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New Eastern Outlook

What Will Taliban Drug Policy Look Like?


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In an attempt to showcase humane foundations of its policies with the purpose to convince the international community to promptly recognize new Afghan authorities, the Taliban (banned in Russia) has been recently showcasing its alleged intentions to join the "merciless fight against drugs."

It is common knowledge that this problem has been plaguing the country for many years, since most of the Afghan farmers earn their living by cultivating opium poppy used in manufacturing of psychotropic substances as a significant part of the opiates distributed by drug traffickers around the globe is produced on the Afghan territory. As a result, Afghanistan's vast poppy fields are used to produce much of world's heroin while the country has also become a major methamphetamine producer. All this contributes to drug addiction which is quite widespread throughout the country. It should be also borne in mind that illegal opium trade is an integral part of Afghan economy. Poppy production is a backbone of the Taliban's economy, and most militants rely on the crops to make both ends meet. In public, however, the Taliban have always denied that they are in any way involved in drug trafficking.

In the wake of the Taliban takeover in August 2021, the radical movement urgently issued a number of decrees. One of them concerned the public health sector — the fight against drug addiction. Even when the Taliban was in power last time it sought to demonstrate that it was waging a large-scale campaign against drug addiction among the population with a heavy emphasis on, in particular, "traditional" methods: drug addicts were dipped into cold mountain rivers so that they would "sober up"; corporal punishment was also practiced. The Taliban never abandoned those methods as the country's new authorities began to conduct regular mass raids at night time. One of those raids has recently got a detailed photo coverage from Al Jazeera.  After being caught, drug addicts are either sent to rehab, or they would face severe corporal punishment and prison. Some of these rehabilitation medical centers are located on the territory of former military facilities. Thus, former US military base Camp Phoenix, founded in 2003, is now a home to Avicenna, the largest Medical Hospital for Drug Treatment in Kabul. It can accommodate up to 1,000 patients. In such treatment facilities the Ministry of Public Health conducts a 45-day program designed to help patients to withdraw from harmful drug addiction.

According to the Afghan Ministry of Interior Affairs, after reducing the number of drug addicts on the streets, they would crackdown directly on the producers of psychotropic substances, with the local farmers being the first ones to be punished if they deserve it.

However, since the world community is reluctant to recognize the legitimacy of the radical government, drug trafficking remains almost the only source of income for this country. Therefore, it is unlikely that the Taliban will use legal means not only to enrich themselves, but also to create some kind of national budget anytime soon. Moreover, the ban imposed on the opium poppy cultivation is set to deprive about 3 million Afghan farmers of income crucial for their survival. Meanwhile it does not seem that the new authorities can provide them with the means to earn their living honestly. Therefore, the fight against drug addiction on the country's territory touted by the Taliban in recent days means, in fact, that drugs should not be used on the domestic market but there are no signs signaling a possible exports ban. That is why the Taliban's expected crackdown on Afghans experiencing psychological difficulties testify rather not to the efforts to attenuate their problems but to an ambition to preserve the Taliban's funding by selling drugs abroad.

At the same time, it is necessary to recall that there is no direct prohibition on drug use in the Quran, but such taboo can be found in the hadith (sayings of the Prophet collected in the Sunnah). It says that prohibited (haraam) items include everything that "infects the mind" [Abu Dawud 3669]. Every intoxicant and everything which produces languidness (muffatir) is also prohibited [Abu Dawud 3686]. Thus, drugs fall under this description quite well. After all, everything harmful is forbidden (mudarr).

But it should not be forgotten that "faithful Muslims" still frequently take drugs. And this point can be proven by not just radical militants of terrorist organizations Al-Qaeda an DAESH (banned in Russia). In a rather religious Muslim community of Yemen, the "kat" abuse is quite widespread, with this substance becoming an integral part of the daily national routine.

Meanwhile the Taliban itself, truth to be told, never put much effort in combatting drug abuse. Back in the previous century during the insurgency agricultural land became a strategic asset for radical Islamists. For this reason the Taliban dramatically increased drug crops in the 1990s. Not only were they selling opiates on their own but they also imposed an additional tax on drug traffickers who established export channels to other countries. Taliban also forged ties with Central Asian, Caucasian and even some European criminal groups competing with the Turkish and Italian drug mafia. The Taliban radical movement has been using those illegal sources of income up until now.

In 2000, however, a significant decline in this industry was documented. The explanation is simple: Afghanistan was plagued by a horrendous drought at the time; it resulted in a poor yield, and there were much more important matters to take care of than poppy fields. When physical survival itself was on the agenda and the Taliban was in desperate need of international aid (above all, from the US), the latter insisted on one condition — no more opium poppy production. It may come as a surprise, but the Taliban complied, and the US provided them with financial assistance even compensating the farmers for lost profits due to eradication of poppy cultivation. At that time the aid amounted to a whopping $43 million, The New York Times reported back in the day.

After that, many were thrilled by the fact that the Taliban allegedly stopped opium production. But few noticed that even under those circumstances drug exports decreased just barely. In 2009, the US Congressional Research Service published a report "Afghanistan: Narcotics and US Policy" making a case that while banning opium poppy cultivation in the areas under their control in 2001, the Taliban continued the illicit trafficking of opium. Such a situation stemmed from the fact that by that time the Taliban had accumulated an enormous unrealized drug stockpile. For that reason this ban only helped the Taliban to sell off these stockpile at a more lucrative price since due to a decrease in production drug prices skyrocketed. But with the drought over and drug stockpiles sold out, the Taliban could not care less about all their previous bans and agreements with the US embracing their old ways once more. Therefore, the Taliban's widely touted ban on opium poppy cultivation turned out to be nothing more than an illusion, while the US and the UN bragging about the Taliban destroying all its poppy crops in 2000-2001 proved to be just a fake. This was, in fact, confirmed by the authorities in neighboring Tajikistan, saying that the amount of drugs passing through the border is actually on the rise.

In this context it is very much possible that the "uncompromising fight against drugs" declared by the Kabul authorities is nothing more than a populist move by the Taliban to facilitate international recognition and external financing from international institutions, which, in particular, used to cover up to 75% of government spending.

That is why all the statements by the Taliban about fighting drugs should be followed by specific steps to divert Afghan farmers away from poppy production to other activities. But there are no signs of such concrete steps from the Taliban side so far…

Vladimir Platov, expert on the Middle East, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

translate | Sat, 16 Oct 2021 05:59:32 +0000

Lebanon – Far Too Busy at War with Itself: No Time for War with Others


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One country that suffers from everything is Lebanon – location, wrong choice of friends, corrupt and inept government, water supply, energy problems and pending social, economic and moral collapse. Many of its problems are self-inflicted, but most others are the result of the intentional policy of its neighbours and the international community to make life hell for the leadership and the population.

Various standpoint dependency publications go as far as to predict a new civil war, and that it will come quickly- Headlines such as The Next Lebanon War – it will start without warning and the consequences are likely to be enormous, are more of a veiled threat.

But Lebanon is already at war, with itself. Outsiders are not standing idly by, but lurking in the shadows creating more and more havoc.

Their motivation should be clear – Lebanon is in a tough neighbourhood, and has too cozy relations with Syria and Iran. It can't be allowed to resolve its problems itself because other people have other problems, and Lebanon's solutions are historically better than their own.

Yesterday's tomorrow

Lebanon is a footnote in most people's minds, related to something about a port blowing up, the details of that incident soon forgotten. The port explosion has become just a footnote in history, but after reading recent headlines, which have appeared by coincidence or not: Lebanon's Unravelling Economy Could Have Major Geopolitical Impact, etc – we might conclude that the worst is yet to come.

I have written about this country several times before, about the fertilizer blowing up, and in passing about the ammonium nitrate which came from Georgia. As all the conveyors of bad news are anyways close, the ongoing gloom and doom surrounding the case and its supposed implications will inevitably drive Lebanon closer to the Islamic Republic of Iran, and perhaps Russia too. That comes with lots of potential blowback – adding insult to injury.

Still the investigation into the into the Aug. 4, 2020 explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in history, has made little headway. This leads to even more domestic disillusion with the government, and calls for the replacement of the corrupt officials who let this happen in the first place.

As well understood, and shared in many recent articles, the country's present problems are much like a self-fulfilling prophecy. They are the product of not being willing or able to change, with its so called elite unwilling to give up power, break the status quo and implement much needed and long overdue reforms, though as the elite of today are radically different in composition from pre-civil war days this is hardly surprising

This "Liberia Effect" is not an uncommon phenomenon. You gain power by claiming you are being picked on, then reproduce the same society you were offended by, only the people in charge being different.

Thus, more of the same is to be expected, a deep crisis which will continue for the foreseeable future. There is the problem of the electricity grid, and power generation coming to a standstill.

There is also a fuel shortage, as in spite of close relations with Iran, sanctions prevent Lebanon from being able to legally import much needed fuel to keep the economy from recovering. What makes it in comes from Syria, and is also under sanctions, adding fuel to the proverbial fire ready to consume not only Lebanon but the region.

Such a collection of problems could suck Lebanon into another civil war, with the subsequent fallout spreading across the Middle East. This would impact oil prices at a crucial time in the global economic recovery, when there is already a justified fear for the continuity of energy in Europe and other industrial regions of the world.

Perhaps that scenario is too much doomsday for some to swallow. However it is what may have been long planned – as part of a larger scheme by outsiders to dominate the region and deny it stability.

Enemies coming off the blackboard

The Game Theorist does however need to be careful of any possible unintended consequences, as the very enemy at the top of the list will be empowered. Hezbollah, the poster child of terrorist organisations as designated by the US and its closest minions, will be given the green light in the midst of economic meltdown and political chaos, to expand its already considerable sway over Lebanese domestic affairs.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah is a mainstream political organisation with a terrorist wing. It has made the same transition Sinn Fein has in Ireland. The way to neuter it would be to make its terrorist arm a liability to its political one, but treating it as a purely terrorist group will always have exactly the opposite outcome, as long as it speaks for a significant segment of the population.

Now Lebanon has oil fires, conveniently timed in the midst of other energy-related problems. Firefighters had to struggle to extinguished a huge blaze which broke out in a storage tank at one of Lebanon's main oil facilities in the country's south on the 12th of October after it sent orange flames and a thick black column of smoke into the sky. Where does the bad news stop?

Lebanon's energy infrastructure extremely fragile, as fuel shortages have forced the shutdown of power plants at Zahrani and Deir Ammar in the north, depriving ordinary Lebanese of even the one to two hours a day of electricity they were receiving. The Lebanese seem to have run out of luck in all spheres, but when a situation seems to be too much to bear for any country, this is highly unlikely to be merely a succession of random misfortunes.

Crisis creates actors

Lebanon's critical shortages of electricity and fuel, with no solution in sight, could not have come at a worse time. With the rest of the world reeling from economic crisis, energy shortages and unprecented high prices, few would be able to help Lebanon get its house in order, even if they had the political will to do so.

Apparently even Qatar is powerless to ease the global energy crisis, as it is unable to keep up with demand for liquefied natural gas. As British steelmakers said they could be forced to halt output in the face of soaring costs, Qatar told consumers it was powerless to cool energy prices, despite being the world's leading supplier of LNG.

Naturally there are those who benefit from such chaos, and the recriminations are already starting, as reported by the trusted source of American media spin, Voice of America. Professor Habib Malik of the Lebanese American University told VOA that the situation is untenable, and urged the US and European allies to help Lebanon. But as this was in a VOA broadcast, all you are supposed to hear is the "untenable situation in Lebanon", not "the US can help".

Help but with strings attached

Naturally this situation can be used by many actors, and the Americans can try to rally those close to help. However, such help would be conditional on changing the relationship with Iran.

The problem with this is that the US knows Lebanon has nowhere else to turn. If it really wanted Lebanon to loosen ties, it would invest in the country and its energy security.

However it is happy to see it fall into dependency on Iran and Syria, because they are then all the same, and the US is both powerless to change anything and empowered to do whatever it takes to achieve exactly that. The self-styled global purveyors of human rights are perfectly happy to make institutional racism of the highest order the standard of world affairs.

Professor Habib Malik sums the situation up well, apparently speaking to an American audience:

"Fuel, diesel oil, these are absolutely vital for a country. Lebanon will either totally collapse or fall into the wrong hands," he said. "It seems now to be falling deeper and deeper into the wrong hands. This comes after a year and a half of total neglect, and none of this is comprehensible. It doesn't cost much to make a difference in Lebanon. Just get the monkey of the mafia-militia cartel off our back."

Only Western and proxy state hands are the right hands, in their own estimation, but also in practical terms if Lebanon is to have a future. But the fingers of those hands are firmly in the West's collective ears, if progress equals not having anything to use against your neighbour.

Some are now working to better position Egypt and Jordan to make up for some of the Lebanese energy deficiency, but that alone will not be enough. Syria could be brought further into this picture, but only if the West thinks it has won there, and that isn't happening right now.

This leaves Lebanon in the dark, and on the horns of a dilemma, dammed if it does and dammed if it doesn't. But to resolve its problems it is aware that nothing, whether it is assistance from international banking organisations or direct aid comes without some expectation of something in return.

Beirut's Nidaa Al-Watan newspaper explains how the costs of accepting the needed assistance would be many. They would include, but not be limited to, "the threat of forfeiting the country's independence, sovereignty, and the ability to conduct normal relations, so that some in-kind aid is not a cover for dominating Lebanon and undermining its identity."

The only game in town

Ultimately, this is what every intervention in Lebanon is actually about. When left to do things its own way, it adopts different models to the West and does it successfully. It has to play someone else's games to justify those games, not because either the donors or Lebanon itself are better off as a result.

Nothing should come as a surprise in Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War of the early 90s was fought by many forces which are the antithesis of Western orientation and outlook, but they were still used by West to increase its footprint and influence in that troubled country, the traditional ruling Maronites having done too well for the West's liking.

We have all seen many examples of false flags being used as an excuse to launch an invasion or start a war which was planned well in advance. Invading for conquest or destabilising a country are frowned upon in the modern era, so some other reason needs to be manufactured for achieving the same thing.

According to Western thinking, the Lebanese political system is inherently problematic, its political parties and structures divided along religious and other fault lines. Such a system is very similar to that imposed on Bosnia, and in other places where "power sharing" is considered a virtue, and it is created by identifying different communities and ensuring their representatives work together, within a common framework, with distinct rights and responsibilities.

But thanks to this Western outlook things have a habit of blowing up in Lebanon when they don't elsewhere. Just think back to 2005, when Rafik Hariri, the former Prime Minister, was blown up along with his motorcade, about 20 people in total. Think too of the subsequent problems between his son and Saudi intelligence, which made his stay in Saudi Arabia longer than planned, though at least he didn't come back in pieces.

Crash and burn in nice log fires

All the problems of Lebanon, from economic meltdown and political assassination to the role of Hezbollah in the country and region, are too complicated to discuss in full detail. However, there are some deeds, such as the cutting off US military funding to the fledgling Lebanese Army by Donald Trump, which need to be mentioned to understand the situation better.

As has been mentioned in this journal, "There are certain consistent patterns to US foreign policy." Nothing happens in the Middle East without some outside meddling, and the list of usual suspects and their sordid history is well-known to regional observers.

As earlier predicated, Lebanon is a country collapsing, crashing and burning, and its banking system with it. The country is supposedly about to hit rock bottom—but it can't get much lower than it is now, as time is running out, and no easy fixes or stop gap solutions in sight.

Henry Kamens, columnist, expert on Central Asia and Caucasus, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

translate | Fri, 15 Oct 2021 20:59:54 +0000

Why Won’t Joe Biden Withdraw from Syria?


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Even while the US has been withdrawing its military hardware from Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern countries, and even though it has withdrawn from Afghanistan to focus its military resources on Southeast Asia, Washington is unlikely to pull itself out of Syria anytime soon for reasons ranging from preventing Syria's unification and giving Russia and Syria a clear victory to imposing a de facto territorial division of the country, as well as controlling Turkey by empowering (financing and arming) the Kurds. The latter objective has acquired even more significance in the awake of the widening gulf between the US and Turkey and the latter's perceptible shift towards Russia to offset the imbalance it is facing within NATO. For the US, therefore, maintaining military presence in Syria, and providing support to the Syrian regions, popularly called Rojava, under Kurdish control, has tangible geo-political advantages. Hence, Biden's recent reassurance to the Kurds that the US will not "leave" them by withdrawing from Syrian in the same chaotic and irresponsible manner it withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021.

Last month, the White House sent General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, to eastern Syria to give "personal assurance" to the Kurdish leaders about continuing US support even after the US withdrawal from elsewhere in the Middle East or Afghanistan. Therefore, even though Joe Biden, during his furious election campaign, did promise to end the US' 'endless wars', he has apparently decided to continue this war in Syria. For one thing, the US military presence in Syria, unlike that in Afghanistan, does not involve the kind of economic and financial resources that the war in Afghanistan did. There is, in other words, no alarming political and human cost that could backfire for the Biden administration. Secondly, by projecting its military presence as the 'last bulwark' against the threat of the ISIS (terrorist organization, banned in Russia), the Biden administration appears to be presenting its military presence in northeast Syria as 'just' and 'responsible.'

On the other hand, the strategic benefits associated with maintaining this presence are also too important to be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency i.e., the imperative of fulfilling the promise of ending all wars. In simple words, payoffs associated with withdrawal from Afghanistan do not necessarily and directly outweigh the payoffs associated with maintaining a sizeable military force (currently 900 troops) in Syria. Israel, too, is in complete sync with the Biden administration. In line with the US plan to prevent Syrian unification, Israel recently confirmed its intentions to keep the Golan Heights, which it originally captured in 1967, as "Assad's fortunes."

So, whereas the US has so far been able to prevent Syrian unification, besides controlling the Syrian oil, its continuing support for Kurds also comes against backdrop of Turkish plans to eliminate the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a force the US thinks is helping Washington fight the ISIS. In fact, in the wake of the IS-K's resurgence in Afghanistan post-US withdrawal, many in Washington's policy making circles and the mainstream media seem to believe that maintaining US troops in Syria has become even more important for preventing the ISIS from re-emerging in Levant. On September 2o, the Pentagon confirmed that the US did a drone strike targeting al-Qaeda (also banned in Russia) officials. Such targeting, or the news thereof, of jihadis allow the Biden administration to continue to project its unwavering commitment to its allies.

Therefore, even though some analysts in the US have tended to argue that the Biden administration may be on the verge of withdrawing from Syria, facts on the ground continue to indicate a different scenario. So, even though the US has been pushed to a very limited area in north-eastern Syria, it is the very presence of the US that so far prevented the Syrian forces from re-capturing these regions and, thus, fully restore the Syrian sovereignty. Were the US to withdraw and were the SDF to face a military defeat at the hands of Syrian military forces, it will add to the list of the US sponsored, trained and armed military forces falling like a heap of cards. The US trained Afghan security forces were unable to withstand the Taliban beyond a few weeks, another debacle of a similar sort in Syria will do an incredible damage to the US ability to project itself as a security guarantor elsewhere, especially in Southeast Asia where it is currently wooing the ASEAN states into joining the US led global bloc against China.

There are, thus, both regionally specific and global dynamics involved in Syria. The US, accordingly, is beefing up its military support. As some media reports, quoting anonymous US officials, have shown, the US is developing Kurdish air capability as well. According to the reports, at least three combat-capable trainer aircraft T-6 Texan have been deployed to Tell Beydar air-base in Hasakah province, Syria. According to the source, American instructors begun a crash course in air pilotage with the candidates picked form the SDF ranks long before the airplanes actually arrived at their destination. This is implicitly confirmed by the large shipment of US weaponry, machinery and ammunition to Tell Beydar delivered on the 17th of September that included missiles compatible with Texan aircraft.

The Biden administration, therefore, is not ending all 'endless wars.' As the report indicates, it may be intensifying in ways to keep itself involved in the region. Again, it is through Syria that the US, many in Washington seem to believe, can check Iranian and Russian presence/activity in the Middle East. Leaving Syria open to its competitors, the US calculates, will probably provide for an inevitable expansion of US rivals in the Middle East, a scenario Washington, despite its apparent shift to Southeast Asia, continues to see as inimical to its long-term interests.

Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan's foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

translate | Fri, 15 Oct 2021 20:59:51 +0000

Iran-US: a Nuclear Tug of War


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There appears to be growing anxiety in Western capitals about the prospects for resuming negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal, with entirely contradictory signals recently.  Tehran has outlined for the first time what looks like a timetable for the resumption of nuclear talks, thereby signaling that it is finally ready to embark on the negotiation process in Vienna. However, having lost the reality of its assessment of world events after Afghanistan, the US has adopted a harsher tone and confirmed that it has other options if these talks fail.  Optimism about a successful outcome is waning amid a growing understanding that Tehran is negotiating with the Biden Administration and is well aware of former US President Donald Trump's insidious and hostile policies.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Ebrahim Raisi want strong assurances that if the parties return to the nuclear deal, the agreement should be protected from unilateral withdrawal by any country, as happened during former President Trump's Administration.  In 2018, Trump pulled the USA out of the multilateral deal and began re-imposing a wide range of sanctions on Iran. Consequently, Tehran has been forced to phase out its nuclear commitments as of 2019.

Many diplomats express the view that Europe understands Iran's concerns, but political complexities stand in the way of its demands. "The maximum the Biden Administration can achieve is to resume talks with Tehran and return to an agreement, but providing assurances related to the behavior of future US administrations is not viable," Saudi Arab News wrote. Whenever Tehran wants and needs the international community to revisit the nuclear deal, it would be a disaster for the country, Khamenei, and conservatives to reconsider the deal, only to see it scrapped again under a new US administration.

While Iran is stuck between a rock and a hard place on this deal, it also needs to keep moving to push the process forward. For the first time since the election of a new President Raisi, the Iranians have proposed a date for a possible return to the negotiating table.   Iran expects talks could resume by early November, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.   "I don't think it will take us as long as it took the Biden Administration to get here," Khatibzadeh said, referring to American diplomats indirectly joining the Vienna talks.   "The government of [President] Ebrahim Raisi has been in power for less than 55 days… I don't think [a return to negotiations] will take the whole 90 days," he added, indicating that Iran believes negotiations will resume by the second week of November.

Although Khatibzadeh confirmed that Tehran is ready to resume talks soon, he warned that various "details" and "issues" need to be addressed. The biggest issue is the lifting of "800 (?!) new unilateral and illegal" sanctions imposed on Iran after Trump unilaterally pulled the USA out of the nuclear deal back in May 2018. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian has demanded the release of $10 billion worth of Iranian assets as a goodwill gesture.   He said US officials had used mediators at UN meetings last month to discuss the resumption of nuclear talks, but he insisted Washington should first release the frozen funds as a sign of goodwill.  Because of US sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, Iran has been unable to retrieve tens of billions of dollars of its assets in foreign banks, earned mainly from oil and gas exports. "The Americans tried to contact us through different channels [at the UN General Assembly] in New York, and I told mediators that if America's intentions are serious, there needs to be a serious releasing of at least $10 billion of blocked money," Amir-Abdollahian said.

Western powers have demagogically urged Iran to return to negotiations and said time is running out because Tehran's nuclear program goes far beyond the limits set by the previous deal.  For his part, Amir-Abdollahian reiterated that Iran would "soon" return to the stalled nuclear talks but declined to give an exact date.  Tehran says in good faith that the steps it has taken regarding its nuclear program will be "reversible" if Washington lifts sanctions. Iranian and Western officials have said that many issues remain to be resolved before the agreement can be restored. Still, goodwill is needed from all parties involved, most notably the United States.

An unclear position has been taken by Germany, whose leadership has said it would reject any Iranian demands that the United States release frozen Iranian assets as a condition for resuming negotiations on the nuclear program. Apparently, "frozen" Iranian assets, which now work in the United States' interests and bring it enormous revenues, remain the single most important concern to Berlin.

Meanwhile, senior US officials told their Israeli counterparts that the Biden Administration remains committed to diplomacy with Iran but would be willing to use "other avenues" to ensure Tehran does not acquire nuclear weapons.  A serious US official said that a visit to Washington by Israeli national security adviser Eyal Hulata would allow the two allies to exchange intelligence and develop a "baseline assessment" of how far Tehran's nuclear program has progressed. In other words, a military deployment program against Iran is already being developed. Whether it will be applied is still a question, but it is pretty obvious that there is enormous pressure on Tehran.

In this regard, it may be recalled that under a 2015 agreement, Iran curtailed its uranium enrichment program, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons, in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. Then US President Donald Trump blatantly violated international law by reneging on the deal in 2018.  Broadly speaking, US experts believe that the time it will take Iran to achieve a nuclear "breakthrough," that is, enough enriched uranium to build a nuclear bomb, has "shrunk from about 12 months to a period of about a few months" since Trump withdrew from the pact.  "Obviously, it's worrisome," a State Department official told reporters ahead of Hulata's talks with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. However, Iran has consistently and repeatedly denied that it is developing nuclear weapons.

Reiterating Biden's position that the USA remains committed to the diplomatic route, a US State Department official said on condition of anonymity that "if that doesn't work, there are other avenues, and we are fully committed to ensuring that Iran never develops nuclear weapons." When asked what actions were being considered and whether they included military options, the official replied, "we will be prepared to take the necessary measures," but did not specify which ones.  The official said Iran is "sending instructions to a number of parties that they are preparing to return to Vienna," where the USA and Iran held indirect talks earlier this year.   But he made it clear that obstacles remain, citing Tehran's demand that the USA first release $10 billion of Tehran's frozen funds as a sign of goodwill, something the Biden Administration has shown no willingness to do while still profiting from Iranian money.

European capitals and those who signed the nuclear deal found themselves in a delicate situation, as a return to negotiations proved far more complex than they could have imagined. Now in power under President Raisi, the Conservatives in Iran do not want to receive the same "American slap" as the Reformists. As for the Biden Administration, as Europeans discovered during the hasty withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan this August, its foreign policy is entirely designed for domestic audiences, leaving only a very narrow path to success, if any, on the world stage.

Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

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translate | Fri, 15 Oct 2021 14:40:58 +0000

US Terrorists with US Diplomatic Passports


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There has long been no shortage of factual information in various media publications about the USA's ties with all sorts of gangs and terrorists. The international community has long shared a strong suspicion that the United States is using terrorists to promote its own national interests all over the world. And the conveyor belt of special training and use of fighters by Washington has not ceased until today, as, in particular, is clearly demonstrated to the world by the US actions in Syria. Washington's blatant terrorist methods in its policy were also demonstrated in the January 2020 assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Iraq.

Beyond that, however, specific documented actions of US Embassy employees with diplomatic passports as outright thugs and terrorists are also becoming quite common today.

And a clear example of this, in particular, can be seen not for the first time this year alone, such facts of actions by employees with diplomatic passports of the American Embassy in Moscow.

For example, three US Marines, employees of the US Embassy in Moscow with diplomatic passports, are suspected of having stolen a backpack from a Muscovite, as reported on October 8 by Vladimir Vasenin, the head of the press service of the Moscow Interior Ministry headquarters.  The Russian law enforcement services opened a criminal case over this fact. The investigation has video footage of the Americans entering the US Embassy building with the stolen backpack. These Marines are the Embassy's administrative and technical staff aged between 21 and 26. They stole money and personal belongings from a child psychologist. According to him, he went to a bar in Moscow after a hard day's work in the evening. As the victim stated, apart from the cash, there was a computer mouse, a sports uniform, and most importantly, his passport.

"A note has been sent to the US Embassy with a request to lift diplomatic immunity to prosecute three American diplomatic officials in connection with their identification as suspects in the theft of personal belongings from a Russian citizen," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The Russian Foreign Ministry added that if the United States refuses to deprive suspects of diplomatic immunity, all three diplomats will have to leave Russia immediately.

It should be noted that very recently, in July of this year, the Russian Foreign Ministry delivered a note to the US Embassy to lift the immunity of another diplomat who had stolen a junction signal at the railway station Ostashkov in the Tver region, thereby endangering passengers of trains traveling on this section of track. The Russian police, as it should be, conducted investigative measures and found through video surveillance cameras that an unidentified man in his thirties had indeed stolen the junction signal and put it in the trunk of his car, which had US Embassy's diplomatic plates. On the same day, the same car with the same license plates was stopped by the traffic policemen of the Tver region for a traffic violation, and an employee of the American Embassy was detected driving that car. The video material from CCTV cameras, which captures the moment when an American Embassy employee removes a junction signal on the railway was published by the NTV channel. The footage shows the man disconnecting the device, dropping it next to the tracks, but then picking it up after all and carrying it away with him, walking out into the woods. According to media reports, it was American diplomat Parker Wilson.

A critical circumstance is that the Ostashkov hub, where the theft of the junction signal took place, is a fairly busy track section. The railway is a high-risk area, and if the loss had not been detected in time, there could have been a tragedy with the deaths of many innocent people.  On July 13, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova reported the incident and demanded the lifting of diplomatic immunity from the American diplomat suspect. However, the American diplomatic mission in Moscow chose to send this employee back home but rather than waiving his immunity. Therefore, it is quite possible that in the near future, this American "diplomat" may find himself among the staff of the US Embassy in another country where he will carry out similar "operations."

Using the example of the theft of this junction signal, the Czech Haló noviny told its readers some additional information on how US diplomats practice terrorism in Russia. In particular, the publication specified that in March, an employee of the US Embassy with a diplomatic cover photographed the equipment and operation of a military railway hub in the Tver Region, where military equipment is often transported. Moreover, not only did he take photos, but he also broke the semaphore signaling device, thus endangering the following trains. He took the broken semaphore signal to his car with diplomatic plates, which the police subsequently stopped, and he was detained. The explanation for these actions becomes clear from the apparent intentions of American "experts" to install an X-ray device that would capture military equipment covered by a tarp. The publication concludes its article with the words: "This story clearly confirms what the policy of the United States really is."

Additionally confirming the terrorist actions of the USA, Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry's Department for Humanitarian Cooperation and Human Rights Grigory Lukyantsev said that since 2008 Washington has been conducting a serious hunt for Russian citizens in third countries with the purpose of their subsequent extradition to the USA. "With regard to persecution, a glaring example is a practice that the United States actively uses in hunting down our citizens abroad arresting our citizens in third countries at the request of the law enforcement agencies of the United States in an attempt to extradite our citizens and bring them to justice in the United States. More than 50 such cases have been reported since 2008, and unfortunately, the number of such cases continues to increase." Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did not rule out that the USA would also try to kidnap Russian athletes, whom it considers a threat to itself, under the pretext of doping violations.

The involvement of the United States in so-called "state terrorism" since the late 1970s has been covered by renowned American political publicists Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in a series of books.  Chomsky and Herman argued that terror was concentrated in the US sphere of influence in developing countries and documented human rights violations committed by US client states. Chomsky and Herman concluded that the global rise in state terror was the result of US foreign policy.

Valery Kulikov, political expert, exclusively for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

translate | Fri, 15 Oct 2021 05:59:26 +0000

US Marines on Taiwan: Major Provocation, But Not News


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When the Wall Street Journal reported recently that US special forces and Marines have been secretly based in Taiwan to train their Taiwanese counterparts for over a year, it was considered breaking news. It was followed by headlines like the Guardian's, "Secret group of US military trainers has been in Taiwan for at least a year," claiming that the revelations were made after "provocative" moves made by Beijing.

However this is not true. It was actually reported on as soon as it happened late last year.

The Diplomat in a November 2020 article titled, "US Marine Raiders Arrive in Taiwan to Train Taiwanese Marines," would cite Taiwanese media as revealing the US deployment. It was also noted that US forces had not stepped foot on Taiwan since 1979.

Also last year, the Pentagon would deny this deployment. The Marine Corps Times in an article titled, "Marine Raiders weren't training in Taiwan, Department of Defense insists," would note:

"The reports about US Marines on Taiwan are inaccurate," Pentagon spokesman John Supple told Marine Corps Times in a Tuesday email. "The United States remains committed to our One-China Policy based on the three Joint Communiques, Taiwan Relations Act, and Six Assurances."

Pentagon spokesman John Supple's reference to the three Joint Communiques, the Taiwan Relations Act, and the Six Assurances relate to the US government's recognition of the One China Policy.

US troops had fully withdrawn from Taiwan in the 1970s and until now have not returned because it was in the 1970s that the United States along with virtually every other nation on Earth broke off official recognition of the Republic of China (ROC) government based in Taipei, recognized one single China including Taiwan, and officially recognized one government of China, based in Beijing – that of the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Despite multiple documents published by the US, British, and Australian governments recognizing this official position in regards to Taiwan's status, the vast majority of the Western public still believe that Taiwan is an independent country that China is "bullying."

The US State Department's official website under its Office of the Historian has published the full text of the Shanghai Communique, the first of the three Joint Communiques mentioned by John Supple in his statement last year.

In the communique it states:

The United States acknowledges that all Chinese on either side of the Taiwan Strait maintain there is but one China and that Taiwan is a part of China. The United States Government does not challenge that position. It reaffirms its interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves. With this prospect in mind, it affirms the ultimate objective of the withdrawal of all US forces and military installations from Taiwan. In the meantime, it will progressively reduce its forces and military installations on Taiwan as the tension in the area diminishes.

The Australian government also officially recognizes the One China Policy.

On the Australian government's official website on a page titled, "Australia-Taiwan relationship," it unambiguously states:

The Australian Government continued to recognise Taipei until the establishment of diplomatic relations with the PRC in 1972. Australia's Joint Communiqué with the PRC recognised the Government of the PRC as China's sole legal government, and acknowledged the position of the PRC that Taiwan was a province of the PRC.

Despite these plainly stated facts, the Western media and Western governments themselves have deliberately misled the public into thinking Taiwan is an independent country and that China is "bullying" it.

In one breath, commentators will claim Taiwan is a "democratic country," while in the next claim that Taiwan declaring its "independence" is imminent. Left unexplained is how an independent democratic country could declare independence, declare independence from whom, and why they would need to in the first place.

At face value the narrative is a contradiction, but like so much of what the West does geopolitically, its narrative regarding Taiwan is based on a multitude of conflicting lies aimed at preying on the public emotionally, diverting attention away from contradictions, and in the case of the One China Policy, simply omitting it from public discussion.

Considering the United States' official stance on Taiwan, its placement of US forces on Taiwan is essentially a de facto invasion and occupation of Chinese territory. Beijing surely reads Taiwanese as well as Western headlines – if its intelligence apparatus was somehow unaware of last year's US military deployment – and despite the highly provocative, unprecedented move, Beijing's response has been infinite patience and geopolitical maturity.

Even its "invasion of Taiwanese airspace" was the product of Western propaganda rather than any genuine act of aggression. Taiwan's own Ministry of National Defense admits that Chinese warplanes passed through what Taiwan administrators claim is Taiwan's air defense identification zone (ADIZ). ADIZs are not recognized under international law, are unilaterally declared, and are established outside a nation's recognized sovereign airspace, not in it.

In Taiwan's case, it has no sovereign airspace of its own, but even if it did, Chinese warplanes were far from it even according to Taiwan's own admissions, operating in what is internationally recognized as international airspace.

Thus the highly reserved actions and words of Beijing came after, not before revelations of America's provocative military deployment.

US Troops on Taiwan: Checkmate?

Jacob Helberg, an "adjunct fellow" of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), who includes among its sponsors the governments of the US, Taiwan, and Japan as well as corporations including arms manufacturers, revealed online during an interview with Breaking Points the reasoning behind the positioning of US troops in Taiwan despite Washington's obvious recognition of the One China Policy.

Helberg would claim it was to prevent China from using force without creating a more convincing pretext for the US to militarily intervene.

The presence of US troops would create less favorable conditions for China to act. Helberg also noted the prospect of the current Democratic Progressive Party-led government in Taiwan declaring "independence" despite simultaneously claiming Taiwan was already a "democratic country." This would hardly be a decision made without US consultation and approval along with assurances of protection.

The chess pieces have certainly been put in place ahead of any potential  "declaration of independence," but whether this happens still depends on what countermoves are made by Beijing as well as other external factors that may still enter into US calculus.

The Economic Reality of Integration vs. the Fevered Dreams of "Independence"

An argument often floated by the Western media in defense of the collective encouragement of Taiwan's pursuit of  independence and its current posture of belligerence toward Beijing is; if the people of Taiwan choose independence, why should anyone stop them?

Omitted are all the arguments the West made when Crimea voted to rejoin Russia in 2014 involving claims of external coercion and influence.

In Taiwan's case, the US actually is clearly involved in shaping the opinions of the Taiwanese population as well as directing the moves of the current government. The Taiwanese are not arriving at the decision to pursue independence on their own nor as a result of pursuing their own best interests. Quite the contrary.

Taiwan's economy is dependent on and partially integrated with the Chinese mainland. Over 40% of all Taiwanese exports go to either mainland China or Hong Kong and the vast majority of its trade resides in the wider Asian region. The Chinese mainland also accounts for most of Taiwan's imports at 21% as of 2019 with Japan in second place at 16%.

Investments across the strait are also significant. Despite the stance of Taipei regarding Beijing, Taiwan's business community is still heavily invested in mainland China and vice versa.

A "declaration of independence" by Taiwan would at the very least cause China to constrict economic flow to and from Taiwan, strangling the economy and undermining the government responsible for provoking Beijing in ways a military assault on the island could never achieve. The United States has neither the means nor the time to create alternatives for Taiwan's economy and markets in the quickly closing window of opportunity left before China irreversibly surpasses the US economically and militarily, rending whatever military presence the US has on the island moot, and allowing Beijing wide leeway for action to reintegrate the wayward province.

US provocations including the now unprecedented deployment of US troops on Taiwan and those within the Taiwanese administration aiding and abetting them threaten the current status quo which includes the smooth, incremental integration of Taiwan into a growing, prosperous mainland China. The current status quo represents the "peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question" as agreed to by the US government itself with Beijing in its communiques.

The issue is not that this settlement stands in contradiction of Taiwan's best interest or Beijing's, but rather Washington's. And it is based on this actual pretext that the US has involved itself in China's internal political affairs in this highly provocative and dangerous manner, threatening war where the prospect of war did not exist, and inching the entire Indo-Pacific region toward conflict and instability – the same conflict and instability the US claims it is protecting the region and the world from.

Brian Berletic is a Bangkok-based geopolitical researcher and writer, especially for the online magazine "New Eastern Outlook".

translate | Thu, 14 Oct 2021 20:59:25 +0000
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