Aletho News


Here is How China-US Trade War Impacts Iran

By Salman Rafi Sheikh – New Eastern Outlook – 18.09.2019

In the last week of August, China added crude oil imports from the US to its tariff list for the first time in a retaliatory decision against the US decision to impose fresh tariffs on Chinese products. China imports about 6 per cent of its crude oil from the US. For an economy that increasingly relies on crude oil imports, this decision carries a lot of significance. While China is also preparing to impose high tariffs on import of US cars and the trade-war is likely to continue in the days to come, the all-important question is: why would China impose tariffs on import of oil, the life-line of its economy? According to some latest figures, China’s reliance on imported crude oil has already jumped to 70 per cent and gas moving towards 50 per cent. Most certainly, China would never have taken such a decision unless its leadership had first secured an alternative source of supply of oil. Here is where Iran and cheap/tariff free Iranian oil comes into play and the larger geo-political chessboard becomes active, allowing China to counter the US on three levels.

First, in terms of trade war, Chinese tariffs on oil imports from the US will undermine the US position as the world’s ‘new champion oil producer.’ Second, in terms of regional geo-politics, import of oil from Iran will boost Iran’s economy in the face of US sanctions and help the Iranian economy keep afloat. Needless to say, Iran is a key territorial link for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to expand beyond Asia. Third, if the US and China fail to reach a compromise on trade disputes and their bi-lateral economic and political relations remain cold, China’s continuous reliance on US oil would become a big disadvantage. Therefore, by ridding itself of the US oil, China is preparing for a long-term war with the US, or at least doesn’t see the current dispute resolving any time soon; hence, the move towards diversification through defiance.

Although China has recently decided to increase its domestic production of gas in Sichuan province, increasing from roughly 20 per cent at present to about 33 per cent of the country’s needs, this isn’t going to be enough for a huge economy that China is; hence, China’s increasing investment in Iran’s huge and sanctioned energy sector.

According to reports, China is set to invest about 280 billion dollars in Iran’s oil, gas and petrochemical sectors. This investment will in turn allow China to buy energy products from Iran at discounted prices, certainly a lot cheaper than the US oil. Although there will be a risk of the US sanctioning Chinese companies involved in buying Iranian oil, China is ready to tackle this. Entering the deal with Iran, China announced that it is not intimidated by the `secondary sanctions` the US has threatened to impose on companies and countries which continue to have economic ties with Iran.

China’s decision has massive geo-political ramifications. China can expand the use of Turkmenistan-China gas pipeline to import oil and gas from Iran and can even build new pipelines, allowing it to not only conveniently meet its energy needs but also massively reduce its reliance on a number of US-friendly oil and gas suppliers from the Middle East i.e., UAE and Saudi Arabia.

China, accordingly, is also investing about 120 billion dollars in Iran’s transport and manufacturing infrastructure. Significantly enough, this Chinese-built infrastructure in Iran, which includes high-speed rail on several routes, will provide China with additional avenues for its overland trade through Iran and Turkey to and from Europe and maritime trade through Iranian ports to the Middle East, Africa and beyond. Interestingly enough, one of the ports that China is eyeing is the Indian built port of Chabahar. Due to India’s full compliance with the US directive to bring oil imports from Iran to zero, Iran’s relations with India have gone down massively, allowing China to move in and grab the space.

China’s investment also comes with Chinese troops on the ground in Iran. Sending a clear message to the US, about 5,000 Chinese security personnel will be placed in Iran to protect Chinese projects from possible sabotage attempts by rival countries through their sponsored non-state actors, or even directly. Importantly enough, this security presence in Iran will be as big as the US has in today’s Iraq or what the Pentagon aims to leave in Afghanistan in 2020. Also, it intends to deter any US adventurism (visible in Iraq and Afghanistan), inasmuch as any major US military strike on or action against Iran would risk hitting Chinese army personnel and spiking tensions with a nuclear power that has the ability to hit the US both militarily and economically; hence, the increasing emphasis on materialising a true strategic partnership between Iran and China. A binding force will, of course, be US sanctions on Iran and its trade war with China.

Emphasising the same point, Iran’s foreign minister wrote in an Op-Ed for Global Times and said, “China has become an indispensable economic partner of Iran and the two countries are strategic partners on many fronts…’” and that both China and Iran “ favor multilateralism in global affairs but that has come under attack now more than ever.” Hitting the US directly, Zarif noted, “China and Iran support fair and balanced commercial ties around the world and we both face overseas [US] hostility by populist unilateralist bigotry.”

A deep Chinese presence in Iran and a willingness to defy the US is a big boost to the countries, including Russia, Turkey, Syria, and Pakistan, which are trying to build an ‘Asian order’ around Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and other regional connectivity programs i.e., Eurasian Economic Union and even the SCO. As the saying goes, for a new order to emerge, the old must dismantle. Chinese defiance signifies a major step towards the new order.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

India pressing US for resumed oil imports from Iran: Report

Press TV – September 18, 2019

Indian authorities have renewed their efforts to persuade the United States to lift sanctions on imports of oil from Iran amid disruptions caused to supplies from Saudi Arabia following attacks last week that hit oil installations east of the kingdom.

A Tuesday report on the website of The Mint, an Indian financial newspaper, showed that India had held fresh talks with the government of US President Donald Trump on renewed energy imports from Iran.

India stopped crude imports from Iran on May 2 after the White House toughened its sanctions on Iran and removed waivers granted to India and several other countries.

New Delhi used to be Iran’s second top buyer of oil before American sanctions were imposed in November with imports exceeding 20 million tons a year.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said on Tuesday that resuming oil imports from Iran had never turned into a “static” issue and authorities were trying to find a solution to the problem.

“We are in dialogue with all suppliers including Iran,” said Jaishankar, adding that India wanted to ensure that supplies of energy into the country would remain predictable and affordable.

The remarks come after attacks on Saturday on key oil installations in Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq cut the kingdom’s production in half.

The attacks, claimed by Yemen’s ruling Ansarullah movement, sent shockwaves across the global markets and caused a historic surge in prices while sparking serious concerns in energy-thirsty countries like India about the future of oil supplies.

While trying to revive imports from Iran, India has said it would seek a contract with Russia to secure a long-term supply of oil from the country.

September 18, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , | 1 Comment

Iran, Pakistan sign new agreement on major gas project: Report

Press TV – September 17, 2019

A major deal for exports of gas from Iran to Pakistan has been revised after several years of uncertainty surrounding the project, shows a report in the Pakistani media.

The Express Tribune said in a Monday report that national gas companies from Iran and Pakistan had inked an agreement to revise the terms of an old deal meant for exports of gas from Iran which had been supposed to be implemented by 2015.

The deal had stalled mainly because Pakistan was unable to construct a pipeline through its territory to transfer the Iranian gas to the port of Karachi. Islamabad was also unwilling to pay compensation for its delay, saying it had been caused by sanctions imposed on Iran.

The report said the Inter State Gas Systems (ISGS) of Pakistan and the National Iranian Gas Company (NIGC) had agreed to allow Pakistan to finish construction of the pipeline in its territory until 2024.

It cited sources as saying that Iran would not sue Pakistan for a fresh delay beyond 2024 unlike the previous contract under which Iran had threatened Islamabad with legal action. There was no comment on the report from the Iranian officials.

It said the two companies would seek to devise solutions for completion of the project which would enable Pakistan to import 750 million cubic feet of gas per day from Iran.

Based on the terms of the previous deal, Pakistan had been supposed to complete its section of the gas pipeline within 22 months after construction activities for the project kicked off in March 2013.

However, Pakistan later backtracked from the commitment and officials said that sanctions imposed on Iran had made it impossible for the country to build the 1,600-kilometer pipeline.

Iran has almost completed its sides of the pipeline which starts from installations of the South Pars gas field located on the Persian Gulf port of Asaluyeh and runs 1,172 kilometers through two provinces to reach the Pakistani border.

September 17, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Malthusian Ideology, Phony Scarcity | , | Leave a comment

Attacks on Saudi oil make waivers on Iran necessary: Experts

Press TV – September 14, 2019

Experts say critical oil supplies lost due to Yemeni attacks on Saudi Arabia’s production plants can only be compensated if the United States eases its sanctions on sale of crude by Iran.

Sandy Fielden, an analyst at Morningstar, a global financial services firm based in the US, said on Saturday that the current oil stocks in Saudi Arabia, the biggest oil exporter in the world, would not suffice to compensate for a loss of around 5 million barrels per day (bpd) that could be caused by attacks earlier in the day targeting the kingdom’s vital oil facilities located east of the country.

Fielden said the disruptions could cause a real jump in the global oil prices, adding that the US, a main player in the oil market and an ally of the Saudis, would have no option but to allow Iran to resume its crude exports after months of a halt that has been caused by Washington’s unilateral bans.

“By all accounts the Iranians have tankers full of storage ready to go,” he said, adding, “The obvious short-term fix would be waivers on Iran sanctions.”

Yemen’s ruling Houthi Ansarullah movement said on Saturday that its drones had successfully attacked two oil plants in Abqaiq, the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.

The Houthis said the attacks were a firm response to Saudi Arabia’s relentless bombardment of Yemen, where tens of thousands of civilians have been killed since Riyadh launched its illegal military campaign four years ago.

James Krane, Middle East energy specialist at Rice University’s Baker Institute, suggested that supplies from a country like Iran would be the best option to replace the lost Saudi production as most of the Kingdom’s exports normally go to countries in Asia that are closer to Iran than any other major oil producer.

“For the United States, the main threat is in the price of oil,” said Krane, adding, “Asian countries are more at immediate risk because they are the big importers from Saudi Arabia, with 80% of Saudi exports going to East Asia.”

Analysts said Yemeni attacks on Saudi oil installations showed that Riyadh, which pumps just below 10 million bpd of oil into the global market, is effectively defenseless in the face of strikes from its impoverished neighbor.

Fielden said Washington would also find it impossible to try to solve the crisis on its own by sending tankers full of oil to Saudi customers in East Asia.

“It takes 19-20 days to ship Ras Tanura (Saudi) to Singapore, but 54 days from Houston to Singapore. So US ‘relief’ will take time,” he said.

However, US officials said right after the attack that they would try to ensure a smooth supply of oil to the global markets despite the attacks in Abqaiq.

White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement that Washington was committed to well-supplied oil markets while adding that US President Donald Trump had held a phone conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman following the Saturday attacks.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) also said that in the short term was there were no real concerns about supplies to the markets.

“For now, markets are well supplied with ample commercial stocks,” it said, adding, “The IEA is monitoring the situation in Saudi Arabia closely. We are in contact with Saudi authorities as well as major producer and consumer nations.”

The United Arab Emirates, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and a major oil producer, said it would support measures adopted by the kingdom to safeguard its security following Saturday attacks.

September 14, 2019 Posted by | Economics | , , , | 1 Comment

EU’s $15bn Credit Line Has Nothing to Do with Sanctions Relief: Oil Minister

Iran’s oil minister, Bijan Namdar Zanganeh

Al-Manar | September 14, 2019

Iranian oil minister Bijan Zanganeh said Saturday that the France-proposed $15 billion credit line for Iran has nothing to do with easing of US sanctions on the country.

“In the eye of the country’s oil industry, sanctions relief means selling oil,” Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh told reporters on Saturday.

He was speaking on the sidelines of a signing ceremony for a deal between Pars Oil and Gas Company (POGC) and Petropars Company for developing Belal Gas Field in the Persian Gulf.

“The point was for the oil sanctions to be lifted so that we could freely sell our oil. This credit line will put Iran in debt in the future,” he added, according to Mehr news agency.

The $15 billion credit line has been proposed by the French side in a bid to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in the wake of US’ unilateral withdrawal and Iran’s countermeasures in reducing commitments to the agreement.

The package is meant as an incentive to keep Iran in the nuclear agreement in the face of US’ efforts to drive the country’s oil exports to zero.

The sum is said to account for about half the revenue Iran normally would expect to earn from oil exports in a year.

Elsewhere, Zanganeh maintained that the development of the phase 11 of South Pars has not yet been exempted from US sanctions.

He then refused to confirm data of Iran’s oil reserves or answer any questions regarding Iran’s measures to bypass US sanctions.

He noted, however, that Iran is in talks with China to peacefully resolve the issue of the East Asian country’s decision to leave the SP11 development project.

September 14, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , | Leave a comment

The Pirates of Gibraltar

By Sasan Fayazmanesh | CounterPunch | September 13, 2019

When I hear the word “pirates” certain images conjure up: the silly, moldy, dusty “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride in Disneyland that I saw in my youth; the banal, boring, childish Hollywood movies by the same title that I could not watch for more than a few minutes; or the actual pirates, such as the modern day bandits who were actively raiding ships a few years ago off the coast of Somalia. But the image of British, American and Israeli politicians in three-piece suits or skirts as pirates never came to my mind until very recently. If you don’t know what I am talking about, read the script below which appears in chronological order.

On April 17, 2019, a tanker named Grace 1 left Iran for an unspecified destination with reportedly 2.1 million barrels of crude oil, worth some $130 million. According to a March 20 report in Reuters about how Iran tries to evade US sanctions, the Grace 1 was “Panamanian-flagged and managed by Singapore-based shipping services firm.” The Grace 1, TankerTrackers reported, was built in 1997 and, given its age and size, was not allowed to dock at many ports. It therefore had a history of handling ship-to-ship fuel oil transfers at sea. It would typically receive fuel oil from Iran, the source stated, and then deliver it to smaller vessels.

The tanker appeared to be heading to the Mediterranean Sea. But instead of taking the much shorter route of the Suez Canal, it circled around Africa. Why? Because, according to TankerTrackers, the ship was too heavy and, therefore, too submerged to pass through the shallow Suez Canal. Such heavy tankers can, using pipelines, offload some of their oil before entering the canal and receive them on other side of the canal. However, since Saudi Arabia is part owner of the pipeline, and is hostile to Iran, it would not allow Iran to use the facility.

On July 4, 2019, The New York Times reported that British marines and the port authorities in Gibraltar detained the Grace 1 as it “was carrying crude oil from Iran to Syria, a violation of European Union sanctions against Syria.” It further stated that according to Spain, the tanker had been detained at the request of the United States, and that British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt had praised Gibraltar and the British marines “for this bold move to enforce Syria sanctions.” (The New York Times, of course, did not mention the fact that Gibraltar is a British colony with little or no say in international matters, and that carrying oil to Syria by the tanker is merely an allegation.) The report said that Iran had summoned the British ambassador over what it called “illegal” seizure, and the ambassador had been told that the British action “is very strange because these sanctions are not imposed by the Security Council and Iran rejects them.” In other words, these were merely EU imposed sanctions and Iran did not have to abide by them.

Subsequently, the Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted that “UK’s unlawful seizure of a tanker with Iranian oil on behalf of the B team is piracy, pure and simple” (Press TV, July 8). By the B team he meant US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, individuals who were actively pushing for a war with Iran. Zarif reiterated that the British argument that the tanker was seized because it was in breach of the EU sanctions against Syria made no sense, since “Iran is neither a member of the EU nor subject to any European oil embargo.” In addition, he pointed out that since EU was against extraterritoriality, it made no sense to argue that Britain seized the tanker on behest of the US government, which amounts to imposition of US laws on other countries. Moreover, various sources reported that according to Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister, the Grace 1 was not even going to Syria but was going “somewhere else.”

On July 11, UPI reported that the Royal Gibraltar Police had arrested the captain and chief officer of the Grace 1, who were Indian nationals, on “suspicion of shipping oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.” According to the report, the Grace 1 had been searched and documents and electronic devices had been seized and examined. The report also mentioned that Iranian gunboats in the Strait of Hormuz had attempted to detain the British Heritage tanker, but they had backed down following a warning from the British warship HMS Montrose.

On July 13, the Guardian reported that Hunt had told Zarif that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if there were guarantees it would not go to Syria and that Zarif had told him that Iran wanted to resolve the issue and did not want to escalate tensions. Nevertheless, the report went on to say, the UK was increasing its military presence in the Persian Gulf by sending a second warship to the region to protect British commercial oil tankers. The report further stated that Hunt and Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, had “agreed the importance of deescalating the current situation as quickly as possible while noting the importance of Gibraltar enforcing EU sanctions against Syria.”

Six days later Reuters reported that the Gibraltar government has announced that its “Supreme Court,” at the request of the “Attorney General,” has extended the period of detention of the Grace 1 for an additional 30 days and has set a new hearing for August15. It also reported that Fabian Picardo held a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London to discuss the tanker. On July 18 British Prime Minister Theresa May paid tribute to Gibraltar’s efforts in detaining the Grace 1 and thanked Gibraltar’s chief minister for detaining the oil tanker (The National).

On July 19, in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran seized a British tanker called Stena Impero which sailed under the UK flag and was registered in London. The seizure followed the same dramatic routine that had been followed by the British when they captured the Grace 1. In a video that Iran released shortly after the incident, Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelled from a helicopter onto the British tanker. Even though Iran’s Revolutionary Guards claimed that the Stena Impero was seized because it failed to follow international maritime regulations, it was clear that the act was simply a tit for tat and intended to put pressure on the British government to release the Grace 1. The Tasnim news agency reported that the Guards had also stopped another UK-operated tanker but released it afterward. The British raised a hue and cry. Jeremy Hunt stated: “I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz. . . I will shortly attend a COBR [Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms] meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels” (CNBC, July 19). BBC also quoted Hunt as saying that the Iranian seizures were “completely unacceptable” and “freedom of navigation must be maintained.” (Note that when British imperial forces engage in an act of piracy, it is acceptable, but when Iranians try to copy them it is “completely unacceptable”!) Hunt warned Iran that “if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences.”

In a detailed article on July 20 the Guardian unmasked the role that the US, and particularly John Bolton, had played in the seizure of the Grace 1. It wrote that when the Grace 1 was captured, Bolton tried to act as if he had no previous knowledge of the act by tweeting: “Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.” But “Bolton’s national security team was directly involved in manufacturing the Gibraltar incident.” The Grace 1 had been under surveillance by US satellites since April, when it was anchored off Iran. Once it headed for the Mediterranean Sea the US informed Spain of its arrival and its passage through the Strait of Gibraltar. Spain, which does not recognize British rule over Gibraltar, took no action. But the British, who had also been told to seize the tanker, acted and stormed the tanker with 30 marines. The result, as the Guardian pointed out, was that “Britain has been plunged into the middle of an international crisis it is ill-prepared to deal with.” Iran’s retaliation in snatching the Stena Impero, the Guardian stated, has further exposed “Britain’s diplomatic isolation and its military and economic vulnerability,” and “Hunt’s appeal for international support for Britain has so far fallen on deaf ears.”

The British pirates and their dominions in Gibraltar, who had been duped by an American pirate, had to give up. On August 15 the British released the Grace 1 despite all efforts by Bolton and his gang to continue the detention of the tanker. Officials in Gibraltar issued a statement saying that that the US Department of Justice had “applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations,” but a judge in Gibraltar’s Supreme Court later ruled he had not received an “application” for the US seizure (USA Today). Moreover, all legal actions against the tanker’s crew and captain were dropped. The New York Times also reported that Fabian Picardo had issued a statement saying that he had “received written assurance” from Iran that “if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions” and in “light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1.” When asked where the ship was headed, Picardo answered: “That is not an issue for the authorities in Gibraltar.” According to the report, an oil trader in Iran had said the tanker would sail to Greece and then to Italy.

As the Grace 1 prepared to leave Gibraltar, it changed its name and flag. It was now called Adrian Darya 1 and the flag of Panama was replaced with the Iranian flag (Darya means Sea in Persian). The reason for these changes was that Panama did not want the tanker to sail under its flag anymore. The Adrian Darya 1 then drifted into the Mediterranean Sea with no clear destination (Press TV, August 18). US pirates were on its tail and threatened every country that the tanker tried to get close to.

The first country that the tanker approached was Greece. But the US stated that it had conveyed its “strong position” to the Greek government not to let the tanker dock (Reuters, August 20). According to a US State Department official, “any efforts to assist the tanker could be construed as providing material support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization, which has immigration and potential criminal consequences.” This position had “been communicated not only to Greece but other states and ports in the Mediterranean,” the official stated. Given the US threats, Greece’s government said that there had been no formal announcement that the Adrian Darya 1 will arrive at the Greek port Kalamata. The next day, Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister stated that we have “sent a clear message that we would not want to facilitate the trafficking of this oil to Syria in any instance,” and that Greece did not even have a port capable of handling such a large oil tanker (CNBC, August 21).

The Adrian Darya 1 then headed for Cyprus. But a Cypriot diplomat stated that “Cyprus wouldn’t allow the Iranian tanker to enter its territory were the vessel to make such a request” (Bloomberg, August 22). The tanker then listed its destination as the port of Mersin in southern Turkey, estimating its arrival to be August 31 (Deutsche Welle, August 24). But given the “paralyzing sanctions” of the Obama Administration, followed by the “maximum pressure” of Trump’s gang, Turkey had stopped buying Iranian oil in May 2019 and would not want to have anything to do with the Iranian oil tanker, especially since it already had a tense relation with the US. On August 25, Bloomberg reported that the tanker had changed “signal sent from the ship’s satellite transponder to ‘For Order,’ a designation meaning the vessel isn’t disclosing any destination.”

On August 26 a sensational news appeared: “Iran sells oil tanker pursued by US” (The Independent). According to the news, in a press conference, an Iranian government spokesperson stated that the tanker had been sold by Iran and the new buyer would decide its ultimate destination. Iran declined to name the buyer and discuss the terms for the sale.

Even though Iran tried to wash its hands of the tanker, US pirates continued their chase. It was now completely unclear where the Adrian Darya 1 might go next and what would happen to it. “Confusion over Iranian tanker’s destination after weeks of ordeal,” was the title of an Aljazeera news item on August 30. After the rumors that the tanker is still heading for another port in Turkey, Turkish Foreign Minister stated: “This tanker is not heading actually to Iskenderun [in Turkey], this tanker is heading to Lebanon.” But Lebanon had already dismissed the scenario, “stressing that it never buys crude oil because it simply does not have refineries.”

On August 30, Press TV reported that the US has blacklisted the Adrian Darya 1 and sanctioned its captain. Indeed, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a statement saying that it is taking action against the Adrian Darya 1 which is “benefiting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF).” Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated: “Vessels like the Adrian Darya 1 enable the IRGC-QF to ship and transfer large volumes of oil, which they attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism.” (It should be noted that Sigal Pearl Mandelker’s place of birth and citizenship, whether Israel or the US, has been subject of much controversy. But setting that issue aside, like the previous heads of the OFAC, she has shown quite a bit of hostility toward Iran in Israeli affiliated circles, such as the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, and has been instrumental in passing one set of sanctions or another on Iran.)

With the bandits on its tail and having no place to go, the Adrian Darya 1 headed for Syria, precisely the place that the US had tried to prevent it from going in the first place. On August 31 Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted “FM @JZarif guaranteed to the UK that the IRGC oil tanker #Grace1 / #AdrianDarya1 would not head to Syria. We have reliable information that the tanker is underway and headed to Tartus, Syria. I hope it changes course. It was a big mistake to trust Zarif” (The Times of Israel ).

On September 3 AP reported that the tanker “blacklisted and pursued by the U.S. turned off its tracking beacon off the coast of Syria,” leading to speculation that its oil will end up there. It was further speculated that there will a ship-to-ship transfer of its oil.

One day later, stunning news appeared: A report by The Financial Times revealed that four days before the US sanctioned the Adrian Darya 1, Akhilesh Kumar, the tanker’s Indian captain, received an email from Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran at the Department of State. Hook wrote to Kumar on August 26: “This is Brian Hook. I work for secretary of state Mike Pompeo and serve as the US Representative for Iran. I am writing with good news.” The good news was that that the Trump Administration would give Kumar “several million dollars” to take the tanker to “a country that would impound the vessel on behalf of the US.” To assure Kumar that the email was genuine, Hook included an official state department phone number. In a second email Hook wrote to Kumar: “With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age. . . If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.” In the intervening two days, the report went on, the Adrian Darya 1 made “doughnut” shape maneuvers, suggesting that Kumar might have been trying to decide how to react. But ultimately, the captain failed to respond, and Brain Hook emailed him to say that the US Treasury had imposed sanctions on him. According to the report, “in an effort to scare mariners” into understanding that helping Iran evade sanctions comes at a heavy price, in recent months Hook had emailed or texted roughly a dozen captains. (Let me emphasize that the author of the above email(s) is not Don Vito Corleone or even Capitan Hook. It is Brain Hook, the US special representative for Iran at the Department of State. Capitan Hook is quite clever, he offers “a few million dollars” for a ship that is at least worth $130 million! Perhaps that is why Kumar did not respond to his offer!)

With Hook’s bribery and threat email(s) out in the open, and the Adrian Darya 1 close to the Syrian coast, the saga of the Iranian tanker was almost over. On September 5, it was reported that Iran would soon release some of the crew members of UK flagged tanker (The Independent). On the same day US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he “currently had no plan on his desk to seize the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1” (Reuters ). On September 6, the Guardian reported that the tanker is photographed by satellite off the Syrian port of Tartus.

On September 8 Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi reported that the “Adrian Darya 1 oil tanker, despite acts of sabotage, finally docked on the Mediterranean coast and unloaded its cargo and its owner will make a decision for its future” (Press TV). The British Foreign Office issued an angry statement on September 10 saying it was “now clear that Iran has breached” its “assurances and that the oil has been transferred to Syria and Assad’s murderous regime” (Sky News). On the same day John Bolton was fired by Trump!

The saga of the Iranian tanker would make a great movie about modern day piracy. It could cast many great stars; Bolton, a pirate with a huge mustache fighting his boss while trying to steal an Iranian ship; Hunt, a bumbling pirate who is losing his job along with his boss Teresa May in tears; Pompeo, a large, big belly, jolly pirate, engaged in a Twitter war with Zarif; Capitan Hook, a man with a pirate smile issuing threats and dangling money in front of Indian captains; Sigal Pearl Mandelker, a venomous female pirate out to get Iran on behest of Bibi Netanyahu and Mark Dubowitz, the head of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, etc.

So, listen Hollywood! Instead of making another insipid movie about Pirates of the Caribbean, make a movie about Pirates of Gibraltar. It would be a lot more interesting and it would have a happy ending, not because the good guys win, but because the baddest of all bad dudes lose!

Sasan Fayazmanesh is Professor Emeritus of Economics at California State University, Fresno, and is the author of Containing Iran: Obama’s Policy of “Tough Diplomacy.” He can be reached at:

September 13, 2019 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , | Leave a comment

Top Iran cultural body slams US protracted detention of stem-cell scientist

Masoud Soleimani, senior Iranian stem-cell researcher in US custody
Press TV – Sep 11, 2019

A leading Iranian cultural organization has slammed the United States for its protracted detainment of an Iranian stem-cell scientist on “hollow” grounds, calling on advocates of human rights worldwide to help end the “arbitrary detention.”

“The US government constantly delays Dr. Soleimani’s trial in violation of academic and research protocols, and has so far failed to produce any official report on the reason behind his arrest,” said Iran’s Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution in a statement published on its website on Wednesday.

Masoud Soleimani was arrested upon his arrival in Chicago in October last year on charges that he had violated trade sanctions against Iran. He has been held in detention south of Atlanta since then.

Soleimani and two of his students, who are free on bond, are accused of conspiring to export biological materials from the US to Iran without a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Attorneys in the case say he seized on the plans of a former student to travel from the US to Iran in September 2016 as a chance to get recombinant proteins used in his research at a lower price than what he would pay at home.

Lawyers for the scientists argue that the trio did nothing wrong, stressing that no specific license was required as the proteins are medical materials and that transporting them to Iran for noncommercial purposes does not amount to exporting goods.

The Council further said Soleimani ranked among the world’s top 100 scientists in terms of scientific citation, who had traveled to the US at the invitation of the Minnesota-based Mayo Clinic — a ranking nonprofit academic medical center — on a valid visa.

He was arrested right upon arrival without charge or trial, and was currently jailed alongside criminals, drug traffickers, and hooligans, it added.

“Dr. Soleimani’s detention is a clear example of arbitrary arrest,” prohibited under all international norms, added the statement.

The case serves to prove the US’s adversarial and inhumane attitude given that Soleimani’s research and academic background has nothing to do with Washington’s sanctions targeting Iran, it stated.

“The American government, which has failed to block Iran’s monumental scientific progress,…has now resorted to such inhumane behavior,” the document noted.

It asserted that Soleimani was an “apolitical academic figure.” The detention prevented him from seeing his mother, who went into a coma after learning about his arrest, and passed away recently.

The Council also noted that Soleimani’s prolonged detention has severely affected his eyesight and caused him to lose much weight.

Soleimani’s family is paying all the medical and legal costs, it noted. The US government is preventing his access to decent medical treatment, despite the fact that he suffers from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The body called on the world’s justice-seeking people and organizations to help pursue the scientist’s release.

September 11, 2019 Posted by | Subjugation - Torture | , , , | 1 Comment

‘The New Normal’: Trump’s ‘China Bind’ Can Be Iran’s Opportunity

By Alastair Crooke | Strategic Culture Foundation | September 9, 2019

There is consensus among the Washington foreign policy élite that all factions in Iran understand that – ultimately – a deal with Washington on the nuclear issue must ensue. It somehow is inevitable. They view Iran simply as ‘playing out the clock’, until the advent of a new Administration makes a ‘deal’ possible again. And then Iran surely will be back at the table, they affirm.

Maybe. But maybe that is entirely wrong. Maybe the Iranian leadership no longer believes in ‘deals’ with Washington. Maybe they simply have had enough of western regime change antics (from the 1953 coup to the Iraq war waged on Iran at the western behest, to the present attempt at Iran’s economic strangulation). They are quitting that failed paradigm for something new, something different.

The pages to that chapter have been shut. This does not imply some rabid anti-Americanism, but simply the experience that that path is pointless. If there is a ‘clock being played out’, it is that of the tic-toc of western political and economic hegemony in the Middle East is running down, and not the ‘clock’ of US domestic politics. The old adage that the ‘sea is always the sea’ holds true for US foreign policy. And Iran repeating the same old routines, whilst expecting different outcomes is, of course, one definition of madness. A new US Administration will inherit the same genes as the last.

And in any case, the US is institutionally incapable of making a substantive deal with Iran. A US President – any President – cannot lift Congressional sanctions on Iran. The American multitudinous sanctions on Iran have become a decades’ long knot of interpenetrating legislation: a vast rhizome of tangled, root-legislation that not even Alexander the Great might disentangle: that is why the JCPOA was constructed around a core of US Presidential ‘waivers’ needing to be renewed each six months. Whatever might be agreed in the future, the sanctions – ‘waived’ or not – are, as it were, ‘forever’.

If recent history has taught the Iranians anything, it is that such flimsy ‘process’ in the hands of a mercurial US President can simply be blown away like old dead leaves. Yes, the US has a systemic problem: US sanctions are a one-way valve: so easy to flow out, but once poured forth, there is no return inlet (beyond uncertain waivers issued at the pleasure of an incumbent President).

But more than just a long chapter reaching its inevitable end, Iran is seeing another path opening out. Trump is in a ‘China bind’: a trade deal with China now looks “tough to improbable”, according to White House officials, in the context of the fast deteriorating environment of security tensions between Washington and Beijing. Defense One spells it out:

“It came without a breaking news alert or presidential tweet, but the technological competition with China entered a new phase last month. Several developments quietly heralded this shift: Cross-border investments between the United States and China plunged to their lowest levels since 2014, with the tech sector suffering the most precipitous drop. US chip giants Intel and AMD abruptly ended or declined to extend important partnerships with Chinese entities. The Department of Commerce halved the number of licenses that let US companies assign Chinese nationals to sensitive technology and engineering projects.

“[So] decoupling is already in motion. Like the shift of tectonic plates, the move towards a new tech alignment with China increases the potential for sudden, destabilizing convulsions in the global economy and supply chains. To defend America’s technology leadership, policymakers must upgrade their toolkit to ensure that US technology leadership can withstand the aftershocks.

“The key driver of this shift has not been the President’s tariffs, but a changing consensus among rank-and-file policymakers about what constitutes national security. This expansive new conception of national security is sensitive to a broad array of potential threats, including to the economic livelihood of the United States, the integrity of its citizens personal data, and the country’s technological advantage”.

Trump’s China ‘bind’ is this: A trade deal with China has long been viewed by the White House as a major tool for ‘goosing’ the US stock market upwards, during the crucial pre-election period. But as that is now said to be “tough to improbable” – and as US national security consensus metamorphoses, the consequent de-coupling, combined with tariffs, is beginning to bite. The effects are eating away at President Trump’s prime political asset: the public confidence in his handling of the economy: A Quinnipiac University survey last week found for the first time in Trump’s presidency, more voters now say the economy is getting worse rather than better, by a 37-31 percent margin – and by 41-37 percent, voters say the president’s policies are hurting the economy.

This is hugely significant. If Trump is experiencing a crisis of public confidence in respect to his assertive policies towards China, the last thing that he needs in the run-up to an election is an oil crisis, on top of a tariff/tech war crisis with China. A wrong move with Iran, and global oil supplies easily can go awry. Markets would not be happy. (So Trump’s China ‘bind’ can also be Iran’s opportunity …).

No wonder Pompeo acted with such alacrity to put a tourniquet on the brewing ‘war’ in the Middle East, sparked by Israel’s simultaneous air attacks last month in Iraq, inside Beirut, and in Syria (killing two Hizbullah soldiers). It is pretty clear that Washington did not want this ‘war’, at least not now. America, as Defense One noted, is becoming acutely sensitive to any risks to the global financial system from “sudden, destabilizing convulsions in the global economy”.

The recent Israeli military operations coincided with Iranian FM Zarif’s sudden summons to Biarritz (during the G7), exacerbating fears within the Israeli Security Cabinet that Trump might meet with President Rouhani in NY at the UN General Assembly – thus threatening Netanyahu’s anti-Iran, political ‘identity’. The fear was that Trump could begin a ‘bromance’ with the Iranian President (on the Kim Jong Un lines). And hence the Israeli provocations intended to stir some Iranian (over)-reaction (which never came). Subsequently it became clear to Israel that Iran’s leadership had absolutely no intention to meet with Trump – and the whole episode subsided.

Trump’s Iran ‘bind’ therefore is somehow similar to his China ‘bind’: With China, he initially wanted an easy trade achievement, but it has proved to be ‘anything but’. With Iran, Trump wanted a razzmatazz meeting with Rohani – even if that did not lead to a new ‘deal’ (much as the Trump – Kim Jung Un TV spectaculars that caught the American imagination so vividly, he may have hoped for a similar response to a Rohani handshake, or he may have even aspired to an Oval Office spectacular).

Trump simply cannot understand why the Iranians won’t do this, and he is peeved by the snub. Iran is unfathomable to Team Trump.

Well, maybe the Iranians just don’t want to do it. Firstly, they don’t need to: the Iranian Rial has been recovering steadily over the last four months and manufacturing output has steadied. China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC) detailing the country’s oil imports data shows that China has not cut its Iranian supply after the US waiver program ended on 2 May, but rather, it has steadily increased Iranian crude imports since the official end of the waiver extension, up from May and June levels. The new GAC data shows China imported over 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude oil from Iran in July, which is up 4.7% from the month before.

And a new path is opening in front of Iran. After Biarritz, Zarif flew directly to Beijing where he discussed a huge, multi-hundred billion (according to one report), twenty-five-year oil and gas investment, (and a separate) ‘Road and Belt’ transport plan. Though the details are not disclosed, it is plain that China – unlike America – sees Iran as a key future strategic partner, and China seems perfectly able to fathom out the Iranians, too.

But here is the really substantive US shift taking place. It is that which is termed “a new normal” now taking a hold in Washington:

“To defend America’s technology leadership, policymakers [are] upgrading their toolkit to ensure that US technology leadership can withstand the aftershocks … Unlike the President’s trade war, support for this new, expansive definition of national security and technology is largely bipartisan, and likely here to stay.

… with many of the president’s top advisers viewing China first and foremost as a national security threat, rather than as an economic partner – it’s poised to affect huge parts of American life, from the cost of many consumer goods … to the nature of this country’s relationship with the government of Taiwan.

“Trump himself still views China primarily through an economic prism. But the angrier he gets with Beijing, the more receptive he is to his advisers’ hawkish stances toward China that go well beyond trade.”

“The angrier he gets with Beijing” … Well, here is the key point: Washington seems to have lost the ability to summon the resources to try to fathom either China, or the Iranian ‘closed book’, let alone a ‘Byzantine’ Russia. It is a colossal attenuation of consciousness in Washington; a loss of conscious ‘vitality’ to the grip of some ‘irrefutable logic’ that allows no empathy, no outreach, to ‘otherness’. Washington (and some European élites) have retreated into their ‘niche’ consciousness, their mental enclave, gated and protected, from having to understand – or engage – with wider human experience.

To compensate for these lacunae, Washington looks rather, to an engineering and technological solution: If we cannot summon empathy, or understand Xi or the Iranian Supreme Leader, we can muster artificial intelligence to substitute – a ‘toolkit’ in which the US intends to be global leader.

This type of solution – from the US perspective – maybe works for China, but not so much for Iran; and Trump is not keen on a full war with Iran in the lead up to elections. Is this why Trump seems to be losing interest in the Middle East? He doesn’t understand it; he hasn’t the interest or the means to fathom it; and he doesn’t want to bomb it. And the China ‘bind’ is going to be all absorbing for him, for the meantime.

September 9, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Foreign Minister Zarif says Iran’s commitments reduction allowed under JCPOA

Press TV – September 8, 2019

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the three steps taken by the Islamic Republic to reduce its commitments under a nuclear deal it clinched with world powers in 2015 are legitimate and allowed under the agreement.

Zarif made the remarks in a meeting with the visiting acting head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Cornel Feruta in Tehran on Sunday.

Iran’s top diplomat said all measures taken “by the Islamic Republic of Iran to reduce its commitments in response to the European sides’ failure to fulfill theirs” conformed to Article 36 of the deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said on Saturday that the country has started up advanced centrifuges to boost its stockpile of enriched uranium, warning the signatories to the nuclear deal that the clock was ticking for them to salvage the landmark agreement in the face of pressure by the United States.

As a third step in Iran’s reduction of commitments under the deal, the AEOI said it has activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges for research and development purposes.

The third step comes after the Europeans failed to work within a 60-day deadline to meet Iran’s demands and fulfill their commitments under the multilateral deal. Iran had already rowed back on its nuclear commitments twice in compliance with Articles 26 and 36 of the JCPOA.

Iran says its retaliatory measures will be reversible as soon as Europe finds practical ways to shield the mutual trade from the US sanctions, which were re-imposed last year when President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA.

Iran has given another two months to the European signatories to take meaningful action to save the JCPOA as a France-led diplomatic process is underway between the two sides.

On the same day that Iran took the third step, the IAEA said it had inspectors on the ground in Iran who would be able to look into Tehran’s move to turn on advanced centrifuges to increase the country’s uranium stockpiles.

The Vienna-based agency added that its “inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters.”

Elsewhere in his remarks, Zarif pointed to the close cooperation between Iran and the IAEA after the signing of the landmark nuclear accord, which led the IAEA to confirm Iran’s compliance with its JCPOA commitments in over a dozen reports.

Iran’s top diplomat also called on the IAEA to observe the principles of professionalism, confidentiality, and impartiality in fulfilling its duties regarding Iran.

The acting IAEA acting chief, for his part, said the agency has been working to build more trust and would carry out its verification activities in a professional and impartial manner.

Feruta arrived in the Iranian capital on Sunday morning to hold talks with high-level Iranian officials. The IAEA said the visit was part of its “ongoing interactions” with Tehran, including “verification and monitoring in Iran under the JCPOA.”

Earlier on Sunday, the Romanian diplomat held talks with the AEOI Head Ali Akbar Salehi.

During the meeting, Iran’s nuclear chief criticized the European signatories to the 2015 nuclear agreement for failing to honor their legal commitments to Tehran, adding that the multinational accord is “no one-way street.”

IAEA will continue impartial, professional approach: Feruta

Speaking at a joint press conference with Iran’s nuclear chief, Feruta said the UN nuclear agency would continue with its independence, impartial and professional approach and would not be affected by pressure.

He added that the IAEA is tasked with verifying the JCPOA implementation and is involved in dynamic interaction with Iran on the implementation of the Additional Protocol and its Safeguard Agreement.

He expressed the IAEA enthusiasm to continue cooperation with Iran.

IAEA underlines ‘impartiality’ in conducting safeguards activities

Later on Sunday, the IAEA issued a statement on Feruta’s Tehran visit, quoting him as saying that the agency’s “safeguards activities are conducted in an impartial, independent and objective manner.”

Acting Director General Cornel Feruta visited Iran on 8 September 2019, and met with Vice-President and President of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and other Iranian senior officials, the statement said.

The IAEA noted that Feruta’s discussions with the Iranian officials “covered IAEA activities in Iran, with an emphasis on the ongoing interactions between the IAEA and Iran related to the implementation of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.”

September 8, 2019 Posted by | Aletho News | , | 1 Comment

US Special Rep for Iran, Brian Hook makes Captain Hook look like a good guy

Washington is intensifying its “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran with the addition of unorthodox tactics including piracy, bribery, and extortion

By Sarah Abed | September 6, 2019

Over the past few months, US Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook the head of the Iran Action Group, has been personally writing emails and texts to over a dozen ship captains around the world, to make them an offer they can’t refuse.

According to The Financial Times, a letter which included a bribe and threat was received by Indian national, Akhilesh Kumar, the captain of the beleaguered Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1. Kumar was offered millions of dollars to sail the ship to a country which would impound the vessel on Washington’s behalf. The letter warned that there would be dire consequences if he didn’t accept the offer. Kumar ignored the email and just two days later they imposed sanctions on him and added him to the Treasury Departments Specially Designated Nationals list banning him from entering the US. The Adrian Darya 1 was blacklisted too.

This is just the latest attempt by the US to seize the Adrian Darya 1, an Iranian tanker which the US alleged was transporting oil to Syria breaching EU and U.S. sanctions. Previously this tanker has been sieved by British commandos off Gibraltar and was held there for a few weeks but then released after Iranians guaranteed that it wouldn’t breach EU sanctions. The US has also accused the ship of money laundering and terror financing and has warned its allies that giving aid to this ship will put them at risk. To Washington’s dismay, Gibraltar would not hand over the ship. Currently, it is somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, with it’s signaling devices turned off.

Five months ago, the US unilaterally declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a terror organization at the request of Israel, other nations however did not adopt the designation. A US State Department spokeswoman recently stated, “We have conducted extensive outreach to several ship captains as well as shipping companies warning them of the consequences of providing support to a foreign terrorist organization.”

At a press conference earlier this week Hook announced, “Today, the United States government is intensifying our maximum pressure campaign against the Islamic Republic of Iran.” Hook added, “We are announcing a reward of up to $15 million for any person who helps us disrupt the financial operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps [IRGC] and Qods [Jerusalem] Force.”

What Hook is referring to is the Rewards for Justice program which was established over thirty years ago to pay ordinary people large sums of cash to provide information to disrupt “terror networks”. On their website it states, “The U.S. Department of State’s Reward for Justice Program is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the disruption of the financial mechanisms of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its branches, including the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF). The IRGC has financed numerous terrorist attacks and activities globally. The IRGC-QF leads Iran’s terrorist operations outside Iran via its proxies, such as Hizballah and Hamas.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted “Having failed at piracy, the US resorts to outright blackmail- deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself. Sounds very similar to the Oval Office invitation I received a few weeks back. It is becoming a pattern”. Adding the hashtag BTeamGangsters and attaching screenshots of an article titled “US Offers Cash to tanker captains in bid to seize Iranian ships”. He also described the US Treasury as “nothing more than a jail warden” in another tweet.

In addition to the Rewards for Justice (bounty) program, Washington is issuing sanctions against an alleged “oil for terror” network, which it alleges is run by the IRGC. This latest sanction package targets sixteen companies, nine individuals, and six oil tankers which they allege are supplying Iranian oil to Syria.

“Regime change” although explicitly denied by Trump, remains the ultimate goal in Iran for the State Department and Hooks comments on Wednesday are a clear indication, “Today’s announcement is historic. It’s the first time that the United States has offered a reward for information that disrupts a government entity’s financial operations,” Hook explained. “We’ve taken this step because the IRGC operates more like a terrorist organization than it does a government.”

Washington set this downward spiral in motion when President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal last year. Iran was in compliance with agreement terms and obligations during that time and just recently starting scaling back on its commitments after urging EU nations for an entire year to try and save the agreement or at the bare minimum secure sanction’s relief.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gave Europe a two-month deadline before continuing to gradually reduce commitments under the JCPOA. “Europe has another two-month deadline for negotiations, agreement, and a return to its commitments,” Rouhani stated at a cabinet meeting.

France recently suggested that it would provide Tehran with a $15 billion credit line if the US granted sanction waivers, and in return Iran would comply with JCPOA, but clearly Washington is not interested in providing any waivers or relief.

Iran refers to Washington’s sanctions as “economic terrorism”, illegal and unjustified under international law. Tehran has also warned European countries that if they allow this to continue it will not end with Iran, other nations will be bullied by the United States unless something is done to end this cycle of abuse.

On Friday, Javad Zarif Iran’s Foreign minister tweeted in support and solidarity with Cuba and stated that US Economic terrorism against Cuba, China, Russia, Syria, Iran deliberately targets civilians while trying to achieve illegitimate political objectives through intimidation of innocent people. Zarif noted that the US’s rouge behavior now includes piracy, bribery and blackmail.

Sarah Abed is an independent journalist and analyst.

September 6, 2019 Posted by | Economics, War Crimes | , | 3 Comments

What the Aggravation of the US-Iranian Relations Means for South Korea

By Konstantin Asmolov – New Eastern Outlook – 06.09.2019

Continuing to monitor the confrontation between Washington and Tehran, the author of this article can see how it affects the South Korean interests. The sanctions badly hit South Korea’s economy and, since the summer of 2019, there have been attempts to involve Seoul in a possible military coalition.

Let us remind the reader that the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan was signed by Iran, Russia, the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and China in 2015, limiting Iran’s nuclear program in return for lifting the sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United Nations.

The removal of most of the international sanctions from Iran stimulated a great interest in its economy, as the country has huge gas and oil reserves, and Seoul took advantage of the opportunity to enter the Iranian market. After all, the South Korean exports to Iran exceeded $6 billion in 2012, however, after the imposition of sanctions by the Obama Administration, it fell to $4.5 billion. In 2016, it fell even more and, only in 2017 did export volume begin to recover.

On August 24, 2017 the South Korean Export-Import Bank and the Central Bank of Iran signed an agreement on a $9,380 million loan to the Iranian Government. In addition, South Korean companies were given the opportunity to participate in construction and resource projects in Iran, as the loan was aimed at providing financial support to those who would receive orders from the Iranian Government.

It should be noted that the arrangement to start negotiations on the loan agreement was made during the visit of the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye to Iran, but the final decision was delayed since the parties could not agree on the terms of repaying the loan in case of the resumption of sanctions should Iran fail to fulfil its obligations in the nuclear technology area.

But after Donald Trump came to power, the White House began to criticize the terms of the nuclear deal and later withdrew from it; in May 2018, the US resumed its sanctions against individuals and legal entities that carry out export transactions in gold, precious metals, graphite, coal, automotive and other industries with Iran. However, for some countries, there was a delay of 90 and 180 days depending on the type of sanctions.

The South Korean government wasted no time and convened an ad-hoc expert working group assigned to reduce the damage to the domestic companies caused by the US sanctions against Iran. The complications came from the fact that more than 80% of South Korean enterprises working with Iran were small and medium-sized businesses. However, with the reinstatement of sanctions, exports from South Korea to Iran decreased yet again. From January to June 2019, they fell by 15.4%, and by 19.4% in July.

The South Korean government also negotiated with the US calling on it to exempt crude oil from the sanctions, as it accounts for most of the imports from Iran. Under the Barack Obama Administration, South Korea received the status of an exception country entitled to buy Iranian crude oil under the sanctions with reducing its purchases by 20%.  The importance of Iranian oil imports to South Korea lies in the fact that it has a direct impact on the exports to Iran. Settlements with Iran are made using the Korean won bank account from which goods exported to Iran are also paid for. Therefore, a reduction in the Iranian oil imports will inevitably lead to a reduction in the exports.

Moreover, Seoul remains one of the largest importers of Iranian oil and gas condensate in Asia. As noted by Reuters, the supply of Iranian resources is critical to the South Korean petrochemical industry. South Korea greatly relies on the supply of condensate from Iran, which has a high content of naphtha being the basic raw material for the manufacturing of petroleum products.  Besides, the Iranian prices are the lowest. The difference can reach six dollars per barrel, so 50% of the condensate imported into South Korea comes from Iran.

According to an opinion, South Korea is the third largest buyer of Iranian oil.   On the other hand, Iran accounts for 8.6% of the oil imported into South Korea and it is the fifth largest oil supplier to South Korea after Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United States and Iraq.

On October 29, 2018 US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha exchanged their views of the issue of US sanctions against Iran during a telephone conversation. Kang Kyung-wha called on the American party to show flexibility in granting South Korea the status of an exception nation in the implementation of sanctions against Iran in order to minimize the damage to South Korean companies. She mentioned the repeated negotiations between the parties on this topic. Pompeo said the US was heeding the position of South Korea and would continue the dialogue.

On November 5, 2018 the second stage of sanctions aimed at stopping foreign currency inflows to Iran thanks to oil exports entered into force. This affects the interests of South Korea, Turkey and India, which actively cooperate with Iran in the oil sector.

While the May sanctions were mainly aimed at a secondary boycott, the second stage included direct sanctions on transactions related to oil, natural gas, petrochemical products, ports, energy facilities and shipbuilding. The sanctions apply to approximately 700 individuals and legal entities, aircraft, ships and other facilities.

However, for eight countries (South Korea, China, India, Italy, Greece, Japan, Taiwan and Turkey) the US made a temporary exemption of 180 days, as each of them had demonstrated a significant reduction in Iranian oil purchases over the previous six months. The US sanctions are aimed at reducing the profit that Iran receives from trade, so permits to carry out trade are issued in exchange for the promise to reduce the purchase of Iranian raw materials. Thus, it will be possible to avoid an increase in oil prices. However, the US Special Representative for Iran Brian H. Hook confirmed that the 180-day exemption would not be extended.

As a result of this decision, South Korea managed to avoid the worst possible scenario, but experts immediately noted that the impact on the economy would not be averted altogether. As a result, the authorities recommended that businesses pay attention to the exports of pharmaceutical products, household appliances and other goods that were not subject to sanctions.

Immediately after the introduction of sanctions, representatives of the South Korean government visited Iran to discuss mutual trade issues. It is pointed out that the parties touched upon the situation with the resumption of the US sanctions and the withdrawal of a number of countries from the ban on the import of Iranian oil. The Iranian party thanked South Korea for consulting it on the current situation.

On April 29, before the end of the exemption period, Deputy Prime Minister for Economy and Minister of Planning and Finance Hong Nam-ki said that the South Korean government would make every effort to stabilize the domestic prices of petroleum products, which may increase due to the ban on the purchase of Iranian oil imposed by the US.

The exemption period for the eight countries expired on May 2, 2019. Now, all of them had to look for other suppliers, given the threat of US sanctions, but the Turkish government reported that it was impossible to stop Iranian oil imports immediately and Beijing said it would not support the unilateral US sanctions considering the significant losses associated with the need to change the suppliers. The South Korean government, through various channels, tried to bring South Korea out of the Iranian sanctions regime, but it failed. Iraq, which was importing natural gas from Iran, asked the US to provide more time to find another supplier, but the request was denied. This situation, among other things, destabilized world oil prices.

On June 20, 2019 the South Korean delegation held talks with the US party on the trade with Iran. The South Koreans called on the US to assist in eliminating possible difficulties in the oil issue and to resolve the problems of South Korean companies working with Iran in humanitarian areas using the Korean currency accounts only. However, the request was de facto ignored.

On the other hand, as from the summer of 2019, South Korea has been increasingly involved in the US-led security coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, which is the only waterway connecting the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean between the Arabian Peninsula and Iran and serves as the key transport corridor for large oil-producing countries.

Washington has called on Seoul to participate in this coalition citing the importance of the Strait for South Korea as the main oil transportation corridor. On the other hand, South Korea closely cooperates with Iran in the economic sphere. In this regard, Iranian response measures cannot be ruled out.

On July 24, 2019 during his meeting with the national security advisor to the President of South Korea, Chung Eui-yong, John Bolton demanded not only an increase in the share of South Korea in maintenance costs of US troops, but also the deployment of South Korean naval forces in the Strait of Hormuz.

On July 28, a representative of the South Korean Ministry of Defense noted that the country was considering various options for joining the coalition to ensure security in the Strait of Hormuz, but, at the moment, no specific decisions on this topic had been taken and no official proposals from the US had been received either. However, given the issue of the security of South Korean vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz, various options for sending a military contingent to the region are being considered, including the possibility of sending the Cheongye unit currently patrolling the Gulf of Aden.

On August 9, Seoul hosted a meeting of the heads of the defense ministries of South Korea and the United States, Jeong Kyeong-doo and Mark T. Esper. Korea Times notes that Mark Esper officially asked Korea to participate in the coalition, but, almost immediately after that, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyyed Abbas Mousavi called on South Korea to remain neutral. Mousavi noted that Seoul was an economic partner and asked it to take into account the sensitivity of the issue. “Korea’s possible joining the coalition is not a very good signal for us, and it will complicate things.”

South Korean experts, however, immediately wrote that the government should take the US side. As Meiji University Professor of Political Science Sing Yeoul said, “Diplomacy is not about being praised by all countries. You often have to choose one country over another, even if it means that you have broken ties with the latter.”

On August 13, the 30th outfit of the Cheongye special unit of the South Korean Navy left the South Korean port of Busan for the Gulf of Aden for a 6-month patrolling. It was headed by the destroyer Gang Gam-chan.  The 300-strong army unit consists of a special force, including a submarine bomber team, a Navy Seal team, Marines and Navy pilots, who will protect South Korean vessels off the coast of Somalia and support ships of other countries in the nearby waters.

The experts began to discuss the possibility of this detachment joining the security coalition in the Strait of Hormuz, but agreed that the approval of the National Assembly was required for the redeployment of Cheongye to the Strait of Hormuz. It is said that this topic also emerged at the meeting of the defense ministers, and Jeong told Esper that South Korea was well aware of the importance of water area defense and was considering various options to protect its nationals and oil tankers in the region.

However, the destroyer should continue the unit’s mission in the Gulf of Aden and its possible role in the Strait of Hormuz was not considered during its preparation. However, the Gulf of Aden is four-day sail away from the Strait of Hormuz.

On August 21, the US Special Representative for Iran Brian H. Hook told KBS that joining the coalition would not necessarily mean sending troops and that dispatching naval and aviation equipment with the necessary personnel could be a solution. Furthermore, countries joining the coalition will be able to obtain information from the US on certain threats to merchant ship security.

The problem got another dimension in the context of the Japan-South Korean trade war. Mark Esper invited not only South Korea to join the US-led coalition, but also Japan, and it is a good question how the servicemen of the two countries are going to work together.

Thus, there is a possibility that, if a war with Iran is indeed going to happen, then, same as in Vietnam or Iraq, the South Korean military will also be involved. After all, it was not some conservative and pro-American puppet who sent troops to Iraq, but the democratic Roh Moo-hyun.

Konstantin Asmolov, PhD in History, Leading Research Fellow at the Centre for Korean Studies of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

September 6, 2019 Posted by | Economics, Militarism, Wars for Israel | , , | 1 Comment

US Tried To Bribe And Threaten Iranian Ship’s Captain

teleSUR | September 5, 2019

Emails obtained by The Financial Times (FT) have revealed that U.S. government officials were contacting the captain of an Iranian tanker, offering millions of dollars if the captain steered the ship towards an allied country that would impound on behalf of the United States, but threatening sanctions if the captain refused. It was the same ship that was seized by the U.K. in Gibraltar, and subsequently released after it was clear there were no legal grounds for the seizure.

The email was published by the FT, intended for Iranian ship captain Akhilesh Kumar and a number of other captains. It offered personal payments if the captain sabotaged the ships course, but threatened sanctions on those who don’t. It reads, “This is Brian Hook… I work for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and serve as the U.S. representative for Iran…… I am writing with good news.”

“With this money you can have any life you wish and be well-off in old age … “If you choose not to take this easy path, life will be much harder for you.”

The official’s State Department phone number was included on the email so as to reassure the captain of its authenticity.

Iran’s Foreign Minister responded saying, “Having failed at piracy, the U.S. resorts to outright blackmail—deliver us Iran’s oil and receive several million dollars or be sanctioned yourself. Sounds very similar to the Oval Office invitation I received a few weeks back. It is becoming a pattern. #BTeamGangsters”

The U.S. has attempted to isolate Iran through sanctions, as a means of punishing the country for its nuclear programme, and opposition to U.S. foreign policy in the region. However, Iran has managed to resist to some degree, it was recently announced that China has stepped up investments and oil imports from Iran, in defiance of U.S. unilateral measures.

September 5, 2019 Posted by | Corruption, Wars for Israel | , , | 2 Comments