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Bahrain ready for Syria deployment under Saudi lead: Diplomat

Press TV – February 6, 2016

The tiny Persian Gulf state of Bahrain says it is ready to deploy ground forces to Syria under the Saudi leadership as foreign-backed militants are losing ground in the face of the Syrian army advances.

The announcement by Bahraini Ambassador to Britain Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa on Friday came after Saudi Arabia said it was ready to send troops to Syria.

In a statement, Sheikh Fawaz said Manama would commit troops to operate “in concert with the Saudis” in Syria.

The Bahraini diplomat said the Saudi initiative was meant to combat both Daesh and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, the [Persian] Gulf states are determined to take positive action within the region and globally to combat terrorism and extremism, from whatever quarter they emanate,” he said.

Sheikh Fawaz said the United Arab Emirates (UAE) was also ready to commit troops to Syria.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are members of the US coalition that has been conducting air raids inside Syria since September 2014 without the Syrian government’s permit or a UN mandate.

They are staunchly opposed to the Syrian government, providing Takfiri militants with arms and funds to topple President Assad.

The Syrian army and allied fighters have made significant advances in recent weeks, especially in the areas near the second city of Aleppo.

In a surprise statement broadcast on the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya news network on Thursday, a spokesman for the Saudi defense ministry suggested that the kingdom could send troops to Syria.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia is prepared to participate in any ground operations that the anti-Daesh coalition might agree to carry out in Syria if there is consensus among coalition leaders,” the spokesman, Ahmed Asiri, said.

Pentagon chief Ashton Carter welcomed the offer, saying he looked forward to discussing it with the Saudi defense minister in Brussels next week.

February 6, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | 1 Comment

Iran-Saudi Crisis and Pakistan

By Alexei Abramov – New Eastern Outlook – 04.02.2016

pakistan-army_140093kPakistan has become an intermediary between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran against the background of increasing fears that a prolonged bilateral confrontation could potentially have serious consequences for the entire region. With a view to resolving the conflict, the civil and military leadership of Pakistan visited Riyadh and Tehran in January 2016. Both capitals responded favorably to the visits of the high-level guests, the tone of the Iranian leaders changed, the world stood still in anticipation of the detente… but no miracle happened. A few days later Riyadh firmly rejected both the mediatory role of Islamabad and the possibility of a dialogue.

Iran-Saudi tensions were escalating throughout 2015. Riyadh’s irritation grew after diplomatic missions of the Kingdom in Iran were raided, as well as in connection with the lifting of sanctions against Tehran by the United States and the European Union on January 16, 2016, which immediately promised to supply considerable stocks of crude oil to the world market to restore the status of the main hydrocarbon competitor of the KSA.

The mediatory role of Islamabad was quite understandable. Firstly, its concern was caused by the request of the Foreign Ministry of the KSA for the military establishment in Pakistan not only to send land forces into the zone of a potential conflict, but also to use nuclear weapons, the development of which had been actively financed by Riyadh for many years. In the past, Islamabad repeatedly declared the inadmissibility of a military intervention in a conflict on the side of any state within the Muslim Ummah.

Secondly, it was caused by Iran’s reaction to the establishment of an anti-terrorist alliance under the leadership of the KSA in December 2015. Islamabad was registered as its member, but it learned about it from statements of officials in Riyadh. The list included 34 more states, with the exception of Iraq, Iran and Syria. As the Saudi authorities explained later on, these countries had not been invited because of a lack of confidence in them.

Thirdly, Islamabad feared another surge of Sunni-Shiite massacres in its country, especially after the wave of protests that swept neighbouring Iran in early January 2016 in connection with the execution of the well-known Saudi Shiite preacher Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr by the leadership of the KSA on January 2, 2016.

Pakistan demonstrated impartiality during the growing tension between the two countries. It did not openly condemn the actions of Iran in connection with the attack on the diplomatic mission of the KSA, but it did not sever diplomatic relations with it either, as did a number of countries of the Persian Gulf; it stressed its neutrality even during the visit of the Foreign Minister of the KSA to Islamabad in mid-January this year.

Riyadh’s request to send several thousand Pakistani soldiers at the disposal of the authorities of the KSA changed the subsequent course of events. Islamabad immediately canceled a visit of the civilian Defense Minister H. Asif to Tehran in mid-January this year. In a short time, the Pakistani military and, in particular, the Army Chief of Staff General R. Sharif, initiated a project of mediation in the Iran-Saudi conflict.

On January 18 this year, two Sharifs (the namesakes – Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General R. Sharif) visited Riyadh with a mission to settle disputes by peaceful means in the interest of the unity of the Muslims in these difficult times. The leadership of the KSA was sympathetic to the mission of Islamabad and handed over a list of items to the Pakistani delegation to be further discussed with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, assuring the guests from Islamabad that if the Islamic Republic of Iran showed positive signs, diplomatic relations could be restored.

The next day, on January 19, the civil and military leadership of Pakistan arrived in Tehran. It is fair to say that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was the first world leader who visited Iran after the lifting of sanctions. As reported by the Pakistani media, he managed to obtain a positive response from the Iranian leadership in respect of initiating the Iran-Saudi dialogue and regulating the issue of coordinators, whose mission, as planned, was to maintain business contacts with officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. The mediation of Pakistan yielded positive results. On January 20, 2016, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei publicly condemned the attack on the embassy of the KSA in Tehran for the first time.

It seems that Riyadh and Iran heard each other thanks to the efforts of the intermediary. But instead of a triumph, Islamabad’s diplomacy failed once again. On January 25, 2016, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the KSA Adel Al Dzhubeir said that Tehran was pursuing a hostile policy towards the Arab world, and interfered in the internal affairs of foreign countries inciting religious strife and supporting terrorism. Of course, the efforts of Islamabad turned out to be useless against this background.

Riyadh’s refusal of Islamabad’s services in the development of dialogue with Tehran is due to several factors: the change in the overall political and military situation in the Middle East, the intensification of the military cooperation of the KSA with the United States and India (Indian military and, consequently, their arms are taking up the positions of Pakistani military trainers stationed in Riyadh under the previous agreements) and Islamabad’s repeated refusal to send land forces at the disposal of the KSA. We should recall that in late March 2015, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif promised the Saudis to send his troops at the disposal of Riyadh, but in early April the parliamentarians, under pressure of the generals, refused to send their troops to fight against the Huthis in Yemen.

The mediation failure of the civil and military leadership of Pakistan to establish Iran-Saudi dialogue means that this time Riyadh excluded Islamabad from the list of its allies for a long time, and it will greatly reduce the amount of financial assistance and expand trade and economic, military and other contacts with its old rival – New Delhi.

The domestic policy of Pakistan is also in anticipation of change …The issue of the extension of the term of office of the Chief of Army Staff General R.Sharif (official retirement in late November this year), that has long been discussed in the country, has already been decided. On his return from a tour of Iran and Saudi Arabia, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif refused to extend General R.Sharif’s term of office. The army commander had nothing to do but to publicly declare his refusal to continue service and his retirement upon reaching the retirement age. The generals of Pakistan are one of the strongest and most masterful government institutions and have seized power in the country four times; the Army Chief of Staff is the de facto first person in the state. Thus, the completion of the anti-terrorist campaign initiated by General R.Sharif delivered has been jeopardized.

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

Think tank director proposes postponement of Russian elections amid Western ‘regime change threat’

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© Vladimir Fedorenko / Sputnik
Sputnik – February 4, 2016

The head of a political research center has sent a letter to the State Duma chairman urging him to postpone parliamentary and presidential elections in Russia until Western nations stop their attempts at regime change through economic pressure.

“I am asking you as the chairman of the State Duma – who has the right to come up with legislative initiatives – to look into the possibility to urgently amend the Constitution with acts that would protect Russia from regime change instigated from abroad and the subsequent breakup [that would result from this],” chairman of the board at the Institute for Political Infrastructure Analysis, Yevgeny Tunik, wrote in his letter to Sergey Naryshkin.

The exact measure suggested by the analyst is a law that would automatically prolong the powers of Russian president and parliament in the event that the authorities decide to introduce a state of emergency or martial law. The new term for legislators and the head of state would last for six months from the moment of the cancellation of the emergency measures. Tunik emphasized that such a step would not violate citizens’ political rights as elections would not be canceled, only postponed.

Tunik also elaborated in his letter that over the past two years Russia has experienced unprecedented pressure from Western nations, primarily from the United States. He warned that the economic crisis and price hike could cause social unrest and protests that, in turn, could bring to power “hostile, pro-Western or even extremist forces.” Canceling all elections for the period of economic crisis would prevent a situation when citizens are asked to make serious choices under pressure from circumstances that could provoke irrational decisions.

“We all can witness the results of 2015 elections in Ukraine that were held in conditions of an undeclared emergency situation,” the analyst noted.

While the State Duma speaker has not commented on the letter, the head of the lower house Committee for Constitutional Law, Vladimir Pligin MP (United Russia), said that he did not consider the initiative as viable.

“All the latest efforts of the state power institutions and society in general are directed at preserving the constitutional norms in the Russian Federation. I think that there is no reason to change them at the current moment,” the lawmaker told RIA Novosti.

February 4, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment

‘Dangerous precedent’: Turkey denies Russian observation flight along Syrian border

Antonov An-30 © Wikipedia

Antonov An-30 © Wikipedia
RT | February 3, 2016

Turkey has set “a dangerous precedent” by denying an observation flight over its territories bordering Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said, vowing a “relevant reaction” to Ankara’s violation of its obligations under the international Open Skies Treaty.

The Treaty on Open Skies which came into force in 2002 allows unarmed aerial observation flights over the territories of its 34 signatories, which includes Turkey. However the Russian An-30B plane was banned from conducting its surveillance flight over Turkish territory which was scheduled for February 1-5, without any prior warning.

“After the arrival of the Russian mission to Turkey and the announcement of the desired itinerary, the Turkish military officials refused to allow the inspection flight citing an order from the Turkish Foreign Ministry,” the head of the ministry’s National Nuclear Risk Reduction Center, Sergey Ryzhkov, said in a statement.

This is the first time that Turkey has refused a Russian observation flight over its territory. Since 2006 under the Treaty on Open Skies, Russia conducted approximately two observation flights a year. Turkey has flown over Russian airspace approximately four times a year.

But as tensions between Turkey and Russia intensified following the downing of the Russian jet in November, Ankara has refused the implementation of the treaty.

“The itinerary included the observation of areas adjacent to the Turkish border with Syria, as well as airfields that host NATO warplanes,” Ryzhkov pointed out. A previous statement, issued on February 1, specified that a Russian oversight flight would be conducted along an agreed route. Furthermore, Turkish monitors on board would have the opportunity to control the use of surveillance equipment.

Tensions deteriorated further last week, when neither Ankara nor its NATO allies offered any proof after accusing Russia’s Su-34 bomber of violating Turkish airspace. Moscow sees the latest development as a violation of the treaty and has warned that “relevant action” will occur in response.

“As a result of violations of the requirements of the Treaty and unconstructive actions on the part of Turkey, a dangerous precedent was created of an uncontrolled military activity of an Open Skies Treaty member state,” Ryzhkov said. “We are not going to leave without proper attention and relevant reaction violations of the Open Skies Treaty on the part of the Turkish Republic.”

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the upper house’s international affairs committee, said that the Turkish violation of the treaty further complicates Russian-Turkish relations.

“This is unfortunate and does not contribute to the exit from this crisis, in which Russian-Turkish relations are currently in. This is a clear violation of Turkey’s international obligations under the Treaty on Open Skies,” he told TASS.

In a separate development the Russian Ministry of Defense announced Tuesday that another group of Russian inspectors would visit Turkish army ranges and get briefed by the Turkish military command, as part of the framework of the 2011 Vienna document aimed at building confidence and security.

February 3, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

Prosecution planned for 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers who stayed in Crimea

Svezhie Novosti | January 26, 2016

Ukrainian authorities have stated that more than 8,000 military service personnel have been declared on the wanted list. It is reported that the soldiers went over to the side of Russia at the time of the so-called Crimean spring. This was stated by the Military Prosecutor of Ukraine Anatoly Matios. The former Ukrainian servicemen are now wanted, and criminal proceedings have been instituted.

According to Matios, all soldiers declared wanted served in the Ukrainian military units that were located on the peninsula of Crimea, and after Crimea went to Russia, did not return to Ukrainian territory.

The number of Ukrainian soldiers, who betrayed their Ukrainian oath and did not leave the territory of Crimea after the unification with Russia, is huge, more than 8,000 people. All of them are now on the wanted list. Measures against them have already been adopted; if in the near future they cross the Ukrainian border, they will be turned over to the courts.

Translated from Russian by Tom Winter

January 27, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Peace talks between Damascus & opposition to start January 29 – UN Syria envoy

RT | January 25, 2016

Talks between Damascus and the Syrian opposition will begin on January 29, the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura has told journalists in Geneva. The negotiations will focus on a broad ceasefire, stopping Islamic State militants and increasing aid, he added.

De Mistura said the process of finalizing the list of participants “is still ongoing,” particularly regarding clarification of the opposition groups which will not be considered “terrorist.”

He added that the UN will start sending invitations on Tuesday. “I’m going to send the invitations given by the mandate of the UN Security Council,” he said.

The peace talks were originally due to start on Monday, but were postponed.

“We want to make sure that when and if we start, to start at least on the right foot. It will be uphill anyway,” de Mistura said.

He added that the “proximity talks” between the two sides are expected to last six months. According to the UN official, “this will not be Geneva-3.”

The Geneva II peace conference which took place in 2014 focused on bringing the two sides – the government and opposition – to the negotiation table to agree on forming a transitional government.

De Mistura told reporters that the sides will not talk directly to each other and will be mediated by negotiators.

The first part of the talks will last from two to three weeks, the envoy said, adding that the focus will be on negotiating a ceasefire, stopping Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) and increasing humanitarian aid.

“The condition is it should be a real ceasefire and not just local,” de Mistura said. “Suspension of fighting regarding ISIL and al Nusra is not on the table. However (there are) plenty of other suspensions of fighting that can take place.”

Among the priorities will also be the issues of governance, a constitutional review and future UN-backed election.

“The participation will be as inclusive as possible, including women, civil society and other marginalized groups,” said Mistura, answering a question concerning the composition of the delegations.

The Syrian government has said that Damascus’s delegation will be headed by the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Jaafari.

The disagreement over which opposition groups will take part in the peace talks and who will represent them has been impeding the start of negotiations.

On Wednesday, a Syrian opposition coalition, the so-called ‘High Negotiations Committee,’ named an Islamist chief as their top negotiator. The decision to appoint Mohammed Alloush, the leader of Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), a powerful jihadist group operating in the suburbs of Damascus, as one of the negotiators drew criticism, even from among other members of the Syrian opposition.

January 25, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Israel to allow settler takeover of Palestinian homes in Al-Khalil

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MEMO | January 24, 2016

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday gave his support to a group of Jewish settlers who were filmed forcefully taking over Palestinian homes in the city of Hebron (Al-Khalil) in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Though Israeli border police removed the settlers from the homes on Friday, Netanyahu on Sunday confirmed that they would be allowed to move into the structures once paperwork for their purported “secret purchase” was complete.

“The government supports the settlements, especially in days like these, when they are under terror attacks,” Netanyahu declared at a weekly cabinet meeting, referring to heightened levels of violence in Hebron.

“The moment that the purchase process [for the confiscated homes] is authorized, we will allow the [settlers to take possession] of the two houses in Hebron,” he added.

Earlier Sunday, local media quoted an Israeli Radio report that the settlers were negotiating with the government for ownership of at least one of the homes and assurances that none of the entryways faced Palestinian neighbours.

On Thursday, a widely-circulated video showed dozens of Israeli settlers forcing open two Palestinian homes in Hebron, drawing the ire of many Palestinians.

The West Bank city is notorious for its heavy Israeli military presence due to long-running tensions between Palestinians and Jewish settlers, who – unlike in most other cities – live in close proximity to one another.

Hebron has been at the epicenter of a months-long wave of violence that has seen more than 160 Palestinians – along with 29 Israelis or foreigners – killed since October 1 of last year.

Read:

Settlers seize a house near Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron

Israel razes EU-built West Bank humanitarian buildings, announces land grab

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | 3 Comments

Russia, US agree to have 2 rebel delegations at Syria peace talks – reports

RT | January 24, 2016

Moscow and Washington are close to reaching a compromise on the participants of the Syria peace talks set to start next week. Two separate Syrian opposition delegations are expected to be invited to the negotiations in Geneva, according to media reports.

United Nations-sponsored negotiations between the Syrian government and the opposition have already been postponed over disagreements between the US and Russia, which could not reach agreement on which opposition groups should be represented. The talks are being arranged to try to bring an end to Syria’s five-year civil war.

Washington supports the participation of the Saudi-backed Islamist militia Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam) – something Moscow has strongly objected to. Russia insists that political figures it deems more moderate, such as Qadri Jamil, a former Syrian deputy prime minister, and Saleh Muslim, co-head of the Syrian Kurdish group PYD, should join the negotiations, Kommersant daily reported Saturday.

A compromise has allegedly now been reached, however, with Moscow agreeing to the presence of Jaysh al-Islam at the talks. In return, Washington will not object to a separate Syrian opposition delegation being invited, Bloomberg reports, citing three Western and UN diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The ‘main’ opposition delegation was rubber-stamped in the Saudi capital Riyadh in December, and represents opposition groups sponsored by Saudi Arabia and the West.

Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, is now likely to send invitations to two opposition groups – one proposed by Washington, another recommended by Moscow.

“We are confident that with good initiative in the next day or so, those talks can get going,” US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Saturday in Riyadh, where he has been seeking a deal on the Syria talks.

De Mistura is expected to elaborate on the latest details of the peace process at a press-briefing in Geneva on Monday, his spokeswoman Jessy Chahine said.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova made no comments in a press conference on Friday regarding which opposition groups will attend the talks in Geneva.

The nations assisting the Syria peace talks have reached an agreement to form a transitional government in Syria by mid-2016, with an aim to hold elections in 2017. According to Russian and Western diplomats, Moscow has managed to shutter Washington’s previously indispensable prerequisite that Bashar Assad must leave his presidential post before the transition process can start.

Moscow has always insisted that it is up to the Syrian people to decide whether President Assad should stay or go, and the participation of the acting president in the next elections remains on the table.

At the moment there are two anti-Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) coalitions operating in Syria – one headed by the US, the other by Russia.

The Russian military’s air operation against IS in Syria began four months ago, and has significantly disrupted terrorist communications and supply routes. Islamic State’s illegal trafficking of stolen Syrian and Iraqi oil has been crippled to such an extent that the terrorists have been forced to compensate the shortfall in profits by increasing taxes, cutting salaries to militants and attempting to take drug production in Afghanistan under its control.

The Syrian Army loyal to President Assad is also conducting an offensive on terrorist positions, and has liberated a number of settlements. The spearhead of the assault is directed against the borders with Turkey and Jordan, in order to cut terrorist supply routes and prevent reinforcements from abroad from infiltrating Syria.

January 24, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey ‘threatens to withdraw’ from Syria talks over Syrian Kurds

RT | January 23, 2016

Ankara may boycott the upcoming Syria talks in Switzerland if Syrian Kurds are invited, media reports said, citing UN sources. Earlier, Turkey said their support for the peace process can only be ensured if there is no “representation of terrorist groups around the table.”

Turkey has privately warned that it might pull out from the Geneva talks now scheduled for January 25 if Saudi-backed Kurds and related parties are present, Foreign Policy reported Saturday citing UN-based officials.

Ankara is unwilling to cooperate with Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its affiliate People’s Protection Units (YPG) since these leftist movements are allegedly linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey.

The conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish insurgent groups demanding greater autonomy for the large ethnic group has been going on for decades. With several failed ceasefires between the sides, Ankara has been blamed for putting civilians lives in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast at risk by a number of international human rights groups.

Earlier this week, President Erdogan reaffirmed his unwillingness to search for a peaceful solution to the conflict, saying that “those with guns in their hands and those who support them will pay the price of treason,” meaning the Kurdish militants who are considered terrorists by the government.

Apart from Turkey, the historical Kurdistan region also includes territories in Iran, Iraq and northern Syria, where Kurdish fighters have proved to be some of the most effective forces in helping to combat Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL). Still Ankara believes that struggling against IS “does not grant them legitimacy,” according to the Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. Turkey has carried out several attacks on Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Moreover, Davutoglu accused Russia of as much as compromising Geneva talks by inviting the representatives of YPG – Syrian Kurdish forces – to join the peace process.

“Some circles, including Russia, want to spoil the opposition side, putting some other elements in the opposition side like the YPG, which has been collaborating with the regime and attacking the moderate opposition,” the PM said earlier this week.

“There should not be any representation of terrorist groups around the table,” he insisted.

Geneva talks on the Syrian crisis have recently become a bone of contention between international negotiators: the key issue is who would attend.

A resolution providing for the beginning of talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups was adopted by the UN Security Council in December. Scheduled to take place in Switzerland in January, the talks became known as Geneva III (Geneva II happened in January 2014), and are aimed at finding a solution to end the Syrian civil war, which has been ongoing in the country since 2011, with IS gaining strength in the region. While a number of countries, including Russia, the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey are backing the peace talks, there is no apparent agreement on who should represent the Syrian opposition, and which fighting groups should be excluded for being proclaimed “terrorists.”

Turkey wouldn’t welcome a Kurdish presence at the talks. However, the US government still believes there is hope of changing Ankara’s opinion on the subject, according to Foreign Policy. Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Istanbul to discuss national security questions with the Turkish leaders on Saturday.

At the same time, US State Secretary John Kerry traveled to Riyadh in order to press Saudi officials to reconsider on a similar matter. Saudi Arabia previously threatened to boycott Geneva talks if certain pro-regime Syrian groups allegedly backed by Russia and Egypt were invited. In their turn, the opposition representatives urged UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura in a letter to disqualify Riyadh from peace talks as it was picking delegates for its own delegation talks “under obscure conditions,” Russia’s Sputnik agency reported.

As a result, de Mistura, responsible for issuing the invitations to the talks, accused a few states of jeopardizing the peace process by insisting that their opposing faction is more important than others.

“I would expect all sides to recognize my mandated responsibility to finalize a list of invitees to the process, to include all those I deem appropriate,” de Mistura reportedly said at a private UN briefing on January 18.

Russia and the US still hope that the talks will eventually take place on January 25. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and State Secretary John Kerry had a phone talk on Saturday to discuss arrangements for the Geneva meeting, Russian foreign authority said. Both officials agreed that the International Syria Support Group format might be useful for holding further peace talks on Syria.

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘US and UK employing divide-and-ruin strategy against Iraq’

Dan Glazebrook | RT | January 22, 2016

The US and Britain, the former colonizing power in the region, have always seen Iraq as a threat because it has the potential to be a great regional independent power in its own right, says political analyst Dan Glazebrook.

The president of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region Massoud Barzani has said the time has come to redraw the Middle East’s boundaries.

RT: The President of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish north urged world leaders to help pave the way for a Kurdish state. Will they receive that support?

Dan Glazebrook: It all depends on how the so-called great powers react. And I suspect that the US will respond with kind of diplomatic niceties, diplomatic platitudes. They don’t commit themselves to anything, but kind of have the effect of egging and spurring on the demands for the breakup of Iraq. There is this idea for the breakup of Iraq that has been flirting around in US military for some time now. The thing about Iraq from the point of view of the US and Britain, the former colonizing power in the region, is that they have always seen Iraq as a threat because it has the great potential to be a great regional independent power in its own right. It is the only Arab country that really has all four prerequisites for being a strong independent power: it has got a large sizable population, so it can have a large army, unlike, say, Saudi Arabia; it has got oil resources obviously, unlike, say, Egypt – another big populist Arab country; and it has got plenty of arable land and plenty of water. They’ve always seen it as a threat and for decades they’ve used every means available in the book to get it to fight against its neighbors, arming it in the battle against Iran in the 1980’s, invading it twice now… This is just the next step in trying to dismember the country and prevent it of ever being a unified, powerful, independent player…

Turkey, which is very close to the Iraqi-Kurdish government, has been doing a lot of illegal oil trading with the Iraqi-Kurdish government there. Obviously it has its own worries about demand for independence from its own Kurds and from the Syrian Kurds. I suspect there will be no independent state actually recognized internationally. But Turkey, US, Britain will kind of make these noises to egg them on and spur them on to continue with a divide and ruin strategy that they are employing against Iraq and other countries in the region.


Dan Glazebrook is a freelance political writer who has written for RT, Counterpunch, Z magazine, the Morning Star, the Guardian, the New Statesman, the Independent and Middle East Eye, amongst others. His first book “Divide and Ruin: The West’s Imperial Strategy in an Age of Crisis” was published by Liberation Media in October 2013. It featured a collection of articles written from 2009 onwards examining the links between economic collapse, the rise of the BRICS, war on Libya and Syria and ‘austerity’. He is currently researching a book on US-British use of sectarian death squads against independent states and movements from Northern Ireland and Central America in the 1970s and 80s to the Middle East and Africa today.

January 23, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

The Iowa Speech Bernie Sanders Never Delivered

By John V. Walsh | CounterPunch | January 19, 2016

Good evening. I have purchased this television time tonight on every available media outlet here in Iowa, just days in advance of the 2016 caucuses. I address you, because the choice you make in a few days time could well determine whether we live in peace or go to war, possibly nuclear war. The very survival of humanity could hang in the balance. And it hinges on whether you vote for me or for my principal opponent, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Let us be blunt, she has never seen a war she did not like. And looking at the wars of the last 25 years, she has been an ardent supporter in every case and a principal architect of most of them.

This campaign in Iowa has a bit of déjà vu to it. In 2008, Iowans gave a victory to Barack Obama in the caucuses, the first step in derailing the Clinton presidential candidacy back then. You did so because Obama presented himself as the peace candidate whereas Hillary Clinton was already known as an implacable hawk. You voted for peace. Unfortunately, Obama let you down and pursued a more warlike course, in no small part due to pressure from then Secretary of State Clinton and her allies in and out of government. I do not intend to let you down. I want to make that crystal clear tonight.

My new view of America’s place in the world in the 21st Century, which I wish to enunciate this evening, is a further development of my vote against the Iraq War. In short I now commit myself to a principled anti-interventionist stand. Let us have no more wars. That is within our power. My present view results from an intense discussion with activists in my campaign and more importantly from progressives who refused to join the campaign because of my earlier weak stance on interventionism. I thank them. I owe far more to them than those who simply went along to get along. I hope that those who refused to sign on to the campaign will do so now. I welcome them in advance and congratulate them on their integrity.

Perhaps the shortcomings of my earlier views had to do with my devotion to Israel. But we must face facts: Israel is an apartheid state, as former President Jimmy Carter so forcefully and eloquently demonstrated in his book, “Palestine. Peace Not Apartheid.” We can no more claim to be just in supporting Israel than we could when we supported apartheid South Africa. I now repudiate my earlier defense of Israel’s barbaric bombing of defenseless Gazans. I was wrong to defend that criminal action. And I commit myself to ending apartheid in historic Palestine in a decisive way.

Perhaps I have also been too committed to the idea of a campaign that is polite. But that too has been wrong. By any reasonable standard Mrs. Clinton is a war criminal and mass murderer. And no war criminal deserves to be treated with kid gloves. To do so is to disrespect the thousands of American lives unnecessarily lost because of her policies. And it is to disrespect the millions of Muslims and others in the Middle East and North Africa who have lost lives, families, loved ones, home and hearth. She criticizes Donald Trump for his statements about some Muslims. But her charge rings hollow when there is so much Muslim blood on her hands. Killing is worse than slandering by far.

But let me be more specific. The Clinton administration of the 1990’s enjoyed the benefit of the end of the Cold War. It could have opened an era of peace. Instead of treating Russia with respect and taking a stance of peace, the Clintons repeated the error of the Treaty of Versailles, lording it over Russia and beginning the expansion of NATO to the East. That expansion has culminated in the coup and crisis in Ukraine engineered by a protégé of both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Cheney, the arch neoconservative Victoria Nuland. And that action has pushed us deep into a new Cold War with Russia, which according to former Secretary of Defense in the Clintons’ administration, William Perry, makes nuclear war a greater threat today than in the first Cold War! That is the precipice to which Mrs. Clinton and other neoconservatives and “humanitarian” warriors have driven us.

Ms. Clinton has not been satisfied with the development of a Cold War in Europe alone. She has also, along with President Obama, set us on a course of conflict with China, with her so-called “pivot to Asia,” using Japan as the cat’s paw for new anti-China confrontations.

The Chinese idea of a win-win interaction among nations, indeed the plea for it by China, has fallen on deaf ears in our media and has been firmly rejected by Ms. Clinton and her cabal in the Obama administration.

With regard to China I must ask: What is she thinking? For over a year now, China now has been the number one economy in the world in Purchasing Power Parity terms according to the IMF. It is now building up its arms at a more rapid pace in response to our threats. The antagonism of our government to China in an attempt to weaken it and bring it down is a futile course and a dangerous one. It needs to be reversed at once, as does our bellicosity to Russia.

I also note in fairness to Barack Obama, that his administration, since the departure of Secretary Clinton, has moved, however gingerly, into more peaceful waters where she did not wish to sail. The opening to Cuba and then to Iran and some signs of a developing détente in the meetings of Secretary Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov are testimony to that. They did not occur while the belligerent Hillary Clinton was at the helm of State.

Let me finally say something about the emails on Benghazi that Ms. Clinton decided to hide in her secret server, illegally I might say. I have tried to be gallant on this issue, not least because some in Congress have used it in a trivial and partisan way. That was wrong of me, because Ms. Clinton like the rest of us should not be above the law. But focusing on the crime of hiding the emails may distract from greater crimes in the actual content of the emails.

Seymour Hersh has laid out the case that the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was the site for a gun running operation to jihadists in Syria. This is what the CIA calls a “rat line,” a term we should all be familiar with and consign forever to the past. The late U.S. Ambassador who served under Mrs. Clinton was most likely involved in implementing that “rat line.” Of course that gun running and destabilization of both Libya and Syria on Mrs. Clinton’s watch has resulted not only in hundreds of thousands of dead but has also precipitated the massive immigration crisis engulfing Europe. We need a full investigation of the intervention in Libya, the illegal gun running, including Mrs. Clinton’s role in it. Her illegally hidden emails may well contain crucial information on this matter. We need to see them, all of them, before the Democratic Party makes its choice of a candidate for President.

Thank you for listening to this message. I hope you will vote for me in the caucuses coming up in just a few days. The avoidance of nuclear catastrophe and perhaps the very survival of the human race may well depend upon the rejection of those, like Mrs. Clinton, who would lead us down a road to more wars and conflict.

John V. Walsh can be reached at John.Endwar@gmail.com

January 19, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , | Leave a comment

Qatar charts a new diplomatic path to Russia

By Firas Al-Atraqchi | The BRICS Post | January 16, 2016

The visit of Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considered by some to be unexpected, but it is hardly surprising.

Although the two countries maintain considerable trade ties to the tune of half a billion dollars a year, they have for more than a decade been erstwhile adversaries.

As two of the greatest gas exporters, they rarely agree on production quotas, vying for control of this essential market. In the past 20 months, Russia has been highly critical of Saudi Arabia and Qatar for refusing to curb oil production output as global prices plummeted.

A major oil exporter, Russia – already reeling from EU and US sanctions – has suffered considerably as prices drop to the $30 mark.

The rhetoric between both countries peaked after Russian fighter bombers and naval vessels began pounding Islamist extremist groups fighting to remove Moscow’s Syrian ally President Bashar Al Assad.

As the Sunni-funded campaign to remove Assad appeared to reach a stalemate, both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have since May 2015 significantly increased their support (financially, logistically and with materiel) to Wahabist Islamist factions in Syria.

The increase in support came as both countries realized that Washington was unable – or unwilling – to provide such groups as Nusra Front and the Free Syrian Army with the upper hand to turn the tide against Assad.

When Russia moved to reinforce its bases in Syria and presence in the Mediterranean, the Qataris in late October 2015 announced they could militarily intervene in the civil war there to aid their Islamist allies.

“If a military intervention will protect the Syrian people from the brutality of the regime, we will do it,” Qatari Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah said at the time.

If such bravado was meant to nudge Washington to up the ante against Assad, it failed.

Russian diplomacy moves forward

A week later, the US appeared to cave in to Russian pressure to bring together senior representatives from Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, as well as the UN’s special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini to meet in Vienna to resolve the Syrian civil war.

It marked the first time rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran joined discussions on Syria. The two countries have backed opposing sides in the Syrian and Yemeni conflicts.

The armed Syrian opposition – classified as moderates by the US – did not participate in the talks.

By expanding the number of countries meeting on the crisis – and bringing Assad’s critical backer Iran to the table – Russia effectively minimized Qatar’s and Saudi Arabia’s influence in the conflict.

In late November, on the sidelines of the third summit of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) in Tehran, Putin thanked Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei for his help in Vienna.

Moscow and Tehran have supported Syria’s President Bashar Al Assad and insisted that he be part of an interim political process and future elections.

“All this is done, of course, in agreement with the Iranian partners … I think that without them it would be impossible,” Putin said in comments carried by Russian news agencies.

Russia also played a critical role in ensuring that Iran and the other permanent Security Council members (and Germany) sign a deal which would curb Tehran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of debilitating sanctions.

If it wasn’t clear yet, a rising Russia was increasingly flexing both its military and diplomatic muscles in the Middle East.

Even Egypt, which has been financially sustained by Saudi Arabia, defied its Riyadh benefactors and backed Russia’s approach to resolving the conflict.

On December 18, Russia and the US agreed to a UN Security Council resolution “to convene representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to engage in formal negotiations on a political transition process on an urgent basis, with a target of early January 2016 for the initiation of talks, pursuant to the Geneva Communiqué, consistent with the 14 November 2015 ISSG Statement, with a view to a lasting political settlement of the crisis”.

A week later, the previously chest-pumping Qatar Foreign Minister al-Attiyah was in Moscow where he praised his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov for Russia’s efforts to stabilize the Middle East.

The two diplomats agreed on the need to move the UNSC resolution forward.

“We discussed in detail what’s necessary to be done to implement the agreements on the Syrian settlement,” Lavrov said at the time.

In early January, Russia’s BRICS ally China, which is also increasingly playing a political role in the Middle East, separately hosted members of both the Syrian government and the opposition. It encouraged the latter to drop its preconditions to meeting with Syrian government representatives.

In less than six months, the momentum to bring Assad down has shifted toward ensuring that a political peace process get off the ground.

So, what changed?

Qatar’s ambitions to become a regional and global player have in recent months been tamed.

Its ‘soft power’ approach to controlling the Middle East has backfired as it rushed head on against countries that have for centuries been well-versed in the art of Machiavellian empire-building and proxy manipulation.

At the same time, Russia’s aggressive immersion in the Middle East muddle has altered not only the narrative in the region but physical realities on the ground.

Anti-Assad forces have been losing significant territory to the Syrian military and its Hezbollah allies.

As Russia pounds and destroys the weapons bought by Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the US appears to have retreated despite Arab Sunni protestations.

As Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani himself likes to point out, Qatar is a peace-loving member of nations that will work with the US and Western allies to bring the Middle East back from the brink of chaos and collapse.

He has blamed the international community for not supporting Arab youth in their drive for democracy, justice and economic security. That is really a scolding of the US and the West for not doing more to bring the Assad regime down.

Iran rising, Russia to stay

New realities have been forming in the Middle East.

The Iran nuclear deal, which has alarmed Washington’s Sunni allies, will not only be a moral and propaganda boost for Tehran but also allow tens of billions of dollars to flow into its cash-strapped coffers.

Iran is soon expected to flood already saturated oil markets with an additional one million barrels – a day.

Iran has successfully ‘managed’ its new ally Iraq, kept Assad in power, and maintained its proxy Hezbollah’s influence in Lebanon.

With Iran and the US appearing to be at the very least cordial now, Tehran’s influence is only set to grow.

For Iran to grow as a geopolitical power, other players must first retreat.

Backing the wrong horse

By continuing to back Islamist factions in Libya, Syria and Egypt, Qatar misread and miscalculated the response of erstwhile allies in its own front yard.

Nowhere has that been more evident than in Qatar’s commitment to Egypt following the 2011 uprising which resulted in President Hosni Mubarak stepping down and the Muslim Brotherhood eventually winning power through the ballot box.

Qatar backed the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist factions in Egypt.

Egyptian hardline cleric Yussuf Al Qaradawi, who was a vociferous critic of the Mubarak government, returned to Cairo from his home in Doha just a week after the president stepped down.

Qaradawi, who is close to Qatar’s ruling family, is also a strong advocate of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

When the Muslim Brotherhood’s President Mohamed Morsi was forced from power, many in Egypt felt that Qatar’s Al Jazeera was biased in favor of the Islamist group and openly belligerent against the new government.

According to prominent Middle East commentator Sultan Sooud Al Qassemi, Al Jazeera was used by the Qatari leadership to the service of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even after Morsi was imprisoned and put on trial, Al Jazeera continued to support the Muslim Brotherhood despite the advice to the contrary and objections of many of its allies in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the latter having been directly threatened by Brotherhood officials in 2012 and 2013, urged Qatar to back away from supporting the group.

After failing to persuade Qatar to terminate its ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, and in the wake of Saudi Arabia classifying the group as a terrorist organization, key GCC states turned on Qatar.

They accused Doha of failing to live up to a 2013 GCC security agreement to end support for the Muslim Brotherhood and stop providing sanctuary to its leaders and members.

GCC, oil and Al Jazeera America

In March 2014, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain withdrew their ambassadors from Doha.

This was unprecedented among the usually unified and resolute GCC.

The diplomatic rift indicated that there were significant fissures within the GCC and marked a shift in Qatar’s fortunes. How could it influence the region like it once did if it was becoming a pariah among its closest friends and allies?

As Europe, the US, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE declared support for the new Egyptian President Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi, Qatar was growing increasingly isolated.

The drastic fall of global oil prices has also delivered a debilitating blow to GCC countries, Qatar included.

Brent Crude was at nearly $110 in 2013; on January 15, 2015 it closed below $30 a barrel – more than a 75 per cent drop.

Funding a civil war that is not paying dividends is not the best of financial decisions given the current oil glut.

Some media analysts have speculated that the drop in oil prices played a role in Qatar deciding to shut down its media operations in the US – Al Jazeera America.

Having lost leverage, Qatar is adopting a more pragmatic approach to carefully chart a way back to international cooperation.

Ahead of his trip to the US last year, Sheikh Tamim said in a New York Times editorial that Qatar sees itself as a force of good. It aggressively seeks to resolve conflict and enjoys playing the role of mediator and arbiter.

Russia has in recent months made significant overtures to several Arab countries, including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Qatar cannot afford to be left out. When Sheikh Tamim arrives in Moscow this weekend he will likely discuss current gas and oil crises with his Russian counterpart as both seek ways to raise global prices.

Qatar could also offer to mediate between Russia and Turkey, one of its strongest allies in the region, following the diplomatic spat between Moscow and Ankara in the wake of the downing of a Russian fighter jet over Syrian air space.

Middle East commentator Camille Otrakji, however, cautions that “one can expect Qatar’s ruler to talk to Russia, without necessarily being ready to stop financing and arming the Jihadists”.

“[The] Qataris show interest in any promising investment, and Russia is today looking very attractive,” he added.

In 2006, then Secretary of State Condi Rice said that the Middle East map was being redrawn.

She likely could have never predicted the Qatar-Russia detente we see today.

January 16, 2016 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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