Inter Press Service » Civilisations Find Alliances http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 23 Oct 2014 10:16:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: Put People Power Back at Centre of Citizen Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-put-people-power-back-at-centre-of-citizen-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-put-people-power-back-at-centre-of-citizen-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-put-people-power-back-at-centre-of-citizen-action/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 09:09:16 +0000 Danny Sriskandarajah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137033

This column by Danny Sriskandarajah, Secretary-General of CIVICUS, the global alliance for citizen participation, explains the background to the open letter circulating among civil society activists that criticises the movement’s “co-option” by the very systems that it once set out to transform and calls for putting “people power” back at the centre of civil society and citizen action.

By Danny Sriskandarajah
JOHANNESBURG, Oct 7 2014 (IPS)

A few weeks ago, I co-signed perhaps the most important open letter of my career. It was an open provocation to my fellow activists and colleagues, to the members of our organisation, and to all those who, like me, earn their living in the civil society sector.

Danny Sriskandarajah

Danny Sriskandarajah

CIVICUS, the organisation I lead, exists to strengthen civil society and citizen action throughout the world. Yet, I signed my name to an open letter that is critical of civil society; that says that our work has begun to reinforce the social, economic and political systems that we once set out to transform; that we have become too institutionalised, too professionalised, co-opted into systems and networks in which we are being outwitted and out-manoeuvred.

This issue of civil society “co-option” matters so much because we are losing the war – the war against poverty, climate change and social injustice. Many courageous, inspirational people and organisations are fighting the good fight. But too many of us – myself included – have become detached from the people and movements that drive real social and political change.“Our work has begun to reinforce the social, economic and political systems that we once set out to transform; we have become too institutionalised, too professionalised, co-opted into systems and networks in which we are being outwitted and out-manoeuvred”

The corporatisation of civil society has tamed our ambition; too often it has made us agents rather than agitators of the system.

Our intention in publishing this letter was not to berate, but to spark a debate; to challenge all of us to engage in re-configuring, re-imagining and re-energising civil society. A first and small step was to host a Twitter conversation, calling for responses to the ideas expressed in our letter. And it would seem that many civil society activists around the world share our concerns.

As a result we will be devoting as much time as possible during the International Civil Society Week that will take place this November in Johannesburg to discussing the issues raised in the letter. We are expecting more than 500 activists from all over the world to come together to discuss, analyse, challenge, learn and share experiences to tackle the obstacles we all face worldwide.

The week will take the theme ‘Citizen Action, People Power’, and feature more than 40 events – covering topics from good grant-making to new ways of promoting people-powered accountability – that are being organised by our members and partners from around the world.

The week will culminate in the CIVICUS World Assembly and close with the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Innovation Awards ceremony.

I still believe passionately in the power of civil society to change the world. Only we can formulate a new set of global organising principles, a new paradigm and an alternative model to the current narrative.

But, in order to do so, we will need to put the voice and actions of people back at the heart of our work. The global partnership that will make up the International Civil Society Week will be bound by this common aim – centred on the voices and actions of the people.

I am very excited about having so many brilliant minds in one creative space – to help us connect the forces that nurture positive social change, to share the tools that enhance citizen action, and to celebrate inspiring examples of people power.

Our primary accountability must be, not to donors, but to all those struggling for social justice. We must fight corporatism in our own ranks, re-connect with the power of informal and grassroots networks, tap into the wisdom of diverse activists, and re-balance our resources. This should not entail abandoning the organisations we have created; but evolving them to be truly accountable to those we seek to serve.

My hope is that the dialogue we have begun will help to re-connect us to an understanding of civil society as a deeply human construct, as a facilitator of empowering social relationships. In this, it will be crucial to reflect on the role of our own organisations. For only solutions that are at once pragmatic and radical will be sufficient to meet the challenges we face. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

CIVICUS welcomes comments on the open letter here.

Register for International Civil Society Week here.

Danny Sriskandarajah can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/civicusSG

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SDGs Make Room for Education for Global Citizenshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/sdgs-make-room-for-education-for-global-citizenship/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 16:39:02 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136416 Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) sponsors a workshop on education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda. Credit: Hiro Sakurai / SGI

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Civil society leaders and U.N. development experts gathered on Wednesday to discuss the role of education for global citizenship in the post-2015 development agenda.

The workshop, sponsored by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), was part of the U.N.’s 65th Annual Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) Conference.“We are part of a bigger humanity.” -- Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Education “is linked to all areas of sustainable development and is vital in achieving all Sustainable Development Goals and targets,” Hiro Sakurai, SGI’s U.N. liaison office director, told IPS.

“Education for global citizenship deserves particular attention and emphasis in this regard as it helps link issues and disciplines, brings together all stakeholders, and fosters shared vision and objectives,” he said.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury, former under-secretary general and high representative of the U.N., gave the event’s keynote address. He expressed his excitement at the increased prominence of global citizenship in development circles.

According to Ambassador Chowdhury, global citizenship requires “self-transformation” and can be a “pathway to a culture of peace.”

Progress requires a “determination to treat each one of us as a global citizen,” he said. “We are part of a bigger humanity.”

Saphira Ramesfar of the Baha’i International Community also spoke to the transformative nature of global citizenship.

“It is not enough for education to provide individuals who can read, write and count,” she said. “Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life, cultivating an active care for the world itself and for those with whom we share it. Education needs to fully assume its role in building just, unified and inclusive societies.”

In the past, attempts to build global citizenship have focused on the young, but Ambassador Chowdhury argued for a more expansive understanding of the concept.

“I believe that education for global citizenship is for all of us, irrespective of our age, irrespective of whether we are going through a formal education process or not,” Chowdhury said.

Anjali Rangaswami of the U.N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs explained how NGOs have actively participated in the crafting of the proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Past years have set “a very high standard for civil society engagement,” according to Rangaswami.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), set to expire in 2015, included a target of universal primary education. The SDGs, if adopted in their current draft form, would aim for universal secondary education as well.

Under target four, the SDGs specifically mention education for global citizenship, an issue left unaddressed by the MDGs.

The U.N’s Global Education First Initiative (GEFI), which lists “fostering global citizenship” as one of its three main priorities, was influential in this new development.

According to Min Jeong Kim, head of GEFI’s secretariat team, the initiative was launched by the secretary-general in 2012 because “at that point education had sort of stagnated after rapid growth following adoption of [the] MDGs.”

After the panel speakers concluded, participants in the workshop broke into small groups to share their own perspectives on education for global citizenship.

The event was also co-sponsored by the Baha’i International Community, Global Movement for a Culture of Peace, Human Rights Education Associates, Sustainable Development Education Caucus and Values Caucus, bringing a wide variety of expertise to the table.

The SDGs are an opportunity for a whole new outlook on education.

Education should be focused on developing meaningful lives, rather than focused on making a living, Ambassador Chowdhury told IPS.

So far the paradigm has been “if you get a good job, then your education is worth it, and if you do not get a good job, then your education is worthless,” he said. “That has to change.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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The Silent Power of Boycotts and Blockadeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 17:18:21 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135425 Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
CAPE TOWN, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Peruse a few reports on global military expenditure and you will not be able to shake the image of the planet as one massive army camp, patrolled by heavily weaponised guards in a plethora of uniforms.

Last year, the world spent about 1.76 trillion dollars on military activity according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The year before, arms sales among SIPRI’s ‘Top 100’ companies touched 410 billion dollars. It is estimated that 1,000 people die from gun violence every single day.

The newly founded Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding is the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.
But scattered amongst the barracks of this planetary war zone are scores of white flags, wielded daily by the many millions of people engaged in nonviolent resistance to the forces that threaten their existence.

Nearly 120 of these peace activists are currently assembled in Cape Town’s City Hall, for the quadrennial meeting of the 93-year-old War Resister’s International (WRI), a global network of activists from far-flung regions fighting on every imaginable front, from anti-trafficking in Australia to peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Returning to the very pulpit from where he led the historic 1989 March for Peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the forum’s participants Saturday night by invoking memories of the long and bloody struggle against apartheid.

“Take our thanks back to your countries,” he told the audience, “even the poorest of which stood ready to receive South African exiles and refugees.” Drawing on the conference’s theme ‘Small Actions – Big Movements: the continuum of nonviolence’, he urged greater collaboration between disparate movements, in order to find strength in unity.

“The U.S. Command in Africa (AFRICOM) has now expanded to approximately 2,000 troops on the continent, covering 38 countries,” WRI Conference Coordinator Matt Meyer told IPS.

“With almost no money but a lot of passion and an understanding of the need for unity in the face of militarism, violence, and a re-colonisation of the land, we brought together people from every continent and 33 African countries to say: ‘We will continue to resist. We will build a beautiful new tomorrow.’”

Running from Jul. 4-8, the gathering offers a bird’s eye view of the life-affirming campaigns that often get pushed off front pages in favour of headlines proclaiming death and war.

While not often on the news, the efficacy of the peace movement is being documented elsewhere. Analysing a century’s worth of data, the World Peace Foundation found that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent movements had a 53-percent success rate, compared to a 22-percent success rate for violent movements.

Other tangible successes include the long list of victories recently secured by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, according to Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

With three basic demands (ending the occupation as defined by the 1967 borders; ending Israel’s system of legal discrimination against Palestinians; and enforcing the right of return for Palestinian refugees), the civil society initiative calls for the same global solidarity that erupted during the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and urges companies to withdraw their investments from firms that directly profit from the occupation of Palestine.

In the last three years alone, many major pension funds in Europe have divested from Israeli banks, including the 200-billion-dollar financial giant PGGM, the second-largest pension manager in the Netherlands.

Gender and Militarism

With women and children disproportionately impacted by conflict and militarisation, the Women Peacemaker’s Program (WPP) played a major role in the conference, releasing its annual May 24 report here just days before the WRI gathering.

Organising their work under the larger umbrella of what WPP Program Officer Sophie Schellens called “gender sensitive active nonviolence”, the organisation is comprised of a network of some 50 partners based on every continent.

“This is a politically sensitive topic, since we are analysing militarism and the military from a gender perspective,” Schellens told IPS.

“For instance, an indigenous Manipur-based woman activist in our network, Sumshot Khular, connects the links between militarism, development and politics, and the specific effects of this alliance on women.”

An article by Khular in WPP’s report, ‘Gender and Militarism: Analyzing the Links to Strategize for Peace,’ notes that South Asia is home to more than 160 million indigenous people, yet few governments formally recognise their rights, leaving many at the mercy of developers carrying out coal and uranium mining, and oil and gas exploration.

“The aggressive development models associated with intensive militarisation have been ravaging not only our land and resources, but also our people – especially women and girls,” Khular writes.

According to Schellens, these affected women are now coming together in large numbers to “defy these militarised structures.”
In addition, the 810-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund of Norway decided this year to pull investments from Israeli firms operating in the West Bank; the Luxembourg Pension Fund followed suit, citing ethical concerns over the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In addition, said Barghouti, “Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, recently divested from the British-Danish-owned G4S, one of the largest private security companies in the world; the United Methodist Church – one of the richest in the U.S. – pulled its 18-billion-dollar fund out of companies operating on occupied Palestinian land; and the Presbyterian church has divested from companies like Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions because of their involvement in the occupation.”

With its 15-billion-dollar defense budget, the Israeli government is not taking this lightly, and has identified the BDS movement as a strategic, rather than societal, threat.

“Israel recently shifted overall responsibility for fighting BDS from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of strategic affairs,” Barghouti said Monday, “the same ministry that deals with the Iranian threat, and Israel’s relationship with the U.S.”

Elsewhere, too, authoritarian regimes are recognising the legitimate power of nonviolent resistance. A South Sudanese activist, wishing to be identified only as Karbash A M, told IPS that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has issued a blanket ban on NGOs conducting nonviolence trainings among refugee communities.

But in the face of a political crisis that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Marmoun said, a handful of organisations continue to train hundreds of community leaders and youth activists in the tactics of nonviolence, even as a wave of arms and ammunition threatens to drown the country.

Documenting over 14 case studies of peaceful resistance, the second edition of WRI’s Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns, released here Sunday, offers a tip-of-the-iceberg analysis of the proliferation of nonviolent movements around the world, from protests against the Indonesian military in West Papua, to the diaspora solidarity movement for Eritrea.

Recognising a continuum between the moral commitment to nonviolence adopted by Gandhi, the strategic decision to exercise nonviolence in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and a “willingness to use nonviolent methods […] but no commitment to avoid low-level physical violence,” the Handbook offers practical advice to activists and organisers from Colombia to South Korea and beyond.

Another major development here this week was the founding of the Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding, the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.

“I am delighted we have been able to give birth to this network here in Cape Town,” Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, executive director of the South Africa-based organisation Embrace Dignity – which fights to end sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of women – told IPS.

“At the last count, 33 African countries are represented in the network, with a 16-member steering committee, each from a different country.

“We are also making an effort to ensure representation from island states like Mauritius and the Canary Islands,” she stated, adding that the network will play a crucial role in elevating the voices of civil society on issues of governance, development and corruption.

Experts here say such a network could be hugely important in combating the U.S.’ increased military presence in Africa, such as plans to construct a 220-million-dollar Special Operations compound at the base of the U.S.’ Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

The actions may be small, but their impacts are felt at the highest level.

“We can now call ourselves the ‘three percent people’,” Anand Mazgaonkar, a representative of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) in Gujarat, India, said at a plenary session Monday, “because a recent intelligence report in India has named all of us involved in movements as collectively responsible for a three percent damage to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).”

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When Faith Meets Disaster Managementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-faith-meets-disaster-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:09:15 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135176 An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

A consortium of faith-based organisations (FBOs) made a declaration at a side event Wednesday at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), to let the United Nations know that they stand ready to commit themselves to building resilient communities across Asia in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Hosted this year by the Thai government, the conference is an annual collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with the aim of bringing regional stakeholders together to discuss the specific challenges facing Asia in an era of rapid climate change.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers." -- Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India
A report prepared for the Bangkok conference by UNISDR points out that in the past three years Asia has encountered a wide range of disasters, from cyclones in the Philippines and major flooding in China, India and Thailand, to severe earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan.

In 2011 alone, global economic losses from extreme weather events touched 366 billion dollars, of which 80 percent were recorded in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the region accounts for 39 percent of the planet’s land area and hosts 60 percent of the world’s population, it only holds 29 percent of global wealth, posing major challenges for governments in terms of disaster preparedness and emergency response.

FBOs believe they can fill this gap by giving people hope during times of suffering.

“It’s not about the goods we bring or the big houses we build,” argued Jessica Dator Bercilla, a Filipina from Christian Aid, adding that the most important contribution religious organisations can make is to convince people they are not alone on the long road towards rebuilding their lives after a disaster.

The FBO consortium that drafted the statement – including Caritas Asia, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the ACT Alliance – held a pre-conference consultative meeting here on Jun. 22nd during which some 50 participants from various faiths discussed the many hurdles FBOs must clear in order to deliver disaster relief and assist affected populations.

The final FBO Statement on Disaster Risk Reduction drew attention to faith organisations’ unique ability to work closely with local communities to facilitate resilience and peace building.

Overcoming Hidden Agendas

One challenge to including FBOs in national DRR frameworks is the prevailing fear that religious organisations will use their position as providers of aid and development services to push their own religious agendas.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, for instance, Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as Muslim communities in Indonesia, complained that FBOs tried to impose their beliefs on the survivors.

When IPS raised this question during the pre-conference consultation, it triggered much debate among the participants.

Many feel the fear is unfounded, as FBOs are driven by the desire to give value to human life, rather than a desire to convert non-believers or followers of different faiths.

“If beliefs hinder development we must challenge those values,” asserted a participant from Myanmar who gave his name only as Munir.

Vincentia Widyasan Karina from Caritas Indonesia agreed, adding that in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Caritas worked among Muslim communities to rebuild the northern Indonesian region of Aceh, and “supported the Islamic community’s need to have prayer centres.”

Organisations like SGI go one step further by following methods like the Lotus Sutra for the realisation of happiness in all beings simultaneously.

“This principle expounds that Buddha’s nature is inherent in every individual, and this helps lead many other people towards happiness and enlightenment,” argued Asai, adding that in countries where Buddhists are a minority they work with other stakeholders. “If we form a network it is easier to work,” he added.
Given that an estimated one in eight people in the world identify with some form of organised religion, and that faith-based organisations comprise the largest service delivery network in the world, FBOs stand out as natural partners in the field of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

A declaration enshrined in the statement also urged the United Nations to recognise FBOs as a unique stakeholder in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2) to be presented to the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in 2015.

It also wants national and local governments to include FBOs when they organise regular consultations on DRR with relevant stakeholders, as FBOs are the ones who often sustain development programmes in the absence of international NGOs.

For example, since 2012 Caritas Indonesia has been working with a coastal community that has lost 200 metres of its coastal land in the past 22 years, in the Fata Hamlet of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggar Province, to build community resilience to rising seawaters.

The agency helped community members form the Fata Environment Lover Group, which now uses natural building methods to allow seawater to pass through bamboo structures before reaching the coast, so that wave heights are reduced and mangroves are protected.

Collectively, the three partners to the declaration cover a lot of ground in the region.

Caritas Asia is one of seven regional offices that comprise Caritas International, a Catholic relief agency that operates in 200 countries. SGI is a Japanese lay Buddhist movement with a network of organisations in 192 countries, while ACT is a coalition of Christian churches and affiliated organistaions working in over 140 countries.

All three are renowned for their contributions to the field of development and disaster relief. Caritas International, for instance, annually allocates over a million euros (1.3 million dollars) to humanitarian coordination, capacity building and HIV/AIDS programmes around the world.

“We would like to be one of the main players in the introduction of the DRR policy,” Takeshi Komino, head of emergencies for the ACT Alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, told IPS. “We are saying we are ready to engage.”

“What our joint statement points out is that our commitment is based on faith and that is strong. We can be engaged in relief and recovery activity for a long time,” added Nobuyuki Asai, programme coordinator of peace affairs for SGI.

Experts say Asia is an excellent testing ground for the efficacy of faith-based organisations in contributing to disaster risk reduction.

According to a survey by the independent Pew Research Centre, the Asia-Pacific region is home to 99 percent of the world’s Buddhists, 99 percent of the world’s Hindus and 62 percent of the world’s Muslims.

The region has also seen a steady increase in the number of Catholics, from 14 million a century ago to 131 million in 2013.

Forming links between these communities is easier said than done, with religious and communal conflicts plaguing the region, including a wave of Buddhist extremism in countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a strong anti-Christian movement across Pakistan and attacks on religious minorities in China and India.

Some experts, however, say that the threat of natural catastrophe draws communities together.

According to Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India, “When there is a disaster people forget their differences.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers,” he told IPS, citing such cooperation during major floods recently in the northern Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Loy Rego, a Myanmar-based disaster relief consultant, told IPS that the statement released today represents a very important landmark in disaster risk reduction.

“FBOs need to be more visible as an organised constituency in the roll-out of future frameworks,” he stated.

Rego believes that the biggest contribution FBOs could make to disaster risk management is to promote peaceful living among different communities.

“Respecting other religions need not be done in a secular way,” he said. “It only happens when they work with other FBOs in an inter-faith setting.”

(END)

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Days After African Leaders Vow to Defeat Boko Haram, Bombings and Terror Continuehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/days-african-leaders-vow-defeat-boko-haram-bombings-terror-continue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=days-african-leaders-vow-defeat-boko-haram-bombings-terror-continue http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/days-african-leaders-vow-defeat-boko-haram-bombings-terror-continue/#comments Tue, 20 May 2014 22:55:49 +0000 Ini Ekott http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134436 Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Mohammed Lere

Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Mohammed Lere

By Ini Ekott
ABUJA, May 20 2014 (IPS)

Multiple car bombs killed dozens Tuesday in the central Nigerian city of Jos, Plateau state, days after a security summit in France where African leaders committed to a “war” on Nigeria’s Islamist rebels, Boko Haram.

Both the attack and the recent security summit have done little to address the resentment against Nigerian authorities over their initial indifference to the abduction of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in northeast Borno state on Apr. 14.

Casualty figures of the Jos bombing are not clear yet, but an emergency official told IPS that the toll is “very massive”. Some say as many as 200 people were killed because the attack occurred in a market. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack but it is suspected to be the work of Boko Haram.

The local population holds little expectation of an immediate triumph over Boko Haram, as many feel the Paris talks offered little hope in finding the abducted schoolgirls.

“The bitter truth is their life-threatening situation is handled as an irritation by those that should care,” Oby Ezekwesili, a former education minister and leader of a daily sit-in in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, tweeted on Monday. “Bitter as it is to swallow, truth is those who should find them still denigrate the agony of their parents.”

After 35 days of searching, there is still no clue about the whereabouts of the schoolgirls despite surveillance and intelligence assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, France and Israel.

But pressure is growing on the government as at least four people were killed on Sunday, May 18, in a another suspected Boko Haram bomb blast in Nigeria’s northwest Kano state. Kano state has been a relatively peaceful area and was last attacked by Boko Haram in 2012.

The blast, at a busy bar in a predominately Christian area, raised fears the insurgents may be moving from their stronghold in Borno state, which lies nearly 600 kms east of Kano state.

 

Nigerians gathered at Unity Fountain, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 30, 2014. They called on the country’s government to act quickly to find the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok secondary school in northeast Borno state on Apr. 14 by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Credit: Mohammed Lere/IPS

Nigerians gathered at Unity Fountain, in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 30, 2014. They called on the country’s government to act quickly to find the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped from Chibok secondary school in northeast Borno state on Apr. 14 by Islamist extremist group Boko Haram. Credit: Mohammed Lere/IPS

Here in Nigeria activists plan to march on Thursday to President Goodluck Jonathan’s office to present a “charter of demands”. Amongst other things, they will demand more engagement of the authorities with the families of the abducted girls, and greater security in Boko Haram’s strongholds.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden”, has frequently attacked schools, symbols of the state, churches and markets in their campaign to create an Islamic state.

Jonathan has been widely criticised for his handling of the crisis.

Nigeria itself has been blamed for not taking the campaign against Boko Haram seriously enough until the abduction of the Chibok girls.

“The government and military establishment would have to honestly own up that defence and security allocations have not been utilised for the purpose of building an army capable of tackling the Boko Haram menace,” Benson Eluma of the Institute of African Studies at Nigeria’s University of Ibadan told IPS.

The summit in Paris was the first public effort outside of Africa to rally nations against Boko Haram, which is now regarded as a threat to West and Central Africa.

The presidents of Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and Benin, promised to share intelligence on Boko Haram, monitor their common borders, and coordinate action against the group. A common intelligence platform is to be stationed in Chad in the joint action against Boko Haram.

Nigeria currently maintains a multinational military task force around the Lake Chad Basin area, near Borno state. Troops are drawn from all Nigeria’s neighbouring countries, with the exception of Cameroon.

One of Nigeria’s main challenges remains this country’s barely cordial relationship with Cameroon, which is based on decades of territorial friction. Cameroon, is seen by the Nigerian government, as a strategic hideout for insurgents fleeing raids here.

While Nigeria has an agreement with Niger — and is working on one with Chad — to allow Nigerian troops cross into neighbouring countries in pursuit of insurgents, there has been no such understanding with Cameroon.

Despite the perceived limitations, the Paris summit is expected to be a game changer in the fight against Boko Haram.

“We have shown our commitment for a regional approach. Without West African countries coming together we will not be able to crush these terrorists,” Jonathan said.

For the first time since the insurgency began five years ago, he released the official figure of the death toll. According to Jonathan, some 12,000 people have died in the crisis — more than double the 5,000 initially believed to have been killed.

The summit, convened by French President François Hollande, has also generated concerns about Africa’s inability to solve its problems.

The continental body, the African Union, has been largely silent about the crisis of Boko Haram and the missing girls. However, the Economic Community of West African States, the West African regional body, has stated its resolve to jointly fight the terrorist group.

Regardless of where assistance comes from, any decision against Boko Haram for a lasting solution cannot be entirely through brute military force, says Eluma.

“Abubakar Shekau [Boko Haram’s leader] and Boko Haram epitomise everything that is wrong with our society, including our hatred of difference, our discrimination against girls and women, the abominable state of education in the country, the porosity of our borders, the complicity of agents of the state in undermining both the state and the people, the political and social instrumentalisation of violence in Nigeria … which leaves us vulnerable to whatever ill wind that blows from distant places.”

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OP-ED: Toward a Final-Phase Deal with Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/op-ed-toward-final-phase-deal-iran/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 11:32:01 +0000 Daryl G. Kimball http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132384 By Daryl G. Kimball
WASHINGTON, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

Last month, negotiators from the United States, its P5+1 partners (China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom), and Iran agreed to a framework for talks on a “comprehensive solution that would ensure Iran’s nuclear programme will be exclusively peaceful.”

The road ahead will be difficult. Many differences must be bridged, and hard-liners in Washington, Tehran, and Jerusalem will throw up obstacles along the way. An effective, multiyear deal can only be achieved if each side is ready to compromise and pursue realistic solutions that meet the other sides’ core requirements.A deal that would require Iran to dismantle major facilities would be politically unsustainable in Iran.

A successful agreement will verifiably roll back Iran’s overall enrichment capacity, block the plutonium path to the bomb, put in place even tougher international inspections, resolve outstanding questions about the purpose of Iran’s programme, and lead to the removal of nuclear-related sanctions. But first, negotiators must resolve several tough issues in the next few months.

Uranium enrichment. The two sides have agreed to negotiate “practical” limits on the scope of Iran’s enrichment activities in order to reduce Tehran’s ability to build nuclear weapons.

Today, Iran has a very limited need for enriched uranium fuel for energy production. Iran has one research reactor, for which it has an ample supply of fuel, and a power reactor that uses fuel to be supplied by Russia for the next 10 years or more.

Tehran says it has plans for up to 16 more reactors, which would require a sizable enrichment capacity, but these plans are many years away from reality.

Consequently, the P5+1 can and should seek a significant reduction in Iran’s current enrichment capacity – from 10,000 operating, first-generation centrifuges at two sites to approximately half that number or less for a period of at least 10 years.

Even with 4,000 or fewer first-generation centrifuges at one site, Iran would have more than sufficient capacity for its foreseeable needs. Along with a cap on the enrichment of uranium to no more than five percent, a reduction in the number of centrifuges would increase the time necessary to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb to six months or more.

Enhanced inspection rights would ensure that any such activity would be readily detected within days.

If Iran tried to build a nuclear arsenal, it would take considerably more than a year to amass enough material for additional weapons, assemble a nuclear device, and develop an effective means of delivery.

So far, Iran has insisted that it wants to be able to develop new, more efficient centrifuges. Consequently, the two sides will likely set limits on the overall capacity of Iran’s enrichment programme rather than the total number of centrifuges.

The P5+1 wants Iran to close its underground enrichment facility at Fordow, which is less vulnerable to air attacks, while Iran opposes dismantling its facilities. The two sides might compromise by agreeing that Iran will effectively halt any significant enrichment at Fordow and convert it to a “research-only” facility.

The Arak reactor. The P5+1 has argued that Iran should abandon its unfinished 40-megawatt heavy-water reactor near Arak, which is well suited for the production of plutonium. One compromise would be to convert Arak into a more proliferation-resistant light-water reactor or, as Iranian officials have suggested, make design and operational changes to reduce its plutonium potential.

These changes could include reducing the power level at least to five megawatts and using uranium fuel enriched to 3.5 percent. Iran is not known to have a reprocessing plant, which would be needed to extract plutonium from spent fuel, but Iran could be required to send Arak’s spent fuel to a third country to further reduce the proliferation risk.

Tougher international inspections. If Iran were to pursue nuclear weapons development, it most likely would try to do so in secret at undisclosed facilities. Consequently, Iran must allow international inspectors access to all sites, including undeclared sites, under the terms of the additional protocol to its existing safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Once approved by the Iranian parliament, the protocol would be permanent. Further monitoring measures of Iran’s nuclear industry could help detect and deter any secret weapons programme.

Concerns about potential weapons experiments. Iran also will need to accelerate its cooperation with the IAEA to allow the agency to determine with confidence that Tehran is no longer engaged in research with potentially military dimensions. Given that the investigation will continue for some time, the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 should specify that Iran shall not conduct any experiments with nuclear weapons applications.

These step-for-step actions will require a new U.N. Security Council resolution to replace earlier resolutions on Iran’s nuclear programme; positive, prompt follow-up actions by the EU states; and approval by Congress of revised legislation that unwinds nuclear-related sanctions.

It is important that Congress, which has an important role in implementing any final phase deal, supports the P5+1 effort on the basis of a clear understanding and realistic expectation for what the negotiations can deliver.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress say they hope “negotiations succeed in preventing Iran from ever developing a nuclear weapons capability.” Others say they are “hopeful a permanent diplomatic agreement will require the dismantlement of Iran’s nuclear weapons-related infrastructure ….”

According to the U.S. intelligence community Iran has had, at least since 2007, the scientific, technical, and industrial capacity eventually to produce nuclear weapons if it were to choose to do so. That capacity can be reduced but not entirely eliminated, even Iran were required to dismantle its uranium enrichment machines and facilities — and a deal that would require Iran to dismantle major facilities would be politically unsustainable in Iran.

Negotiating a realistic final phase agreement with Iran will be difficult, but a sustainable arrangement is achievable. It is the best and perhaps only alternative to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear programme, the risk of war over the issue, and potentially a nuclear-armed Iran.

Daryl Kimball is executive director of the independent, non-partisan Arms Control Association in Washington, D.C. He has been engaged in research and policy work on nuclear nonproliferation and arms control matters since 1989. This essay is based on an earlier version published in Arms Control Today.

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If a Two-State Solution Fails, What Next?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-state-solution-fails-next http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/two-state-solution-fails-next/#comments Tue, 04 Mar 2014 00:38:02 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132405 Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Gaza women demonstrate to demand release of their loved ones in prison in Israel. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Mar 4 2014 (IPS)

The failure of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a significant shift in public opinion in the United States regarding Israel’s future, according to a new poll released Monday.

When asked about two options in the event the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was no longer on the table, 65 percent of U.S. citizens said they preferred a democratic state where Jews and Arabs are equal, against only 24 percent who supported “the continuation of Israel’s Jewish majority even if it means that Palestinians will not have citizenship and full rights.”"We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true.” -- Shibley Telhami

The Barack Obama administration has repeatedly warned both parties that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution to their conflict is closing.

This is widely understood to be driving the frenetic efforts by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to cobble together a framework for further talks which he hopes would culminate in a permanent status agreement by the end of 2014. But should these efforts fail, the United States has no alternative to the current two-state formula.

The poll, commissioned by pollster Dr. Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland, indicates that, as Telhami said, “if the two-state solution fails, the conversation among the American public might shift to that of a one-state solution as the next-best thing.”

In that context, United States citizens hold the value of one person, one vote very strongly. Telhami told IPS that this value was held even among those polled who felt the United States should be favouring Israel over the Palestinians in negotiations.

“We asked if you want the U.S. to lean toward Israel, towards the Palestinians or to stay neutral. As usual, two-thirds want the United States to be neutral and among the rest, most want it to lean toward Israel. So we asked that segment what they would do if the two-state solution was no longer an option. And we still got 52 percent of that segment who would support one state with equal citizenship.

“We always assume that pro-Israel means people will accept immoral situations if they have to and that’s not true,” Telhami continued. “A lot of people try to reconcile their support for the cause with their moral view of the world and that view is antithetical with occupation or inequality for many of these people.

“So for them, two states is a way out, where they can say ‘I’m not paying too much attention to occupation now because it will be going away.’ But if the two-state solution goes away then the status quo looks permanent and I think people, even the segment that primarily cares about Israel, will have an issue with that.”

The possibility of the two-state solution finally collapsing seems stronger with each passing day. Despite some positive statements from Kerry and Obama, the sentiments that have been expressed by both Israeli and Palestinian leadership have, almost from the beginning, been pessimistic and accusatory, with each side seeming to jockey for position to avoid blame for what they have portrayed as the inevitable failure of the U.S.-brokered efforts.

On Monday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the leader of the left-wing Israeli Meretz party that there is strong opposition within the Palestinian Authority to continuing talks beyond the agreed upon deadline of Apr. 29.

Abbas has repeatedly stated that ongoing Israeli settlement construction makes negotiations very difficult for Palestinians and sends the message that while the Palestinian leadership talks with Israel, the Israelis are simply taking the West Bank through settlement expansion.

Bolstering Abbas’ case, the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics released a report on Monday which stated that starts on new settlement building in the occupied West Bank increased by 123.7 percent in 2013.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Monday for a meeting with President Obama and the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), accused the Palestinians of not doing enough to advance peace talks and called on them to recognise Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu vowed to stand firm against pressures on him to make compromises on what he referred to as “our crucial interests. “

Given these stances, it seems there is little hope for Kerry’s dogged efforts. Obama warned of the consequences of failure in an interview published Sunday with Bloomberg’s Jeffrey Goldberg when he said “if you see no peace deal and continued aggressive settlement construction…If Palestinians come to believe that the possibility of a contiguous sovereign Palestinian state is no longer within reach, then our ability to manage the international fallout is going to be limited.”

Indeed, this poll shows that even within the United States, fallout will be a factor.

“Americans still have a generally favourable view of Israel and think it ought to live in peace and security,” Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”, told IPS.

“But much of that support is fairly soft, and most Americans do not support backing Israel no matter what it does. This latest poll confirms that basic view, and suggests that Israel cannot count on deep U.S. support if peace talks fail and its control over the West Bank and/or Gaza becomes permanent.”

But Leon Hadar, lecturer in Israel Studies at the University of Maryland and senior analyst with Wikistrat, disagrees and believes this poll does little but satisfy the “wishful thinking of some.”

“My guess is that most Americans would support the establishment of a democratic and liberal system here, there and everywhere, including in Saudi Arabia, Congo, and certainly China,” Hadar told IPS.

“But the main problem is that there is no constituency in the U.S. or for that matter among the Israelis and the Palestinians advancing such a formula. That’s very different from the South Africa story when you had powerful constituencies in this country, including Congress, pushing for that.”

Telhami disagrees. “It may not have a direct impact on foreign policy. I don’t expect even 80 percent support for a single, democratic state will mean the White House and State Department will suddenly support it. But it results in a lot of civil society pressure.

“U.S. foreign policy is based on a lot of considerations, and domestically it is more responsive to groups that are better organised and today that means groups that are supportive of Israeli government positions. But I think the discourse itself will alter the priorities and put a lot of strain on the relationship.

“This will mean pushing the government to act on this issue. We see it now, with academic boycotts and boycotting of settlement products. Those things can happen at a level that changes the dynamic of policymaking.”

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Global Citizenship Key to World Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/global-citizenship-key-world-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-citizenship-key-world-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/global-citizenship-key-world-peace/#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 13:54:45 +0000 Minh Le http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131982 By Minh Le
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2014 (IPS)

Nobel Laureate Betty Williams started her speech to a peace forum at the U.N. headquarters Thursday with perhaps the last thing the audience would expect her to say.

From left: H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative; and Ms. Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate. Credit: Minh Le/IPS

From left: H.E. Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations; Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative; and Ms. Betty Williams, 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate. Credit: Minh Le/IPS

She urged them to stop glorifying working for peace.

“We could sit all day here and glorify it, but it’s not a thing that should be glorified,” she said. “It’s a thing that should be done in reality, every single day of our lives.”

Williams, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 for promoting a peaceful society, believes that each person, as a global citizen, has a role to play in bringing peace to the world.

“We can’t say ‘I don’t have to do it. Let them do it.’ Every child that dies in our world from conditions of malnutrition, from disease, from war, we are all guilty. As a human family, we are all guilty,” she said.

Her sentiment for global solidarity and responsibility was echoed by many others at the forum, where diplomats, educators and peace activists gathered to discuss the topic of “Global Citizenship and the Future of the U.N.”

The Feb. 20 event, sponsored by the U.N. Alliance of Civilisations and organised by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research, also saw the launch of “A Forum for Peace: Daisaku Ikeda’s Proposals to the U.N.”

The book is a collection of 30 years of annual peace proposals by Buddhist thinker Ikeda, whose recommendations for global change and for the U.N. are seen as words of wisdom by Williams and other speakers at the forum.

“This is the book that really needs to be read by all of us,” said Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former under-secretary-general and high representative.

“No human being in the world history has written so consistently and so substantively about the work of the U.N.,” he said, adding that many of Ikeda’s proposals, including the empowerment of women and young people in creating peace, have been reflected in the way the global body operates.

Ikeda’s concept of the “Culture of Peace,” Chowdhury said, is essential to make the world a secure place for future generations, by promoting peace through dialogue and nonviolence.

Global citizenship

In his remarks sent to the forum, Ikeda said he has “repeatedly stressed the importance of fostering an awareness of our role and responsibility as global citizens,” which he considers the spiritual basis for countries to resolve conflicts and the source of hope for the future of the U.N.

He then called for a brand new programme of education specifically for global citizenship to be promoted by the U.N.

Education, Ikeda said, needs to deepen understanding of challenges facing humankind and promote a shared pledge among all people “not to seek one’s happiness and prosperity at the expense of others.”

In 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched “Education First,” an initiative aiming to get every child into school, increase education quality and foster global citizenship.

According to the U.N., it is not enough to only produce students who can read, write and count, but they also need to learn how to “think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings.” The problem with the current education system is that the values of peace, human rights, respect, cultural diversity and justice are not often embedded and emphasised in the ethos of schools.

William Gaudelli, associate professor of social studies and education at Teachers College, said in order to have a new generation of global citizens, first it is necessary to have teachers who are more open to and more thoughtful about the world.

The concept of global citizenship, he said, is not a novelty and in fact can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes, who described himself as “a citizen of the world”.

Gaudelli said while it may seem a “crazy” idea now to ask people who live in “neatly divided countries” to think of themselves as global citizens, the world really needs to come together to solve ongoing problems.

“There are so many challenges, from infectious diseases, small arms trading, human trafficking, global warming, animal extinction and the list grows,” he said, calling for all members of the global society to truly listen to and learn from others, rather than waiting for “an opening to talk.”

Role of the U.N.

Olivier Urbain, who edited the book, said he was impressed by Ikeda’s firm belief in the power of ordinary people and his trust in the potential of solidarity.

He also noted that Ikeda’s promotion for a world without war does not stop with abolishing actual nuclear warheads, but it also deals with the mentality behind the fact that the world still have these weapons.

“It’s not possible to build one’s happiness on the misery of another human being. The same thing with countries: it is not possible to build true lasting national security on the misery and terror of other countries that are so terrified by the weapon,” he said.

Despite conflicts and threats around the world, Urbain said there was “a tremendous sense of hope” when he read the book.

“As long as we have the space for personal creativity and solidarity, there is nothing that human beings cannot overcome,” he said.

Urbain said the U.N., therefore, needs to create channels and mechanisms for people’s voices to be heard and, in so doing, let itself be empowered by the people.

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations, said the peaceful and prosperous co-existence of peoples and nations is the cornerstone of the U.N. mission.

“We are bound together as the international community in the belief that despite different cultures, languages and religions, there are fundamental shared values and principles that underpin our humanity,” he said.

“We are bound together as the U.N. family because we recognise that it is through the celebration of our diversity, as well as through the promotion of tolerance and dispelling fears of the “other”, that we will build a more peaceful world,” he told the forum.

Even though it was clear that many speakers were believers in the U.N., they did not shy away from the fact that the global organisation is not perfect. That is why reforms and recommendations proposed by thinkers like Ikeda are important, they said.

“The U.N. is all that we have in our world to try and make it better,” said Williams. “I know that in certain areas it could do with a lot of improvements but give me one organisation in the world that is being run smoothly?”

“What could we do if we didn’t have this organisation? How much worse would it be?” she asked.

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An Iran in Flux Marks 35th Anniversary of Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/iran-flux-marks-35th-anniversary-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-flux-marks-35th-anniversary-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/iran-flux-marks-35th-anniversary-revolution/#comments Tue, 11 Feb 2014 19:47:17 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131453 A mass demonstration in Tehran around the time of the 1979 Revolution. Credit: GNU license

A mass demonstration in Tehran around the time of the 1979 Revolution. Credit: GNU license

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Feb 11 2014 (IPS)

Thirty-five years ago today, millions of Iranians embraced a religious leader promising freedom from a corrupt monarchy and national independence. Now many want a better standard of living and improved civil rights.

“Living standards are 50 percent higher today than they were before the revolution, but so are expectations, which is why the average person believes they had a better time before the revolution,” said Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, an economist who regularly visits Iran."Living standards are 50 percent higher today than they were before the revolution, but so are expectations." -- Djavad Salehi-Isfahani

After years of sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank and integral oil revenue, and government mismanagement of funds, the country is financially devastated, with a depleted budget and unemployment above 14 percent (25 percent for youth).

“Early on, revolutionaries focused their attention on the provision of health, education, and infrastructure [electricity, clean water, and roads] for underprivileged areas,”  the Virginia Tech professor told IPS.

“These developments have helped move large sections of the poor into the middle class and a modern life style,” he said.

Today, citizens from that expanding middle class and across Iranian society — now more educated than ever — desire better social and civil freedoms in addition to improved work opportunities.

“The Iranian president [Hassan Rouhani] has released a citizen bill of rights and one positive thing he did is put this out there and ask for comments, but it really falls short on women’s rights and the rights of minorities,” said Sussan Tahmasebi, an Iranian women’s rights activist and the co-founder of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN), an NGO dedicated to women’s rights.

Anatomy of a Revolution

Demonstrations against the U.S.-backed Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi erupted in October 1977. By the end of the following year, strikes and protests had paralysed the country for months. The shah fled into exile on Jan. 16, 1979 and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was invited back to Iran, where he was greeted by several million supporters.

On Feb. 11, guerrillas and rebel troops overwhelmed troops loyal to the Shah in armed street fighting, and Khomeini ascended to official power.

Iranians voted by national referendum to become an Islamic Republic on Apr. 1, 1979, and to approve a new theocratic-republican constitution, whereby Khomeini became Supreme Leader of the country, in December 1979.

Tahmasebi, who lived and worked in Iran from 1999-2010, also decried the continued imprisonment of student activists and reformist leaders, as well as Iran’s high rate of executions, which have increased in recent months.

“Iranians want to live in an environment that’s safe, where the law is there to protect them rather than punish them,” she told IPS.

Still, Tahmasebi acknowledges that the Rouhani government’s top agenda items are resolving the nuclear issue and improving Iran’s economy.

“Once he has made serious progress at the international level, he will have more clout to push for more controversial issues at home,” she said.

Iran’s ruling elite has meanwhile experienced a major overhaul since the June 2013 presidential election of Rouhani, a centrist cleric promising “hope,” “prudence” and “moderation.”

While Rouhani’s election would have been unlikely without the backing of reformist and centrist leaders, he must now maintain their support while also dealing with hardliners eager to regain their upper hand in politics.

Iran is currently implementing the first-phase “Joint Plan of Action”, a deal achieved with world powers known as the P5+1 in Geneva on Nov. 24, 2013. Talks for a comprehensive solution to the nuclear issue are set to begin in Vienna on Feb. 18.

Meanwhile, some of Iran’s most stalwart revolutionaries have raised the volume on their criticism of the Rouhani government’s handling of the nuclear issue.

Members of the Revolutionary Guard, a powerful paramilitary unit, and several parliamentarians claim that Rouhani has given much more than Iran has received in negotiations.

On Tuesday, anniversary commemoration rallies attended by millions in Tehran, according to state media, featured banners and posters responding to a Barack Obama administration mantra on Iran: “all options are on the table,” a reference to military force.

“We are eager for all options on the table,” read some of the placards.

Marchers also reportedly shouted an Iranian revolutionary mantra, “Death to America,” while others added, “Death to [Wendy] Sherman,” the U.S.’s lead negotiator and under secretary of state for political affairs.

But despite domestic criticism, the Rouhani administration enjoys the support of Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who has repeatedly urged unity and faith in the government.

“Considering the fact that it is only a few months [since] the administration has taken charge of the country, we should give executive officials time so that, by Allah’s favour, they can move things forward in a firm and powerful way,” said the Grand Ayatollah in a Feb. 9 speech to air force commanders posted on his website.

“We should not allow the enemies’ agents inside the country to take advantage of weak points and to create disorder,” he added.

Since last week, Iranian news outlets have been featuring stories on Iran’s military, showcasing comments by commanders stressing Iran’s preparedness to respond to military threats, and military weapons tests, such as the test-firing of domestically made missiles on Monday.

In a speech celebrating the revolution on Tuesday morning to a rally at Tehran’s Freedom Square, Rouhani declared, “Today, if any side plans to launch aggression against Iran, it should know that the Iranian nation will stand against aggressors with its full might and make them sorry,” according to the Iranian Student News Agency.

The president also emphasised Iran’s willingness to engage in “fair” and “constructive” talks on the nuclear issue.

“Our negotiations with the P5+1 have all been based on Iranians’ peace-seeking nature,” he said.

“We wanted to convey the Leader’s Fatwa [a religious decree against the creation of nuclear weapons] to the whole world during the negotiations and help them understand the Iranophobia project is a big lie,” stated Rouhani.

“While negotiating with the world powers, we want to say sanctions against Iranians are cruel and inhuman,” he added.

In Washington on Monday, a former hostage from Iran’s seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, John Limbert, noted at the Wilson Center that some Iranian participants in that divisive event, “now older and wiser”, joined reformist administrations in Iran.

Limbert, a historian who speaks fluent Persian, added that the recent opening of the embassy to the public “may be symbolic of larger changes in the Islamic Republic’s relations with the rest of the world, especially with the U.S.”

“Both sides, after 34 years, have made a very startling discovery, that diplomacy — long-neglected tools of listening, of seeking small areas of agreement, of careful choice of words — can actually accomplish more than shouting insults, making threats and the wonderful self-satisfaction of always being right,” he said.

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Poll Shows Diminishing Support for Two-State Solutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/poll-shows-diminishing-support-two-state-solution/#comments Sat, 01 Feb 2014 12:46:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131080 Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Um Abed plants an olive tree in support of Palestinian farmers. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Feb 1 2014 (IPS)

Twenty years of the Oslo peace process between Israelis and Palestinians have made a solution more difficult to attain, rather than easier. That was the conclusion of a poll of Israelis and Palestinians released on Friday.

The poll, conducted by Zogby Research Services, showed that barely one-third of Israelis (34 percent) and Palestinians (36 percent) still believe that a two-state solution is feasible. And, while the two-state solution remains the most popular option among both peoples, that support is much stronger among Israelis (74 percent) than among Palestinians (47 percent)."With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation'." -- Lara Friedman

Lead pollster and President of both Zogby Research Services and the Arab American Institute, Jim Zogby, sees these results as very troubling and as boding ill for the potential for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to salvage the two-state solution. For Zogby, it comes back to the basic inequality between Israelis and Palestinians and that the process is not framed to accommodate this reality.

“The way the two-state solution has been framed in the dominant narrative, it is defined by Israeli needs, not Palestinian needs,” Zogby told IPS. “If I had added details to the question of a two-state solution such as the 1967 borders [as the basis for territorial negotiations] and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, Israelis would have been less supportive.

“Israelis always poll in favour of negotiations, but are less favourable regarding specific outcomes,” Zogby continued. “Palestinians support outcomes more but support negotiations less because they don’t trust the process. But when you’re in the dominant position, as Israel is, your attitudes are framed by the fact that you’re in control.”

The poll was released just as rumours swirled around Kerry’s efforts, which are expected to produce a framework proposal that Kerry will present to the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships in the next few weeks. While few observers have expressed much hope about the potential for success, Kerry has pressed both sides to work to agree to use his plan as a framework for ongoing talks, despite the reservations they are sure to have.

Whether either or both sides will agree to that remains unclear, however.

Khaled Elgindy, a fellow at the Saban Centre for Middle East Policy, believes the Zogby poll supports Kerry’s view, widely shared, that if current efforts fail, the two-state solution is in serious jeopardy.

“The poll is consistent with my sense that a Palestinian consensus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip around a two-state solution is beginning to collapse,” Elgindy said in Washington, at the presentation of the poll. “On the Israeli side, [this is reflected by] the views of young Israelis being much more antipathetic to a negotiated settlement. Both of those trends do not bode well for a negotiated TS agreement.

“The framework agreement that is being discussed is so vague as not be an agreement. If we are this far into the process and the two-state solution really hangs in the balance, it’s not a time to be vague. I think it’s clear that if we cannot say [there will be] a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, if we cannot draw a map instead of talking about percentages of land, if we cannot define these issues, then it’s more of the same because these issues don’t get easier, they get harder.”

The poll showed that, in contrast to Palestinians whose views are generally similar across the generations, younger Israelis have harder line positions than older ones. This is one reason why so many like Elgindy believe that the opportunity for a two-state solution is almost at an end. Zogby believes there are several reasons for this split between younger and older Israelis.

“The disproportionately large number of children born to Orthodox and settler families in part accounts for the shift,” Zogby told IPS. “Israel is the only country where we poll that younger people’s attitudes are less progressive than older. The birth rate among the different groupings in part accounts for that.

“The other thing is that the dominant narrative in Israel is that they might reflect back and say I was hopeful, that’s not the way the press and dominant media tells the story so it may not be the way that it is viewed. Palestinians may look back and see it in a more positive light. Even though events may not have moved in a more positive direction, the narrative may have been that it was more hopeful. Neither side sees it positively, but there is a difference in how they reflect on it. The youth gap in Israel reflects this because they pick up on how the story is told because they haven’t experienced it directly.”

Lara Friedman, the director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now, agrees. “It isn’t surprising that you have on the Israeli side a growing demographic bump in folks who are ideologically opposed to this,” Friedman said in response to the poll.

“The generation of Israelis who came to the Palestinians in the era of the peace process were much better equipped. We’ve lost those connections in the generation since Oslo. The generation that came to Oslo knew Palestinians. Israelis shopped in Ramallah, there was no separation barrier, and people knew each other. It’s very different today. With all the cynicism and scepticism that has built up on both sides, we are seeing this wave of opposition to anything that is seen as ‘normalisation.’”

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have stated that they would put any agreement to a referendum among their respective peoples. When asked if they held out hope, only 11 percent of Palestinians and 39 percent of Israelis said they did.

But, when asked if they would support an agreement if their respective leaders endorsed it, 55 percent of Israelis and 49 percent of Palestinians said they would do so, while only 19 percent of Israelis and 28 percent of Palestinians said they would not.

Those results seem to imply that Friedman was correct when she said, “I believe that when there is a deal and people are presented with the possibility of ending this…I think opinions shift very quickly.”

But Kerry’s proposed framework would only map out future discussions. Palestinians have been insistent that they have had enough of endless discussions with no change on the ground aside from the ever-expanding Israeli settlements.

That is why Friedman, an ardent supporter of the two-state solution, also says that “…many of us believe that we need to get to a deal and do it. Leaving more time, constructive ambiguity and ‘confidence-building’ was the death of confidence [between the two sides]. Confidence can be built after the divorce — that is the lesson of the last 20 years.”

But it doesn’t seem that getting to a deal quickly is Kerry’s intent in the short term. And it certainly seems like time has just about run out.

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Rouhani Reaches Out at Davoshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/rouhani-reaches-davos/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rouhani-reaches-davos http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/rouhani-reaches-davos/#comments Thu, 30 Jan 2014 19:27:59 +0000 Djavad Salehi-Isfahani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130990 By Djavad Salehi-Isfahani
WASHINGTON, Jan 30 2014 (IPS)

Last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, President Hassan Rouhani tried to persuade world business leaders to invest in Iran, especially in its hydrocarbon and automobile sectors. 

Hassan Rouhani. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/CC-BY-SA-3.0

Hassan Rouhani. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/CC-BY-SA-3.0

His appeal is not likely to set off a gold rush; investors will wait to see if the nuclear agreement with the P5+1 is successfully concluded sometime this summer.

But broadening his call for engagement with the rest of the world beyond the nuclear deal indicates that his initiative is more than a charm offensive; it represents deeper social and economic change in Iran.

The implicit assumption behind the “charm offensive” discourse is that the Iranian leadership is only engaging in talks because it needs to gain some respite from sanctions to buy time to reach nuclear weapon capability.

But luring foreign investors into Iran does not fit well with that strategy because any gains would only become apparent after the nuclear deal is concluded and would be reversed as soon as the deal falls apart and sanctions are once again implemented.

From Rouhani’s perspective, an open invitation to foreign investors risks expanding the ranks of his domestic foes beyond the growing opposition to the nuclear deal. Why add Islamists and leftists opposed to the penetration of Western culture and capital unless he really believes he can turn Iran into a hospitable place for outside investment?

Mark Landler of the New York Times played down Rouhani’s appeal by noting its “eerie echo” to a similar pitch by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami in 2004, which was followed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s ascendance a year later and a decade of hostility.

Suggesting that Rouhani’s Davos promises might end similarly ignores several important differences between the two presidents and between the Iran of 2014 and that of 2004. Ignoring the obvious — in 2004 Khatami was on his way out while Rouhani is just starting his first term — there are at least two other distinctions.

Philosophically, Khatami and Rouhani share a moderate view of coexistence with the West, but when it comes to economic integration, they read from very different scripts.

Iran’s economy in 2014 bears little resemblance to that of a decade earlier. In 2004, thanks to a massive oil boom, Iran was bursting with economic optimism and feeling prosperous without foreign investment. Since the 1970s, except during the reconstruction period after the war with Iraq, Iran has not sought or depended on foreign investment for its economic growth. 

Higher oil prices nearly tripled the oil revenues in Khatami’s last budget in 2004 compared to his first in 1998. Unemployment had been declining steadily, from 14.3 percent in 2000 to 10.3 percent in 2004, and inflation seemed low by today’s standards — averaging 14 percent per year instead of 35 percent in the last two years.

Today, after several years of harsh sanctions, Iran’s economy is in deep trouble and the government is broke. While inflation is coming down, unemployment is still above 14 percent (above 25 percent for youth). The 4.2 billion dollars that the U.S. is releasing as part of the interim Geneva agreement adds only five percent to this year’s budget. It will not go very far in bringing public investment even close to its historical record of more than 15 percent of the GDP.

Public investment for the Iranian year starting this March is only 15 billion dollars, which is four percent of the GDP. It is not even enough to pay for the repair of — much less build new — public infrastructure or assist the private sector. The government actually owes private contractors about 20 billion dollars for work they have already performed on various public projects.

The private sector is also in a serious bind. In addition to unpaid government bills, the depressed economy has cut demand for its products, leaving many employers short of cash to even pay their workers. The auto industry, which was a focus of Rouhani’s appeal at Davos, is producing at less than half its capacity. The interim agreement restores the auto industry’s access to critical imports, but additional capital is what they need to create new jobs.

While financial necessity may be Rouhani’s reason for inviting foreign businesses to Iran, he also has reasons to be optimistic about the outcome of their engagement. First, he knows that more than three decades of revolutionary rhetoric and eight years of failed populist economic policies under President Ahmadinejad have tired out the general population and caused a major shift in the attitudes of Iran’s intellectual and technocratic classes.

There is now a wider consensus in favour of private enterprise and engagement with the global economy than during the time of the Shah. This is why Rouhani has the most pro-business economic team in Iran’s history.

Second, in the last 10 years, Iran’s workforce has become younger, better educated, and less expensive — all attractive features for foreign capital. The loss of value in Iran’s currency last year has brought labour costs in Iran below that of China. Were it not for their lower productivity, Iranian industrial workers would be able to outcompete East Asian workers. Foreign investment along with its superior technology and management is what Iran needs to raise its workers’ productivity.

The fate of global engagement for the Islamic Republic is not solely determined by these economic calculations. Many in the highest position of political power in Iran view rapprochement with the United States, which Rouhani considers a condition for meaningful global engagement, with deep suspicion.

They fear that hostility toward the Islamic Republic runs deeper than the nuclear issue. They point to new sanctions legislation before the U.S. Senate that requires Iran to make concessions unrelated to the nuclear dispute. A New York Times editorial did much to justify their fears by recommending that “Iran’s full reintegration into the international system” should depend on its “ending the hostility toward Israel.”

For Rouhani, after Davos, the path to global engagement remains uphill.

*Djavad Salehi-Isfahani conducts research on the economics of the Middle East and is currently a professor of economics at Virginia Tech. He is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and is also serving as the Dubai Initiative fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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OP-ED: The Arab World Has Changed, So Should Washingtonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arab-world-changed-washington/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 15:57:40 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130738 At Cairo's Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

At Cairo's Tahrir Square. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

As the Egyptian revolution against Hosni Mubarak celebrates its third anniversary, the military junta under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is resurrecting dictatorship under the veneer of “constitutional” legitimacy and on the pretense of fighting “terrorism.”

Syria is still ablaze. Yemen has yet to sever the tentacles of the Saleh regime, and Libya remains in the chaotic throes of tribal fissures and militia violence. Tunisia is the only “Arab Spring” country that is transitioning to democracy wisely and pragmatically.Although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.

The uprisings in the past three years have rattled Arab dictators and forced Washington to reassess its relations with the region. Arab autocrats have fought the uprisings and resisted all efforts to redesign the decades-old social contract with their people. Four fell.

Those who are still in power continue to inflict destruction on their countries and repress their citizens.

Yet, some policymakers, talking heads, and academics in Washington and other Western capitals are myopically advocating reconciling with existing regimes, including the Syrian tyrant. Self-proclaimed regional experts are advising these policymakers that Gulf monarchies, for example, are stable and secure and should be embraced.

Likewise, some of these experts are calling on Washington to engage the Egyptian military junta because, they argue, Egypt is the centrepiece of U.S. policy and interests in the region. They maintain these interests should trump American values, which were trumpeted by President Barack Obama in his initial support of the anti-Mubarak revolt.

This “expert” advice reflects a shortsighted, shallow knowledge of the region and is devoid of any strategic analysis of future relations between Arab peoples and their rulers. If followed, it would harm long-term U.S. interests in the region.

Let us remember that three years ago, many of these experts missed the Arab Spring all together, as was pointed out in the 2011 Stimson Institute’s Seismic Shift report.

Many academics and journalists paid scant attention to endemic grievances in Arab societies and focused instead on the “deep state” narrative, which they bought from the regimes hook, line, and sinker.

A few distinguished U.S. journalists, such as the late Anthony Shadid of the New York Times, were aware of what was boiling below the surface in places like Egypt despite the glossy mask of stability that Mubarak and his fellow autocrats presented to the outside world.

It is unfortunately understandable that some policymakers and academics are leaning toward accepting this narrative now because they are becoming disgusted with the bloody tumult across the region and the rise of radicalism and terrorism.

Some academics similarly are trumpeting the “stability” narrative, especially in the Gulf. These “access academics” — who forego serious analysis of regimes’ repressive policies in order to be allowed into those countries and meet with officials — are repeating the same analysis they offered before the revolutions of 2011.

In the Gulf monarchies, as the British academic Christopher Davidson of Durham University has pointed out in his book “After the Sheiks,” the absence of legitimacy, continued repression, and sectarianism will hasten the collapse of these tribal regimes.

Professor Davidson maintains some academics, retired generals and sitting and former diplomats are peddling the “stability” fiction for potential access and economic gain.

Promising business deals, lucrative post-retirement jobs, country visits, and Gulf investment in European and American university buildings are even influencing the type of research, analysis, and academic conferences that are being conducted on the present and future of Gulf monarchies.

Fortunately, some scholars such as Toby Matthiesen of Cambridge University are seriously assessing the long-term destructive nature of bloody sectarianism across the region, which for the most part is being pushed by regimes.

Several factors are driving this pernicious phenomenon. First, although dictators fell, most of the old regimes remained intact. The re-emergence of the Mubarak-era dictatorship under General Sisi is the most vivid example.

The military junta’s harsh sentencing of Ahmad Maher, Ahmad Duma, and Muhammad Adel — key activists in the January 2011 revolution — and the espionage charges against two of Egypt’s most prominent intellectuals, Emad Shahin and Amr Hamzawy, signal that the deep security state is alive and well in Egypt.

The military’s harsh crackdown against all opposition–secular and Islamist–belies its claim that Egypt is on the road to democracy.

The recent branding of the Muslim Brotherhood as a “terrorist” organisation moves Egypt away from political reconciliation, the new “constitution” notwithstanding. In fact, the recently ratified document enshrines the power of the military as an institution impervious to any form of accountability.

The politically motivated capital crime charges against the deposed President Mohamed Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders underpin the vengeful anti-democratic policies of General Sisi.

Despite flagrant human rights violations and sham trials, the Obama administration is tragically maintaining its military aid to the Egyptian military.

Furthermore, the U.S. State Department has withdrawn the name of Robert Ford as ambassador designate to Egypt from consideration in response to objections from the Egyptian military, according to media reports.

Second, the authoritarian regimes that are still in power are employing comprehensive hard and soft power tools, violently and viciously, in order to keep their rule. Bashar al-Assad has rendered his country a wasteland, killing over 130,000 Syrians and forcing millions to become refugees in an attempt to defeat the opposition.

Much like Egypt’s Sisi, he is feverishly trying to convince Washington and other Western capitals that he is the most effective force against terrorism and (Saudi) Wahhabi extremism. His foreign minister has repeatedly stated that if Western leaders hope to keep Salafi jihadists from overrunning Syria, Assad is their man.

It would be tragic if Washington falls for this ruse. It was Assad who worked closely with radical Salafis first in Iraq and then in Syria. He had hoped Salafis would discredit the moderate, secular opposition — a self-fulfilling prophecy he is happy to see come to pass.

Third, as these regimes fail to defeat their popular revolts and reject meaningful dialogue with the opposition, radical elements and Salafi jihadists begin to fill the power vacuum in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The ensuing stalemate is already producing more turbulence, anemic economies, debilitating uncertainty, and diminishing personal security.

No winner will emerge in the foreseeable future, which hopefully would force Washington to make hard choices. Simply put, these choices involve drawing a morally palatable balance between values and interests. If Washington hopes to be on the right side of history, interests should never be allowed to trump values of good governance, certainly not in the wake of the Arab uprisings of 2011.

Emile Nakhleh is a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Thorny Path Toward Syrian Peace Processhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/thorny-path-toward-syrian-peace-process/#comments Sat, 18 Jan 2014 06:06:42 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130412 The Syrian independence flag flies over a large gathering of protesters in Idlib. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

The Syrian independence flag flies over a large gathering of protesters in Idlib. Credit: Freedom House/cc by 2.0

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 18 2014 (IPS)

The future of the complex armed conflict in Syria, which involves religious and ethnic factors as well as pressures from neighbouring countries and the strategic interests of global powers, will begin to take shape next week at a conference known as “Geneva 2.”

On Jan. 24 it will become apparent whether the warring parties in Syria will accept a negotiated solution to the three-year conflict that has already ended the lives of over 100,000 people and displaced 2.3 million from their homes, while some 9.3 million people are in extreme need of humanitarian aid.“Geneva 2 will not end the war. It can’t.” -- David Harland, the executive director of HD Centre

Representatives of the government of President Bashar al-Assad and delegations from the rebel forces that have been fighting against it since March 2011 are due to meet on that date in the Swiss city of Geneva.

So far, neither side has given a clear indication of its willingness to participate in the talks, in what are apparently delaying tactics aimed at strengthening their bargaining positions.

Prospects for the negotiations appeared to shift in recent weeks as infighting broke out among opposition forces.

A source who is well-informed about the internal situation in Syria told IPS that some opposition groups want freedom in order to combat other forces that are also opposed to Assad.

At the moment, “the more moderate groups are succeeding in military operations against the more radical Al Qaeda groups,” which are completely opposed to a ceasefire, the source said.

The Geneva 2 conference, organised by the United Nations, will open formally on Wednesday Jan. 22 in Montreux, on the northeastern shore of Lake Geneva, at the opposite end of the lake from Geneva itself.

The Montreux meeting will be attended by governments from 30 countries and delegates from international organisations, as well as U.N. representatives headed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Participants are likely to deliver exhortations for peace and to be largely critical of the Assad regime.

In the last few weeks the United States and Russia have intensified efforts to guide the negotiations towards two primary goals at this first stage: achieving a ceasefire and opening up corridors for aid to reach those most in need.

David Harland, the executive director of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD Centre), a prívate organisation based in Geneva, said the best solution for the difficult humanitarian situation is to deliver aid with the cooperation of the government and all parties.

“At the moment it’s not happening,” he said. “A lot of convoys have been blocked.”

Most convoys have been blocked because they have not received approval from the Damascus government, or because of fighting, or by criminal gangs or extremists, Harland said.

“It’s now very hard to carry out humanitarian operations in areas controlled by the opposition,” he said.

In the run-up to the conference, it is Harland’s view that a ceasefire may be very possible in areas where the opposition forces are surrounded, as in the Houla region and the city of Homs, in the western province of the same name.

A ceasefire will also be possible in areas where the government is holding out in enclaves within territory controlled by the opposition, as in Dar’a and Dayr az Zawr, in the northeast, and Idlib, in the north, he said.

While maintaining a low public profile, the HD Centre successfully offers mediation services and specialises in armed conflicts. In Syria, Harland, a former diplomat from New Zealand, has held meetings with Assad and with leaders of the armed opposition.

On the basis of these, Harland believes that “Geneva 2 will not end the war. It can’t,” he underlined.

The Geneva process has assumed that the U.S. and Russia have enough common ground on Syria to move things forward.

So far, over a period when over 100,000 people have died, this has not been the case, he said.

The problem is that the Geneva process has not found a way to give much voice to Syrians active in the opposition on the ground. “This will have to change if the peace process is to gain traction,” Harland said.

Geneva 2 will be a success “if it opens the door to a new type of peace process,” he said.

A successful peace process would have to be informed by the Syrian people themselves, but implemented with help from the outside.

“It would have to be a minuet: consultations with the Syrians on the ground, and then decisions taken by the U.N. Security Council on the basis of those decisions,” he said.

With respect to inviting Iran to attend the Montreux meeting, a move which Moscow backs but Washington opposes, Harland said Iran’s participation “could be very useful.”

“I think that we need a mechanism where all of the players who are shaping the reality inside Syria are present at the discussions and are held accountable,” he said.

In Harland’s view, the Syrian conflict resembles the 1992-1995 Bosnian War which resulted from the dismemberment of the former Yugoslavia.

Both Bosnia and Syria exhibited internal political issues and internal ethnic religious issues, he said.

Then there is a second circle of regional players which are supporting one ethnic religious community or another.

And finally, a third circle of global powers, mainly the U.S. and Russia, but not excluding China.

In this scenario, he said, the particular difficulty facing Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, who is coordinating the negotiations in his capacity as United Nations and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria, “is that some alignment of all three circles is necessary before there can be any serious prospect for peace.”

That is, there must be some basic accord among the Syrian parties, some basic accord among the regional parties and some basic accord among the U.S. and Russia and the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

Harland acknowledged that the pacification of Bosnia came about after intense bombing of Serbian targets by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) air squadrons.

“In the case of Syria, I think it’s extremely unlikely that there would be a decisive external intervention,” he said.

For one thing, there is a difference of scale: Bosnia is a country of four million people that is very close to Europe and the West, both geographically and in term of interests.  Syria has six times that population, and is rather further away, Harland said.

Another difference is that the relative power of the United States in 2013 is “less than it was in 1995, when the U.S. intervened militarily in Bosnia,” Harland concluded.

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Iran’s Rouhani Needs a Nuclear Resolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/irans-rouhani-needs-nuclear-resolution/#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 16:18:55 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130381 Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addresses the ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 2014 (IPS)

After 34 years of enmity, Tehran and Washington are heavily invested in the success of a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme achieved through teamwork. Now the political future of Iran’s new moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, depends on this issue.

“Resolving the nuclear impasse is President Rouhani’s signature policy initiative,” Mohsen Milani, a professor of politics at the University of South Florida, told IPS.“The analogy is with President Obama’s affordable health care act - if he doesn’t succeed with that, his legacy will be in big trouble." -- Prof. Mohsen Milani

“If he can’t bring about a nuclear resolution, he will not be able to pursue his other major foreign and domestic policy initiatives, hardliners will have a better chance to gain a majority in the 2016 parliamentary elections and his re-election will be jeopardised,” said the Iran expert.

“The analogy is with President Obama’s affordable health care act – if he doesn’t succeed with that, his legacy will be in big trouble,” he said.

The Joint Plan of Action, a historic first-phase agreement reached in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) on Nov. 24 is scheduled for implementation on Jan. 20.

During the “first step” of the deal, Iran will scale back and limit significant parts of its controversial nuclear programme in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The “final step” of a “comprehensive solution” includes the dismantling of the sanctions regime, according to the text.

Since Nov. 24, the Rouhani administration, which inherited an isolated and economically ailing Iran after winning the June presidential election, has been touting its achievement at home and abroad.

“The Geneva accord means the great powers’ surrender to the great Iranian nation,” said Rouhani during a Jan. 14 speech in Ahvaz, the capital of Iran’s oil-producing Khuzestan province.

“The Geneva accord means breaking the dam of sanctions that was unduly imposed on the dear and peace-loving Iranian nation,” declared the centrist cleric to a cheering crowd.

Iran is also expected to repeat its readiness for a new era in international relations when Rouhani attends the World Economic Forum in Davos next week. The last Iranian leader to attend was the reformist President Mohammad Khatami a decade ago.

But while foreign investors may be eager to cash in on Iranian markets that have been heavily restricted due to sanctions, many barriers need to be lifted before they will be confident enough to do so.

Beyond the logistical and technical complexities involved in the implementation of the monumental accord, the deal also faces external challenges.

The Barack Obama administration is trying to prevent Congress from passing new sanctions on Iran, warning they can derail a peaceful solution to the nuclear conflict and even lead to war.

While no vote has been scheduled on the “Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act of 2013,” which would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails to comply with the terms of the Nov. 24 accord or reach a comprehensive deal within one year, Obama is still battling a heavily pro-sanctions Congress.

On Thursday, Obama even targeted Senate fellow Democrats by urging them to resist new sanctions while the deal is being implemented during a meeting about his legislative agenda.

“The president did speak passionately about how we have to seize this opportunity,” Senator Jeff Merkley told the Associated Press. “If Iran isn’t willing in the end to make the decisions that are necessary to make it work, he’ll be ready to sign the bill to tighten those sanctions. But we’ve got to give this six months.”

So sensitive are the negotiations that the Obama administration only released a nine-page text of the implementation details to lawmakers and senior aides with security clearances on Thursday after serious pressure.

Meanwhile, Iranian hardliners who oppose any U.S.-Iran rapprochement would use any failure of the deal, particularly the imposition of new sanctions, as proof that the Rouhani administration is not fit to lead Iran or protect its interests.

“He campaigned on a pledge to lift the sanctions, end Iran’s isolation and resolve in an honourable and peaceful way Iran’s nuclear impasse with the West,” said Milani. “A lot of people voted for him precisely for that pledge.”

Having lost their political upper hand after failing to unite in producing an attractive presidential candidate in June, these hardliners are currently sidelined.

Even Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who issued multiple public messages of support for Iranian diplomats during and after the Geneva talks, has urged domestic critics to support Rouhani’s efforts on the nuclear issue.

But the Ayatollah has also repeatedly said he does not trust the West to keep up its side of the bargain.

“No one should be under the illusion that the enemies of the Islamic revolution have today given up their enmity,” he said during a speech in the holy city of Qom on Jan. 9.

“Of course, it’s possible any enemy might have no choice but to step back, but the enemy and the enemy’s front-line must not be ignored,” he said.

The Rouhani government has warned of repercussions if new sanctions are passed while negotiations are in process.

“U.S. sanctions against Iran have had no positive results,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told a Russian Newspaper on Jan. 16.

“If radical legislators make an effort to increase sanctions, they will not like the results,” said the lead nuclear negotiator, who also recently warned that “the entire deal is dead” if new sanctions are issued.

“I do believe the Iranians when they say they would quit the talks if more sanctions are imposed,” Barbara Slavin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, told IPS.

“If Congress passes such legislation but not by a veto-proof margin, I think the impact would be serious – a short walk out – but not necessarily fatal,” said the Iran expert, who last visited Iran for Rouhani’s inauguration in August.

“However, it would undermine Obama’s credibility severely if he is perceived as incapable of controlling even the Democratic-led Senate and that would have negative implications for negotiating a comprehensive deal,” she added.

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Educational Network Erases Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/educational-network-erases-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=educational-network-erases-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/educational-network-erases-borders/#comments Wed, 15 Jan 2014 16:42:24 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130269 Students on the Spanish island of Tenerife talk to youngsters from a school in the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria. Credit: Courtesy Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias

Students on the Spanish island of Tenerife talk to youngsters from a school in the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria. Credit: Courtesy Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Jan 15 2014 (IPS)

Hundreds of students from Spain’s Canary Islands, Senegal and the Sahrawi refugee camps outside of Tindouf in western Algeria are meeting each other and breaking down cultural barriers thanks to the Red Educativa Sin Fronteras.

In the “Educational Network Without Borders”, students, teachers and parents build bridges between classrooms on both sides of the miles of Atlantic Ocean that separate them.

“Hi, my name is Ángel, I’m 13 years old and I go to school at the CEO (Centro de Educación Obligatoria) Mogán in the south of Gran Canaria Island. I would like to meet students from Senegal,” says one boy in a video taped by Ivanhoe Hernández, a teacher of literature from that school.

The CEO school arranges virtual and snail mail exchanges with the students of Mbake Gueye, who teaches Spanish in Louga in northwestern Senegal.

The RESF network is made up of volunteer teachers, parents and students from Senegal, Western Sahara and Gabon in West Africa, Haiti in the Caribbean, and the Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa.

It emerged in 2004, at the initiative of the Puente Humano or Human Bridge association, based in Senegal and the Canary Islands, with the aim of tearing down day by day “the wall of ignorance that exists between our people,” Amadou Ba, who also teaches Spanish in Louga, told IPS in a videoconference.

“We are teachers from both sides [of the Atlantic] and we propose a cultural and educational change that makes it possible to form global citizens,” Rafael Blanco, a teacher of Latin and Greek who belongs to Puente Humano, told IPS. He is the coordinator of RESF in the Canary Islands, and is presently visiting Senegal.

Ba, a 33-year-old who has been a teacher since 2004, said the communication between students from Africa and Spain focuses on specific subjects prepared ahead of time, such as immigration, family life or the environment.

“Hearing about the need to care for the environment, for example, from Spanish students of the same age reaches them better and sensitises them more,” said Ba, who teaches in the Artillerie Nord school in Louga, which coordinates RESF in Senegal.

As part of RESF, students between the ages of 12 and 16 write short reports, tape video recordings, ask and answer questions, take photos and make drawings that travel back and forth across the Atlantic by email or through the postal service.

The direct communications are through video conferences or audio conferences, using cellphones connected to speakers.

Blanco mentioned the material and technical difficulties in Senegal, where some of the schools involved do not have Internet connection, and where power cuts are frequent. For that reason, much of the communication depends on postal delivery services.

Puente Humano covers the cost of establishing Internet connections in the schools in Louga.

Some 650 students in 13 schools in Senegal currently interact with students and teachers in the Canary Islands.

Blanco estimated that another 720 students are involved in the project in the Canary Islands and in three schools in the Tindouf refugee camps – where almost all of the roughly 250,000 Sahrawi people live today, 1,465 km southwest of Algiers.

A school in Ansé a Pitres, in southeast Haiti, also took part in the exchanges in 2012, but did not continue in 2013 due to technical difficulties.

“Our aim is to multiply real cooperation by means of communication,” says the Puente Humano website.

Blanco believes “you can’t cooperate with something you don’t know,” and paraphrased
Madou Ndeye, a Senegalese teacher and writer who died in March 2013, who said “we would be more advanced if the money that went to cooperation and aid was dedicated to getting to know each other and communicate with each other.”

Ba said participation in RESF would encourage his students to take photos and tape short videos of their day-to-day lives in Louga, to share with the students in the Canary Islands.

“We have values, customs, rich things to show,” said Ba, who believes development aid projects carried out by non-governmental organisations “should not only be based on giving, but also on receiving.”

He also lamented that the information that reaches Europe from Africa “is only trade-related, because the business community isn’t interested in us communicating with each other.”

The teachers involved in RESF incorporate the student exchanges in their daily coursework. For example, a math teacher on the Canary island of Tenerife suggested that her students analyse “the statistics of inequality,” comparing the cost of living and of the basic basket of essential items in Spain and Senegal.

“Awareness-raising is the most important thing we have managed to do, with our students,” said Cristóbal Mendoza, a teacher in the Mario Lhermet school on the Canary island of La Gomera, in an interview broadcast by the Irradia radio platform, taped in Senegal during a visit by several Canary Islands teachers to Louga.

During the 2010-2011 school year, the coordination of RESF was incorporated in the Red Canaria de Escuelas Solidarias (roughly, the Canary Network of Schools in Solidarity), which carries out projects for educational cooperation with Africa.

RESF’s blog presents the different subjects, activities and experiences of the teachers of different subjects. Blanco and his students at the Instituto Cabrera Pinto school in Tenerife investigated myths from Spain and West Africa in a course on classic culture.

“There are networks that bind and networks that bring people together. Never get tired of weaving those networks that bring people together,” wrote Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano in a message of support to the RESF, which he applauded for its work of South-North educational cooperation.

The famous writer stressed that the initiative develops values, applies new technologies to cooperation, enriches educational subjects and courses, and develops knowledge of different cultures and realities.

“They are in Senegal, but they have the same worries, fears, emotions and goals as you do,” Ivanhoe Hernández, originally from the southern Spanish city of Málaga, explains to his students in the Canary Islands.

He said “educating and learning together helps break down prejudice and racism.”

Blanco said in a videoconference from Senegal, where he is working on coordination of the network thanks to a one-year sabbatical leave: “We are creating a culture of knowledge directly, without depending on the television, making use of communication tools and technology, and in a language that allows people to communicate and share.”

The network has made possible exchange trips to Senegal for students and teachers from the Canary Islands and vice versa, where they visit schools, stay in the homes of local families, and become familiar with the culture.

As the Spanish government cuts development aid funds, RESF is growing in the number of students involved. And although the project is moving ahead “without haste” and represents “a few drops of water, that is a lot,” Blanco said.

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Despite 13-Year Deadlock, U.N. Makes Headway Fighting Terrorismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/despite-13-year-deadlock-u-n-makes-headway-fighting-terrorism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-13-year-deadlock-u-n-makes-headway-fighting-terrorism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/despite-13-year-deadlock-u-n-makes-headway-fighting-terrorism/#comments Wed, 08 Jan 2014 16:36:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129971 A school bombed by the Taliban in Bajaur Agency, Afghanistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A school bombed by the Taliban in Bajaur Agency, Afghanistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jan 8 2014 (IPS)

After nearly 13 years of protracted negotiations, the United Nations remains deadlocked on a proposal to establish a Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) – even as suicide bombings continue unabated in countries such as Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, and most recently, Russia.

Despite the continued political stalemate, however, the U.N. has set up several expert bodies, including a Counter Terrorism Committee (CTC) and a Counter Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate (CTED), primarily to assist member states in preventing terrorist attacks within their borders and across regions."The urgency and gushing international enthusiasm that existed 10 years ago to conclude a comprehensive convention on terrorism is no longer readily evident." -- Amb. Palitha Kohona

With the CCIT in limbo, a divided Legal Committee of the 193-member General Assembly decided last month to establish a Working Group with a mandate to finalise the treaty as soon as possible.

Since its creation by the General Assembly in 1996, a U.N. Adhoc Committee has also been pursuing the CCIT, described as the mother of all anti-terrorism conventions.

Ambassador Palitha Kohona, chair of the Legal Committee, told IPS the proposed CCIT was intended to provide umbrella cover for situations not already addressed by 13 existing sectoral conventions on terrorism, concluded under the auspices of the United Nations.

“I would say the urgency and gushing international enthusiasm that existed 10 years ago to conclude a comprehensive convention on terrorism is no longer readily evident,” he said.

“And the will to conclude a comprehensive convention has diminished due to a gradual erosion of political will over time,” said Kohona, a former chief of the U.N. Treaty Section.

But he admits there has been marked progress by the United Nations in monitoring and coordinating counter-terrorism efforts worldwide.

Ambassador Asoke Kumar Mukerji of India, the country which initiated the proposal for a CCIT back in 1996, told IPS both the United Nations and the international community have made significant progress in combating terrorism despite the deadlock on the proposed convention.

The negotiations on the CCIT, which began in 2001, have stalled in two broad areas of dissent: the definition of what constitutes “terrorism” and the scope of the proposed convention.

“But the world cannot wait for a resolution of that discussion because every day terrorism is claiming innocent lives worldwide,” the Indian envoy warned.

Mukerji, who has monitored terrorism for over two decades and speaks authoritatively on the subject, pointed out several key achievements, including the creation of intergovernmental and expert bodies such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the Counter Terrorism Action Group (CTAG), the Global Counter Terrorism Forum (GCTF) and the Counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force (CTITF).

In 2006, the General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution on a global counter-terrorism strategy described as a “major development in the fight against terrorism.”

Since then, there has been greater regional and international cooperation, capacity building, intelligence-sharing, numerous regional workshops and exchange of best practices in the anti-terrorism fight.

The culmination of these efforts was the creation in 2011 of a U.N. Counter Terrorism Centre in Riyadh, with 100 million dollars in funding by Saudi Arabia.

Asked about the stalemate over the inclusion of “state terrorism” in the CCIT, Mukerji said “state terrorism has been overtaken by transnational terrorism.

“Every country is vulnerable to transnational terrorism,” he said, pointing out the November 2008 terrorist attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai, an economic and commercial nerve centre of India, which claimed the lives of over 160.

Asked if the lack of consensus will result in the abandonment of the proposed CCIT, he said all of the building blocks have to be housed under one roof. “That house can only be the United Nations,” said Mukerji, who was India’s chief negotiator in the GCTF.

The existing treaties against terrorism include an international convention against taking of hostages; the suppression of terrorist bombings; combating financing of terrorism and money laundering; and suppression of acts of nuclear terrorism.

Kohona told IPS that while the CCIT has remained divisive, there has been a wide range of other mechanisms put in place by the international community to address the scourge of terrorism, including the adoption of binding U.N. Security Council resolutions under Chapter VII of the Charter.

These include the creation of a number of bodies with specific anti-terrorism responsibilities, and the creation of mechanisms regionally and bilaterally, including on currency flows.

He said member states have also begun to cooperate more effectively with each other in addressing these issues.

“It is also evident that individual countries have developed a higher degree of confidence of their abilities to deal with this threat on their own,” Kohona said.

He said the urgency for concluding a global instrument has diminished over the years as these different and quite effective mechanisms to counter terrorism have begun to exert an increasing impact. Still, Kohona said he would rather be positive about the prospects of a convention being concluded in the future.

Terrorism continues to sow death and destruction in different parts of the world, he said. Suicide attacks, massively deployed in Sri Lanka prior to 2009, have become the weapon of choice.

“The conclusion of a convention will not only provide a U.N.-inspired umbrella to our efforts to counter terrorism, it will also send a clear message of the common will of the international community as it strives to contain and control terrorism,” Kohona said.

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OP-ED: Arms and Athletes in Bahrain – Al Khalifa’s Deadly Gamehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/op-ed-arms-athletes-bahrain-al-khalifas-deadly-game/#comments Tue, 07 Jan 2014 00:19:21 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129913 Bahrain’s new government takes oath in front of His Majesty King Hamad in November 2010. Credit: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs/cc by 2.0

Bahrain’s new government takes oath in front of His Majesty King Hamad in November 2010. Credit: Bahrain Ministry of Foreign Affairs/cc by 2.0

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jan 7 2014 (IPS)

A few days ago, Bahraini officials announced that they had “foiled an attempt to smuggle explosives and arms, some made in Iran and Syria, into the country by boat.” Around the same time, the government also contended it had defused a car bomb and seized weapons in different locations in the country.

The Al Khalifa regime maintains it is fighting terrorism, which it unabashedly equates with pro-reform activists. The regime accuses Iran of plotting and driving acts of “terrorism” on the island. Regardless of Iran’s perceived involvement in the smuggling of weapons, it is important to put this latest episode in context.If regimes are willing to tear their countries apart in order to stay in power, as the Al Khalifa ruling family seems to be doing, domestic terrorism is an assured outcome.

First, although Iran might benefit from continued instability in Bahrain, since Bahrain became independent in 1971, Iran has not engaged in any activity to remove the Sunni Al Khalifa from power. In 1970-71, the Shah of Iran accepted the United Nations’ special plebiscite in Bahrain, which resulted in granting the country independence. Successive Iranian governments under the Ayatollahs since the fall of the Shah have not questioned Bahrain’s independence.

Furthermore, over the years most Bahraini Shia looked for Iraqi and other Arab, not Iranian, grand Ayatollahs as sources of emulation or marja’ taqlid. The Shia al-Wefaq political party, which some elements within Al Khalifa ruling family have accused of being a conduit for Iran, has consistently supported genuine reform through peaceful means.

Al-Wefaq leaders, some of whom have studied and lived in Iran in recent decades, have endorsed the government’s call for dialogue with the opposition and have endorsed the Crown Prince’s initiative for reform and dialogue. Al Khalifa’s response to al-Wefaq’s peaceful position has been to arrest its two most prominent leaders, Sheikh Ali Salman and Khalil al-Marzooq.

Second, regardless of the public relations campaign the Bahraini regime is waging against Iran, it continues its arrests and sham trials and convictions of Bahraini citizens. This includes doctors and health providers, young and old peaceful protesters, and more recently athletes. Their only “sin” is that they are members of the Shia majority in a country ruled by a Sunni minority regime.

In a recent article, James Dorsey of Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies detailed the large number of Shia athletes, players and champions – soccer, handball, tennis, jiu-jitsu, gymnastics, beach volleyball, and car racing – who have been arrested and given lengthy jail sentences. Many of these players, who hail from Diraz and other neighbouring Shia villages, were hastily tried and convicted for expressing pro-reform views.

Third, in a recent interview with the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Qabas, Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, who headed the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), expressed his disappointment at the government’s failure to implement some of the key recommendations in the report. As a reminder, King Hamad had created BICI and formally and publicly received and accepted its final report.

No one within the regime has been held accountable for the unlawful acts and crimes detailed in the BICI report. According to Bassiouni, the government’s inaction on the recommendation has raised serious doubts within “civil society institutions and human rights organisations” about the regime’s commitment to genuine reform.

Fourth, the Bahraini regime, like its Saudi counterpart, is stoking a deadly sectarian war in the Gulf and elsewhere in the region. The ruling family is very concerned that should Iran conclude a deal with the international community on its nuclear programme, Al Khalifa would become marginalised as a Gulf player.

The regime is particularly worried that as a small island country with miniscule oil production, Bahrain might become a marginal player in regional and international politics. It behooves the Al Khalifa regime to know that if it fails to work with its people to bring stability to the country, it would lose its standing in Washington and other Western capitals.

As the Bahraini majority loses confidence in the regime, it would not be unthinkable for Saudi Arabia and other regional and international powers, including the United States, to consider Al Khalifa a liability.

The key mission of the Bahrain-based U.S Fifth Fleet is not to protect the repressive Al Khalifa regime. It serves regional stability, strategic waterways, and other global U.S. interests. Its commitment to Al Khalifa or to the Bahrain port is neither central nor irrevocable.

As the Bahraini regime continues its campaign against Iran, it should remember that by refusing to engage the largely peaceful opposition for meaningful reform, it has created an environment for Sunni extremism and anti-Shia radicalism.

The recent history of intolerant religious proselytisation instructs us that such an environment invariably leads to terrorism. This is a domestic phenomenon regardless of whether the intercepted arms came from Iran or not. One also should recognise that growing frustration among dissidents would drive some of the youth to become more radicalised and turn to violence.

If regimes are willing to tear their countries apart in order to stay in power, as the Al Khalifa ruling family seems to be doing, domestic terrorism is an assured outcome. Today, we see this phenomenon in Syria, Iraq, and elsewhere. The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL) did not emerge in a vacuum. Radical, intolerant, Sunni jihadism, which Bahrain and Saudi Arabia have been pushing in Syria, and before that in Iraq, is the kernel from which terrorism sprouts. Eventually it would come home to roost.

As I wrote previously, the Al Khalifa regime’s survival remains possible only if the ruling family stops playing its repressive apartheid game and engages its people with an eye toward power sharing and genuine reform.

King Hamad still has an opportunity to implement the BICI recommendations comprehensively and transparently. He could assemble a group of distinguished Bahrainis, Sunni and Shia, and task them with writing a new constitution that would include a nationally elected parliament with full legislative powers and checks and balances over the executive branch. This should be done soon because the King and the ruling family are running out of time.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World” and “Bahrain: Political Development in a Modernizing Society.”

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Many More Snakes Than Ladders for U.S. Policy in 2014http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/many-snakes-ladders-u-s-policy-2014/#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 14:55:40 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129867 President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama, with Vice President Joe Biden, attends a meeting in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Dec. 12, 2013. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jan 3 2014 (IPS)

If U.S. President Barack Obama conceived his foreign policy prospects for 2014 as a popular child’s board game, the snakes he will have to jump over significantly outnumber the ladders that can propel him to success.

As they have since he took office five years ago, the most dangerous “snakes” lie in the Middle East, the region from which Obama has been trying desperately to climb out of the many holes dug by George W. Bush so that he could focus Washington’s attention more on Asia and, specifically, dealing with the rise of China.Navigating the increasingly rocky shoals of interstate relations in Asia is also likely to become more slippery in the New Year.

And while he successfully avoided (with the improbable help of Russian President Vladimir Putin) direct military engagement in Syria in 2013, the spill-over from the civil war there into Iraq and Lebanon – not to mention growing instability and violence in Egypt and the possibility and implications of a breakdown in nuclear negotiations with Iran – poses major new risks in 2014.

But navigating the increasingly rocky shoals of interstate relations in Asia is also likely to become more slippery in the New Year.

In contrast to the Middle East, where sectarian conflict between Shia and Sunni Muslims increasingly transcends national borders, nationalism appears all too alive and well in Asia.

Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims, which have generally worked to Washington’s advantage as less powerful nations have sought a counter-balance to China’s growing power, have nonetheless also increased the risk of an incident that could, if unchecked, escalate into a conflict involving U.S. forces.

In addition, they have also triggered a backlash that, among other things, appears to have emboldened Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to accelerate his country’s move away from its post-World War II pacifism.

Abe’s defence of Japanese actions in World War II – as demonstrated most provocatively by his recent visit to the notorious Yasukuni shrine – has in turn angered South Korea. As a result, Washington’s efforts to coordinate policy on both China and an increasingly unpredictable nuclear-armed North Korea with its two closest allies in Northeast Asia have come to naught.

Of course, if Obama can patch up relations between Tokyo and Seoul and make progress in gaining Chinese agreement on “rules of the road” in contested zones, his standing would rise. But, given the nationalist passions that are roiling the region, that task will not be easy, and the downside risks there are steadily growing.

The overriding importance accorded by the administration to both the Greater Middle East and Asia means that Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa are likely to continue to get relatively much less attention from Washington during 2014, as they have for the past five years.

However, specific crises – most recently, the violence and possibility of civil war in South Sudan – can rise to the top of the foreign policy agenda.

But Obama has little to gain from the situation – even if his diplomats succeed in helping prevent the worst. On the other hand, if the world’s youngest nation self-destructs, the president stands to lose, not only because of his personal investment in helping to gain Juba’s independence, but also because he would be compared unfavourably with Bush, one of whose few foreign-policy achievements was the negotiation of the 2005 peace agreement between Sudan and the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) that laid the groundwork for independence.

While the greatest number of overseas “snakes” facing Obama in 2014 remain in the broader Middle East, it’s also the region where a couple of “ladders” – both singled out by Obama himself in his speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September – could ensure his place in history as a successful foreign policy president.

The most spectacular would be the successful conclusion of a comprehensive nuclear accord with Iran in the context of the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) negotiations that could effectively reverse recent advances made by Tehran in building a break-out capacity and still permit it to enrich uranium at low levels.

Negotiating such an agreement would not only go far in ending 35 years of hostility between the two nations. It could also facilitate their cooperation in both tamping down the Sunni-Shia conflict that threatens the entire region and stabilising Afghanistan, from which virtually all U.S. combat troops are supposed to withdraw by the end of 2014.

While its strategic significance would not rise to that of Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China in the early 1970s, an Iran accord could presage major realignments stretching from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean and deep into Central Asia.

To achieve it, however, Obama faces formidable opposition, primarily from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israel lobby that wields considerable influence in Congress, as well as from Saudi Arabia and some other Gulf states which fear Tehran will regain the regional primacy it enjoyed under the Shah in the 1970s. Like the Israel lobby here, hard-liners in Iran also oppose an accord.

If these forces succeed, the consequences, as Obama himself has warned, could very likely include yet another U.S. military intervention in the Middle East.

That in turn would not only put paid to Obama’s hopes of reducing Washington’s military presence in the region and “pivoting” toward Asia. Lacking U.N. Security Council authorisation, such an action would also almost certainly provoke a major international crisis that could shatter cooperation with Russia and China on a host of issues, as well as strain U.S. relations with its NATO allies.

For Obama, war with Iran – even more than the escalating Sunni-Shia conflict in Syria and its neighbours — is probably the most dangerous “snake” on the 2014 board.

The other obvious “ladder” that could earn Obama a favourable place in the annals of foreign policy is negotiating a final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the elusive holy grail of U.S. Mideast policy for more than a generation.

While most analysts express doubt over whether this goal is possible – and is most unlikely to be achieved in 2014 in any case – the energy with which Secretary of State John Kerry has pursued the effort has impressed some sceptics, and the fact that he is now offering bridging proposals for a permanent status agreement marks a potentially significant advance.

Still, the balance of opinion here is that such an accord is a bridge too far, especially so if Obama succeeds in getting a nuclear agreement with Iran.

Meanwhile, however, the “snakes” in the region that threaten Obama are considerably more numerous, ranging from an escalating cycle of violence between the military regime in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood or more radical forces, to the resurgence of sectarian violence in Iraq to 2006-07 levels; from the intensification of the war in Syria or its export to Lebanon, to the strengthening of Al Qaeda-linked forces across the region from Yemen to North Africa and the Sahel, to name a few.

And, with 2014 the year in which NATO is to withdraw all but a small remnant from Afghanistan, the site of Washington’s longest war, a rapid collapse of security could prove similarly deadly, recalling the Vietnam debacle nearly 40 years ago.

Any and all of these distinctly possible events will no doubt be used by Obama’s political foes here to paint him as a failed foreign policy president.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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The Legacy of 2013http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/legacy-2013/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=legacy-2013 http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/legacy-2013/#comments Fri, 27 Dec 2013 21:56:36 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129767

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the IPS (Inter Press Service) news agency and Publisher of Other News, assesses the main events of 2013.

By Roberto Savio
SAN SALVADOR, Bahamas , Dec 27 2013 (Columnist Service)

At this time of hope for what the new year may bring, it would be useful to look at the legacy we carry with us from the year we leave behind. It was a year full of events – wars, rising social inequality, unchecked finance, the decline of political institutions, and the erosion of global governance.

Perhaps this is nothing new, since these trends have been with us for a long time. But some events have a deeper, longer-lasting impact. And here we will present them briefly, as a list to remember and to watch. They are not offered in order of magnitude, which is always a subjective decision.

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

1. Collapse of the Arab Spring. The situations in Egypt and Syria have discouraged other Arab countries from following in their footsteps. The internal struggles in the large and variegated world of Islam will take a long time to settle. The real challenge is how modernism can be used as an element making Islam viable.

The coup in Egypt has given new strength to the radicals who do not believe in democracy, and we will never know if the Muslim Brotherhood could have run the country effectively, or if it would have failed (as is most likely). Outsiders cannot solve this conflict, as the case of Syria, which has become a proxy war financed by external players, clearly shows.

2. U.S. self-sufficiency in energy. In five years the exploitation of shale oil and gas will cut American oil imports in half, and if this trend continues the U.S. could actually become self-sufficient in energy supplies. The impact on the price of oil is clear, and this will affect the strategic importance of the Arab world and petrodollar countries like Russia. American industry will receive a strong boost, but incentives for the development of renewable energy will decline worldwide.

3. The inability to reach a meaningful agreement on climate change. The failure of the last climate change conference in Poland demonstrates that there is little political will to reach a global consensus on ways to tackle this issue. Yet according to most climate scientists we are fast approaching the point of no return, with the prospect of irreversible damage to the global ecosystem.

Meanwhile, French investors are buying land in the south of England to grow vineyards. And Iceland is besieged by investors (including the Chinese), who want to get their hands on a large land area where cultivation will continue to be possible. And all nations are gearing up for the exploitation of mineral reserves under the melting Arctic ice, which is also opening up new avenues for marine transportation.

This shows that the business world has a clearer appreciation of what is happening than governments. But it also shows a lack of vision of social responsibility.

4. U.S. decline. President Barack Obama had to cancel his participation in the recent Asian summit because of the U.S. budget crisis. But Russian President Vladimir Putin was able to attend, and he has managed to successfully manipulate events in Syria.

Obama’s signature healthcare reform is in jeopardy, and Edward Snowden has shown the world that the U.S. does not respect its own allies. Meanwhile, the Tea Party has been able to paralyse the U.S. government and bring the Republication Party to espouse a policy of public sector decline.

People all over the world now consider the U.S. an unreliable partner, in an irreversible crisis, with a president who makes a lot of high-sounding promises but is unable to bring them about.

Nobody has managed to bring the financial sector under control, and scandals and gigantic penalties are a continuing reality. There is no solution in sight on Palestine, and the U.S. is facing great difficulties extricating itself from Afghanistan, while Iraq is reverting to chaos, and the talks with Iran are giving a strong boost to the radical Shia section of the Islamic world. The U.S. is a country of great resilience, but the future does not look at all promising.

5. European decline. The past year was one of disunity in Europe, and the definitive ascendancy of Germany in European affairs. Only macroeconomics counts today. Ireland is held up as an example, after it brought its deficit under control. But at the microeconomic level, the damage to the social fabric can be dramatic.

The same is happening in Portugal, and Greece is the most extreme example. Greeks have lost 20 percent of their income, unemployment has climbed to 27 percent, and more cuts are being demanded.

This is not the place for an analysis of how Germany is helped by its policy, which undercuts others without any hint of solidarity. But in the May 2014 European elections, people are likely to vote in large numbers for the anti-Europe parties, which have sprouted almost everywhere, with the sole exception of Spain. The Spanish government of Mariano Rajoy, as the harsh laws on abortion and public order show, is far enough to the right to leave space to a more right-wing party.

The weakening of the European Parliament will be with us for a long time, until Europe recovers some of the appeal that it has been steadily losing among its citizens.

6. Chinese nationalism. The new president, Xi Jinping, has in a few months assumed an authority unprecedented since the time of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. He is pushing the idea of a Chinese dream, to galvanise people under his leadership. This is based on the assertion of China as a great power commanding respect around the world.

And bold steps have been taken to affirm Chinese territorial claims that have opened up conflicts with South Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam and Japan. With the Japanese government now run by nationalist politicians, many analysts are considering the possibility of a third world war beginning in Asia.

In the 16th century China had 50 percent of world GNP, and there is a strong desire among the Chinese to regain their “rightful” place in the world. The defence treaty between Japan and the United States makes this a potentially global point of conflict.

7. Changes in the Vatican. The election of Pope Francis has brought a much-needed change of direction in the Catholic Church. The Pope is binging back a focus on people rather than the market, using terms like “solidarity”, “social justice”, “exclusion” and “marginalisation”, which until recently had all but disappeared from political discourse.

President Obama has followed with a strong speech against the growing social inequalities in the U.S.

And according to the London School of Economics, in 20 years Britain will return to the level of social inequality it experienced during the times of Queen Victoria.

But Pope Francis is the only one denouncing the dismantling of the welfare system which emerged during the Cold War. Let us hope that his call will help prevent the writing of a new Das Kapital, where the victims will not be workers, but young people.

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Iran Sanctions Bill Big Test of Israel Lobby Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/iran-sanctions-bill-big-test-israel-lobby-power/#comments Sat, 21 Dec 2013 13:38:50 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=129678 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Dec 21 2013 (IPS)

This week’s introduction by a bipartisan group of 26 senators of a new sanctions bill against Iran could result in the biggest test of the political clout of the Israel lobby here in decades.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear programme entirely is a deal-breaker. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/cc by 2.0.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that the demand that Iran dismantle its nuclear programme entirely is a deal-breaker. Credit: Mojtaba Salimi/cc by 2.0.

The White House, which says the bill could well derail ongoing negotiations between Iran and the U.S. and five other powers over Tehran’s nuclear programme and destroy the international coalition behind the existing sanctions regime, has already warned that it will veto the bill if it passes Congress in its present form.

The new bill, co-sponsored by two of Congress’s biggest beneficiaries of campaign contributions by political action committees closely linked to the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), would impose sweeping new sanctions against Tehran if it fails either to comply with the interim deal it struck last month in Geneva with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) or reach a comprehensive accord with the great powers within one year.

To be acceptable, however, such an accord, according to the bill, would require Iran to effectively dismantle virtually its entire nuclear programme, including any enrichment of uranium on its own soil, as demanded by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The government of President Hassan Rouhani has warned repeatedly that such a demand is a deal-breaker, and even Secretary of State John Kerry has said that a zero-enrichment position is a non-starter.

The bill, the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act, also calls for Washington to provide military and other support to Israel if its government “is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapon program.”

The introduction of the bill Thursday by Republican Sen. Mark Kirk and Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez followed unsuccessful efforts by both men to get some sanctions legislation passed since the Geneva accord was signed Nov. 24.

Kirk at first tried to move legislation that would have imposed new sanctions immediately in direct contradiction to a pledge by the P5+1 in the Geneva accord to forgo any new sanctions for the six-month life of the agreement in exchange for, among other things, enhanced international inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities and a freeze on most of its nuclear programme.

Unable to make headway, Kirk then worked with Menendez to draw up the new bill which, because of its prospective application, would not, according to them, violate the agreement. They had initially planned to attach it to a defence bill before the holiday recess. But the Democratic leadership, which controls the calendar, refused to go along.

Their hope now is to pass it – either as a free-standing measure or as an amendment to another must-pass bill after Congress reconvenes Jan. 6.

To highlight its bipartisan support, the two sponsors gathered a dozen other senators from each party to co-sponsor it.

Republicans, many of whom reflexively oppose President Barack Obama’s positions on any issue and whose core constituencies include Christian Zionists, are almost certain to support the bill by an overwhelming margin. If the bill gets to the floor, the main battle will thus take place within the Democratic majority.

The latter find themselves torn between, on the one hand, their loyalty to Obama and their fear that new sanctions will indeed derail negotiations and thus make war more likely, and, on the other, their general antipathy for Iran and the influence exerted by AIPAC and associated groups as a result of the questionable perception that Israel’s security is uppermost in the minds of Jewish voters and campaign contributors (who, by some estimates, provide as much as 40 percent of political donations to Democrats in national campaigns).

The administration clearly hopes the Democratic leadership will prevent the bill from coming to a vote, but, if it does, persuading most of the Democrats who have already endorsed the bill to change their minds will be an uphill fight. If the bill passes, the administration will have to muster 34 senators of the 100 senators to sustain a veto – a difficult but not impossible task, according to Congressional sources.

That battle has already been joined. Against the 13 Democratic senators who signed onto the Kirk-Menendez bill, 10 Democratic Senate committee chairs urged Majority Leader Harry Reid, who controls the upper chamber’s calendar, to forestall any new sanctions legislation.

“As negotiations are ongoing, we believe that new sanctions would play into the hands of those in Iran who are most eager to see negotiations fail,” wrote the 10, who included the chairs of the Intelligence and Armed Services Committees, Dianne Feinstein and Carl Levin, respectively. They also noted that a new intelligence community assessment had concluded that “new sanctions would undermine the prospects for a successful comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran.”

Their letter was followed by the veto threat by White House spokesman Jay Carney and a strong denunciation of the bill by State Department spokesperson Marie Harf. She accused the sponsors of “directly contradict[ing] the administration work. …If Congress passes this bill, …it would be proactively taking an action that would undermine American diplomacy and make peaceful resolution to this issue less possible.”

But none of that has deterred key Israel lobby institutions. “Far from being a step which will make war more likely, as some claim, enhanced sanctions together with negotiations will sustain the utmost pressure on a regime that poses a threat to America and our closest allies in the Middle East,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) argued Thursday.

And, in a slap at both the administration and the Senate chairs,  the Conference of Major American Jewish Organisations complained about criticisms of the bill’s proponents. “Some of the terminology and characterizations used in the latest days, including accusations of warmongering and sabotage, are inappropriate and counterproductive,” it said.

Since it lost a major battle with former President Ronald Reagan over a huge arms sale to Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s, the Israel lobby has generally avoided directly confronting a sitting president, but, at this point, it appears determined to take on Obama over Iran.

For some observers, its opposition is difficult to understand, particularly because key members of the Israeli national security establishment have conspicuously declined to join Netanyahu in denouncing the Geneva deal.

“I’m amazed that they’ve taken it this far,” said Keith Weissman, a former AIPAC specialist on Iran. “Bottom line is that if the Iranians comply with the terms of the deal – which it seems like they are doing so far, despite some internal resistance – they are further from breakout capacity [to produce a nuclear weapon] than they were before the deal.”

But Douglas Bloomfield, a former senior AIPAC executive, suggested the motivation may be of a more practical nature. “It’s good for business,” he told IPS. “AIPAC has spent the last 20 years very, very effectively making a strong case against Iran, and Iran has been a great asset to them.”

“They want to show they’re not going to give up on this; they’ve built a huge financial and political base on it. …Most of the Jewish groups and all of Congress have been on auto-pilot on Iran; nobody ever thought you might actually get a deal… In AIPAC’s case, they’re terrified they’re going to lose their major fund-raising appeal.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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