I freely admit to being the oddest of the quadruplets in the Emptywheel sensory deprivation pool, producing the quirky minority report from time to time.
Which may explain the following graphic with regard to current geopolitical tensions.As you can see, not every trending burp in the news about either Venezuela or Ukraine produced a corresponding bump in the fossil fuel market. Some trend-inducing news may have nothing at all to do with energy. It’s quite possible I may not have captured other key businesses as some of them don’t trade publicly, or are don’t trade in a manner readily captured by Google Finance.
But there are a few interesting relationships between news and price spikes, enough to make one wonder what other values may spike with increased volatility in places like Venezuela (which has the largest oil and natural gas reserves in the western hemisphere), and Ukraine (which lies between the EU and the largest natural gas deposits in the world, and the world’s eighth largest oil reserves).
Of course there’s an additional link between these two disparate countries. Both of them have already seen similar upheavals in which the U.S. played a role — Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela.
When someone made noise about an Afghan Muslim being a key locus of the latest unrest in Ukraine, I couldn’t help but think of the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline for natural gas which has yet to be realized, primarily for a lack of adequate political will among nation-states with a vested interest in its success.
It also made me think of news reports from this past summer when Turkmenistan, sitting on the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world, expressed a readiness to export gas to Europe. This would cut into Russia’s sales, but not for a few years, requiring continuation of existing relationships for the next three to five years. Note the pipelines, existing and planned on the following U.S. State Department map (date unclear, believed to be post-2006).*Continue reading
Back in October, I noted that as the P5+1, IAEA and Iran all moved toward agreements on Iran’s nuclear technology, the usual pathway employed by those who wish to disrupt peaceful talk and agitate toward military solutions was remarkably silent. Here’s a bit of how I described that process and its apparent silence at that time:
I have remarked in many of my posts on the Iranian nuclear technology issue that “diplomats” in Vienna have a long history of leaking what they claim to be incriminating evidence against Iran to reporters there, primarily George Jahn of AP (look at the pretty cartoon!) and sometimes Fredrik Dahl of Reuters. Joby Warrick at the Washington Post often chimes in with information leaked from his sources who also seem to prefer a violent path. The intelligence is often embellished by David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. While there have been improvements lately by Jahn and Dahl in questioning the material leaked to them and providing alternative information available from other sources, much damage has been done to the diplomatic pathway by this process.
Remarkably, there is little to no pushback so far from this group to the progress made in Geneva. A story co-authored by Jahn late yesterday afternoon fits with most of the reporting on the meeting and his single quote from an unnamed source is innocuous
Dahl also has no disruptive quotes in the several Reuters stories to which he contributed. Completing their shutout from the trio of their usual helpers, the hawks planted no inflammatory language in Joby Warrick’s story in today’s Washington Post. The David Albright pathway to propaganda also hasn’t been activated, as the most recent post on his site at the time of this writing was dated October 3.
The dogs that aren’t barking now are the most encouraging sign of all that there is widespread optimism that diplomacy has a real chance of succeeding.
Sadly, Fredrik Dahl and Reuters have broken the silence from those who want to disrupt talks, but even within this blatant attempt to derail negotiations, there are elements of hope. Dahl has granted anonymity to “sources” who tell him that the IAEA last year considered putting together a new report on Iran’s nuclear activities similar to the annex included in the 2011 report that prompted much controversy. After making only vague hints about what sort of evidence might have been in the report, Dahl then goes on parrot the sources in saying the IAEA chose not to issue the new report because of warming relations between Iran and the negotiating countries. He also states the IAEA had no comment, but he completely ignores the likelihood that the IAEA did not provide the new report because the “evidence” in question was found not to be credible. Dahl and Reuters completely ignore the history of known false information being supplied to IAEA and the ongoing process of new bits of information from the “laptop of death” being leaked by the sources in question.
Here is how Dahl’s report frames the information being fed to him:
The U.N. nuclear watchdog planned a major report on Iran that might have revealed more of its suspected atomic bomb research, but held off as Tehran’s relations with the outside world thawed, sources familiar with the matter said.
Such a report – to have been prepared last year – would almost certainly have angered Iran and complicated efforts to settle a decade-old dispute over its atomic aspirations, moves which accelerated after pragmatic President Hassan Rouhani took office in August.
According to the sources, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has apparently dropped the idea of a new report, at least for the time being.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA. The sources said there was no way of knowing what information collected by the agency since it issued a landmark report on Iran in 2011 might have been incorporated in the new document, although one said it could have added to worries about Tehran’s activities.
Dahl relies completely on his sources saying that the IAEA chose not to issue the report so as not to anger Iran without considering that the IAEA very likely found the “new” information to be neither new nor credible.
A bit further in the piece, we get a vague description of what the “new” information might have been: Continue reading
The last time I checked in on Syria, there was much consternation over the delays in getting Syria’s chemical weapons precursors sent to the staging area in Latakia so that they can be moved on to the next steps in the process that will eventually result in destruction of the chemicals at sea aboard the Cape Ray. I had noted that stories covering the delay had put all of the blame on Syria for not moving the chemicals (even though they were said already to be at “marshaling” spots) while ignoring that the US was over a month late in making the Cape Ray ready. There has now been a third batch of chemicals sent to Latakia by Syria, but the amount shipped represents a small fraction of the materials to be removed. Despite this, Syria still maintains that the the June deadline for full destruction of the materials will be met.
Going further back, recall that back in September, we were hearing about how wonderful General Salim Idriss is. We were told that he was a moderate (well, that is if we ignore the fellow from his forces who eat hearts of dead foes) and that he had a foolproof plan for maintaining control of arms we shipped to him. It turns out that Idriss wasn’t much of a leader after all. Idriss now has been removed:
The sudden replacement of the Free Syrian Army commander is the strongest sign yet that the rebel group is restructuring to address concerns of its Western backers that it fight both the regime and extremist opposition factions.
Gen. Salim Idriss, the public face of the FSA for the past 14 months, leaves ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states to rebels aligned with his group.
Complaints against Gen. Idriss have been mounting for some time. His critics said his forces were ineffective and he was too slow to deliver weapons to fighters.
It’s all about the weapons when it comes to “aid” for the Syrian rebels. And Idriss’ control of those weapons? How about this in The Guardian’s coverage of Idriss’ sacking:
The Islamic Front recently seized weapons warehouses from the FSA.
Gosh, I sure hope Idriss got the Islmaic Front to give him a handwritten receipt for those weapons.
But did you notice that bit in the quote above from the Wall Street Journal article, where we learn that Idriss’ removal comes “ahead of an expected delivery of new and more sophisticated weapons from Gulf Arab states”? Iran explains to us in a Fars News article that this really means the weapons will come from Saudi Arabia: Continue reading
For both Afghanistan and Pakistan, the prospect of a future not marred by terrorist attacks is a strong incentive to explore peace talks with the Taliban groups that have fueled the bulk of the violence in both countries. Over the past few years, there have been many attempts to start such talks, but these efforts have not been successful so far. At times, one or more of the many sides involved in the talks has proposed an opening stance that was known to be untenable to another side. Also, parties not involved in particular sets of talks have taken active steps to derail them, such as when Karzai went ballistic over the sign on the door of the Taliban office in Doha (disrupting US-Taliban talks) and a US drone strike took out Hakimullah Mehsud just before he joined a set of talks in Pakistan (disrupting Pakistan-Taliban talks).
Today’s New York Times informs us that Hamid Karzai has been secretly working to establish talks with the Afghan Taliban since announcing in November that he would not sign the Bilateral Security Agreement even though his own loya jirga urged him to do so. This disclosure, mostly communicated to the Times through anonymous sources, but confirmed by Karzai spokesman Aimal Faizi, seems to account for a fair amount of Karzai’s behavior while refusing to sign the BSA and taking repeated steps that seem aimed at creating more friction between the US and the Karzai government.
Those providing the new narrative to the Times paint the talks between Karzai and the Taliban as not getting beyond initial contact and into discussion of substantive issues. The reasoning, according to these sources, is that by merely maneuvering Karzai into refusing to sign the BSA, the Taliban can achieve their primary goal of getting the US out of Afghanistan completely, so they would have no incentive to enter into an actual peace agreement with Karzai:
Western and Afghan officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the peace contacts, said that the outreach was apparently initiated by the Taliban in November, a time of deepening mistrust between Mr. Karzai and his allies. Mr. Karzai seemed to jump at what he believed was a chance to achieve what the Americans were unwilling or unable to do, and reach a deal to end the conflict — a belief that few in his camp shared.
The peace contacts, though, have yielded no tangible agreement, nor even progressed as far as opening negotiations for one. And it is not clear whether the Taliban ever intended to seriously pursue negotiations, or were simply trying to derail the security agreement by distracting Mr. Karzai and leading him on, as many of the officials said they suspected.
So we now have a complete reversal of stances from early last summer. Recall that US diplomats had quietly worked for over a year to establish talks with the Taliban, with the Taliban going so far as to open an office in Doha. However, Karzai felt that the office presented too many of the trappings of a government in exile and he managed to scuttle those US-Taliban talks. I held out hope for the ascendance of a more moderate faction of the Afghan Taliban in the aftermath of that fiasco. Whether the secret approach to Karzai came from these more moderate elements is an interesting question worth considering, especially since only a few month elapsed between Karzai’s tantrum over the office in June and the secret communications starting in November. At any rate, we have gone from the US appearing to promote the talks and Karzai disrupting them to Karzai promoting talks and the US releasing information that seems aimed at scuttling them.
If the US truly cared about bringing peace to Afghanistan, an interesting new bargaining position would be to threaten both Karzai and the Taliban that they intend to stay in Afghanistan beyond the end of the year even if Karzai doesn’t sign the BSA, but that if a peace agreement is reached, the US would leave and provide a portion of the funding that the US now dangles as incentive for signing the BSA. Such a position by the US would allow the Taliban and Karzai to unite behind their one common goal–the removal of all US troops. With public opinion of the US effort in Afghanistan at an all-time low, promoting a full withdrawal would be a welcome development in the US.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, the issue of peace talks with the Taliban is as muddy as it is in Afghanistan. Consider how the first screen of today’s Washington Post story on the talks loaded on my phone this morning: Continue reading
At long last, after over twelve years of war in Afghanistan and nearly eleven years since the invasion of Iraq, the majority of citizens in the US admit that the vaunted US military failed to achieve its goals in either effort. A Pew poll released yesterday showed that in nearly identical results, 52% of Americans feel our goals were not met in either country, while 14 to 15% fewer felt we had met our goals.
Back in August, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis had one prescription for addressing these failures when he argued that it is time to “Purge the Generals“. I quoted extensively from his analysis in a post shortly after it was published, but one of the primary points from Davis is that for too long, military leaders have lied about the status of military missions and never faced any consequences for their false claims of success.
We have seen a partial purge of higher military ranks lately, but these removals have been primarily for offenses that have caused acute embarrassment to the military, such as being caught using counterfeit poker chips in a casino. Congress also plays a huge role in the promotion of lies about success in military missions. As I noted last April, Armed Services Committee member Jack Reed delighted in getting Dunford to enter into the record a statement that we were “winning” in Afghanistan at the time.
The Pentagon and other inhabitants inside the Beltway would benefit greatly from some soul-searching into just how these two misadventures were allowed to start in blind rage and then be so badly mismanaged for so long. Of course, that will never happen, but we now have reached the stage where the folks who have paid the bill for the fiasco realize that the lives, money and effort have all been wasted. With public opinion running so strongly against the two latest high-profile wars, our politicians and the Pentagon will have to content themselves now with more clandestine actions using the Special Operations Forces that are deployed in over 100 countries around the globe.
Yesterday, Reuters granted anonymity to “sources”, including two who are each identified as “a senior Western diplomat”, to blame Syria for delays in shipping its chemical weapons-related materials out of the country. Only when we get to the very last paragraph of the article, though, do we get to the fact that these chemicals are to be destroyed aboard the Cape Ray, a ship which the US has outfitted with equipment for destroying the chemicals at sea. The article does note that the Cape Ray is now in transit to the region, but it fails to note that even though the original plan was for the Cape Ray to begin its work by the end of December, the ship did not leave the US until January 27. Allowing for transit time to get to the region, it would appear that the US delay in supplying the Cape Ray can account for the bulk of the 6-8 weeks by which Syria is reported to be behind schedule.
The anonymous smears hit paydirt, prompting Laura Rozen to wonder whether the delay would force the US into taking “kinetic action”. Fortunately, Cheryl Rofer saw through the ruse immediately, calling out the reliance on anonymous diplomats and cautioning that the situation falls far short of anything requiring such a response.
Before getting to the accusations transcribed by Reuters, it is important to go back to what we knew in early December when the plan for destroying the chemicals at sea was first announced. In my post about that development, I had this quote from a BBC article:
It is believed that the chemicals, all but 30 tonnes of which take the form of precursors – two or more of which have to be mixed to create the lethal agents – have been gathered in several marshalling areas by the Syrian army and amount to more than 600 tonnes. The other 30 tonnes consist of mustard gas.
This is very important context that is entirely lacking in the Reuters article: by early December, we knew that Syria had already gathered the key materials into “marshalling areas” where they were being held prior to destruction. Also missing from the Reuters report is that back in early November, Syria completed destroying all of the equipment that can be used for mixing binary chemical weapon agents and loading them into shells for firing. Note, too, that only about 30 tons of the material is intact active chemical agent rather than materials that have to be mixed to produce the agents.
Reuters opens: Continue reading
Today’s Washington Post carries a story that is quite unlike their usual coverage that tends to tilt toward violence answering most problems. In the story is a striking photo of former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari and former President of Mexico Ernesto Zedillo. Annan, Ahtisaari and Zedillo are traveling as a contingent of The Elders (Mehr News states that Desmond Tutu also traveled with the group), a group founded by the late Nelson Mandela, and are visiting Tehran. When I saw the photo and read the story, I couldn’t help noting the striking contrast between this group of elder statesmen who are traveling the globe to promote peace and diplomacy while the US is saddled with elected representatives who
travel the globe to promote war. The “Three Amigos” of Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Joe Lieberman made too many trips to count, always doing their best to promote America’s forever wars and to advocate spreading them to more countries. With Lieberman’s retirement from the Senate, the latest trip for hypocrisy tourists McCain and Graham had John Barrasso sitting in the third position as they went to Kabul to lobby for indefinite detention without charges and for Karzai to sign the Bilateral Security Agreement so that US troops can remain in Afghanistan after the end of this year.
The Post describes the Tehran trip:
Members of the Elders, a group of former statesman and high-profile peace mediators promoted by the late Nelson Mandela, are visiting Tehran to push for compromises on disagreements between Iran and world powers.
“We must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region, which is not easy and requires patience,” former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan said Monday. Annan, a member of the delegation, made the remarks at the Iranian Foreign Ministry.
The lofty purpose of the three-day visit is to “encourage and advance the new spirit of openness and dialogue between Iran and the international community, and to explore what could be done to enhance cooperation on regional issues,” according to a statement issued by the Elders ahead of their arrival in Tehran.
In a press release Monday, after the first day of the visit, Annan had this to say:
As President Rouhani said to the UN General Assembly in September, that alongside widespread fears in the world today, and I quote:
“There are new hopes; the hope of universal acceptance by the people and the elite all across the globe of ‘yes to peace and no to war’; and the hope of preference of dialogue over conflict and moderation over extremism.”
We believe there has been a number of recent positive developments, most importantly the interim nuclear agreement, signed in Geneva last November. These efforts now need to be sustained to achieve final agreement.
In this regard, we must rebuild trust and mutual respect in the region and further afield. This is not an easy task. It will need patience and perseverance.
Contrast that diplomacy with this Lindsey Graham quote found in the New York Times coverage of the trip to Kabul and in reference to Afghanistan releasing prisoners who have been cleared by the review board at Parwarn Prison:
“If these releases go ahead, it will do irreparable damage to the relationship,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. “There will be a backlash in the U.S. Congress.”
Graham only knows war and retribution, this time in the form of cutting off aid.
The world benefits greatly when shuttle diplomats are allowed to ply their trade to promote peace. If the shuttle war mongers are ignored, real progress is likely to ensue.
Back in July, SIGAR noted that $50 million in US funds had been awarded in a sole source contract secured only by a short letter of agreement between the Department of State and the contractor, the International Development Law Organization, known as IDLO. That contract was for one of three programs that are administered by State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) under the overall program called the Justice Sector Support Program, JSSP. IDLO’s contract covers Regional Justice Sector Training. PAE, which previously had been the contractor for all of JSSP, retains responsibility for the other two programs, a Case Management System and Institutional/Administrative Capacity Building. Over $200 million has been invested by INL for JSSP.
In an audit released today (pdf) SIGAR found that the contract with PAE is limited in how PAE’s performance can be assessed and whether the goals of JSSP are being achieved.
There is a much larger overall problem, though, and it is in how this program, like all of the rest of US plans for Afghanistan, was scuttled by the abject failure of the military to bring peace to Afghanistan. Note that the original plan was for the justice program to spread throughout Afghanistan. But the abject failure of the military to stabilize the country means that this program only was able to address small portions of the country:
Specifically, under the May 2011 statement of work agreed to between INL and PAE, the case management system was supposed to be completed nationwide by May 2012. However, geographic, logistical, and other challenges prevented PAE from expanding the electronic, internet-based case management system beyond 7 of 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces. As a result, INL modified the contract by replacing the requirement for a nationwide system with one that required implementation in only the seven provinces where it had already been installed.
So a portion of the program meant for all of the country wound up being operational in only 7 out of 34 provinces because of many failures, but I suspect that the indirect language in this section is meant to gloss over security failures being the main reason for restricting the reach of the program. I see no evidence that the budget for this portion of the program was cut to reflect the smaller size, so I wonder if PAE merely got to pocket what they would have spent expanding to the missing 27 provinces.
As noted back in July, the transfer of a portion of JSSP to IDLO was suspect. Today’s audit doesn’t reduce the concerns about IDLO: Continue reading
Today, the IAEA has confirmed that Iran has discontinued enrichment of uranium to 20%, and has complied with the additional steps required at the beginning of the historic agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of nations. By implementing the interim agreement, Iran has triggered the start of the six month period for negotiation of a final agreement that will be aimed at providing verifiable assurance that Iran does not seek to develop a nuclear weapon.
Fredrik Dahl reports:
Iranhas halted its most sensitive nuclear activity under a ground-breaking deal with world powers, a confidential U.N. atomic agency report reviewed by Reuters on Monday showed, paving the way for the easing of some Western sanctions.
Western states were expected to ease sanctions later on Monday after the United Nations nuclear watchdog confirmed Iran is meeting its end of the bargain under a November 24 interim accord to resolve a decade-old dispute over its nuclear program.
Thomas Erdbrink has more:
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, arrived in Tehran two days ago to begin validating the deal, Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in a statement reported by the state-financed broadcaster Press TV.
In Washington, the State Department said in a statement on Monday: “Today, the International Atomic Energy Agency provided a report on the current status of Iran’s nuclear activities, focused on the steps Iran has committed to take by or on the first day of implementation of the joint plan of action. The United States, our P5+1 partners, and the E.U. are now studying this report. We will have further public comment after all parties have had the opportunity to review the report.”
The Washington Post reports that Iran confirms it has halted the most sensitive activities:
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization and a former foreign minister, said in an interview on state television Monday that the deal with world powers over Iran’s nuclear activities was a victory for the Islamic republic.
Speaking of Western powers, and the United States in particular, Salehi said: “We know that they have power and do not wish us well. They wanted to put pressure on us with sanctions, but we were able to manage the situation well.”
Salehi, who holds a doctorate in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Iran does not need to continue the 20 percent sensitive uranium enrichment program to maintain what he said are his country’s peaceful nuclear activities. The deal allows Iran to continue enriching uranium to 5 percent.
“Now the iceberg of sanctions is crumbling while our centrifuges are still also working. This is our greatest achievement,” he said.
Returning to Dahl’s report, we have more details on the report that was filed today by the IAEA (it is only two pages and can be read here):
The IAEA said Tehran had begun the dilution process and that enrichment of uranium to 20 percent had been stopped at the two facilities where such work is done.
“The Agency confirms that, as of 20 January 2014, Iran … has ceased enriching uranium above 5 percent U-235 at the two cascades at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP) and four cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP) previously used for this purpose,” its report to member states said.
It was referring to Iran’s two enrichment plants, at Natanz and Fordow. Cascades are linked networks of centrifuge machines that spin uranium gas to increase the concentration of U-235, the isotope used in nuclear fission chain reactions, which is found in nature at concentrations of less than 1 percent.
Iran now stands to reap about $7 billion in sanctions relief that will phase in over the coming six months, provided that negotiations continue and that Iran continues to adhere to the terms of the interim agreement.
War mongers and backers of Israel are distinctly unhappy, but at least for now, peaceful negotiations have taken major steps toward making the world a safer place.
It’s no secret that I am hardly a fan of David Albright and his Institute for Science and International Security. He often has been the “go to” authority when countries hostile to Iran have chosen to leak selectively groomed information to put Iran in the harshest possible light. The countries leak the information to a select few journalists and then Albright is called in to provide his “analysis” of how evil Iran is and how determined they are to produce nuclear weapons.
I also have been hammering hard on Robert Menendez’s Senate bill that calls for increased sanctions on Iran. As Ali Gharib noted immediately, the bill spells out conditions for the final agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries that we know Iran will never agree to, so the bill guarantees that the new sanctions will eventually kick in, even if a final agreement is reached.
The New York Times is finally catching up to the points Gharib made almost exactly a month ago:
But where the legislation may have an effect, and why it so worries the White House, is that it lays down the contours of an acceptable final nuclear deal. Since administration officials insist that many of those conditions are unrealistic, it basically sets Mr. Obama up for failure.
White House officials zeroed in on three of the conditions: first, that any deal would dismantle Iran’s “illicit nuclear infrastructure”; second, that Iran “has not directly, or through a proxy, supported, financed, planned or otherwise carried out an act of terrorism against the United States”; and third, that Iran has not tested any but the shortest-range ballistic missiles.
“They’re basically arguing for a zero enrichment capacity, with a complete dismantling of Iran’s nuclear facilities,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association. “That’s not attainable, and it’s not necessary to prevent Iran from getting a weapon.”
I was not at all prepared, though, for what the Times learned about how this abhorrent piece of legislation was crafted:
Proponents of the bill deny it would deprive Iran of the right to modest enrichment. They point to the qualifier “illicit” in the reference to nuclear facilities that must be dismantled, and they say the language on enrichment is intentionally vague to mollify both Republicans, who are reluctant to grant Iran the right to operate even a single centrifuge, and Democrats, who balked at signing on to a bill that would rule out all enrichment.
“There’s no language that says a centrifuge is prohibited or allowed,” said David Albright, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Institute for Science and International Security, who helped Republicans and Democrats draft some of the technical wording.
The ambiguity, he said, reflected the fact that the lawmakers who sponsored the bill are “doing it in a bipartisan way, but they have disagreements on what the end state should look like.”
Oh. My. God.
To craft one of the most important bills in US foreign policy in over a decade, Menendez and his cronies turned to an “analyst” who has a long history of producing precisely the analysis that war hawks want. And he even has the gall to brag about how the weasel words that he crafted have different meanings depending on who is reading the bill.
I really have to just stop right here and let commenters fill in the rest for me. My health and sanity won’t let me think any further on the ramifications of David Albright writing legislation on US foreign policy toward Iran.