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Iran War Weekly - May 20, 2013


By Frank Brodhead - Posted on 20 May 2013

Iran War Weekly

May 20, 2013

 

Hello All – It’s official.  After almost a year of no progress in negotiations between “the West” and Iran about Iran’s nuclear program, last week’s meetings in Istanbul confirmed that there would be, indeed, no progress until at least after Iran’s presidential election, which will take place on June 14th.  Whatever the outcome of the election, it is likely that the post-election resumption of talks (if any) will take place in an international landscape greatly altered by the fighting in Syria.

 

First, Iran’s election. As detailed in some good/useful readings linked below, there are a great many “unknowns” and “too soon to tells” regarding the election, including who will be allowed to run and how the several “camps” will (or will not) consolidate around a single candidate.  The last-minute entry of former president Rafsanjani into the race has raised a storm of questions in the Iran-expert blogosphere about the stance and political strength (or weakness) of Supreme Leader Khamenei.  And the entry of current president Ahmadinejad’s protégé now raises questions about whether he will survive Tuesday’s “cut” by the Guardian Council, and if so, what then, and if not, what will Ahmadinejad do? A dominant motif of analysts is the likelihood of “surprise.”

 

The short-term fate of Syria may be determined this week by a slew of meetings that will address the US-Russian proposal for an international peace conference, now dubbed “Geneva II.”  A useful guide to this week’s meetings (Kerry in Jordan, the EU on resuming arms to the rebels, the Syrian National Council, etc.) can be read at http://news.yahoo.com/outlook-dim-syria-diplomacy-gathers-force-232809765.html.

 

There are a great many reasons to think that the conference will not take place at all, or that it will “fail” if it does.  I think the important thing about the conference to watch is the apportioning of “blame” for whatever doesn’t work out to the satisfaction of the United States.  First up may be the question of whether or not Iran will be invited to attend (strongly supported by Russia).  A second question is whether the United States and the political and military groups that it supports inside and outside Syria will meet with President Assad, and/or whether they will make it a precondition of attending the conference that Assad will have no role in any political outcome.  And in the background to all such questions will be the apparent success of the Syrian army and its Hezbollah allies in regaining, between now and the conference, territory currently occupied by the armed opposition.

 

And then there are the wild cards.  Israel has announced that it intends to carry out further air strikes against Syrian territory.  According to the (London) Sunday Times, Assad has given orders that any further attacks will be responded to by missile strikes on Tel Aviv.  A second wild card is “chemical weapons,” which was a focus of President Obama in his statements while visiting Turkey.  As numerous analysts and Syrian military leaders have commented, it would be senseless for Syria to use chemical weapons while having control of the air and being able to bomb rebel positions.  Thus it is clear that the only military purpose of using chemical weapons at this point would be to encourage US intervention.  Who would have the motive for such a step?  Hardly Syria.

 

It would seem that the main safeguard against a regional war beginning in Syria is the sheer insanity of such a prospect and the certainty of a disastrous outcome.  Yet I would not be the first to think the situation analogous to July 1914 and World War I.  And (a shout-out to historians reading this), a former student of Arno Mayer is inevitably drawn to the spectacle of the domestic crises in the United States, Britain, and France, and the possible attractiveness of a war (“home before Christmas”) as a way that political leaders might regain control of their domestic agendas and turbulent peoples.

 

Once again I would like to thank those who you who have forwarded this newsletter or linked it on your sites.  This “issue” and previous issues of the Iran War Weekly are posted at http://warisacrime.org/blog/46383If you would like to receive the IWW mailings, please send me an email at fbrodhead@aol.com

 

Best wishes,

Frank Brodhead

 

NEGOTIATIONS ABOUT IRAN’S NUCLEAR PROGRAM

United Nations nuclear talks with Iran fail to end deadlock

From Reuters [May 16, 2013]

---- The United Nations’ nuclear agency failed to persuade Iran Wednesday to let it resume an investigation into suspected atomic bomb research, leaving the high-stakes diplomacy in deadlock. With Iran focused on a presidential election next month, expectations had been low for the meeting between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been trying for more than a year to reopen an inquiry into “possible military dimensions” of Tehran’s nuclear work. … Later, the European Union’s foreign policy chief met Iran’s nuclear negotiator for dinner in Istanbul to discuss the other line of talks which are a bid to resolve a row that could ignite war in the Middle East. The meeting between Catherine Ashton, who represents six world powers in the talks, and Saeed Jalili, who is running for president in Iran, follows a failed round of diplomacy in April. Ashton said she hoped Jalili would respond to a “good, comprehensive, fair and balanced” proposal that the powers had already made to Iran. The two sets of talks represent distinct diplomatic tracks but are linked because both center on suspicions that Iran may be seeking the capability to assemble nuclear bombs behind the facade of a declared civilian atomic energy program.“http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-16/217282-united-nations-nuclear-talks-with-iran-fail-to-end-deadlock.ashx

 

Three Paths toward a Nuclear Deal with Iran

By Reza Marashi, National Iranian American Council [May 13, 2013]
---- It’s easy to miss amid the escalation of sanctions and nuclear bravado, but EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Tehran’s lead negotiator Saeed Jalili will meet on May 15 in Istanbul to follow up on last months talks between the P5+1 and Iran. The last round of multilateral talks ended inconclusively, and it has taken a little over a month to get even a one-on-one meeting on the calendar. While no date has been set for a new round of talks with representatives from all seven countries at the table, the upcoming meeting between Ashton and Jalili provides an opportunity to begin planning for how to make negotiations more productive than previous attempts. Getting on a road more promising than the current intermittent exchanges will require a few key steps.  http://ploughshares.org/blog/2013-05-13/three-paths-toward-nuclear-deal

 

Also useful – Scott Peterson, “Iran nuclear talks in Istanbul show progress remains elusive.” Christian Science Monitor [May 15, 2013] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0515/Iran-nuclear-talks-in-Istanbul-show-progress-remains-elusive?nav=87-frontpage-entryNineItem; Peterson, ”Iran's chief nuclear negotiator: we're being asked to make all the sacrifices,” Christian Science Monitor [May 16, 2013] http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0516/Iran-s-chief-nuclear-negotiator-we-re-being-asked-to-make-all-the-sacrifices; and from Russia Today, “Tehran ready to allow experts to Parchin in exchange for deal with IAEA – Iran’s ambassador to Russia” [May 19, 2013] http://rt.com/news/iran-parchin-deal-iaea-486/

 

US VIEWS AND POLICIES

3 Glaring Hypocrisies in Obama's Iran Policy

By John Glaser, Huffington Post [May 16, 2013]

---- In testimony to Congress on Wednesday, Obama's State Department official Wendy Sherman reiterated the administration's policy on Iran. Since the intelligence community has concluded for some time now that Iran has not yet decided to pursue nuclear weapons, Sherman felt compelled to recite a litany of supposed Iranian transgressions to justify America's harsh economic sanctions and overall belligerence toward the country. Every major criticism of Iran, though, is one that can also be lodged against the United States. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-glaser/obama-iran-policy_b_3282722.html

 

(Video) Washington’s Hegemonic Ambition and U.S. Policy Toward Iran and Syria

With Flynt Leverett, from Russia Today [Cross Talk] [May 15, 2013] - 25 minutes

http://goingtotehran.com/flynt-leverett-on-washingtons-hegemonic-ambition-and-u-s-policy-toward-iran-and-syria

 

New report outlines containment strategy if efforts to prevent Iran nuclear weapon fail

By Laura Rozen, Al-Monitor [May 13, 2013]

---- President Obama has repeatedly declared that his policy is preventing Iran from producing a nuclear weapon. A new report by a former Obama Pentagon official, to be released Monday by the Center for New American Security, argues prevention should be the US policy, but that the United States needs to develop a containment strategy if prevention fails. Among the key points the report makes is that resort to force in the event diplomacy is deemed to fail could itself trigger Iran’s determination to produce a nuclear weapon—a decision that the US intelligence community this year assessed Iran’s leadership had not yet made. http://backchannel.al-monitor.com/index.php/2013/05/5222/plan-b-new-report-outlines-containment-strategy-if-efforts-to-prevent-iran-nuclear-weapon-fail/#ixzz2TlJbdic6

 

IRAN’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Iran's presidential race: 'Wild card' entry creates dilemma for Khamenei

By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor [May 13, 2013]

---- Just weeks before Iran’s crucial presidential vote, Iran’s supreme leader is facing a new and unexpected dilemma that could derail his plans to restore regime legitimacy and bury the ghosts of Iran’s violent 2009 election. Dramatically stepping into the race, with just minutes to spare before a Saturday deadline, was former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The 78-year-old has been a controversial pillar of Iran’s Islamic revolution for more than a generation, and portrays himself as a centrist and inclusive savior of a system that has shifted dangerously to the right. … Despite Rafsanjani’s revolutionary pedigree, and hard-liners branding him a "traitor," he appeals to reformists for his potential to moderate the ruling system with sheer political heft. http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2013/0513/Iran-s-presidential-race-Wild-card-entry-creates-dilemma-for-Khamenei?nav=87-frontpage-entryLeadStory

 

2 Presidential Candidates in Iran Draw Resentment

By Thomas Erdbrink, New York Times [May 12, 2013]

---- A day after two game-changing politicians signed up at the last minute as candidates for Iran’s presidential elections in June, the country’s governing establishment reacted angrily, predicting that they would not be allowed to participate or that they would definitely lose. Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, a protégé of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani signed up at the end of a five-day registration period on Saturday, shocking opponents who had bet on their preferred candidates’ being the only ones running in the June 14 election. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/13/world/middleeast/two-last-minute-presidential-candidates-in-iran-draw-strong-reactions.html?ref=world

 

What Just Happened in Iran?

By Gary Sick, Lobe Log [May 2013]

---- So what has happened? Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie (among others) must have believed that Ali Khamenei: (1) acquiesced in their candidacy; or (2) could not prevent it; or (3) was essentially irrelevant. Whatever the rationale, their decision to proceed with their candidacy implies that Khamenei was either unable or unwilling to exercise control of the process or that his objectives were quite different from what we had understood from his observable actions and words. At a minimum, these candidates were willing to put Khamenei in an embarrassing position by publicly ignoring his well-known preferences, apparently without concern for the consequences. http://www.lobelog.com/what-just-happened-in-iran/

 

Meet the Presidential Contenders in Iran’s Upcoming Election

By Sina Toossi, Mufta [May 9, 2013]

---- As the Islamic Republic of Iran’s eleventh presidential election draws near, numerous individuals, parties, and groups are entering into the electoral fray. With less than five weeks until the June 14th vote, however, no specific candidates or factions stand out as clear and viable contenders for the presidency. This is not particularly unusual within the framework of Iran’s political system. Compared to many other countries, Iran has a relatively short official presidential campaign cycle. … After registration, prospective candidates will still have to await the results of a vetting process to receive formal approval of their presidential run. This vetting procedure, which may take up to 10 days, is conducted by a branch of the Iranian government known as the Guardian Council of the Constitution. The Guardian Council consists of six theologians appointed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamanei and six jurists nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament. Once vetting is complete, the list of approved candidates is publically announced by the Interior Ministry, which marks the official commencement of the presidential campaign cycle. http://muftah.org/meet-the-presidential-contenders-in-irans-upcoming-election/

 

Also useful/interesting– Thomas Erdbrink, “Iranian Officials Threaten Two Candidates for the Presidency,” New York Times [May 14, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/world/middleeast/presidential-candidates-in-iran-are-threatened.html?ref=world; “Iran may ban candidates who seek ties with US,” The Daily Star [Lebanon] [May 17, 2013] http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Middle-East/2013/May-17/217455-iran-may-ban-candidates-who-seek-ties-with-us.ashx#ixzz2TeiMWNQp; Barbara Slavin,”Don’t Get Too Excited Over Rafsanjani’s Run,” Al-Monitor [May 13, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/rafsanjani-challenges-iran-presidential-elections.html; Mohsen Milani, “The Ayatollah's Game Plan: How to Prevent Another Green Movement,” Foreign Affairs [May 15, 2013] http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/139383/mohsen-milani/the-ayatollahs-game-plan?page=show; and “Green Movement activists live in fear as Iran's presidential election nears,” The Tehran Bureau [May 17, 2013] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/17/green-movement-activists-iran-repression

 

THINKING ABOUT REAL WAR

The Day After a Strike on Iran

By Marwan Muasher May 10, 2013

---- All eyes are on what it will take to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear weapon. If sanctions and diplomacy prove incapable of containing Tehran’s nuclear ambitions—and soon—a military strike to destroy or at the very least delay its program is seen as the least bad option available. Iran gaining a nuclear-weapons capability is a red line that the United States and Israel just won’t let it cross. But not enough thought has been given to what happens after a strike is actually carried out. Debate in the United States ends at how to prevent Iran from getting the bomb, while the repercussions of a military strike are not widely discussed. This ominously echoes the run up to the war in Iraq. http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-day-after-strike-iran-8456

 

Nuclear war between Israel and Iran: lethality beyond the pale

Cham E Dallas, William C Bell, David J Stewart, Antonio Carusoand Frederick M Burkle, Jr

---- The proliferation of nuclear technology in the politically volatile Middle East greatly increases the likelihood of a catastrophic nuclear war. It is widely accepted, while not openly declared, that Israel has nuclear weapons, and that Iran has enriched enough nuclear material to build them. The medical consequences of a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel in the near future are envisioned, with a focus on the distribution of casualties in urban environments. http://www.conflictandhealth.com/content/7/1/10/abstract?utm_source=TomDispatch&utm_campaign=a2c2362735-TD_Turse5_12_2013&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_1e41682ade-a2c2362735-308759905

 

SANCTIONS AGAINST IRAN

Why sanctions on Iran are not working

By Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi, National Iranian American Council [May 15, 2013]

---- As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact. In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful - by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering. http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/05/2013515121958344336.html

 

Lawmakers push White House to tighten pressure on Iran

By Joby Warrick, WashingtonPost [May 15, 203]

---- Congressional leaders prodded the Obama administration Wednesday to tighten the squeeze on Iran’s economy, saying that even last year’s dramatic sanctions against Iranian banks and oil companies weren’t enough to stop the Islamic republic’s nuclear advances. At a Senate hearing on Iran, lawmakers called for new curbs on Tehran’s ability to sell oil or obtain gold and other hard currency to stabilize the Iranian rial. Some suggested that a show of force may be needed to persuade Iran to accept limits on its nuclear program. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/lawmakers-push-white-house-to-tighten-screws-on-iran/2013/05/15/dd39df62-bd78-11e2-97d4-a479289a31f9_story.html

 

Also useful – From Reuters,”Treasury official: US to rigorously enforce Iran gold ban” [May 16, 2013] http://www.jpost.com/Breaking-News/Treasury-official-US-to-rigorously-enforce-Iran-gold-ban-313280; and from Reuters, [Turkey] “No decision yet on further Iran oil import,” [May 17, 2013] http://www.jpost.com/Iranian-Threat/News/Erdogan-No-decision-yet-on-further-Iran-oil-import-313502

 

CIVIL WAR/INTERVENTION IN SYRIA

Syria: the threats, costs, claims and lives

By Phyllis Bennis, Open Democracy [May 16, 2013]

---- What the civil war in Syria has exposed is that the massive political and social transformation, and real regime change under way is led by people themselves. US military involvement serves only to escalate the destruction. Politically-driven demands for direct US intervention in Syria – more arms to the rebels, establishing a 'no-fly' zone, creating a safe area somewhere – have been flying around for months. So far, President Obama and the Pentagon leadership have resisted the political pressure. But Obama’s resistance has been weak and cautious; we don’t have enough evidence yet, it’s not clear the red line has been crossed. The clear implication is that if there is more evidence, if some claimed red line is crossed, then all bets are off – and in today’s diplo-speak, “all options are on the table.” Now, allegations of chemical weapons being used in Syria and Israeli airstrikes against Syrian military targets have given rise to a whole escalating campaign for direct US military intervention. And it’s getting very dangerous. http://www.opendemocracy.net/opensecurity/phyllis-bennis/syria-threats-costs-claims-and-lives

 

Ominous Similarities Between Syria and Iraq

By Patrick Cockburn, Counterpunch [May 13, 2013]

---- US, British and French recipes for Syria’s future seem as fraught with potential for disaster as their plans in 1916 or 2003. In saying that Assad can play no role in a future Syrian government, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, speaks of the leader of a government that has still only lost one provincial capital to the rebels. Such terms can only be imposed on the defeated or those near defeat. This will only happen in Syria if Western powers intervene militarily on behalf of the insurgents, as they did in Libya, but the long-term results might be equally dismal. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/history-lessons-the-west-refuses-to-learn/

 

Robert Fisk: 'Syrian war could go on for two, three years'

An interview with journalist Robert Fisk, from Deutsche Welle [Germany] [May 2013]

---- DW: Mr. Fisk, you've just returned from Syria. What were your impressions?

Robert Fisk: What you find is that there are large areas which have been destroyed, large areas which are largely depopulated, and large areas which are not only undamaged, but in which life more or less continues. This applies not only to the center of Damascus, it applies mostly to the city of Latakia, where there's a large Alawite community, and the same applies to Tartus. So you do find certain areas of Syria where the government is still firmly in control and where some semblance of life goes on. You can go out to lunch; you can shop; you can go to your office. http://www.dw.de/robert-fisk-syrian-war-could-go-on-for-two-three-years/a-16823404

 

(Video) Rami Khouri interviewed on Syria

From Aljazeera [May 20, 2013] – 6 minutes

http://warincontext.org/2013/05/20/video-rami-khouri-interviewed-on-syria/

 

Despite Horrific Violence, the US Should Stay Out of Syria

By Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus [May 16, 2013]

---- The worsening violence and repression in Syria has left policymakers scrambling to think of ways the United States could help end the bloodshed and support those seeking to dislodge the Assad regime. The desperate desire to “do something” has led to increasing calls for the United States to provide military aid to armed insurgents or even engage in direct military intervention, especially in light of the possible use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime. The question on the mind of almost everyone who has followed the horror as it has unfolded over the past two years is, “What we can do?” The short answer, unfortunately, is not much. http://www.fpif.org/articles/despite_horrific_repression_the_us_should_stay_out_of_syria

 

The Fighting War Inside Syria

Bashar al-Assad issues defiant message: 'I'm here to stay'

Martin Chulov, The Observer [May 18, 2013]

---- In an exclusive interview for the Argentinian newspaper Clarín, shared with the Observer, Assad says he welcomes attempts at dialogue, but believes that western states are looking for ways to fuel the violence, rather than stop it, and are seeking to topple his regime regardless of the toll. Moscow and Washington have been in dispute over the anti-Assad uprising since it began in March 2011 but are now trying to find common ground to quell the bloodshed and destruction as its effects continue to reverberate across the region. If successful, there are hopes talks could take place at the end of this month and lead to a multilateral summit attended by key protagonists http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/18/bashar-assad-exclusive-interview-syria

 

Compare and contrast – Anne Barnard, Assad Suggests Peace Talks Would Fail Because West Wants to Prolong War,” New York Times [May 18, 2013]  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/19/world/middleeast/syria-developments.html?ref=world

 

Syria Begins to Break Apart Under Pressure From War

By Ben Hubbard, New York Times [May 16, 2013]

---- The black flag of jihad flies over much of northern Syria. In the center of the country, pro-government militias and Hezbollah fighters battle those who threaten their communities. In the northeast, the Kurds have effectively carved out an autonomous zone. After more than two years of conflict, Syria is breaking up. A constellation of armed groups battling to advance their own agendas are effectively creating the outlines of separate armed fiefs. As the war expands in scope and brutality, its biggest casualty appears to be the integrity of the Syrian state. Instead, three Syrias are emerging: one loyal to the government, to Iran and to Hezbollah; one dominated by Kurds with links to Kurdish separatists in Turkey and Iraq; and one with a Sunni majority that is heavily influenced by Islamists and jihadis.  http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/world/middleeast/pressure-of-war-is-causing-syria-to-break-apart.html?hp

 

More on the war/fighting – Joshua Landis, “Do the Massacres in Bayda and Banyas Portend Ethnic Cleansing to Create an Alawite State?” Syria Comment [May 13, 2013] http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/round-up/; Michael R. Gordon and Eric Schmitt, “Russia Sends More Advanced Missiles to Aid Assad in Syria,” New York Times [May 16, 2013] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/17/world/middleeast/russia-provides-syria-with-advanced-missiles.html?hp; Mariam Karouny, “Syria's Nusra Front eclipsed by Iraq-based al Qaeda,” Reuters [May 17, 2013] http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/17/us-syria-crisis-nusra-idUSBRE94G0FY20130517; and Julian Borger,”Jihadists' control of Syrian oilfields signals a decisive moment in conflict,” The Guardian [UK] [May 19, 2013] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/may/19/jihadists-control-syrian-oilfields

 

US Policies and Perspectives

America's hidden agenda in Syria's war

By Phil Sands, The National [UAE] [May 9, 2013]

---- It was some six months ago that Syrian rebel commanders met US intelligence officers in Jordan to discuss the status of the war and, the rebels hoped, to secure supplies of the sophisticated weapons they need to overthrow President Bashar Al Assad. But according to one of the commanders present at the meeting, the Americans were more interested in talking about Jabhat Al Nusra, the Al Qaeda-affiliated group waging war on the Syrian regime than they were in helping the rebels advance on Damascus.http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/americas-hidden-agenda-in-syrias-war

 

Senators introduce bipartisan bill to arm Syrian rebels

By John Hudson, Foreign Policy [May 15, 2013]

---- Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bob Corker (R-TN) introduced a bill Wednesday to arm the Syrian rebels, the latest piece of legislation aimed at pressuring the Obama administration to intervene more aggressively in the protracted civil war. The bill provides lethal weapons to vetted members of the Syrian opposition and beefs up sanctions on weapons sales and petroleum sales to President Bashar al-Assad's regime. In short, it has all the hallmarks of the bill Menendez introduced last week, but with a bipartisan sheen. http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/05/15/senators_introduce_bipartisan_bill_to_arm_syrian_rebels

 

Chemical Weapons as an Obama “Red Line”

Obama says U.S. won't act alone on Syria

By Paul Richter, Los AngelesTimes, [May 16, 2013]

---- President Obama on Thursday ruled out unilateral U.S. military action in Syria even if proof emerges that Syrian forces have used lethal chemical weapons. "This is … an international problem," Obama said at a White House news conference with visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "It's not going to be something that the United States does by itself. And I don't think anybody in the region would think that U.S. unilateral actions … would bring about a better outcome." Obama's warnings since August that Syrian President Bashar Assad would cross a "red line" if his forces used poison gas in the nation's civil war were widely viewed as a trigger for potential U.S. military intervention. But in recent weeks, with growing evidence indicating use of sarin nerve gas, Obama has made it clear he wants conclusive proof before ordering a response. He previously indicated that he would prefer a collective response, but Thursday was the first time he categorically ruled out action by the United States alone. http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/middleeast/la-fg-us-syria-20130517,0,16125.story

 

US has seen Syria chemical weapons evidence, says Obama

From The BBC [May 16, 2013]

---- President Barack Obama has said the US has seen evidence of chemical weapons being used in Syria. However, speaking after meeting Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he insisted it was important to get more specific details about alleged chemical attacks. Earlier, residents of a north Syrian town told a BBC reporter how government forces had dropped poisonous gas canisters on them from helicopters. The government has repeatedly denied claims it has used chemical agents. It is unclear why the well-armed regime would deploy chemical weapons, which are illegal under international law. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22562372

 

Iraq Then, Syria Now? - New York Times, sarin and skepticism

From FAIR [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting]

---- During the run-up to the Iraq War, the New York Times amplified erroneous official claims about weapons of mass destruction Looking at the paper's coverage of allegations of chemical weapons use by Syria, some of the same patterns are clear: an over-reliance on official sources and the downplaying of critical or skeptical analysis of the available intelligence. http://fair.org/take-action/action-alerts/iraq-then-syria-now/

 

The US/Russian-sponsored Peace Conference

Kerry Sees Syria Peace Negotiations Taking Place in Early June

From Reuters [May 14, 2013]

---- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday he expected a proposed Syria peace conference backed by Washington and Moscow to be held in early June, and he denied reports that the Damascus government did not plan to attend. … Assad's departure has been a demand of the opposition since the revolt started and previous peace initiatives have foundered over the failure to settle on the president's future role. Zoabi, the Syrian information minister, said Damascus also wanted a political solution but that international efforts should also tackle "terrorists", a term the Syrian government uses to refer to rebel forces. http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2013/05/14/world/middleeast/14reuters-syria-crisis-kerry.html?ref=world

 

America’s Syrian Riddle

By Deepak Tripathi, Counterpunch [May 13, 2013]

---- The outcome of the recent Moscow visit of President Obama’s new secretary of state John Kerry is instructive. America’s agreement with Russia that they co-sponsor an international conference to find a negotiated settlement raised some eyebrows in Washington and among U.S. allies in Europe and the Arab world. President Vladimir Putin seemed to have prevailed in his insistence that Assad’s exit cannot be a precondition. But this precondition is the starting point for the Syrian rebels and many of their foreign supporters who have a wider Middle East agenda. A commentary in Italy’s rightwing publication Il Geornale said in its headline, “Obama’s Defeat: To Pacify Syria He Is In Cahoots With Putin.” http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/05/13/americas-syrian-riddle/

 

When to Talk to Monsters

By Christopher Hill, New York Times [May 15, 2013]

---- The Obama administration’s decision to engage Russia in diplomatic talks is a good but belated one. Russia, a key backer of the Syrian government, cannot by itself end the war, any more than the United States can. But together with countries like Britain, there is a chance, however slim, of a diplomatic breakthrough. The real shortcoming of the administration’s policy on Syria has not been an unwillingness to engage militarily — as critics of President Obama have suggested — but the ill-advised decision, in August 2011, to preclude the possibility of a diplomatic resolution involving all sides. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/opinion/when-to-talk-to-monsters.html?hp&_r=0

 

Russia says Iran must take part in proposed Syria talks

From Reuters [May 16, 2013]

---- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Iran must take part in a proposed international conference to end Syria's civil war, but that Western states wanted to limit the participants and possibly predetermine the outcome of the talks. Conflicting comments from Russia and the West over Iran's role in the possible meeting have added to disagreements which already threaten to derail the conference proposed by Moscow and Washington last week. A French official reiterated Paris' previously-stated stance that Iran could not be part of any talks. "Iran cannot be part of it because it always tries to mix the Syria debate with the nuclear issue," the official said. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/16/us-syria-crisis-russia-idUSBRE94F0UJ20130516

 

More on the question of “Who is Invited?” – Barbara Slavin, “US Should Heed Russia, Include Iran in Syria Talks,” Al Monitor [May 17, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/russia-us-syria-talks-iran.html#; and Nassif Hitti, “Geneva II Is Just a Start for Syria,” Al-Monitor [May 20, 2013] http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2013/05/geneva-syria-iran-conference.html#ixzz2TsDVYSe9

 

The UN General Assembly Resolution

UN General Assembly Backs Regime Change in Syria

By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [May 15, 2013]

---- The UN General Assembly has passed a non-binding resolution calling for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and backing the rebellion against him. The vote was opposed by Russia as well as a number of nations expressing concern about foreign intervention in Syria’s ongoing civil war. Russia was particularly vocal in criticizing the timing of the resolution, coming just after a US-Russian agreement to work toward a negotiated settlement, and expressing concern that the resolution would damage the efforts to start new peace talks. But perhaps the big news is not that the resolution passed, rather it is that the resolution passed with a fairly narrow majority, only 107 votes out of 193 nations, compared to 133 in a similar vote last year. The loss of votes in favor of regime change likely reflects a growing concern about the behavior of Syria’s rebels, from attacks on civilians and al-Qaeda ties to a particularly shocking video earlier this week showing a rebel eating a soldier’s heart. While Assad has never had a lot of allies, there seems to be a lot of fear that post-Assad Syria is going to be a big problem for the region. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/15/un-general-assembly-backs-regime-change-in-syria/

 

More Israeli Intervention?

IsraelHints at New Strikes, Warning Syria Not to Hit Back

By Mark Landler, New York Times [May 15, 2013]

---- In a clear warning to Syria to stop the transfer of advanced weapons to Islamic militants in the region, a senior Israeli official signaled on Wednesday that Israel was considering additional military strikes to prevent that from happening and that the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, would face crippling consequences if he retaliated. The Israeli official, who had been briefed by high-level officials on Israel’s assessment of the situation in Syria, declined to be identified, citing the need to protect internal Israeli government deliberations. He contacted The New York Times on Wednesday. The precise motives for Israel’s warning were uncertain: Israel could be seeking to restrain Syria’s behavior to avoid taking further military action, or alerting other countries to another military strike. That would increase the tension in an already fraught situation in Syria, where a civil war has been raging for more than two years. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/16/world/middleeast/israeli-official-signals-possibility-of-more-syria-strikes.html?ref=world

 

Israel Threatens More Syria Attacks, Warns Assad Not to Retaliate

By Jason Ditz, Antiwar.com [May 15, 2013]

---- Israeli officials have issued a bizarre statement today regarding their intentions to continue attacking Syria in the near future, warning Syrian President Bashar Assad that he’d better just lie down and accept it. The statement, made by an unnamed “senior” official, said Israel was determined to continue its strikes, and that if Assad dared to retaliate for any of the attacks “he will risk forfeiting his regime, for Israel will retaliate.” President Assad has faced much internal criticism for not responded to this month’s previous Israeli attacks, and has fought off those complaints with statements threatening to eventually attack Israel in response, but at a time of his own choosing. Though Israel often openly talks about attacking its neighbors, and indeed often follows through with those attacks, it is unprecedented for them to preface the attack by threatening more attacks if the target retaliates. The threatening regime change, however, may be a blunder on Israel’s part, as it will surely be used by the Assad government in the days and weeks to come as evidence that Israel is secretly backing the al-Qaeda-endorsed rebellion, a charge the rebels desperately want to avoid. http://news.antiwar.com/2013/05/15/israel-threatens-more-syria-attacks-warns-assad-not-to-retaliate/

 

 

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