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Iran War Weekly - May 20, 2012

By Frank Brodhead - Posted on 21 May 2012

IranWar Weekly

May 20, 2012

Hello All – The next round of negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program will take place in Baghdadbeginning on May 23.  Following on the first meeting in Istanbul last month, the atmosphere leading up to the Baghdad meeting has exuded optimism.  I hope I’m wrong, but I think the official optimism reflected in the US mainstream media is excessive.  I’ve indicated some of my reasons for concern and foreboding down below.

Some of the background noise surrounding the Baghdad meeting will be coming from the clamor of Syria’s incipient civil war.  As an important article in last week’s Washington Post detailed (below), Kofi Annan’s attempt at a cease fire has been overwhelmed by the militarization and internationalization of the Syrian conflict, with supporters of the Syrian armed resistance flooding the country with weapons.  Much of the hardware is coming via Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, presumably brokered and coordinated by the United States, underscoring the anti-Iranian dimension to the external support for the anti-Assad forces.

As a warm up to next Wednesday’s Baghdad meeting, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has dispatched a delegation to inspect Iran’s military base at Parchin, supposedly looking for signs of nuclear activity, especially testing explosives.  This is a complicated issue that has been reported on poorly in its earlier rounds, and I encourage readers to look closely at the Gareth Porter article below.

Also this week, Saudi Arabia initiated a political/diplomatic process that tries to incorporate the Gulf kingdoms – initially Bahrain – within a more formal unity under Saudi hegemony.  As articles linked below indicate, this is directly related to the perceived threat that Iran presents to the undemocratic kingdoms fearing a homegrown version of the Arab Spring.

This mailing has two excellent “Featured Essays.”  One, by former UK representative to the IAEA Peter Jenkins, explores what it would take for the United States and Iran to renew bi-lateral talks, and underscores the (in short supply) sincerity and vision that would be required for the United States to strike a proper balance with Iran.  The second, by the Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, is specifically about the USpolicy of sanctions on Iran, but imo it is an excellent overview and fundamental critique of US policy toward Iran and its failure to understand the different currents within Iran, some of which emerged during the “Green Revolution” of 2009.

Finally, I very much appreciate the help that many of you have given in distributing the Iran War Weekly and/or linking it on websites.  David Swanson has kindly given me blog space on his site “War Is a Crime,” and so you can read previous “issues” of the IWW at  If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at

Best wishes,

Frank Brodhead

Concerned Families of Westchester (NY)



Sanctions Against Iran: A Duplicitous “Alternative” to War

Raha Iranian Feminist Collective, Jadaliyya [May 14, 2012]

---- Sanctions against Iran are not designed to work as an actual alternative to war, but rather are meant to, first of all, appease calls for sabre-rattling at home and by Israel; second, assert economic control over Iranian oil, while curbing Iran’s increasing influence in the region; and third, lay the groundwork for a diplomatic due-diligence claim in order to justify any potential military strike.  Ongoing talks between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany are not genuine negotiations, but rather are an effort to wring concessions from an economically weakened Iran. The dangerous outcome of these “talks” is that if Iran refuses to submit to Western bullying, the United States will be able to claim that diplomacy has failed, and move towards more aggressive means of achieving its agenda. The effect is that both diplomacy and sanctions become a prelude to war.


To Talk or Not to Talk

Peter Jenkins, Lobelog [May 15, 2012]

[FB - Peter Jenkins was the UK’s Permanent Representative to the IAEA for 2001-06.]

---- Since late January, when the White House decided there would be advantage in reverting to a policy of engagement after having acquired political cover in the form of additional sanctions, the possibility of direct talks between the United States and Iran has been in the air. Direct talks have been a rarity since 1979. But Iranians and Americans got together constructively in Geneva in the autumn of 2001 when Iran was offering help for U.S. operations in Afghanistan, and for some time after that an informal back-channel was kept open. To secure Iranian agreement to direct talks now, it would make sense to work through an intermediary…. But the White House would also need to fashion its public diplomacy carefully. Calls on Iran to demonstrate its sincerity, to show it can be trusted, and to build confidence in its intentions would go down badly in Tehran.




While the negotiations last month in Istanbul produced an atmosphere of optimism and good will, it is hard to see how the negotiations next week in Baghdad will keep diplomacy on track.  President Obama has signaled that the United States is prepared to accept the fundamentals of an Iranian civilian nuclear program, which would include the right to enrich low-level uranium, provided that Iran agrees to an inspection regime that would assuage fears that Iran could turn its civilian program into a military program.  And Iran, of course, says that this is all it wants.


But the domestic political constraints on getting from here to there seem insurmountable, in my view.  As the essays pasted in below (“Iran”) indicate, Iran’s public position is that talk by Israel and the United States about a “military option” is only words, and will not be intimidated.  Whatever the agreements between the United States and Israel, the United States has used the “threat” of an Israeli attack on Iran to maintain support from Europe for sanctions, as the only means to hold Israel in check.  Yet Europe’s economic crisis has provoked second thoughts among European leaders about implementing the total embargo on Iranian oil now scheduled for July 1.  And President Obama should have no confidence that such an embargo will not mean higher gasoline prices during his re-election campaign, not matter what alternative sources of supply are supposedly lined up. Yet as indicated in the essays below, US policy does not envision significantly relaxing sanctions on Iran in the short term. US policy appears headed for an unproductive, self-inflicted wound.


Negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program have failed in the past, not only on matters of principle, but on matters of timing, attitude, and respect.  Trita Parsi’s recent book on the Obama negotiations of 2009, A Single Roll of the Dice, bears this out strongly.  For example, in the present case, to expect Iran to make important concessions about its nuclear program, without a significant lifting of the US or UN economic sanctions, is simply not realistic.  Iran will simply interpret this as bullying, and has rejected such “diplomacy” again and again.  To take another example, in the Gareth Porter essay (below) on the problem with IAEA inspections at Iran’s military base at Parchin, Iran is essentially demanding a “search warrant” – “Tell us what you want to see and why, that’s OK; but you can’t keep making up new demands endlessly.”  The IAEA is unlikely to comply with this wish, unless there is a sharp reversal in US policy.


Also, the Iran resolutions currently in Congress give support to the Will Rogers observation that “This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer.” Prodded by AIPAC, Congress simply wants war, and there is no conceivable peaceful outcome via the current round of diplomacy that will be acceptable to Congress.


It seems to me that, for the Baghdad negotiations to be successful, too many needles will have to be threaded, and threaded by people who have not been able to do diplomacy well in the past.  Moreover, and as illustrated by the article by ISIS (below), there are simply too many people and institutions who – as illustrated by the debacle created by Turkish and Brazilian diplomacy with Iran two years ago – will not take “Yes” for an answer under any circumstances.


None of this is likely to be presented intelligibly to US audiences in the mainstream media.  If negotiations “fail,” it will simply be the result of “Iranian intransigence.”  And as argued in the excellent article by the Raha Iranian Feminist Collective (above), the failure of diplomacy, and of sanctions, would leave only the military option.  And perhaps that is the point of the exercise.



Hopes grow of a confidence-building deal on Iranian nuclear programme

By Julian Borger, The Guardian [UK] [May 16, 2012]

---- Positive signs ahead of Baghdad talks suggest that concessions on both sides could lead to a permanent dialogue. The signals emanating from Tehran in recent days suggest that the upbeat assessment that came out of the Istanbul talks last month was not a flash in the pan. My understanding is that Ali Bagheri, the deputy Iranian negotiator, got in touch with his opposite number at the EU, Helga Schmid, the day after the Istanbul talks to ensure that the ball kept rolling. In the run-up to the next round of talks in Baghdad next Wednesday, the two have met at an undisclosed location to draw up an agenda. The outline of a possible 'confidence-building package' has emerged from their discussions. That package would build on the uranium fuel swap deal that Iran came close to agreeing with the international community in 2009, by which it would export some of its enriched uranium stockpile in return for fabricated fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).  Furthermore, European sanctions due to take effect at the beginning of July, could be pushed back. The UK is already reported to be pushing for a six-month delay in sanctions on oil tanker insurance, and the implementation of the broader EU oil embargo could also be postponed. The barometer for success in Baghdad is not necessarily a sign deal along such lines, but a framework which would be handed over to expert teams on both sides to flesh out after next Wednesday's meeting.


Heading Into Talks With Iran, U.S. Sees Hopeful Signs

By Mark Landler, New York Times [May 18, 2012]

---- American negotiators, heading into a crucial round of talks with Iran over its nuclear program next week in Baghdad, are allowing themselves a rare emotion after more than a decade of fruitless haggling with Tehran: hope. With signs that Iran is under more pressure than it has been in years to make a deal, senior Obama administration officials said the United States and five other major powers were prepared to offer a package of inducements to obtain a verifiable agreement to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium closer to weapons grade. These gestures, the officials said, could include easing restrictions on things like airplane parts and technical assistance to Iran’s energy industry, but not the sweeping sanctions on oil exports, which officials said would go into effect on schedule in July. In a sign of the increased diplomatic efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Friday that its director general, Yukiya Amano, would travel to Tehran on Sunday to try to negotiate access to a military site where Iran is suspected of having conducted tests on nuclear-weapons triggers. It would be the first visit by the agency’s head to Iran since 2009, and it could add to the momentum in Baghdad. The major powers’ initial goal is to halt the activity that most alarms Israel: the spinning of thousands of centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20 percent purity, which is within striking distance of the level needed to fuel a nuclear weapon. In addition to halting enrichment, officials said, Iran must agree to ship out its stockpiles of 20 percent uranium and to cease operations at an enrichment facility buried in a mountainside near the holy city of Qum, which Israel says could soon be impregnable to an airstrike.


Opening the Door to a Solution with Iran

By David Albright and Olli Heinonen, Institute for Science and International Security [ISIS] [May 9, 2012]

---- Iran’s credibility is heavily damaged. Many legitimately doubt Iran’s Supreme Leader when he declares that Iran will never seek nuclear weapons. Proof is needed. If Iran does not start providing clarifications about the military dimension of its efforts, it risks poisoning the negotiations with P5+1 and makes military strikes that much more likely. On the other hand, Iran’s forthright discussion of the PHRC could dramatically increase confidence in the negotiating process and open the door to a peaceful resolution of this crisis.


Iran’s Parchin [Military Site] Issue

IAEA Refuses Iran Cooperation Pact Until After Parchin Visit
By Gareth Porter, Inter Press Service [May 13, 2012]
----Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano has signaled that there will be no IAEA agreement with Iran in the meetings in Vienna [last] Monday and Tuesday on the terms for Iranian cooperation in clarifying issue of alleged nuclear weapons work. Amano indicated in an interview with The Daily Beast Friday that he intends to hold up an agreement on Iranian cooperation in responding to allegations of military involvement in its nuclear programme until the IAEA is allowed to visit to Parchin. But the actual draft negotiating text of the agreement on "Clarification of Unresolved Issues" with Iran's proposed changes from the original IAEA proposal, which has been posted on the website of the Washington, D.C.-based Arms Control Association, shows that the major conflict over their cooperation is whether the process has a definite endpoint, not access to Parchin. Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA, Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has said that Iran is willing to grant access to Parchin but only under an agreed plan for Iranian cooperation with the IAEA.


Also useful – Fredrik Dahl, “U.N. nuclear chief to visit Iran, deal may be near,” Reuters [May 18, 2012]; and Justin Raimondo, “The Parchin Deception,” [May 14, 2012]



U.S.Envoy to Israel Says Nation Is Ready on Iran

By Jodi Rudoren, New York Times [May 17, 2012]

---- The American ambassador to Israel said this week that not only was America willing to use military force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, but that preparations had already been made for a possible attack. While American leaders, including President Obama and his defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have frequently said all options are on the table regarding Iran, the notion of specific plans being made is not something they typically talk about.


Panetta: Military Option For Iran ‘Not Being Weighed’

By John Glaser, [May 19, 2012]

---- Just days ahead of the talks between the six world powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, reports say Washington is “radiating optimism” with expectations of a peaceful nuclear deal and a “warming of relations” with Tehran. The comment was made in response to a recent claim by the U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that the military option is “not just available, but it’s ready.” Pentagon spokesperson George Little explained that the Pentagon is by nature “a planning organization,” and the planning of such contingencies is not a sign of impending war.


Also useful – Michael Shmulovich and Greg Tepper, “The US military option for Iran is ‘ready,’ American ambassador to Israel says,” Times of Israel [May 16, 2012]


In Congress

IranHawks in Congress in Some Disarray

By Jim Lobe, May 19, 2012

---- Hopes by Iran hawks here to get the U.S. Congress to wield the threat of a U.S. military attack on the Islamic Republic on the eve of next week’s critical negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program appear to have fallen unexpectedly short. While the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject "any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran", a key co-sponsor of the resolution emphatically denied that the measure was intended to authorize the use of military force and asserted that Tehran would have to test a warhead before it could be considered "nuclear weapons capable". At the same time, the House leadership was poised to accept an amendment to the otherwise hawkish 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that declares explicitly "that nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran." The NDAA, as amended, is expected to clear the House Friday. Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, a tough new sanctions bill that was supposed to sail through the Senate Thursday was blocked by some Republicans who said it was insufficiently hawkish.


House Bill Shifting Red Line for War on Iran Passes Overwhelmingly

By John Glaser, [May 17, 2012]

---- A bill in the House of Representatives has just been passed which inches the United States dangerously close to war with Iran just days ahead of a second round of diplomatic talks with Iran about its nuclear program. The vote, passed 401-11, effectively calls for a military attack on Iran when it obtains a “nuclear weapons capability” – an undefined term that, by some interpretations, could already apply to Iran, not to mention Brazil, Japan, the Netherlands, and any other country with a civilian nuclear program. “Current U.S. policy is that Iran cannot acquire nuclear weapons,” said Dennis Kucinch (D-Ohio), one of the few who voted against the bill. “Instead, H.Res. 568 draws the red line for military action at Iran achieving a nuclear weapons capability, a nebulous and undefined term that would include a civilian nuclear program.”


And in the Senate – John Glaser, “GOP Blocks New Iran Sanctions Bill, Insisting on Including Threat of War, [May 17, 2012]


The MEK Makes a Comback

Iran Exile Group Nears U.S. Rebirth

By Jay Solomon and Evan Perez, Wall St.Journal [May 15, 2012]

---- The Obama administration is moving to remove an Iranian opposition group from the State Department's terrorism list, say officials briefed on the talks, in an action that could further poison Washington's relations with Tehran at a time of renewed diplomatic efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear program. … The U.S. officials said Mrs. Clinton would make her final decision on the MeK's status no less than 60 days after the last MeK member is relocated from Camp Ashraf to a new transit facility near Baghdad International Airport. The U.S. is working with the United Nations to resettle Camp Ashraf residents in third countries. Roughly 1,200 people remain at the camp from an earlier population of over 3,000.


Is Israel flirting with Iranian terrorists?

By Trita Parsi, The Daily Beast [May 15, 2012]

---- Israel’s image as a victim of terror is taken for granted by most Americans. Thus, the NBC report from February 9 of this year was all the more stunning. Obama administration officials leaked to NBC that Israel had teamed up with a violent, cultish, US-terror listed Iranian organization called the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to assassinate Iranian scientists. Citing US government sources, NBC reported that Israel financed, trained and armed the MEK to carry out the deadly attacks on Iranian nuclear scientists. That Israel had a role in the assassination of the scientists took few by surprise. That it collaborated with a fundamentally anti-Israeli, Marxist-Islamist terror organization to pull off the attacks was perhaps a bit more surprising. (That the Obama administration would divulge this information and embarrass its close ally Israel publicly was also unexpected.)


Also useful – (Video)“MEK in Court to Force US to Drop Terrorist Label,” Voice of America, Voice of America [May 16, 2012] – 10 minutes -; and Richard Engel and Robert Windrem, (Video) “Israel Teams with Terror Group to Kill Iran’s Nuclear Scientists” [February 9, 2012]



Iranwarned Western powers that applying pressure on Tehran could jeopardize talks

From Reuters [May 13, 2012]

---- "The era of a pressure strategy is ended. Any strategic miscalculations would endanger success at the Baghdad negotiations," said Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, quoted by state television. Jalili was speaking with French former prime minister Michel Rocard who visited Iran ahead of the talks on May 23 in Baghdad with the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. Jalili called on Western officials to avoid "unconstructive remarks" ahead of the talks, the television said, without elaborating. Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said on Friday she hoped the talks would form the basis for Iran to eventually abandon its "nuclear weapons program". Ashton's use of the term "nuclear weapons program" went beyond the language commonly used by Western officials, who usually describe Iran's efforts as an attempt to move towards a nuclear weapons capability. Iran has said it wants sanctions introduced by the United States and the European Union aimed at dissuading it from pushing ahead with its nuclear ambitions to be scaled back. Western diplomats say Iran must first take concrete steps to ease their concerns. The sanctions have targeted Iran's energy and banking sectors since the beginning of the year. The EU is preparing for a total embargo on the purchase of Iranian crude oil in July.


Did Obama Take the Military Option Against Iran Off the Table?

From Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, Race for Iran [May 19, 2012]

---- U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, whose relationship with President Obama dates back to Obama’s days in the Senate, made headlines this week with his statement, in an address to Israel’s bar association, that America’s military option against Iran is “not just available,” but “ready.  The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.” Against these remarks by Ambassador Shapiro and Ms. Nuland, we juxtapose one of the more striking pieces of commentary we have read since last month’s nuclear talks in Istanbul between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 countries. Mehdi Mohammadi’s analysis is especially interesting with regard to the U.S. military option against Iran.  In the middle of his analysis, he also makes an arresting factual claim:  that President Obama, “in a letter written to Iran this past winter, announced openly that the military option from his country’s perspective is not on the table.”



OPEC Sees Sanctions Taking Toll on Iran Oil Production

By Thomas Erdbrink, New Yorktimes [May 17, 2012]

---- Iranian oil production, the backbone of the Islamic republic’s economy, fell by 12 percent in the first three months of the year and is likely to fall even more, industry experts say, as sanctions make it increasingly hard for the country to find markets for its crude.  With a second meeting planned in Baghdad next week to discuss the Iranian nuclear program, Western negotiators are hopeful that the new signs of distress in Iran’s oil industry will yield greater flexibility in the country’s bargaining position.



Syrian Rebels Get Influx of Arms with Gulf Neighbors’ Money, U.S. Coordination

By Karen DeYoung and Liz Sly, WashingtonPost [May 16, 2012]

---- Syrian rebels battling the regime of President Bashar al-Assad have begun receiving significantly more and better weapons in recent weeks, an effort paid for by Persian Gulf nations and coordinated in part by the United States, according to opposition activists and U.S. and foreign officials. Obama administration officials emphasized that the United States is neither supplying nor funding the lethal material, which includes antitank weaponry. Instead, they said, the administration has expanded contacts with opposition military forces to provide the gulf nations with assessments of rebel credibility and command-and-control infrastructure. The U.S. contacts with the rebel military and the information-sharing with gulf nations mark a shift in Obama administration policy as hopes dim for a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Many officials now consider an expanding military confrontation to be inevitable.


Dueling Arms Shipments: Is Syria Becoming a Proxy War?

Foreign Arms Undermining UN Ceasefire Efforts

By Jason Ditz, [May 16, 2012]

---- When the UN ceasefire is eventually declared a failure in Syria, there will be two official narratives on why. Western officials will insist, as they were already doing before it began, that the ceasefire was doomed because of the unique evil of Bashar Assad. The supporters of Assad will claim, by contrast, that the terrorist-style tactics of the rebels is to blame. The reality though, is that the ceasefire had a legitimate shot at working, and in the early stages, violence really had dropped significantly on both sides, and there was at least a grudging willingness to approach negotiations. No one thinks that anymore, and its not because of anything directly done by either side. Rather, it is the massive influx of weaponry that is convincing both sides that they have a genuine shot at winning the civil war outright and avoiding a negotiated settlement.


Also useful– Jason Ditz, “USHelps Arms Pour into Syria as Rebels Spurn Peace Deal,” [May 16, 2012]; Aljazeera “Iran 'sending arms to Syria despite ban,'” [May 17, 2012]; and Anshel Pfeffer, “U.S. aid to Syrian rebels is a signal to Iran,” Haaretz [Israel] [May.16, 2012]


Inside Syria


By Layla Al-Zubaidi, LondonReview of Books [May 2012]

---- ‘Welcome to Assad’s Syria,’ the signpost at the Lebanese-Syrian border still says, letting the visitor know who owns the country. … Among the most famous sloganeers of the uprising have been the inhabitants of Kfar Nibil, a previously unremarked village in northern Syria. A doctor and sign-painter teamed up to provide a running commentary on the news. Their cartoons were circulated all over the web and on Facebook, and on 12 February security forces invaded the village. They arrested every male between the ages of fifteen and sixty; the doctor and sign-painter were killed in a raid. But Kfar Nibil continues to send out its messages. A new one shows a sign reading: ‘The cities are withdrawing from the areas of the army.’ Beside it is a drawing of a man with a pushcart, displacing a whole city, with its people, streets, houses, mosques and churches.


Syria’s Muslim Brotherhood is gaining influence over anti-Assad revolt

By Liz Sly, WashingtonPost [May 12, 2012]

---- After three decades of persecution that virtually eradicated its presence, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has resurrected itself to become the dominant group in the fragmented opposition movement pursuing a 14-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad. Exiled Brotherhood members and their supporters hold the biggest number of seats in the Syrian National Council, the main opposition umbrella group. They control its relief committee, which distributes aid and money to Syrians participating in the revolt. The Brotherhood is also moving on its own to send funding and weapons to the rebels, who continued to skirmish Saturday with Syrian troops despite a month-old U.N.-brokered cease-fire.


AleppoJoins the Syrian Revolution: Are al-Assad’s Days Numbered?

By Juan Cole, Informed Comment [May 19, 2012]

---- The largest demonstrations held in Syria’s second city, Aleppo, since the beginning over a year ago of the revolutionary movement in that country, were held on Friday. In part, they were provoked by the brutality of regime troops toward student protesters at the university in Aleppo on Thursday. The Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad responded with tear gas and batons, and there were some injuries reported. Tens of thousands of people came out in the streets in other cities as well on Friday in a continued effort to topple the regime. This huge demonstration in Aleppo shows that the strategy of the urban protesters in Syria, of simply being tenacious and non-violent, has a real chance of success, because as the regime represses more and more people, it provokes bigger and bigger crowds all over the country. The minority who have taken up arms and the fringe that has set off bombs have been far, far less successful politically.



Bahrain: Unity Plan Denounced

By Kareem Fahim, New YorkTimes [May 19, 2012]

---- The Saudis, fearing the contagion of the revolts in Bahrain and elsewhere, and seeking to counter the influence of Iran, their regional rival, have pushed a proposal for greater unity with five other Persian Gulf monarchies. While Bahrain’s king has welcomed the proposal, opposition activists in the country, and some of the other Gulf States, have balked at the idea. Leaders in the gulf this week decided to delay any decisions on the matter.


(Video)Saudi Arabia and Iran: Is trouble brewing?

From Aljazeera [May 18, 2012] – 25 minutes

---- We ask if calls for a closer union between Gulf states are part of a broader strategy to counter Iran's influence. Now that Saudi Arabia is again talking up the idea of a full union of Gulf states, is it once more trying to show Iran that it will not be messed with? And what is the latest escalation in tensions between the two regional heavyweights likely to achieve?



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