Jim White

Final Push for P5+1 Deal Begins Against Backdrop of US Working With Anti-Iran Groups

Very high level US diplomats, including William Burns and Wendy Sherman, are in Geneva for talks today and tomorrow (for the second time in a month) with  an Iranian delegation headed by Abbas Araghchi, whose position in Iran’s Foreign Ministry is similar to theirs. This meeting follows one on Monday between the EU’s chief negotiator Catherine Ashton and Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif. Reuters has more on today’s meetings, informing us that they are a prelude to the resumption of P5+1 negotiations (which now have a November 24 deadline when the interim deal expires):

Iran and the United States met in Geneva for bilateral talks on Thursday as international diplomacy intensifies to end a decade-old dispute over Tehran’s atomic activities by a new deadline in late November.

The office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton confirmed Iran and six world powers would hold their first negotiating round since they failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement in New York on Sept. 18.

It is a wonder that Iran continues negotiations, as the US blacklisted a new group of companies last week that it accused of trying to help Iran work around sanctions. More from the Reuters article:

State news agency IRNA and a U.S. official confirmed the discussions were underway. “If there is good will and a constructive approach, we can reach a desired result before Nov. 24,” IRNA quoted Iran’s deputy foreign minister Majid Takht-Ravanchi as saying late on Wednesday. The United States last week penalized a number of Iranian and other foreign companies, banks and airlines for violating sanctions against Tehran, saying it was sending a signal that there should be no evasion of sanctions while talks continue. Rouhani said on Saturday the sanctions were against the spirit of negotiations, but added he was not pessimistic about the viability of the talks.

There is a very interesting backstory on parts of the blacklisting process. A seemingly “independent” group, United Against Nuclear Iran, has been very active in the process of “naming and shaming” individuals, companies and organizations that it accuses of violating the spirit of the sanctions against Iran. Despite the fact that they are supposed to be independent, the US has stepped into a lawsuit brought against UANI by a businessman claiming he was defamed (I owe Marcy a big thank you for alerting me to this part of the story). The government is specifically intervening to keep the funding of UANI secret:

The Obama administration has gone to court to protect the files of an influential anti-Iran advocacy group, saying they likely contain information the government does not want disclosed.

The highly unusual move by the Justice Department raises questions about the connections between the American government and the group, United Against Nuclear Iran, a hard-line voice seeking to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The group has a roster of prominent former government officials and a reputation for uncovering information about companies that sometimes do business with Iran, in violation of international sanctions.

The Justice Department has temporarily blocked the group from having to reveal its donor list and other internal documents in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Greek shipping magnate the group accused of doing business with Iran. Government lawyers said they had a “good faith basis to believe that certain information” would jeopardize law enforcement investigations, reveal investigative techniques or identify confidential sources if released.

Wow. So this “independent” group seems to be getting intelligence directly from the government, if we are to believe what the US said in its filing. So just who are the “former government officials” in UANI? A look at their “Leadership” page is nauseating. The first entry in the section for “Advisory Board” is none other than war hawk Joe Lieberman. Next to him is Fran Townsend and directly below him is a former director of the Mossad. The Advisory Board photos go on and on, a virtual “Who’s Who” of pro-war, pro-Israel media darlings. There also is a former Deputy Director of the IAEA even though it is supposed to be apolitical. Intellectual luminaries Mike Gerson and Mark Salter appear much lower on the list, perhaps out of a semblance of embarrassment. So, regarding those “investigative techniques” and “confidential sources” that the government doesn’t want to reveal in how UANI gets its information, consider this tidbit we got recently from David Albright, another player in the Iran-smearing business, this time branching out to comment on the recent tensions over US spying on Germany (also brought to my attention by Marcy): Continue reading

NATO Will Cry Through Their Party Without Guest of Honor

Remember that as recently as the beginning of last week, Hamid Karzai still clung to the illusion that yesterday was the date on which Afghanistan’s new president would be sworn into office. Yesterday was a very important deadline because tomorrow, NATO begins their summit in Wales. For over a year, this particular summit has been circled on many calendars as the time when Afghanistan’s new president would revel in having signed the new Bilateral Security Agreement and begin to benefit from the graft flow of training and weapons coming from a residual NATO force now immunized against charges in Afghan courts and eligible to remain in the country past the end of this year. With no new president emerging yet, today’s Washington Post reports that NATO is going ahead with their summit, even though there will be a notable absence:

A gathering of leaders from NATO countries this week was supposed to be an opportunity to celebrate the close of the alliance’s long war in Afghanistan and to embrace the country’s new president.

But it’s hard to have a party without the guest of honor.

Despite smiling promises to Secretary of State John F. Kerry last month, two rival candidates to succeed Afghan President Hamid Karzai have failed to resolve a disagreement over a review of disputed election results in time to declare a winner. As a result, there will be no Afghan head of state at the NATO summit in Wales.

Gosh, John Kerry just can’t understand Abdullah Abdullah. Why can’t he be the man Kerry was, and, “for the good of the country”, go ahead and concede in the face of evidence the election was stolen from him? Alternatively, why didn’t Kerry insist that Afghanistan’s Supreme Court just select a winner in the election dispute, so that the country can “move on”? After all, that worked out so well for the US (and, indirectly, for Afghanistan) in 2000.

NATO’s Secretary General managed to hold back on his tears long enough to issue a statement picked up in the Post story:

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made the best of a disappointing situation at a news conference Monday.

“We have done what we set out to do,” Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels. “We have denied safe haven to international terrorists. We have built up capable Afghan forces of 350,000 troops and police. So our nations are safer, and Afghanistan is stronger.”

Who needs international terrorist groups when you have home-grown ones? The Taliban had this to say to NATO:

The Taliban militants group in Afghanistan touted the group’s role as trouble shooters, bridge builders and problem solvers in a bid to ally the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s concerns.

Taliban following a statement released ahead of the NATO summit in Wales, claimed that the group is the true representative of the Afghan people.

The statement further added that the group can play a central role in resolving the ongoing crisis of Afghanistan.
“The Islamic Emirate has arisen out of this nation and shared in all its toils and sacrifices. Due to this the Afghan nation has firm belief in the Islamic Emirate,” the statement by Taliban said.

Taliban called for an end of foeign [sic] military occuption [sic] in a bid to end the crisis in Afghanistan and inisted [sic] that complete withdrawal of foreign forces is the only successful solution.

Afghanistan’s ToloNews tries to put the best face on the summit taking place without a new president:

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit is scheduled to be held this Thursday and Friday on September 4-5 in Wales where the 28-nation alliance will discuss and decide the financial and security assistance to Afghanistan.

Representing Afghanistan will be Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi, given that a president has not been elected yet.

Afghan political analysts hope that the absence of a new president will not change NATO’s stance on Afghanistan and continue to be committed to the country after the formation of a national unity government, stressing that the summit will significantly impact the nation’s future.

The article even does a bit of lobbying ahead of the summit:

The NATO Chicago conference had pledged to provide $4.1 billion to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF); however the Afghan government has announced that the overall financial obligations of the forces are currently about $6.1 billion.

Gosh, even as Afghanistan melts down, graft training and arming Afghan troops remains a growth industry.

The real tears are left for the final sentence of the story:

This year’s summit has been called the most important conference in the past 70 years.

Poor NATO. They’re hosting the most important party in 70 years and yet they have no boyfriend to bring to it. Go ahead, NATO. You can cry if you want to.

Sharif Sees Power Eroding in Pakistan

Okay, time for me to eat a bit of crow. Back in the middle of August, I claimed “Pakistan Revolution Fizzling Out” and said that the dual protests led by Imran Khan and Tahirul Qadri were turning out to be much smaller than anticipated and that they would quickly fade away. Two weeks later, those protests continue and are showing signs of eroding the power of Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The protests had remained largely peaceful until this weekend when the protesters tried to remove barriers of shipping containers so that they could storm the Prime Minister’s house. Security forces around the residence reacted strongly and now most sources agree that at least three people have died and hundreds have been injured. Meetings are taking place along multiple fronts, with Sharif having met with the head of the military, various representatives of the protests meeting with the government and the Supreme Court offering to become involved (it has already ruled against the protests). The situation is quite fluid today and Sharif has called for a joint session of Parliament for tomorrow.

Despite all this, Sharif for now remains adamant that he will not step down:

According to sources, the embattled Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informed army chief General Raheel Sharif that he will not resign in the wake of protests by Pakistan Awami Tehreek (PAT) and Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI).

Insiders said that in the meeting that lasted over two hours, the prime minister and army chief discussed the ongoing political crisis in detail – and its likely fallout.

Sources said that General Sharif presented a range of options before Nawaz, including stepping down for a month to allow for investigations over last year’s elections to conclude.

However, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader insisted that the prime minister will not step down, and will in fact address a joint session of Parliament on Tuesday.

When the government’s television station was overrun by the protesters, the military stepped in to retake the building:

Pakistani troops took control of security at the headquarters of the state-run television network on Monday after hundreds of demonstrators stormed the building and forced the network to temporarily halt broadcasting.

Antigovernment demonstrators armed with sticks and batons ransacked the Pakistan Television building in central Islamabad on Monday morning, smashed vehicles in the parking lots and cut transmission cables in the newsrooms. PTV officials said that at least 20 cameras were missing.

To illustrate just how fluid the situation has become, consider this bit of reporting from Dawn [Javed Hashmi is the President of Imran Khan's PTI party but appears to be in the middle of a falling out with him]:

Hashmi said he was ashamed and said he was sure Imran was too.

“Now I’m going to say something and maybe Imran will refute that as well but it would be good if he didn’t.”

“Imran had told the core committee it won’t be called a martial law…we will file a petition in the Supreme Court and get a judge of our choosing…and he will say okay…we didn’t talk about Bangladesh…that CJ will validate the actions that will be taken eventually…today I have heard that CJ has called all judges…Justice Jilani will retire and the current CJ will become chief justice…and they will get rid [of the government]“.

“When Imran laid out the plan, I said to Imran, Khan sahab what are you doing? What are you getting involved in? You have our support. You have the support of so many people…Khan said we are going ahead…he said I am telling you there will be elections in September and everything has been worked out.”

According to Reuters, some believe that the crisis is reaching a decisive moment:

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Reuters the government was preparing to launch a selective crackdown against protesters, possibly later on Monday, and warned demonstrators against storming government buildings.

“The writ of the state must be enforced. We hope to make a decisive move sometimes later today, not in the evening but even before that,” he said. “I personally feel that the next few hours will determine the course of coming events.”

Reuters doesn’t believe, however, that the military intends to seize control completely:

How the crisis ends will be ultimately decided by the army. If the protests get out of hand, the military could step in decisively, imposing a curfew or even martial law.

There is also a question mark over how much protest leaders are capable of controlling their own people, many of them frustrated after weeks of hardship and no solution in sight.

Alternatively, the army could side with the protesters and put pressure on Sharif to resign, in which case an interim government would have be put in place and early parliamentary elections held to elect a new government.

However, few observers believe the army is bent on seizing power again. A weakened Sharif would allow the army to remain firmly in charge of key issues such as relations with India and Afghanistan while allowing the civilian government to deal with day-to-day economic problems in which it has little interest.

It goes almost without stating that the situation in Pakistan should be watched very carefully over the next few days.

Against Drumbeat of War With ISIS, Chris Murphy Delivers Healthy Dose of Skepticism

Olivier Knox has a report this morning in which he interviewed Connecticut’s Democratic Senator Chris Murphy about potential Congressional authorization for use of force against ISIS. Before we get to Murphy’s tremendous response, it’s worth taking a look at the incredibly wide range of fronts on which the drums are beating for a war with ISIS.

Consider this:

Furthermore, Gen. Dempsey has warned that ISIS cannot be defeated only in Iraq. He asserted, “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

In fact the very existence of terrorists from over 50 countries means that we must be thinking in terms of a global campaign to eradicate the virus of Islamic Extremism and the spirit of terrorism and barbarism that it is fostering. This is fully as grave a threat to our survival as was Nazism or communism. With appropriate strategies and consistent policies executed energetically we can defeat and eliminate the Islamic State and its various allied factions.

ISIS and its worldwide terrorist allies have become the focus of evil in the modern world.

Who said that? John McCain? No. Lindsey Graham? No. Maybe Bill Kristol? No. Those are the words of zombie Ronald Reagan, appearing in a CNN column earlier this week penned by Newt Gingrich. The column carries the winsome title “What would Reagan do?“, and it presents the speech Reagan would have given in response to the beheading of James Foley by ISIS. Well, the speech Reagan would have given if only he were alive and still president, that is.

For the war mongers on the right, ISIS has quickly become the “focus of evil in the modern world”, and the enthusiasm with which they are urging full on war with ISIS is dizzying. Yesterday, I noted that John McCain’s beloved “moderate” Free Syrian Army also is guilty of beheading victims and posting photos on social media, but of course the hand-wringing over Foley’s beheading never allows for the fact that those we are being urged to arm against ISIS are guilty of many of the same crimes against humanity which are said to be fueling our desire to attack ISIS.

Yesterday, Marcy touched on the confusion surrounding the news that ISIS waterboarded Foley and other prisoners, since the US also has waterboarded prisoners in recent history.

So they guys we are supposed to arm against ISIS commit the same crimes as ISIS and ISIS is now copying US crimes, too, but somehow we are supposed to see ISIS as “the focus of evil in the modern world”.

But wait, there’s more!

We have to be upset, the New York Times warns us this morning, because there is now a flow of US citizens into the ranks of ISIS. And, as if that weren’t enough to get the bubba crowd worked up, ISIS wants our womenfolk: Continue reading

It May Not Have Been ISIS, But McCain Did Pose With Members of a Group That Beheads Opponents

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

Partial screengrab from the Weasel Zippers post on the McCain photo.

On May 27, 2013, nearly three months before the deadly August, 2013 sarin attack, Josh Rogin was granted an “exclusive” to publish in The Daily Beast that John McCain had secretly slipped into Syria to meet with “moderate” rebels who oppose Bashar al-Assad:

McCain, one of the fiercest critics of the Obama administration’s Syria policy, made the unannounced visit across the Turkey-Syria border with Gen. Salem Idris, the leader of the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army. He stayed in the country for several hours before returning to Turkey. Both in Syria and Turkey, McCain and Idris met with assembled leaders of Free Syrian Army units that traveled from around the country to see the U.S. senator. Inside those meetings, rebel leaders called on the United States to step up its support to the Syrian armed opposition and provide them with heavy weapons, a no-fly zone, and airstrikes on the Syrian regime and the forces of Hezbollah, which is increasingly active in Syria.

Rogin continues:

The entire trip was coordinated with the help of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, an American nonprofit organization that works in support of the Syrian opposition. Two leaders of the group attended all of the McCain-Idris meetings and discussed them with The Daily Beast.

A couple of days later, Politico published a photo from the visit, identifying Mouaz Moustafa of the Syrian Emergency Task Force (he is now listed as their Executive Director).

Just who was present in the meetings with McCain, both in photographs that have appeared and in less public meetings, has been a point of contention since word of the meeting came out. Within a week of the Rogin story, Rand Paul was quoted by CBS:

Wielding a charge that’s been largely refuted, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over the weekend took a swipe at his fellow Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, for his clandestine meeting last week with Syrian rebels.

“I’m very worried about getting involved in a new war in Syria,” Paul said Saturday night while taking questions at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is “a bad guy – he is,” the Kentucky senator continued, but cited al Qaeda and additional extremist groups “on the other side” as a reason to give the United States pause before engaging militarily.

“They say, ‘there are some pro-Western people, and we’re going to vet them,’” Paul continued. “Well, apparently we had a senator over there who had his picture taken with some kidnappers, so I don’t know how good a job we’re doing vetting those who are going to get the arms.”

Even though CBS noted that Paul’s accusation had already been refuted before they quoted it, Josh Rogin felt it necessary to give more detail debunking Paul. Leaving aside the red herring of Nour and whether he was at the meeting, this part of Rogin’s piece is very interesting: Continue reading

Abdullah Becomes Serial Quitter While Dempsey Continues Denying Reality

The last 24 hours in Afghanistan are a perfect summation of the insanity imposed by endless US occupation.

On the election recount front, after warning for several days that he might do so, Abdullah Abdullah has withdrawn his observers from the audit process. The UN is desperate to see the process through to the end, as tweeted by ToloNews:

The Washington Post, in its article on Abdullah’s withdrawal, holds out hope that he will continue to take part in the negotiations on Kerry’s extra-constitutional shared governance plan:

It was not immediately clear Wednesday whether Abdullah still planned to participate in a unity government with Ghani.

Ghafour Liwal, a Kabul-based political analyst, said Abdullah’s campaign may be using the boycott to seek more concessions from Ghani about his future role in a new government.

“Abdullah’s team is using the withdrawal from the audit process as political pressure,” he said.

Those talks about possible power-sharing are “far more important than” the technical issue of how to conduct the audit, Liwal said.

The New York Times, though, sees Abdullah as likely withdrawing from the entire process:

Both Mr. Abdullah and Mr. Ghani pledged to Secretary of State John Kerry that they would accept the audit’s conclusions about who had won the election and then would form a government of national unity including officials from both campaigns.

But it was unclear Wednesday whether Mr. Abdullah planned to keep that commitment. He had yet to make a public comment on the matter, but statements from his aides have been negative. On Tuesday, his chief auditor, Fazul Ahmad Manawi, said that if the campaign’s demands for changes to the audit were not met, Mr. Abdullah would pull out of both the audit and the broader election process. “We will not continue to be part of the process, and any result coming out of it will not be acceptable to us and will have no credibility to us,” he said.

Gosh, Abdullah withdraws in the face of widespread fraud that he is unable to overcome. We’ve seen this movie before. Remember that was eligible to take part in a runoff election against Karzai in 2009 but withdrew just a few days before the election, knowing that Karzai would make sure of his own victory. The runoff was canceled and Karzai served a second term.

It was already becoming clear as the recount progressed and Ghani was looking more and more likely to retain an edge in the “final” count that he had no intention of really sharing power with Abdullah, so it seems likely to me that Ghani will assume the role of president in the next few weeks. It seems unlikely that there will be time for this to play out before the NATO summit at the end of next week, but the US (and by extension, NATO) stands ready to allow extra time for the eventual winner to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement.

And that brings us to the other insanity front in Afghanistan in the last 24 hours. Visiting Afghanistan to preside over the handing off of ISAF command from Joseph Dunford to John Campbell, Joint Chiefs Chair Martin Dempsey proved he is genetically incapable of straying from the military’s constant Afghanistan script of “We have the Taliban on the run and things are improving” no matter how dismal the situation: Continue reading

With Clock Still Ticking, Afghanistan No Closer to Resolving Election Crisis

Reuters reminds us this morning that under one previous set of plans, today was to have been inauguration day for Afghanistan’s new president. Karzai is now insisting that the candidates must work out the vote audit and their power sharing agreement very quickly because he intends to stand by September 2 as the definite inauguration day. But that doesn’t look like a realistic deadline, either, according to Reuters:

But officials from the rival camps, as well as from the election commission, doubt that the Sept. 2 date would be met.

“Honestly, I cannot come out with something definite on that, but I hope. It’s Afghanistan. Things are unpredictable,” said Abdullah’s spokesman, Mujib Rahman Rahimi.

An official for Ghani’s campaign, who declined to be identified, said little progress had been made in interpreting the framework for a power-sharing deal.

“Nothing yet has added to the political framework and the commission couldn’t reach an agreement in most of the areas,” the official said, adding that the candidates were meeting to try to break the deadlock.

Many Western diplomats also say the process is unlikely to be resolved in time.

“I don’t see how there will be any space for compromise, because the pie is too small and there are too many people who want a piece,” said one Western official.

BBC chimes in with a report today that the small pie is getting even smaller:

Afghanistan’s finance minister has said deadlock over the disputed presidential election has cost the economy $5bn.

Omar Zakhilwal told the BBC he would have to cut salaries and lay off government workers if the crisis was not resolved by the end of the month.

Foreign investment is at a standstill and government revenues have fallen sharply since the April vote.

Khaama Press adds that in addition to the $5 billion in lost revenues, Afghanistan also has seen around $6 billion in capital flight due to the election dispute.

The final process of invalidating votes is apparently underway this afternoon in Kabul, but as Carlotta Gall noted Saturday in the New York Times, the math of the audit is daunting:

The huge scale of the fraud — involving perhaps more than two million ballots out of roughly eight million reported cast, according to independent international estimates — has stymied efforts to achieve a democratic transition. Secretary of State John Kerry has intervened twice to keep the campaigns in agreement on a unity government and a complete audit of the vote, but the process has repeatedly broken down in disputes.

/snip/

Mr. Abdullah was the clear leader in the first round, with a 900,000-vote margin over Mr. Ghani. But the preliminary results of the runoff showed a gigantic improvement for Mr. Ghani — an “impossible” one, according to one Western official — of 1.9 million votes.

Hmm, some dirty hippie had come up with very similar math on the dramatic change in vote numbers–back on July 8.

Oh, and even if by some miracle, a new “final” vote tally does appear before September 2, don’t look for an agreement on the structure of the power sharing government any time soon.

With the NATO summit still planned for September 4, that looms as the real deadline for the West to decide if the zero option on troop deployment after the end of this year becomes the only option.

Translation Issues Put Zarif’s Remarks Somewhere Between Arak and a Hard Place (Iraq)

On Wednesday night, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif was interviewed by Iranian state television. Reports about what he said in the interview provided quite the adventure yesterday. Here is Reuters this morning trying to sort out just what took place:

On Thursday a story from the official Iranian News Agency (IRNA) cited by several news organizations including Reuters reported Foreign Minister Javad Zarif as saying that if Iran agreed to “do something in Iraq, the other side in the negotiations will need to do something in return”.

“All the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities should be lifted in return for its help in Iraq,” it quoted him as saying.

But later on Thursday IRNA reported foreign ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham as dismissing “reports by some news agencies about Iran and U.S. cooperation in Iraq”.

“These reports are a misinterpretation of the foreign ministerˈs remarks and are ‘totally baseless’,” IRNA reported her as saying.

So what did Zarif actually say? Here is PressTV’s translation of the sentence in question:

“If we agree to do certain things at [the nuclear facility in the Iranian city of] Arak, then they should agree to do certain things in return; one of those things would be for them to go to the [UN] Security Council and lift the sanctions,” Zarif stated.

Wow. Arak is the site of the heavy water reactor that has been a point of contention in the nuclear negotiations from the start. If you watch the YouTube above, there is a translation of Zarif’s remarks that does seem to suggest that the context for the remark does not fit at all with a mention of Iraq. A similar translation appears in the video at the PressTV site linked above.

Further clarification of that point comes from a Foreign Ministry spokesperson at FarsNews:

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham categorically dismissed media reports about Tehran’s call on the US to remove the sanctions if it wants the former’s cooperation against ISIL in Iraq.

Afkham’s remarks came as certain foreign media outlets misquoted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as saying that Iran is ready to cooperate with the US in Iraq in return for lifting UN sanctions against Iran.

“These reports are a misinterpretation of Foreign Minister’s remarks and are totally baseless,” Afkham said on Thursday.

The Iranian foreign minister had called on the US to remove its unilateral sanctions against Iran in order to pave the way for Iran’s further cooperation with the West on nuclear issues, including Arak heavy water facility.

Several western news agencies, including AFP and Reuters, misquoted Zarif’s comments by substituting the word “Iraq” for “Arak”, which the foreign minister had actually used. The incorrect quote attributed to Zarif implied that Iran has conditioned its readiness to help tackle the Takfiri Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists in Iraq on the removal of the sanctions imposed on Iran by the West.

The State Department seems to have figured out the error quickly.  From yesterday’s press briefing: Continue reading

For John Kerry’s State Department, Constitutions Matter Only on One Side of Durand Line

John Kerry has made not one, but two trips to Afghanistan to pursue his extra-constitutional “power sharing” agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah that creates the completely new position of chief executive within the Afghan government. As was easily predicted, that plan now teeters near total failure. Clearly, Afghanistan’s constitution means nothing to John Kerry in his pursuit of US goals in that country.

In the daily press briefing yesterday at Kerry’s State Department headquarters, spokesperson Marie Harf had this remarkable exchange with a reporter, where we suddenly see that next door, in Pakistan, the constitution is of prime importance*:

QUESTION: One more quickly. What Imran Khan is saying and others in the country, including hundreds of thousands or millions of people in Pakistan, they are not happy with the current government, and Imran Khan is saying that those elections by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif were fraud and fake and they were not legitimate or he’s calling that he should step down. That’s what I’m asking. I’m saying –

MS. HARF: He’s the prime minister, period.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: So you’re not calling for Prime Minister Sharif to step down?

MS. HARF: I in no way am calling on that.

QUESTION: Does the United States support regime change in Pakistan?

MS. HARF: We support the constitutional and electoral process in Pakistan, which produced the Prime Minister of Nawaz Sharif. That was a process they followed, an election they had, and we are focused on working with Pakistan. And we do not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them.

How about that? In Pakistan, the State Department does “not support any extra-constitutional changes to that democratic system or people attempting to impose them”, while just across the border in Afghanistan, the Cabinet member in charge of the State Department is putting a huge amount of his own energy into an extra-constitutional change to the democratic system there.

Just three days ago, Kerry included this snippet in his letter of congratulations to Afghanistan on their independence day:

With millions of Afghans across your great nation braving violence and intimidation to cast their ballots, it is critical that all parties honor those voters’ aspiration for a democratic, peaceful transfer of power that unifies the country. We will continue to strongly support the democratic process and the agreement reached between the two candidates concerning the formation of a national unity government.

So Kerry claims he supports the democratic process and yet he wants it to produce a “national unity government” that is described nowhere in the constitution that enabled the voting. His real aim appears near the end of the letter:

With a timely resolution of the election and the signing of a Bilateral Security Agreement, I am confident that the next year will open an important new era in U.S.-Afghan relations.

For John Kerry, as well as the rest of the US government, it always has been and always will be about keeping those troops going (and those military contracts running).

Postscript: Did you notice the *asterisk above? I felt compelled to add it when I said that for the US, the constitution in Pakistan is of prime importance. There is a huge exception to that statement. The democratically elected government of Pakistan, whose constitutionality Harf is praising in her briefing, means absolutely nothing to the US when the US wishes to carry out a drone strike inside Pakistan’s borders, even when that same democratically elected government has made it clear that such actions are a violation of sovereignty.

Afghanistan Bars Rosenberg From Leaving Over Times Report on Coup Plan

With the latest deadline for Afghanistan to resolve its election crisis and put into place a government that can sign a Bilateral Security Agreement now only two weeks from tomorrow (when the NATO Summit convenes in Wales), the pressure on Afghan officials is leading to breakdowns on many fronts. Violence continues in the vote recount process and sniping back and forth in the press over outright insurrection is reaching new levels (note in this article that Abdullah supporters are favoring power sharing while Ghani’s side is pushing the constitution, suggesting Ghani feels confident of winning the recount).

Against this uncertain background, Matthew Rosenberg’s story published late Monday on the New York Times website and appearing in Tuesday’s paper (on page A7, not very prominent placement) remarkably led to him being summoned and questioned by the attorney general’s office in Afghanistan. Further, it appears that Rosenberg will not be allowed to leave the country until he answers questions (he has refused so far) regarding the sources for his article.

The article that has upset the attorney general states that various unnamed government figures are floating the idea of an interim government since the election recount is taking so long to resolve. (Note that Hamid Karzai’s term in office already has officially expired.) Although the plan is referred to as a “soft coup”, the idea is that there would be a quick return to democracy. Further, Rosenberg goes to great lengths to point out that the entire exercise seems to be more of a warning to the Abdullah and Ghani camps to resolve things quickly rather than an actual attempt to seize power:

A coterie of powerful Afghan government ministers and officials with strong ties to the security forces are threatening to seize power if an election impasse that has paralyzed the country is not resolved soon.

Though it is unusual to telegraph plans for what could amount to a coup — though no one is calling it that — the officials all stressed that they hoped the mere threat of forming an interim government would persuade the country’s rival presidential candidates, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, to make the compromises needed to end the crisis.

The Times describes Rosenberg’s treatment during the questioning:

The senior prosecutor who summoned Mr. Rosenberg, Gen. Sayed Noorullah Sadat, whose title is general director of crimes against external and internal security, asked him to identify anonymous government sources quoted in the article, which he declined to do.

Mr. Rosenberg objected to General Sadat’s insistence that he sign a statement without a lawyer present. Mr. Rosenberg then asked to leave the interrogation room and was initially refused permission to do so, until the prosecutors conferred with a higher-ranking official.

They declined to name that official. “It’s a confidential source,” said another general who was present at the interrogation. He declined to give his own name as well, but was later identified as Gen. Abdul Salem Ismat, who works in General Sadat’s directorate. (Although the attorney general’s office is a civilian agency, some officials retain the ranks they gained in police or military agencies.)

The attorney general’s office is on very shaky ground here:

During the interrogation on Tuesday, General Sadat was unable to name any criminal offense that was under investigation, or cite any laws that had been broken.

“Right now, there’s no case, no legal charges, there’s nothing,” he said. But he did not rule out the possibility of charges in the future.

The State Department criticized the Afghanistan government’s actions.

Hmm. No offense under investigation, no law broken, no case, no charges, and yet Rosenberg was brought in. I’m guessing the State Department criticism was something along the lines of “Who do you think you are, Ferguson?” At least he wasn’t teargassed.

Update: Just after this was posted, it was announced that Rosenberg has now been expelled from Afghanistan:

The attorney general of Afghanistan on Wednesday ordered the expulsion of an American correspondent for The New York Times, Matthew Rosenberg, and banned him from re-entering the country.

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