Putin: Russia Hopes to Broaden Cooperation with US

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he hoped Moscow could cooperate with Washington in a broader range of fields.

“We have dialogue at the work level and on the level of the special services, the defense ministries, the foreign ministries. We achieve joint results,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “We have to expand our cooperation to other spheres.”

Putin also said that Moscow was not concerned about a US military build-up in the Baltic region.

“We are analyzing it, watching this closely. Every one of their steps are known and clear to us,” Putin said at a forum with scholars. “This doesn’t worry us. Let them train there, everything is under control.”

Commenting on the chances of closing of Russia’s borders with rebel regions in eastern Ukraine, Putin said it would result in a “Srebrenica-like massacre”, referring to the mass killing of Muslims during the 1992-95 Bosnian War.

He said Europe was to blame for the Ukraine crisis and that only European powers could act to change the situation.

Putin added that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was being pressured by the US to prevent Russia from taking part in the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

“We are seeing that the IOC is under strong pressure,” Putin said at a forum with scholars.

“It relies on advertisers, television channels, sponsors, and so on. And these sponsors are receiving unambiguous signals from certain American institutions.”

Washington and the Iranian Public Opinion

During the negotiations for the nuclear agreement three years ago, Iran’s propaganda focused on claiming that the deal will lead to peace in the region and end the long-term conflicts.

Unlike what’s commonly known about it, Tehran’s government expanded its propaganda to include Iranian communities, most of whom have not been in agreement with the regime since the revolution erupted.

Some figures who have supported the nuclear deal, in fact, oppose the regime.

The unfamiliar reconciliation between the two opposing parties was very intriguing, which is why I inquired about it. Some commended the influence of the Iranian lobby, while others said the reconciliation was a result of the former US administration’s pressure on opposing parties.

Of course, some believe the opposition supported the deal although it was against the regime.

Hassan Rouhani’s government exerted a lot of effort and succeeded in painting a positive image about Iran’s future, promising reconciliation and positive change that would eventually end strained relations with around 5 million Iranians in exile, most of whom live in the West.

At the time, Rouhani and his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s message focused on Iranians outside the country asking them to support Iran’s right to nuclear weapons, despite their different political orientations.

Iranian elites in the US reiterated the proposition and were convinced that Iran will change towards the best with tolerance and openness.

However, the question here is about the stance of the opposition that defended the nuclear deal after signing and implementing it. Did they sense any indications that the regime improved its treatment towards the opposition, and towards Iranians generally?

We did not sense any change in the regime’s behavior which increased its suppressions to even include those affiliated with the regime, such as the children of late Iranian leader Hashimi Rafsanjani and figures close to former president Mohammad Khatami. Only recently, a number of figures affiliated with Rouhani were arrested as part of the never-ending game of balances.

From the time Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed between Iran and the West in July 2015 and until today, we did not hear from this Iranian elite, whether inside or outside Iran, regarding any progress on becoming a tolerant civil society as promised.

Therefore, we do not know what game will Rouhani resort to, again, to mobilize people like he managed to do last time.

Last time, Rouhani appealed to the patriotic sentiment saying the nuclear project is for Iran as a whole and not just for the regime. He convinced the public that it is a scientific and cultural pride and noted that lifting the ban of Iran will make the Iranians’ life better than before.

The Iranians must certainly be proud of their achievements but not when it is just another means towards more wars and domination. The agreement empowered oppressive forces like the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Because of the regime and its policies, Iran willingly continued to engage in battles despite the international ban and siege. It continued to spend billions of dollars on armed groups in Gaza, Lebanon, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

In addition, Tehran spent funds on a large network of extremist groups in Africa, Southeast Asia and even South America.

I expect Rouhani’s government to confuse the Iranian people living under the influence of the regime’s media, just like North Korea. The government will portray US’s decision as aggression against the Iranian people and as an attempt to restrain their lives, especially that Washington already imposed a ban on US visas for Iranians.

Washington must clarify its stance to the Iranian people and note that re-imposing sanctions on the government is not inevitable as it has rather previously given the regime a chance to put an end to its military adventures and stop funding extremist groups outside Iran.

US conditions are supposed to be backed by the majority of Iranians who had enough of the regime’s behavior and practices which squander their money on militias around the world.

Political Mobilization as Concerns over Blacklisting Revolutionary Guard Grow

London- A number of options is lined up at US President Donald Trump’s desk on containing the ever-expanding threat Iran poses against regional and international security. Counter-actively, Tehran spares no time in preparing responsive scenarios to the anticipated change in Washington policy. 

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani kicked of the national cabinet meeting by issuing an explicit warning on the widespread concerns of the Revolutionary Guard being blacklisted and the nuclear deal scrapped.

The US president is expected to “decertify” Iran’s nuclear deal with global powers this week and add its Revolutionary Guards military force to Washington’s blacklist under a strategy to increase pressure on Tehran.

Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif discussed behind parliament’s closed doors multiple possible scenarios to confront any drastic change in US policies towards the nuclear deal, and White House’s attempt to restrain Revolutionary Guard’s regional interference.

Tehran’s confusion and political state of top alertness comes at a time when several international parties have jumped into consultations, in an attempt to persuade Trump to uphold the Vienna nuclear agreement, 21 months after it going into force.

Rouhani, despite being cited to have controversy with the country’s conservatives, gave a full-throated defense of his one-time rivals in the Revolutionary Guards, as the country’s pragmatist and hardline factions rallied together in the face of threats from Trump.

“If someone backs out of an international deal, he’s the loser, not the one who doesn’t,” Rouhani said during the cabinet meeting.

He said US action against the Guards would be a “mistake beyond mistakes”.

“Sticking to a deal shows the dignity of a state and to what extent its government is trustworthy,” he added.

“They think that the Guards are a military entity. The Revolutionary Guards are not a military entity. They’re in the heart of the people. The Revolutionary Guards, in all the days of danger, have defended our national interests,” he said.

“We’re one society. We’re Iran. There are no differences between differentfactions in confronting the plots of our enemies,” he added.

During an unprecedentedly bitter campaign, he repeatedly spoke out in public against the political influence of the Guards, accusing them of backing his hardline opponent to defend their economic interests.

In recent days, however, the threat of new action from Washington has prompted a public display of unity from the rival factions among Iran’s rulers.

“Today, the president of America has created conditions where Iran is more united than ever. Today, those who oppose the nuclear deal and those who support it are side by side. We all have one voice,” Rouhani said.

Trump is expected to unveil a broad strategy on confronting Iran this week, likely on Friday. There was always the chance he could still have a last-minute change of heart and certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 accord, which he has called an “embarrassment” and the “worst deal ever negotiated.”

Washington Prepares to Lift Economic Sanctions against Sudan

The United States is preparing to lift decades-old economic sanctions against Sudan, citing improvement on human rights and progress on counter-terrorism, a US official said on Thursday.

A Reuters report said that President Donald Trump’s administration is expected to announce its decision as early as Friday, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Shortly before leaving office, former President Barack Obama temporarily eased penalties that had been in place for 20 years against the African nation. In July, the Trump administration postponed for three months a decision on whether to remove the sanctions completely, setting up an Oct. 12 deadline.

It will also mark a major turnaround for the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

The White House declined comment. There was no immediate comment from the State Department.

Sudan’s State Minister for Foreign Affairs Hamed Momtaz told Reuters on Wednesday in Khartoum: “Sudan has fulfilled all the necessary conditions relating to the roadmap, and the US administration is a witness to that and therefore we expect the sanctions to be lifted.”

Rights groups raised concerns that it would be premature to remove sanctions.

The United States first imposed sanctions on Sudan in 1997, including a trade embargo and blocking the government’s assets, for human rights violations and terrorism concerns.

Russia’s Lavrov Says Cooperation with US on Syria ‘Not without Problems’

There are problems with cooperation between Russia and the United States in Syria, Interfax news agency cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying on Friday.

“How we are cooperating on Syria – yes, not without problems of course, because not everyone takes things the same way,” Interfax quoted Lavrov as saying.

“Nevertheless, it is an example of how you can set aside differences and concentrate on common interests.”

On that note, Syria’s regime struck a deal to buy 3 million tons of wheat from its ally Russia over three years and is working to secure credit finance from Moscow for the grain, Syria’s internal trade minister told Reuters.

Beside providing Syrian regime head Bashar al-Assad with vital military support in the country’s six-year conflict, Moscow has also supplied some wheat, which is critical for the production of the country’s heavily subsidized staple flat bread.

“There are contracts being followed up with Russia,” Abdullah al-Gharbi, the minister of internal trade and consumer protection, said in an interview.

“Now, there is a three-year contract we signed, and we are trying to secure finances for it from the Russian side,” he said, adding the overall deal was for 3 million tons.

“We are importing around 1.7 million tons this year from Russia,” Gharbi said.

US and EU banking sanctions and asset freezes against Syria have made it difficult for some commodity trading houses to do business with the Syrian government, though trade with Russia poses fewer problems.

Russia’s Agriculture Ministry declined to comment.

Syria has announced several large commercial deals for Russian wheat in the past twelve months, but none has so far been fulfilled, according to Russian customs data.

Washington Concerned over Iranian Oil Refinery in Homs

Beirut- Iran plans to establish an oil refinery in regime-controlled areas near the Syrian city of Homs as General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, expressed on Tuesday concern over the move and pointed out that “Iran is projecting malign influences across the Middle East and supporting terrorist organizations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

Iranian news agency Fars quoted the head of downstream technologies at Iran’s Research Institute of the Petroleum Industry Akbar Zamanian as saying that Iran will build an oil refinery near Homs with a production capacity of 140,000 barrels per day.

“This refinery will be built as a consortium with the participation of Iran, Venezuela and Syria,” Zamanian said, according to Fars.

Damascus and Tehran had earlier signed a memorandum of understanding to build a power plant in the coastal province of Latakia with a capacity of 540 megawatts.

The Revolutionary Guards had also announced it provided Syrian forces with aircraft carrying guided missiles, in addition to sending around 70,000 Iranian, Iraqi, Pakistani and Afghan militias to fight alongside the regime.

Meanwhile, a Syrian Kurdish official described as “positive” the comments delivered by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem who said Damascus was ready to negotiate greater autonomy with the Syrian Kurds.
Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party told Asharq Al-Awsat that his party possesses a plan for democratic federalism. “We are ready to discuss it any time,” he said, adding that the federal project is not Kurdish but a plan for the entire Syria.

Muslim also said that Russia might play a role in any future talks conducted with the Syrian regime in this regard and would therefore act as a guarantor.

“In Syria, they [Kurds] want to proclaim autonomy in one form or another within the borders of the Syrian Arab Republic. Negotiations and a dialogue are possible on the matter,” Moallem told Russia Today website on Monday.

Separately, attempts to establish a joint local council in the city of Raqqa through annexing the councils of the Syrian Democratic Forces and the opposition’s temporary government, failed on Tuesday after the opposition rejected to participate in a US-sponsored conference that Italy had called for.

Saad Shuwish, head of a council linked to the temporary government, said the rejection came because the issue was related only to the city of Raqqa and not the entire province.

Layla Mustafa, the co-head of the Raqqa Civilian Council, refused to comment on the issue.

Iran’s Guards Use Aerial Guided-Missile Attacks to Back Regime Troops in Syria

Iran

Beirut- Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard had single-handedly introduced a new weapon when taking up arms side by side by Syria’s regime against ISIS in the Badia region.

Air-launched guided missile activity was registered–meanwhile, ISIS militiamen rebelled against commandership orders to implement the deal brokered with regime forces and withdraw from Hama’s eastern rural zone.

ISIS militants were given an order to exit Hama to Idlib.

A video clip broadcasted on Iran’s Alalam News Network showed aircraft carrying guided missiles and said they belonged to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Missiles targeted Badia posts in Syria, without specifying any locations. Other Iranian outlets reported that the attacks took place near the Syrian-Iraqi border and destroyed vehicles, military equipment, and ammunition.

Syrian opposition sources based in Deir al-Zour said that Iranian aircraft hovered over south-eastern Damascus countryside reaching all the way to the west of Abu Kamal area in Deir al-Zor border with Iraq.

Iranian aerial activity in the area near Deir al-Zour is recent — usually, surveillance aircraft belong to Syrian regime forces and Russian air fleets, sources told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Tehran had insisted on openly broadcasting employing new weapons in Syria.

In parallel to the launch of short-range missiles from Iran to the Deir al-Zour area last summer, Tehran announced the launch of drones nearby coalition forces present at the US occupied al-Tanf base in Syria but did not announce the use of guided missiles launched by aircraft already running.

The video showed two simultaneous images of the missile’s trajectory: the first taken from a camera installed in the front, the second from a reconnaissance aircraft. Among hit targets was a tank, which means that the guided missiles are anti-armor.

On that note, the US military destroyed an Iranian reconnaissance plane that tried to approach the Al-Tanf camp.

Al-Tanf military base is used by the Washington-led coalition to train rebels belonging to the “Free Syrian Army” to fight against ISIS terrorists centered near the Syrian-Iraqi border.

Moscow Condemns US Decision to Close 3 Russian Diplomatic Facilities

Russia

Moscow condemned on Sunday a decision by the United States to close the Russian consulate in San Francisco and two buildings housing trade missions in Washington DC and New York.

The Russian foreign ministry described the move as a “blatantly hostile act” that violated international law.

The development is the latest broadside in a tit-for-tat exchange between the countries that has helped push relations towards a new post-Cold War low. Russian diplomats over the weekend worked to vacate the properties, including the six-story consulate.

The US order was made in late August in retaliation for Moscow cutting the United States’ diplomatic presence in Russia.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, said that US authorities had told Moscow that they expected Russia to sell the facilities, TASS state news agency reported.

“We urge the US authorities to come to their senses and immediately return the Russian diplomatic facilities,” the foreign ministry added on its website. “Otherwise the USA will bear total blame for the ongoing degradation of the relations between our countries.”

The United States had seized control of the three Russian diplomatic posts on Saturday after confirming the Russians had complied with the Trump administration’s order to get out within two days, officials said.

A senior State Department official added that US officials had joined Russian Embassy personnel for walkthroughs of the three buildings.

On Saturday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the US deputy chief of mission in Moscow, Anthony Godfrey, to deliver a formal protest note calling the purported trade office search an “unprecedented aggressive action.”

The Foreign Ministry also posted video on Facebook that it said showed FBI agents inspecting the consulate general building in San Francisco. In the video, a man in a tie knocks on several numbered doors and enters what appears to be apartment units, taking a quick glance inside before declaring everything in order.

There was no additional comment from the US about whether the FBI was involved in the inspections. The State Department declined to answer additional questions about whether the premises might be searched for intelligence-gathering purposes now that the Russians have left.

Relations between Russia and the US have been badly strained since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the subsequent separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, developments which led Washington to impose sanctions on Russia.

US President Donald Trump took office in January, saying he wanted to improve ties. But relations have been damaged by accusations from American intelligence officials that Russia sought to meddle in the presidential election, something Moscow denies.

Trump, himself battling allegations his associates colluded with Russia, grudgingly signed into law last month new sanctions against Moscow that had been drawn up by Congress.

When it became clear those measures would become law, Moscow ordered the United States to cut its diplomatic and technical staff in Russia by more than half, to 455 people.

Casting Doubts over Kuwait’s Liberation

People’s memory may be short-lived, but the invasion of Kuwait too big of an event that touched on everyone’s lives, not just Kuwaitis. Despite 27 years passing since, the fallout endures till this very day.

Kuwait today hosts an open platform for political and intellectual differences and debate, which would have been helpful had all partaking panels uphold principals of good faith.

Instead, pro-Muslim Brotherhood inciters and Iran backers have taken the to the podium allegations questioning whether Gulf and coalition countries, namely Saudi Arabia, have truly contributed to liberating Kuwait from the Iraq-led invasion in the 90’s.

It is nonsensical to believe that an army of 250,000 Iraqi troops can be defeated by a single power—the US has spent 16 years so far in Afghanistan, yet with no comprehensive victory.

Similarly, American troops took on an eight-year conquest to remove the Saddam regime. Despite the downfall of long-time dictator Saddam Hussein, US forces still failed to install a fully-functioning authority in Baghdad.

On the other hand, Gulf efforts, in the short window of six months, managed to clear out Kuwait and fully restore the country’s political institutions. Kuwaitis returned to the safety of their homes.

Speaking from a personal perspective, Kuwait’s liberation, in its speed, magnitude and conduct, stands to be a unique and huge success.

Everyone loves to claim credit in that victory, and rightfully so.
Freeing Kuwait demanded a huge multi-role to be played on political, diplomatic, legal, media and humanitarian levels.

Kuwait’s invasion left a worldwide impact, and not just a regional one.

Zooming back in time, eight months ahead of Kuwaiti borders collapsing, the eastern wall of Berlin fell followed by Yugoslavia’s federal lines dissolved.

Three months before Iraqi forces entered Kuwait, Lithuania’s announced its independence from the Soviet Union.

More so, the Soviet Union lost another vital confederate, Ukraine, only a month ahead of Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait.

Two months into the Kuwait invasion after Saddam claiming historical right over the gulf state, western Germany spread its influence over the east in the name of unity and historical right.

Reviewing chaos caused by abrupt and earthshattering regime changes in Eastern European countries and the Soviet republics in Asia, we can understand why Saddam did what he did. The fifth Iraqi president believed he was a part of the new historical movement.

While recognizing the roles and efforts of other contributors, it remains without saying that it was Saudi Arabia’s role which brought Saddam’s plans to a halt.

I say this because I consider myself a political history scholar, looking beyond one event without getting involved in conspiracy theories. To say the least, what happened in Kuwait could have ended in differently.

Contrary to some beliefs, Saddam was not a rival to the United States. He actually had a good relationship with them strengthened by military and intelligence cooperation in the war against Iran.

With that in mind, it was not unlikely that Washington, acting on personal interest, would allow for a partial settlement such as recognizing a puppet Kuwaiti government there or tolerate the occupation especially if it did not threaten its strategic interests.

For long, Saddam tried to push such a proposal to the Bush administration. He even sought to persuade the Saudis into the matter. Saddam mediators, most notably the late Jordanian monarch, who was close to Washington, called for a political solution.

Fortunately for Kuwait, the Saudi monarch, King Fahd, may his soul rest in peace, decided to stand up to Saddam and risk everything. Stars aligned even further with Prince Bandar bin Sultan, an extraordinary diplomat, being then the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

There was a race between Saddam’s allies and Kuwait’s allies, all of whom tried to persuade the US government. The Saudi diplomat then pressed British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on the matter. Thatcher then told Bush: “George, this is not the time to be soft.”

Political conflict between the two Arab groups in batted back and forth in Washington for five months– the US left the door open for a political solution.

By the time it was January 12th, 1991 –with no avail or signs of a settlement–Bush asked Congress to approve the war. Even then, only a small majority voted yes.

Liberation was one of the many alternative scenarios that could have taken course in Kuwait, most notably the possibility of Washington abstaining from war if Saddam persuaded it not to compromise its interests.

Saddam could have made a strong case in convincing the US with a partial solution or postponed the issue of Kuwait for years. The Americans were already preoccupied with the Soviet Union .

The Soviets at the Helsinki meeting tried to convince Bush of a political solution, as did France. Two days before the January 17th attack, Saddam announced his willingness to retreat but under certain conditions.

Iraq’s later deposed leader did not recognize the true threat of war until he saw it announced on CNN. Undoubtedly, it was Saudi pressure that made the war possible, which facilitated all that came after.

US Lawmakers Reach Deal on Sanctions Bill for Russia, Iran, North Korea

US Republicans and Democrats have reached agreement on legislation that allows new sanctions against Russia, Iran and now also North Korea, leading congressional Democrats said on Saturday.

The Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act passed the Senate a month ago but was held up in the House of Representatives after Republicans proposed including North Korea sanctions in the bill.

Both chambers of Congress will have to pass the revised legislation.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, however, expressed concern that by including North Korea the legislation could face delays in the Senate.

“While we support the tougher sanctions on North Korea, which the House has already passed, I am concerned that adding them to this bill instead of standalone legislation will cause further procedural delays in the Senate,” she said in a statement.

“It is essential that the addition of North Korea to this package does not prevent Congress from immediately enacting Russia sanctions legislation and sending it to the President’s desk before the August recess,” she added.

Many lawmakers hope the bill would send a message to President Donald Trump to keep a strong line against Russia.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said a strong sanctions bill “is essential.”

“I expect the House and Senate will act on this legislation promptly, on a broad bipartisan basis and send the bill to the President’s desk,” Schumer said in a statement.

Senator Ben Cardin, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the agreement was reached after “intense negotiations.”

“A nearly united Congress is poised to send President Putin a clear message on behalf of the American people and our allies, and we need President Trump to help us deliver that message,” he said in a statement.