Saturday, June 30, 2012

Global Powers Call for Political Transition in Syria

Russia Blocks Assad's Exclusion

World and regional powers today agreed to support a watered-down version of a plan put forward by Special Envoy Kofi Annan to promote a political transition in Syria. The agreement reached in Geneva did not include a specific call for Bashar al-Assad to step down as president, a move regarded as critical for the transition plan to success but firmly opposed by Russia. 

Annan insisted, however, that the people of Syria would not select “people with blood on the hands” to lead them during the transition. But he did not explain how he could pull off forming a transitional national unity government without Assad’s presence and without the firm support of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Today’s meeting of the so-called "Syria Action Group" included foreign ministers from all five permanent members of the UN Security Council, as well as Iraq, Kuwait, Qatar and Turkey and officials from the EU and the Arab League.

Syria Talks Reportedly Deadlocked

A conference called by Special Envoy Kofi Annan to end the Syria crisis appeared "on the brink of failure," with the U.S. and Russia still divided over a role for Bashar Assad in a transition government, AP reported today. Russia has refused to back a provision in Annan’s plan that would call for Assad to step down to make way for a unity government, a stance that could derail the entire plan.

Annan’s proposal would have created a transitional national unity government comprising of pro-government as well as pro-opposition members to implement an ambitious timeline ending the fighting and preparing the country for a peaceful transition to a post conflict period of national reconciliation. Presence of Assad in a transition government, presumably as its head, would be unacceptable to the opposition.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Differences Over Assad Dims Prospects for Today’s Syria Meeting

U.S. and Russian foreign ministers meeting in St. Petersburg today ahead of Saturday’s gathering of Syria ‘action group’ in Geneva, reportedly failed to bridge critical differences over a transitional plan to end the crisis, leaving meeting’s prospects uncertain. (Los Angeles Times)

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton proposes that as part of any transition out of the current crisis, Syrian President Bashar Assad must go. Russia’s Sergei Lavrov opposes any move to force out Assad.
In spite of the disagreement, Lavrov expressed optimism that today’s meeting in Geneva would be successful, saying that there are no significant differences between the U.S. and Russia on “most things.”
"We have a very good chance tomorrow in Geneva to find a common denominator and find a path forward in order to stimulate the implementation of Annan's plan," Lavrov said at the end of his meeting with Clinton. "We're agreeing on most things." (RIA Novosti/LA Times, 29 June)

Iran Criticizes U.S. for Supporting UAE On Three Islands

Iran today denounced Washington’s support of the UAE in its dispute with Iran over the three Persian Gulf islands of Abu Musa, the Greater and Lesser Tunbs, calling it “flagrant interference in Iran’s domestic affairs.”

“The islands have always been and will always be inseparable parts of the Islamic Republic,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian. “The intervention by third parties (U.S.) in the region is aimed at creating rifts and tensions,” he added.  (IRNA/Press TV translation, 29 June)

On Wednesday, the U.S. voiced its strong support for the UAE initiative to resolve the dispute through “direct negotiations, the International Court of Justice, or another appropriate international forum.”

Today, Mohsen Rezaie, the former IRGC commander and the publisher of the popular new site Tabnak, also said the West is provoking UAE over the islands to create division in the region.

“(Western countries) follow a new style of colonialism and use this stratagem to create division (among regional nations) and dominate over the region,” said Rezaie, who is currently the executive director of Iran's Expediency Council.

“Lack of awareness on the part of regional counties will help Western leaders to dominate all energy resources in the region and this is exactly what the US and Britain are looking for,” Rezaie added. 

Iran-Turkey Gas Pipeline Under Repair After Explosion - UPDATE

Natural gas flow to Turkey from Iran was cut off on Thursday after an explosion disabled the Iran-Ankara BOTAS pipeline. The pipeline carries 27 million cubic meters of gas per day, Turkey’s Energy Ministry reported.

The explosion occurred around 0200 local time Thursday between the villages of Hidirli and Kalender in Turkey's Eastern province of Agri, at the border with Iran. The Turkish authorities said repairs to the pipeline would take approximately five days.

Russia’s OAO Gazprom said today it plans to increase natural-gas exports to Turkey to compensate for the deficit. (Dow Jones Newswire)

UPDATE: Iran resumes natural gas flow to Turkey on July 2 after the pipeline is repaired. (Today's Zaman, 2 July)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Iran Currency Declining As New Sanctions Goes into Effect

Iranian currency rial continued losing its value and was trading at 20,600 rials per dollar on Thursday.

In January, the rial broke through a psychological barrier by trading over 20,000 rials per dollar, prompting the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) to devalue the official exchange rate to 12,260 rials per dollar and increasing the bank deposit interest rate to 21 percent to strengthen the national currency. But in the past two weeks the rial started a sharp decline and yesterday passed the 20,000 mark again.

The new sanctions against the country are triggering the currency’s decline. Today, the new U.S. sanctions against international banks engaged in transactions with CBI went into effect. On Sunday, the EU embargo of Iranian oil and the ban on insuring tankers carrying Iranian crude will begin. 

US Issues Sanctions Waivers for China and Singapore

The US has exempted China and Singapore from economic sanctions that went into effect today because the two countries reportedly reduced significantly their imports of Iranian oil.

The decision by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spares Chinese and Singaporean banks from potentially being cut off from the American financial system. The banks had to process payments for oil imports through the Central Bank of Iran (CBI). As of today, new sanctions against banks dealing with CBI will go into effect, practically cutting them off from the American financial system. However, if a country cuts its imports of Iranian oil by 20 percent, they receive temporary waivers. Seventeen countries already have received those waivers.

Iran's oil exports have declined to less than 1.8 million barrels a day from 2.5 million barrels last year. Oil trading observers expect the exports to continue declining to 1 million bpd by year’s end, a huge loss of hard-currency revenue for the country.

Iran Warns the West of 'Repercussions' Over New Sanctions

Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, warned the EU in a letter on Thursday that new sanctions will have “repercussions” on talks over the country’s nuclear activities, IRNA reported.

“(The letter) warned the West of repercussions of taking action which is far removed from the logic in the talks and of using illegal methods against the Iranian nation,” IRNA said of the document. (Translation by AFP)

Today, the US started sanctions on foreign companies doing business with the Central Bank of Iran, and on Sunday the EU will start full implementation of its embargo of Iranian oil and the ban on insurance companies to cover tankers carrying the crude.

Oman and Sweden to Represent Iran and UK Interest Sections

Iran and the UK have agreed to have Oman and Sweden represent each other respectively in London and Tehran, Iran's Foreign Minister announced today. In the absence of diplomatic relations, Iran’s interest section in London will operate under Omani embassy and the British interest section in Tehran under the Swedish embassy.

UN, EU Condemn Anti-Semitic Remarks by Iran Vice-President

The UN and the EU have condemned the anti-Semitic remarks made by Iran’s First Vice President Mohammad Reza Rahimi at a UN international drug trade conference in Tehran on Tuesday.

In his speech delivered to the conference, the Iranian vice president had blamed Jews for international drug trade. The New York Times has described Rahimi’s remarks as “baldly anti-Semitic,” shocking some of the diplomats attending the conference.

Rahimi also had said that The Talmud teaches to “destroy everyone who oppose the Jews.” (The New York Times)

UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday criticized the remarks.

"The secretary general has on many occasions called on Iranian officials to refrain from these kinds of anti-Semitic statements. He does so again in response to these latest reported comments," said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. "He believes it is the responsibility of leaders to promote harmony and understanding and he deeply regrets expressions of hatred and religious intolerance," Nesirky added.
Today, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also condemned Iranian Vice President’s remarks.

"The High Representative is deeply disturbed by racist and anti-Semitic statements made by Iranian First Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi at the UN International Day against Drug Abuse," Ashton stated. Ashton added that such statements are “unacceptable” and reiterated EU’s commitment to “combating racism and anti-Semitism.” 

Iran Foreign Minister Briefly Arrested in Cyprus

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was arrested and handcuffed Wednesday afternoon after he arrived at Nicosia International Airport. A Cypriot special police unit made the arrest for Salehi’s violation of a EU ban on travels by Iranian officials involved in the country’s nuclear program. But the Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozaku Markulli intervened and Mr. Salehi was later released. 

Mr. Salehi was a former head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran when he was added to the list of “unwanted persons,” but his name was taken out in 2010 when he became Iran’s foreign minister. Cyprus has issued an official apology to Iran, citing “misunderstanding” and “mishandling” of the situation by airport police. 

US-UAE Joint Statement on the Three Islands

The US and the UAE on Wednesday issued a joint statement calling for a peaceful resolution of the status of the islands of Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs. The UAE has territorial claims over the three Persian Gulf islands that have been under Iranian control since the departure of the British from the Gulf in 1971.

The joint statement was issued after President Obama met for lunch with UAE Crown Prince Shaikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at the White House.

 “(The US) strongly supports the UAE’s initiative to resolve the issue through direct negotiations, the International Court of Justice, or another appropriate international forum,” the statement said. (AFP)

In a thinly veiled reference to Iran, the statement reiterated the critical importance of keeping the Persian Gulf shipping lanes open.

“The President and Crown Prince discussed the importance of protecting critical shipping lanes against threats of aggression, terrorism, and piracy.” 

Photo Credit: President Obama and UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed at the White House. 27 June 2012. AFP

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Russia Backs Annan Proposal for Establishing Syria Unity Government- Report

Russia will support a proposal by Kofi Annan to have the government and opposition in Syria to form a government of national unity, Reuters reported. Annan, the international mediator for Syria, will formally present his proposal at a Syria contact group meeting in Geneva on Saturday. The group, put together by Annan in the past few days, will consist of the five permanent members of the Security Council, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar. It will not include Iran or Saudi Arabia.

Annan idea includes establishing a transitional national unity government with clear and irreversible transition in fixed timeline, the report said. (Reuters, 27 June).

"(The transitional government) could comprise present government members, opposition and others, but would need to exclude those whose continued participation or presence would jeopardize the transition's credibility, or harm prospects for reconciliation and stability," a senior diplomat with the knowledge of the proposed plan told Reuters. The idea of excluding certain people was clearly referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the diplomat added.

All the five permanent members of the Security Council will reportedly back the plan.

Morsi’s Office to Sue Fars News Agency

The office of Egyptian president-elect Mohammed Morsi will file a lawsuit against Iran’s Fars News Agency for making up an interview with him hours before the final results of the presidential election were announced.

“President Morsi was never interviewed by Iran's Fars news agency. The interview was fabricated and his presidential office has begun taking legal action against the news agency," Yasser Ali, a presidential spokesman said. (Reuters, 27 June).

Fars had quoted Morsi as saying that developing good relations with Iran “will create (new) strategic balance in the region” and that was “part of his renaissance program.”
The office of Egyptian presidency, as well as Mr. Morsi’s campaign organization, immediately denied such interview had ever taken place, but Fars continued to claim that it did take place and produced an audio claiming to capture the conversation between Mr. Morsi and the agency’s correspondent in Cairo. Morsi’s office denies that the voice in the tape is that of the new president and now it has decided to bring legal action against Fars.

Russians to Build IP Pipeline in Pakistan - Report

A Russian delegation headed by Deputy Minister for Energy Yury Sentyurin has arrived in Islamabad to discuss financing of the proposed Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline with Pakistani Secretary of Petroleum and Natural Resources Ejaz Chaudhary.

Iran has already completed the construction of the pipeline on its side and has committed to provide $500 million in cash and the actual pipes, gas compressors and block valves to help finance the construction of the pipeline on the Pakistani side.

Pakistan is wooing Russia and China to participate in the project to reduce the pressure of being the only partner of Iran, which is under international economic sanctions.

Sentyurin is expected to announce that Russian companies will construct the pipeline but they have asked the Pakistanis to be awarded the contract on sole-source basis, setting aside the required international bidding regulations.

China is also studying to become the Engineering Procurement Construction and Commissioning (EPCC) contractor to the project.

Source: The News, 27 June

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Jundallah Cells Dismantled Prior to New Year’s Attack - IRGC

The IRGC today belatedly announced that it had dismantled four Jundallah cells before they could carry out widespread suicide bombings in the country during the Iranian New Year (that began on 20 March). IRGC Ground Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Mohammad Pakpour said the teams were planning to carry out their missions in parks, mosques and other public places. (Fars News Agency, 26 June)    

Four Jundallah members were reportedly killed and several others arrested. Gen. Pakpour added that the first team was broken up on 18 March, and a number of explosive-laden vests as well as munitions in their possession were seized. Five days later two other cells were reportedly dismantled. Pakpour said the last cell was broken up recently. He did not offer any explanation on how this last cell, discovered recently, was linked to alleged planned actions some three months ago.

Jundallah is an Iranian Baluch militant group that has been involved in fighting the IRGC for a decade and has also carried out a number of terrorist attacks against IRGC personnel and civilians in southern Iran.  

Iran To Start Large-Scale Oilfield Maintenance

Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani said today in Tehran that the country will be carrying out large-scale workovers and reservoir maintenance on its oil fields. The extent of the maintenance work is such that it might reduce Iran’s oil production and exports by as much as 30 percent, Qalebani added. (Bloomberg, 26 June)

It’s worth noting that the work coincides with the upcoming oil-related sanctions against Iran, and the oil ministry might be expecting to have its exports cut by some 30 percent. 

Iran Posts Senior Oil Executive in Beijing

National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) has announced that the director of its fuel-oil trading division will head its office in Beijing. Maziar Hojjati will start in July and will oversee Iran’s oil exports to China. (China Economic Review, 26 June)

By July 1 the U.S. oil-related sanctions and EU’s ban on insuring tankers carrying Iranian crude will be in effect and are expected to cut the volume of Iran’s oil exports significantly. China, however, does not accept the legality of the sanctions imposed outside the UN framework and will continue purchasing Iranian crude at normal volume, making its purchases critical to Iran’s oil exports. Posting a senior oil executive in Beijing signifies China’s important position. 

South Korea to Halt Iran Oil Imports

EU Bans Insuring Tankers Carrying Iranian Crude Effective 1 July

South Korea became the first major Asian consumer of Iranian crude to suspend its imports starting July 1. The government announced that the move was in response to a EU ban on insuring tankers carrying Iranian oil. Iran supplied more than 9 percent of South Korea’s crude in 2011, its fourth largest customer. (Reuters)

The South Korean decision to halt all crude shipments from Iran differs from strategies chosen by Japan, India and China. In the Japanese case, the government has offered state guarantees to its refiners importing uninsured crude shipments from Iran, practically insuring the shipments. India and China, the other two major Asian importers, will allow Iran to deliver the crude by its own tankers with the shipments insured through Iranian government-owned companies.

Japan, India and South Korea have been granted temporary waiver from U.S. sanctions because they each have reduced their current oil imports from Iran by at least 20 percent. China, the largest importer of the four, has not reduced its imports and has not recognized the legality of the U.S. imposed sanctions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Mursi to renew Egypt-Iran ties

"We must restore normal relations with Iran based on shared interests, and expand areas of political coordination and economic cooperation because this will create a balance of pressure in the region."

-- Mohammed Mursi

According to Reuters Egypt's first democratically elected president has stated he is interested in restoring Iranian Egyptian ties.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has state he emphasizes with "expanding bilateral ties and strengthening the friendship between the two nations."

The Iranian leadership has hailed most of the Arab Spring revolutions, alluding to them as uprisings against western imposed despotism not unlike the one that was imposed upon Iran through the last Shah.

The geopolitical implications of Mursi's move have yet to make clear if the two countries will form anything more than simple diplomatic relationship rather than a strategy regional alliance based on common interests.

The Iranian regime -- which is currently backing the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria -- has few allies in the region and has recently lost the support of Hamas which itself is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood party which has just won the election in Egypt.

EU Affirms Iran Oil Embargo

EU governments today formally approved an embargo on Iranian oil to start on July 1. They also warned Iran that more pressure could be put in place if it continued to defy demands for limits on its nuclear program. (Reuters)

Putin in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said today that Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed that a nuclear Iran poses a “grave danger” to the world [AP, 25 June].

Putin was visiting Israel today. In statements issued after a meeting between the Russian president and the Israeli premier, Putin said that the talks covered Iran and Syria but added that he saw negotiations as the only solution for such issues.

Photo Credit: Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during an inauguration ceremony of a memorial to Red Army veterans of World War II in Netanya, Israel. Monday June 25, 2012. (AP Photo/Jack Guez, Pool)

Iran to Insure Oil Shipments to India

India has granted permits to its oil refiners to import Iranian crude after July 1 using Iranian oil tankers insured by Iranian companies, Reuters reported today. India has received waiver from U.S. sanctions to import 200,000 bpd from Iran. The upcoming EU sanctions, however, would prevent international insurance companies to insure shipments of crude oil from Iran. Today’s action by the Indian government, accepting Iranian companies to insure the shipments, allows Indian refiners to continue importing Iranian crude. India received waiver from U.S. sanctions after cutting its oil imports from Iran by 20 percent.

Source: Reuters, 25 June 2012

Syria, Iran on Top of Agenda at GCC-EU Meeting Today

The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union will be holding a meeting today in Luxembourg. The Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will be co-chairs of the meeting. The crisis in Syria and the Iranian nuclear program will be on top of the meeting’s agenda [Arab News, 25 June.] 

South Korea Cuts Iran Oil Imports

In anticipation of next week’s deadline for expanded US and EU sanctions on Iranian crude trade, South Korea cut its oil imports from Iran by nearly 40 percent in May, Reuters reported today. The country imported an average of 127,880 bpd last month, compared with its term agreements with Iran to import 200,000 bpd.

South Korea's refiners SK Energy and Hyundai Oilbank import Iranian crude. Sources told Reuters that both refiners will stop importing from Iran when the EU insurance embargo takes effect from July 1.

Putin to Arrive in Israel Today

Russian President Vladimir Putin will arrive in Israel today for a one-day visit. The Iranian nuclear program is expected to dominate the talks between Putin and the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Exorbitant Chicken!

The price of chicken that was 25,000 rials per kilo last year has reached 70,000 rials, prompting the cartoon shown above by Fars News Agency’s Sajjad Jafari, titled ‘On the Sidelines of the Steep Rise in Price of Chickens!’

Meanwhile, the national currency rial keeps losing value and was traded at 19,400 rials per dollar on Sunday. Rial hit a record low of 22,500 last January before the Central Bank of Iran devalued it and set its price at 12,260 rials per dollar, which still remains the “official” rate. The CBI also raised the interest rates for bank deposits to 21 percent to prevent the currency's decline. But in the past few days, rial has started losing value rapidly. 

Iraq: Sadr Calls for Maliki’s Resignation

Iraq’s Shia cleric leader Muqtada al-Sadr today called on Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki to resign in order to end the government’s paralysis. Sadr told reporters in Najaf that he would not bow to pressure from Iran to continue supporting Maliki.  Sadr has accused Maliki of keeping Kurds and Sunnis away from power. He instructed his party's 40 lawmakers to support a no-confidence vote against Maliki if other political blocs in parliament provide the rest of the 163 votes needed to unseat the premier.

Mohammed Morsi: President of Egypt

The Egyptian Elections Commission just declared Mohamed Morsi, the candidate of the Moslem Brotherhood, the winner of the historic Egyptian presidential election, the first free election in the country’s long history.

UPDATE: Mursy won 51.7 percent of votes, defeating former premier Ahmed Shafik. Morsy will form the first Islamist government in the Arab World’s most populous nation in a cohabitation arrangement with the country’s powerful armed forces.

Iran Confirms Meeting of British-Iran Foreign Ministers in Kabul

Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast on Saturday confirmed published reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has recently met his British counterpart William Hague in Afghanistan. The meeting took place on 14 June in Kabul.

“Salehi’s meeting with Hague took place on the sidelines of the Afghanistan’s neighbors conference via [the mediation] of a third country and upon the request of the British side,” Mehmanparast said on Saturday [IRNA, 24 June].

“During the meeting, discussions focused on interest sections [diplomatic representation through third countries] for the two sides as well as regional developments,” Mehmanparast added.

The foreign ministry spokesman also denied the reports that the meeting had taken place at the request of Iran.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Lavrov Cautions On Quick Settlement of Iran Nuclear Standoff – Clinton Says Iranian Hardliners Inviting Attack on Iran

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said today that the latest round of talks in Moscow between P5+1 and Iran was “quite useful,” but he cautioned that a quick settlement of Iranian nuclear standoff is not possible. Lavrov also warned the West against issuing any “artificial deadlines or ultimatums.

“In order to settle the issue, it’s necessary to refrain from constant threats of using force, abandon scenarios aimed against Iran, and stop dismissing the talks as failure,” Lavrov said [AP, 22 June].

Lavrov made the remarks days before Russia’s President Vladimir Putin arrives in Israel. Putin is expected to face a strong Israeli demand to take a tougher line on Iran.
“The message they (the Russians) will receive is that Israel can’t tolerate a nuclear Iran. Of course we prefer a diplomatic solution, but we will use all means to protect Israel’s survival,” said Yacov Livne, director of the Russia desk at the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said during an interview with PBS’s Charlie Rose on Thursday that the Iranian hardliners are inviting a military attack on Iran thinking that such an attack “would legitimize the regime.”

“Frankly, there are those (in Iran) who are saying, “The best thing that could happen to us is be attacked by somebody. Just bring it on because that would unify us. It would legitimize the regime,” Clinton said. “And, therefore, an argument is made constantly on the hardline side of the Iranian government that, you know, “We’re not going to give anything up. And in fact we’re going to provoke an attack because then we will be in power for as long as anyone can imagine,” she added. [PBS, 21 June].

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Iran Says It Uncovered ‘Massive Cyber Attack’ Against Nuclear Facilities

Iran’s Intelligence Minister Hojatoleslam Heydar Moslehi said today in Tehran that his ministry has uncovered a planned “massive cyber attack” against the country’s nuclear facilities.

“Based on obtained information, America and the Zionist regime (Israel) along with the MI6 planned an operation to launch a massive cyber attack against Iran's facilities following the meeting between Iran and the P5+1 in Moscow," Moslehi said. “They still seek to carry out the plan, but we have taken necessary measures," he added, without elaborating [IRNA/Press TV, 21 June].

The Washington Post had reported on Tuesday that the US and Israel had jointly developed a sophisticated computer virus nicknamed Flame that collected intelligence in preparation for cyber-sabotage aimed at slowing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon.

Ahmadinejad Blames West for Failure in Moscow

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad criticized the West for its “enmity” and “bullying” policies toward Iran at the recent talks in Moscow.

“Arrogant and domination-seeking parties should avoid enmity toward the Iranian nation,” said Ahmadinejad at a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of "Rio+20," a U.N. conference on sustainable development in Brazil [IRNA, 21 June].

Ahmadinejad defended Iran’s behavior at Moscow Talks, saying it had offered “legal, constructive, fair and friendly proposals.”

Other Iranian officials have also blamed the West for the failure at Moscow. Allaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the national security and foreign policy committee of Majlis, said Tehran had faced “misbehavior” by the U.S. and its allies during the talks in Moscow. [IRNA, 21 June]. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Failure in Moscow

By Nader Uskowi

Moscow Talks between Iran and the six major powers ended in failure today. The two sides, after seven rounds of talks in the past four years, could not even work out a minor technical agreement, even though the host Russia was desperate to show some progress. At the end, they decided to hold a low-level meeting in Istanbul on 3 July to “focus purely on technical details rather than the broader political issues,” as EU’s Catherine Ashton said.

The Iranian delegation came to Moscow determined not to give an inch on enrichment issue. The Iranian thinking behind such determination can be summarized as follow:
  • The U.S. has lost its war in Iraq and is losing in Afghanistan. It is in no shape to start another conflict with Iran.
  • Israel is unable to attack Iran without active support from the Americans.
  • The EU is in the midst of a financial crisis and cannot afford to worsen or prolong the crisis through a conflict in the Persian Gulf.
  • The West cannot afford to keep the Iranian crude out of the market for long and will have to ease or scrap the oil embargo sooner than later.
  • Russia and China would veto any action against Iran at the UN and the latter will keep purchasing the Iranian crude.
  • Then why compromise now, the thinking goes. If Iran stands firm on its demand of continuing to enrich uranium even at 20-percent purity, the West will have no choice but to give in by this summer, the height of the US presidential campaign, and ease or lift the sanctions, at least the upcoming oil embargo.
  • The West will be unable to stop Iran’s nuclear program even if it wanted to and did make the bomb.

The problem with such thinking is not the accuracy or lack of any of these points. The danger inherent in such thinking, however, is for the Iranian leaders to overplay their hands, a tendency they have demonstrated over the years, like in the hostage crisis, the last years of war with Iraq and now going nuclear.

What if the world could survive without the Iranian crude, what if taking hard line against Iran could help both candidates during the US presidential campaign, what if Israel really sees a nuclear Iran as an ‘existential’ threat, what if the US would have more firepower available after the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan… The Iranian leadership cannot afford to construct the best-case scenario and starts believing it in its entirety. There are not-so-well scenarios as well where Iran could suffer economic disaster or gets involved in a prolonged conflict, with all the uncertainties they would create for the country and its leadership.

The more prudent course of action is to compromise on some part of the enrichment program, like the 20-percent variety. After all, it was originally Ahmadinejad’s own proposal to forego the 20-percent enrichment through a uranium fuel swap agreement with the West, a proposal that didn't go well with the hardliners in the West and especially in Iran.

For the West, there is also the danger of overplaying its own hands. In the current political atmosphere in Iran, the acceptance by the senior leadership of the halt to 20-percent enrichment, closure of Fordo plant and signing the IAEA additional protocol without lifting of all sanctions would be simply a political suicide. The settlement of the decade-old dispute would require the end of all sanctions.

Moscow Talks End With No Agreements – Technical Meeting on 3 July in Istanbul

Iran and world powers failed to resolve any of their differences during two days of talks in Moscow, but they agreed that the technical issues continue to be discussed on lower level in Istanbul on 3 July.

“The choice is Iran's. We expect Iran to decide whether it is willing to make diplomacy work to focus on concrete confidence-building steps and to address the concerns of the international community,” Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, told reporters in Moscow at the close of the talks on Tuesday. “But there's a very, very long way to go,” she added [Reuters, 19 June].

Ashton also said the follow-up meeting in Istanbul would be on lower level focusing purely on technical details rather than broader political issues.

Iran, P5+1 Negotiators Remain Deadlocked – Collapse of Moscow Talks Possible

Negotiators from Iran and P5+1 have reportedly remained deadlocked in the second day of talks in Moscow, and the Russians are trying to save the talks from collapse. AP reported that Sergei Ryabkov, Russia's deputy foreign minister and negotiator at the talks met twice with Iran’s negotiator Saeed Jalili today to pursue Iran to accept the P5+1 proposal to halt its 20-percent uranium enrichment program. The Iranians in turn are proposing that all sanctions against the country to be lifted before they could agree to any compromise on enrichment.
“We agree that Iran must undertake serious efforts aimed at restoring international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a joint statement yesterday after meeting on the sidelines of the meeting of G-20 nations in Mexico.

But an Iranian negotiator who demanded anonymity told reporters in Moscow that if the six major powers accept Iran's conditions “there will be a big progress in a short period of time. But if they pursue the path they've been following, any progress in the talks will be stalled.” [AP, 19 June].

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Progress at Nuclear Talks

Six world powers and Iran reportedly made little progress on Monday at the first of two days of talks on how to end a decade-long standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

"We had an intense and tough exchange of views," said Michael Mann, an EU spokesman [Reuters, 18 June].
"The main stumbling block is that the sides' positions are rather difficult and tough to reconcile," Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and negotiator, told reporters at the end of the first days of talks in Moscow.

UPDATE: Iran's Deputy Chief Negotiator Ali Baqeri said Iran and the six world powers have held "serious and constructive" negotiations in their first day of meetings in Moscow [Fars News Agency, 18 June].

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah on the Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War (Part 3)

A response to a book review penned by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley at SWJ 

by Mark Pyruz 

The following is a response to part 3 of a book review on Egyptian Field Marshal Abdul-Halim Abu Ghazalah's "Combat Tactics and Strategy of the Iran-Iraq War" put forward by Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley, recently published in three parts by Small Wars Journal. (See HERE, HERE and HERE.) This writer's response to Part 1 can be found HERE and Part 2 found HERE. Let us proceed with Part 3 (reviewers passages in blue, this writer's responses in black).

"The vicious cycle of Iranian wave assaults continued after February 1983, but not to the level of Operation Fajr al-Nasr, or of the massive Iranian assaults of 1982. At this stage Iraqi weapon imports were three times higher than those of Iran, and Baghdad fielded an upgraded Soviet T-72 tank. Iraq’s most important acquisition during this period was the French Dassault F-1 Mirage fighter, equipped with the Exocet air-to-surface missiles and air-to-air missiles. Iraq also acquired French Aerospatiale Super Frelon attack helicopters, enabling it to far surpass the Iranian Soviet fighters. This air capability enabled Iraq to initiate the infamous tanker wars." 

"By this stage of the war, the Iranian air force had lost 80 warplanes, while the Iraqi air force had lost 55 warplanes; some of the losses were due to poor maintenance and pilots inexperienced at navigating to target. To replace these losses Iraq, beginning in 1983, acquired over 300 fixed wing warplanes to include: 

09 TU-2
08 Illyushin bombers 
70 Sukhoi-7, 17 and 20 fighter-bombers
12 British Hunter-Hawkers
14 MIG-25 fighters
40 MIG-19 fighters
70 MIG-21 fighters
30 French Mirage F-1 fighters"

"The above list shows the impact access to arms and credit, as well as grants from Arab Gulf States, had in resupplying Iraq with quantity and quality arms compared to Iran. Of the 400 operational military aircraft Iran possessed under the Shah until the 1979 revolution, only 70 remained operational by 1983. Due to lack of access to arms, funding, and replacement parts, to name a few, Iranian tactics were limited to mass offensives, including those known as the Fee Fajr (At Dawn) offensives."

This writer believes the reviewers are referring to the five Super Etendards equipped with AM 39 Exocet missiles, leased to Iraq and not the Dassault F-1 Mirage fighter. Also, "Iranian Soviet fighters" appears to be a typo for which a correction can not be offered. During this time, Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force (IRIAF) American made F-14s and F-4 were operating and remained superior to Iraq Air Force (IrAF) fighters, as well as previously acquired American training providing a superior level of combat skill. Also, during this general time period, the IRIAF was able to provide 100+ missions a day, with the aid of clandestine American and Israeli parts deliveries. However, attrition was taking its toll, particularly with IRIAF F-4s and F-5s. Iraq losses were far higher than 55 airplanes. The above list also contains another typo, and should read "TU-22". It should also include the Super Etendards previously mentioned.

"Before 1983 closed, the Iranians began to entertain the option of abandoning human wave attacks on defended Iraqi positions. Iran considered splitting the mass formations of human wave attacks into smaller units to insert behind Iraqi lines. However, these Iranian harassing units were unable to create a breach for a main Iranian assault force to exploit, due to an almost complete absence of command and control. Even if they had, the reaction time of the main Iranian assault force was so slow that they still likely could not have exploited a breach. This inability to react allowed the Iraqis to conduct air strikes and annihilate the Iranian assault force. However, Iraq could never envelope the Iranians and considered their mission accomplished once the Iranians had retreated. Iran possessed only a third of what was required to equip 600,000 regular troops. For instance, this force had only 1,000 armored personnel carriers (APC) and 340 Soviet and North Korean tanks to support it." 

A word on Iranian "human wave attacks", per Farzad Bishop:

"The Iranian 'human wave' strategy was different from WWI times in that attempts were made to incorporate at least one element of surprise in every offensive. If that element of surprise (often either in tactics or in geography) had held on (which didn't happen often), it meant the offensive was successful at least in gaining and keeping a bridgehead, and in limiting the casualties. If it didn't, it usually ended up in catastrophe. If we use the 'human wave' term for frontal assaults by lightly armed infantry units against a heavily armed, dogged in and fortified enemy, this was exactly what happened in many cases. [A] great deal of effort was made to make the first wave as surprising as possible - by staging flanking manoeuvres, diversionary assaults, the use of deception, pinning down artillery fire, frogmen, landing troops behind enemy lines by helicopters (Kheibar), etc. Some of these tactics were ingenious, and others [overly] ambitious and short-sighted. "

"After the Fee Fajr series of operations, Iraq decided to widen the war by attacking oil tankers originating from and bound for Iran." 

Iraq's tanker war against Iran generally lacked effectiveness until such times where the United States Navy provided targeting information to the IrAF. There were other times in the conflict where the U.S. military assisted Iraq, such as very early in the conflict where detailed mapping of the American supplied IRIAF SAM network, which encompassed the American built I-HAWK, were furnished to Iraq. Later, the USN became an active belligerent in the conflict, downing an Iran civilian airliner and knocking out the Iran Navy merchant convoy escort fleet in 1988. For unknown reasons, the reviewers have omitted U.S. military involvement in the conflict, as well as clandestine U.S. and Israeli weapon transfers to Iran during the war.

"Throughout February 1984, Iranians reconnoitered the southern rivers and developed a series of combined helo and river operations called Fatima al-Zahra (after Prophet Muhammad’s daughter and mother of Hussein). Regiments of the 3rd Iraqi Army Corps were isolated from the main body, which allowed Iran to strengthen its hold of Majnoon Island and capture Baida Island. In response, the Iraqis ran live electric cables throughout the marshes to electrocute Iranian forces, and subsequently displayed the Iranian corpses on Iraqi television."

Sources have identified the "electrocution tactics" story as Iraqi wartime propaganda.  The Iranians enjoyed limited success in areas where Iraqi superiority in armor and CAS could not be utilized, particularly in marshland but also in mountainous terrain.

"Throughout 1984 and 1985, the Iranian General Staff attempted to develop alternate tactics to the direct offensive assault, and focused on ways to take the war into an attritional phase. Arguments ensued between the generals and clergy on the need for better training and organization. Iranian combat leaders disputed the folly of holding symbolic ground in Iran and Iraq with no strategic value, and that holding such territory drained the main offensive efforts by siphoning off needed manpower and materiel." 

It should be pointed out that unlike Iraq, Iran never committed itself to a total war against Iraq. More on this later.

"In November 1985, cease-fire talks between Iraq and the Kurds collapsed, which provided Iran with an opening to further exploit the Kurds as a proxy army." 

This writer believes the use of the term "proxy army" to be inaccurate. For example, nowhere does the term apply to historical studies of Montagnard forces allied with the United States military in Vietnam, or Yugoslav armed elements allied with the British during World War II. A better classification would be "allies" in countering Baathist-Iraq.

"Operation Fee Fajr 8 was an attempt to capture the Faw Peninsula, and to deprive Iraq access to the Persian Gulf. From this peninsula, Iran could develop a northerly attack towards Basra, spark and nurture Shiite uprisings in the south, and strike a blow to Iraqi oil production." 

Like Iraq during the initial offensive, where Saddam was expecting the Arab minority to rise up against Iran in Khuzestan, so too the Iranian leadership expected the Shia underclass in Basra to ride up against the Baathist regime with the onset of Iranian forces approaching the city with the intent of capture. It didn't happen. Different circumstances during OIF and a more indirect, clandestine approach by the Iranians ultimately provided Iran with its intended results which had been frustrated during the Iran-Iraq war. More on this later.

"Iran did gain 200 square kilometers of Iraqi territory, kept its pontoon bridge over the Shatt al-Arab Waterway, and was able to shuttle supplies and troops into the Faw Peninsula via regular watercraft." 

For some reason the extensive Iranian engineering efforts at this point are omitted by the reviewers. According to Iraqi Lt. Gen. Al-Hamdani, in his memoirs and interviews, these Iranian efforts greatly impressed Iraqi and foreign military observers, alike.

"In April 1986, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa calling for victory by the Islamic New Year (late March 1987). Plans were crafted to recruit 500 battalions of 1,000 men each. It was during this declaration that policy disagreements erupted between Ayatollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Rasfanjani, as well as between those in the regular armed forces and the IRGC. The regular army wanted to develop more intelligent combat techniques, while the IRGC wanted to continue to employ human wave attacks." 

There was friction and disagreement between the Atresh (regular armed forces) and IRGC, but simply referring to the IRGC position as insisting on "human wave" tactics is misleading.

"Iraq launched air assaults on Tabriz/Lafan Petroleum Plant, Kharj Island Oil Terminal, and Larak Island Oil Terminal." 

The IrAF was able to achieve some success with these raids, due in large part to USN targeting assistance. But they suffered heavy losses in the process.

"Iraq concentrated artillery fire, heavy machine gunfire and airstrikes, resulting in 60,000 Iranian casualties compared to 9,500 Iraqi casualties."

Iraqi casualties were much higher (but not as high as Iranian losses), as candidly admitted by Iraqi Army Lt. Gen. Hamdani.

"Karbala-5 and 6 was a renewed attempt at enveloping Basra and isolating the city from the rest of Iraq. It was believed that the city could be transformed into an independent Shiite capital to compete with Baghdad."

It's interesting that during periods of the U.S. and British military occupation in Iraq, during OIF, the Iranians actually succeeded with a modification of this strategy in Basra; establishing it as Shia-Iraqi/Iranian bastion, in assisting with the ultimate Shia conquest of Baghdad which continues to this day.

"This shook Iranian confidence concerning the safety of their oil imports in southern installations near the Hormuz Strait. Iran reacted by firing Type-72 Chinese missiles at several Iraqi cities. In 1986, nineteen of these Iranian missiles were fired, and one year later the number was increased to eighty-one, and in 1988 one hundred and four missiles were directed at Iraqi cities." 

This narrative is incorrect. Iran "absorbed" Iraqi missile attacks against its population centers until such time where retaliation could no longer be held back. As with the so-called "Tanker War," Iran ultimately was forced to retaliate in kind, firing Scud-B and Hwasong-5 type SSMs. Interestingly enough, due to the personal intervention of Imam Khomeini, the Iranians did not resort to retaliating in kind to Iraqi chemical weapon attacks, which became truly massive during the final stages of the conflict. This may have a current analog with Leader Khamenei's moral repudiation against nuclear weapons.

"The question of who won the war was contingent on outside interference and support, as Iraq craved advanced weapons that could deliver higher kill rates, while Iran desired weapons that could capitalize on their advantage in human resources." 

This is misleading. The Iranians had nowhere near the access to weapon imports that were being afforded to Iraq, as well as the massive financial backing being provided which was instrumental in establishing Saddam's Republican Guard force. For some reason, the significance of the Republican Guard is not referred to by reviewers Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley.

"Even Saddam underestimated the revolutionary fervor of the Iranian regime and their use of Shiite ideology to create one of the largest and most tragic and tactically pointless human wave assaults in the history of warfare." 

Here in the West, this is a popular simplification and misconception of Iran's war from 1980-1988. Even Iraqi Lt. Gen. Hamdani candidly points to the successful use of Iranian infiltration tactics and strategies of multiple axes of attack on alternating fronts.

"In the introduction to Iran, Iraq, and the Legacies of War, Lawrence G Potter and Gary G. Sick observe that, “the Persian Gulf states, and indeed the entire Middle East, were profoundly affected by the Iran-Iraq War…and its sequels, the Gulf War of 1990-91 and the war against Iraq in 2003'." 

The 1991 Gulf War was a direct consequence of the Iran-Iraq war. Saddam's Iraq had sustained massive losses, and was suffering from social and economic woes. Two factors in particular entered Saddam's calculations  in invading Iraq:

1) Iraq's inability to repay billon of dollars in loans afforded by Arab Gulf states, while the country was now in debt to the tune of $80 billion. The economic situation was dire, with reconstruction estimates placed at $230 billion.

2) Iraq possessed a massive military machine that had been built up with Western and Soviet assistance, to which a partial demobilization had backfired as the shaky Iraqi economy proved unable to absorb the huge numbers of young men pouring into the labor market (see The Iran-Iraq War by Efraim Karsh, pg. 87).

Following these direct consequences of the Iran-Iraq War, Saddam misinterpreted the mild response of the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, April Gilepsie, to his threats of invading Iraq, and attacked Iraq on August 2, 1990.

For it's part, Iran did not commit to a total war in the conflict and had relied primarily on highly motivated volunteers for its war fighting. Thus it did not encounter the dire situation experienced in Iraq, with Saddam's regime survival greatly under threat.

The incomplete Coalition victory of the ensuing Gulf War against Iraq led to the eventual confict known as OIF. It is interesting to note that as a direct consequence of the American led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its troubled military occupation, the Iranians were able to realize their highest war aims of the Iran-Iraq War, such as the removal of Saddam and the Baathist state from power, the generating of a Shia dominant regime in Iraq, access to the holy cities in Iraq and the creation of extremely close if not tied relations between the two countries. It can be argued that these latent developments rendered Iran the ultimate victor of the Iran-Iraq war.

"Field Marshal Abdel-Halim Abu Ghazalah’s book is regarded as the most thorough and accurate Arab account of the Iran-Iraq war, and can provide interesting insights and contrasts when compared with English works on the subject."

This writer believes Iraqi Lt. Gen Hamdani and Brig. Gen Sadik to be better references (admittedly estimating Ghazalah solely as depicted by reviewers Youssef Aboul-Enein, Andrew Bertrand and Dorothy Corley).

"When evaluating the possible consequences of preemptive military action against Iran, it is crucial that U.S. military personnel reflect on Iran’s past military confrontations, such as the Iran-Iraq War." 

This writer believes the most poignant lessons to be gleaned from the Iran-Iraq war are:

1) Iran's ability to garner huge numbers of highly motivated human resources to fight a war it perceives as just. Furthermore, these resources appear resilient for the most part of an extended conflict, against seemingly overwhelming odds.

2) The Iranians are masters of improvisation, in both technical terms and tactics intended to offset their disadvantages in war material.

However, this writer believes the actual tactics and strategies employed by Iran's military during the Iran-Iraq war to be dated. The Iranian military of today, particularly the IRGC force, is different than it was from 1980-88. It is more powerful, better organized and better trained. More useful to U.S. military planners would be to study the tactics of Hezbollah during the 33-Day War in Lebanon, and apply these lessons to Iran's current military capabilities and its Mosaic doctrine. Emphasis should be placed on the economic effects of a rocket artillery campaign (applying them to Iran's SSMs), the use of AShMs, as well as the determination and resiliency of defenders under attack or occupation. It must be understood that Iran's military planners have surely gleaned much from the 33-Day war, as well as the successes of the Iraqi insurgency against American forces during OIF.