Israelis press U.S. not to rejoin Iran nuclear deal

“The 2015 nuclear deal, struck during Barack Obama’s presidency, lifted an array of U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for major restraints on its nuclear program. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, saying it was too weak and too narrow and he reimposed the sanctions while adding new ones. After about a year, Iran began violating the terms of the deal, including by enriching uranium to high levels and shutting out inspectors.

President Joe Biden has sought to rejoin the deal — he and his aides argued that it remains the best vehicle to contain an Iranian nuclear threat. Over nearly a year and a half, a period that included some long pauses, Biden’s emissaries have engaged in indirect talks with Iranian officials about reviving the agreement.

The two sides, whose discussions have been mediated primarily by European officials, have tangled on a variety of thorny topics. Those include: whether the U.S. will rescind Trump’s designation of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; the fate of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into traces of nuclear materials at various Iranian sites; and Iranian demands for certain guarantees that the lifting of sanctions will lead to economic benefits — and that the U.S. won’t pull out of the deal under a different president.

Biden has said he will not rescind the IRGC’s terrorism designation, and the IAEA has indicated it will not give up on the probe.

Iran recently responded to a European draft proposal on reviving the deal with comments mostly focused on sanctions and economic guarantees. U.S. officials have been looking at the Iranian demands and preparing their own response, which may be sent to European negotiators later this week.

The U.S. has been consulting allies, among them Israel, before sending its response, though it wasn’t immediately clear if it would wait until after Gantz’s meeting with Sullivan.

“At every step of the process, we have been in touch with our Israeli partners to update them on where we are, to compare notes on the state of Iran’s nuclear program,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Monday.

The Israeli officials are making their push at a sensitive time: the country, currently being overseen by a caretaker government, will soon hold its fifth election in less than four years.

The main internal debate among U.S. negotiators has been about the economic guarantees sought by Iran, said Ali Vaez, a top Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group. Those guarantees deal in part with Iran’s concerns that even if the 2015 deal is revived, foreign companies will consider it too risky to invest in the country. Even when the deal was in full force, many foreign firms were hesitant to do business in Iran.

For Israel’s political leaders, an Iran whose economy is stronger is an Iran that is a bigger threat to their country’s existence. Iran’s rulers consider Israel an illegitimate state, and some have predicted its eventual doom.

Israeli political leaders’ argument against the nuclear deal often boils down to concerns that, if the U.S. lifts sanctions on Iran, the regime will use the incoming cash to engage even more in an array of unsavory activities, including funding and arming terrorist groups that target Israel.”

“some Israelis in the security establishment — often retired officers with more freedom to speak out — have broken with their political leaders on this issue. They argue that, as imperfect as the nuclear deal may be, it’s better than having no restraints on or surveillance of Iran’s program.”

“At present, Iran’s breakout time — the amount of time needed to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon — is believed to be a few weeks. Under a restored deal, it would likely be around six months. Under the original 2015 agreement, it was estimated at around a year.”

Biden says he wants a two-state solution. Why is he silent on Israeli settlements?

“Severe setbacks for the two-state solution have made US policy seem far-fetched at this point.

That reality came across in Biden’s remarks. “We’ll discuss my continued support — even though I know it’s not in the near term — a two-state solution,” he said upon his arrival this week. He conceded that such an outcome was elusive, while still clinging to it.

A number of factors have contributed to the declining prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Not enough US diplomatic muscle has been put into making the deal happen. The recently disbanded Israeli government didn’t even agree to it as policy (and the previous prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t really, either). Divisions between the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza have detracted from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s authority and legitimacy as a negotiating partner. And wealthy Arab states, like the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, have prioritized normalizing relationships with Israel — which come with economic and tech cooperation, defense business, and weapons sales — at the expense of Palestinian rights.

But the largest by far is the rampant expansion of settlements in the West Bank that has precluded Palestinians from living there.”

Beijing cuts U.S. cooperation to protest Pelosi’s Taiwan visit

“High-level bilateral military contacts have long been a vexed issue. Beijing repeatedly rebuffed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s efforts to secure a call with his Chinese counterpart, Wei Fenghe. Austin finally succeeded in speaking to Wei in April after almost 18 months of efforts.

“We want more open communications particularly between our militaries at a time like this,” John Kirby, National Security Council spokesperson, said Friday. “Because when you have this much military hardware steaming and sailing and flying around, the chances of misperceptions and miscalculations only increase.”

But the relatively low-level nature of the canceled talks suggests that Beijing’s cancellation was more form than substance.

“These are all useful engagements but ones that are not at the very top level and …[bilateral] communications will remain open,” said Ret. Vice Adm. Robert B. Murrett, professor of practice at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School. “I would hope that as opposed to being canceled, these [meetings] are actually just being suspended and that cooler heads would prevail sometime into next year.”

The announcement of cancellations allows Beijing to publicly vent about the Pelosi visit while providing time to walk them back in the coming months. That performative aspect of the Chinese response reflects President Xi Jinping’s domestic political considerations and the need to burnish his image as an iron-willed defender of China’s territorial integrity. That effort is particularly urgent in the run-up to autumn’s 20th Communist Party Congress, where Xi is widely expected to emerge with an unprecedented third term as a paramount leader.”

Is the Russian invasion of Ukraine the West’s fault? Video Sources

Is the war in Ukraine the fault of the West? John M. Owen IV. 2022 3 21. UVA: Miller Center. https://millercenter.org/war-ukraine-fault-west How Russia’s Attack on Ukraine Threatens Democracy Everywhere McGregor McCance and John M. Owen. UVAToday. 2022 3 2. https://news.virginia.edu/content/how-russias-attack-ukraine-threatens-democracy-everywhere [New School]

Why Turkey unblocked NATO enlargement at the last minute, what it means, and how Erdogan was persuaded

“Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main formal claim to Sweden and Finland was their loyalty to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is recognized in Turkey as a terrorist organization, as well as to the “Gulenists” – Ankara has been raiding for many years those it considers followers of the preacher Fethullah Gulen and accuses them of organizing a coup attempt in 2016. About 100,000 Kurdish refugees have found refuge in Sweden.”

“Clarifying the wording of the compromise memorandum between the three countries, UK newspaper the Guardian noted that Finland and Sweden have promised not to “support” the Kurdish Democratic Union (PYD) and the Kurdish People’s Self-Defense Forces (YPG). And according to the Turkish pro-government daily newspaper the Daily Sabah, the memorandum also states that “Finland and Sweden commit to preventing activities of the PKK and all other terrorist organizations and their extensions, as well as activities by individuals in affiliated and inspired groups or networks linked to these terrorist organizations.””

What Biden wanted in the Middle East — and what he actually got

“Biden, who says he went to the Middle East to address “the needs of the free world,” has explained the strengthening of relationships with Arab states and Israel as a success.

But it’s worth taking a look at what concrete victories that closeness produced.

Saudi airspace will be opened to Israeli planes — an incremental step toward normalizing relations between the two countries, yes, but more of a victory for jetliner rights than human rights. A new peacekeeping arrangement was announced for the Red Sea Islands between Egypt and Saudi Arabia; the islands have been a regional geopolitical touchpoint, but the deal is hardly a major win beyond the region. There was talk of bringing Iraq closer to its neighbors, with a new electricity initiative to connect Iraq with the Middle East. Infrastructure projects totaling about $100 million were announced for Palestinians, including 4G networks for the occupied West Bank. The latter two, while worthwhile, are minor compared to other US development and foreign aid streams of funding — and minuscule compared to annual military aid to Israel.

A moderate success was Saudi Arabia’s ongoing commitment to maintaining a ceasefire in Yemen, a worthy goal considering the destruction wrought there, in part with the support of American weaponry, though hardly an issue that demanded a presidential visit.

As for oil, we haven’t seen any grand announcements. Ahead of the trip, a US official told reporters there wouldn’t be any big energy news, and instead pointed to an announcement a month prior from OPEC that the group of oil-producing nations would increase production.

It has left observers wondering exactly why Biden made the journey.”

“A senior Biden administration official, on the last day of Biden’s Middle East trip, described human rights at the center of America’s goals — “I’d go so far, literally, to say right at the forefront of our foreign policy,” they said.

But human rights is not even at the forefront of the administration’s press releases, fact sheets, and meeting summaries.

The official touted a “Biden doctrine” for the region. In the document, values rank lowest — fifth — after bullet points about partnerships, deterrence, diplomacy, and integration. So partnerships (with unsavory leaders) and deterrence (through our security assistance) are the priorities here.”

“This Biden trip is a preview of US foreign policy in an era of great power competition with China and new fault lines of a world divided by Russian aggression. There are trade-offs. “You sanction Russian oil, and you give power to Middle Eastern autocrats,” Khalidi told me. “The only reason he’s sidling up to these human rights abusers is because of the knock-on effects of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine, and the energy impact of that invasion.”

Or, as Freeman put it, “The message to the people in the region is we only care about you in the context of our great power rivalry.”

Despite the emphasis on Russia, there was little movement on solidifying a Middle East coalition in support of Ukraine. The United Arab Emirates is a major hub for Russian businesspeople and dirty money, and that seems unlikely to change. Egypt is a hot spot for Russian tourists. Saudi Arabia and Israel are still fence-sitters in the Ukraine conflict, hesitant to definitively take a side. While Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE voted to condemn Russia’s invasion in the UN resolution, none has joined the US-led sanctions against Moscow.

Yet all of these regional powers are making demands of the US to take a harder line on Iran and enable them militarily. (Wait, wouldn’t realpolitik be crafting a deal with Iran, and getting more oil production online in the process?)”

Why some countries don’t want to pick a side in Russia’s war in Ukraine

“In the first United Nations General Assembly vote in early March, 141 countries affirmed that Russia should “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw,” and in another resolution, 140 countries voted for humanitarian protections of Ukrainians.

But when the General Assembly voted in early April to expel Russia from the Human Rights Council, the majority was smaller. Ninety-three countries voted in favor, but 58 abstained and 24 voted against. The abstentions included Egypt, Ghana, India, and Indonesia, which were leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement — countries that created their own transnational grouping rather than back the US or Soviet Union during the Cold War. Brazil, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, and South Africa also abstained. China voted against.

The US and NATO have led unprecedented sanctions against Russia. But almost no countries in the Global South have signed onto them.

Analysts looking at these responses see a reinvigorated nonaligned movement. “When you see a return to what looks a lot like Cold War politics, then it’s quite natural that people start to reach for the Cold War conceptual toolbox,” Richard Gowan, the UN director of the International Crisis Group, told me. “It’s a mirror to the ‘NATO is back’ talk.”

The Non-Aligned Movement of the 1960s was not about neutrality. It put forward a unifying agenda for developing countries caught between warring superpowers. A similar platform for the 21st century hasn’t emerged yet, but with the majority of people in the world living in the Global South and the Ukraine war heightening tensions between two of the world’s largest powers, there are signs that it could.”

“The first reason relates to economics and trade. Russia is a major exporter of energy, food, and fertilizer. Many countries can’t afford to cut economic ties with Moscow. India also depends on Russia for arms sales. Though Russian investment is not in the top of countries in Latin America, it’s still a factor.”

“Second, there remains skepticism toward the US and NATO. The US invasion of Iraq was a violation of international law, and many nations see the West’s other regime-change efforts in Afghanistan and Libya as similarly flawed with ongoing spillover effects, according to experts with whom I spoke.

That skepticism extends to sanctions.”

“As Guillaume Long, the former foreign minister of Ecuador, told me, “A lot of Latin Americans feel and think that sanctions are applied in a sort of selective, politicized way with a lot of double standards — basically, a tool of the US hegemony rather than a tool of global justice.” He cited the unpopularity across Latin America of the US’s coercive economic measures against Cuba and how civilians are negatively affected by US sanctions on Venezuela.”

“The third factor is enduring solidarity with Russia, given its anti-colonial positions at times during the Cold War, when it was still part of the Soviet Union. The USSR was a superpower itself, making strategic foreign policy choices in its own perceived interest. Among more left-leaning governments, Russia also has a legacy of supporting independence from colonial powers. In particular, the African National Congress in South Africa was close to the Soviet Union and looks fondly on Russia for its staunch anti-apartheid position. Botes noted South Africa’s connections to Ukraine, too, and told me that Odesa, when it was part of the USSR, hosted ANC training camps.

More recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has aggressively reached out to the Global South.”

“Some countries may avoid choosing a side as an insurance policy in case Russia were to win over Ukraine. And Russia is an important force in the international system, especially in the United Nations. “If you’re a Latin American country, and you’re trying to get some votes at the UN, you know, 50 percent of the time you might get the support of Russia,” Long said. “But you can be sure that Ukraine will vote with the United States.”

For all of those reasons, something approximating a nonaligned position has begun to take shape.”

We Poked the Bear

“Most cynical has been the West’s Big Lie that Ukraine would enjoy eventual NATO membership. In 2008, at Washington’s behest, the transatlantic alliance told Georgia and Ukraine that someday they would be inducted. Western officials spent the last 14 years repeating that promise.

However, Tbilisi and Kiev are no closer to joining, an unofficial recognition that virtually no member wants to add either one. Yet Washington led the consensus rejection of Moscow’s demand that the two states be excluded in the future. Rather than admit the truth, alliance members prevaricated, even though admitting the truth might have forestalled Russia’s attack on Ukraine.”

“Long forgotten is Vladimir Putin’s conciliatory speech to the German Bundestag more than two decades ago. He explained:

“No one calls in question the great value of Europe’s relations with the United States. I am just of the opinion that Europe will reinforce its reputation of a strong and truly independent center of world politics soundly and for a long time if it succeeds in bringing together its own potential and that of Russia, including its human, territorial and natural resources and its economic, cultural and defense potential.”

He went on to declare: “One of the achievements of the past decade is the unprecedentedly low concentration of armed forces and armaments in Central Europe and the Baltic. Russia is a friendly European nation. Stable peace on the continent is a paramount goal for our country, which lived through a century of military catastrophes.”

However, his attitude changed as NATO advanced. Despite the mass amnesia that appears to have afflicted the Cold War’s victors, they offered numerous assurances to Soviet and Russian officials that NATO would not march ever eastward to Russia’s borders. For instance, reported George Washington University when it released a trove of declassified U.S. documents: “Secretary of State James Baker’s famous ‘not one inch eastward’ assurance about NATO expansion in his meeting with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on February 9, 1990, was part of a cascade of assurances about Soviet security given by Western leaders to Gorbachev and other Soviet officials throughout the process of German unification in 1990 and on into 1991, according to declassified U.S., Soviet, German, British and French documents posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University.”

The allies also whispered sweet nothings in the ears of Russian President Boris Yeltsin and those around him. Explained GWU: “Declassified documents from U.S. and Russian archives show that U.S. officials led Russian President Boris Yeltsin to believe in 1993 that the Partnership for Peace was the alternative to NATO expansion, rather than a precursor to it, while simultaneously planning for expansion after Yeltsin’s re‐election bid in 1996 and telling the Russians repeatedly that the future European security system would include, not exclude, Russia.”

In a detailed study, UCLA’s Marc Trachtenberg concluded that the allies originally promised to respect Moscow’s security interests. However, he added: “It was only later that U.S. leaders realized that the USSR had become too weak to prevent them from doing whatever they wanted. So by mid‐1990, the February assurances were no longer taken as binding. What Gorbachev called the ‘sweet talk’ continued, but the whole vision of a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and mutual respect, it became increasingly clear, was at odds with the reality. All of this was, and still is, deeply resented in Russia.””

“Russian complaints continued. Early the following year a State Department cable (released by Wikileaks) reported: “Ukraine and Georgia’s NATO aspirations not only touch a raw nerve in Russia, they engender serious concerns about the consequences for stability in the region. Not only does Russia perceive encirclement, and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests.””

“the problem is not that the allies ignored East European demands that Washington garrison states of little relevance to its own security. Rather, it is that the U.S. and its allies ruthlessly ran roughshod over Russian security interests in expanding NATO up to Russia’s border—just 100 miles away from St. Petersburg. Moreover, Washington repeatedly demonstrated its willingness to aggressively promote regime change, through financial and diplomatic support as well as military force.

Washington sought to impose its will not just in its own sphere of influence, the Western hemisphere, but in countries once part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Allied claims to be surprised and shocked by Moscow’s complaints are careless at best, dishonest at worst. The West thought there was nothing Russia could do. Alas, the U.S. and its allies were wrong.

Of course, the past will do little to solve the present. However, Washington policymakers should start learning from their mistakes. Two decades of disastrous wars have left thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of foreigners dead. To this toll can be added those dying in Ukraine, another unnecessary war spurred by Washington’s arrogance and myopia.”

Russia’s Aggressive War Illustrates Importance of US Foreign Policy: Ukrainians Are Latest Victims

“As has been oft detailed in recent days, the U.S. and European states blithely ignored multiple assurances made to both the Soviet Union and Russia that NATO would not be expanded up to their borders. The allies also demonstrated their willingness to ignore Moscow’s expressed security interests with the coercive dismemberment of Serbia, “color revolutions” in Tbilisi and Kyiv, and especially support for the 2014 street putsch against Ukraine’s elected, Russo‐friendly president.

Whether such actions should have bothered Moscow isn’t important. They did, and perceptions are what matter. In this case, perception was reality. Indeed, Washington would never have accepted equivalent behavior by Russia in the Western hemisphere — marching the Warsaw Pact or Collective Security Treaty Organization up to America’s borders, backing a coup in Mexico City or Ontario, and inviting the new government to join the military alliance. The response in Washington would have been explosive hysteria followed by a tsunami of demands and threats. There would have been no sweet talk about the right of other nations to decide their own destinies.

True, this might not be the only factor influencing Putin’s decision on war. He has articulated strong, though distorted, views of Ukrainian nationhood and Kyiv’s proper relations to Russia. However, security concerns have always loomed largest. He and other officials criticized NATO expansion early, when the alliance began its move eastward. Most famously, he raised the issue in his talk to the 2007 Munich Security Conference. His position reflected Russia’s perspective but was serious both in substance and delivery.”

“If allied behavior was not a sufficient cause for Moscow’s invasion, it certainly was a necessary cause. Putin might believe Ukraine should be part of Russia, but for the last 22 years did not attempt to conquer the country. His more limited attacks in 2014 were triggered by the Western‐backed ouster of a friendly government. Whatever Putin’s view of reconstituting the Soviet Union, after two decades all he has managed to do is retake Crimea and extend Russian influence over the Donbass, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia. A repeat of Adolf Hitler he certainly is not.

Again, this does not excuse Moscow’s latest conduct, which is grotesque, criminal, and immoral. However, it offers a terrible reminder that U.S. intervention has consequences.”

“the Russo‐Ukraine war adds another example to Uncle Sam’s history of foreign policy malpractice. The conflict is not strictly America’s fault, since Moscow made an independent decision to attack its neighbor. For that, the Putin government bears responsibility.

However, the U.S. and its European allies set the stage for the war, engaging in behavior that clearly yet needlessly antagonized Russia. For contributing to the horror now engulfing Ukraine, Washington should be held responsible and its officials held accountable. Otherwise more people will keep dying because of Uncle Sam’s foolish hubris.”