalating crisis, the activists are planning to establish a co-op tenant council to help sort out property rights.
“After all, these caves belong to the original settlers. That makes the city council complicit of a fraudulent sale scheme, where all of their assets are effectively illegal,” Parra told RT.
“Right now, we are attending various meetings to figure out what our nearest future looks like.”
So far initial plans to convert the caves into a tourist area have been canceled due to the global economic crisis.
Spain, whose banks suffered a severe blow during the financial downturn, is said to be slowly emerging from a deep economic slump. Although Spain’s economy grew 0.1 percent in the July-to-September period, it still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the industrialized world. Earlier this year, the International Monetary Fund predicted that the debt-ridden country is likely to be saddled with unemployment of about 25 percent until up to 2018. Unpopular austerity measures have led to riots across the country.
In a landmark ruling, Reykjavík District Court sentenced four former executives of Kaupthing Bank to between 3 and 5 1/2 years in prison for financial crimes dating back to 2008.
Vísir reports that former Kaupthing director Hreiðar Már Sigurðsson received the heaviest sentence: five and a half years, minus time already spent in custody. He was also sentenced to pay 33.4 million ISK in legal fees.
Former Kaupthing chairperson – and former Interpol fugitive – Sigurður Einarsson was sentenced to five years, and a total of 14.3 million ISK in legal fees.
Investor Ólafur Ólafsson was sentenced to three and a half years, and 20.6 million ISK in legal fees.
Former director of the Luxemborg branch of Kaupthing Magnús Guðmundsson was sentenced to three years in prison.
In the court’s opinion, the four conspired to conceal the fact that one of the investors in Kaupthing, Mohammad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, owned his 5.01% stake in the bank thanks to money lent to him by the bank itself.
Investigations into the four go back to the Icelandic bank crash of autumn 2008. In the wake of a report on the contributing causes of the crash from the Special Investigative Commission, the Special Prosecutor’s Office was created. The office targeted many top bank officials from Glitnir and Kaupthing.
Eva Joly, who at one point served as an assistant to the Special Prosecutor, told the Grapevine last year that Iceland should “be proud you invested in these investigations”, while cautioning to have patience – investigations were three years along at the time.
The four are expected to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. All of their prison sentences are non-probationary.
… It appears that Krugman has decided to discuss the TPP agreement after many of his readers asked him to weigh in. And his response is basically to dismiss the entire agreement as not really being a big deal one way or the other. The entire crux of his analysis can be summed up as: trade between most of the countries in the negotiations are already quite liberalized, so removing a few more trade barriers is unlikely to have much of a consequence. Therefore, the agreement is no big deal and he doesn’t get why people are so up in arms over it.
On his basic reasoning, he’s correct. There’s little trade benefit to be gained here. In fact, some countries have already realized this. But that’s why the TPP is so nefarious. It’s being pitched as a sort of “free trade deal,” and Krugman analyzes it solely on that basis. That’s exactly what the USTR would like people to think, and it’s part of the reason why they’ve refused to be even the slightest bit transparent about what’s actually in the agreement.
Instead, the TPP has always been a trade liberalization agreement in name only. Sure, there’s some of that in there, but it’s always been about pushing for regulatory change in other countries around the globe, using trade as the club to get countries to pass laws that US companies like. That’s why there’s an “IP chapter” that is entirely about building up barriers to trade in a so-called “free trade” agreement. It’s why a key component of the bill is the corporate sovereignty provisions, frequently called “investor state dispute settlement” (in order to lull you to sleep, rather than get you angry), which allow companies to sue countries if they pass laws that those companies feel undermine their profits (e.g., if they improve patent laws to reject obvious patents — leading angry pharmaceutical companies to demand half a billion dollars in lost “expected profits.”)
Krugman judging the TPP solely on its net impact on trade is exactly what TPP supporters are hoping will happen, so it’s disappointing that he would fall into that trap. Thankfully, economist Dean Baker, who does understand what’s really in TPP, was quick to write up a powerful and detailed response to Krugman that is worth reading.
However it is a misunderstanding to see the TPP as being about trade. This is a deal that focuses on changes in regulatory structures to lock in pro-corporate rules. Using a “trade” agreement provides a mechanism to lock in rules that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get through the normal political process.
To take a couple of examples, our drug patent policy (that’s patent protection, as in protectionism) is a seething cesspool of corruption. It increases the amount that we pay for drugs by an order of magnitude and leads to endless tales of corruption. Economic theory predicts that when you raise the price of a product 1000 percent or more above the free market price you will get all forms of illegal and unethical activity from companies pursuing patent rents.
Anyhow, the U.S. and European drug companies face a serious threat in the developing world. If these countries don’t enforce patents in the same way as we do, then the drugs that sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars per prescription in the U.S. may sell for $5 or $10 per prescription in the developing world. With drug prices going ever higher, it will be hard to maintain this sort of segmented market. Either people in the U.S. will go to the cheap drugs or the cheap drugs will come here.
For this reason, trade deals like the TPP, in which they hope to eventually incorporate India and other major suppliers of low cost generics, can be very important. The drug companies would like to bring these producers into line and impose high prices everywhere. (Yes, we need to pay for research. And yes, there are far more efficient mechanisms
for financing research than government granted patent monopolies.)
The U.S. military has decided to scrap nearly half a billion dollars worth of aircraft purchased for Afghanistan’s air force because the planes couldn’t handle the climate, among other problems.
A total of 16 cargo planes, the G222 manufactured by Italy’s Finmeccanica, now sit at Kabul International Airport. They were flown only 200 of the 4,500 hours scheduled for flight training by Afghan pilots before the U.S. decided to shut them down.
The Obama administration spent $486 million to purchase the aircraft, which were supposed to comprise 15% of the Afghan Air Force.
“We need answers to this huge waste of U.S. taxpayer money,” John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction who is investigating the matter, said in an email to Bloomberg. “Who made the decision to purchase these planes, and why? We need to get to the bottom of this, and that’s why we’re opening this inquiry.”
A January 31 Pentagon Inspector General report, marked “For Official Use Only,” criticized NATO and U.S. training commands for “hav[ing] not effectively managed the program.”
Lieutenant General Charles Davis, the U.S. Air Force’s top military acquisition official, told Bloomberg: “Just about everything you can think of was wrong for it other than the airplane was built for the size of cargo and mission they needed.”
“Other than that, it didn’t really meet any of the requirements,” he added.
A key problem was that the planes couldn’t handle the heat and dust of Afghanistan’s environment, which caused numerous maintenance troubles and prevented them from flying.
Davis said the Air Force tried to sell the aircraft to another country, but couldn’t locate any buyers. So now they will be dismantled for parts.
The U.S. decided to replace the G222s with American-made C-130H transports for the Afghan Air Force to use. But the replacements won’t be available until 2016.
To Learn More:
- Planes Parked in Weeds in Kabul After $486 Million Spent (by Tony Capaccio, Bloomberg)
- Notification of Special Project: Lessons Learned Review of the G222 (C-27A) Aircraft Program (Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction)
- Fleet of Planes from $486 Million Program for Afghan Security Forces Scheduled to Be Destroyed (by Hanqing Chen, Daily Beast)
- U.S.-Led Military Unit in Afghanistan Lost $230 Million in Spare Parts, Then Spent $138 Million for More (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
- U.S. Military Builds $34-Million High-Tech Operations Complex in Afghanistan…and Will Never Use It (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov)
- U.S. Military to Shred Thousands of Million-Dollar Armored Vehicles in Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
The administration of President Barack Obama has told lawmakers in US Congress that they could pass new sanctions against Iran as far as they are not “nuclear-related.”
During a public testimony before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, State Department official Wendy Sherman, who led the US delegation in nuclear talks with Iran in Geneva, indicated that US lawmakers had the green light from the Obama administration to pass new anti-Iran sanctions as long as the sanctions are not “nuclear-related.”
“Given that there are different kinds of sanctions and the agreement focuses on nuclear-related sanctions,” Sen. Mike Crapo, the top Republican on the Committee, asked Sherman, “assuming we can specify exactly what that is and distinguish between the different sanctions, does that mean that Congress would be free to pass other sanctions measures while we are” negotiating over a final deal over Iran’s nuclear energy program?
“We have said to Iran that we will continue to enforce all of our existing sanctions, and we have said that this agreement pertains only to new nuclear-related sanctions,” Sherman answered.
In a phone interview with Press TV on Thursday, US Congress policy advisor Frederick Peterson said that the problem with some hawkish US lawmakers who are pushing for a new anti-Iran sanctions bill is exacerbated by the way the Obama administration is “misrepresenting” the interim deal between Iran and the P5+1 to the American people and Congress.
Meanwhile, the US Departments of Treasury and State announced new sanctions against a number of companies and individuals for “providing support for” Iran’s nuclear energy program.
Treasury Department official David Cohen, who also testified before the Senate Banking Committee on Thursday, said the new sanctions were “a stark reminder to businesses, banks, and brokers everywhere that we will continue relentlessly to enforce our sanctions.”
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi has hit out at Washington, saying that the new restrictions are in full contradiction with the recent nuclear deal between Tehran and the P5+1. Araqchi also said that Tehran is now assessing the current situation.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi slams the new US sanctions targeting Iran, saying the bans run counter to the spirit of the recent nuclear deal reached between Tehran and six major world powers.
“This [US] move is against the spirit of the Geneva deal,” Araqchi said on Friday.
“We are assessing the current situation,” the senior member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team added.
On Thursday, the administration of US President Barack Obama issued new sanctions against more than a dozen companies and individuals for “providing support for” Iran’s nuclear energy program.
The US Treasury Department said it was freezing assets and banning transactions of entities that attempt to evade the sanctions against Iran.
The sanctions came despite the nuclear deal inked between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, France, Britain and the US – plus Germany in the Swiss city of Geneva on November 24 in a bid to set the stage for the full resolution of the West’s decade-old dispute with Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program.
Under the Geneva deal, the six countries have undertaken to lift some of the existing sanctions against the Islamic Republic in exchange for Iran agreeing to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities during six months. It was also agreed that no more sanctions would be imposed on Iran in the same time frame.
Iran and the six powers ended four days of intense expert-level negotiations in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had earlier warned that the Geneva nuclear deal will be “dead” if the US imposes further sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
“The entire deal is dead. We do not like to negotiate under duress. And if Congress adopts sanctions, it shows lack of seriousness and lack of a desire to achieve a resolution on the part of the United States,” Zarif said in an exclusive interview with Time magazine in Tehran on Saturday.
Lawmakers in the US Congress reached an agreement on Monday in both the House and the Senate on the proposed federal budget for 2014, which would allocate $520.5 billion for defence spending and $491.8 billion for non-defence.
The defence budget includes an increase in military aid to Israel that will be given as private aid, thus it will be in addition to the $3.1 billion dollars already given annually to Tel Aviv.
The budget is still awaiting formal approval and the exact amount of additional aid to Israel remains unclear.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee had endorsed an increase of $488 million in military aid to Israel to pay for Israel’s procurement and development of additional rocket and missile interception systems. The newspaper noted that this sum is considerably higher than previously expected.
However, Reuters news agency reported that the additional military aid to Israel would exceed $500 million after a compromise defence bill proposed on Monday agreed to boost US spending on missile defence by $358 million to $9.5 billion, mandating another homeland defence radar and increased funding for US-Israeli cooperative efforts.
Israel’s Channel 7 News reported that US President Barack Obama had originally requested $220 million of additional private military aid to Israel to buy extra Iron Dome short-range interceptor missiles and the batteries they are launched from, which was approved.
According to the Israeli media network, in addition to the above, the supplementary aid will allocate $173 million in funding for US-Israeli cooperative missile defence programs, which includes “nearly $34 million to improve the Arrow weapon system and $22 million for work on developing another, more advanced interceptor,” noting that, “The move signals further cooperation between Boeing and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).”
The new budget will also allocate $117.2 million to Israel for the “development of the David’s Sling short-range ballistic missile defence system, which is being developed jointly by Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defence Systems and the US’s Raytheon.”
Furthermore, “An additional $15 million will be directed for US co-production of Iron Dome components. Raytheon has a joint marketing agreement with Israeli state-owned manufacturer Rafael Advanced Defence Systems for the Iron Dome system.”
Both the US and Israeli media are reporting that the supplemental funds are intended to protect Israel from the increasing threats coming from Iran, Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
In addition to the supplemental aid, US Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel has promised Israel that the existing $3.1 billion package of military aid would remain intact, despite US spending cuts.
The final vote on the budget is expected to take place before Congress leaves for the year.
Haaretz noted that, “Despite frequent disputes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regarding the peace process with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, US President Barack Obama’s administration continues to be extraordinarily generous when it comes to granting military aid. Israeli defence officials see last week’s decision as further evidence of the strength of the relationship between the two countries.”
- Congress triples Obama’s request on defense cooperation with Israel (timesofisrael.com)
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton says Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends to sign” an agreement with the European Union to enhance economic and political relations with the bloc.
Ashton said on arrival for a meeting in Brussels on Thursday after her visit to Kiev that Yanukovych “made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement.”
She added that the short-term economic and financial issues Ukraine faces could be “addressed by the support that not only comes from the EU institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement.”
Ashton also said that the signature of the deal would help to bring in the kind of investment that the Ukrainian president is in need of.
The executive body of the European Union had said on December 9 that Ashton would travel to Ukraine on December 10 on a two-day visit, with a European Commission spokesperson noting that the visit aims to “support a way out of the political crisis in Ukraine.”
Last month, Kiev refused to sign the agreement with the bloc in a move that triggered major street protests by the opposition supporters, who want Ukraine to become closer to the EU and distance itself from Russia.
Clashes erupted several times between the anti-government protesters and police forces during the demonstrations. Several arrests were made in the course of the protests as well.
In an effort to calm the political unrest, President Yanukovych invited all parties, including the opposition, to engage in dialog. However, Ukrainian opposition leaders on Wednesday turned down his offer of negotiations, calling for dismissal of his government and release of the detained protesters.
On the same day, the US State Department said it is considering sanctions against Ukraine if security forces intensify the crackdown on anti-government protesters in the country.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko had vowed earlier that police would not act against peaceful protesters.