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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
There is a risk Australia may be alone in the region
It has been fifty years since Australia made a formal decision not to acquire nuclear weapons. However, since then the regional geo-political environment has starkly changed, and is likely to become more turbulent over the next few decades, as balances are changing.
US reliance as an alley, and the inferred nuclear protection Australia has been given is uncertain in the future. The competitive strategic positions of China and the US will change drastically over the next decade. US interests under different presidencies are also fluid. Australia is now in the frontline of a strategically changing region, where Australia’s self-perception as a middle power has vanished with some regional military forces much more potent than Australia.
Australia’s bilateral relationship with its largest trading partner China has greatly deteriorated over recent times, with few signs of improving. Australia is alone in its trade dispute with China, ironically with the US benefitting from Chinese embargoes on Australian goods. Minister to minister communications has long been suspended, as China is decoupling Australia.
There are a number of potential trouble spots in the region. These include Chinese intentions over Taiwan, North Korea’s acquisition of long-range nuclear weapon delivery systems, and a potentially unstable nuclear Pakistan with Taliban designs of creating a Pashtun Taliban Caliphate in Pakistan.
The nuclear equilibrium in the region is shifting. China’s rise in military force is prompting countries like India to upgrade its nuclear arsenal to much more powerful thermonuclear weapons.
Probably of greatest importance is Indonesian nuclear weapon development intentions. Former Indonesian army four-star general and minister for maritime affairs and investment has been reported as saying Indonesia is underestimated because it doesn’t have nuclear weapons. Indonesia’s development of facilities capable of manufacturing weapons grade materials are well underway. A nuclear Indonesia with a growing Wahhabi-Salafism in Indonesia may one day leave Australia with a government to the north, vastly different to what exists now.
Australia needs to discuss strategy options in the new realities it faces in the region. There needs to be re-assessments of a post-Afghanistan US alley, very close neighbours to Australia which are adopting a placating response to China, a super-power that is bullying Australia, and the likelihood of a potential nuclear armed neighbour.
Since the early 1970s, Australian Governments have been strongly supportive of nuclear non-proliferation under the definitions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), signed by the McMahon Government in 1970 and ratified by the incoming Labor Whitlam Government in 1973. Australia’s anti-nuclear position was even strengthened under Liberal-Coalition Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, as the “green/anti-nuclear” movement was quickly growing in Australia at the time. With the exception of Prime Minister John Howard, who saw a changing Asia-Pacific nuclear balance, subsequent prime ministers Hawke, Keating, Rudd, and Gillard also strongly followed the non-proliferation line.
Paradoxically, every prime minister supported to various degrees, the development of uranium mining and export as an economic driver. The Fraser and later Rudd Governments argued that uranium exports should be used as a means to strengthen non-proliferation by demanding safeguards from customers.
Prior to the 1970s, Australia took a different view towards nuclear non-proliferation. In 1944, Australia supplied uranium ore to the Manhattan Project. Australian physicist Mark Oliphant played a major role in pushing the atomic bomb program in both Britain and the US before the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.
However, after World War II, the US Government reneged on its agreement to share nuclear technology with its allies. Then Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies, granted Australia’s assistance to Britain in its quest for autonomous nuclear weapons, giving technical assistance and allowing nuclear tests in the Mont Bello Islands, Emu Field and Maralinga, on Australian soil between 1952 and 1963. Australia also participated in the development of the Blue Streak and bloodhound missiles, which were potential nuclear weapon delivery systems with Britain during this era.
The significance of Australian participation, which didn’t go unnoticed by Australian bureaucrats and politicians at the time, was that under section IX.3 of the proposed NPT, Australia would be able to claim nuclear status as it had participated in the production and detonation of nuclear weapons prior to 1st January 1967. Historical reports indicate that the Australian Government’s main motivation at the time, (including US pressure), was to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the local hemisphere, rather than seeking the abolishment of nuclear weapons.
Attempts during the 1950s and 1960s were made by a number of defence personnel, high placed public servants, academics, and right-wing elements of the Liberal-Country Party to acquire nuclear weapons. Initially purchasing them from either Britain or the United States was advocated. Later developing an independent nuclear deterrent was favoured.
Most of the active proponents for nuclear weapons were defence related personnel. They developed a number of plans to acquire nuclear weapons from the British, or have the United States deploy them on Australian soil. Sir Philip Baxter, who was head of the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC) at the time, operated a clandestine research program to isolate the isotope U-235 from uranium, the quality needed in the production of nuclear weapons.
Some academics like Professor A. L. Burns of the Australian National University also advocated an Australian nuclear option which was aired by the Australian media at the time, especially in relation to the Chinese testing a nuclear bomb and the belief that Indonesia was also developing nuclear weapons. Pressure groups like the Democratic Labor Party and Returned Soldiers League which were both influential during the 1960s also strongly advocated an Australian nuclear weapon option.
The reluctance of the Australian Government to go ahead with the development of its own nuclear weapons all changed after Prime Minister Menzies retirement, when John Gorton unexpectedly became prime minister after the disappearance of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967. John Gorton, an ex-RAAF pilot strongly believed that Australia should have its own independent nuclear deterrent with the Chinese in possession of nuclear weapons in the region. Plans went underway to develop a nuclear facility at Jervis Bay on the South Coast of New South Wales that would house both a nuclear reactor, which could produce weapons grade plutonium, and bomb manufacturing facilities.
Gorton tried to develop an Australian nuclear weapon capability before the NPT was signed. However, in March 1971, he was disposed by William McMahon, who cancelled all nuclear weapon development plans. It will always remain a matter of conjecture how much influence the US had in his decision.
Moving back to more contemporary times, two recent reactions to recent events by the former Turnbull Government briefly hinted of a change in thinking about Australia’s strong non-proliferation position.
Firstly, Australia’s tradition of supporting non-proliferation in international forums was broken. Australia failed to support the recent United Nations resolution to outlaw nuclear weapons on the floor of the General Assembly in 2016, to the surprise and astonishment of many interested in this issue. Secondly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull failed to give Melbourne based International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) director Beatrice Fihn a congratulatory call after been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This seems significant in what can be considered Australia’s first Nobel Peace Prize.
This is not yet a policy shift, but perhaps recognition that nuclear weapons for Australia may need to be an option. Today, with Australian citizen perception of China, and as more news of an Indonesian nuclear weapons program intentions surface, public support will increase. Australian society has changed since the anti-nuclear days of French testing in the Pacific, and the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Australia’s capability to develop nuclear weapons is better than most. The Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization (ANSTO) at Lucas Heights, replacing the AAEC in 1987 is an internationally renowned centre of nuclear research. Australia has also developed some advanced indigenous uranium refining technology, the SILEX process using lasers, which is much more economical and cheaper than the traditional centrifuge technology.
Australia has large reserves of uranium and a stockpile of semi-refined uranium at Lucas heights. Australia also has a certain degree of bomb making technology that it gained from participation with Britain in the nuclear tests during the 1950s and its own endeavours back in the 1970s. Australia has the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter, Boeing F/A-18a & B Hornet, and the F/A 18F Super Hornet as capable medium range delivery systems. Australia also has a range of nuclear capable cruise missiles which can be launched from aircraft, ships, and submarines. Submarines are today by far the most stealthy method of delivering nuclear weapons, as they are the most difficult to detect, and delivery time from launch to target is short.
However, this doesn’t mean developing a nuclear arsenal would be an easy project for any future government. The project would be a major one requiring special budgeting, which would mean curtailing other budget expenditure. This could be very difficult in today’s economic environment.
In the absence of some form of threat to Australia’s security, public debate would probably be one of the most heated and passionate within Australian society. This would be reflected in the finely balanced Australian Parliament. This debate would have the potential to bring down the Government.
In the absence of bi-partisanship between the major parties on the issue, a Labor Government on current policy would firmly squash any potential nuclear program. It may not even need a change of government, a change of leader within the Liberal Party maybe enough to force the cancellation of any nuclear program.
The nuclear weapon debate is an issue politicians can use to gain power, which would prevent Australia developing nuclear weapons. That’s the dynamics of a democratic system. If France or Britain had to develop nuclear weapons from scratch today, it would almost be impossible through their democratic processes.
Even if Australia decided to go ahead with a nuclear program, tacit approval would be needed from the United States. The US has for years been hedging on this. However, with the Biden view of the region, the US may support allies in the Asia-Pacific taking more responsibility for their own defence. The proposal by Australia to develop its own nuclear arsenal may bring big offers of concessions from the US. There are possibilities that the US could deploy nuclear weapons on Australian soil as a deterrent, with joint control or leasing scheme.
The strongest argument for Australia developing a nuclear deterrent is to gain strategic respect in the region. Australia cannot afford to project itself militarily into the South China Sea in any significant manner on its own. This would need spending 4-5 percent of GDP on defence over a decade. Australia’s transactional diplomacy within the region hasn’t developed close regional military alliances that it should have by now. China is using Australia as a decoupling experiment to see how isolated they can make the country. Australia must quickly see how alone it is now, as no country has jumped to Australia’s assistance. A nuclear deterrent will make it easier for Australia to stand alone. This will now very quickly develop into a serious option.
It comes after suggestions from US officials that Russia had prepositioned a group of operatives to conduct a false-flag operation to justify invading Ukraine.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the Kremlin was laying the groundwork for an attack through a social media disinformation campaign framing Kiev as the aggressor.
Speaking on Friday, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: “I am afraid an invasion by Russian forces is inevitable and imminent and we have allowed this to happen.
“We had the opportunity to place sufficient military hardware and personnel in Ukraine to make president Putin think twice about invading but we failed to do so.”
He added: “Only president Putin knows what he is going to do next, but next week would seem pivotal.
“He has negotiated himself into a corner and after Nato refused to bow to his threats seemingly only one option remains.”
Tweeting on Saturday, foreign secretary Liz Truss, who alongside other Nato members condemned Russia’s military build-up on the Ukraine border, has called on Moscow to “halt its aggression.”
She said: “Russia is waging a disinformation campaign intended to destabilise and justify an invasion of its sovereign neighbour Ukraine.
“Russia must halt its aggression, deescalate and engage in meaningful talks.”
On Friday, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow would not wait indefinitely for a Western response to its demands that both the US and Nato guarantee that the military alliance will not expand eastwards. He said he expects a written answer next week.
He added Nato’s deployments and drills near Russia’s borders pose a security challenge that must be addressed immediately.
“We have run out of patience,” Mr Lavrov said at a news conference. “The West has been driven by hubris and has exacerbated tensions in violation of its obligations and common sense.”
Yesterday, the Russian ministry of defence shared footage of tanks and weapons being loaded onto trains. Moscow described the exercise as being part of an inspection drill to test long-distance artillery.
“This is likely cover for the units being moved towards Ukraine,” Rob Lee, a US-based military analyst, said.
“As a result of a massive hacking attack, the websites of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a number of other government agencies are temporarily down. Our specialists are already working on restoring the work of IT systems,” a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
On Friday morning, Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, condemned the cyberattack and said the bloc would support Kiev.
“We are going to mobilise all our resources to help Ukraine to tackle this cyberattack. Sadly, we knew it could happen,” he told reporters at a gathering of EU foreign leaders in Brest, France.”
“It’s difficult to say [who is behind it]. I can’t blame anybody as I have no proof, but we can imagine,” he added.
China on Tuesday said it would keep modernizing its nuclear program in the name of “safety” but called on the United States and Russia to make greater cuts to their arsenal stockpiles.
“China will continue to modernize its nuclear arsenal for reliability and safety issues,” Fu Cong, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control department said Tuesday, first reported the South China Morning Post.
Fu’s comments come one day after the five states recognized under the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) — the U.S., Russia, France, the United Kingdom and China, who are also the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council — issued a joint pledge to lower the risk of nuclear war.
The P5 affirmed that “nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and that “nuclear weapons — for as long as they continue to exist — should serve defensive purposes, deter aggression, and prevent war.”
While the U.N. permanent member nations hold the greatest number of nuclear arsenals, nations like India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea have known stockpiles as well.
The U.S. and Russia have been working to reduce their nuclear stockpiles since the end of the Cold War when there were roughly 60,000 nuclear weapons between the two superpowers.
According to data from the Arms Control Association, Russia has the largest nuclear arsenals in the world with more than 6,255 warheads on hand. The U.S. comes in second with 5,550 warheads.
China ranks a distant third with 350 nuclear warheads.
A Department of Defense report in November found that China may be ramping up its nuclear capabilities and could have 700 nuclear warheads by 2027 and reach 1,000 warheads by 2030.
China’s arms control director general denied the report Tuesday and said the country’s nuclear force could not be determined by satellite photos.
“On the assertions made by U.S. officials that China is expanding dramatically its nuclear capabilities, first, let me say that this is untrue,” Fu said.
Fu reiterated China’s stance that Beijing will not enter into an agreement with Washington or the Kremlin to reduce its nuclear warhead capabilities until the U.S. and Russia have drastically diminished their stockpiles.
Fu Cong, center, the director general of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control department, attends a press conference on nuclear arms control in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
“We will be happy to join if they have reduced to our level,” Fu said.
“The two superpowers need to … drastically reduce their nuclear capabilities to a level comparable to the level of China, and for that matter to the level of France and the U.K., so that other nuclear states can join in this process,” he added.
A senior Russian diplomat has refused to rule out a Russian military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States over Ukraine and NATO’s expansion in Eastern Europe mountBy VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV and MATTHEW LEE Associated PressJanuary 13, 2022, 2:22 PM• 7 min read
High-stakes discussions between US and RussiaThe first round of crisis talks between Russia and the U.S. over Ukraine and NATO expan…Read MoreThe Associated Press
MOSCOW — Russia raised the stakes Thursday in its dispute with the West over Ukraine and NATO’s expansion when a top diplomat refused to rule out a military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions with the United States escalate.
“It all depends on the action by our U.S. counterparts,” the minister said in an interview with Russian television network RTVI, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take unspecified “military-technical measures” if the U.S. and its allies fail to heed its demands.
U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed the statements about a possible Russian deployment to Cuba and Venezuela as “bluster in the public commentary.”
Ryabkov led a Russian delegation in talks with the U.S. on Monday. The negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels took place in response to a significant Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that the West fears might be a prelude to an invasion.
Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014, has denied having plans to attack the neighboring country. The Kremlin reacted to the suggestion by accusing NATO of threatening its territory and demanding that the military alliance never embrace Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nations as new members.
Washington and its allies firmly rejected the demand this week as a nonstarter, but the NATO and Russian delegations agreed to leave the door open to further talks on arms control and other issues intended to reduce the potential for hostilities.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Sullivan said that “allied unity and transatlantic solidarity were on full display and they remain on full display” during this week’s talks with Russia, which he described as “frank and direct.”
“We stuck to our core premise of reciprocity,” the national security adviser said. “We were firm in our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and those areas that are non-starter.”
Sullivan noted that no further talks have been scheduled, but “we’re prepared to continue with diplomacy to advance security and stability in the Euro-Atlantic.”
“We’re equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path,” he added. “We continue to coordinate intensively with partners on severe economic measures in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Asked about Ryabkov keeping the door open to basing troops and equipment in Latin America, Sullivan responded: “I’m not going to respond to bluster in the public commentary.”
He noted that the issue wasn’t raised during this week’s talks and added that “if Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively.”
Ryabkov last month compared the current tensions over Ukraine with the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — when the Soviet Union deployed missiles to Cuba and the U.S. imposed a naval blockade of the island.
That crisis ended after U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed that Moscow would withdraw its missiles in exchange for Washington’s pledge not to invade Cuba and the removal of U.S. missiles from Turkey.
Putin, in seeking to curtail the West’s military activity in Eastern Europe, has argued that NATO could use Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes. He warned that Russia could gain a similar capability by deploying warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in neutral waters.
Soon after his first election in 2000, Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-built military surveillance facility in Cuba as he sought to improve ties with Washington. Moscow has intensified contacts with Cuba in recent years as tensions with the U.S. and its allies mounted.
In December 2018, Russia briefly dispatched a pair of its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela in a show of support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro amid Western pressure.
Ryabkov said a refusal by the U.S. and its allies to consider the key Russian demand for guarantees against the alliance’s expansion to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations makes it hard to discuss the confidence-building steps that Washington says it’s ready to negotiate.
“The U.S. wants to conduct a dialogue on some elements of the security situation … to ease the tensions and then continue the process of geopolitical and military development of the new territories, coming closer to Moscow,” he said. “We have nowhere to retreat.”
Ryabkov described U.S. and NATO military deployments and drills near Russia’s territory as extremely destabilizing. He said U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers flew just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from Russia’s border.
“We are constantly facing a provocative military pressure intended to test our strength,” he said, adding that he wondered how Americans would react “if our bombers fly within 15 kilometers off some U.S. bases on the East or the West Coast.”
The high-stakes diplomacy took place as an estimated 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weapons are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border. On Thursday, Sullivan reiterated concerns that Moscow may be laying the groundwork for invading Ukraine by fabricating allegations that Kyiv is preparing to act against Russia.
He said the U.S. would be making public some of the reasons for that assessment in the coming days.
Earlier Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rebuffed the West’s calls for a troop pullback from areas near Ukraine.
“It’s hardly possible for NATO to dictate to us where we should move our armed forces on Russian territory,” he said.
Peskov said this week’s talks produced “some positive elements and nuances,” but he characterized them as unsuccessful overall.
“The talks were initiated to receive specific answers to concrete principal issues that were raised, and disagreements remained on those principal issues, which is bad,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters.
He warned of a complete rupture in U.S.-Russia relations if proposed sanctions targeting Putin and other top civilian and military leaders are adopted. The measures, proposed by Senate Democrats, would also target leading leading Russian financial institutions if Moscow sends troops into Ukraine.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov likewise denounced the proposed sanctions as a reflection of U.S. “arrogance,” adding that Moscow expects a written response to its demands from the U.S. and NATO next week in order to mull further steps.
Tensions revolving around Ukraine and Russia’s demands on the West again appeared on the table at a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Vienna.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who assumed the position of the OSCE’s chairman-in-office, noted in his opening speech that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years.”
Russia seized the Crimean Peninsula after the ouster of Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly leader and in 2014 also threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between the Russia-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces.
Asked whether he’s worried about possible confrontation, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said “it is absolutely essential that the dialogue that is taking place find a way allowing for de-escalation of tension … to avoid any kind of confrontation that will be a disaster for Europe and for the world.”
Lee reported from Washington. Emily Schultheis in Vienna, Lorne Cook in Brussels, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nastions and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.
Hamas’ attempts, led by Saleh Arouri, to infiltrate the West Bank, worry not only Israel but Ramallah and Jordan as well. Hamas’ efforts are currently the common denominator for the cooperation required of Israel and Jordan. Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces are already operating in the Jenin region of the West Bank.
This is an opportunity to examine what is happening in Jordan. Developments there should be troubling King Abdullah II. Although Jordan is currently calm domestically, and there are no violent events like in Jenin, the Jordanian parliament is giving the king stress. According to comments from journalists close to the palace, the king views the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas’ umbrella organization) as the source of the unrest.
In mid-December, the Jordanian parliament challenged the government’s far-reaching water and electricity agreements with Israel.2 Then, on December 28, 2021, a brawl took place while the lawmakers discussed changing the fundamental laws to ensure gender equality. When it deliberated whether to attach the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanian [Jordanienne (sic)]” alongside the masculine form of “Jordanian,” an uproar erupted that included swearing and an exchange of blows.3
Eventually, a compromise was reached, under which the Arabic feminine form of the word “Jordanienne” entered the fundamental laws.
The parliament passed amendments that enabled the king to appoint top public security and judicial officials, along with the grand mufti and royal advisers. An amendment was also approved to establish a National Security Council controlled by the king, which would handle all issues related to defense and security. But it came at a price. In an unprecedented move, the parliament removed the king as the head of the parliamentary security committee.4
Jordanian journalists close to the royal palace accused the Muslim Brotherhood of planning the provocations in parliament.5
The veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood branch in Jordan, Laith Shubeilat, did not hesitate to accuse the Brotherhood’s new generation of having ties to foreign entities – namely Iran. Shubeilat is no lapdog for the Hashemite regime; he had a strained relationship with King Hussein and was arrested several times. In a recording released on January 3, 2022, Shubeilat was heard attacking the Brotherhood leadership’s corruption: “You preserved the organization, and you did not preserve the religion.”
Jordanian publicist Ahmed Salama reported that when King Abdullah allowed Khalid Mishaal and Ismail Haniyeh to attend the funeral of a senior member of the Brotherhood, Ibrahim Ghosheh, in August 2021, they used this humane gesture to persuade mourners to recognize the two Hamas figures as leaders of Jordan’s own Islamic faction. “The funeral turned into a pledge of allegiance to Hamas and its leaders,” Salama wrote. Moreover, their incitement “was an embarrassment to the government’s alliance with the Ramallah authority.” The goal of the Brotherhood, according to Salama, is to fragment Jordan as they have divided the Palestinians. Its logic is clear: just as they opened the door to Iran in Gaza, they want to divide Jordan to allow Iran’s infiltration as well.6
Arouri’s attempts to infiltrate the West Bank are understood in Jordan as part of an Iranian mission also to infiltrate the “East Bank.” Faced with this Hamas strategy, Jordan must coordinate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli navy ships attacked, on Wednesday evening, a Palestinian fishing boat offshore the city of Gaza, in the besieged coastal region.
Media sources said the boat was within Palestinian water, less than six nautical miles from the shore, when a navy ship started firing live rounds at it, in addition to using water cannons.
The attack caused damage, but did not lead to casualties or abductions, and forced the fishermen back to the shore to avoid further escalation.
On Tuesday, similar Israeli attacks targeted fishermen off the coast of Gaza city, and farmers on their lands in the central Gaza Strip.
The army frequently attacks farmers, shepherds, workers, and fishermen across the eastern parts of the coastal region and in Palestinian territorial waters, leading to dozens of casualties, including fatalities, in addition to preventing the Palestinians from tending to their lands and from fishing to provide for their families.
In March of last year, the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza said Israeli mines were responsible for an explosion that led to the death of three fishermen.