Wednesday, February 29, 2012
N. Korea Agrees to Stop Nuclear and Missile Tests for US Food Aid; Big Win for Obama Administration After Hardening of US Position
Administration Tied Assistance to Nuclear Progress
Likely Consequences for Iran Nuclear Issue
The U.S. State Department announced today that North Korea has agreed to implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests, and uranium enrichment activities at its main nuclear facility. North Korea also agreed to the return of IAEA inspectors to verify and monitor the uranium enrichment moratorium.
The dramatic development will surely be seen internationally as a major foreign policy victory for the Obama administration amid rising tensions with Iran over its nuclear program because North Korea--Iran's longtime partner in nuclear and missile proliferation--made the concessions after the United States for the first time publicly tied nuclear progress to food assistance.
A senior U.S. military commander said yesterday that North Korea must make concessions on its nuclear program in order to secure the desperately needed aid from Washington.
Admiral Robert Willard, the head of the U.S. Asia Pacific Command, said the conditions include a halt to North Korea's nuclear program and ballistic missile tests, as well as allowing United Nations nuclear inspectors back into its atomic facility at Yongbyon.
Willard spoke at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington.
“In terms of these negotiations that have been ongoing, I have been supportive of them, with regard to the United States' proposals for conditional food aid into North Korea and the preconditions that have come with it, which now include discussions of cessation of nuclearization and ballistic missile testing,” Willard said.
Linkage Long Denied
State Department officials have long denied that U.S. “nutritional assistance” for impoverished North Korea is tied to political concessions. The U.S. suspended food assistance in early 2009, partially because of concerns the food was being diverted to North Korea's military or members of its political elite.
Before the death of longtime leader Kim Jong Il in December, North Korea was reportedly poised to announce an agreement with Washington to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for the aid. Pyongyang has since hinted it is open to a deal.
The agreement could lead to a resumption of stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks.
North Korea has suffered from chronic food shortages since a famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands of people.
Aid agencies say the North's food situation is the worst in several years, with torrential rains and harsh winter weather early this year cutting harvests and prompting appeals for help from Pyongyang.
The U.S. has been the biggest single contributor of food aid to North Korea since the famine.
Foreign Confidential™ analysts believe the North will never agree to nuclear disarmament, that the regime intends to keep and continue producing nuclear bombs and warheads and long-range missiles. Be that as it may, the accord that was announced today is a diplomatic breakthrough that could also help President Obama domestically.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
China Aids Slaughter of N. Korean Refugees
Robert Park reports:
Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have been forced to escape to China in order to survive. They are refugees as defined by international law because the Democratic People's Republic of Korea criminalizes and savagely punishes those leaving the country.In contravention of China's obligations under the U.N. Refugee Convention, its 1967 Protocol and the U.N. Convention Against Torture, the country systematically has denied the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees access to the North Korean refugee population. China continues to hunt down and forcibly repatriate refugees to North Korea, where they are brutally tortured and either executed or imprisoned in hellish concentration camps.
Uranium CEO Says Supply Squeeze Coming
The Canadian Press reports that the CEO of one of the world's largest listed uranium companies "is warning of an impending uranium supply squeeze as projects are delayed or cancelled and global demand for electricity continues to grow despite the Fukushima nuclear crisis almost a year ago."
Last year, world consumption for uranium hit 165 million pounds, far outpacing the 143 million pounds produced, [Cameco] CEO Tim Gitzel told an investor conference Tuesday.And that gap is only going to widen as 96 new reactors come online by 2021, Gitzel said, "which raises the big question: where is this production going to come from?"
China's Take on Israeli Arms to Azerbaijan
China's state owned news agency says the $1.6 billion Israel-Azerbaijan arms deal will anger Iran. Read the Xinhua analysis here.
Related: China's Vision of the Middle East
Japanese Police Raid Chongryon Offices
Japanese police on Tuesday raided offices related to a pro-Pyongyang organization in Japan in connection with an investigation into the illegal shipment of computers to North Korea.Backed by some 100 riot police, 10 police officers entered the Tokyo offices of an organization connected to the Pyongyang-affiliated General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, Chongryon.
Monday, February 27, 2012
Developing Nations Eye Biomass Exports to EU
Foreign Confidential™ has learned that several developing nations plan to host conferences on sustainable, socially responsible, value-added biomass exports to Europe in line with the Continent's so-called 20/20/20 mandate that requires EU electric utilities and other EU companies to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 20% by the year 2020. Tens of millions of tons of biomass--including waste-wood left behind from responsible logging operations and inedible grasses and agricultural waste--will be imported to meet the goal, given geographic and other limitations related to wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy.
"There is no alternative but to embrace biomass," an EU utility executive, whose company is investing heavily in biomass, told Foreign Confidential™.
Wood chips, wood pellets, and grass pellets will be burned in both specially built and retrofitted power plants; and, experts say, since much of the biomass will be blended with coal in co-firing applications, European demand for torrefied biomass, or bio-coal, will be huge--with global demand for bio-coal exceeding 70 million metric tons a year. Water-repellent bio-coal pellets can be transported, stored, ground up, powdered and sprayed, or injected, into blasted furnaces and burned just like real coal. In contrast with bio-coal pellets, conventional wood pellets and wood chips, even after drying, have relatively high moisture contents, are not hydrophobic and thus cannot be moved and left lying around like coal, and, most important, cannot be thoroughly ground up for pulverized coal injection. (Grindability is a major technical issue in co-firing.)
Co-Firing to Drive Demand for Bio-Coal
Co-firing is a key factor driving projected EU demand for bio-coal. As economic advantages for co-firing of biomass with coal are currently (and for the foreseeable future) non-existent, it is important to understand that CO2 emission reduction and global climate change mitigation are the main motivations behind the concept. The Europeans are absolutely committed to "carbon cutting." For them, manmade global warming is settled science and carbon dioxide is a pollutant that must be controlled and reduced. Hence, the government-sponsored-and- subsidized push to cut coal consumption by building standalone biomass power plants or through co-firing.
Co-firing of biomass is to be mandated at all coal-fired power stations in the Netherlands, for example. A minimum 10% biomass fuel mix has been discussed. But that is well below co-firing levels at an Essent combined heat and power (co-generation) plant that produces 1,245 megawatts of power and 600 megawatts of heat using a 34% biomass fuel mix in one of its units. Foreign Confidential™ has learned that Essent intends increase its fuel mix to 50% biomass, followed by 80%. Other utilities are likely to follow the Essent example.
More than 140 million metric tons of raw biomass will be needed annually in order to produce 70 million tons a year of bio-coal. Europe's biomass resources are relatively small and more or less spoken for, and Siberian forestry operations are largely controlled by Russian organized crime syndicates focused on smuggling sawlogs into China, leaving North America as the prime, presently available source for certifiably sustainable, socially responsible bio-coal. (China consumes about 60% of the logs that are produced in the world.) Developing nations in South America and Africa are potentially large bio-coal exporters, assuming governments in these countries can find ways to end domestic illegal logging practices and human rights abuses and assure their own citizens, watchful NGOs and EU end users that the bio-coal is derived from waste wood or energy crops grown on wasteland. (Certain Asian countries are also looking to export biomass to Europe, as reported here, but China is expected to be the main market for regional producers.)
A number of European and American companies are racing to build the first commercial bio-coal plants--the roasting-like torrefaction process, though quite old, has yet to be successfully applied to large-scale, continuous fuel output--and at least one, 100,000-tonne-per-year production capacity facility, backed by one of the world's largest utilities, RWE, which owns Essent, should be fully operational this year with more projects coming on line in 2013 and 2014.
Parallel to the above developments, Foreign Confidential™ energy correspondents in North America and Europe are monitoring a number of emerging, new technologies for converting woody and grass biomass to carbon-neutral, drop-in motor transport fuels, including "green gasoline" and "renewable diesel."
Related: Wood-Based Biofuels Coming Soon
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Putin Blasts US Foreign Policy but Calls for Closer Cooperation
Russia's Premier and Presumed Next President Praises Kissinger
in World Affairs Essay on Syria, Iran, Relations With Washington
Russia's prime minister and soon-to-be president (again) Vladimir Putin has blasted the U.S. for intervening in Libya and supporting "religious extremists" in the name of democracy promotion; seeking regime change in Syria; threatening military action against Iran; and pursuing policies with respect to NATO and missile defense that run counter to Moscow's interests, in his view. Yet the Russian leader, who was reportedly the target of a foiled election day (March 4) assassination plot, has also called for improved relations and closer cooperation with the United States, praising former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for his approach to the issue of U.S.-Russia relations.
Click here to read about Putin's long essay on world affairs and here to read the actual article--a sophisticated, stinging and seemingly revealing polemic that towers above the simplistic speechifying and moralistic drivel on foreign policy that typically emanates from Washington.
Given the current world situation, politically and economically, the Iranian and North Korean nuclear threats, and the fact that the Cold War ended two decades ago, it is inexcusable that relations between Washington and Moscow are at such a low point and that the subject does not even appear to be on the national news agenda in the run-up to the U.S. Presidential election in November. In this regard, although President Obama can be criticized for failing to "reset" U.S. relations with Russia, his opponents and the media deserve most, if not all, the blame for miring public discourse in idiotic, diversionary debates about so-called social issues and related, red-herring nonsense.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Chechen Rebels Planned to Kill Putin
A Chechen separatist plot to assassinate Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has been foiled, as reported here. The suspects planned to kill Putin in Moscow immediately following the March 4 presidential election, which he is expected to win.
N. Korea Warns South on Drills
Rose Kim reports from Seoul:
The U.S. and South Korea began annual military drills over the objections of North Korea, which called the exercises a violation of its sovereignty that could lead to confrontation.“The war drills are an unpardonable infringement upon the sovereignty and dignity” of North Korea, the official Korean Central News Agency said today in an editorial. “The army and people of the DPRK are fully ready to fight a war…."
Related: New N. Korean Provocations Likely
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Key Lesson of 1967 and the Looming Iran War
45 Years After its Astonishing Six-Day War Victory,
Israel Could Feel Compelled to Strike Iran Alone,
and Aim to Neutralize Nuclear and Missile Threats
There is increasing speculation that Israel will attack Iran to eliminate its menacing nuclear project--possibly in June--and that Saudi Arabia will support the assault. Click here for the report.
Reading it, this reporter is struck by a coincidence: June 5, 2012 will mark the 45th anniversary of the Six-Day War. Israel's remarkable victory in that conflict could well be guiding the Jewish State's military and political leaders more than the 1981 Israeli air raid that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor and the presumed 2007 Israeli attack that obliterated a secret Syrian nuclear site.
In 1967, encircled by enemies that were mobilizing for an all-out war of annihilation, and feeling abandoned and alone, Israel launched a series of lightning-like, preemptive strikes that assured it of a stunning victory. The critically important initial move was a surprise attack on Egyptian airfields that destroyed virtually the entire Egyptian Air Force--on the ground.
Four-and-a-half decades later, Iran is defiantly pressing ahead on the atomic front while threatening to eradicate Israel (after musing openly about "a world without America and Zionism"). The United States, Israel's main ally, is reportedly pressuring Israel to refrain from attacking Iran. If Israel decides to go ahead on its own, it will have to use all its U.S.-made fighter jets, plus precision-guided bombs, cruise missiles and air-to-ground missiles to take out numerous hardened installations.
Even if the mission is successful--Israeli planes will have to fly over 1,000 miles to reach their targets--Iran will still be able to retaliate with massive missile strikes on Israeli cities. There is every reason to believe that Iran will try to make good on repeated threats to "burn Tel Aviv" and wipe Israel out in "nine minutes."
Which brings us back to the Six-Day War. Just as Israel in 1967 destroyed Egypt's Air Force before its bombers could attack Israeli troops and civilians, Israel's initial moves in a war with Iran could be aimed at neutralizing or at least minimizing the mullahocracy's capacity to carry out crushing reprisals. Israel has the weaponry--and the political will--to do this.
Remember: the Iranian nuclear threat is a future, albeit increasingly imminent, existential threat to Israel; but the Iranian/Hezbollah/Hamas missile threat is a present-day existential threat, given that perhaps as many as 200,000 rockets and ballistic missiles are believed to be pointed at and capable of striking the tiny Jewish State.
ENDNOTE: Israeli leaders are guided, too, by what happened in October 1973--i.e. the nearly catastrophic Yom Kippur War--specifically, by the intelligence and political failures that prevented preemptive strikes by Israel and made possible coordinated sneak attacks by Egypt and Syria that almost resulted in Israel's destruction. Iranian threats to attack Israel (and the U.S.) first are not taken lightly in Israel.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Foreign Confidential™ Exclusive: Ayatollah Orders Cargo Ship-Based Missile Strikes on US Homeland if US or Israel Attacks Iran
Amid escalating threats to Israel by Iran, the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps to strike the United States with ballistic missiles if the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran over its nuclear program.
So say Foreign Confidential™ analysts. Khamenei is insisting that the IRGC attack the U.S. homeland in order to make ordinary Americans experience what it is like to have their cities bombarded by missiles, analysts say, and to inspire anti-American assaults by terrorist groups and mobs across the globe.
Khamenei is believed to have ordered the IRGC to deploy its fleet of foreign-flagged, seemingly civilian cargo ships so as to be able to strike "the Great Satan" on short notice. The vessels are armed with missiles concealed in containerized launching systems, and are thus capable of approaching U.S. cities along the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf of Mexico coasts without being detected until firing their projectiles.
There is no known defense against a sea-based attack of this kind.
Analysts say that in addition to missile attacks on U.S. soil, Iran is also planning Mumbai-style swarming assaults on U.S. population centers, including transportation hubs and commercial complexes. IRGC Quds Force and Hezbollah units are said to be preparing to carry out the terrorist attacks, which could involve hostage taking.
The commander of the ultra-elite Quds Force reports directly to Khamenei.
If Iran attacks the U.S. using cargo ships, the vessels will be controlled by Quds Force personnel who will be ordered to blow themselves and their ships up after firing their missiles to avoid destruction or possible capture by the U.S. military.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Israel Inks Arms Deal With Azerbaijan
Israel has confirmed that it will sell $1.6 billion in arms to Iran's neighbor, Azerbaijan, as reported here.
US Senator: Saudis Could Calm Oil Markets
A public promise from Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, to pump oil at its full capacity would calm oil markets as well as gasoline prices, [Charles] Schumer, the third-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said in a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.In the letter, which was obtained by Reuters, Schumer asked Clinton to urge the Saudi government to increase production to full capacity of 12.5 million barrels per day - an increase of 2.5 million barrels.
Click here to read the entire article.
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Chinese Vision of the Mideast Emerges
It appears that China has decided it is time to stake out its own position in the Middle East as a great power with its own significant and legitimate interests in the region, instead of trying to shoehorn itself into whatever diplomatic coalition the United States or Russia invokes to deal with the latest crisis.Yes, China as "responsible stakeholder" appears ready to take the Middle Eastern stage.
The Chinese move is an ironic and predictable counter-point to America's "strategic pivot" into East Asia.
Friday, February 24, 2012
West Africa Has Huge Gold Potential
West Africa could be become one of the world's top five gold producing regions.
Joanne Taylor reports: "Numerous new gold-mining projects are being developed in West Africa, particularly in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Liberia and Sierra Leone, but none of them are big enough to threaten the top gold producer, China…."
Click here to read Taylor's article in Mining Weekly.
Is Russia Losing Patience With Syria?
Is Russia losing patience with Syria, as reported here?
Will the international community find a way to end the bloodbath in Syria without blowing up the Middle East?
Will Syria be divided into separate states or autonomous provinces?
Will Iran retaliate for its loss--the monstrous mullahocracy had plans for military and missile bases in Syria--by launching attacks against the United States and Israel?
Will Iranian maniac-in-chief Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime rivals blame him for losing Syria?
The world will soon enough know the answers to these and other crucial questions relating to Russia, Syria, Iran, and the U.S.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
Michael Jordan Sues Chinese Company in China
US Basketball Star Has Near Zero Chance of Overcoming
Home Court Advantage; If He Was Going Up Against an
HK Company in a US Court, He Could Win … and Collect
The NBA legend has filed a lawsuit in China against a Chinese company over name use, as reported here.
He's in for a costly, protracted and ultimately frustrating and disappointing experience. No American--not even Michael Jordan--can beat a Chinese company in a Chinese court. The game is rigged from the get-go.
Too bad for Jordan that he isn't suing a Hong Kong Chinese company in the United States, or in Hong Kong, for that matter. Hong Kong has a separate, internationally respected legal system. Most important, judgments won overseas can be enforced in Hong Kong through well established legal procedures.
On that score, Foreign Confidential™ legal analysts have been following an intriguing case involving a Wall Street financial firm and a Hong Kong-based Chinese coal-blending company. Click here to read about the dispute; here, to read about Hong Kong's legal system in the context of threats to the area's identity; and here, to read about how lawsuits against Chinese companies are contributing to China's increasingly negative image in the United States. Given how celebrity-driven the news business has become, Jordan's case is certain to draw media attention to the topic.
Sports fans and other Americans are going to learn a lot about China's legal system.
EXTRA: NEW WAVE OF CHINESE SECURITIES FRAUD SCANDALS
So much for sports. Investors are about to learn even more about Chinese securities fraud--how many Chinese executives and tycoons have turned China into a Nigeria-like haven for cheating and stealing. Instead of simple scams such as 419, China's savvy, globe-trotting crooks have used listed Chinese companies and the lure of the booming Chinese market to defraud institutional and individual investors around the world. Click here to read about a staggering Chinese coal company scandal. It's just the tip of the iceberg. There will be more Puda Coals--and more lawsuits. Let a thousands lawsuits bloom, foreign investors and their lawyers will say amid mounting losses and mind-boggling tales of looting that will shock even the most cynical Wall Street analysts and observers.
What foreign investors don't appreciate is the role of the Chinese Communist Party in all this criminality. No large company can succeed--or list its shares--with party protection and connections. Behind every fraud there is a corrupt party official or group of officials, lining their pockets, sharing in the ill-gotten gains.
Foreign Confidential™ Predicted this
Incidentally, Foreign Confidential™ (formerly China Confidential) was among the the first media outlets to focus on the looming problem of Chinese fraud. Way back in May 2006 when the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and other elite news outfits were fawning over China's rise, Foreign Confidential™ reported the following:
Forget human rights, Internet censorship, and the missile buildup opposite Taiwan for just a moment. The next big story coming out of China is going to be the "F" word--fraud.
It's common knowledge that many Chinese companies keep two sets of books. But many firms seeking to go public overseas--through initial public offerings, reverse mergers and other methods--are suspected of developing a third set of financial records for foreign regulators and investors.
Before going public, one company, according to a story currently making the rounds on Wall Street, stunned its overseas auditing firm by revealing that millions of dollars in cash reserves listed on the company's books were kept in, well, cash-- meaning physical currency. Pressed to document the asset, the company supposedly led a visiting accountant to a safe that contained the cash.
"We're going to see some serious scandals involving Chinese public companies," an American securities lawyer, who insisted on speaking anonymously, told China Confidential. "If American and European companies can succumb to temptation to post phantom profits and revenues, as they have in recent years, imagine what we're going to see coming out of China."
Rumors also abound of shady promoters, brokers, and even lawyers dumping shares in pumped-up "China play" penny stock companies through offshore nominees far from the reach of regulators in the United States, where the stocks trade.
US on Alert for Possible Iran Plots
The news--read it here--follows Foreign Confidential™ early warnings.
If it is attacked by the United States and/or Israel, Iran is likely to retaliate by launching terrorist and/or missile strikes on the U.S. homeland.
Moreover, Iran could strike first; it is clearly considering preemptive assaults.
U.S. coastal cities could be attacked by Iranian controlled cargo ships equipped with containerized ballistic missile launch pads. Iran and North Korea have acquired and tested such systems.
Thousands of cargo ships approach U.S. waters daily; there is no known defense against a sea-based missile attack on a U.S. city.
Iran, aided by Venezuela, may have already deployed a fleet of armed freighters. Flying flags of convenience, which is customary nowadays for insurance/liability purposes, these seemingly civilian vessels could be lurking off the Atlantic or Pacific coasts--or in the Gulf of Mexico--awaiting orders to attack "the Great Satan."
Syria Targeted Building Housing Journalists
Two Western journalists were killed by Syrian shelling after the Assad regime, aided by a Russian spy satellite, targeted the building in which they were staying. Read the report here.
New Antisemitic Attacks by Chavez
The viciously anti-Amercan and antidemocratic Venezuelan strongman is again resorting to antisemitism to attack his political opponents and critics. Read the report here.
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Human Rights Activists Oppose Bids by Venezuela, Pakistan to Join UN Human Rights Council; Election Could be Held in May
The governments of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Pakistan are slated to run unopposed for seats on the UN’s 47-nation Human Rights Council this year, according to a report by the independent monitoring group UN Watch, citing sources close to the United Nations.
“It’s an outrage,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of the Geneva-based UN Watch, which announced the formation of an international coalition of parliamentarians and human rights groups to block both candidacies, “due to their poor records on human rights protection at home and on human rights promotion at the UN.”
Last year, UN Watch exposed Syria ’s candidacy to the council, and initiated a diplomatic campaign that pressured Damascus to drop its bid at the last minute. The non-governmental watchdog also led a successful campaign of 70 groups to remove Libya ’s Qaddafi regime from the council.
Gross Human Rights Violations
Neuer said that Venezuela and Pakistan were among the few states condemned for gross human rights violations at a recent summit of human rights dissidents, organized by UN Watch and 25 other human rights groups. The resolutions adopted on both countries are being circulated to UN diplomats in hopes they will be addressed at the council’s opening 2012 session next week.
“These are hypocritical candidacies. Chavez throws judges and critics in jail, bullies young student activists and uses his UN vote to shield the atrocities of others. Venezuela just voted against UN action on the horrific massacres perpetrated by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” said Neuer.
“Pakistan persecutes religious minorities, including Sufis, Shiites, Ahmadis and Christians. Asia Bibi, a Christian mother of five, is on death row in Pakistan under Pakistan ’s medieval blasphemy law. Pakistan ’s judicial system punishes women who are victimized by rape instead of the rapists. That Pakistan might judge others on human rights is appalling.”
Lack of Competition for Seats
Regional groups frequently agree on closed slates of candidates, nominating the same number of countries as seats available.
“The lack of competition robs the election process of any meaning,” said Neuer, “and helps explain how China , Cuba and Saudi Arabia won their current seats.”
The election of new candidates could take place in May, as in previous years. According to information from sources close to the UN, obtained exclusively by UN Watch, the Latin American group is planning to name Venezuela , Argentina and Brazil to fill its allotted three seats.
For its five seats, Asia is planning to name Pakistan, South Korea, Japan, Kazakhstan and the UAE.
“We are urging the Latin American group to choose another candidate, and the Asian group to drop Pakistan , just as they finally dropped Syria last year.”
“Governments engaged in such egregious and ongoing human rights abuses against their own people—grossly violating their basic freedoms of speech, religion and assembly—ought to have no place in the world’s highest human rights chamber.”
“We call on all UN member states to state clearly that Venezuela and Pakistan are not qualified to be members of the Human Rights Council, and to strongly oppose their candidacies.”
'Syrian WMD Must be Destroyed'
An analyst whose IDF service included preparing for a chemical weapons attack makes a powerful, convincing case for destroying Syria's stockpiles of chemical warheads and ballistic missiles. Click here to read the essay.
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Sierra Leone on Track to be World's Fastest Growing Economy
Iron Ore Boom Fuels Growth,
Rebuilding West African Rail
Stunning 2012 Forecast by IMF
Bloomberg reports: "Iron ore exports from African Minerals’ Tonkolili and London Mining Plc (LOND)’s Marampa mines are set to boost Sierra Leone’s economy by 51 percent this year, the fastest projected pace of any nation in the world, according to the International Monetary Fund."
Related: Gas Pay Discovered Off Sierra Leone
Bailout Saves EU, Dooms Greece
Draconian budget cuts will condemn Greece to permanent recession, pauperizing an entire population. Click here for the analysis.
IAEA: No Progress in Iran Inspections
The UN nuclear watchdog reports disappointing Tehran talks. Click here for the story.
Regarding Russia's View of 'the East'
Given the dangers that the United States faces in Iran and Syria, and the rapidly deteriorating U.S. relationship with Russia with respect to these and other issues, one does not have to agree entirely with Andrew Wilson to appreciate his timely and insightful essay. He writes:
Till recently, the West (and, for historical reasons, particularly Britain) prided itself on having a unique insight into the thinking and politics of the Arab world. Something that involved a sympathetic, and even romantic, attitude towards Islam, evidenced by the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia and others.The British and Americans never paused to consider the rival claim of Russia to an equal, or even superior expertise in the same region, sustained by a wide-ranging foreign intelligence service, the professional input of a far-seeing academic community, and intercourse with Arab élites trained in Soviet universities;Today the West subscribes to the ultimately liberating consequences of the Arab spring. But Russia obviously has a much more skeptical attitude; and the West might do well to heed it.What give Russia its title to an independent view is its proximity to the arena in which things are happening. The wind of militant Islam is already blowing not only on the heterogeneous ex-Soviet republics which offer a frail barrier to events in Iran an Afghanistan but also on its own territory in the North Caucasus.
Click here to continue reading Wilson's article.
And click here to read about Russian Turkestan, or Russian Central Asia; here, to read about the Basmachi Revolt of 1916-1931, which is virtually unknown in the West; and here, to watch a classic, Soviet-era, Russian Eastern about the uprising. Considered Russia's most popular movie, White Sun of the Desert illuminates Wilson's point about Russia's proximity to and long history of involvement in "the East."
Monday, February 20, 2012
'Strictly Confidential' Report: Austerity Measures Imposed on Greece Could Condemn Country to Permanent Poverty Status
(Financial Times) -- A "strictly confidential" report on Greece's debt projections prepared for eurozone finance ministers reveals Athens' rescue programme is way off track and suggests the Greek government may need another bail-out once a second rescue -- set to be agreed on Monday night -- runs out.The 10-page debt sustainability analysis, distributed to eurozone officials last week but obtained by the Financial Times on Monday night, found that even under the most optimistic scenario, the austerity measures being imposed on Athens risk a recession so deep that Greece will not be able to climb out of the debt hole over the course of a new three-year, €170bn bail-out.It warned that two of the new bail-out's main principles might be self-defeating. Forcing austerity on Greece could cause debt levels to rise by severely weakening the economy while its €200bn debt restructuring could prevent Greece from ever returning to the financial markets by scaring off future private investors.
Social upheaval in Greece is imminent.
Chinese Troops Taking Over Gilgit-Baltistan
China is basically taking over Gilgit-Baltistan--part of a disputed, autonomous region in Pakistan called Pakistan-Administered Kashmir by the United Nations--with Pakistan's approval, as reported here.
According to the report, Pakistan is actually considering leasing Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, to China.
New N. Korean Provocations Likely
Foreign Confidential™ analysts say North Korea is likely to stage provocative new nuclear and missile tests between now and July 4 and may even attack one or more South Korean targets in the coming weeks in response to the South's latest live-fire drills.
Analysts believe Pyongyang will provoke Seoul--and Washington--for the following purposes:
- to bolster the credibility and military credentials of North Korea's new and untested young dictator, Kim Jong Un;
- to pressure South Korea and the United States into making concessions over the North's nuclear program (which the North will never abandon);
- to extract more foreign aid; and
- to support Iran, North Korea's partner in illicit nuclear and missile proliferation, by providing it with fresh nuclear test data and creating a crisis that will divert attention from Iran's atomic advance. Iran will pay/has already paid a lot of money for North Korean cooperation; as they did in the past, Iranian military/intelligence/scientific and technical delegations will observe future North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Growing Concern Over Hong Kong's future
Former British Colony's Separate Identity is Threatened
But its Respected, Separate Legal System Seems Secure
Hong Kong residents are increasingly concerned about their future--more specifically, about mainland dominance, as reported by The New York times. Click here to read the article.
Hong Kong is asserting its identity to Beijing's dismay, The Washington Times reports.
The quarrel, between two groups speaking mutually unintelligible dialects of Chinese, isn’t just about manners. It also illustrates how - 15 years after this former British colony was handed back to China - Hong Kongers feel less Chinese and more an island unto themselves than ever as they face a growing influx of visitors from the mainland.And that’s a headache for the communist masters in Beijing, who are concerned about the threat of disloyalty in the semiautonomous territory and are lashing out against the notion of a separate Hong Kong identity.
A separate identity is of course what draws foreigners, too, to Hong Kong, and to working for, trading with, and investing in Hong Kong-based Chinese companies. Hong Kong's separate legal system, which has a long reputation for fairness and is based on English common law, is a key attraction.
"The comfort level is much higher when you are dealing with a Hong Kong company," an Asia-focused international consultant tells Foreign Confidential.™ "You feel that that if you are doing business with a reputable company you are going to get paid for your goods or services, and that there is legal recourse should a dispute arise. That isn't the case with a mainland company. If it decides not to pay you for your services or to renege on a contractual obligation you're simply out of luck."
Not surprisingly, foreign lawsuits against Hong Kong companies are not uncommon. Even in cases in which the complaints are brought in foreign courts, judgments can be enforced in Hong Kong. If a New York court, say, rules that a Hong Kong company must pay up, and it simply refuses to, its assets in Hong Kong and other overseas jurisdictions could eventually be seized. (The referenced case, Westminster Securities Corporation v. Petrocom Energy Limited, shows how a commercial dispute between a U.S. firm and a Hong Kong company can wend its way through arbitration and the U.S. court system.)
Given the ways in which many mainland Chinese companies and Communist Party officials have gained from their close connections, it is safe to assume that certain powerful forces would like to see a weakening of Hong Kong's legal system. For those for whom protection against litigants and creditors is a paramount concern the Special Administrative Region's independent judiciary is a frustrating irritant. After all, although China has made great strides, it is a country where until less than four decades ago, law itself was regarded as an objectionable "bourgeois concept" incompatible with official ideology.
Not to worry, expert observers say. One-Country-Two-Legal-Systems seems secure for the foreseeable future. One reason: foreigners are by no means the main beneficiaries of Hong Kong's separate identity and separate legal system. Hong Kong lawyer explains:
Even though Hong Kong courts technically have jurisdiction to hear a dispute, it is often argued that another forum is more appropriate – Hong Kong is forum non conveniens – and proceedings should be stayed in favour of another jurisdiction. This is especially relevant in the case of a dispute involving a mainland party. The Hong Kong plaintiff would much prefer to have the case heard in Hong Kong for reasons of convenience, expense, superior rules on procedure such as discovery, and most importantly because there is a perception that Hong Kong judges will be better qualified to adjudicate on the dispute with less danger of bias, especially if the mainland party is a state-owned company.
Peacebuilding and the von der Schulenburg Affair
New Imperialism? Ex-Envoy Called for Military-Style
Civilian Interventions in Post-War Developing Nations
As international agencies of one sort or another are so fond of digging for root causes to conflicts, it seems fitting to ask: What are the root causes of the von der Schulenburg affair? Is personality to blame? Is the sudden departure of Michael von der Schulenburg from Sierra Leone merely a case of bad behavior by a haughty diplomat? Or is there more to the matter?
This reporter thinks there is more--much more--to the von der Schulenberg affair. A doctoral thesis--or, at the very least, a serious magazine or journal of opinion article--could be written about the meaning and significance of the UN envoy's early exit and the mysterious leaking to the media (via Reuters) of his accusatory, almost threatening, missive to UN headquarters. Suffice it so say, this reporter hopes the information below will spur a more in-depth discussion of the relevant issues.
Foreign Confidential™ analysts believe that while character and personality must always be considered in attempting to analyze any controversy involving a prominent individual, the real root cause, so to speak, of what von der Schulenburg did or didn't do relative to his headline-making posting in Sierra Leone lies in his political outlook, or ideology--more specifically, in his approach to peacebuidling and the ways in which the concept has become emblematic of diplomacy's decline and the rise of a new kind of imperialism.
Peacebuilding is an overarching--and overreaching--term that is used within the international development community to describe the processes and activities involved in resolving violent conflict and establishing a sustainable peace. Transcending traditional peace preservation, or peace keeping, peacebuilding is an NGO/world body bureaucrat's delight in that it includes practically anything and everything related to peace, from conflict resolution to reconciliation, development and trauma healing.
A New International Idea
Promoted as a new International Idea, peacebuilding came into popular usage as a result of a 1992 report by Boutros Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations, in which he proposed responsibilities and responses for the UN and the international community aimed at preventing war-torn countries from relapsing into conflict.
The report, titled An Agenda for Peace, fit neatly into the expansion of UN peacekeeping missions to encompass a broad and seemingly ever widening array of political, economic, and humanitarian activities. Accent on political.
In other words, having failed time and again to prevent wars from breaking out in the first place, the UN at some stage sought to focus on the aftermaths of conflicts.
(It is this reporter's opinion that peacekeeping missions should stick to peacekeeping, that they are ill-equipped to handle peacebuilding, and that the activities that come under this progressive-sounding, deceptively appealing term belong to national governments and their citizens. At most, peacekeeping missions should lay the foundations for peacebuilding.)
The peacebuilding concept was enthusiastically embraced by the powers that control the UN. In 2001, the Security Council said that peacebuilding efforts are “aimed at preventing the outbreak, the recurrence or continuation of armed conflict and therefore encompass a wide range of political, developmental, humanitarian and human rights programmes and mechanisms.”
An Entire Field
Peacebuilding now refers to an entire field--peace practice--which may include socioeconomic development, reforming and even creating new governments, reconciliation, transforming social norms, teaching tolerance, you name it. Regime change could presumably be a so-called peace practice. Supporters of the field argue that direct external control, even if maintained militarily through imposition of a foreign civilian administration, is a necessary but temporary evil. In reality, foreign powers have used peacebuilding/peace practice to gain new forms of informal influence in the internal affairs of post-war states.
Which brings us to the issue of imperialism. Whereas this reporter prefers to use the term in its classical political realist sense--referring to a foreign policy that is committed to overthrowing the power relations among nations, or status quo--imperialism in the context of contemporary peacebuilding refers (a) to the 19th century term that described control by a greater power over less powerful territories or nationalities, and (b) to the notion of neo-imperialism developed in the 1960s, meaning a relationship of domination of one set of people over another.
While the old imperialism was all about controlling behavior, the new imperialism seeks to reconstruct social relations and change behaviour and attitudes through levels of international monitoring, intervention and regulation unprecedented since the colonial period.
It is in this context that von der Schulenburg can arguably be called a new imperialist and that his alleged interference in the internal affairs of a post-war West African nation should come as no surprise. He is, after all, a former official of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which groups 56 states from North America (Canada and the United States), Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The OSCE is a bastion of peacebuilding advocacy and theory; more important, the organization provided von der Schulenburg with a platform for peacebuilding promotion.
A Revealing Chapter
As one of three authors of Global Europe: Rescuing the State: Europe's Next Challenge, which was published in 2005, von der Schulenburg contributed the obscure tome's revealing peacebuilding chapter, in which he made the case for "civilian interventions" inspired by and modeled after military interventions. The term--civilian interventions--was used intentionally, he explained, "to draw attention to the similarities with military interventions."
"Recent military interventions in so-called failing states have brought back to us the old wisdom that peace cannot be won by military force alone," von der Schulenburg wrote. "Military interventions must be accompanied by civilian interventions that take over peace-building operations with the aim of re-establishing a stable new local government, viable state institutions and functioning public services. Civilian interventions are thus critical to winning the hearts and minds of the local population and so create stability and give peace a real chance. Yet we must ask whether international civilian interventions are up to this task."
After going on for pages about a need for "rapid response," "command and control" and "tool boxes"--his piece about peace is about as clear as mud--von der Schulenburg concluded: "Despite real differences, military and civilian interventions follow the same underlying logic and, as stated, civilian interventions could learn much from the military."
Really? Reading the above in light of recent events, one is tempted to think that in seeking to "learn" from the military, von der Schulenburg at some stage started to view himself as a kind of commando ambassador, an elite, special operations warrior for whom normal rules of engagement and codes of conduct don't apply.
At a minimum, his assignment in Sierra Leone proved that one should never send a bureaucrat--or a frustrated general--to do a diplomat's job.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
AK-47s and AQ Fighters Flow from Iraq to Syria
Iraqi arms smugglers say selling AK-47s to Syrian rebels is "good business" while Iraqi officials confirm the flow of Al Qaeda terrorists into the neighboring land. Click here for the story.
Spies Undermining Northern Ireland Peace
The myth that the IRA was riddled with spies serves the interests of shadowy forces aiming to undermine Irish unity. Read all about it here.
EU Ahead of US on Iran Oil Sanctions
Despite its tough talk on Iran, the Obama administration has taken a back seat to the U.S. Congress--and to Europe--with respect to driving towards imposing potentially crippling oil sanctions on the nuclear-arming nation. Click here for the analysis.
Friday, February 17, 2012
W. Africa to Taureg Rebels: End Mali Revolt
The West African regional group ECOWAS on Friday ordered Tuareg rebels to end hostilities against Mali and to give up the territories they occupy. The rebels have killed dozens of people this year. Click here for the news.
The Taureg are an ancient, Berber nomadic people. They are probably descended from ancient Saharan peoples. The Berber are the indigenous people of North Africa west of the Nile valley.
In addition to Mali, significant Taureg populations are found in Algeria, Niger, Libya, and Burkina Faso.
In recent weeks, some 60,000 Malians have been forced from their homes in desert clashes by a Taureg rebel force bolstered by combat-hardened Taureg troops returning from Libya, where they fought on the side of the Ghaddafi regime.
The rebellion is the fourth Taureg insurrection since Mali gained independence from France in 1960. The last uprising ended in 2008.
The rebels' arsenal includes arms taken from Libya--specifically, SA-7, SA-24 and Milan portable missile systems.
The rebels call themselves the MNLA, or National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad--their name for the state they would like to carve out of three regions in Mali's North. The MNLA includes other Saharan tribes people.
Al Qaeda-associated groups are also active in the remote area.
$6 Trillion in Fake US Bonds Seized
Feb. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Italian anti-mafia prosecutors said they seized a record $6 trillion of allegedly fake U.S. Treasury bonds, an amount that’s almost half of the U.S.’s public debt.The bonds were found hidden in makeshift compartments of three safety deposit boxes in Zurich, the prosecutors from the southern city of Potenza said in an e-mailed statement….
Continue reading here.
Ex-CIA Spy Says Iran Has or Will Soon Have the Bomb
MUST-VIEW VIDEO FOR EVERY CONCERNED CITIZEN
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Russia Rules Out Iran Sanctions
The East is a delicate matter. (Восток — дело тонкое.)-Popular Russian saying
Russia is ruling out Iran sanctions, accusing the West (meaning Washington, mainly) of seeking regime change in Iran in presumed opposition to Russian interests. Read the news here.
The tragedy of all this is that regime change in Iran is not only necessary but long overdue--the regime should never have been allowed to come into existence in the first place--and that ridding the world of the monstrous mullahocracy should not be seen by Mosccow as threatening. But relations between the United States and Russia are arguably at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Incredibly, the topic isn't even on the U.S. news agenda. Moderators of the so-called Republican Presidential debates seem to make every effort possible to avoid serious discussion of foreign policy issues--or any important issue, for that matter.
The Bottom Line on Iran Sanctions
Sanctions are not working--the measures have not stopped Iran's atomic advance--and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concurs. Click here for the story. His comments are seemingly in conflict with remarks made by members of his cabinet.
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
UN Official Slams Sierra Leone Ahead of National Elections
Citizens of Recovering Country See Astonishing Action
as Meddling at Best, Regime Change Attempt at Worst
Mysterious Leak and Allegations of Bias
A controversial United Nations official stationed in Sierra Leone who appears to have used his position to aid opposition figures ahead of national elections set for this November has left the country, cutting short his stay in the West African nation by a year.
Moreover, in what may be an unprecedented action, the former envoy, Michael von der Schulenburg, asserted in a letter to UN headquarters that the organization's credibility and Sierra Leone "success story" were threatened as a result of "unreasonable and unjustified demands" by the Sierra Leone Government for his early departure and "an effort to remove a potential obstacle [meaning himself] to … manipulating the election outcome" in favor of the incumbent President Ernest Bai Koroma.
The existence of the letter came to light after it was leaked to Reuters, which published a story about the letter on Monday. The content and style of the story--click here to read it--somewhat resembles a news release rather than a news article, making Reuters look more like a public relations service than a press agency for disseminating the piece.
The leaker's identity has not been made public as of this writing.
Both the UN and the Sierra Leone President have denied that von der Schulenburg was pushed out of his job. Click here for a relevant report.
Elections in Sierra Leone this November come a decade after the end of an 11-year civil war that left over 50,000 dead. The conflict came to an end in 2002, after a British military intervention practically supplanted a weak and ineffective UN peacekeeping mission.
Although UN troops withdrew from Sierra Leone in 2005, the world body retains a 200-person mission with a mandate to help ensure the forthcoming election is peaceful and credible. President Koroma will be challenged by an estimated 10 candidates, including his main opponent, a former military leader, Brigadier Julius Maada Bio.
No Stranger to Controversy
Foreign Confidential™ has learned that the number of meetings that von der Schulenburg held with Bio and other opposition figures was unusually high. Informed sources in Freetown say the envoy's anti-Government bias was well known among expats and foreign diplomats.
"He [von der Schulenburg] was most undiplomatic in the way he went about backing Bio," a source says.
Von der Schulenburg, who worked in what the UN describes as its "peacebuilding" division, is no stranger to controversy--and to controversial letter writing. In December 2000, he resigned as Director of the Division for Operations and Analysis of the UN Drug Control Program (UNDCP). In his letter of resignation he severely criticized the head of the UNDCP's parent agency, accusing his superior of being "the worst manager," guilty of "taking irrational decisions" and of turning the UNDCP into "an organization that has increased its international visibility while at the same time is crumbling under the weight of promises that it is unable to meet under a management style that has demoralized, intimidated and paralyzed its staff." (Among the "promises" that upset van der Schulenburg for allegedly having had been made but not kept: a 1997 pledge to Afghanistan's drug dealing Taliban regime for $250 million in "alternative work program" funding. Apparently, von der Schulenburg would have been happy to have seen the monsters get the money.)
The fact that the 24-page "PERSONAL/CONFIDENTIAL" resignation letter has long been available online has fueled speculation that von der Schulenburg was responsible for leaking his Sierra Leone letter to Reuters.
More recently, von der Schulenburg has been formally accused of physically abusing a staff member; and he has been dogged by persistent rumors that during an assignment in Iran he was noticeably sympathetic to the Islamist regime--whilst inappropriately exporting Persian carpets.
Related Video: Sierra Leone Hosts Africa's
Only American-Owned Foreign Trade Zone
Levant Seen Splitting Along Ethnic, Religious Lines
A must-read WJC analysis agrees with Foreign Confidential™: Syria could soon split into separate states--which could be a good thing. Click here for the article by Pinhas Inbari, and scroll down or click here to read the most recent Foreign Confidential™ essay on the Syrian crisis and the urgent need for a solution to it that will avoid catastrophic conflict. Foreign Confidential™ actually envisions a federation of autonomous Syrian provinces or mini-states.
Alone among Middle East observers, Foreign Confidential™ has also proposed political neutrality for a remodeled Syria--with a continued Russian presence in Tartus and and compensation to Russia for loss of another arms customer as the envisioned mini-states would have to be demilitarized.
A sidebar: the late founder and longtime president of the WJC, Nahum Goldmann, would probably have approved of such a scheme, given the potential that the unfolding civil/proxy war in Syria has for engulfing the Middle East in a horrific conflict. Goldmann, whom this reporter once had the privilege of interviewing for a national U.S. publication, has unfortunately become one of Israel's forgotten architects. He was a lifelong Zionist and a dedicated defender of the Jewish State. But his dovish foreign policy views and Diaspora base made him a marginal figure in Israeli politics. Not surprisingly, his novel proposal for a politically neutral--yet properly and always armed--Israel was dismissed by many of Israel's staunchest supporters as well intentioned and Utopian at best and dangerously heretical at worst.
Ironically, however, as Foreign Confidential™ (formerly China Confidential) reported in 2006, China's top Middle East expert was said to be showing interest in Goldmann's concept. Click here to read the archived article.
It would be most ironic if political neutrality coupled with international security guarantees turned out to be the way to peacefully resolve the Syrian crisis and pave the way for Russian and Chinese cooperation in dealing meaningfully with the Iranian nuclear/missile threat--meaning, ending it for once and all.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Iran Loads Own Fuel Rods into Research Reactor
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Coming Soon: Wood-Based Biofuels
Foreign Confidential™ energy intelligence: cellulosic ethanol is a costly joke--the energy of the future that always will be of the future. This is true regardless of the feedstock that is used to make the alternative fuel--switchgrass and other energy crops, or wood.
But other wood-based biofuels are becoming a reality.
In the Netherlands and Canada, projects are underway to prove commercial production of ready-to-use bio-coal and bio-gasoline, respectively, from an ideal, inedible feedstock--biomass. Commonly called waste wood or junk wood by loggers, biomass as the term is used in timberland management refers to the lowest grade wood that is typically left over from responsible forestry operations. Treetops, twigs, branches, bark, even stumps and some roots are all considered biomass--tree parts that can't be used to make lumber or paper or even firewood. (Click here for a broader definition of biomass.)
Some European, North American, and Japanese companies are focused on converting woody biomass into bio-propane.
Meanwhile, Finland's giant UPM forest products company is set to begin construction of the world's first wood-based renewable diesel plant, a 150 million euro facility that will convert pulp (made from a somewhat higher grade wood than biomass) into a drop-in motor transport fuel.
The wood-based biofuel that is closest to being commercialized is bio-coal, which is made through a roasting-like process called torrefaction. Moisture-resistant bio-coal can be transported, stored, ground up and burned just like coal. Thus, bio-coal can be blended (co-fired) with coal to cut carbon dioxide emissions in line with Europe's 20/20/20 mandate: 20% "carbon" reduction by the year 2020.
Prediction: EU utilities, dependent on coal-fired power plants, will increasingly look to North America for feedstock. For the foreseeable future, there is nowhere else to go to source massive amounts of certifiably sustainable biomass from legal logging operations.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™
Reflecting on the Tragedy of Syria
The tragedy of Syria from a U.S. national interest perspective is this: immediately after 9/11, the United States should have found a way to end Iranian influence in Syria and bring it into the West's orbit without angering Syria's longtime ally, Russia.
In fact, the U.S. should have bombed the Iranian regime into oblivion (after annihilating Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan instead of allowing the Islamist forces that slaughtered 3,000 Americans on American soil to flee into Pakistan and Iran), teamed with Russia (and China) to defeat a common enemy--radical Islam--and bullied and bribed Syria into making peace with Israel. X billions of dollars would have been a small price to pay to Assad and Co.
Of course, none of that happened. The Bush administration stupidly invaded Iraq, a contained secular enemy that had no weapons of mass destruction and no meaningful ties to Al Qaeda. Bush's blunder ruined the U.S. financially, seriously weakened--perhaps even permanently damaged--the case for future, necessary armed interventions (as opposed to the unnecessary Vietnam and Iraq conflicts), and effectively transformed Iraq into an Iranian satellite. (Bush's monumental mistakes also wrecked the Republican Party and made possible Obama's ascent to power.)
So what now? What is to be done?
That's hard to say. On the one hand, nuclear-arming, Shiite Islamist Iran must not be allowed to establish military and missile bases in Syria, a Sunni-majority state that has been ruled for decades by members of the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam. On the other hand, Iran's Arab ally, which straddles so many important fault lines, must not be allowed to fall into Islamist hands--the Sunni jihadist threat to Damascus is real and growing. (Israelis who understandably may be rooting for the Syrian regime's imminent downfall should recall that Israel made the mistake of supporting Hamas in its formative years, incorrectly assuming that the Islamist organization could be used to counter the secular PLO without blowing back in Israel's face.)
Notwithstanding the above, there is no denying that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy. Though it still has significant domestic support among Alawites and Christians and secular Sunnis, the regime relies mainly on tanks and terror for its continued survival.
Nor can it be denied that the Syrian civil/proxy war has the potential to engulf the entire Middle East in a horrific conflict. The region's waters are both uncharted and roiling; and, given the rapidly deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Russia, there is no telling what can happen.
So a solution must be found--a way to avoid catastrophic conflict while also advancing U.S. interests and safeguarding Israel's security. One possibility: political neutrality for Syria. In theory, Syria could become a neutral, federated state of autonomous, demilitarized provinces divided more or less along ethnic and religious lines with its security guaranteed by the international community. Formal neutrality, albeit with a Western tinge, or tilt, could allow for a continued Russian naval presence in Tartus--Moscow will not abandon its installation on the Mediterranean--and annual payments of $1 billion or so to Russia to make up for the loss of another Russian arms customer after Libya ($4 billion a year in arms sales lost to Russian firms as a result of the NATO-backed, Islamist-led revolution there). Again, a small price to pay….
A Syrian solution that includes Russia would pave the way for ending the Iranian nuclear/missile/terror threat--a vital necessity. The monstrous mullahocracy must go--there is no way around this reality--and Iran's clerical fascist Lebanese subsidiary, Hitlerian Hezbollah, must be eliminated, too. Before it's too late. It should be possible to accomplish these strategic objectives without incurring the wrath of Washington's resurgent rival.
In other words, whereas the road to regime change in Tehran may well run through Damascus, the challenge is how to build and make use of the road without blowing up the Middle East--and blowing back in America's face.
Copyright © 2012 Foreign Confidential™