Not as much as Moscow, mind you, but we get snow where I live in flyover country USA. Any time between mid-October and mid-April we can expect some frozen precipitation. A blizzard in October isn’t unheard of — we had one 17 years ago this week, in fact. I’ve lived with six months of snow per year for most of my life.
Which is why the photo here of the crash site looks sketchy to me.
Early reports indicated the plane carrying de Margerie hit or was hit by a snowplow driven by a drunken operator, in poor visibility. It’s not clear exactly which hit the other based on different accounts across the internet. A Russian reconstruction video furnished to Le Figaro shows the plane’s wing clipping a vehicle upon landing — but the video exerts more effort on the fire and smoke than it does on the initial impact. Note in this second video of the plane after the crash during daylight hours that the wing which hit the plow as characterized in the video is missing.
At least one article claimed debris was spread 200 meters by the plane after impact. Perhaps the wing was in that debris, but it’s not reflected in the Russian reconstruction video. A more recent report said the snowplow was parked on the runway.
Ultimately, what we see is a plane that flipped over — either tipped over by the force of a plow, or flipped over after impact.
And no snow. This particular photo is rather pixelated, but it doesn’t reflect reduced visibility due to snowfall. There’s no snow in the second video link above, though visibility has worsened. Continue reading
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA is not happy. Speaking to PressTV today, he protested a report yesterday that final plans are in the works for the next round of meetings between Iran and the IAEA to discuss long-standing issues on Iran’s nuclear program:
A delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) plans to visit the Iranian capital, Tehran, in the coming days to continue talks with Iranian officials.
Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA Reza Najafi said on Friday that Tero Varjoranta, the deputy director general and head of the Department of Safeguards of the nuclear monitoring body, will head the team.
The envoy also expressed concern about Iran’s secret nuclear information obtained by the IAEA leaking out.
“It is regrettable that classified information in the agency has not been protected again, and while Iran and the agency were busy planning [the meeting], the news was published by a Western media outlet,” he said.
“This issue once again confirms Iran’s misgivings that spying exists in the agency,” Najafi said.
But wait, you might say. Where is the harm in breaking the news that a meeting is planned? The first clue might come from the suspect report itself, a Reuters article by Fredrik Dahl:
The U.N. nuclear agency is expected to make a new attempt soon to advance its investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Iran, diplomats said on Thursday, more than a month after Tehran missed a deadline for cooperation.
They said experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran may meet early next week in Tehran, with the IAEA seeking to achieve progress in the slow-moving inquiry into the country’s nuclear program.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA, a Vienna-based U.N. agency which for years has been trying to investigate Western allegations that Iran has worked on designing a nuclear warhead. Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful.
True to the usual path employed by Dahl and his fellow Vienna-based colleague from AP, George Jahn, Dahl relies on “diplomats” for his inside information. Note also that Dahl reports that the IAEA did not have a comment for him to include in the report. This suggests that the IAEA and Iran were still in the process of planning the next meeting and not ready to announce it publicly yet.
If meeting plans were the only leaks to come out of IAEA through “diplomats” in Vienna, then this would be a non-story. But there is much more. Here is PressTV in January of 2012 after an Iranian nuclear scientist had been assassinated:
Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman says confidential information on the country’s nuclear experts has been leaked to the terrorists by the so-called inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
“Certain individuals who came to Iran under the pretext of inspecting the country’s nuclear facilities have identified Iranian scientists and given their names to the terrorist groups,” Ramin Mehmanparast said on Friday.
The Iranian official highlighted that Tehran would pursue the case in relevant international bodies.
The comments came in the wake of the assassination of Iranian scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan on January 11 when an unknown motorcyclist attached a magnetic bomb to his car near a college of Allameh Tabatabaei University in Tehran.
He was killed immediately and his driver, who sustained injuries, died a few hours later in hospital.
On Sunday, Ashraf Ghani was declared the new President of Afghanistan. Despite months of “auditing” the votes cast in the runoff, we have not yet had an announcement of actual vote totals. That is because Abdullah Abdullah, who won the first round of voting by over a million votes still disputed that he could have then lost by over a million votes in the runoff. Abdullah had refused to play along with the plan to announce vote totals at the same time as awarding the presidency to Ghani. Ghani will be sworn into office on Monday.
A new security agreement authorizing the presence of American forces in Afghanistan after 2014 will be signed just days after the nation’s new president is inaugurated on Monday, a senior State Department official said Wednesday.
Both Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s new president-elect, and his chief opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, indicated during their election campaign that they supported the security agreement. And both men recommitted themselves to the agreement in recent weeks as they worked out the terms of a power-sharing arrangement, American officials said.
“We expect that it will be fully signed in a matter of days after the new administration starts,” said the State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under the agency’s rules for briefing reporters. “No one has talked about reopening the issues.”
Though widely anticipated, the signing of the agreement is an important step that would provide a legal basis for American forces to advise Afghan forces after 2014.
Abdullah is reported as “optimistic” about the new national unity government and is saying all the right things about Afghanistan appearing to have avoided a violent resolution of the election conflict.
As a full-time skeptic, though, I can’t help wondering if at least a part of the prolonged process of negotiating the national unity government was just haggling over how much cash will be in Abdullah’s monthly bag from the CIA. After all, Karzai’s take is known to have been at least tens of millions of dollars.
Details of the “power-sharing” agreement are beginning to come out:
Dr. Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the president-elect of Afghanistan and the chief executive officer Dr. Abdullah Abdullah have shared the key government institutions almost on equal basis among themselves.
According to documents obtained by 8am newspaper, the ministry of interior and finance has been taken by Dr. Ashraf Ghani while the ministry of defense and foreign affairs have been taken by Dr. Abdullah.
Other key ministries and government institutions have also been equally shared among the two teams, according to the documents.
So although Ghani is to be President, it is very significant that Abdullah will have control of the defense ministry. Returning to my link above about the bags o’ cash that Karzai got, those payments are mere pocket change compared to the real cash that Afghan officials are able to siphon out of the firehose of US cash flowing into the country. As noted there, in 2011 the US committed around $11 billion to the Afghan Security Forces Fund alone and in that same year, SIGAR quoted the Congressional Research Service finding that around $4.5 billion in cash left the country through the Kabul airport.
Not quite as much cash will be there for the taking in 2015 and beyond, but by being in charge of the defense ministry, Abdullah would appear to be first in line for siphoning off parts of the $4.1 billion in funds from the US and one billion Euros from the EU plan for ANSF support next year.
By controlling the ministry of finance, Ghani also will have access to vast sums that can be siphoned off, so their graft-sharing appears on the surface to be fairly equitable. Also, one would presume that the interior department will be in line for bribes relating to Afghanistan’s reputed vast mineral wealth.
It appears that both Ghani and Abdullah are very well cared-for in their carefully negotiated graft-sharing agreement.
Postscript: There is one more aspect of Gordon’s transcription this morning that can’t be left unchallenged:
The signing of the agreement would not end the debate over the continuing American role in Afghanistan. Given the escalation of violence that followed the withdrawal of the last American forces from Iraq in 2011, some critics, including former ranking officials in the Obama administration, have urged the White House to adopt a more flexible approach toward removing troops from Afghanistan.
As I pointed out in this post, a full 18 months passed between the withdrawal of the last US troop from Iraq and the surge in violence there. Those 18 months are now being purged from the collective memory of the hive mind of the DC village.
A recent theme of mine has been that most of the time, the only response the US can come up with for a crisis anywhere in the world is to ask “Which group should we arm?” Despite ample evidence that this inane desire to train and equip various groups around the world always comes back to bite us in the ass, the US is intent, once again, on training and arming “moderate” rebels in Syria. Never mind that it has been shown, repeatedly, that the so-called “moderates” in Syria are anything but, as they have demonstrated by eating an opponent’s heart and carrying out multiple beheadings.
The one time the US avoided this approach and instead relied on diplomacy was a huge success. Syria’s declared chemical weapons have been removed from the country and destroyed despite the difficulty of this process taking place while the civil war raged. Choosing to ignore that clear success, the US is determined to make the situation in Syria infinitely worse by pouring this renewed effort into training and arming rebels. It is very easy to predict that this effort will result in radicalizing a whole new generation of fighters determined to attack the US precisely because of how it is getting involved in the Syrian civil war.
The flip side to the question of “Which group should we arm?” should be “What can we do to make the lives of the citizens of this region better?” In Syria and the surrounding countries affected by the masses of citizens who have fled the war, that answer is very clear. These refugees need food. They need shelter. They need basic medical care. Their students need schools, as estimates now say close to three million Syrian children are not in school.
Sadly, last Thursday, on the very day that the US Senate went along with the vote the previous day in the House to make $500 million available for this doomed effort to train and arm rebels, the United Nations’ World Food Programme announced that due to funding shortfalls, food allocations for Syrian refugees will be cut drastically in October and November and may not be available at all in December:
“We have reached a critical point in our humanitarian response in Syria and in neighbouring countries and unless we manage to secure significant funding in the next few days, I am afraid we will have no choice but to scale back our operation,” said Muhannad Hadi, WFP’s Regional Emergency Coordinator for the Syrian crisis.
In Syria from October, WFP will continue to provide food to more than 4 million people, but the food parcel will be smaller, providing less than 60 percent of the nutritional value recommended in emergencies in October and cutting even more in November. For December, WFP has no funding available for programmes in Syria.
The group faces similarly catastrophic shortfalls in the countries surrounding Syria where citizens have fled the violence.
The total funding shortfall is staggering:
WFP requires US$352 million for its operations as a whole until the end of the year, including US$95 million for its work inside Syria and US$257 million to support refugees in neighbouring countries.
So the US is throwing away more money than is needed to feed Syrian refugees through the end of the year on a plan that will increase violence and likely lead to the deaths of many of these same refugees from starvation, exposure to harsh winter conditions and “collateral damage” from poorly targeted missiles.
Consider the current plight of Syrian families. Their country is ripped apart by fighting that has raged for years. The bulk of the citizens have merely tried to avoid the violence, but it has rained down on them from all sides of a war that has countless groups taking part. Now, on the very day that the largest relief agency in the world announces that it will have to cut back on its already inadequate assistance, the US moves forward with a plan to waste more money than the World Food Programme needs in a way that will make their lives measurably worse.
The question is not whether starving Syrian refugees will be radicalized when poorly targeted US missiles kill innocent family members, as that is guaranteed. The only question is just how many of these newly radicalized enemies this latest clusterfuck of a plan will generate.
NBC News’ Ann Curry interviewed Iranian President Hassan Rouhani yesterday in her second extended interview with him. She had been the first Westerner to interview Rouhani after his election. Remarkably, the story put up by NBC on their website to accompany the video seen above did not mention the part of the interview that Mehr News chose to highlight in Iran. From Mehr News:
Iran’s president has denounced ISIL terrorist group for its savagery and said US presence in the region has exacerbates [sic] the terrorism crisis since 2001.
That comment about US presence in the region exacerbating the terrorism crisis appears nowhere in the NBC article. The article does, however carry Rouhani’s accusation that the US approach to fighting ISIS is cowardly:
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in an exclusive interview with NBC News’ Ann Curry, denounced ISIS for its savagery but also branded the U.S.-led coalition against the terror group as “ridiculous.” Speaking from the presidential palace in Tehran ahead of his visit to the United Nations, Rouhani questioned President Obama’s decision to go after ISIS with airstrikes.
“Are Americans afraid of giving casualties on the ground in Iraq? Are they afraid of their soldiers being killed in the fight they claim is against terrorism?” Rouhani said.
“If they want to use planes and if they want to use unmanned planes so that nobody is injured from the Americans, is it really possible to fight terrorism without any hardship, without any sacrifice? Is it possible to reach a big goal without that? In all regional and international issues, the victorious one is the one who is ready to do sacrifice.
Rouhani’s accusation that the US wants to carry out this fight without sacrifices seems to be a very accurate description of the approach by the Obama Administration.
Further evidence for the “ridiculous” charge comes in this Huffington Post story about a Congressional briefing on US strategy:
One Democratic member of Congress said that the CIA has made it clear that it doubts the possibility that the administration’s strategy could succeed.
“I have heard it expressed, outside of classified contexts, that what you heard from your intelligence sources is correct, because the CIA regards the effort as doomed to failure,” the congressman said in an email. “Specifically (again without referring to classified information), the CIA thinks that it is impossible to train and equip a force of pro-Western Syrian nationals that can fight and defeat Assad, al-Nusra and ISIS, regardless of whatever air support that force may receive.”
He added that, as the CIA sees it, the ramped-up backing of rebels is an expansion of a strategy that is already not working. “The CIA also believes that its previous assignment to accomplish this was basically a fool’s errand, and they are well aware of the fact that many of the arms that they provided ended up in the wrong hands,” the congressman said, echoing intelligence sources.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, already in New York for the beginning of talks on the nuclear deal and the opening of the UN General Assembly, told NPR that he still favors a deal with the P5+1 group of nations:
On the subject of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear weapons program, Zarif said all the “wrong options” have already been tried and that “we are ready” for an agreement.
Zarif is fully cognizant of the forces allied against reaching a deal, though:
“The only problem is how this could be presented to some domestic constituencies, primarily in the United States but also in places in Europe,” because “some are not interested in any deal,” he said.
“If they think any deal with Iran is a bad idea, there is no amount of — I don’t want to call it concession — no amount of assurance that is inherent in any deal because they are not interested in a deal, period,” Zarif said.
In sharp contrast with what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other political leaders have said about no deal being better than a bad one, Zarif said: “I think if you compare any deal with no deal, it’s clear that a deal is much preferable.”
Gosh, considering how the US is working closely with anti-Iran groups, even to the point of interfering in lawsuits to prevent disclosure of how the government shares state secrets with them, Zarif seems to have a very clear grasp of the problem a deal faces.
Despite his harsh comments about the US (and harsh comments about ISIS, as well), Rouhani also held out hope that the P5+1 final agreement can be reached.
In the aftermath of publication of the Pentagon Papers, the Nixon Administration was so incensed that they both broke into and wiretapped the office of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Lewis Fielding, in an attempt to get material with which to smear Ellsberg. Ellsberg and his attorneys eventually learned of the illegal wiretap and sued Attorney General John Mitchell. Mitchell and the government were provided some shielding in Ellsberg v. Mitchell by the concept of state secrets.
Glenn Greenwald noted that when he was running for office, Barack Obama disparaged the Bush Administration’s use of the doctrine of state secrets and the expansion of its use to dismiss entire cases rather than to simply suppress individual pieces of information. And yet, once Obama got into office, Greenwald pointed out that the Obama Administration used the exact same tactic to get dismissal of Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, in which a victim of CIA rendition and torture attempted to sue the company used as a front for arranging rendition flights.
These two cases, along with other highpoints of government malfeasance in using state secrets to hide criminal behavior or simple errors by the government such as Al-Aulaqi v. Obama and Al-Haramain v. Bush all appear as case law on which the Justice Department rests its arguments in a filing (pdf) in a case in which Greek shipping executive Victor Restis is suing United Against Nuclear Iran (under their legal name of American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc.) for damages caused by UANI’s spreading of information that Restis argues is false and defaming. As I pointed out earlier, this information was spread by UANI as part of their “name and shame” campaign aimed at companies they felt were helping Iran to avoid sanctions put into place to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons. The government’s argument is fairly straightforward, even though the government is not a named party in the suit:
The United States has reviewed the pleadings and record in this case in order to determine whether discovery and further litigation is likely to risk disclosure of information in which the Government has a specific governmental privilege and whether the claims and defenses in this action can be adjudicated without the need for or risk of disclosure of privileged information.
The Government has concluded that information that would be at risk of disclosure in discovery and further proceedings is properly subject to the state secrets privilege and should be excluded from this case. Further, because information subject to the state secrets privilege is inherently at risk of disclosure in further proceedings, the Government also seeks dismissal of this lawsuit. The reasons for these determinations are set forth in classified declarations submitted in support of the United States’ assertion of the state secrets privilege solely for the Court’s ex parte, in camera review (the “State Secrets Privilege Declarations”).
So just what is this state secrets information that could be exposed in the case? Here (pdf) is how attorneys for Restis describe the basis for UANI’s accusations:
Plaintiffs soon learned through a journalist to whom Defendants had spread these false allegations that Defendants were relying on two patently fraudulent documents whose authenticity or credibility Defendants have never attempted to defend, despite ample opportunity to do so. Nevertheless, in an effort to bolster its false allegations, Defendants repeatedly and publicly claimed that these statements were based on “numerous documents and statements,” “highly credible confidential sources,” as well as “valid research, credible documents, distinguished relationships, and preeminent sourcing.”
Hmmm. Relying on documents that are “patently fraudulent”. That sounds a lot like the forged Iraq yellowcake document to me. And Restis’ team has an idea for how the documents came into UANI’s possession (from the same filing):
Plaintiffs have reason to believe that the documents were forged by Anastasios Pallis, a Greek businessman who had a falling out with Plaintiff Mr. Restis when the latter discovered that the former had stolen millions of Euros from him and then reported Pallis to authorities. Plaintiffs understand that Mr. Pallis provided these documents to UANI through Meir Dagan, a member of UANI’s Advisory Board and former director of Israeli intelligence.
Reuters carries a hopeful headline this morning, “Afghan rivals said close to ending feud on how to share power“, where they inform us that the elusive power sharing agreement between Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah may finally be reached tonight:
Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates may reach a deal on how to share power late on Tuesday, according to Afghan and Western officials, potentially ending months of tension over the outcome of a run-off election held in June.
The struggle to find a successor to President Hamid Karzai, who has held power since the Islamist Taliban were ousted in 2001, has destabilized Afghanistan and paralyzed its economy just as most foreign troops withdraw.
There clearly is a push to say that a resolution of the crisis is close. ToloNews claims that a meeting last night between the candidates hosted by Hamid Karzai “went well, and both men were said to have reaffirmed their commitments to resolving their differences and reaching an agreement soon”. However, reading further in the article, we see that fundamental differences remain:
Both teams have confirmed that the candidates have discussed a new plan for the national unity government they agreed to form back in August following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to Abdullah’s camp, the two campaigns have agreed that the Chief Executive will serve as the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.
“An agreement has been made on one of the disputed points regarding whether the Chief Executive will also serve as Chairman of Council of Ministers,” Abdullah spokesman Syed Aqa Fazel Sancharaki said Monday.
Meanwhile, the Ghani campaign has maintained that the elected president will serve as head of government and Chairman of the Council of Ministers. “The presidential order will certify the job descriptions of the Chief Executive and his vices and the elected president will be head of the government and Chairman of Council of Ministers,” Ghani spokesman Faizullah Zaki said on Monday.
To underline just how farcical the entire process of “auditing” the runoff vote ballots became, another ToloNews article this morning is stunning in its open admission of how widespread fraud was in the election. The Independent Election Commission announced that results from 1028 polling places have been rejected in the audit process:
During the announcement, IEC acknowledged the fact that the June 14 run-off elections witnessed massive frauds.
“There was wide-scale fraud by security forces, governors and IEC employees,” a commissioner for the IEC, Azizullah Bakhtyari, admitted. “Clearly, most of the fraud happened in coordination with IEC employees.”
Bakhtyari hopes that the audit process will re-establish people’s trust in the election process.
“The audit helped us recognize the employees responsible for the fraud that took place at the 1,028 polling sites,” he said. “Clearly, we will take action against them for harming the public’s trust in the electoral institution.”
Wow. So security forces, governors and IEC employees all took part in the fraud? Those are the very people who were supposed to assure voters that the process would be fair and impartial. But don’t get the impression that this admission and the tossing of results from 1028 polling stations will change anything. Although that sounds like a lot of votes being tossed, keep in mind that there were around 22,000 polling stations, so this move will have very little impact on the final vote tally.
What is clear is that this final adjusted vote tally will have to be announced soon. What is not clear is whether Abdullah will accept the result that is certain to say that he lost. Just how he and his supporters react to the final announcement will be the most important decision in Afghanistan’s fate over the next few years.
Disclaimer: There is a very good chance that my thinking here is so off-target as to make it total bullshit, but it is still a fun exercise in trying to make sense of recent events. –JW
Long-time readers will be familiar with my strange hobby of noting interesting events taking place along the border between Pakistan and Iran. We have a new entry in that category, and this time the information we have is quite cryptic. The initial report came from IRNA, dated September 8:
Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said here on Monday Afghan and Pakistan nationals, who were trying to cross Iranian borderlines to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (also known as Daesh) terrorists in Iraq, have been arrested.
Speaking in a local gathering, Rahmani Fazli underscored that the Iranian military forces and residents of the border areas are fully vigilant against Daesh plots to counter potential threats.
He added that Iranian forces are on full alert, as the Daesh terrorist group is failing in Iraq.
Note that Fazli does not state where or when these arrests took place. Mehr News expanded slightly on the IRNA story:
Iran’s Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli in a meeting of the country’s deputy governors for political, social and security affairs said that a number of Afghans and Pakistanis who were passing through Iran seeking to join ISIL in Iraq were arrested.
Rahmani Fazli added that the country had already prevented some other Afghans and Pakistanis to enter Iran.
“ISIL terrorists have not succeeded in recruitment of fans inside the country; however, this is not to deny they promote their ideology, since they are active in the cyberspace, connecting to the possible candidates for recruitment,” the minister said.
He asserted that there is no fear of any danger of this terrorist group for the country because the residents of Iranian border provinces are smart enough and the security forces are completely dominant over the borders.
Hmm. Last October those security forces weren’t exactly “completely dominant” when fourteen Iranian border guards were killed. But mostly, it does seem to me that Sunni fighters wishing to make their way to the front lines to aid ISIS in Iraq or Syria would be ill-advised to try to make their way across the longest part of Shia-controlled Iran from Pakistan.
This event stood out to me because I had been intrigued by Friday’s strange episode where a plane transporting coalition military contractors from Kabul to Dubai made an unscheduled landing in Iran: Continue reading
In a press conference completed only about an hour ago, Abdullah Abdullah has declared himself the winner of Afghanistan’s presidential election and said that he will not accept the result of the audit that has been taking place since the June runoff election. Khaama Press appears to be the first to come out with a story on Abdullah’s statements, although there were Twitter updates from several sources as he spoke:
Afghanistan’s controversial presidential election was once again taken towards a deadlock after the Reform and Partnership tem led by Dr. Abdullah Abdullah announced their stance regarding the election process.
Abdullah said the political process has now entered to a deadlock and claimed that his team was the winner and will be the winner of the presidential election, accusing the electoral bodies for being involved in industrial scale fraud.
Abdullah criticized the vote audit and invalidation process and said the process had problems since the beginning and his team’s complaints and concerns were not considered by concerned parties involved in the process.
He claimed that his rival team had the support of government and the electoral bodies during the election and vote audit process.
Although Abdullah did speak out against violence, there appears to be widespread concern that if the audit and power-sharing process have indeed broken down, fighting could break out along ethnic lines.
It appears that Obama was still pushing last night for Abdullah and Ghani to work out a deal, but that effort clearly failed.
By declaring himself the winner, Abdullah seems to be setting the stage for both candidates to declare themselves winners. From this morning’s Washington Post:
Daoud Sultanzoy, a top aide to Ghani, said the Ghani campaign hopes that Abdullah will not announce he’s abandoning the process. But if he does, Ghani appears prepared to assume power unilaterally.
When the US begins to squawk about both candidates abandoning Afghanistan’s constitution to declare themselves winners, don’t forget that it was the US who first brought up the extra-constitutional “power-sharing” government idea. There seems to be a very good chance that the situation will get worse very quickly at this point.
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