Cameron Calls Out Iran-Talk Saboteurs

As U.S. neocons and other hardliners keep trying to sabotage Iranian nuclear talks, British Prime Minister Cameron is the latest world leader to call them out on their sophistry about how threatening additional pain on Iran would help negotiations, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Those who want to maintain endless tension and animosity between the United States and Iran, and who thus have been endeavoring to kill any diplomatic agreement between the two countries, are racing ahead with their latest project and will be very busy during the week ahead. That project, the AIPAC-promoted Kirk-Menendez sanctions bill, will be the subject of a Senate Banking Committee hearing, with only anti-agreement witnesses so far announced, on Tuesday, to be followed by the committee’s mark-up of the bill on Thursday.

Promoters of the bill are racing to beat two things. One, and worst from the promoters’ point of view, would be completion of the international negotiations (which also are due to resume in plenary session this coming week) to limit Iran’s nuclear program and announcement of an agreement.

Even before any agreement is reached, those pushing the bill also have to worry about losing the support of those who may have originally believed the cover story that the legislation is intended to strengthen the hand of U.S. negotiators but who come to realize that the legislation is instead about spoiling the negotiations and killing a deal. Key among this group are Senate Democrats, including some who in the last Congress signed on as co-sponsors of an earlier version of the Kirk-Menendez bill.

Those in this group, and anyone else who might genuinely but mistakenly believe that passage of this bill would aid negotiations, would do well to pay close attention to the comments on this subject from British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a joint press conference with President Barack Obama at the White House on Friday.

“On Iran,” said Cameron, “we remain absolutely committed to ensuring that Iran cannot develop a nuclear weapon. The best way to achieve that now is to create the space for negotiations to succeed. We should not impose further sanctions now; that would be counterproductive and it could put at risk the valuable international unity that has been so crucial to our approach.”

The Prime Minister further commented on how those who had predicted that the sky would fall with the reaching 14 months ago of a preliminary agreement, which already has placed the most important restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to ensure that it stays peaceful, have been proven wrong.

“To those who said,” stated Cameron, that “if you do an interim deal, if you even start discussing with the Iranians any of these things, the sanctions will fall apart, the pressure will dissipate, no one will be able to stick at it, that has demonstrably been shown not to be true.”

Some background to these remarks from the British leader are useful to keep in mind. The United Kingdom is a full participant in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, as part of the P5+1 (or EU3+3, as they prefer to say on the other side of the Atlantic). It is not an interloper in someone else’s diplomatic business, and British diplomats and leaders have at least as much basis as anyone else for knowing what is working and what is not in the negotiations.

Britain also is a country that, like the United States, has historically had some really bad relations with Iran. In Britain’s case this experience dates back to a British and Soviet invasion of Iran during World War II, beginning an occupation that extended until almost a year after the end of the war.

Today, the United Kingdom, unlike certain other countries that would like to influence the fate of the nuclear negotiations, has no significant interests in the Middle East that are discernibly at odds with those of the United States. And the comments on Friday came not from some soft post-conflict European liberal, but instead from the leader of the Conservative Party in the country that is still in many respects America’s most important ally.

There are two major takeaways from Cameron’s comments. One is to provide further confirmation that the myth that something like the sanctions bill before the Senate would facilitate negotiations and hasten an agreement is exactly that: a myth. When people actually doing the negotiating say something would weaken rather than strengthen their negotiating hand, that’s a good indication that it indeed would not strengthen their hand.

Actually it should not even be necessary to get independent confirmation of this from someone like Cameron. Even if one were to assume the very worst about Barack Obama’s objectives, such as that he were willing to give up the store solely to claim a foreign policy achievement or to burnish his legacy, there would be no conceivable reason for him to oppose any measure that really did strengthen his bargaining hand rather than weaken it.

The other takeaway to be had from the comments of an allied leader concerns the likely fallout if the deal-killers succeed in their effort through something like the sanctions bill. The most direct consequence would involve the responses of Iran.

In the best, or least bad, case it would mean greater Iranian reluctance to make concessions because Iranian confidence in Washington’s ability and willingness to live up to its end of a deal would be shaken even more than it already is. In a worse case it would mean an Iranian conclusion that the Congressional action is so counter to the spirit if not the letter of the interim agreement that the only alternative is to leave the negotiating table and go home.

But the further consequences concern the responses of the rest of the international community. Cameron indirectly reminded us of that by saying that he was commenting as “someone who played quite, I think, a strong role in getting Europe to sign up to the very tough sanctions, including oil sanctions, in the first place.”

The interim agreement did not cause the beloved sanctions regime to unravel. But if the U.S. Congress wanders so far away from an international consensus and off into right field that it is seen as the main impediment to an agreement, unraveling is likely to begin.

Good, reliable allies have several uses, and not just in providing more warplanes to fight someplace. Helping to protect ourselves from our own solipsistic tendencies is another thing they can do for us.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Hypocrisy on Parade in Paris

At the Paris procession honoring the victims of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, world leaders locked arms in defense of free speech although many of the participants including the French have been busy cracking down on freedom of expression, notes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

There’s no question how remarkable it was seeing all those world leaders marching at the front of the line during last Sunday’s massive rally in Paris, a sight so reminiscent of the gathering of international statesmen that in November 1963 solemnly walked behind the caisson carrying the body of President John F. Kennedy. Among them back then: French President Charles de Gaulle and Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia.

In turn, that event was inspired, in part at least, by the 1910 funeral procession for Britain’s King Edward VII, when world royalty, including nine monarchs, many of them related by blood or marriage, rode in a horseback and carriage procession through the streets of London.

It was, historian Barbara Tuchman wrote in her classic The Guns of August, “the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place, and, of its kind, the last.” Both Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm were at the funeral. In 1914, Ferdinand’s assassination and an internecine web of alliances would ensnare Wilhelm and others of the crowned heads in the First World War. It would end with the dissolution of empires and many of the kings deposed, by treaty or revolution or both.

So as royalty rode in 1910, symbols of imperial hubris, in 2015, world leaders walked, decrying the violent suppression of speech and religious freedom, although many of them have been guilty of the same crimes in their own nations. In the words of media watchdog Reporters without Borders, “It would be unacceptable if representatives of countries that silence journalists were to take advantage of the current outpouring of emotion to improve their international image and then continue their repressive policies when they return home.”

“On what grounds are representatives of regimes that are predators of press freedom coming to Paris to pay tribute to Charlie Hebdo, a publication that has always defended the most radical concept of freedom of expression?

“Reporters without Borders is appalled by the presence of leaders from countries where journalists and bloggers are systematically persecuted such as Egypt (which is ranked 159th out of 180 countries in RWB’s press freedom index), Russia (148th), Turkey (154th) and United Arab Emirates (118th).”

The Guardian came up with a handy, interactive group photo: it points out faces in the crowd and tells you what that leader’s nation has been up to and where it stands on the Reporters without Borders press freedom ranking.

The website Mashable.com has its own fine accounting of just some of the more notorious offenses. And Greg Myre, the international editor of NPR.org, notes the work ofBlogger Daniel Wickham [who] compiled a list of more than 20 countries and leaders who have denounced the Paris attack, with helpful comparisons to what has been taking place in the countries they lead.”

Of course France, despite the biting, satiric insouciance of Charlie Hebdo, is far from without sin Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept writes about the arrest of controversial French comedian Dieudonné, one of dozens served in the last few days for allegedly defending terrorism.

According to George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley, “The greatest threat to liberty in France has come not from the terrorists who committed such horrific acts this past week but from the French themselves, who have been leading the Western world in a crackdown on free speech. Speech has been conditioned on being used ‘responsibly’ in France, suggesting that it is more of a privilege than a right for those who hold controversial views.”

Here at home, James Risen, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and others have become powerful symbols of the dangers of speaking up and out, but then, none of our notables above the rank of ambassador were in the line of Sunday’s march. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris on Friday to make amends, and he brought along James Taylor to sing “You’ve Got a Friend.” Honest.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.




The Syrian Ambassador’s Complaint

The Western news media calls itself “objective,” but many foreign crises are reported in a biased way, fawning over one side and hammering the other. To provide a sense of the “other side” in the Syrian civil war, we are reposting an interview with Syria’s UN ambassador by Eva Bartlett for a Lebanese newspaper.

By Eva Bartlett

On Jan. 8, in his sparsely-furnished New York City office, the Syrian Arab Republic Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Dr. Bashar al-Ja’afari, sat down with Al-Akhbar for an interview. The veteran diplomat, who has held his position at the UN since 2006, and lives restricted to a 25-mile radius of New York City, has much more to say than the half hour allowed. Defiant as always, he discussed the challenges he faces at the UN, explained why he thinks the organization has lost its way, and censured Western states and media for their hostility toward the Syrian government.

First, however, we discussed the exhibition of Aleppo-based Syrian photographer Hagop Vanesian, titled “My Homeland,” which opened the same day at the United Nations headquarters.

Al-Akhbar: How did this exhibition come about?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: This is the first breakthrough we’ve had at the level of the United Nations since the beginning of what is commonly called “the Syrian crisis.” For four years, I have been trying very hard to do something inside the UN. Every time we attempted to do something, we were confronted by a huge amount of bureaucracy, excuses, apologies (sometimes), denial of our rights (sometimes), negligence, etc.

I’m very glad that we finally succeeded in organizing this exhibition, which doesn’t address the whole, dramatic picture of the Syrian crisis, but only focuses on what happened to and in Aleppo, the second-largest city in Syria, after the capital, Damascus. It’s about Syria, it’s about the Syrian people. It’s not about the Syrian government or the Syrian opposition or the Syrian coalition thugs or Da’esh (ISIS). It’s about Syria, about what happened in Aleppo, through undeniable photos.

The exhibition is the work of a highly-professional Syrian photographer of Armenian origin, who is himself a citizen of Aleppo. He is an eyewitness to the terrorist rampage that hit this beautiful city, Aleppo, which has always been a cradle of civilization. He is suffering greatly. He lost his home, his family. He will show only 26 photos, but he has an archive of thousands of photos. He has complete archives of Aleppo, before and after, building by building, how it was before and how it became.

AA: Why do you think that the UN has allowed this exhibition now? You mentioned you’d wanted to sponsor exhibitions in the past but hadn’t been allowed.

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: The Saudi mission, the French mission, the Danish mission, the British mission, the German mission… they have countered Syrian government activities in the UN. Every time we complained about it they said, “You can do the same.” Today we said, “We have an exhibition.” They were cornered. They couldn’t say no (chuckles), because they kept telling me “You can do the same.” We are not attacking Germany or France or others, we are showing the reality in our country.

AA: An Associated Press article that has been running in the mainstream papers slammed this exhibit; citing an official in the opposition Syrian National Coalition calling the photographer a “propagandist.”

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: This is what they are good at. They don’t look at the picture in its entirety, in its comprehensiveness. They don’t address what the photographs are talking about objectively. They have prejudices, wrong preconceived ideas about what’s taking place in Syria. They start with wrong ideas and end with wrong ideas. It’s really unfortunate, because here we are not talking about just some gallery in New York. We are talking about the United Nations headquarters!

We are speaking the language of the UN: territorial integrity of states, political independence of states, sovereignty of states, equal membership of states. All these sacrosanct terms are enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations. We are not starting from scratch or re-inventing new language. We are in full harmony with the UN language and the UN provisions of the Charter.

Others are not, because they don’t belong to the UN world. They [the media] are, of course, against the Syrian government. They are against anything that might explain positively, or objectively speaking [the Syrian crisis], to the so-called “international community”, I don’t believe in this word. They have been falsifying facts, spreading rumours, making propaganda against the Syrian government for years. And they are living off this criticism, it has become a source of their livelihood, their own welfare. The more you criticize the Syrian government, the more money you get from the petrodollar countries, the more visas you get from Western world, the more you go to five-star hotels, the more you appear on TV screens as dignitaries of the Syrian people, as representatives, exclusive representatives, of the Syrian people.

Anybody who opposes this exhibition belongs to a political current opposing the truth. Any honest, objective Syrian who loves his homeland, who says he feels sick because of what is going on in Syria, should have a great interest in showing what is going on in Syria. All Syrians should push for organizing more exhibitions, not only at the United Nations but all over the world, to explain what Da’esh and al-Nusra Front and the other terrorist groups sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, are doing. The Turkish intelligence is deeply involved in sponsoring Da’esh, and in stealing our plants and factories.

AA: You are the representative of the Syrian Arab Republic at the United Nations, and Syria is an important subject in the news. Are you asked to appear on major TV channels?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Mainly, I address the media at the UN, at the stakeout, which is the podium for diplomats, for ambassadors. I also go on TV from time to time. But to be honest, when they record interviews, I speak for 20 minutes, then they show only 20 seconds, 10 seconds, whatever fits their agenda. You saw what happened with Anderson Cooper, Christiane Amanpour, and others. They always try to manipulate the facts, and they do their best to deviate from the direction of the conversation into little, negative, details, so that the audience will have a negative idea of what I am saying. Simultaneously, as I am speaking, they show a negative video clip on what’s going on in Syria, accusing the government of doing so and so. Which means that they are indirectly telling viewers that this ambassador is not telling the truth. You see how they manipulate?

Christiane Amanpour was lying when she was interviewing me on the so-called chemical weapons. She was lying, not telling the truth at all! This is why I told her, “You know what? You also may be a weapon of mass destruction, because you are poisoning public opinion and deviating from the main points I’m making.”

AA: You are now under a 25-mile travel ban, how did they justify imposing this restriction on you?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Yes. They didn’t give me any reason, they didn’t explain anything. They just notified me that from now on, you won’t be able to go beyond 25 miles [of New York City’s Columbus Circle]. It’s an American sovereign decision. I’m an ambassador to the United Nations, not to the United States, so maybe they are taking advantage of that nuance. Of course, it is not justifiable. I have the right to move according to the Vienna Diplomatic Convention. But if they want it this way, let it be.

AA: Prior to this, had you been traveling in the US or elsewhere?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Yes. Maybe my activism caused me this trouble.

AA: Your activism consisted of meeting with members of the Syrian-American community?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Yes, meeting with them, explaining to them what’s going on in Syria. They needed information, they needed to be briefed about what’s going on in their homeland. They are all extremely worried, they have families there.

AA: Speaking of traveling, recently, there were reports that you launched an official complaint at the UN regarding US Senator John McCain and other heads of states traveling illegally to Syria and meeting with anti-government fighters.

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Yes, this is what transpired in the media. I didn’t ask to circulate the letter, I wanted it to be shared only by the members of the Security Council, but it was somehow leaked. But I would like to confirm that, yes, I sent a letter drawing the kind attention of the secretary-general and the members of the Security Council to this flagrant and blatant interference in domestic affairs, this violation of our sovereignty, the illegal crossing of our borders. Whenever one of those who cross illegally into Syria gets killed by the terrorists, then the Syrian government is blamed for not protecting him, although they entered Syria illegally. Many journalists have been killed, unfortunately. It is unfortunate, but they are responsible for their own fate. They didn’t enter Syria via the Syrian government. We would have protected them. We would have shown them where to go and where not to go. But they had bad intentions. So, many of them got killed, beheaded, kidnapped.

So, indeed, I forwarded this letter with some specific names, even though there are thousands, but we gave just some names. John McCain, an American senator, goes and meets with Da’esh (ISIS) in Aleppo. In one picture, he was with a man from ISIS. And the other “moderate” criminals. The American weapons delivered to them ended up in the hands of al-Nusra Front and Da’esh. All these people are “moderate,” as you know. Bernard Kouchner, the former French Foreign Minister, entered Syria illegally, too. Can you imagine that? A senator from the USA, a former minister from France, Turkish intelligence and then they tell you that, “you know what, we are extremely worried about the spread of terrorism.”

AA: In UN sessions, your microphone has repeatedly had suddenly “technical difficulties” and been cut, or the video feed has had sudden inexplicable “technical difficulties”…

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: Many times, many times. I have been the only Ambassador at the United Nations since 1945 whose speeches were cut off, or not recorded at all. It has never happened otherwise in UN meetings. Never. Two of my speeches were not recorded. One, under the Chairmanship of the former Qatari ambassador of course, Qatar. But what adds insult to injury was that Ban Ki-moon himself was at sitting at the podium, and he supported the move taken by the President of the General Assembly. That triggered a very negative reaction from many ambassadors who intervened. The biased position of the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly was obvious from the very first days, thanks to these wrongdoings.

This has been a phenomenon related exclusively to me. Let me elaborate. Every time I speak, for instance, at the Security Council, they choose a bad interpreter who is unable to fully interpret what I am saying. So the people do not get my message. They do it on purpose. One day, I was invited to address the Security Council. I saw one of the Security Council staff members addressing the interpreters. He gave them a hand signal: change. I saw it with my own eyes. So they changed the good interpreter with a poor one, thus ensuring that my political message does not transpire fully.

They do the same things in the General Assembly. The British ambassador cut me off one time while I was speaking. He said “you have exceeded four minutes.” I said, “Who gave you the right to fix four minutes? I am a member of a concerned party, and I have the right to explain.” To justify his wrongdoing, he also cut off the Iraqi ambassador after me. We were the only two ambassadors speaking at that session, and it was on Syria and Iraq. The issue was on terrorism in Syria and Iraq, and he cut off both of us after four minutes!

The UN has lost its credibility. The UN has lost a lot of the principles of its founding fathers. The UN of today has nothing to do with the UN of the Charter. This is why everybody has forgotten about the Charter; people do not speak of the Charter. They don’t speak about sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, equality among members. Now they speak about the rule of law, human rights, the environment, because this is very dear to the heart of the private sector: money, partnerships. Now the Secretary-General is focused on partnerships, because he wants to privatize the United Nations.

The budget of peacekeeping operations is three times higher than the regular budget! Rather than extinguishing the conflicts, and decreasing the number of peacekeeping operations, we have increased the peace-keeping operations. We have right now 36 special political missions, aside from 15 peacekeeping operations. Twenty years ago, we didn’t have any special political missions. This is a new phenomenon. By the way, the special political missions and the peace-keeping operations are not in the Charter. These are some of the ways they are deviating from the Charter itself. Together they consume $7.9 billion per year. And they are solving nothing.

When one of the peacekeeping operations, such as the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force Zone (UNDOF) on the Syrian occupied Golan makes mistakes, they hide it, they don’t share the information with the Security Council. For instance, Israel is dealing with Jabhat al-Nusra (the Nusra Front) right now in the Golan, helping the terrorists and treating their wounded in Israeli hospitals. Israeli TV shows Netanyahu visiting them. Still, the report of the secretary-general denies this fact, and the report of the Secretary-General does not address this fact, does not acknowledge that there is cooperation between Israel and the terrorists in the Golan.

AA: The media accuses President al-Assad of being responsible for Da’esh, and other terrorists. Who do you blame for the proliferation of terrorists in Syria?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: I’m sure you’re aware of the alarming reports of Da’esh coming from Camp Bucca in Iraq, the famous American prison in Iraq. Al-Baghdadi, the caliph of Da’esh, was at Bucca. He was released by the Americans, not by the Syrian president. The men who committed the massacre in Paris, they were fighting in Syria and came back to France. France allowed them to go to Syria, where they killed scores of people, and in Iraq. Then they came back, normally, and the French police let them in. The same terrorists. They are good when they kill Syrians, and they are bad when they kill the French.

In 2012, Laurent Fabius, the French minister of foreign affairs, said himself that the jihadists, he didn’t call them terrorists then, were doing well. The French minister! A permanent member of the Security Council in charge of maintaining international peace and security. He described their dirty actions by saying that they are doing well. The French minister of the interior, who is now the prime minister of France, the one who was crying over the bodies of the people killed in Paris, what did he say? At that time, the French ministers were competing to see who could go furthest in their animosity towards President al-Assad. “He should step down; he should go; he should resign.” It was à la mode then. The French minister of the interior said at the time, “I cannot do anything to prevent and stop French jihadists from going to make jihad in Syria.” He cannot, as minister of the interior, stop the terrorists coming from France from going to Syria to kill Syrians! Through Turkey, of course. Why? Because freedom of speech, freedom of what… freedom of lies. He “cannot stop them.”

Now, he can. Now, he knows the outcome of what he did. We warned him, in our statements: don’t play with the terrorists, they will come back to you. They thought they were big powers and exempt, immune against this terrorist disease.

It is said publicly today that the Americans with the Turks will start training the terrorists in Turkey in spring. It has become public, no shame whatsoever. The Jordanians are doing the same, in secret camps in the northern part of Jordan, run by the French and the British and the Americans. The same thing in Saudi Arabia. The same thing in Doha and Qatar. This is scandalous behaviour.

That’s why I say, there’s no United Nations anymore, it’s over. Multilateral diplomacy is not working, it’s being manipulated by the powerful. This is why they want to privatize the United Nations, so that the influential donors can control the decision-making mechanisms, without giving a damn about the provisions of the Charter.

We are member states, and we are here based on this famous concept and principle of equal sovereignty. All that has disappeared, it’s about business now. Can you believe that Saudi Arabia is sponsoring the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Centre? Can you believe for a second that Qatar is sponsoring the committee for alliance amongst civilizations, the dialogue among cultures and civilizations and religions? They are buying the UN with dirty money.

AA: In reference to Syria’s destroyed heritage, US Secretary of State John Kerry has implied that it is America’s duty to protect Syria’s heritage. What is your take on his statement in light of the US’ involvement in the Syrian war?

Ambassador al-Ja’afari: This man is disconnected from reality, totally disconnected. I heard this from an American man who fought with him in Vietnam. He told me, “This man has always been disconnected.” But, he’s not the only one.

On the other hand, there are many honest senators and genuine people in Congress who opposed the American administration’s plan to attack Syria. There are genuine people, and the American constitution is based on beautiful values. Once applied, that is.

Eva Bartlett is a Canadian freelance journalist and activist who has lived in and written from the Gaza Strip, Syria, and Lebanon. [This interview was published originally in the English-language edition of Al-Akhbar, a daily newspaper in Beirut.]