Less than two weeks after the US announced yet another $429 million in funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system (which had already gotten over $900 million from the US), the system malfunctioned badly on Tuesday, resulting in the firing of two interceptor missiles by the system. The mishap frightened citizens in Eilat, where the incident took place around 7:30 am. Iran was quick to note the event and picked up on an important point: initial reports inside Israel claimed another “success” from the Iron Dome system, saying three rockets were incoming to Eilat and two of them were destroyed. The report later was withdrawn and the firing was blamed on an accident. Here is Fars News on the incident:
Israel’s Iron Dome missile system ‘accidentally’ fired interceptor rockets into the Red Sea resort city of Eilat in Southern Negev.
Eilat residents were panicked early on Tuesday morning following a series of explosions that also sent Israeli forces scrambling to find the source of the booms, press tv reported.
The Israeli army initially presumed that a rocket attack had occurred in the area.
Initial reports said three Grad rockets were fired at the resort town. They claimed two of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome while the third one exploded in an open area.
However, the army later claimed that the attacks were really a false alarm caused by an error at the Iron Dome site near the city.
An army spokesperson said the explosions were caused by two Iron Dome anti-missile projectiles accidentally fired at around 7:30 am (0530 GMT).
PressTV took things a bit further, stating that Israel’s bluffing about the capabilities of Iron Dome is meant to deter enemies. So did Israel initially claim that rockets had been intercepted? That does appear to be true. In my searching for news stories on this event, I found a story on Debka.com. The story now reads like this:
The loud explosions heard in Eilat early Tuesday came from Iron Dome which accidentally ejected two rockets. They were earlier accounted for erroneously by another Grad attack on Israel’s southernmost town from Sinai.
But the Google remembered that Debka had originally described things differently. Here is how the story was displayed by Google in the search results (as an aside, whatever happened to the “cached copy” option that used to show up on Google?):
It turns out that despite cheerleading about Iron Dome from obvious sources like the US Missile Defense Agency and the Heritage Foundation, there are serious questions about just how well the system works and whether Israel has been falsely inflating its capabilities. Just over a year ago, the New York Times looked into how well Iron Dome functions. They found significant problems:
After President Obama arrived in Israel, his first stop on Wednesday was to inspect an installation of Iron Dome, the antimissile system hailed as a resounding success in the Gaza conflict in November. The photo op, celebrating a technological wonder built with the help of American dollars, came with considerable symbolism as Mr. Obama sought to showcase support for Israel after years of tensions over Jewish settlements and how to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Israeli officials initially claimed success rates of up to 90 percent. Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, hailed the antimissile system as the first to succeed in combat. Congress recently called the system “very effective” and pledged an additional $680 million for deployments through 2015.
But a growing chorus of weapons experts in the United States and in Israel say their studies — based largely on analyses of hits and misses captured on video — suggest that Iron Dome destroyed no more than 40 percent of incoming warheads and perhaps far fewer. Many rockets, they argue, were simply crippled or deflected — failures that often let intact or dying rockets fall on populated areas.
The story continues: Continue reading
As we get into the final days before voting begins on Saturday for Afghanistan’s presidential election, the biggest question aside from the issue of who will win is whether the Taliban will succeed in its determination to disrupt the election through violence and intimidation. Rapidly unfolding events today represent either a remarkable combination of good work and good luck by Afghan authorities or the product of an infiltration of the Taliban by the National Directorate of Security, which is Afghanistan’s intelligence agency. Breaking news stories today inform us of Afghan forces capturing 22 tons of explosives from a Taliban hideout in Takhar province, the deaths of six Taliban commanders when a suicide vest went off “prematurely” (in Logar province) and the deaths of 16 Taliban commanders when a suicide bomber is said (by the NDS) to have developed differences with the leaders and decided to turn on them, exploding his suicide vest in Ghazni province.
Reuters brings us the story of the captured explosives:
Afghan security forces have seized more than 22 tons of explosives, enough to make hundreds of bombs, the interior ministry said on Tuesday, four days before a presidential election.
Taliban insurgents have declared war on the April 5 vote, calling it a Western-backed sham and threatening to disrupt it.
“This discovery will prevent hundreds of bomb attacks and would have a significant impact on the overall security of the elections,” Sediq Sediqqi, an Interior Ministry spokesman, told Reuters.
Sediqqi said the explosives, hidden in some 450 bags, were seized from a basement in the relatively peaceful northern province of Takhar, where the Taliban have gained ground in recent years.
What remarkable timing! Just four days before the election, Afghan forces find a huge cache of explosives in a “relatively peaceful” province. Four days would not have been a lot of time to produce the hundreds of bombs and distribute them to voting stations, but that is still a lot of dangerous material to be removed from use.
Moving south of Kabul to Logar province, we have this story of a suicide vest apparently going off too soon:
At least six Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide blast in eastern Logar province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
According to NDS officials, the incident took place around 12:30 pm local time in Charkh district.
The officials further added that the Taliban commanders were looking to prepare a suicide bomber for an attack when the suicide bombing vest went off.
Hmm. It’s the NDS and not local police who are cited by Khaama Press in this story.
For the story of the suicide bomber deciding to attack the Taliban instead of voters, here is more from Khaama Press:
At least 16 senior Taliban commanders were killed following a suicide attack in eastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan on Tuesday.
Afghan Intelligence – National Directorate of Security (NDS) said the incident took place in a Taliban leaders gathering in Gelan district.
National Directorate of Security (NDS) following a statement said the Taliban leaders were planning coordinated attacks in Ghazni province when a Taliban suicide bomber opposed with the Taliban leaders plans and detonated his explosives.
Wow. Sixteen senior Taliban commanders is a huge gathering for one spot. And isn’t it interesting that it would be during that gathering that a suicide bomber would suddenly become “opposed with the Taliban leaders plans” and decide to detonate his explosives, taking them all out? And on the very day of this event, NDS seems quite confident that the 16 killed were senior Taliban leaders. Further, the NDS even seems to already know that some of the Taliban leaders killed came from Pakistan.
So did Afghanistan get incredibly lucky today, with a premature explosion taking out 6 Taliban leaders and a difference of opinion leading to a suicide bomber changing sides to take out 16 Taliban leaders, or is there another explanation? It seems to me that we have to at least consider that the National Directorate of Security has been developing assets inside Taliban cells and is choosing this pivotal week as the time to put those assets into action. Such assets could have provided the key information leading to the discovery of the explosives cache. It is also possible that these assets could have gained control of the suicide vests that went off today, either as the suicide bombers themselves or through some form of remote control, creating the appearance of accidents or betrayals.
Whatever caused these events, when grouped together they represent a major setback for Taliban plans to disrupt the election. Will they be able to respond?
Back in July of last year, SIGAR issued an alert (pdf) regarding what SIGAR head John Sopko termed “a potentially troubling example of waste that requires your immediate attention”. That statement was in Sopko’s cover letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Head of Central Command Lloyd Austin and ISAF Commander Joseph Dunford. It would appear that the folks in the Department of Defense missed that key word “immediate”, as the subsequent responses from the Defense Department have been both troubling and, at least on the most important move, slow.
First, to set the stage on the evidence of wasteful spending in constructing a building that had no use at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province. From the alert letter linked above:
I was told by senior U.S. military officials that the recently completed Regional Command-Southwest (RC-SW) Command and Control Facility, a 64,000 square feet building and related infrastructure with a contract award value of $34 million that was meant to serve as a command headquarters in Helmand to support the surge, will not be occupied. Based on documents provided to SIGAR, it appears that military commanders in Afghanistan determined as early as May 2010 that there was no need for the facility, yet the military still moved ahead with the construction project and continued to purchase equipment and make various improvements to the building in early 2013. Based on these preliminary findings, I am deeply troubled that the military may have spent taxpayer funds on a construction project that should have been stopped.
In addition, I was told that U.S. military officials expect that the building will be either demolished or turned over to the Afghan government as our military presence in Afghanistan declines and Camp Leatherneck is reduced in size. Both alternatives for how to resolve this issue are troubling—destroying a never-occupied and never-used building or turning over what may be a “white elephant” to the Afghan government that it may not have the capacity to sustain. Determining all of the facts on how we reached this $34 million dilemma and what can be done to prevent it from happening again is the reason for sending this management alert letter to you.
Even though the Camp Leatherneck Commander determined in May, 2010 that the building was not needed, construction began anyhow after February of 2011. Ironically, Sopko notes in his letter that this may well be the best-constructed building he has toured in his many inspections in Afghanistan, even though it was known before construction began that there would be no use for the building.
Sopko’s letter continues, citing information collected that the building can accomodate 1200 to 1500 staff but that at the time of writing, only 450 people were available to use it. Furthermore, there was nobody on the base qualified to maintain the expensive HVAC system. But it gets even worse:
According to a senior U.S. military official, as the footprint of Camp Leatherneck decreases, the building could be outside the security perimeter, thereby making it unsafe for the U.S. military to occupy it. This leaves the military with two primary options—demolish the building or give it to the Afghan government.
However, to make it usable for the Afghan government, the building would require a major overhaul of existing systems, including the expensive heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems. A high-ranking, senior U.S. military official also advised me that the facility was built to U.S. construction standards rather than Afghan standards. For example, the power runs at U.S. 60 cycles versus Afghan 50 cycles and U.S. 120 volts versus Afghan 220 volts. Therefore, it would not be easy to transfer the building to the Afghan government. These were some of the reasons why the U.S. military officials we spoke with believe the building will probably be demolished.
It appears that the Defense Department reacted to Sopko’s letter, because Sopko states in a subsequent letter that he was informed that an investigation was underway and that his questions would be answered. But that process seems to have directly contradicted earlier work from DoD. Sopko wrote a new letter (pdf) to the same recipients on November 27 of last year: Continue reading
The first round of formal talks involving figures from Pakistan’s government and military on one side and the Pakistan Taliban, or TTP, on the other concluded Wednesday. Because the talks were held in the tribal areas, reports on how the talks went have been slow to filter out. Further, even within single media outlets in Pakistan, the reports vary widely. Consider this report from Dawn:
The first round of direct peace talks between the government and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) leadership concluded on Wednesday, with both the sides reportedly reaching an agreement on several issues, DawnNews reported.
Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, however, did not share any details of the landmark talks, saying only that once the negotiators returned, it would be up to the government to make statements to media.
The negotiations are part of a push by the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban that would end a bloody insurgency that has killed thousands of people in recent years.
Sources told DawnNews that the both parties sought guarantees from each other, during the talks, which were held at Biland Khel area of Shawa Tehsil on the border of Orakzai and North Waziristan tribal agencies bordering Afghanistan.
The TTP also responded positively to the demands of indefinite ceasefire and the release of non-combatant prisoners put forward by the government’s committee, they added.
But Dawn also is carrying this story, which was put on their website a little more than a day after the one above:
Despite a degree of optimism and feel-good impression generated by the militant-handpicked committee, insiders believe the first direct face-to-face interaction with militants has hit a stalemate and unless some quick decisions are taken, it will be difficult to prolong the ceasefire. The ceasefire is to expire on Monday.
According to an insider, the militants have set two conditions for continuation of the peace talks. One, the creation of a demilitarised peace zone in mountainous Shaktoi, South Waziristan, to allow freedom of movement and two, the release of non-combatants.
The insider said the five-member militants’ committee sought written guarantees before they could commit to an extension in the month-long ceasefire. “For nearly seven hours, we talked to them about the destruction wrought by over a decade of violence, the loss of lives and property and displacement of people.
“We said ‘let bygones be bygones, let’s bury the hatchet and make a new beginning’,” the insider said.
“Nothing seemed to appeal to them. I have come back really disappointed. The chances of success and continuation are not terribly bright. This is a non-starter,” he said.
Since word emerged on Sunday that Jeish Al-Adl executed one of the five Iranian border guards that had been abducted last month, there has been a very interesting series of developments between Iran and Pakistan. Iran has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to lodge a formal complaint about the death and Pakistan’s apparent inability to find the terrorist group and release the hostages. Iran’s Foreign Minister also sent an open letter to the UN, appealing for help in controlling “state sponsored” groups that are responsible for this and other attacks on Iran. Pakistan, meanwhile, has announced today that they don’t believe the border guards are being held in Pakistan. Complicating matters even further, Iran now is claiming that it would be within their right to employ special forces in a raid on Pakistani territory to release the hostages and kill those responsible for the kidnapping.
The summoning of the ambassador seemed innocuous enough:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Pakistan’s ambassador to Tehran over Iranian kidnapped guard’s death and expressed strong objections to Pakistan for lack of control of its borders.
Deputy Director General of the department of West Asian countries of Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed Islamic Republic of Iran’s objection on Iranian border guards’ abduction and their transfer to Pakistan emphasizing on Iran’s demand for their release, health and also delivering the terrorists to Iran.
He continued “Pakistan should have proper control over its borders and prevent recurrence of such events unless two countries’ good relations would be affected.”
Pakistan’s ambassador to Iran, Noor Mohammad Jadmani, offered condolences for one of the Iranian abducted guard’s death in Pakistan and expressed regret for the terrorist incident.
“Pakistan is also worried about the growth of terrorist actions and extremism.” added he and that “Pakistan will not let such incidents be repeated again and affect the two countries’ relations.”
Likewise, the letter to the UN starts off as normal diplomacy, but it eventually gets to some fairly broad claims about attacks on Iran:
It is extremely regrettable that all available evidence indicate that these cowardly acts of terror targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have been perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction. The entire international community should be alarmed by the regional and extra-regional ramifications of sectarian tension and extremist violence, which are being systematically organized, sponsored and orchestrated in various parts of our region. In fact, learning from recent history, a sober assessment of the medium and long-term implications of this dangerous trend will show that the very sponsors of such hatred, who for ill-conceived interests have hastily resorted to such short-sighted tactics to remedy their strategic miscalculations and failures, stand to lose the most from the sectarian and extremist violence that they are spreading.
What a strange passage. In protesting attacks against themselves, it appears that the Iranians are making a not very veiled threat to carry out their own “sectarian and extremist violence” against those they perceive to be behind the attacks.
Trying to prove once again that no level of hypocrisy is ever high enough for the US security theater industrial complex, today’s New York Times gives space for John Brennan to lament the use of Syria as a training ground for al Qaeda terrorists. Never mind that the US touted its efforts at developing death squads to send into Syria last fall, we must be outraged against this latest development:
Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel recently.
But wait a minute. Didn’t we spend all that time and money droning the shit out of the terrorists in Pakistan? Oh, yeah:
The extremists who concern Mr. Brennan are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.
That is just classic Brennan security theater. We are supposed to get our panties in a wad about a group that he spent years to render “severely depleted” and now they suddenly are going to move to Syria, where they will magically develop the ability to attack the West even though they “are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West”.
Okay, then. Recall that just back in September, the US was thumping its chest over its own efforts in training death squads for Syria. Except that Obama then had to doctor the record a bit on the timing and size of the first death squad we sent in when it coincided too closely with the chemical weapons attack in August. Oh, and we had to tell people that the guy eating his opponent’s heart really was from one of the moderate groups we were training.
The bottom line is that the US can use the region to train any group of terrorists it wants to use in service of its own goals, but nobody else is allowed to do exactly what we are doing.
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Syria remains dire. Reuters reports on a just released but not published report from the UN. And, of course, the US is wasting no time in spinning the findings of the report:
A U.N. report on how Syria’s neediest civilians are often not accessible to humanitarian relief workers makes it clear that the government of President Bashar al-Assad shoulders most of the blame, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
“What the report shows is that the magnitude and frequency of violence committed by the Assad regime far outstrips that of the armed groups in Syria,” a U.S. official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
“The Syrian government’s massive and indiscriminate use of violence is the single most important factor driving the humanitarian crisis,” the official said. “The report is very clear on this and in pointing to the government’s failure to implement the resolution’s provisions.”
Information released to date doesn’t make either side look very good: Continue reading
There is a major new development in the ongoing saga of incidents along the Iran-Pakistan border. Recall that a group of Sunni extremists, Jeish Al-Adl, captured five Iranian border guards in early February (after killing 14 in an attack last October). Iran had briefly claimed that the guards had been released earlier this month, but then quickly backed down on that claim. It seems that Iran has difficulty getting accurate information on the status of the guards, as they first denied and then finally confirmed that the highest ranking of the guards, Jamshid Danaeifar (his face is circled on a photo of the detained guards that is circulating on Twitter) has been executed:
Informed sources in Pakistan confirmed earlier reports that Jeish al-Adl terrorist group has executed one of the five Iranian border guards that it abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6.
The sources told FNA in Islamabad on Monday that “Jeish al-Adl has martyred one of the kidnapped border guards”.
This is while the Iranian Interior Ministry earlier today rejected Jeish al-Adl’s claim.
“We don’t confirm this report; were it true, we would have been informed,” Interior Ministry Spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri said on Monday.He said that the five border guards are kept in Pakistan at present and are safe and sound.
Amiri made the remarks after Jeish al-Adl claimed on its tweeter page that it has killed Jamshid Danayeefar, one of the kidnapped border guards.
News of the execution came just as Iran had been expressing hope that the guards were about to be released. From an earlier report on Sunday by Fars News:
Efforts and consultations with the Pakistani officials still continue to secure the release of the five border guards abducted along Iran-Pakistan border on February 6, an Iranian official announced on Sunday.
“Talks with national and local Pakistani officials have been held at different levels and they have made some promises,” Governor-General of Iran’s Southeastern Sistan and Balouchestan province Ali Awsat Hashemi told FNA today.
He expressed the hope that the five young border guards would be released to return to their families soon.
Writing at the International Policy Digest, Sadaf Megan informs us that Jeish Al-Adl has stated that if their demands on the release of prisoners are not met, they will execute another prisoner in ten days:
In the statement following the announcement of his death, Jaish al-Adl demands that if 50 of their prisoners are not released by Iran then Jaish al-Adl will execute another hostage within 10 days.
The clock is ticking for the four remaining “pasdar(s)” or guards. In the meantime it seems unlikely that the Iranian government will be able to fulfill or want to meet the demands of Jaish Al-Adl. A regime that does not succumb to threats and ultimatums by the West is unlikely to make a deal with a terrorist group.
The article also has interesting background information on Jeish Al-Adl, providing perspective on the relationship with Jundallah:
Jaish al-Adl operates in the Sistan-Baluchistan region of Iran, and frequently utilizes the Iranian-Pakistani border to carry out attacks. Cross border operations have been practiced during the time of Abdolmalek Rigi’s Sunni Balochi group, Jundallah. After Iran executed Rigi in 2010, Jundallah dissolved and merged with Jaish al-Adl.
Stay tuned for further developments. With Pakistan still reeling from the Carlotta Gall article the Express Tribune wound up censoring entirely because of its revelations of ISI sheltering bin Laden, they risk displaying more evidence of collaboration with terrorists if they are unable to secure the release of the remaining border guards before the next one is executed.
Yesterday, in describing how Russia has played the US media regarding “threats” to the P5+1 negotiations on Iran’s nuclear technology, I mentioned that continued progress on Syria’s removal of its chemical weapons-related materials was further evidence that Russia intends to cooperate on the Iranian and Syrian nonproliferation issues separately from disputes over the Crimea annexation. Today, with news out that removal of the CW-related materials from Syria has crossed the 50% level, Russia has praised that accomplishment while pointing out that Syria now has virtually no capability of using chemical arms. Oh, and if we need any further confirmation that Russia is ready for the recriminations over Crimea to end, Putin himself has now said that there is no further need for retaliation against US sanctions (although I’m guessing that Dana Rohrabacher is in mourning that he wasn’t included in the list of ten US figures sanctioned by Russia since he even played dress-up and “fought” against the Soviets in Afghanistan).
A press release put out by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons yesterday put the removal of materials from Syria at just under 50%:
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission has verified the delivery of another consignment of Priority 1 chemicals today to Latakia and their removal from the port on a cargo ship, raising the amount of Syrian chemicals that are now out of the country to nearly half of the total stockpile.
The confirmation came on the heels of an announcement late yesterday by the Joint Mission of two other consignments of chemicals that were delivered to Latakia and removed during the past week. A total of 11 consignments of chemicals have now been transported out of Syria for destruction outside the country. The updated cumulative figures are as follow:
Priority 1 chemicals removed: 34.8 %*
Priority 2 chemicals removed: 82.6 %
Total chemicals removed: 49.3 %
* Includes all sulfur mustard, the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s arsenal
More than half of Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal has been shipped out or destroyed within the country, the head of the international team overseeing the disarmament process said on Thursday.
Sigrid Kaag, head of the joint mission of the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said 54 percent of the toxins had been removed or eliminated.
The process, which President Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to after a chemical attack killed hundreds of people around Damascus last year, is months behind schedule but Kaag said the new momentum “would allow for timely completion”.
“The joint mission welcomes the momentum attained and encourages the Syrian Arab Republic to sustain the current pace,” Kaag said in a statement.
Russia welcomed this news and added that Syria now has almost no capability of carrying out an attack with chemical weapons:
The Syrian government has reduced its chemical weapons potential close to zero, state-run RIA news agency quoted an unnamed official at the Russian Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.
“Chemical weapons production facilities, equipment for mixing (chemicals) and operating (the weapons), as well as the means of their delivery have been destroyed,” the official said, adding that the only gas that had been ready for use in weaponry had been completely removed from the country.
“At the moment, Damascus has de facto reduced its military chemical weapons potential to almost zero.”
Sadly, those who relish a restart of the Cold War are unlikely to stop now, so we are left to wonder what Putin will do in response if the US (especially Congressional meddlers) takes further steps claimed to be in response to the annexation of Crimea. Putin’s statement today that he sees no need for further retaliation can be viewed as reining back in the “threat” delivered by Ryobkov after the P5+1 negotiations ended Wednesday. Further action by the US, though, could end Russian cooperation in both the P5+1 process and the Syrian CW situation, seriously hurting current nonproliferation efforts.
It is my hope that Cold War fans will restrict their threats against Russia to the realm of what would happen should Putin try to grab more territory beyond Crimea.
On Tuesday, I noted that Alissa Rubin provided an outlet for an unidentified “senior American official” to put into the New York Times concerns that Russia might allow the disagreement over Crimea to affect their negotiating stance in the P5+1 talks with Iran in Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday. This was, of course, despite an encouraging statement by chief Russian negotiator Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov showing optimism about the negotiations that were about to begin.
Despite these concerns by the American official, it appears that the talks went well. Fredrik Dahl reports that Iran was happy with how the talks went:
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif characterized the latest round of negotiations as “very successful” in terms of clarifying the issues involved, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.
“In terms of understanding and clarification, Vienna-2 was among our very successful round of talks … extremely beneficial and constructive,” it quoted Zarif as saying.
But once the talks had finished, with the next round not scheduled to begin until April 7, Ryobkov played the US press expertly, and AP’s George Jahn was quick to take the bait:
U.S.-Russian tensions over Ukraine spilled over into nuclear talks with Iran Wednesday, with Moscow’s chief envoy at the negotiations warning that his country may take “retaliatory measures” that could hurt attempts to persuade Tehran to cut back on programs that could make atomic arms.
The statement, by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, appeared to be the most serious threat of reprisal by Moscow for Western sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Russia is key to attempts to coax Iran into significant long-term curbs of its nuclear program in exchange for relief from U.N. and other sanctions. Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms but is seeking a deal that will result in full sanctions relief.
The Russian threat, hours after the latest negotiating round ended, appeared to catch Washington off guard.
Perhaps the most significant evidence that Ryobkov was merely jerking Washington’s chain can be seen in how his tone remains entirely positive about the P5+1 talks in comments carried today by PressTV, even stating that the current timetable for reaching a final agreement appears to still be on track:
A Russian Foreign Ministry official says talks between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear energy program have “progressed quite well.”
“We have progressed quite well, the atmosphere is very good, and the work is business-like and result-oriented,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in a telephone interview with Russia’s Interfax news agency from the Austrian capital of Vienna on Thursday.
“But saying that we have the outlines of an agreement now would be encroaching upon the truth. There are none,” he added.
Referring to a late-July deadline that was set in November last year between Tehran and the six nations for a final nuclear agreement, Ryabkov said, “I don’t see any reasons to say that this deadline could be shifted and that this schedule is becoming unrealizable. There are no reasons for this so far.”
At least Jahn also reported that it appears that Iran is leaning toward a re-engineering of the Arak reactor so that it will produce less plutonium. This would lessen concerns about the reactor while still allowing it to move into use to replace the aging Tehran research reactor in producing medical isotopes.
At any rate, with several weeks to go before the next round of P5+1 talks, there is plenty of time for Ryobkov’s “warning” over sanctions in response to the Crimean situation to play itself out. Considering that we have reports now that Syria has gotten almost to the 50% mark in removal of its chemical weapons-related materials, its seems likely that Russsia is still committed to its nonproliferation stance for chemical and nuclear weapons despite the disputes it has with the West on other issues.
The New York Times has just released an excerpt from Carlotta Gall’s upcoming book “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014″. Recall that Gall lived in Afghanistan and covered Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Times from 2001-2013 (Declan Walsh also covered Pakistan from inside Pakistan until he was expelled just before the election in 2013). The biggest revelation in the excerpt is that Pakistan knew about, and Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, actively sheltered, Osama bin Laden when he was in hiding in Pakistan.
Gall claims that then-ISI head Ahmed Shuja Pasha had direct knowledge of bin Laden’s presence:
Soon after the Navy SEAL raid on Bin Laden’s house, a Pakistani official told me that the United States had direct evidence that the ISI chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shuja Pasha, knew of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. The information came from a senior United States official, and I guessed that the Americans had intercepted a phone call of Pasha’s or one about him in the days after the raid. “He knew of Osama’s whereabouts, yes,” the Pakistani official told me. The official was surprised to learn this and said the Americans were even more so. Pasha had been an energetic opponent of the Taliban and an open and cooperative counterpart for the Americans at the ISI. “Pasha was always their blue-eyed boy,” the official said. But in the weeks and months after the raid, Pasha and the ISI press office strenuously denied that they had any knowledge of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.
Although Pasha knew, it appears that ISI compartmented the knowledge very carefully:
In trying to prove that the ISI knew of Bin Laden’s whereabouts and protected him, I struggled for more than two years to piece together something other than circumstantial evidence and suppositions from sources with no direct knowledge. Only one man, a former ISI chief and retired general, Ziauddin Butt, told me that he thought Musharraf had arranged to hide Bin Laden in Abbottabad. But he had no proof and, under pressure, claimed in the Pakistani press that he’d been misunderstood. Finally, on a winter evening in 2012, I got the confirmation I was looking for. According to one inside source, the ISI actually ran a special desk assigned to handle Bin Laden. It was operated independently, led by an officer who made his own decisions and did not report to a superior. He handled only one person: Bin Laden. I was sitting at an outdoor cafe when I learned this, and I remember gasping, though quietly so as not to draw attention. (Two former senior American officials later told me that the information was consistent with their own conclusions.) This was what Afghans knew, and Taliban fighters had told me, but finally someone on the inside was admitting it. The desk was wholly deniable by virtually everyone at the ISI — such is how supersecret intelligence units operate — but the top military bosses knew about it, I was told.
Gall’s reporting on Taliban factions and their madrassas came at great personal risk. This story picks up at a point where her Pakistani colleagues have been picked up by the ISI at the hotel where they were staying and she had been summoned to meet the ISI agents outside: Continue reading