Secretary of State Kerry has earned an unenviable reputation for bombastic exaggeration at times when diplomatic caution is needed, a pattern that he has demonstrated again in rushing to judgment over the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The last time a major war loomed on the near horizon, Secretary of State John Kerry played fast and loose with the facts. In a speech on Aug. 30, 2013, he solemnly claimed, no fewer than 35 times, “we know” that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad was responsible for chemical attacks outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Just a few days later it became abundantly clear that Kerry did not know. There was instead a great deal of uncertainty within the U.S. intelligence community. And, to their credit, my former colleagues in CIA and in the Defense Intelligence Agency stood their ground by refusing to say “we know.”
Indeed, the dog-not-barking moment in the Syria-sarin case was the absence of U.S. intelligence officials sitting behind Kerry when he testified about his supposed knowledge to the U.S. Congress. Unlike the tableau in 2003 when CIA Director George Tenet positioned himself behind Secretary of State Colin Powell to give silent endorsement to Powell’s false allegations about Iraqi WMD to the United Nations Security Council, Kerry had no such support when he made his case against Syria’s government, although the clueless U.S. mainstream news media failed to notice this significant absence.
We Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) tried to alert President Barack Obama to this lack of consensus among our former colleagues in a Memorandum for the President on Sept. 6. Determined to avoid a redux of the fraudulent intelligence performance on Iraqi WMD, our former colleagues refused to “fix the intelligence around the policy” – again. The opposition was so strong that not even the malleable CIA Director John Brennan could give Kerry the usual “Intelligence Assessment” he wanted. So the best the Obama administration could cook up was something called a “Government Assessment” bereft of verifiable evidence and shorn of the normal dissents that intelligence analysts file with traditional estimates.
The reason for this internal intelligence community resistance was that, from the start, it made little sense that Assad would have launched a sarin attack right outside Damascus just as UN inspectors were unpacking at their Damascus hotel, having arrived in Syria to examine another chemical incident that Assad was blaming on the rebels. Further, the evidence quickly began to accumulate that the Syrian rebels had sarin and that they may well have been the ones who released it on Aug. 21 in a scheme to push Obama across his “red line” against the use of chemical weapons and induce the U.S. military to join the civil war on the rebel side.
At the time, the rebels were increasingly desperate. They had suffered a string of setbacks earlier last summer. The Turks, who had been aiding the rebels, also were growing convinced that only open U.S. military involvement could avert a looming defeat. So they set out, with apparent support of hawks in the U.S. State Department, to mousetrap President Obama into “retaliating” against Syria for crossing the “red line.”
Kerry’s performance on Aug. 30 – with all his “we knows” – was a clarion call for attacking Syria and might have prevailed, were it not for the fact that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey intervened and talked sense to the President. Less than 24 hours after Kerry spoke, Obama surprised virtually everyone in Official Washington by announcing that he had decided not to attack Syria immediately as expected, but rather would go to Congress for authorization.
How close the world came to another U.S. war was underscored by the fact that after Obama’s decision, France, which had been eager to attack, had to be told to decrease the alert status of the fighter-bombers it had on the tarmac. Israel had to be told it could relax the highest-alert posture of its defenses.
On Sept. 1, Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham angrily confirmed that Dempsey’s intervention had put the kibosh on their clearly expressed desire to attack Syria post-haste.
Kerry: Giving It the College Try
But an attack on Syria was still in play and Kerry gave a bravura performance in his Sept. 3 testimony to a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee whose leaders showed by their own remarks the degree to which they, too, were lusting for an attack on Syria. Kerry’s testimony on Syria included a transparent attempt to play down the effectiveness of al-Qaeda affiliates in gaining control of the armed opposition to Assad.
Kerry’s testimony drew a highly unusual personal criticism from Russian President Vladimir Putin. In a televised meeting of the Russian Presidential Human Rights Council on Sept. 4, Putin said, “He [Kerry] is lying, and he knows he is lying. It is sad.”
But Kerry continued to dissemble. Still arguing for war on Syria, Kerry was asked at the end of a Sept. 9 press conference in London whether there was anything Assad could do to prevent a U.S. attack. Kerry answered (quite dismissively, in view of subsequent events) that Assad could give up every one of his chemical weapons, but “he isn’t about to do that; it can’t be done.”
However, such a plan was already afoot, being pushed by Putin’s diplomats. Later that same day, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his Syrian counterpart announced that Syria had agreed to allow all its chemical weapons to be removed and destroyed. Cutting out Kerry, Obama had cut a deal directly with Putin. All Syria’s chemical weapons have now been destroyed.
So this is the backdrop against which to give credence, or not, to Kerry’s stacking up the evidence against Russia for the shoot-down of the Malaysian airliner on Thursday over Ukraine.
If the best the US can do to pin the blame for the Malaysia Flight 17 downing on Russia is to have Secretary of State John Kerry say that “circumstantial evidence” points to Moscow being behind it, we can be pretty certain it was not Russia at all.
Kerry’s credibility on such matters has been in the toilet since last August when he claimed during last year’s furor and push for war against Syria’s Basher al Assad that he had seen “clear and compelling evidence” that the Syrian government had used poison gas against its own people. That “evidence” turned out (clearly with Kerry’s knowledge) to have been ginned up, falsified and staged, and in the end it was evident that Syria had not been the guilty party. Had Kerry and the White House succeeded in duping the world and the American people the way President George W. Bush and VP Dick Cheney succeeded in duping them about Iraq’s “WMDs,” an armada of US planes and ships already in position around Syria would have begun a massive aerial bombardment of Syria sparking a whole new war in the Middle East, even as Iraq was already in the throes of a civil war.
Fortunately, John Kerry’s and the accommodating US corporate media’s lies that time were exposed, and that bloody catastrophe was averted.
Now, undeterred by that first attempt at a full-blown campaign of lies, Kerry and the Obama White House are at it again, trying to falsify a casus belli against Russia by blaming Moscow for the downing of a civilian airliner that killed 298 people.
The problem for Kerry and Washington’s warmongers is that the story they’re selling is ludicrous.
Ukraine’s military has a hundred or so Buk anti-aircraft missiles and dozens of mobile launchers which have been seen in a Kiev parade
Why on earth would the Russians (who have been scrupulously avoiding getting involved in the Ukraine fighting), have provided the separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine with Buk missiles capable of downing high-altitude planes? Such aircraft pose no threat to the rebels. What they fear is the Ukraine military’s ground attack aircraft and bombers, and their helicopter gunships and troop transport planes. And they already have demonstrated that they’ve got the weapons to deal with those, in the form of shoulder-fired, wire-guided missiles — weapons that don’t have the capability to down aircraft flying at anywhere near 33,000 feet.
The answer to that question is that Russia would gain nothing, and would stand to lose a lot by contributing to the downing of a civilian aircraft. In fact, we can see, in the desperate effort by Kerry to pin the blame on Russia, exactly whey they would never have wanted to do such a thing.
That goes for the separatist rebels, too. The last thing they would want would be to give reluctant NATO allies of the US in Europe a reason to join the war-mongering campaign of the US in backing the Ukrainian government’s “anti-terrorist” campaign against them. After all, the separatists have actually been doing pretty well at stymieing the Ukrainian military as it is. In addition, increasing numbers of Ukrainians in western Ukraine are growing frustrated with the corruption, incompetence and war-making of their government. How do the rebels then gain by angering Western European nations and the Ukrainian people? Answer: They don’t.
Indeed the only parties who could conceivably gain by the downing of a civilian airliner would be the US and Ukraine, if they thought they could manage to pin the blame on the Russians and/or the separatist rebels. (For those who find it hard to swallow the idea that the US would deliberately shoot down a plane carrying 298 civilians in order to get a war going, there is another theory out there: that the Ukrainians — or some rogue element of the Ukraine military — thought the plane was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own “Air Force One” carrying him back from the Brazil World Cup. In fact the flight paths of the two plans actually intersected within a fairly short time frame according to some reports.)
Meanwhile, it has already been demonstrated that the “evidence” that the US and Ukraine are citing — an electronic communication allegedly between a rebel and a Russian general referring to the downing of Malaysian Flight 17, was made a day before the downing happened (a point not mentioned in the breathless corporate media reports). That sounds like something the CIA would have had a hand in, as many believe it did in the also bogus “notice” earlier this year allegedly calling on Jews in eastern Ukraine to register with rebel authorities. As for the claim that the rebels had in their possession a Buk missile launcher, and that it came from Russia, this is highly dubious. First of all, as mentioned, there was no reason for Russia to provide such a weapon to the rebels. Second, if the rebels, often described as a rag-tag group, ever got such sophisticated weapons, they would not have had the training to use it. Kerry is also saying that the US “has the trajectory” of a missile fired by a Buk launcher in rebel-held territory “near the scene of the crash,” but of course, he also said the US “had the trajectories” of the poison gas rockets and that they came from a Syrian military installation–a claim that later proved false.
On the other hand, Ukraine’s military is known to possess several dozen mobile Buk missile launchers in its arsenal, and some of these were known to have been moved into eastern Ukraine. Why Ukraine’s military would have done this, when the rebels have no air force, is a good question — one which the Russians are asking (but which the US corporate media have not bothered to speculate about).
So we have Kerry’s lies and the lies of other US government officials, backed by the same complicit and propagandistic US media that ran with their lies so unquestioningly in the Syria poison gas incident, with little but the alternative media and some of the foreign media to rely on for more honest and forthright investigation into this case. And we have the Ukrainian government, which has been charging all along, against all logic, that the pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine are all “terrorists,” also claiming that it’s the Russians and the rebels who did the deed.
No doubt it will be a while before the truth comes out about this story. In the meantime, the best evidence that it was not the Russians and the rebels in Ukraine who shot down the plane is that Secretary of State Kerry is trying to convince us all that they did it.
Meanwhile everyone would do well to calm down and heed the warning of former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, a 27-year Agency veteran, now retired, who points to the campaign of lies orchestrated during the early Reagan administration concerning the Russian shoot-down of a Korean 747 back in 1983. While the Reagan White House and the Pentagon knew from captured radio transmissions between the Russian fighter pilot and his base that he made efforts to warn the Korean plane to land, including the firing of tracer bullets in the dark sky, and knew that he had become convinced he was dealing with a US military spy plane flying over a highly secret part of Russia’s western defenses, before he fired a missile to shoot it down, McGovern says they doctored those tapes to make it look like he had done the opposite, heartlessly shooting down a civilian plane on orders from Moscow. The goal of this official Washington lie, McGovern says, was to incite American hatred against the Soviet Union, which had been waning since the end of the Vietnam War.
McGovern also suggests that the US government covered up the true cause of the downing of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island in 1996, which he says may well have been caused by an errant US missile, and not, as claimed, by a spark in a fuel tank.
McGovern’s advice in this current campaign of deceit: “There is, sadly,…reason to kick the tires of any fancy truck carrying ‘intelligence’ offered by the U.S. with respect to the Malaysian Airline shoot-down.”
A man is taken from his home by 20 armed, militarized police in fascist black uniforms. They break in through the doors and windows, rappel from the roof with ropes, storm the home where he lives with his wife and four children, in the dead of night.
They take him away, and no one hears from him for days, and then weeks, and then months. He isn’t charged with anything; for a long time he is simply disappeared. There is no official charge, but he is a known political activist, a writer, a lecturer.
This isn’t news, because the country is Jordan, the orders come from the US or from Israel, and the man is an Arab, a Palestinian.
I met Amer Jubran 13 years ago when he was living in the United States. He was arrested for the first time at a protest in Brookline, MA that he helped to organize against a yearly celebration of the colonization of Palestine called “Israel Day.” Police arrested him, broke up the demonstration, held him over night in jail with hand and leg shackles, and then charged him with assaulting a passerby. After a lengthy series of court hearings, the judge found the charges to be baseless. Information obtained in the course of the hearings revealed instead that the police had been in the pay of the Israel Day organizers, including the Israeli consulate. The police had been communicating with them about the protest–including details about individual protest organizers–and had more or less acted as agents of a foreign government.
At that time, I knew almost nothing about the history of Palestine. I attended Amer’s trial because the civil rights violations involved in his arrest were so egregious that his case required support from anyone who sincerely believed in basic political rights.
The bulk of Amer’s trial in Brookline took place in the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. The US had just declared an open-ended “war against terrorism,” and already news had begun to trickle out about mass detentions of Arab and Muslim men who were being held beyond the reach of any legal authority, detained indefinitely without access to fundamental rights of due process, and stories were starting to come out about the extensive use of torture.
And at the same time the US passed the Patriot Act and reorganized its security apparatus to create a new “Department of Homeland Security.” With it came new types of federal agents with expanded powers over both citizens and non-citizens; federal, state, and local police were increasingly networked with private agencies in JTTFs; ‘fusion centers’ emerged as nodes of uncontrolled ‘information sharing’ about everyone.
Those of us who were politically active at the time could see what was coming. I remember friends circulating a famous quote from Hanna Arendt:
“The first essential step in the road to total domination is to kill the juridical person in man. This was done, on the one hand, by putting certain categories of people outside the protection of the law and forcing at the same time, through the instrument of denationalization, the nontotalitarian world into recognition of lawlessness; it was done, on the other, by placing the concentration camp outside the normal penal system, and by selecting its inmates outside the normal judicial procedure in which a definite crime entails a predictable penalty.” (Origins of Totalitarianism)
We could see what was coming and those of us who cared got involved however we could.
I got to know Amer in the course of his trial and began to learn about Palestine: the expulsion of Palestinians in 1948, the occupation of the remainder of Palestine in 1967, the continuing circumstances of racist oppression and land theft, not only in all of historic Palestine, but in the entire region surrounding it. To be Palestinian in Nazareth, or in Gaza, or in al Quds (also called Jerusalem), or Khalil (“Hebron”), is much the same as to be Palestinian in Amman (Jordan) or in Sabra and Shatila (Lebanon). The refugees fled murder on their land and it sought them out in the camps. To be Palestinian anywhere in historic Palestine is to be subject to arbitrary detention without trial (‘administrative detention’), and it’s the same in Amman or in Cairo.
I visited Khalil for the first time in 2003. What I saw there became for me an image of the entire region. Some 120,000 Palestinians live in the greater area of Khalil–the city and interconnected villages surrounding it. 400 zionist settlers live in a garrison called Kharsina. For their sake, a regime of total lockdown was imposed on all the Palestinians in the city and villages. All village entries and exits were blocked with boulders and other roadblocks. Curfew imposed. Children couldn’t attend school, elders couldn’t reach hospitals, no one could move goods. All this so that 400 settlers can feel ‘secure’ living on stolen land. This is the meaning of ‘security.’
And this is the image of the region. For the sake of less than 6 million highly privileged colonial-settlers, over 150 million Arabs in the surrounding region live under circumstances of political repression, foreign invasion, occupation, and poverty. No freedom of movement, no freedom of expression, no basic political rights. This is what it means when we say ‘for Israel’s security.’
I learned about Palestine and I became active along with Amer and others we knew in trying to speak for the cause of Palestine where we lived in the United States. Together with other Palestinians living in the area, Amer created an organization called the New England Committee to Defend Palestine.
We spoke of the unity of the Palestinian cause, of liberation for all of historic Palestine, for the rights of refugees to return to their homes.
Two days after the first demonstration of the NECDP, FBI and INS agents broke into Amer’s home in Rhode Island and demanded that he answer some questions. “Please the ears of this gentleman,” said the INS agent pointing to the FBI agent, “or you’ll rot in jail for fifty years.” Amer demanded his right to an attorney. They jailed him, at first without charges or access to a lawyer. We obtained a lawyer for Amer, but they refused to give any information to him when he called, and hung up on him. They held him that way for 17 days. It took an international campaign just to get him a bond hearing.
Eventually the INS (which became the ICE) manufactured immigration charges against Amer to justify–and at the same time conceal–the US government’s political persecution. They now claimed that the marriage through which he had obtained his green card had been fraudulent.
For over a year, we fought the case in hearings before the immigration court. The Department of Homeland Security devoted more than 12 FBI agents to “gathering information” on what was ostensibly an immigration matter. Agents visited members of Amer’s ex-wife’s family and tried to intimidate them into testifying against him. In some cases they showed pictures of Amer taken at demonstrations in the US and claimed that they were images from a “terrorist training camp” in Afghanistan. They tried to connect Amer with 9/11, and to suggest that people who didn’t fully cooperate might make themselves liable to prosecution in connection with “terrorism.”
We fought the case in the immigration court for more than a year. In the course of the proceedings, we submitted FOIA petitions that turned up evidence of widespread cooperation between local police and federal agents in monitoring us and other activists for political activities such as demonstrations, educational websites, and court solidarity. These included the following:
*Still photographs of Amer, his friends, witnesses and supporters taken inside the courtroom during his Brookline trial, and sent to the Boston Police
*A fax cover sheet documenting the communication of records between the Brookline Police and the FBI in July, 2003
*More than twelve video tapes made by the Boston police of pro-Palestine, anti-war, and civil liberties/immigrant rights rallies, which all found their way into a file concerning Amer Jubran
*A memo from the FBI refusing to grant the FOIA petition on the grounds that the subject was “under investigation.”
When it became clear that the immigration court was not a venue in which justice could be obtained, Amer took ‘voluntary departure’ and returned to Jordan in 2004.
Amer’s hearings were well attended by activists. The media closely followed his case, and there was considerable outrage that the government would use immigration proceedings to silence political speech.
A decade has passed. In that time, the arrest and prosecution of Arabs and Muslims for ‘terrorism’ based on speech–especially the defense of the rights of their peoples to resist invasion and occupation by the US or Israel–has been normalized in the framework of domestic security. There is openly a 1st Amendment exception for Arabs and Muslims. Torture and extrajudicial killing (assassination) are no longer dirty secrets, but official policy. Habeas corpus died with the Supreme Court decision in the Hamdi case; the body of policies and cases surrounding indefinite detention outside the reach of the law have now been codified in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012, giving the US military the power to detain anyone without recourse to meaningful judicial oversight.
So that now, when 20 black-clad militarized police arrest a Palestinian in his home in Jordan for criticizing US and Israeli policies in the region–an arrest carried out almost certainly at the behest of the US–it just isn’t news. No journalist is interested in the story; no major media outlet will cover it.
Amer continues to be held in Jordan without charges, but has finally been allowed a visit by family, and his whereabouts are now known. His spirit remains strong.
Jordan recently passed legislation further criminalizing political speech as part of its “anti-terrorism” laws. The new amendments specifically criminalize activities that are harmful to Jordan’s relationship with foreign governments. Even before the passage of the new legislation, Jordan had already tried Mwaffaq Mahadin for “endangering relations with a foreign state” for speaking about Jordan’s security cooperation with the US on Al-Jazeera, so it isn’t hard to imagine how the new legislation will be applied. Over the past year, Amer has been sending out critical information and articles about Israeli, US and Jordanian cooperation in destabilizing Syria.
But at this point, it’s hardly even necessary to invent crimes and pass legislation. Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID)–the agency responsible for Amer’s arrest– is a black hole, accountable to no one, except possibly its paymaster, the US. One Jordanian lawyer told me, when I asked about the possibility of filing habeas corpus on Amer’s behalf, “There’s no such thing here. Our country is being maintained as a conduit to Guantanamo.”
Amer might sit indefinitely in detention without charges. Or he may be brought up at any time and charged with “terrorism” before the State Security Court, a rubber stamp court for the GID. If so, his lawyer might be told the charges a day or two before the sham trial, which then leads to inevitable conviction–a mere formality.
Only a concerted political campaign that gets widespread international attention can make any difference. It’s up to us to create enough visibility to make that possible.
Noah Cohen is active with the Amer Jubran Defense Campaign (freeamer.wordpress.com) and can be reached through the campaign at defense (at ) amerjubrandefense.org.
Despite doubts within the U.S. intelligence community, the Obama administration and the mainstream U.S. news media are charging off toward another rush to judgment blaming Ukrainian rebels and the Russian government for the shoot-down of a Malaysia Airlines plane, much as occurred last summer regarding a still-mysterious sarin gas attack in Syria.
In both cases, rather than let independent investigators sort out the facts, President Barack Obama’s ever-aggressive State Department and the major U.S. media simply accepted that the designated villains of those two crises – Bashar al-Assad in Syria and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine – were the guilty parties. Yet, some U.S. intelligence analysts dissented from both snap conventional wisdoms.
Regarding the shoot-down of the Malaysian jetliner on Thursday, I’m told that some CIA analysts cite U.S. satellite reconnaissance photos suggesting that the anti-aircraft missile that brought down Flight 17 was fired by Ukrainian troops from a government battery, not by ethnic Russian rebels who have been resisting the regime in Kiev since elected President Viktor Yanukovych was overthrown on Feb. 22.
According to a source briefed on the tentative findings, the soldiers manning the battery appeared to be wearing Ukrainian uniforms and may have been drinking, since what looked like beer bottles were scattered around the site. But the source added that the information was still incomplete and the analysts did not rule out the possibility of rebel responsibility.
A contrary emphasis has been given to the Washington Post and other mainstream U.S. outlets. On Saturday, the Post reported that “on Friday, U.S. officials said a preliminary intelligence assessment indicated the airliner was blown up by an SA-11 surface-to-air missile fired by the separatists.” But the objectivity of the Obama administration, which has staunchly supported the coup regime, is in question as are the precise reasons for its judgments.
Even before the Feb. 22 coup, senior administration officials, including Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, were openly encouraging protesters seeking the overthrow of Yanukovych. Nuland went so far as to pass out cookies to the demonstrators and discuss with Pyatt who should be appointed once Yanukovych was removed.
After Yanukovych and his officials were forced to flee in the face of mass protests and violent attacks by neo-Nazi militias, the State Department was quick to declare the new government “legitimate” and welcomed Nuland’s favorite, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, as the new prime minister.
As events have unfolded since then, including Crimea’s secession to join Russia and bloody attacks directed at ethnic Russians in Odessa and elsewhere, the Obama administration has consistently taken the side of the Kiev regime and bashed Moscow.
And, since Thursday, when the Malaysian plane was shot down killing 298 people, the Ukrainian government and the Obama administration have pointed the finger of blame at the rebels and the Russian government, albeit without the benefit of a serious investigation that is only now beginning.
One of the administration’s points has been that the Buk anti-aircraft missile system, which was apparently used to shoot down the plane, was “Russian made.” But the point is rather silly since nearly all Ukrainian military weaponry is “Russian made.” Ukraine, after all, was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and has continued to use mostly Russian military equipment.
It’s also not clear how the U.S. government ascertained that the missile was an SA-11 as opposed to other versions of the Buk missile system.
Slanting the Case
Virtually everything that U.S. officials have said appears designed to tilt suspicions toward the Russians and the rebels – and away from government forces. Referring ominously to the sophistication of the SA-11, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared, “We cannot rule out Russian technical assistance.” But that phrasing supposedly means that the administration can’t rule it in either.
Still, in reading between the lines of the mainstream U.S. press accounts, it’s possible to see where some of the gaps are regarding the supposed Russian hand in Thursday’s tragedy. For instance, the Post’s Craig Whitlock reported that Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, U.S. commander of NATO forces in Europe, said last month that “We have not seen any of the [Russian] air-defense vehicles across the border yet.”
Since these Buk missile systems are large and must be transported on trucks, it would be difficult to conceal their presence from U.S. aerial surveillance which has been concentrating intensely on the Ukraine-Russia border in recent months.
The Post also reported that “Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said defense officials could not point to specific evidence that an SA-11 surface-to-air missile system had been transported from Russia into eastern Ukraine.”
In other words, the mystery is still not solved. It may be that the rebels – facing heavy bombardment from the Ukrainian air force – convinced the Russians to provide more advanced anti-aircraft weapons than the shoulder-fired missiles that the rebels have used to bring down some Ukrainian military planes.
It’s possible, too, that a rebel detachment mistook the civilian airliner for a military plane or even that someone in the Russian military launched the fateful rocket at the plane heading toward Russian airspace.
But both the Russian government and the rebels dispute those scenarios. The rebels say they don’t have missiles that can reach the 33,000-foot altitude of the Malaysian airliner. Besides denying a hand in the tragedy, the Russians claim that the Ukrainian military did have Buk anti-aircraft systems in eastern Ukraine and that the radar of one battery was active on the day of the crash.
The Russian Defense Ministry stated that “The Russian equipment detected throughout July 17 the activity of a Kupol radar, deployed as part of a Buk-M1 battery near Styla [a village some 30 kilometers south of Donetsk],” according to an RT report.
So, the other alternative remains in play, that a Ukrainian military unit – possibly a poorly supervised bunch – fired the missile intentionally or by accident. Why the Ukrainian military would intentionally have aimed at a plane flying eastward toward Russia is hard to comprehend, however.
A Propaganda Replay?
But perhaps the larger point is that both the Obama administration and the U.S. press corps should stop this pattern of rushing to judgments. It’s as if they’re obsessed with waging “information warfare” – i.e., justifying hostilities toward some adversarial nation – rather than responsibly informing the American people.
We saw this phenomenon in 2002-03 as nearly the entire Washington press corps clambered onboard President George W. Bush’s propaganda bandwagon into an aggressive war against Iraq. That pattern almost repeated itself last summer when a similar rush to judgment occurred around a sarin gas attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21.
Though the evidence was murky, there was a stampede to assume that the Assad government was behind the attack. While blaming the Syrian army, the U.S. press ignored the possibility that the attack was a provocation committed by radical jihadist rebels who were hoping that U.S. air power could turn the tide of the war in their favor.
Rather than carefully weigh the complex evidence, the State Department and Secretary of State John Kerry tried to spur President Obama into a quick decision to bomb Syrian government targets. Kerry delivered a belligerent speech on Aug. 30 and the administration released what it called a “Government Assessment” supposedly proving the case.
But this four-page white paper contained no verifiable evidence supporting its accusations and it soon became clear that the report had excluded dissents that some U.S. intelligence analysts would have attached to a more formal paper prepared by the intelligence community.
Despite the war hysteria then gripping Official Washington, President Obama rejected war at the last moment and – with the help of Russian President Putin – was able to negotiate a resolution of the crisis in which Assad surrendered Syria’s chemical weapons while still denying a hand in the sarin gas attack.
The mainstream U.S. press, especially the New York Times, and some non-governmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, continued pushing the theme of the Syrian government’s guilt. HRW and the Times teamed up for a major story that purported to show the flight paths of two sarin-laden missiles vectoring back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.
For a time, this report was treated as the slam-dunk evidence proving the case against Assad, until it turned out that only one of the rockets carried sarin and the maximum range of the one that did have sarin was only about two kilometers.
Despite knowing these weaknesses in the case, President Obama stood by his State Department hawks by reading a speech to the UN General Assembly on Sept. 24 in which he declared: “It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
In watching Obama’s address, I was struck by how casually he lied. He knew better than almost anyone that some of his senior intelligence analysts were among those doubting the Syrian government’s guilt. Yet, he suggested that anyone who wasn’t onboard the propaganda train was crazy.
Since then, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has revealed other evidence indicating that the sarin attack may indeed have been a rebel provocation meant to push Obama over the “red line” that he had drawn about not tolerating chemical weapons use.
Now, we are seeing a repeat performance in which Obama understands the doubts about the identity of who fired the missile that brought down the Malaysian airliner but is pushing the suspicions in a way designed to whip up animosity toward Russia and President Putin.
Obama may think this is a smart play because he can posture as tough when many of his political enemies portray him as weak. He also buys himself some P.R. protection in case it turns out that the ethnic Russian rebels and/or the Russian military do share the blame for the tragedy. He can claim to have been out front in making the accusations.
But there is a dangerous downside to creating a public hysteria about nuclear-armed Russia. As we have seen already in Ukraine, events can spiral out of control in unpredictable ways.
Assistant Secretary Nuland and other State Department hawks probably thought they were building their careers when they encouraged the Feb. 22 coup – and they may well be right about advancing their status in Official Washington at least. But they also thawed out long-frozen animosities between the “ethnically pure” Ukrainians in the west and the ethnic Russians in the east.
Those tensions – many dating back to World War II and before – have now become searing hatreds with hundreds of dead on both sides. The nasty, little Ukrainian civil war also made Thursday’s horror possible.
But even greater calamities could lie ahead if the State Department’s “anti-diplomats” succeed in reigniting the Cold War. The crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 should be a warning about the dangers of international brinkmanship.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).
There are a few articles about the July 3, 1988 shootdown of Iran Air 655 by the USS Vincennes, occasioned by the recent news about the Malaysian Airlines shootdown in Urkaine, that are remarkable in their deliberate effort to ignore the known history of the event. They all miss the most important and salient point: The location of the USS Vincennes when it shot down the Iranian airliner.
For example, lets take a look at what Max Fisher writes in the Washington Post (last year, but the coverage has not improved):
1- *”Toward the end of the war, on July 3, 1988, a U.S. Navy ship called the Vincennes was exchanging fire with small Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf.”*
US forces had been skirmishing with lightly-armed Iranian patrol vessels before but that engagement had ended and U.S. forces had been told to to break off. The Vincennes had refused, and sent its helo to buzz Iranian patrol vessels inside Iranian waters that posed no danger to it. It then used the resultant light arms warning fire from the patrol vessels as an excuse to charge into Iranian waters and attack patrol vessels. According to Capt Carlson of the USS Sides, “the conduct of the Iranian military forces in the month preceding the incident was pointedly non-threatening.”
2- *”The U.S. Navy kept ships there, and still does, to protect oil trade routes.”*
The reason the US Navy was there was specifically to “protect” the shipping for Iraq by Kuwait and other Arab states that were helping Saddam in his war against Iran. It was in fact Iraq that had started targeting tankers, since Iran had blockaded Iraq’s export of oil (when Iran captured the al-Faw Peninsula.) By assisting Saddam, Kuwait was acting as a co-belligerent in the war, and the US was aiding the Kuwaitis and Iraqis prosecute a war of aggression.
3- *The airport was used by both civilian and military aircraft.*
Same thing happens at Dulles Airport. This is no justification. Why mention it unless presented as an implied justification?
4- *The Vincennes mistook the lumbering Airbus A300 civilian airliner for a much smaller and faster F-14 fighter jet, perhaps in the heat of battle*
Capt Rogers was warned of “Possible Commair” before he ordered the missiles launched. And Since the Vincennes had initiated hostilities and entered Iranian waters, whatever “mistake” was made “in the heat of battle” was still the fault of the US Navy.
5- *or perhaps because the flight allegedly did not identify itself.*
The ICAO report clearly states that the Airbus transponder was correctly identifying the plane as a civilian airliner, and that the warnings that the USS Vincennes sent were either on the wrong channel or incorrectly identified the intended recipient.
Some good overnight news, to which readers have alerted me: Ayman Mohyeldin has been reinstated by NBC as their Gaza correspondent. This is an interesting sign of changing times: NBC, it seems, is waging a rearguard action, feeling the need to restore its credentials for editorial independence. Once it would have been taken for granted that a large media organisation was free and fearless; now increasingly it is not.
What was so revealing about NBC’s original move was that no serious reason was given by the TV executives for Mohyeldin’s removal from Gaza; and their grounds for reinstating him are equally opaque. That is because their decision can only be explained in cynical, political terms, as a response to, or pre-emption of, the Israel lobby and its chums in Washington’s corridors of power.
It is true that there are cynical journalists, but most genuinely believe they are independent and free to say what they like – even when the evidence screams at them that the opposite is true. But media executives, who should really be called what they are – money men and women – are the ones who make the key decisions. And they are entirely cynical about editorial policies. They are interested solely in revenues, access and remaining credible with and useful to powerful interest groups, including the massive corporations that run the media.
Journalists have a bad habit of ignoring the reality that these corporate titans run their news organisations, and they manage it by not examining their bosses’ motives, or their own, too deeply.
But Mohyeldin’s removal will have caused them problems. There were no possible editorial grounds for pulling him from Gaza. The executives offered a vague pretext – “security” – but then exposed the deceitfulness of their reasoning by bringing in another reporter to replace him.
This was doubtless too much for the journalists at NBC, who were threatened by the thought that their outlet might not be quite the bastion of free speech they need to believe it is. And that doubt will only have been reinforced by the popular campaign to bring Mohyeldin back.
In these circumstances, NBC’s original decision threatened to expose to many of its journalists and viewers the hoax of a free western press. That, I suspect, is why Mohyeldin was hurriedly reinstated. NBC’s executives understood that the illusion needed to be restored.
But, as I say, this is a sign of progress. These media corporations can no longer take for granted that we will continue believing they are committed to the truth or acting honourably.
While negotiators from Iran, the United States and the rest of the P5+1 will not meet their July 20 target for a comprehensive nuclear agreement, it is clear they won’t walk away from the table in a huff. So, as the parties prepare to continue the process, what has America learned from negotiating with Iran, and what does it still need to learn to close a final deal?
One thing Washington has learned is that the Islamic Republic is deeply committed to protecting Iran’s independence. Thirty-five years ago, Iran’s current political order was born of a revolution promising Iranians to end subordination of their country’s foreign policy to the dictates of outside powers—especially the United States. Since then, the Islamic Republic has worked hard to keep that promise—for example, by defending Iran against a U.S.-backed, eight-year war of aggression by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and fending off a steady stream of U.S. and Israeli covert attacks, economic warfare and threats of overt military action.
On nuclear matters, the Islamic Republic’s commitment to protecting Iranian independence focuses on the proposition that Iran has a sovereign right, recognized in the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium indigenously under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards. The Islamic Republic terminated the purely weapons-related aspects of the U.S.-supplied nuclear program it inherited from the last shah, going so far as to reconfigure the Tehran Research Reactor—which, when transferred by the United States in the 1960s, only ran on fuel enriched to weapons-grade levels (over 90 percent)—to use fuel enriched to just below 20 percent.
But the Islamic Republic has also been determined to develop a range of civil nuclear capabilities, including indigenous enrichment for peaceful purposes. It won’t surrender Iran’s right to do so—even in the face of massive U.S. and Western pressure and sanctions. Beyond sovereignty and practical needs, Iranian policy makers judge that appeasing Washington on the issue will simply lead to more aggressive U.S. demands and pressure on other disputes.
America may have begun to recognize that respecting Iranian independence is key to diplomatic progress. For over a decade, Washington has insisted—contrary to how the vast majority of states read the NPT and to America’s own publicly stated view during the Treaty’s early years—that Iran has no right to enrich. Even today, while Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledges Iran’s right to a “peaceful nuclear program,” the United States refuses to acknowledge that this includes a right to safeguarded enrichment.
However, when Washington has moved, in practical ways, to accept safeguarded Iranian enrichment, Tehran has responded positively. In the Joint Plan of Action agreed last November, America and its British and French partners dropped their longstanding demands that Iran cease all enrichment-related activities before substantial diplomatic progress would be possible. Furthermore, the United States and the rest of the P5+1 agreed that a final deal would encompass an Iranian enrichment program. In return, Tehran made multiple commitments to diminish what America and its Western partners portray as the proliferation risks of Iran’s nuclear activities. These confidence-building measures—which, the IAEA reports, Iran has scrupulously implemented—include stopping enrichment at the near-20 percent level needed for TRR fuel, converting part of its near-20 percent stockpile to oxide form and diluting fissile-isotope purity in the rest, freezing its centrifuge infrastructure and accepting IAEA monitoring well beyond NPT requirements.
While U.S. officials have started to grasp the importance of respecting Iran’s independence, they have yet to draw this insight’s full implications—the main reason a final deal isn’t at hand.
America and its Western partners continue demanding that Iran dismantle most of its safeguarded centrifuge infrastructure—a demand with no basis in the NPT or any other legal instrument and which contributes nothing to Western powers’ purported nonproliferation goals. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has made clear that, in a final deal, Iran could agree to cap temporarily the scope and level of its enrichment activities and to operate its centrifuges in ways rendering alleged scenarios of rapid “breakout” implausible (e.g., no stockpiling of low-enriched uranium).
Unfortunately, Western demands for dismantlement appear grounded in a determination that Tehran must “surrender” in a final deal—to forego sustainable indigenous enrichment capabilities and instead rely on foreign fuel suppliers (especially Russia). If Western powers insist that Iran compromise its sovereign rights, there will be no final deal, no matter how long talks are extended.
The United States also still needs to learn—however incomprehensible this may seem to some—that the Islamic Republic is, in fact, a legitimate order for the overwhelming majority of Iranians living inside their country.
Besides restoring Iranian independence, the revolution that produced the Islamic Republic promised Iranians to replace externally imposed autocracy with an indigenously created system, grounded in participatory Islamist governance. For thirty-five years, this is what the Islamic Republic has offered Iranians the chance to build. With all its flaws, the Islamic Republic has delivered for its people in important ways, including impressive (and progressive) developmental outcomes in poverty alleviation, educational access, health-care delivery, scientific and technological advancement, and improving the status of women—despite decades of war, threats of war, and intensifying sanctions.
Still, many American elites persist in depicting the Islamic Republic as a system so despised by its own people as to be chronically in danger of overthrow—a fantasy that has driven Western enthusiasm and not-so-tacit support for regime change in Iran. Beyond its falsity, this misapprehension of reality continues to warp the Western approach to nuclear diplomacy with Tehran. Beyond dictating the “acceptable” scope of Iran’s indigenous capabilities, Western powers want the limits on Iran’s nuclear activities in a final deal to apply for well over a decade. Conversations with Western officials indicate that this demand—also with no basis in the NPT or any other legal instrument—is motivated by assessments that the Islamic Republic will not last for more than ten years. By insisting on a more-than-ten-year term, Western powers are calculating that, when a final deal expires, Iran will have a political order less committed to strategic independence.
This is both foolhardy and reckless. The Islamic Republic is not about to disappear—and no truly legitimate Iranian government will compromise what the vast majority of Iranians see as their nation’s sovereign rights.
When the United States fully understands that, the nuclear issue will almost resolve itself.
As murmurs of U.S. sanctions against Venezuela continue in the aftermath of the protest violence there, researcher Michael McCarthy recently published an article in World Politics Review making some good arguments for why they would be a bad idea. He points out that unilateral sanctions lack regional support, and argues that they would discourage dialogue within Venezuela, would likely be ineffective, and may even harm U.S. interests by scuttling efforts to improve and maintain ties in the region.
McCarthy claims that the push for sanctions represents a “symbolic action” on the part of U.S. officials to communicate “universal support for human rights.” This assumption is pervasive in the mainstream debate about Venezuela sanctions; most commentators assume that the moral basis of imposing sanctions is sound and that the only real debate is on whether they will have the desired practical effect. In this context, some of the most obvious questions are missing from the discussion—in particular: a) what right does the U.S. have to enact coercive, unilateral economic measures against democratically-elected governments (measures that in this case, happen to be nearly universally opposed in the rest of the region and, as a study by pollster Luis Vicente Leon recently presented at the Washington Office on Latin America shows, are overwhelmingly opposed domestically in Venezuela)? And b) what integrity does the U.S. have when it comes to promoting human rights?
Last year, over a thousand unarmed protestors were killed by the U.S.-backed military government of Egypt after an illegal coup overthrew the country’s first democratically-elected president. Among those killed was a young journalist, Ahmed Assem el-Senousy, who had the misfortune to film his own murder at the hands of a government soldier who had spotted his camera. It was a grim echo of an event from another era—in June, 1973, Swedish journalist Leonardo Henrichsen similarly filmed his own death in Chile at the hands of a soldier in an unsuccessful military coup attempt that presaged Augusto Pinochet’s U.S. supported takeover three months later. The State Department claims that U.S. interests always align with democracy and human rights, but it is hard to miss the glaring gap between U.S. rhetoric on these issues and its actions.
While officials and Congress members throw unfounded accusations at the Venezuelan government and continue to discuss punitive measures, there are no comparable discussions about removing tax-payer funded military aid to U.S. allies with abysmal human rights records – let alone imposing sanctions — including states like Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and many others. The U.S. ended its partial freeze of military aid to Egypt this January and has quietly defended Israel during its latest assault on Gaza, even as Palestinian casualties rise at an alarming rate. In this hemisphere, in places like Honduras and Colombia, countries ruled by rightwing allies of the Obama administration, the laws that condition U.S. military and security aid on human rights standards are nearly systematically ignored, just as they are in the Middle East.
Over the past dozen years, the U.S. government has made no secret of its hostility toward the government of Venezuela – even supporting and getting involved in a 2002 military coup against Chávez – despite the fact that, over and over again, it has been elected democratically. In her recent book, “Hard Choices,” former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even refers to Chávez as a “self-aggrandizing dictator.” She is much more sympathetic toward Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak, whom she doesn’t label a dictator, though she does qualify her praise of his commitment to Middle East peace by mentioning that he is an “autocrat at home.” Clinton is not shy in explaining how she urged President Obama not to call for Mubarak to step down during the height of the 2011 Egyptian protests, citing her concerns about U.S. interests, just as she is not shy about detailing how she intervened to ensure that democratically-elected President Manuel Zelaya was not reinstalled after an illegal military coup in Honduras. Most importantly, while Mubarak was in office and while she was Secretary of State (i.e. when it mattered), Clinton, like virtually every other U.S. official, consistently defended the U.S. relationship with Egypt. Instead of referring to him as an autocrat while she headed the State Department, she famously referred to Hosni Mubarak and his wife as “friends of the family.”
Last November, the current Secretary of State, John Kerry, visited Latin America and announced the “end of the Monroe Doctrine,” stating that the U.S. would no longer work to undermine the sovereignty of its hemispheric neighbors in order to promote its own interests. The open secret is that U.S. officials still actively reserve the right to define human rights and democracy in ways that serve U.S. objectives. Over the decades and right up to the present, the U.S. has spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to arm some of the world’s least democratic actors, often with some of the worst human rights records, from Suharto to Sisi. Even if one disagrees that the U.S.’s historic disdain for left governments in Latin America is not a factor in the push for sanctions against Venezuela, considering the role that the U.S. continues to play in supporting human right abuses around the world, why accept the U.S. government’s own terms in the debate?
CNN has pulled correspondent Diana Magnay out of her post covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after the reporter tweeted that Israelis cheering bombs hitting Gaza, and who had allegedly threatened her, were “scum.”
Magnay was “threatened and harassed” before and during her report, a CNN spokeswoman told The Huffington Post, leading to the reporter’s reaction on Twitter.
“She deeply regrets the language used, which was aimed directly at those who had been targeting our crew,” the spokeswoman added. “She certainly meant no offense to anyone beyond that group, and she and CNN apologize for any offense that may have been taken.”
Israelis could be heard cheering missiles heading for Gaza on Thursday during a live Magnay report from a hill overlooking the Israel-Gaza border.
“I think you can probably see there are lots of Israelis gathered around who are cheering when they see these kinds of Israeli strikes,” Magnay said during the report.
Following the shot, Magnay tweeted, “Israelis on hill above Sderot cheer as bombs land on #gaza; threaten to ‘destroy our car if I say a word wrong’. Scum.”
The reporter eventually deleted the tweet, but not before it had been retweeted more than 200 times.
The CNN spokeswoman said Magnay has been assigned to Moscow.
Magnay’s removal comes a day after NBC News sent its reporter on the conflict, Ayman Mohyeldin, out of Gaza.
The network has not explained why Mohyeldin, a much-praised veteran reporter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was removed. Sources have told media outlets that security concerns compelled NBC executives to pull Mohyeldin, yet the network quickly replaced him in Gaza with chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel.
TV Newser reported Wednesday that NBC staffers were unhappy that Engel was ordered to front an “NBC Nightly News” segment on the killing of four Palestinian children on a Gaza beach even though Mohyeldin was a witness to that very strike and had reported from the site in its aftermath.
Thursday marked the beginning of a ground offensive into Gaza by Israeli forces. Palestinian health officials said 27 Palestinians were killed in the latest ground operation, Reuters reported. One Israeli soldier perished in the fighting.
Well over 200 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed since fighting ramped up along the border nearly two weeks ago.
WASHINGTON — As the negotiations on the Iranian nuclear programme approach the July 20 deadline, both U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif have signaled through their carefully worded statements that they are now moving toward agreement on the two most crucial issues in the talks: the level of Iranian enrichment capability to be allowed and the duration of the agreement.
Their statements after two days of meetings Sunday and Monday suggest that both Kerry and Zarif now see a basis for an agreement that would freeze Iran’s enrichment capacity at somewhere around its present level of 10,000 operational centrifuges for a period of years.
They also indicated that the two sides have not yet agreed on how many years the agreement would last, but that the bargaining on that question has already begun.
The tone and content of Kerry’s statements in particular contrasts sharply with remarks by a senior U.S. official shortly before Kerry’s arrival in Vienna on July 12, which accused Iran of failing to move from “unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their programme is exclusively peaceful.”
Zarif’s comments to New York Times correspondent David E. Sanger suggested movement toward an accord on the two key issues of the level of enrichment capacity and the duration of the agreement.
“I can try to work out an agreement where we would maintain our current levels,” Zarif was quoted as saying.
The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that a diplomat involved in the talks had said Iran had proposed freezing the number of centrifuges at 9, 400 – roughly the same number that have actually been operating.
Iran has another 9,000 centrifuges that were installed but never hooked up or operated, suggesting that Iran intended to trade them off for concessions from the P5+1 in eventual negotiations even before Hassan Rouhani became president last year.
The Times story reported that Zarif also “signaled that he had some room to negotiate on how long the freeze would last because Iran has an agreement with Russia to provide fuel for its Bushehr nuclear plant for the next seven years.”
“We want to produce only what we need,” Zarif said. “Since our reactor doesn’t need fuel for another seven years we don’t have to kill ourselves for it. We have time.”
Zarif’s latitude for negotiating on the expiration date may be wider than has been assumed because Iran is pursuing a possible deal with Russia on cooperation in fuel fabrication, according to a document on Iran’s nuclear energy needs recently released by the government.
Such an agreement could eliminate the need to begin replacing Russian fuel immediately after the expiration of the present contract.
In his press conference Tuesday, Kerry refused to address the question of specific numbers of centrifuges discussed with Zariff. Nevertheless, he said, “We have made it crystal clear that the 19,000 that are currently part of their programme is too many.”
By referring to the 19,000 figure rather than to the 10,000 operative centrifuges, Kerry was leaving the door open to a deal that would cut half of Iran’s total centrifuge capacity.
As recently as June, Obama administration officials were leaking to the press a demand that Iran would have to accept a cut in the number of centrifuges to between 2,000 and 4,000.
The rationale for that demand was that Iran’s existing level of centrifuges would allow it the capability to achieve a “breakout” to sufficient weapons-grade uranium to build a single nuclear weapon in only two to three months, and that Washington was insisting on lengthening that “breakout timeline” to six to 12 months.
But the administration is well aware that another way to achieve that objective is to reduce Iran’s low enriched uranium stockpile to close to zero.
Zarif explained to the Times correspondent the Iranian proposal, which was part of the negotiating draft, to guarantee that no breakout capability would exist even with the current level of Iranian enrichment.
Sanger reported that Zarif had “combined his proposal of a freeze with an offer to take the nuclear fuel produced by its 9,000 or so working centrifuges and convert it to an oxide form, a way station to being made into nuclear fuel rods.”
Zarif reportedly said Iran would “guarantee, during the agreement, not to build the facility needed to convert the oxide back into a gas, the step that would have to precede any effort to enrich it to 90 percent purity, which is what is generally considered bomb-grade.”
The foreign minister claimed that his proposal would lengthen the “breakout timeline” to more than a year, according to Sanger. As described by Zarif to IPS in early June, the plan is designed to assure that no low enriched uranium would be available for weapons-grade enrichment for the duration of the agreement.
Sanger reported that American officials are “doubtful” that it would accomplish that objective but offered no explanation and did not quote any official. That suggests that Sanger was relying on what U.S. officials had said about the “breakout” issue before the Kerry-Zarif negotiations.
Kerry did not address the issue of duration of the agreement in his press conference remarks. But a U.S. official was quoted in a July 12 Reuters story as declining to give a specific number but as saying that the United States wanted it to be “in the double digits”.
In earlier briefings for the news media, U.S. officials had indicated that the United States wanted the agreement to last 20 years.
Before the Kerry-Zarif meetings, the senior U.S official briefing journalists July 12 had criticised Ali Khamenei’s July 7 speech referring to Iran’s need for the equivalent of 190,000 first generation centrifuges. The official had said that the number would be “far beyond their current programme” and that the U.S. had said the existing capacity needed to be cut instead.
That suggested that Iran was insisting on getting approval for that increased capacity in the agreement.
In his news conference, however, Kerry clearly suggested that Khamenei’s citation of the 190,000 figure is not a deal-breaker. “[I]t reflects a long-term perception of what they currently have in their minds with respect to nuclear plants to provide power,” Kerry said. “[I]t was framed what way, I believe, in the speech,” he added.
Kerry was implying that Khamenei’s vision of industrial scale enrichment would not fall within the time frame of the agreement, presumably on the basis of his talks with Zarif.
That answer suggests that Kerry is now considering an Iranian proposal on the duration of the agreement that would put off the beginning of Iran’s buildup to industrial level enrichment to a point close to or within the “double digit” period of years demanded by the United States.
Once the difference between the proposed duration of the two sides has been reduced to a very few years, both sides may well conclude that the difference is not important enough to sacrifice the advantages of reaching agreement.
The Obama administration is still assessing whether to request an extension of the talks beyond Sunday’s deadline, but it may not take long to wrap up an agreement once the decision to reach compromise on the two key issues is made.
When Sanger of the Times asked Zarif whether agreement could be reached by the July 20 deadline, the foreign minister replied, “We can do that by this evening.”
The US sanctions against Iran have cost Washington as much as USD 175 billion dollars in losses for not doing business with the Islamic Republic, a Washington-based think-tank has found.
“The United States is by far the biggest loser of all sanctions enforcing nations. From 1995 [when the US imposed trade embargo on Iran] to 2012, the US sacrificed between USD 134.7 and USD 175.3 billion in potential export revenue to Iran,” the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) concluded in a report.
During the same period, the report said, the United States lost 51,000 to 280,000 jobs a year due to the sanctions slapped on Iran.
“Texas and California are likely the biggest losers in terms of lost employment, due to their size as well as the attractiveness of their industries to Iran’s economy,” it said.
The US sanctions also cost the European economies billions of dollars in losses through the 2010-2012 period.
“In Europe, Germany was hit the hardest, losing between USD 23.1 and USD 73.0 billion between 2010 and 2012, with Italy and France following at USD 13.6-USD 42.8 billion and USD 10.9-USD 34.2 billion respectively,” it said.
The think-tank recommended that the US government consider lifting sanctions against Iran as nuclear negotiations are under way between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – the Unites States, Britain, France, Russia and China – plus Germany.
“Decision-makers must… ask themselves if the cost of sanctions to the US economy is worth shouldering if other options do exist,” it said.
At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran.