Wickedness before the Bowls of Wrath: Revelation 16

Eve Ottenberg | Published: 00:00, Jan

Abyss of human wickedness

— Counter Punch/Brian Stansberry

AS THE west worked itself into a lather in the last month over Russia moving its troops within its own borders, one Republican senator, Roger Wicker of Mississippi bellowed on December 8 that the United States should attack Russia with nuclear weapons. This horrifying threat to end human life on the planet comes from someone of no little puissance, as others quickly noted. Wicker sits on the armed services committee. So he communes regularly with Pentagon bigwigs, many of whom are said to have little regard for presidential professions of concern for posterity and promises never to explode the nuclear devices that would eliminate that posterity once and for all. One must assume when someone of Wicker’s exalted position speaks, he speaks not only for himself.

Fortunately, the five most impressively nuclear-armed nations moved quickly to throw cold water on those who advocate an atomic apocalypse, and that included drenching senator Wicker. China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement on January 3 that avoiding nuclear war is a paramount goal. ‘We affirm that a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought,’ agreed the five countries. ‘We each intend to maintain and further strengthen our national measures to prevent unauthorised or unintended use of nuclear weapons.’ The statement also calls for progress on disarmament. It could not be more apposite.

That’s because the western Russophobic propaganda machine — the biggest and most deafening of its kind in world history, cranked up to full volume at all corporate news outlets, drowning the world in cuckoo-bird ravings about treacherous Slavs — now would have us believe that the Russians are planning false flag attacks in Ukraine. False flags are pretty much a US military/media specialty, in fact, Washington owns the patent on them, but most US Americans, blissfully ignorant of this fact, are thus easy marks for such hysteria. So now, this rubbish, regurgitated by credulous newspaper scribes and repeated by government officials, screams at us daily from the headlines. There is practically nothing, zilch, to counter it. The most preposterous prevarications abound, for example, Ukraine’s president, in November, breathlessly announcing that Moscow intended to overthrow him ‘next week’. Among these fabrications lurk tales about Washington’s and NATO’s supposedly benign and even altruistic motives.

Better the world live without NATO than die for its expansion. Because that is what NATO asks us to do. When the US sends E-8 electronic warfare aircraft over Russia’s borders, as it did in December, they’re not there just to say hello. When NATO member Great Britain projects its HMS Defender two miles from the Crimean coast, causing warning shots from Russian coast guard patrol ships, as happened last June 23, this is no innocent, defensive manoeuvre. And when NATO’s supreme commander muses publicly about reinforcing NATO’s eastern flank on Romania and Bulgaria, only an idiot would conclude he’s not preparing for war.

Likewise, only a nitwit would swallow secretary of state Antony Blinken’s bigoted remark January 7 that ‘once the Russians are in your house, it’s sometimes very difficult to get them to leave.’ This from a man whose nation’s military has lodged itself in Germany and Japan for 77 years and counting, occupied Afghanistan for 20 years and is still in Iraq after 19. Blinken has some nerve. But then, he can utter such mendacities in full confidence that he will never, never be corrected in the American press.

It’s no wonder Russia demands written legal guarantees against NATO expansion and western nukes. It’s also no surprise that the US, caught in a lie, now claims that back in the early 1990s it never promised not to expand ‘one inch’ east of Germany, as several officials in president George HW Bush’s administration told Gorbachev and others, in exchange for German reunification.

Meanwhile Biden threatens Russia with ferocious sanctions for moving troops onto its border with Ukraine. Now sanctions are the modern equivalent of the medieval siege, and the US applies them promiscuously. There is no evidence that they succeed at anything other than causing ordinary people to miss meals and diabetics to skip insulin injections. Oh, and sanctions also instil hatred for the US which thus torments the population. Sanctions lead the targeted rulers to consolidate their power. They are counter-productive. Far worse, as happens right now in the 20 countries sanctioned by the US, they kill loads of innocent people, especially vulnerable ones, like children in Afghanistan, for instance. But sanctions make whoever’s leading the latest Washington circus feel like big shots, so their toxic application will probably continue.

The only light on this dismal horizon was the summit between Russia, the United States and NATO that ran from January 10 to January 13. That light flickered out quickly, when it became clear that US officials are incapable of comprehending speech outside the parameters of their exceptionalist ideology. All they offered was hooey about NATO never closing doors. This nonsense is ostentatiously contradicted by the fact that neither Switzerland nor Austria belongs to NATO and are, in fact, constitutionally neutral. Moscow wants some such carve-out for former Soviet territories on its borders. But the Biden team just didn’t get it. When the Russians said including Ukraine in NATO would cause a ‘military technical’ response, that should have elicited a serious counter-offer. It did not.

How do we know the summit teeters on the rim of failure? Because the January 19 Svobodnaya Pressa announced that Moscow has begun deploying the high-precision long-range operational and tactical missile system 9K720 Iskander-M in Crimea. The flight range of these missiles is up to 3,500 kilometres. They can hit any European capital and ‘even American aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean Sea, Arleigh Burke destroyers, Ticonderoga-class missile cruisers.’ Iskanders can be launched simultaneously in a 200-missile barrage. The article is headlined, ‘Moscow’s Patience Snapped: Crimea Deploys Iskanders.’ Blinken jets to Geneva this weekend. Hopefully this news about Russian weaponry will elicit all his diplomatic skills in his confab with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The situation is dire.

It is telling that the January summit came at the Kremlin’s request. Dismaying is the only word for Washington and NATO’s apparent complaisance about the drift towards war between Russia and NATO, to say nothing of those Russian nuclear submarines that just completed a rotation off the eastern seaboard of the US a week and a half ago. NATO’s threat to absorb Finland and Sweden only proves the point that this military-industrial money pit is bottomless and its expansionist horizon is the planet itself.

Ukraine is a tinder box. If Moscow eventually militarily supports the Russian-speaking, ethnic Russian majority in eastern Ukraine, the Donbass, a population at loggerheads with ethnic Ukrainians of the west, Washington will have only itself to blame. Those culturally Russian Ukrainians have long wanted to join Russia. Anytime since 2014, Moscow could have allowed this. It did not, because clearly the Kremlin is not eager to partition Ukraine. Nor is Moscow eager for a showdown between nuclear powers. It called the summit, specifically to prevent that.

Speaking of which, Russia’s ally, China, races ahead, beefing up its nuclear arsenal. Shenanigans like the attempted coup in Kazakhstan and the west’s relentless provocations in Ukraine — dating back to 2014, when Washington’s regime-change operation toppled the legally elected pro-Kremlin president — coupled with threats and insults aimed at China, first from the Trump team and now from the Biden entourage, doubtless convinced Chinese leaders that nuclear modernisation is at the top of their to-do list. The US military/foreign policy goal of encircling China with bases and warships no doubt speeds the Chinese effort to produce more nukes.

Indeed, the US department of defence’s November annual report claimed that China would likely have 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. ‘Three times more than at present,’ as Michael Klare wrote on December 3 in CounterPunch, ‘and enough to pose a substantial threat to the United States.’ In five years, that same report predicts, China ‘would be ready to conduct “intelligentized” warfare.’ That means the People’s Liberation Army would achieve ‘superior intelligence, communications and battlefield coordination.’

This would enable China ‘to effectively resist any US military response should it decide to invade the island of Taiwan, which they view as a renegade province.’ Klare’s translation of this news is: ‘As the Pentagon sees things, be prepared for World War III to break out any time after January 1, 2027.’

That, unfortunately, could be a conservative estimate. With genocidal senator Wicker barking for nuclear Armageddon right now and an equally bloodthirsty former Obama official, Evelyn Farkas, hollering for war, both apparently eager for a nuclear ‘shock and awe’, it’s past time for Washington to wake up to reality, namely that Russia and China have genuine, legitimate security concerns on their borders. Attempting to muddy the waters with hogwash about spurious ‘spheres of influence,’ as Blinkin did, won’t work. These are issues of border security. They have nothing to do with spheres of influence, and raising the bogus spectre of such spheres is a cynical distraction from Washington’s and NATO’s aggression on the borders of Russia and China.

If the US is concerned with anything other than being seen as the biggest bully on the block, then it will snap the CIA onto a short leash, stop the dirty regime-change operations, shut up about everybody and their grandmother’s sacred right to join NATO, accede to some demands vis-a-vis Ukraine and Taiwan and finally, and very importantly, get serious about arms control treaties. Trump arrogantly and wantonly busted up a couple of those. If Biden wants anything other than a radioactive legacy, he’ll fix that — for starters.

Israel Attacks the Iranian Nuclear Horn Again

Natanz
A damaged building after a fire broke out at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, in Isfahan, July 2, 2020.Reuters

Attacks inside one of Iran’s most secure nuclear facilities are the latest blows in a shadowy battle with Israel

Stavros AtlamazoglouSun, January 23, 2022, 6:44 PM·5 min read

After the US unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, tensions between Washington and Tehran have steadily risen.

For leaders in Israel — one of the US’s closest partners and Iran’s biggest foes — those tensions have confirmed their misgivings about the deal and about Iran, and they’ve gone on the warpath.

Iran has worked on nuclear technology for decades. The US has long suspected Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as cover for developing weapons. That suspicion is also held by the Israelis, who have been ensnared in a potentially existential struggle with Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Iranian athletes at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz
Iranian athletes at a rally in support of Iran’s nuclear program at the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, March 9, 2006.BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images

A nuclear weapon, or the ability to produce one quickly, would offer Tehran some much-needed security against its real and perceived adversaries. But Iran has vowed to destroy Israel, and Israel fears a nuclear weapon would allow Tehran to back up its provocative talk.

While much of that talk may be for propaganda purposes, Iran has shown the lengths it will go and pain it will endure in order to attack US, Western, and Israeli targets directly or through proxies, giving some weight to its nuclear threats.

To counter that threat, Israeli military and intelligence services have conducted a shadowy covert-action campaign of espionage, sabotage, and assassinations against Iran’s nuclear facilities and the people running them.

Israel’s war against Iran

Syria Israel missiles Damascus
Syrian air-defense units respond to what state media said were Israeli missiles targeting Damascus in January 2019.STR/AFP/Getty Images

Israel has also shown that it will go to great lengths to ensure its security, and Tel Aviv is willing to pursue other, more dramatic courses of action in response to threats from Iran.

“We have a duty to be brave and responsible for the fate of our children and grandchildren. We have used force against our enemies in the past, and we are convinced that in extreme situations, there is a need to act using military means,” Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Alon Schuster said in a recent interview.

Indeed, Israel has long followed a no-holds-barred strategy in which the threat justifies the means. Its shadowy campaign against the Iranian nuclear programs uses complementary diplomatic, military, and intelligence tactics.

While Israel’s military has been heavily involved in that campaign, Mossad, Israel’s main intelligence service, has landed many of the blows against Iran itself.

According to a recent report by The Jewish Chronicle, which didn’t name or describe its sources, Mossad successfully infiltrated the Iranian supply chain and used the opportunity to sell Tehran faulty materials that caused fires at the Natanz nuclear-enrichment facility in July 2020.

The report also said Israeli intelligence officers recruited Iranian nuclear scientists who conducted sabotage at Natanz in April 2021 before being smuggled out of the country. Mossad is said to have used an unmanned aerial vehicle to attack the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, a factory making centrifuges crucial for producing weapons-grade uranium.

Facilities are easier to replace than expert knowledge, and Mossad has also gone after the hard-to-acquire know-how necessary for a nuclear-weapons capability by killing Iranian scientists working on the nuclear program.

Scene of the attack that killed  Mohsen Fakhrizadeh
The scene of the attack that killed prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, outside of Tehran, November 27, 2020.WANA via Reuters

Attacks against Iranian scientists have become more brazen. The November 2020 assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, reportedly with a remote-controlled machine gun using advanced artificial-intelligence technology, on a highway in Iran is something straight out of a Hollywood movie.

Israel’s manhunting effort likely draws on experience going back to Israel’s creation in 1948. In the years that followed, Israelis hunted down numerous ex-Nazis, including Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann. Following the 1972 killing of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists, Mossad conducted a similar campaign.

But Tel Aviv understands that this is a stalling tactic that can only frustrate Tehran’s efforts and not permanently undo the work its done in pursuit of nuclear technology.

In addition to those clandestine actions, the Israeli Defense Forces has been preparing and presenting Israeli policymakers with military options to take out targets associated with Iran’s nuclear program. This is standard planning for any military, and the IDF has received nearly $3 billion in additional funds to do it.

Israel would also have to take into account second- and third-order effects of such strikes, such as how Iranian proxies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, would react. Those groups, based in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, respectively, would be more likely to try to attack Israel.

Israeli officials are lobbying other countries to take a stronger stance against Iran while refraining from directly discussing what actions they’ve taken.

“We hope the whole world will be mobilized for the mission. For that, we’ve allocated a significant sum to increase our readiness. What hit Natanz? I can’t say,” Schuster, the deputy defense minister, said last month.

As Iran remains committed to its nuclear program, Israel is sure to continue its shadowy campaign against Tehran.

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate.

Why is Biden Trumping Iran?

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Why Is Biden Compounding Trump’s Mistake on Iran?

The president’s fear of blowback has him slow-walking the Iran deal—while Tehran is getting closer to building a bomb.

Late last year, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman called the Trump administration’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal “one of the dumbest, most poorly thought out and counterproductive U.S. national security decisions of the post-Cold War era.”

It’s not often that I find myself in violent agreement with Friedman, but when you’re right, you’re right. Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal (or JCPOA, in the argot) was a disastrous move that has put Iran within disturbingly close range of becoming a nuclear power.

With nuclear talks between the United States and Iran currently at what Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls a “decisive moment,” there is still hope for an agreement between the two sides. But we are fast approaching a point of no return that risks sparking heightened tensions and a new round of conflict in the Middle East.

On the campaign trial in 2020, Biden left little doubt as to his intentions on the JCPOA. “If Iran returns to strict compliance with the nuclear deal,” he wrote in an op-ed for CNN, “the United States would rejoin the agreement as a starting point for follow-on negotiations.

Many Iran analysts expected Biden to reenter the agreement soon after taking office. But in confirmation hearings last January, Blinken and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines threw cold water on the potential for immediate U.S. reentry.

Instead, Biden reopened negotiations with Tehran that, a year later, continue to drag on. All the while, Iran has gotten far closer to building a bomb.

The root of the problem is the diplomatic version of “after you; no, after you; no, after you.”

American officials demanded that Iran account for and roll back the advances it had made in its nuclear program before the United States agreed to remove punishing sanctions reimposed by President Trump after he pulled out of the deal in

Iranian officials demanded that the U.S. make the first move—and lift sanctions as well as unfreeze Iran’s financial assets.

The Iranians had the better side of the argument. After all, the U.S. had unilaterally withdrawn from the JCPOA, while the other nations that were party to the deal (the P5+1: basically, major European powers plus Russia and China) stayed with it.

Since most of the sanctions on Iran are based on executive action, there was nothing stopping Biden from going back into the deal offering the caveat that if there was no progress on Iran coming back into compliance, he’d simply reimpose them.

When I asked Jeffrey Lewis, an expert on nonproliferation at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, why the U.S. didn’t adopt this strategy, he offered me a simple, though pungent answer: “Biden is a wimp.”

He continued: “He would have taken a political hit for taking a chance on the Iranians that might or might not have worked out, but it would have put the ball in Iran’s court” and strengthened the hand of those in Tehran who wanted a deal. In Lewis’s view, Biden was afraid of the backlash, early in his administration, from appearing to make concessions to Tehran.

Multiple sources I spoke to chalk up the president’s reticence to an unwillingness to upset Iran hawks on Capitol Hill and, in particular, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez has long been an opponent of the Iran deal, and there was fear within the Biden team that if the U.S. reentered the agreement without first wringing concessions out of Iran, Menendez would block or slow-roll the administration’s foreign policy nominees.

According to Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trying to pacify opponents of the deal was a fool’s errand. “They don’t hate the deal because it’s a bad deal,” said Duss. “They hate the deal because it’s a deal with Iran. Full stop. On the JCPOA, there is no consensus to be built with anti-Iran

Others I spoke to argue that part of the problem is one of personnel. Before the rest of Biden’s Iran team had been confirmed by the Senate, those on the National Security Council (who did not need confirmation) who were focused on Middle East policy—like former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Brett McGurk—were not as supportive of the nuclear agreement.

Whatever Biden’s rationale, his strategy has not worked. Negotiations have dragged on for a year now and are quickly reaching a point of no return. Meanwhile, Iran has pushed ahead in developing its nuclear capabilities. According to a November report by nuclear experts assessing the latest data from International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has produced enough enriched uranium that it could produce weapon-grade uranium “in as little as three weeks.”

Much of this was predictable. Last spring, analysts I spoke to warned that unless the U.S. and Iran reached an agreement soon, Iran’s presidential election in June would strengthen the hand of hawkish Iranians who have long opposed the nuclear deal. The election was won by hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, and that’s precisely what has happened.

Talks were put on hold for months after the election, and when both sides returned to the negotiating table, much of the time was spent relitigating issues that the two sides had agreed upon in talks the previous spring.

One of the key Iranian demands has been a commitment from the U.S. that it won’t repeat what Trump did in 2018 when he pulled out of the deal. “They once violated the nuclear deal at no cost by exiting it,” the nation’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei said last summer. “Now they explicitly say that they cannot give guarantees that it would not happen again.”

Since the Biden administration has no control over a future presidential administration, it can not offer guarantees.

Iran could certainly conclude that it would be better off building a nuclear capability than making a deal that the next Republican president can simply walk away from.

According to Duss, if you look at things from the Iranians’ position, you might conclude that “we’ve been messed with by the Americans over the past several years. Now we have a new president. Can we trust him? Does he have control of his own politics?”

The answer appears to be no. And even if sanctions are lifted now, says Duss, “Will businesses really come back to Iran? Will banks give loans?” With the threat of a Republican president reimposing sanctions, as soon as possibly 2025, it’s hard to see why Iran would want to take that leap of faith.

But according to Lewis, the problem for American credibility runs even deeper. “Don’t blame Iran for making the decision that they want a bomb,” he told me. “After all, what arguments are left for making a deal with the Americans? The U.S. never follows through on their word” when it comes to nuclear agreements.

It’s an underappreciated point. In 1994, the U.S. signed the Framework Agreement with North Korea to end its nuclear program. But the U.S. never lived up to its obligations under the deal, which included the construction of a light-water nuclear reactor and normalizing diplomatic relations, and Pyongyang walked away.

In Iraq, we now know that Saddam Hussein did not restart his weapons of mass destruction program after the Gulf War, and in 2002 he allowed U.N. inspectors back into the country. Yet months later, the U.S. still invaded and ousted Saddam’s regime.

In Libya, Muammar Qaddafi voluntarily gave up his nuclear program, but that didn’t stop the U.S. from actively supporting rebels who toppled his regime and savagely killed him.

And then there is Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran deal.

Considering that history—not to mention the fraught 40-year relationship between the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran—it put a burden on Biden to act proactively, rather than demand even more concessions from Tehran. By choosing not to, Biden has further undermined the JCPOA and helped ensure that Iran is that much closer to a bomb. Even worse, he’s allowing his administration potentially to get further dragged into the region’s viper’s-nest politics.

One discernible feature of Biden’s foreign policy to date is a desire to wash America’s hands of the Middle East. He defiantly pulled U.S. troops out of Afghanistan last summer, is largely ignoring the Arab-Israeli conflict, and is sending clear signals that U.S. foreign policy priorities lie elsewhere.https://3cdc94105a368a8b165b595406fb1f37.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

But the failure to reconstitute the Iran deal risks undermining that effort. The closer Iran gets to a bomb, the more the risks of war in the region will rise—and mainly via a potential preemptive attack by Israel.

For Iran, the risks are even greater. International sanctions continue to strangle its economy, and, paradoxically, the closer it gets to producing a bomb, the harder it will be ever to see those sanctions removed. At some point, the U.S. may conclude that further talks aren’t worth much if Iran is basically a turnkey nuclear power.

Both sides need a deal, and there remains guarded optimism that an agreement can finally be reached in the current round of talks. As one close follower of the negotiations said to me, “What’s the alternative?” But the U.S. and Iran should never have reached this point. That they did represents one of Joe Biden’s biggest foreign policy mistakes to date.Michael A. Cohen @speechboy71

Iran’s Regime Playing With Nuclear Fire: Revelation 16

Iran’s Regime Playing With Fire

BySHAHIN MAHMOUDI

-JANUARY 24, 2022 Share

Trapped in the nuclear talks, which are teetering on the verge of collapse, the Iranian regime has launched a drone attack on its Middle Eastern neighbors, similar to the drone attack it launched on Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities in September 2019.

This time, the regime launched an attack on Abu Dhabi’s airport in the UAE, with assistance from their Yemeni proxy group, the Houthis. This is just the latest attack among many that have been destabilizing the region for many years.

The regime plunders the wealth of the Iranian people in a bid to continue spreading terrorism across the globe, in a bid to fuel the flames of wars in the Middle East. Aimed at engaging the international community and the region, these crises serve as an insurance policy for the regime. This is despite the regime’s claims about new and expanding relations with the ‘East’ which in and of itself is proof of its international isolation and weakness even if it succeeds to secure a favorable outcome during the nuclear talks in Vienna.

As for the latest attack, the state-run Vatan-e Emrooz daily wrote on January 20, “What the Emiratis did not imagine finally happened. The nightmare of instability and insecurity has finally cast a shadow over the center of Wall Street in the Arab world. Henceforth, the Yemeni war has acquired different characteristics and must be approached from new angles.”

The same day, the Donya-e Eghtesad daily highlighted, “The Yemeni crisis is the main and key element in Iran-Saudi relations in the Middle East regional equation, especially in the current situation. Any opening or impasse in it will play a very important role in reconciliation or tension between the two countries. As the crisis hotspots in relations between the two countries, especially Syria and Bahrain, have largely waned, Yemen still has the potential to keep the Iran-Saudi relationship tensions active.”

The regime’s officials, and supreme leader Ali Khamenei, believe that by carrying out such actions, they will be able to garner more concessions from Saudi Arabia and keep them away from joining the nuclear negotiations actively and adding their own demands, such as the regime’s commitment to stop its destructive behavior in the Arab World. However, given the regime’s already weak position, it is likely that these latest acts of aggression will have an opposite effect.

On January 19, the Noandish daily warned Khamenei’s mouthpiece, Kayhan daily regarding the consequences of the regime’s terrorist attack on Abu Dhabi. “The happiness of friends in Kayhan about such attacks is quite understandable because they are generally not interested in improving Iran’s relations with other countries from Saudi Arabia and the UAE to Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, escalating tension now is the last thing that the country needs.”

This warning is a stark message to the regime that it is high time it stops blackmailing other countries with terrorism, missile, and drone attacks.

The Noandish daily further stated, “At a time when Vienna’s talks to revive the JCPOA, and talks with the Saudis to resume diplomatic relations, have reached a critical juncture, the recent Houthi attack on Abu Dhabi could complicate the equation and act as a double-edged sword. While this attack may strengthen Iran’s position, it might very well disrupt the talks.”

Why the Obama Iran nuclear deal is over: Daniel 8

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Barry Rosen sit at a large table during an interview in Vienna
US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley and Barry Rosen, campaigning for the release of US citizens imprisoned in Iran, during an interview with the Reuters news agency [Francois Murphy/Reuters]

Nuclear deal unlikely unless Iran releases US prisoners: Report

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley tells the Reuters news agency agreement ‘hard to imagine’ while four ‘innocent Americans held hostage’.

The United States is unlikely to strike a deal with Iran to save the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement unless Tehran releases four US citizens Washington says it is holding hostage, the lead US nuclear negotiator told the Reuters news agency on Sunday.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley repeated the long-held US position that the issue of the four people held in Iran is separate from the nuclear negotiations. He moved a step closer, however, to saying that their release was a precondition for a nuclear agreement.

“They’re separate and we’re pursuing both of them. But I will say it is very hard for us to imagine getting back into the nuclear deal while four innocent Americans are being held hostage by Iran,” Malley told Reuters in an interview.

“So even as we’re conducting talks with Iran indirectly on the nuclear file we are conducting, again indirectly, discussions with them to ensure the release of our hostages,” he said in Vienna, where talks are taking place on bringing Washington and Tehran back into full compliance with the deal.

In recent years, Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards have arrested dozens of dual nationals and foreigners, mostly on espionage and security-related charges.

Rights groups have accused Iran of taking prisoners to gain diplomatic leverage, while Western powers have long demanded that Tehran free their citizens, who they say are political prisoners.

Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.

Malley was speaking in a joint interview with Barry Rosen, a 77-year-old former US diplomat who has been on a hunger strike in Vienna, to demand the release of US, British, French, German, Austrian and Swedish prisoners in Iran, and that no nuclear agreement be reached without their release.

Rosen was one of more than 50 US diplomats held during the 1979-1981 Iran hostage crisis.

“I’ve spoken to a number of the families of the hostages who are extraordinarily grateful for what Mr Rosen is doing but they also are imploring him to stop his hunger strike, as I am, because the message has been sent,” Malley said.

Rosen said that after five days of not eating he was feeling weak and would heed those

“With the request from Special Envoy Malley and my doctors and others, we’ve agreed [that] after this meeting I will stop my hunger strike but this does not mean that others will not take up the baton,” Rosen said.

The indirect talks between Iran and the United States on bringing both countries back into full compliance with the landmark 2015 nuclear deal are in their eighth round. Iran refuses to hold meetings with US officials, meaning others shuttle between the two sides.

The 2015 deal between Iran and major powerslifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear activities that extended the time it would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb if it chose to. Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons.

Then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal in 2018, reimposing punishing economic sanctions against Tehran. Iran responded by breaching many of the deal’s nuclear restrictions, to the point that Western powers say the deal will soon have been hollowed out completely.

The four US citizens held in Iran include Iranian-American businessman Siamak Namazi, 50, and his father Baquer, 85, both of whom have been convicted of “collaboration with a hostile government”. Namazi remains in prison. His father was released on medical grounds in 2018 and his sentence later reduced to time served. While the elder Namazi is no longer jailed, a lawyer for the family says he is effectively barred from leaving Iran.

“Senior Biden administration officials have repeatedly told us that although the potential Iranian nuclear and hostage deals are independent and must be negotiated on parallel tracks, they will not just conclude the nuclear deal by itself,” said Jared Genser, pro bono counsel to the Namazi family.

“Otherwise, all leverage to get the hostages out will be lost,” he added.

The others are environmentalist Morad Tahbaz, 66, who also holds British citizenship, and businessman Emad Shargi, 57.

Save the oil and the wine: Revelation 6

Iraq Is Preparing For Higher Oil Demand

By Irina Slav – Jan 24, 2022, 9:30 AM CST

Iraq is already scheduling crude oil shipments for delivery in March thanks to strong demand, the deputy head of the State Organization for the Marketing of Oil, or SOMO, told media in Baghdad, as quoted by Reuters.

Ali Nizar also told media that Iraq’s oil exports were stable this month and were going to be slightly higher next month, Bloomberg reported.

For this month, the average daily rate of exports is seen at 3.2 million bpd, the SOMO deputy director-general said, adding it would likely increase to 3.3 million bpd in February. These are the figures from Iraq proper only, excluding exports of 340,000 bpd from the Kurdistan autonomous region.https://0dca5a95d49ec2fcf985dc1715e22ce0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Asked about oil prices, the SOMO official declined to give a specific projection, saying it was too early to say whether benchmark crude would reach $100 per barrel.

Separately, however, Reuters reported last week that some in OPEC believe oil could indeed reach and even top $100 per barrel. The drivers behind a continued rally would be sustained demand and tight supply resulting from the cartel’s limited spare capacity.

The last time Brent crude traded at $100 and more was eight years ago. During that cycle, Brent hit $110 per barrel before slumping to less than $50 in January 2015.https://0dca5a95d49ec2fcf985dc1715e22ce0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

There will be increasing pressure on oil prices in at least the next two months,” one OPEC source told Reuters, adding, “Under these circumstances, the price of oil may be close to $100 but it will certainly not be very stable.”

Due to constraints of various nature, OPEC has been falling short of its own production targets for months now. In December, the cartel reported an output increase of just 170,000 bpd, while its quota was for a boost of 253,000 bpd, per the OPEC+ production control agreement that stipulates a 400,000-bpd output increase for the extended cartel.

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

Obama’s Iran nuclear talks on brink of collapse, diplomats warn: Daniel 8

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign affairs minister, said that negotiations cannot continue at such a slow pace
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign affairs minister, said that negotiations cannot continue at such a slow paceREUTERS

Iran nuclear talks on brink of collapse, diplomats warn

Western negotiators have said that talks to rescue the Iran nuclear deal are on the point of collapse because Tehran’s nuclear programme is advancing faster than diplomatic progress towards an agreement.

After talks on Thursday, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said the discussions were in a “life-threatening emergency”.

“There is partial, timid and slow progress, but negotiations cannot continue at such a slow pace while, in parallel, Iran’s nuclear programme advances so rapidly,” he said.

President Biden said this week that the talks were moving forward and it was not time to give up. However, European negotiators have been warning for months that there is little sign of a deal being struck any time soon.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said

The Australian Nuclear horn continues to grow Daniel 7

(Left to right) British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, British Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton [Source: Marise Payne Facebook]

British, Australian ministers strengthen military collaboration against China

In the wake of the AUKUS pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States reached last September, the British and Australian foreign and defence ministers held talks in Sydney yesterday to further strengthen military ties directed primarily against China, and also Russia.

The AUKUS agreement, which includes equipping Australia with nuclear-powered submarines, is part of the US-led military build-up throughout the Indo-Pacific as Washington intensifies its aggressive confrontation with China diplomatically, economically and strategically.

At a joint press conference, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss declared that the two countries were “modernising our partnership for a new age” to confront “the reality … that threats are rising across the world.” As well as lashing out at Russia for “threatening Ukraine” and Iran over its nuclear program, Truss accused China of “using its economic muscle against Australia and other allies like Lithuania.”

Truss told reporters that Australia and Britain were “completely united in our response. We’re standing shoulder to shoulder in defence of freedom and democracy, and we’re determined to face down these growing threats.”

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne trotted out the same propaganda line to justify the military build-up by the two countries in league with the US. Australia and Britain were natural partners, she said, to counter the influence of “malign authoritarianism” and maintain the international order.

For all the unsubstantiated allegations of Russian and Chinese “threats” and “aggression,” Australian and British imperialism have been two of the closest partners in crime of the US over the past three decades. London and Canberra have backed the illegal US-led invasions and interventions in the Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia to the hilt politically and militarily. These have resulted in the destruction of whole societies—in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Afghanistan.

Now Britain and Australia are preparing to join the US in confronting two nuclear-armed powers, China and Russia, raising the prospect of a catastrophic war. None of this is about defending democracy, which is under sustained attack in all three countries. Rather, the AUKUS pact is seeking to maintain the US global hegemony on which Australia and Britain have both relied since the end of World War II, but which is being undermined by the economic rise of China in particular.

The escalation of the British military presence in the Indo-Pacific—a region half way around the world from the United Kingdom—is especially significant. Following World War II and its declining global influence, Britain withdrew from “East of the Suez” from 1966, pulling its military out of major bases in Aden (now part of Yemen) and Singapore. It has not consistently sent warships to the Indo-Pacific since the closure of its small base in Hong Kong in 1997 when the colony was returned to China.

Last March the British government adopted a so-called Indo-Pacific Tilt, as part of its 2021 Integrated Review, and in September signed up to the AUKUS agreement. The British navy dispatched the Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier and its strike group of warships to the Indo-Pacific where it engaged in various exercises, including provocative joint drills in the South China Sea with Dutch and Singaporean naval vessels in October.

Speaking to the press yesterday, Australian Defence Minister Peter Dutton explained that no agreement had been reached as yet on basing British warships in Australia. However, “it could be something that we discuss at an appropriate time” in the future. “I think what you will see is a greater regularity in visits, training, in people being embedded… and certainly greater cooperation in exercises.”

Britain has already dispatched two of its newest warships—the offshore patrol vessels, HMS Spey and HMS Tamar—to the Asian region on a long-term basis as part of re-establishing “a persistent Indo-Pacific presence.” While not permanently based in Australia, the two British naval vessels will rely heavily on Australian naval infrastructure for port visits, resupply and maintenance.

The two countries also agreed to strengthen military coordination and planning by embedding a liaison officer from Britain’s Permanent Joint Headquarters within Australia’s Headquarters Joint Operations Command.

Australia and Britain are part of the top-level Five Eyes intelligence sharing network, led by the US, which also includes New Zealand and Canada. The ministerial meeting yesterday strengthened collaboration on cyber security, artificial intelligence, quantum technologies and undersea capabilities.

Truss used a speech to the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute, to issue strident warnings about the threat of a Russian invasion of the Ukraine and its dire consequences. In reality, the US and its allies have manufactured the present crisis over Ukraine through the military encroachment of NATO forces into Eastern Europe after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

At yesterday’s press conference, Payne joined the international anti-Russia chorus, declaring “we will work closely with Ukraine in the coming days and weeks in terms of challenges that they are dealing with.” She indicated that Australia would look favourably on any formal request from the Ukraine for assistance on cyber-security.

Asked yesterday about the talks in Sydney, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian branded the AUKUS agreement as “a typical military bloc” and the decision to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines as a breach of the international Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. He pointed to the hypocrisy of the US, Britain and Australia hyping the “China threat” while collaborating in a military build-up in the region.

The provision of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia underscores the aggressive character of the AUKUS agreement. The attack submarines have nothing to do with the defence of Australian waters but are designed to operate at great distances for lengthy periods of time. Their purpose is to operate in concert with British and American nuclear submarines off the Chinese coast, either as part of a naval blockade or a full-scale war.

Last September, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared that Australia had no intention of creating a domestic nuclear industry or arming the nuclear-powered submarines with nuclear missiles. As geo-political tensions continue to rise, such pledges are meaningless.

Australia’s deep integration into US war planning has placed the Australian population on the front-line of a US-led conflict with China that has the potential to rapidly escalate into a nuclear war.

Iran attacks Babylon the Great again

Several rockets hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, including US embassy, and wound two civilians

US personnel in the area are safe following the attacks, a State Department official told CNN. 

“The U.S. Embassy compound was attacked this evening by terrorist groups attempting to undermine Iraq’s security, sovereignty, and international relations,” the embassy said in a statement.“We have long said that these sorts of reprehensible attacks are an assault not just on diplomatic facilities but on the sovereignty of Iraq itself,” the embassy added in the tweeted statement.

The Iraqi military said “a cowardly terrorist act” targeted “innocent residents of the Green Zone in Baghdad and the headquarters of the diplomatic missions.”

Several missiles were launched from the Dora neighborhood in southern Baghdad, the military said.

Security forces are now investigating the incident.

Baghdad’s Green Zone houses Iraqi government offices and several embassies.

Iraqi President Barham Salih condemned the attack on Thursday, writing on Twitter: “Targeting diplomatic missions and endangering civilians is a criminal terrorist act and a blow to Iraq’s interests and its international reputation.” Thursday’s strikes add to a growing list of attacks on US personnel in the Middle East in recent weeks. Last Wednesday, military bases in Iraq and Syria that house American troops were attacked, though no US forces were killed in the strikes. 

Last week also saw several other attacks in the region, coinciding with the second anniversary of the US assassination of Qasem Soleimani, a key Iranian general.

The attack last week on the US base in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border prompted US-led coalition forces to fire back at Iranian-backed militias who were suspected of being behind the strikes. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters last week that “it’s difficult to know with great specificity and certainty … what accounts for the frequency of these attacks,” adding: “It is certainly possible that it could be related to the anniversary of the Soleimani strike. It is certainly possible that it could be related to the change in mission” in Iraq.

Echoing Salih’s sentiments, Iraqi anti-American cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr stressed that Thursday’s attacks would only delay the full withdrawal of US troops from the country.

Al-Sadr called on all militia groups to stop attacking the US embassy and other sites, saying such acts would “Undermind our efforts to expel (US troops in Iraq) through the UN Security Council, international means and under penalty of law.”

The cleric’s political party has emerged as the biggest winner in Iraq’s general election that was held in October 2021.

Iran States Babylon the Great is Weaker than Ever

Raisi is accompanied by senior members of his cabinet, including the foreign minister, economy minister, and oil minister, on his high-profile, two-day visit to Russia.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi accuses the US of seeking to “weaken independent governments from within” while reminding the world that Tehran is serious about reaching a nuclear deal if the sanctions are lifted.

Iran’s Raisi: United States is in its ‘weakest position’ ever

Raisi is accompanied by senior members of his cabinet, including the foreign minister, economy minister, and oil minister, on his high-profile, two-day visit to Russia. (Reuters)

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has said the “strategy of domination” had failed and the US was “in its weakest position.”

Addressing the lower house of the Russian parliament on Thursday, Raisi used his address to the State Duma in lashing out at the US and hailing the growing proximity between Tehran and Moscow.

He said the “power of independent nations” was experiencing a “historic growth,” while accusing the US and its allies of seeking to “weaken independent governments from within” through “economic sanctions, destabilisation, promotion of insecurity, and false narratives.”

Raisi, elected to office last July, noted that the US “military occupation” in Iraq and Afghanistan was ending due to “resistance of nations,” which he said serves “independence of countries.”

He received a standing ovation and a round of applause from Russian lawmakers after his speech, which many see as an invitation to Russia to form a regional alliance against the US.

Serious about reviving nuclear deal

Defending his country’s nuclear programme, the Iranian president said Washington claims that sanctions are due to Iran’s nuclear activities, but the country’s activities are “legal and under the constant supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is serious about reaching an agreement if the other parties are serious about lifting the sanctions effectively and operationally,” Raisi commented on the ongoing efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

Raisi further extended Iran’s support to Russia’s initiative of holding a meeting of the parliament speakers of Iran, Russia, Turkiye, Pakistan, and China in the “fight against terrorism.”