Posts Tagged ‘U. S.’

Middle East Peace: Envisioning a Better Future — Trump Must Stop Iran. Israel and the Palestinians Must Make a Lasting Deal.

April 5, 2018

It is possible that if Iran withdraws and begins enriching uranium to military grade levels, the “fire and fury” Trump once threatened North Korea with, will be diverted to Iran.

 APRIL 5, 2018 11:13

The Jerusalem Post

 Imagine a world in which Syria still had its nuclear reactor today

 Netanyahu’s public demonstration of indecisiveness, bad policy

Calm, poised and a steady hand

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., March 5, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque. (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)

May is going to be quite the month for US President Donald Trump. At some point in the coming weeks, he is expected to sit down for a historic tête-à-tête with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Around the same time, on May 12, he will come up against the deadline for the Iran nuclear deal.

And then there is the planned transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on May 15 as well as a proposal to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the White House has been working on for the past year. While the Palestinians’ recent anti-American rhetoric made it seem like the proposal had been shelved, the administration is claiming that the plan is still in the works. When will it be presented? That remains to be seen.

At Press conference with Mogherini, Netanyahu predicts Europeans following Trump on Jerusalem embassy move (Reuters)

Even for Trump – a man who prides himself on being a brilliant deal-maker – this is a lot to handle.

Most presidents would choose one or two massive foreign policy challenges of similar scale to tackle throughout their entire presidency, let alone in the span of just a few weeks.

For Israel, the issue of utmost concern right now is Iran. On the one hand, there is complete agreement within Israel’s defense and political echelons that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran is bad. It gave the Iranians astounding financial breaks and left them with almost all of their nuclear infrastructure in place. Once the deal’s sunset clauses kick in, Iran’s breakout time to a bomb will be just a few weeks.

On the other hand, there is no arguing the fact that the deal has given Israel a respite. Just a few years ago, the government appeared on the verge of ordering an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. With that threat postponed, the IDF has been able to spend the last few years honing its capabilities ahead of an eventual confrontation while investing in other fronts and needs.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a vocal proponent of seeing America pull out of the nuclear deal, the question is whether he – or anyone for that matter – knows what will happen the day after. Trump is trying to use the threat of America’s pending withdrawal from the accord as leverage to negotiate a newer and better agreement that will, for example, place restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program, its regional aspirations and the problematic sunset clauses.

The Europeans warn that the chances of that happening are slim.

The French and German foreign ministers came to Jerusalem recently to explain to Netanyahu that Iran will not agree to a new deal and that if America pulls out, so will Iran.

If that happens, they warned, the only way left to stop Iran will be with military force, and who has the appetite for that? What Europe might not be taking into account though is the possibility that Netanyahu has received assurances from Trump that he will attack Iran if it leaves the deal and begins racing toward a bomb. It is possible that if Iran withdraws and begins enriching uranium to military grade levels, the “fire and fury” Trump once threatened North Korea with, will be diverted to Iran.

But what if that doesn’t happen? What if Trump decides to nix the deal but then fails to follow through with tough negotiations or the threat of military force? Is Israel better off with the deal gone and Iran an even greater threat, or not? What if Trump connects the peace process to the nuclear deal and tells Netanyahu that he will happily take care of Iran, but only if Israel ensures progress on the Palestinian track? This would be the revival of the famous “Bushehr-for-Yitzhar” deal – Bushehr is the site of some of Iran’s nuclear reactors, and Yitzhar is a settlement in Samaria – that Barack Obama reportedly offered Netanyahu in late 2009. Under that deal, Obama was supposed to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program would be stopped, and Israel would, in exchange, facilitate the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The deal, of course, never materialized.

A Palestinian state was never established and the 2015 nuclear deal failed to completely stop Iran’s race to the bomb.

Is Trump planning such linkage between Iran and the Palestinians? It remains to be seen, although the timing of how this all plays out could be a sign of what is coming.

Just days after making a decision on Iran, the US will hold a ceremony marking the moving of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Some security cabinet members are nervous of what will come next. As one member told me recently: “Even between friends, there never really is a free lunch.”

Whatever happens, Trump is going to have his hands full in the coming weeks. For any of these efforts to work – North Korea, Iran or the Israel-Palestinian peace process – the president will need to be personally involved, become intimately familiar with all of the details, and be prepared to use the full weight of his office when necessary.

Israel is just one piece on the presidential chessboard. It might seem that Israel and the US are aligned as never before, but Netanyahu will need to be careful to ensure Israel’s interests are not disregarded. As demonstrated by Trump’s surprising and off-the-cuff announcement last week that he plans to withdraw US forces from Syria, Netanyahu already knows that, with this president, anything is possible.

Migrants, activists in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv protest Netanyahu’s scrapping of relocation deal, April 3, 2018 (Reuters/Tamara Zieve)

ALL OF THESE scenarios are worth contemplating in light of Netanyahu’s public display of indecisiveness this week vis-à-vis the deportation of Israel’s African migrants.

Calling what Netanyahu did a zigzag doesn’t do justice. It was a political fiasco of national proportions, one that will one day be taught in university-level political science courses.

Up until Monday, the declared government policy was to forcibly deport the vast majority of African migrants, most of whom had come to Israel in search of work. The Interior Ministry hired and trained special inspectors, and while the planned deportations were contentious and divisive, the government seemed determined to move forward.

But then in mid-March, the High Court of Justice froze the plan.

Netanyahu had a few options. He could have convened the cabinet, the attorney-general, and the top minds at the Interior Ministry and thought of a new, refined plan that would have met the court’s requirements.

Instead, he secretly brokered a deal with the United Nations, under which half of the migrants would be moved to Western countries and the other half would be allowed to remain in Israel.

News of the plan – kept secret from his cabinet and party – was revealed at 4 p.m. on Monday in a press conference Netanyahu convened in Jerusalem. It didn’t take long for all hell to break loose.

Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett, Netanyahu’s primary rival on the Right, slammed the deal and warned that Israel would become a migrant haven if so many migrants were allowed to stay. Even Minister Miri Regev, who until Monday seemed to be Netanyahu’s staunchest ally in the Likud, joined the chorus of criticism.

Even for a seasoned politician like Netanyahu, the pressure was too much to bear. Six hours and 45 minutes later, at 10:45 p.m., the prime minister posted on Facebook that he had decided to temporarily freeze the new plan. By Tuesday he had completely nixed it, leaving Israel, once again, in the lurch and without a real policy.

What didn’t make sense is why Netanyahu didn’t try to garner support for the UN plan before going public. In the past, when contentious issues were scheduled to come up in the cabinet – such as the release of Palestinian prisoners in 2014 – he knew to meet with Bennett and reach understandings before going public. The fact that he didn’t do that this time might say something about his state of mind.

This is concerning because, as pointed out above, Israel has serious challenges ahead that will need to be confronted with calm, poise and a steady hand. If Netanyahu zigzags and flip-flops so many times on an issue like deporting migrants, what will happen on issues of graver consequence – such as the Iran deal and the conflict with the Palestinians – that strike at the core of Israel’s national security? Will he repeatedly change his mind then, too, or will he be more focused and stable? After this week, it is difficult to know.


China: How a trip to South Korea by special envoy Yang Jiechi shows Communist Party’s diplomatic ambitions — Break apart the South Korea, Japan, U.S. Alliance

March 30, 2018

Yang Jiechi went to South Korea in a government capacity but also as a Politburo member, as the Communist Party seeks to expand its influence

South China Morning Post

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 6:07pm
UPDATED : Friday, 30 March, 2018, 6:16pm

High-ranking Chinese politician Yang Jiechi’s two-day trip to South Korea is a sign that the Communist Party aims to take a bigger role in diplomacy, observers say – and the clue was in his three titles.

It came after a major shake-up of China’s government and party agencies was unveiled, along with a personnel reshuffle and constitutional revisions that aim to blur the line between party and state.

Yang went to Seoul on Thursday to share information about this week’s meeting between President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

He was sent in a government capacity as Xi’s special envoy – but he was also there as head of the party’s  general office, and as a Politburo member.

Until the reshuffle earlier this month, Yang was a state councillor of China’s cabinet when he travelled overseas. While he no longer has that job, he now holds a higher rank within the party after he was promoted to the decision-making Politburo in October.

But the nuances may have been lost on Yang’s hosts – South Korea’s foreign ministry and presidential office said they did not pay much attention to the titles he used for the trip. To them, he was Xi’s special envoy, and his South Korean counterpart was National Security Office head Chung Eui-yong.

Xi Quote:

“Government, the military, society and schools, north, south, east and west, the Party controls them all.”

Xi Jinping, President for Life

Observers said it was appropriate for Yang to travel as Xi’s special envoy, and to meet South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other government officials in that capacity. But the fact he was also using the other titles for the trip could indicate the party was trying to expand its influence in Chinese diplomacy.

“Promoting Yang within the Communist Party and sending him to South Korea as Xi’s special envoy may be a sign that the party will take a stronger leading role in diplomatic matters in the future,” said Seok Yong-youn, president of the Korean-Chinese Relations Institute at Wonkwang University.

“As Yang is an expert in diplomacy, I think he will take a lead in the decision-making process and so will ultimately play a role to centralise the diplomatic leadership to the Communist Party … This is totally natural since Chinese government departments are only the bodies executing party decisions,” he said.

“I think Yang and the Communist Party’s influence in Chinese diplomacy will only grow.”

The government and the party announced plans to restructure their agencies and departments at the annual legislative session earlier this month – a move which will allow the party to consolidate its control across many aspects of Chinese society.

Among the changes, four of the party’s “leading groups” – on financial and economic affairs, cybersecurity, reforms and foreign affairs – have been upgraded as commissions, while several government agencies will be merged with party organs to strengthen the party’s leadership on major affairs, according to a party document.

Pang Zhongying, a senior fellow at Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said there was more focus on the division between party and state in past decades, but the restructuring plan was aimed at blurring that line.

“The party will have an overriding influence and the party and state will be more integrated [after the overhaul],” he said.


Donald Trump hints he may not trust South Korea to be tough enough with North Korea — During campaign-style stop in Ohio

March 29, 2018

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President Donald Trump walks onto stage to speak at Local 18 Richfield Training Facility, Thursday, March 29, 2018, in Richfield, Ohio. (AP Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais

South Korean president Moon Jae-in is known around Washington as “somewhat soft” on North Korea. This reputation preceded his invitation to Kim Jong un to send people to the Olympics. The fawning over Kim’s sister during the Olympics reinforced the “soft” moniker for Mr. Moon.

The two allies, South Korea and the U.S., know each other well from decades of close cooperation. It is something of a miracle that Kim Jong un is talking denuclearization and says he is prepared to sit down with U.S. President Donald Trump — after so many U.S. presidents have tried and failed to make headway with the North.

But there is still plenty of worry and distrust all around. Kim’s visit to Beijing this week reminded everyone that China has, and wants more, say about what’s going on in Asia.

Today, on this speaking trip to Ohio, President Trump said maybe he’d hold off on a trade deal with South Korea until he had a denuclearization deal with North Korea — a reference to the possibility that the South may not be nearly as interested in the denuclearization deal as the U.S. and Japan.


Middle East Nations Eager To Match Iran’s Nuclear Technology, Capability

February 28, 2018

While the Netanyahus drink champagne and Trump tweets, the Russians changed the Mideast’s nuclear calculus – and this time, Israel has no feasible military option. But can Jerusalem really depend on the White House to avert a nuclear arms race?

.A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.
A 1956 nuclear test conducted by the United States at the Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photos

While our leaders in Jerusalem were giddily drinking champagne and Washington was proudly trumpeting tweets, the Middle East continued its march towards the nightmare scenario of a region with multiple nuclear actors.

This time, it’s not just about Iran, but about the rapid spread of civil nuclear programs all around us. The various programs reflect legitimate energy needs, but civil nuclear programs in the Middle East have a nasty tendency to morph into military ones, or at least the technological basis for this.

Saudi Arabia already consumes approximately 25% of its total oil production and unless it diversifies its sources of power – astonishingly –  it risks becoming a net importer of oil by the early 2030s. The Saudis thus recently issued tenders for the first two of 16 planned nuclear power reactors.

In addition to energy needs, the Saudi program is also motivated by fear of Iran, along with growing doubts regarding the reliability of the American security guarantee, and a consequent desire to ensure that the kingdom has the infrastructure in place for a military program.

The Saudis are also opposed to the U.S. demand that they forgo the right to enrich uranium, as a condition for the sale of American reactors. This condition is considered essential today to ensure that civil nuclear programs are not misused for military purpose and both Egypt and the UAE accepted it in deals with the U.S. in recent years.

The 2015 nuclear deal with Iran recognizes its right to continue uranium enrichment, albeit at lower levels, thus making it difficult for the U.S. to now demand that the Saudis forgo a similar capability. The U.S. is also concerned that if it insists on this demand the Saudis may turn to other manufacturers, including Russia and China, which impose less stringent conditions for the sale of reactors and ongoing inspection.

It is thus now considering a waiver for the Saudis, but this is likely to lead to similar demands by Egypt and the UAE and to a heightened Iranian threat perception. The result could be a collapse of the nuclear agreement and a regional nuclear arms race.

.Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.

Trump receiving the Order of Abdulaziz al-Saud medal from Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh, May 20, 2017.MANDEL NGAN/AFP

Russia is using nuclear deals and arms sales to resurrect its standing in the region. It recently concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Saudi Arabia and also signed its first arms deal with it, including advanced anti-aircraft systems, missiles and more.

In December 2017 Russia also signed a deal with Egypt to build and finance four power reactors by 2028, and to establish factories in Egypt to manufacture some of the necessary components. Some observers believe that there are more cost-effective means of producing energy in Egypt and therefore question the deal’s motivations.

Last year, Russia also began supplying advanced fighter aircraft and helicopters to Egypt and tentative agreement was even reached providing, for the first time since the Soviet eviction from Egypt in 1974, for Russian use of Egyptian airbases.

The Egyptian and Saudi slaps in America’s face resounded all the way to Washington.

In 2016 Russia signed a deal with Jordan for two nuclear power reactors, to be completed by 2025. A nuclear research reactor, of South Korean manufacture, became operational in Jordan in 2016.

Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE during the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders summit in Riyadh
Qatar crisis: UAE behind hack which prompted Gulf state boycott. Pictured: U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan of the UAE in Riyadh JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

In the UAE, the first of four South Korean power reactors, to be built by 2020, will become operational this year. In 2017 Russia signed $2 billion in arms deals with the UAE, including advanced air-defense systems and missiles, and it is reportedly considering Sukhoi fighters. Turkey also purchased similar air-defense systems recently and Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco have expressed interest. The Russians have already deployed these systems in Syria.

Israel is being surrounded by civil nuclear programs on all sides. There is no immediate danger and it would take many years, possibly decades, to turn these programs into military ones, but the technological clock may have begun ticking. Moreover, these programs may undermine the relative regional stability gained by the Iran nuclear deal.

In weighing its policies towards these developments, Israel faces a difficult dilemma which does not exist in the case of Iran today, nor Syria, Iraq and Libya in the past.

The countries in question all maintain formal, or de facto peace with Israel, share a desire to contain Iran, are friends of the U.S. and enjoy at least some American commitment to their defense.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session during the Week of Russian Business, organized by the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP), in Moscow, Russia February 9, 2018REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

In reality, Israel does not have a military option against them, except in extreme circumstances, and thus Jerusalem is approaching the end of the “Begin Doctrine,” which held that it must act militarily, after exhausting other options, to eliminate nuclear threats.

On this issue, as is the case of the other primary challenges Israel faces today (the Palestinians, Iran, the “northern front”), Israel does not have an effective military option, at a price it is willing to pay, and is increasingly coming up against the limits of military force. The IDF can gain time for decision-makers, but the only true solution to these challenges may lie, if at all, in the diplomatic realm.

Israel should urge the U.S. to insist that the Saudis forgo uranium enrichment. Even at this turning point, when Israel hopes for a breakthrough with Riyadh, it should oppose a decision that may spark a regional nuclear arms race.

A possible compromise, however, that might preserve both Saudi interests and face, may be found in the recent proposal by the noted U.S. nonproliferation expert, Robert Einhorn, to craft a “practical compromise” – limiting the agreement to a period of 15 years. In the future, the U.S. can always demand an extension.

A further possibility would be to urge the administration to pursue a new international norm, among the six countries that manufacture reactors today, to make their sale contingent on the recipient’s willingness to forgo uranium enrichment and to purchase nuclear fuel from the manufacturer throughout the reactor’s lifetime.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his bomb illustrating the red line for Iran's development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his “bomb” illustrating the red line for Iran’s development of a nuclear bomb, at the UN in 2012.AP

This will not be easily achieved, American competitors will fear the loss of a commercial advantage at a time when a number of deals are in play, but the principle is acceptable to all and a deal is worth the try.

In the longer run, these developments, along with already existing trends, will require that Israel devote considerable thought to its strategic policies. The danger of a Middle East with multiple nuclear players may require that Israel reconsider its policy of ambiguity, seek a defense treaty with the U.S., or even explore what is today still considered a totally fanciful option: regional arms control.

In the meantime, they’re still drinking champagne in Jerusalem.

Chuck Freilich, a former Israeli deputy national security advisor, is a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is the author of “Israeli National Security: A New Strategy for an Era of Change” (Oxford University Press, 2018)

Torture, Suicide In Iran’s Prisons — “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.”

February 22, 2018

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Above:  President Hassan Rouhani


The New York Times
FEB. 22, 2018

“The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in “The House of the Dead,” his semi-autobiographical novel about inmates in a Siberian prison camp. Iran continues to fail the Dostoyevsky test.

The Evin Prison in Tehran, where a long list of leaders, intellectuals and journalists have been detained over the years, added to its infamy this month with the so-called suicide of Kavous Seyed Emami, a leading environmentalist and academic.

Dr. Seyed Emami, 63, who came from an old clerical family, was a dual Iranian and Canadian citizen. He had received his doctorate from the University of Oregon and returned to Iran in the early 1990s to teach sociology at Imam Sadeq University in Tehran, where Iran’s future elite is educated.

He helped found the Persian Wildlife Heritage Foundation, Iran’s most important environmental organization, with the encouragement of the United Nations and the Islamic Republic, especially Kaveh Madani, the deputy head of the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

On Jan. 24, Dr. Seyed Emami, Mr. Madani and Morad Tahbaz, an Iranian-American businessman, were arrested. Dr. Seyed Emami was accused of spying for the United States and Mossad. Two weeks after his arrest, prison authorities informed his family about his death. “This person was one of the accused, and given he knew there is a torrent of confessions against him and he confessed himself, unfortunately he committed suicide in prison,” Abbas Jafari-Dolatabadi, a prosecutor in Tehran, told an Iranian news agency.

Dr. Seyed Emami’s relatives raised doubts about the claim that he committed suicide, but the regime forced them to bury him without an independent autopsy.

Dr. Seyed Emami became a victim of the political struggle between President Hassan Rouhani and moderate reformers who have become increasingly concerned about environmental issues, especially dams, and die-hard conservatives among the Revolutionary Guards who are reluctant to slow down such rural projects.

When Hassan Firuzabadi, a former chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces and a military adviser to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was asked by the Iranian press about the arrests of the environmentalists, he spoke about Western spies using lizards and chameleons that could “attract atomic waves” to spy on Iran’s nuclear program.

The increasingly common “suicides” by prisoners stem from Iran’s inordinate reliance on “confessions” in convicting defendants.

Iranian judges treat “confessions” as the “proof of proofs,” the “mother of proofs” and the “best evidence of guilt.” The use of forced confessions began in the last years of the shah’s rule, in the 1970s, but drastically increased after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini regarded them as the highest proof of guilt.

I analyzed numerous legal cases and around 300 prison memoirs for a book about forced confessions. To obtain such “confessions,” interrogators in Iran rely heavily on psychological and physical pressures. They — like fellow interrogators elsewhere — scrupulously avoid the word torture (“shekanjeh” in Persian). In fact, the Iranian Constitution explicitly outlaws shekanjeh. Instead, interrogators describe what they do as “ta’zir” (punishment). Innumerable prison memoirs detail this process. It can be described as Iran’s version of “enhanced interrogation.”

Prisoners are asked a question, and if their answer is unsatisfactory, they are sentenced to a specific number of lashings on the ground that they had lied. These whippings can continue until the desired answer is given — and committed to paper. According to a letter circulated by some 40 members of Parliament, hallucinatory drugs now supplement these traditional methods.

In the 1980s and the 1990s, detainees were routinely shown on television reading their confessions, but the broadcasts were mostly stopped after most Iranians concluded that they were staged. The confessions continue to be used in court, however.

Detainees have a limited number of options in the face of interrogation. They can submit, even before the instruments of enhanced interrogation are displayed. They can undergo prolonged agony, which may lead to death, if inadvertently — interrogators want a confession, not a badly damaged corpse, which can cause political embarrassment. The detainees can accept a plea bargain and “admit” to a lesser transgression in return for release or a lighter sentence.

After the disputed presidential elections in 2009 in which the right-wing populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad prevailed over reformist opponents, many — including visitors from abroad — gave “exclusive” interviews to the regime press confessing to sundry transgressions, especially helping foreign powers conspiring to bring about “regime change.”

Detainees have also agreed to public confessions and tried to insert phrases that undermined the whole ritual. A prisoner — later executed — declared in 1983 that he had been recruited into the K.G.B., the Soviet intelligence agency upon his arrival in Russia in 1951. He would have been aware that anyone versed in the topic would know the K.G.B. was created three years later, in 1954.

A former Khomeini follower said in his public confession in 1987 that he had resorted to black magic and the occult to spread cancerous cells among clerical leaders he opposed.

In 1984, leaders of the Communist Tudeh Party who had been arrested after criticizing Iran’s war with Iraq, vociferously thanked their “benevolent guards” for “opening their eyes,” providing them with books that debunked their previous ideology, and transforming prisons into “universities” and “educational institutions.” One stressed that the prison wardens had given them “shalaqha-e haqayeq,” or lashes of truth.

They confessed to “high treason” for adopting alien ideologies and failing to study properly the history of their country. They also held themselves “personally responsible” for “treasonable mistakes” made by the left in the distant past, such as during the constitutional revolution of 1906, which took place long before they were born.

Earlier reformers, led by President Mohammad Khatami, tried between 1997 and 2005 to pass legislation to prevent the use of torture in prison. But such attempts were swept away with the election of Mr. Ahmadinejad in 2005. President Rouhani, now embarrassed by the arrest of his environmentalist allies, is eager to channel the concerns of reformers about the use of torture. He has supported the 40 deputies who have protested prison “suicides” and has set up a committee to investigate the death of Dr. Seyed Emami. Time will show whether this committee has any teeth.

Irrespective of the findings of Mr. Rouhani’s committee, what Iran needs is a radical reform of its legal procedures to ensure that its courts will stop the use of “confessions” and instead rely on verifiable independent and collaborative evidence.

Ervand Abrahamian, an emeritus professor of history at City University of New York, is the author of “Tortured Confessions: Prisons and Public Recantations in Modern Iran.”

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Presence of US warship in Philippines a ‘breath of fresh air’ for Filipinos – Lawmaker says

February 16, 2018
By: – Reporter / @MAgerINQ
 / 06:38 PM February 16, 2018

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USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea

For Senator Panfilo Lacson, the presence of a US warship in the country was a “breath of fresh air” for Filipinos.

On Friday, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrived in Manila for a port visit.

READ: USS Carl Vinson arrives in Manila for port visit

“Not being pro USA and anti-China, the presence of USS Carl Vinson in the West Philippine Sea is a breath of fresh air for those of us, pro Philippines,” Lacson wrote on Twitter.

“It is called, balance of power,” the senator added.

The arrival of the aircraft carrier came at a time when Philippines is protesting China’s reported naming of five undersea features in the Benham Rise.

Lacson was among those who protested this alleged intrusion into the country’s territory.

“The following Benham Rise features were named by China: Jinghao and Tianbao Seamounts, Haidonquing Seamount, Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamounts,” he said in his earlier post also on Twitter.

“It’s probably a matter of time before we see Chinese structures on more artificial islands. Damn us! Are we this helpless?”

READ: ‘Damn us! Are we this helpless?’ – Lacson on sea features named by China

Inquirer had also released aerial photos of China’s alleged militarization in seven reefs being claimed by the Philippines at the South China Sea

Read more:
Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook



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Chinese military bases near the Philippines

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

As China takes ‘center stage,’ Europe stands at a crossroads

February 16, 2018

China’s position as a global superpower is indisputable. As leaders gather to set the agenda of global security at the Munich Security Conference, the EU is at a crossroads between Washington and Beijing.

Image may contain: one or more people and people standing

Global leaders are converging on Germany this week for the 2018 Munich Security Conference at a time when the declining US influence in international politics continues to play out under President Donald Trump.

China, meanwhile, has increasingly been defined by a growing presence on the world stage, from the fight against climate change to global trade rules. The country’s rise to the position of a superpower may not be a new phenomenon, but the past year has seen its status cemented.

In a speech described by risk consultancy Eurasia Group as “the most geopolitically noteworthy event since Mikhail Gorbachev formally dissolved the Soviet Union,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping pronounced Beijing’s newfound status during China’s 19th Party Congress in October.

“With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era,” Xi said. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to the center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

Images of China's past and present leaders

During the 19th Communist Party Congress in October, Xi Jinping (pictured right) consolidated his rule in China

‘World leader, at all costs’

In the 1990s, under the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Beijing implemented a foreign policy that leaned toward slogans such as “hide our capacities and bide our time,” which meant  “maintaining a low profile” to focus on developing the country, according to the party-owned Global Timesnewspaper.

But Chinese historian Zhang Lifan told DW that such a strategy “is no longer suitable for China’s status of quo.”

“The current situation is China wants to be a world leader, at all costs,” Zhang told DW. “The United States is now employing the ‘America First’ policy. China and Xi Jinping want to seize this opportunity to become the leader of globalization.”

Read more: How Trump’s unreliability is pushing EU and China closer together

In many ways, China’s leadership role over the past year has been shaped by US foreign policy objectives under Trump. This has also seen China strengthening its position on strategic areas that will continue to drive international relations, including climate changeArctic securitycyberspaceinternational trade and space exploration.

China “seems to be the rational actor that’s fighting climate change, that is keeping markets open, that is continuing to praise the merits of globalization, which are undeniable,” Jan Gaspers, head of the European China Policy Unit at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), told DW. “Of course, most of that is just rhetoric and they’re not living up to what they’re saying.”

Infographic showing China's lead in renewables

Europe’s lifeline?

For Europe, Beijing has tacitly started to fulfill a role that its traditional ally, the US, has seemingly cast aside under an “America First” doctrine. The Chinese government understands that by partnering with the EU, it can increase its legitimacy in the eyes of global stakeholders and ensure its influence in any shake-up of international leadership roles.

“China and the European Union are global powers: We have a joint responsibility to work together toward a more cooperative, rules-based global order,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said as she wrapped up an official visit to Beijing last year.

China is not seeking to undermine any kind of rules-based relationship in the near-term, and neither is Europe, especially as it redefines its position. But an increasingly relevant question is how the EU will position itself in what appears to “be a more conflicting relationship between the US and China.”

“It will be interesting how Europe will navigate those difficult waters, especially given that Europe itself is not actually united … and then there are growing differences between the EU and US on climate change, open markets and global trade,” Gaspers said.

An infographic showing Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in Europe

China’s ‘better alternative’

Besides the benefits of the EU being China’s largest trading partner, Beijing’s rise has also had an adverse affect in Europe. China’s strong leadership has found support within the EU from the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman.

China has become much more confident in presenting its economic and political model as a “better alternative” to liberal democracy, Gaspers told DW, noting that China’s influence had extended beyond Europe’s political periphery.

Read more: Is the Czech Republic moving closer to China?

A report published by MERICS last year showed China “creating layers of active support for Chinese interests” by “fostering solid networks among European politicians, business, media, think tanks and universities,” including in Brussels, the heart of European politics.

“China’s rapidly increasing political influencing efforts in Europe and the self-confident promotion of its authoritarian ideals pose a significant challenge to liberal democracy as well as Europe’s values and interests,” the report said.

While the merits of a deep economic relationship will continue to push the China-EU relationship forward, serious concerns as to how this could develop at the political level, both domestically and globally, will impact the EU’s liberal aspirations and China’s ambitions to become a world leader.

Ju Juan of DW’s Chinese service contributed to this report.

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China: Silk Road 2.0 | DW Documentary


Iran Displays Missile, Rouhani Says U.S. Regional Policy Has failed

February 11, 2018
 FEBRUARY 11, 2018 14:00

“They (US and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region… they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria… They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but… but with our help their policies failed.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Square in the capital Tehran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Square in the capital Tehran during a ceremony to mark the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. (photo credit: ATTA KENARE / AFP)

ANKARA – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Sunday to mark the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, denouncing the United States and Israel as oppressors.

President Hassan Rouhani, addressing flag-waving crowds on central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, made no specific reference to Israel’s air strikes in Syria on Saturday which it said were aimed at air defense and Iranian targets.


But he told the crowd: “They (US and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region… they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria… They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but… but with our help their policies failed.”

Iran backs Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war, supports Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

US President Donald Trump, who sees Iran as a rising threat to regional stability in the Middle East, has pledged to work with Israel and Iran’s key regional rival Saudi Arabia to curb what they say are Tehran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.

Israel has warned about the increased Iranian involvement along its borders with Syria and Lebanon.

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Israel’s air strikes on Saturday which it said successfully hit air defense and Iranian targets represented the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in the seven-year civil war.

The Syrian army claimed to have brought down an Israeli F-16 after Israel reportedly shot down an Iranian drone which it said had entered Israeli airspace. Iran has denied the Israeli claim, saying its presence in Syria is only advisory.


In a show of defiance of Western pressure to curb its ballistic missile program, Iran put its Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) on display in Tehran’s central Vali-ye Asr street.

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Iran says its missile program is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable as demanded by the United States and the Europeans.

Iranian State television said “tens of millions of people” rallied to support the revolution across the country of 81 million, which faced its worst domestic crisis in nearly a decade in late December.

For over a week, thousands of young and working class Iranians angry about official corruption, unemployment and a widening gap between rich and poor, staged anti-government rallies in 80 cities and towns. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards put down the protests.

Iranian authorities said 25 people died and over 3,000 people were arrested during the unrest. Most of those arrested have been released but around 300 remain in jail facing charges, according to Iran’s interior ministry.

“America wanted to interfere in our state matters. But they failed because of our nation’s awareness and unity,” Rouhani said, echoing Iran’s claim that the protests were instigated from abroad.

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Burning of the flags — just getting started

Iran’s Oil Minister says hostile comments by President Donald Trump torpedoed new oil and gas contracts

February 4, 2018


© AFP | Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh addresses journalists in Tehran on February 4, 2018

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s oil minister lashed out at the United States on Sunday, saying that hostile comments by President Donald Trump had torpedoed new oil and gas contracts for the Islamic republic.”Trump is trying to destabilise market conditions for those who want to work in Iran,” Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told a press conference.

“For the past year, every three or four months, he has destabilised the market. One cannot say that this is not without effect,” he said.

The agreement in July 2015 of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers sparked keen interest among international investors keen to focus on the country’s petroleum riches.

But Trump’s arrival in the White House a year ago, and his regular denunciations of the deal with Iran and the country in general, cooled their ardour.

Zanganeh revealed that Tehran was currently negotiating with “more than 20 foreign companies” to develop its oil and gas fields.

“But I dare not name the projects that are near to being agreed. If I do so, from tomorrow there will be pressure for them not to sign contracts with us,” he said.

Some countries “both at the international and regional level” are exerting pressure on European and Asian firms not to agree contracts with Iran, Zanganeh added, without naming them.

However, he did say he was optimistic about a $5-billion (four-billion-euro) contract signed last July with the French group Total, which heads a consortium with China’s CNPC to develop a gas field.

“I consider that Total is very serious… I hope it will implement the accord and I think that in a short period of time, it will sign agreements with subcontractors,” Zanganeh said.

He added that Iran had planned measures “if the deal ever runs into trouble” because of pressure from the United States.

War on Washing Machines May Have Early Casualty in Singapore

January 24, 2018

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By Masaki Kondo

  • Singapore’s GDP growth closely follows world trade volumes
  • Slowing trade could impact MAS tightening bets, SMBC says

U.S. President Donald Trump’s attack on washing machine imports may end up putting the Singapore dollar through the spin-cycle.

Economic growth in the Asian city state has closely followed year-on-year changes in global trade volumes for almost twenty years, as the nation handles the second highest amount of containers in the world. Any escalation of U.S. protectionism, with Trump seen advocating his “America First” policies at Davos, could have an adverse reaction on investor expectations for Singapore’s growth, monetary policy and the local dollar.

“Singapore would be more adversely affected than other economies should the U.S. step up protectionist policies,” said Hirofumi Suzuki, an economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. “A drop in world trade volumes could damp speculation of monetary policy tightening and weigh on the Singapore dollar.”

Trump comes to the World Economic Forum with a rap sheet in the eyes of proponents of global trade. In his first year in office, he’s withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He’s threatened to renege on the Iran nuclear deal, a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Singapore dollar is particularly exposed to investor expectations of future growth trends as the country’s central bank uses the currency as a monetary policy tool instead of interest rates. The local currency has risen about 1.6 percent against the U.S. dollar so far this year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is expected to shift to a 0.5 percent appreciation in the nominal effective exchange rate in April from the current zero appreciation, according to a research note from United Overseas Bank Ltd. Tuesday.

— With assistance by Enda Curran

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