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Syria Countdown

Breathing Easier, For Now…

by FRANKLIN LAMB, source


The morning following President Obama’s announcement he would not bomb Syria immediately, the streets of Damascus were packed with shoppers and employees heading to their jobs. Several reasons for this were mentioned by my friend, Eyman. Some Damascenes who had fled their homes last week had returned, and a palpable sense of at least temporary relief pervades much of this capital city. It is also the first of the month. In Syria, government and other employees have just received their monthly paychecks and need to stock up on food, particularly now, upon entering this most uncertain month.

Adding to the uncertainty are people’s plans for the immediate future. Many of those who fled and returned following Obama’s deferral to Congress, are planning to leave again before next weekend’s possible attack. Others, due to conditions for refugees they discovered in Lebanon, have decided to stay, essentially playing a game of Russian roulette with death as they await their fates in their beloved Syria.

At any rate, in Damascus this morning citizens can be seen scurrying to workplaces, feeling safe enough, at least for now, to go grocery shopping and do errands. Even the gunmen who man electronic ‘frisking” equipment just outside my hotel, and who search all wishing to enter, seem genuinely relieved, happy and unusually friendly, as do the army troops on downtown Damascus streets. Friends in Damascus, both in government and private citizens, talk of an “uncertain relief” since last Sunday night, though it is a relief combined with an awareness that a terrible event of some sort may be on the way. Still others, aware of what seems to be increasing opposition to military action amongst the American public, think the attack may be delayed again.

Perhaps most surprisingly, local news outlets are reporting this morning on the results of a new poll showing that 60 percent of the Syrian people think the US will not attack at all. As for the Syrian government, it has been nearly mute internationally, not wanting to provoke the White House, while at the same time assuring the public here that Syria can face all challenges and that history and God are with its people.
The weather here has changed since my visit last month. While the days will stay oppressively hot for another month, the early mornings have turned cool with refreshing soft breezes. Doves and pigeons in the park opposite the National Museum on Beirut Street coo and enjoy the large green space next to the Four Seasons Hotel, the same hotel which the UN CW investigators just vacated as they prepare their report for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon.

Given that an American attack, should one occur, may well open the gates of hell, this observer is constantly amazed by the mundane, everyday things one is still able to observe around here. For example, last Friday afternoon I watched transfixed from a park bench as two public works employees weeded a few errant dandelions and weeds that had dared invade a beautiful manicured garden-park in downtown Damascus. This struck me as a bit bizarre, given the then widely-held belief that a US missile blitz might light up Damascus that very evening. On the scale of things these days, I doubted that a few weeds sprouting in a city park were of great import. Or were they? Perhaps carrying out one’s individual duty and work assignment these days is a wholly interconnected part of the nation’s overall resistance to foreign invasions, and is congruent somehow to what seems to be a pervading attitude—of people wanting to carry on with, or at least simulate, their pre-crisis lives and routines, their accustomed simple pleasures. And so maybe weeding gardens in Damascus makes perfect sense these days.

A Palestinian family from Latakia refugee camp up north who had fled their homes last December, joining thousands who have come to Damascus seeking safety, were visiting with me this morning. When I asked how their beautiful three and five year old children were adjusting to the crisis atmosphere in their new surroundings, the mother replied, “When the bombing started over a year ago the children could not sleep well because they were frightened by the loud noise. But over time they got used to it and slept fine. But last night they could not sleep because there was no shelling and it was too quiet for them. So what are we to do”? And she laughed.

It is true that there was no shelling and bombing here in Damascus during the night of Sunday, September 1, which the lady was referring to. And this fact is significant. Informed sources report to this observer that the government decision not to bomb the suburbs including East Ghouta, which normally occurs nightly, was taken at the highest level in order to send a reply message from Syria to America and personally to President Obama. The latter’s speech, just hours earlier in Washington, contained several messages for the leadership in Damascus. What the Syrian government was signaling, some claim, was its willingness to join Tehran, Moscow and Washington in finding a peaceful solution to Syria’s crisis, starting with Geneva II.

Meanwhile, the ever-rising cost of living for Syria’s population, due in large measure to the US-led economic sanctions, continues to devastate many families here. Those sanctions are designed by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC), and they intentionally target Syria’s civilian population in an effort to get the population to break with its government, thereby facilitating the US goal of regime change in Syria and Iran. This observer, with two student friends, yesterday visited a government owned supermarket called “Marazaa Government Supermarket”—one of approximately one hundred government-operated grocery stores in central Damascus. We compared prices by also visiting the privately owned “Supermarket Day by Day” in the Sabah Bahar neighborhood, also in central Damascus, and found that government-owned grocery stores average 5-15 percent lower prices, depending upon the item. The private grocery chains tend to be frequented by those with more money and who might seek European products and a wider product selection. Government stores, on the other hand, sell only Syrian products.

Bread was being rationed last week in government bakeries. At least one such bakery exists in every neighborhood, and a citizen is currently allowed to purchase one plastic bag with 22 loaves per day. The government plastic bag weighs three kilos (roughly 6.5 pounds) and sells for 50 Syrian lire or a bit less than USD 25 cents. This quantity, I am advised by a super market store manager, normally feeds a family of at least three for one day given that the average bread staple consumption in Syria is three loaves per person per day. Normally, even during this 30 month crisis, a citizen could purchase as much as they desired from government stores, but the American attack threat has caused yet more market complications in Syria for the average citizens.

In private bakeries, severe inflation has hit, and just seven loaves of bread, which would feed two persons for one day, now costs 150 lire or approximately 75 cents. Despite the wide price differential (the government shops have not raised their prices since the regime of Hafez al-Assad), many people are shopping at the private shops because it can take five or more hours waiting in line at the government bread shops.
Before the onset of the conflict now raging in Syria, the price of eggs was 125 lira (about 25 cents) for 24 in a carton. Prior to the most recent crisis, the price was 500 lira (one us dollar) for two dozen eggs, and this morning in Damascus it is 700 lira.

In seeking to end this crisis, Syria is fortunate to have tough and resolute allies including Russia and Iran and, perhaps equally important, a skilled diplomatic corps and group of officials who have exhibited remarkable acumen and insight as well as nerves of steel—both during the crisis as a whole and especially over the past several days of brinkmanship. This observer has had the honor to meet with a few of them personally. These include Foreign Minister Walid Muallem and his Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, Information Minister Omran Zoubi and his able staff, Presidential Adviser Dr. Bouthania Shaaban, and her dedicated office colleagues, and Parliament Speaker Mohammad Jihad al-Laham.

In this observer’s view, many Syrians, perhaps a majority, do not believe that President Obama, Defense Secretary Hagel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Martin Dempsey, or a growing number of members of Congress, and most importantly the American public, want war. Some here are thinking, wishfully perhaps, that without a strong Congressional vote in favor of the Obama request, the president will not order a criminal attack Syria’s civilian population, for if there is a US attack, that is assuredly what it will be.

Surprisingly perhaps, Obama is being praised by some for his courage in not caving to the neocons and Zionist lobby by ordering the US military to begin bombing promptly. As one Syrian journalist told this observer just hours ago, “Obama still has the opportunity to earn that Nobel Prize, which he received a few years back for I have no idea why, and secure his legacy as one of American’s great Presidents—if he has the courage and vision of the late Dr. Martin Luther King.”

Before ending a very long day with sleep, this observer invited the Palestinian family to dinner near my hotel as it was not apparent that they had been eating much recently. We talked about prospects for the Syrian Arab Republic, and Palestinian refugees, so many of whom have been internally and externally displaced as result of this maelstrom, and as I interacted with the wonderful children, I could not help becoming wistful as I contemplated the certainty that it is these children, and Syria’s poor, who are condemned, unless the American people prevent it, to suffer the brunt of this latest US adventure—condemned as their country becomes more divided, and a new batch of terrorist groups springs up like mushrooms after a summer rain.

Washington’s ill-considered criminal attack will aid and abet these largely Gulf financed militia and provide justification, in their minds for literally hundreds of often competing jihadist groups to spread carnage across Syria. The innocent in the USA and the West will also eventually suffer a severe pay back price as was the case on 9/11/2001 and a decade later on 9/11/2011. And on and on it goes.

This observer is frequently asked these days, as the bombs and rockets hit ever nearer, if the American people have the political and moral will to take to the streets, and to the offices of their Congressional representatives whose salaries they pay, and make history—a history that will revitalize our county and its claimed democracy. Each American, and all people of good will, have the power to do this service to humanity.
And they can do it in the coming days. If they fail, who do we blame but ourselves? Because when it comes down to it, it’s our country; it doesn’t belong to the politicians or the corporations or to those who pledge fealty to a foreign occupying power half a world away. It is our constitution, and if each of us doesn’t protect it we cede it to others to sully and use as they will.


A view from Tehran… countdown to apocalypse NOW?

(Patient, Iran-file photo)

by Franklin Lamb, Al Manar


Truth told, it’s a bit intense these days in Tehran as in most other countries in this region, and this observer, may fairly soon be on what just might be the last Tehran-Damascus flight for some time, given calculations and speculations of what is likely to occur in the coming days. Not that one is in any hurry to leave the Islamic Republic. I love Iran and its people who are in their basic values and outlook on life about as American as apple pie. Iranians think a lot like me and my friends back home and Americans think a lot like them despite the extremist politically motivated portrayals designed by both governments for their people.

Iran, USAttending the Habilian Association (families of Iranian terror victims) Congress on terrorism and terror victims in Tehran, while continuing an undertaking with students from Tehran University, surveying the effects of the US-led economic sanctions that target a civilian population presented an excellent opportunity to listen to Iranian views on a number of current events. The students are examining the subject of US-led sanctions that target their families and countrymen for the political purpose of achieving regime change. Part of their work employs the definition of “economic terrorism” used by the Pentagon if done by someone other than the US government or its allies. The students are amazing in their clarity of thinking while exhibiting truly inspiring optimism and humanity especially during these ominous times.

One of the topics at the Iranian Congress on Terrorism was “Economic Terrorism” and the American delegation decided to focus solely on that subject during its presentation, which was months in preparation. As part of its work, it presented a Draft International Convention outlawing the use of Economic Sanctions targeting civilians for political purposes, including regime change. The US delegation elaborated on the history of “economic terrorism” and urged the Tehran based Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to use its new found international political power to lead the campaign for global ratification of the new Draft Convention outlawing civilian targeting economic sanctions and to present it to the United Nations during next month’s opening session of the General Assembly. NAM leaders promised to study the draft and arrange a consultative follow-up meeting (s).

The American delegation also argued to the Iranian Congress that when a government, including their own, which continues to be the main global sanctioning entity with a deep history of targeting peoples with economic sanctions, (Cuba, Vietnam, China, Korea, Iran, Nicaragua among others come to mind) targets a civilian population for the political purpose of forcing regime change as is its objective in Syria and Iran, it commits terrorism as defined by several US government agencies.

FeltmanFor accuracy sake, it should be said that, unexpectedly, due to last minute visa problems, the whole US delegation at the Congress ended up being comprised of a total number of— well, one international lawyer. A last minute effort was indeed made to coax Jeffrey Feltman, who never has visa problems to this observer’s knowledge, and who was staying at the same hotel, to attend the Terrorism Congress hence doubling the size, weight, and authority of the US delegation. Mr. Feltman was even offered the chairmanship of the American delegation as an incentive. But, regretfully, the gentleman declined citing other commitments.

Americans getting visas to visit Iran and especially Syria these days, is no easy feat given ‘pay-back’ or reciprocal changes in policy at both countries Ministries of Foreign Affairs and last years revised guidelines both governments sent out to their embassies on how to process visa requests submitted by Americans. Americans who want to travel to certain countries these days pay a stiff price for their government’s actions that target civilian populations.

Talking with average Iranians and shop keepers, and especially students, one gets a fairly good idea of just how engaged public opinion is in Iran on current events. Being a very different a picture than is presented by western media, beholden as it is, to its corporate paymasters. But that is true of much of the non-western media as well.

Nuclear technology: yesOne finds pride in Tehran at how this country has resisted US-led political economic sanctions while the average citizen has doubtless suffered given the ever rising cost of living and near rampant inflation. A common view expressed at the Congress as well as in informal discussions is the belief that while there are many states in the international community who practice terrorism of one kind or another, including economic terrorism, the United States is unusual in that its modern history of foreign relations argues strongly that it is officially committed to international economic terrorism, and on a scale that far exceeds other actors on the world stage.

One professor summarized for this observer his analysis of the effect of US-led politically motivated economic sanctions which he claims amount to ‘economic terrorism.’ He noted the severe impact on Iranian consumers at the grocery store, dramatically shrinking real income, government efforts to maintain some subsidies to lessen their impact, innovative ways both the government and private sectors have been able to lessen the impact of some of the sanctions while completely skirting others. As well as how the US-led sanctions have spread a sort of ‘circle the wagons’ public spirit and in an unexpected ways, have led to more public organized neighborhood initiatives designed help one neighbors with economic problems.

One finds among Iranian a still deep smoldering anger over the current chemical weapons ‘red line’ issue in Syria that may well lead to regional war. The American campaign to bomb Syria is viewed here as utmost American government hypocrisy. More than one interlocutor expressed their country’s disdain regarding the Reagan administration’s actions during the late 1980s when not only did the White House take no action when Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and his own people but the United States also aided the attacks by providing intelligence and firing coordinates on where to find Iranians to kill and providing gas to murder them with.

The Tehran Times wrote yesterday: “U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Saddam Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.” The effects of these US facilitated gas attacks are seen everywhere in Iran in the skin scars and poor health of its hundreds of thousands of victims.

“How can the American people accept this double standard where it’s ok and your government will help to gas Iranians and your enemies’ population?” is a common question put to this observer.

There is visible excitement and even a sort of joy this morning that the UK Parliament, to its great credit, just voted to reject the Cameron government’s motion authorizing British forces to boom Syria. A taxi driver expressed his hope that “Your Congress will follow the lead of the British Parliament.? Iranian appears to view the Parliamentary vote as a victory for themselves because few, if any here, fail to believe the US attack on Syria is aimed at them, given the Islamic Republic’s role as a key pillar of resistance to the Zionist occupation of Palestine and to US-Israel regional hegemonic goals.

Public expressions in Iran regarding the grave prospects that are looming as the war drums become nearly deafening in curtain capitols appear to this observer less knee-jerk rhetoric than in recent years. No doubt there are many reasons for this including the results of the recent elections in Iran which is viewed here as an encouraging sign of stability and democracy in the region. Tehran made clear to Jeffrey Feltman this week that it is ready for serious cooperation in order to peacefully resolve the crisis in Syria.

As Hossein Mousavian, a researcher at Princeton University has pointed out this week, the cooperation of the US and Iran in 2001 regarding Afghanistan, resulting in the fall of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, (at least for a while) is a blueprint for a new collaboration. Writes Mousavian: “This collaboration should not be limited to Syria. The Middle East requires management for the time, and therefore, crisis management (of this and other crises) would be a useful path for this collaboration.” This observer believes much of the Iranian and American public agrees and that there are hopeful signs during this feared apocalyptic period.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and is reachable c/o

Barbaric US-led sanctions killing Iranian children: Dr. Alireza Marandi

(Iran-file photo)

Press TV

In a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President of Iran’s Academy of Medical Sciences Dr. Alireza Marandi has blasted Washington for exacting sadistic revenge on Iranian children through their inhuman sanctions against the nation.

Following is the complete text of the letter received by Press TV.

21 Aug 2013
United Nations Secretary General
His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon


Following my letters of 26 November 2012 and 26 January 2013, regarding the highly adverse effect of the comprehensive sanctions imposed by western countries on the health and welfare of the Iranian general population, I write again to underscore that these inhumane sanctions–along with new sanctions against those holding or transacting the Iranian national currency, soon to be implemented by the United States government–are definitely having a significant and negative impact on the health of the Iranian public including women, children, hospital patients, and anyone on medication.

As an individual responsible for monitoring the health of my country’s people at a national level, I again warn you, as one who bears the responsibility of defending fundamental human rights, that the applied sanctions have caused and will continue to cause acute shortages of necessary food and medicine. The sanctions are also making these essential items increasingly more expensive. As a result, these indispensable supplies have become inaccessible to the most vulnerable of society including children, mothers, and the elderly, as well as disease-specific and cancer patients. This has literally stopped many patients from being able to prepare or collect essential medications required for their treatment; we are, therefore, witnessing more and more cases of the gradual malnutrition and death of children and of patients with specific diseases.

For over three decades, Iran has implemented highly successful healthcare plans and programs, backed by the World Health Organization, which have significantly improved the overall health of the entire nation. These achievements are now seriously threatened by the escalation of barbaric sanctions in the past few weeks, particularly by the US government.

Therefore, once again I draw your attention to this extremely vital point. The gross negligence of the United Nations and other international organizations towards this issue of great importance, besides being recorded on the pages of history, will further weaken these already diminished international bodies in defending the inalienable rights of innocent individuals and populations in the face of sadistic collective punishment.

Yours sincerely,
Seyed Alireza Marandi , M.D.

Academy of Medical Sciences

Rohani urges West to stop using language of sanctions & Saudi Arabia denies Bashir Iran-bound plane permission

Rohani urges West to stop using language of sanctions with Iran

Press TV

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has called on Western governments to stop using the language of sanctions to address the Islamic Republic.

“I say candidly that if you want a proper response, speak to Iran not with the language of sanctions but with the language of respect,” Rohani said in his inauguration ceremony in the Iranian Majlis (parliament) on Sunday.

The new chief executive noted that the only way for interaction with Iran is “dialog on equal footing, mutual confidence-building, mutual respect and reduction of hostilities.”

Rohani stated that his policy would be based on “reducing tensions, mutual confidence-building and constructive interaction” with the world.

“I make it clear here that Iran has never been at war with the world,” he said, adding that the Islamic Republic will concentrate its efforts on “reining in warmongers.”

“The Islamic Republic seeks peace and stability in the region. Iran is the harbor of stability in this tumultuous region. We do not seek to change borders and governments,” noted Rohani.

The US has imposed several rounds of illegal sanctions on Iran, which Washington claims to be aimed at pressuring Tehran to abandon its nuclear energy program.

In its latest measure against Iran, the US House of Representatives last Wednesday approved a bill to impose tougher sanctions on Tehran’s oil exports and financial sector.

Tehran has categorically rejected West’s accusations, arguing that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a committed member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it is entitled to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.


Saudi Arabia denies Bashir Iran-bound plane permission: Sudan

Press TV

Saudi Arabia has blocked an Iran-bound plane carrying Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir from its airspace, Khartoum says.

“The Saudi authorities refused to give the plane carrying President Bashir permission to cross their airspace,” AFP quoted Emad Sayed Ahmed, the presidential press secretary as saying.

Bashir was heading for Iranian capital, Tehran to attend the swearing-in of Iran’s new President Hassan Rohani on Sunday.

Ahmed explained that when the plane entered the airspace of the Saudi Arabia, the pilot informed authorities that it had approval and “that it was carrying President Bashir.”

However, “they said the plane didn’t have permission,” forcing the plane to turn back, he said, noting that President Bashir was traveling by a Saudi plane.

This is while Khartoum said it had announced that the Sudanese President “leaves for Tehran on an official two-day visit.”

Delegations from more than 50 countries have attended Rohani’s inauguration ceremony.

Among the participating foreign dignitaries are ten presidents, six vice-presidents, two prime ministers, eight parliament speakers as well as several prominent former officials.

US approves new Iran sanctions, Russia: step won’t end nuclear issue


Al Ahed news

Russia said on Thursday a vote by the US House of Representatives to tighten sanctions against Iran would not help resolve the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said that United Nations Security Council sanctions already in place against Tehran were sufficient. He suggested the US bill, which still has more steps to clear before becoming law, was counterproductive.

“Any additional sanctions are actually aimed at the economic strangulation of Iran, but not at solving the problem of non-proliferation,” Gatilov told Interfax news agency. “What has been done through the Security Council is quite adequate and sufficient.”

This comes after the US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday to tighten sanctions on Iran, days before President-elect Sheikh Hassan Rouhani is sworn in.

The vote also highlighted a growing divide between Congress and the Obama administration on Iran policy ahead of international talks on the nuclear program in coming months. Iran insists the nuclear program is purely for civilian purposes.

The bill would cut Iran’s oil exports by another 1 million barrels per day over a year to near zero, in an attempt to reduce the flow of funds to the Islamic Republic. It is the first sanctions bill to put a number on exactly how much Iran’s oil exports would be cut.

The Treasury Department last week partially eased sanctions on Iran by expanding a list of medical devices that can be exported there without special permission.

One of the 20 lawmakers to vote against the bill, Jim McDermott, a Washington-state Democrat, said shortly before the vote that the rush to sanction Iran before Rouhani takes office could hurt efforts to deflate the nuclear issue.

“It’s a dangerous sign to send and it limits our ability to find a diplomatic solution to nuclear arms in Iran,” McDermott said.

US easing medical sanctions on Iran, farce: Analyst

Press TV

Washington’s recent move to ease sanctions on exports of some medical equipment to Iran and portray itself as a humanitarian government is a farce, a human rights activist tells Press TV.

In an exclusive interview with Press TV on Friday, human rights activist Randy Short said that the US government has no concern for the Iranian people as its hostility towards Iranians has been going on for over 30 years.

“If there’s real concern for the Iranian people, the United States has a lot of explaining to do…,” the activists said.

Randy Short pointed that “the United States put Saddam Hussein up to invading Iran in 1980” and “as many as 950,000 Iranians were killed …by [the] American action” against Iranians.

The activist further noted that Washington continues its hostility towards the Iranian nation and government to undermine the country’s independence and freedom.

“As long as you stand [up]for the Palestinians, as long as the people want some dignity, as long as Iran represents some model of being able to stand its own ground to other nations, you will be hated by the people who wish to undermine your freedom – unfortunately,” he said.

The US Treasury Department conceded on Thursday that its bans have created major challenges for pharmaceutical companies to conduct transactions with Iran.

The treasury department said it was now expanding the list of medical items that can be exported to Iran without a special application.

The illegal US-engineered sanctions were imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran may be pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran rejects the allegations, arguing that as a committed signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

Anti-Iran sanctions lack legitimacy: International lawyers

Press TV

A group of renowned international jurists have underscored the illegitimacy of US-led international sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic over its peaceful nuclear energy program.

The issue of Iran was raised at the “Symposium on Unilateral Sanctions and International Law: Views on Legitimacy and Consequences,” which was held in The Hague on July 11.

Iran’s Ambassador to the Netherlands Kazem Gharibabadi said the participants in the event included international tribunal justices, professors of international law from European and Asian universities as well as researchers.

Abdul G. Koroma, former International Court of Justice (ICJ) Judge and ten senior international jurists discussed the issue of unilateral sanctions from the standpoint of international law.

He said no country or organization is legally authorized to adopt unilateral sanctions, noting that the sanctions imposed on a government for punishment lack legitimacy.

Hisae Nakanishi, professor of the Doshisha University Graduate School of Global Studies, said the sanctions have only made life more difficult for Iranians. She suggested dialogue with Iran instead of the imposition of sanctions.

Paul de Waart, professor Emeritus of International Law at VU University
Amsterdam, said sanctions that affect basic human rights contravene international law.

Maya Lester, Barrister with Brick Court Chambers, noted that the European Union has failed to provide evidence of diversion in Iran’s nuclear energy program to justify sanctions against the Islamic Republic’s banking sector.

Carlos J. Argüello Gomez, Nicaragua’s Agent in cases before the International Court of Justice, said Iran can take the case of unilateral sanctions to international arbitration.

At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the European Union imposed new sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The sanctions came into force in early summer 2012.

In November 2012, the US Senate approved a new round of sanctions against Iran’s energy, ports, shipping and shipbuilding sectors.

The illegal US-engineered sanctions have been imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran rejects the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

AIPAC & OFAC ratchet-up US sanctions targeting Syria, Iran’s populations

by Franklin Lamb, Al Manar


The US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Assets Control, since March of 2012, has been directed by Mr. Adam J. Szubin who more than once has boasted on the sidelines of a Congressional Hearing on Iran and Syria and at last March’s AIPAC’s national conference, that he fancies himself a modern day Inspector Javert — the Victor Hugo character, according to one Congressional source, as a kind of role model because of Javert’s focused and relentless obsession. Szubin has pledged the same with pursuing the financial interests of anyone on the planet that in any way violates the massive and still growing US-led economic sanctions that are targeting the civilian populations of Syria and Iran. For last fall’s Halloween party on the Hill, Mr. Szubin came dressed up as, you guessed it, Jean Valjean’s nemesis.

Reportedly a pleasant fellow, Mr. Szubin works closely with his mentor, David S. Cohen, a bit less so, some say of the Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. The two gentlemen often work, sometimes with friends, at the AIPAC HQ located less than a 20 minute walk across the Mall below the US Capitol buildings where they dream up and craft ways to cut off the financial legs and the lines of banking support for all “terrorists”. They also enforce US-led politically motivated civilian targeting economic sanctions against rogue nations (read: the civilian populations of Syria and Iran).

OFAC has been accused of taking orders from AIPAC, which for some reason is not required to register as a foreign agent, which takes orders from the Israeli Embassy, whose offices reportedly flood Szubin and Cohen with memoranda on how to, as a sign two weeks ago above the printer in AIPAC’s library read, “Cut ’em off at the knees and let Allah sort it out!”

AIPAC does its part mainly with Congress. This week it drafted and circulated to Congressional offices yet another Congressional letter to the White House. In a broad show of bipartisan support for containing the supposed threat of a nuclear-armed Iran, all but one member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee signed, at AIPAC’s urging, a letter petitioning the President to increase pressure on the Islamic Republic. The AIPAC letter arrives on the heels of Iran’s presidential election and the sanctions it urges are only the latest in a growing list the Obama administration has levied against Iranian and Syrian citizens. One Congressional source emailed that the timing of this most recent letter was meant to support the chorus of messages from the US Zionist lobby that Mr. Hasan Rouhani’s election will not bring any positive changes regarding Iran’s nuclear plans.

But as AIPAC knows, few people, especially on the Hill, are much impressed these days by its stream of such “Sense of the Congress” letters making demands on the White House. Congressional staff members, barely reading them, often urge their representative to sign them right away so they do not have their offices invaded by AIPAC lobbyists. Truth be told, AIPAC is losing popularity on the Hill, according to Congressional contacts, even if it does not yet show much.

This is where OFAC’s work blends in and hopefully brings to perfection AIPAC’s project of targeting the Iranian and Syrian people. One example that appears to have been coordinated with the House Foreign Affairs Committee letter are the recently announced amendments to OFAC’s sanctions regulations.

Earlier this month, some apparently perverse US taxpayer-paid lawyer types dreamt up and drafted, almost certainly with AIPAC input, the latest, nearly incomprehensible, overly broad, unfair, and unlikely to survive a US Federal Court challenge, certain “technical amendments” to the Terrorism Sanctions Regulations and the Global Terrorism Sanctions Regulations.

These due process denying amendments, despite AIPAC and the US Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Control’s denials and protestations, will further curtail much needed medicines, medical equipment and food stuffs being available to the civilian populations of the Syrian Arab Republic and the Islamic Republic of Iran, causing yet more civilian suffering.

One example of the many legal defects in the newly adopted regulations, one that would be evident to most first year law students, reads:

“A person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to § 594.201(a) has an interest in all property and interests in property of an entity in which it owns, directly or indirectly, a 50 percent or greater interest.”

What does this language require of firms wanting to supply medicines, medical equipment, and food stuffs to civilian targeted populations?

As explained by Mr. Cohen, “Terrorists” (read: the civilian population of Iran and Syria) are deemed for the purpose of broadening the US-led sanctions, to have an interest in things in which they have a 50 percent or greater interest.

Who would have imagined? The regulation continues:

“The property and interests in property of such an entity therefore, are blocked, and such an entity is a person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to § 594.201(a), regardless of whether the entity itself is listed in the Annex to Executive Order 13224, as amended, or designated pursuant to § 594.201(a).”

In other words, all US-led sanctions block the assets of companies who aren’t on the SDN (Specially Designated Nationals) list if they are owned 50 percent or more by someone who is on the list. OFAC has not explained, but may well have to in US Federal Court, just how does anyone screen for blocked parties who aren’t on the list of blocked parties?

Simple, Mr. Cohen says, just ask every company you’re screening for the name of all its 50 percent or greater owners. Okay, but what if the majority owner isn’t on the list? Well, OFAC expects those wanting to export medicines or foodstuffs to Syria or Iran to somehow ferret out who is the majority owner. Because if he is owned by a blocked party, then his property is blocked, meaning the company you are screening is blocked and its assets must also be blocked. OFAC replies, well just ask for the names of owners greater than 50 percent and owners of owners with more than a 50 percent interest. But even if the owner of the owner isn’t on the list, the owner of the owner of the owner could possibly be, so get to work…. and on and on it goes. Which board of directors of any company is going to go through all this no matter how motivated it is by profit and/or humanitarian concerns to deliver medicines and medical equipment and desperately needed food to Syria or Iran? Their legal fees alone would be enormous.

And, of course, there’s another problem with this new AIPAC- and Israeli embassy-concocted blocking rules. They apply not just to the interest of the blocked party but to the interest of the minority investors as well. And they apply even if the majority investor (or the majority investor in the majority investor) is designated after the investment. Therefore if someone owns 51 percent of Company B which owns 51 percent of company C and that, several years after his investment, she could be designated by OFAC as an SDN — which ranks up there with child molester or necrophilia addict. The 49 percent investors in both Company B and C now have their investments blocked. How can anyone protect themselves against that? What crystal ball are people supposed to use to predict whether a person they are doing business with won’t become an SDN in the future?

That is the whole idea of the OFAC and AIPAC regulation amendments. It allows the US Treasury Department, the White House and Congress, and the US representative at the UN to say, internationally and also to the American people who increasingly oppose targeting innocent civilians for political purposes, “Actually the limited sanctions against the Syrian and Iranian people are humanitarian,” despite the fact that scores of thousands of Syrian are on the verge of dying and hundreds have died and the number is increasing. The reason is because previously imported drugs and foodstuffs are not being sent to Syria, because of “food and medicine exemptions” language is basically fake window dressing.

For the reasons noted above, which company or its board of directors is willing to risk being hounded by OFAC’s Inspector Javert and face the threat of enormous crippling fines, not to mention litigation costs merely to figure out what the regulations really mean with respect to their joint business ventures.

But the new OFAC-AIPAC US civilian-targeting sanctions rules are now even more Kafkaesque. For example, if medical or food exporting firms want to do business with Iranian or Syrian importing firms, how can they know if owner #1 is an SDN and whether he may own 60 percent of Company B and 45 percent of Company C. Further suppose that Company B owns 40 percent of Company D, and Company C owns 60 percent of Company D. Who and what is blocked under the new OFAC rules? It might appear that Company B and its assets are blocked, but Company C and its assets are not. What about Company D? Suppose Ms. A owns 24 percent of Company D through her 60 percent ownership in Company B. She also owns 27 percent of Company D through her 45 percent interest in Company C which totals 51 percent of Company D. So even though Ms. A cannot control Company D, since she doesn’t control Company C, the majority owner, Company D would be blocked as would all of its assets.

How can the US Treasury OFAC agency be so seemingly totally unaware of the business realities of the parties it regulates who want to send medical equipment and food to the suffering people of Syria and Iran? Can the agency be that deaf to the business realities of the parties it regulates? Does it even care or understand its own regulations? Does the Obama administration even care?

Also, what about the slowly growing Congressional and public concern over the civilian-targeting US sanctions and federal sunshine laws allowing for public input when drafting new US Treasury Department regulations?

Well, AIPAC and OFAC have foreseen that potentially annoying problem. Near the end of the Federal Register it has been decreed, without any public participation, the following:

“Public Participation. Because these amendments to 31 CFR parts 594, 595, and 597 involve a foreign affairs function, Executive Order 12866 and the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act (5 U.S.C. 553) requiring notice of proposed rulemaking, opportunity for public participation, and delay in effective date are inapplicable.”

The Obama administration has no interest in public participation or input as it targets the civilian populations of Syria and Iran. And Congress once again is shirking its responsibility.

Why is there not a Congressional or UN delegation visiting Syria? Not a John McCain silly photo op but a serious delegation arriving to Damascus and Tehran and visiting hospitals and clinics, doctors, health ministry officials, patients and the families of those who need very specialized drugs for diseases such as cancer for example, and in Syria with refugees suffering from malnutrition due to the US-led sanctions.

The US-led sanctions increasingly target the Iranian and Syrian people for purely political purposes in order to ignite civil unrest which the Obama Administration hopes will lead to regime chance violating many provisions of international humanitarian law as well as US Federal Statutes.

These gratuitous deadly assaults on the Syrian and Iranian public are immoral, illegal, outrageous, ineffective at achieving regime change, and they are doing incalculable damage to millions of innocents while further squandering whatever respect for our country that still exists abroad and increasingly even within our own borders as evidenced by the recent spate of protests on a number of subjects, from New York to California sending messages to Washington that it is time to come home and rebuild our society.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Syria and Lebanon and can be reached c/o

Will EU sanctions once again target the civilian population of Syria?

by Guy Billout

Is Brussels Going to Comply with International Law or Cave to Downing Street and the White House?

by FRANKLIN LAMB, source


Under withering pressure from Washington and the UK, the European Union, is meeting this week to decide whether to increase the pressure on the Syrian public by repealing the March 2011 arms embargo that was intended to prohibit arms shipments to Syria. The arms embargo is set to expire at midnight on 31 May the lobbying has reach nearly historic intensity at EU HQ in Brussels, London and Washington. Recently, the US State Department demanded that every one of the 27 European Ambassadors posted in the US appear at the State Department for “consultations to avoid any misunderstandings about what the White House was expecting at the upcoming EU meeting.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry has been urging the EU to gut the arms embargo so as to expedite weapon shipments to the rebels. It currently appears that Britain now has the support of France, Italy and Spain, while Germany appears neutral and Austria, Finland, Sweden and the Czech Republic are still opposed.

This week’s EU meeting, which was postponed three months ago, raises again the obligation of the international community to respect the laws of armed conflict and the Geneva Convention with respect to protecting the civilian population during armed conflicts and virtually every other international humanitarian law requirement.

For the American administration, designing and applying economic sanctions in order to pressure a population to break with the government to achieve regime change or any other political objective, as in the case of both Syria and Iran are fundamentally illegal under US law.

Just as soon as a group of Syrian-Americans and/or Iranian-American file a class action lawsuit in US Federal District Court ( the Court will have in persona and subject matter jurisdiction and the Plaintiffs will have standing to sue, given that they are American citizens) and the day after filing when they would no doubt file a Motion petitioning the Court for an Interim Measure of Protection (injunction) immediately freezing and lifting the US-led sanctions against the two countries civilian population, pending the final Court (Jury Trial) on the merits, the Obama administration is going to face serious challenges to its outlawry.

William Hague, the UK Defense Minister, is quite active these days supporting the various Syrian militias’ arguments including that “The EU arms embargo must be lifted because the current economic sanctions regime is ineffective.” Presumably the right honorable gentleman means by “ineffective” that these brutal sanctions have not broken with will of the populations to settle their own affairs without transparent foreign interference. This is true if by “effective” Hague means that the US-led sanctions, that target Syria’s civilian population for purely political purposes of regime change, will cause the people of Syria, who unlike their leaders, are the ones directly affected by the sanctions to revolt over the lack of medicines and food stuffs plus inflation at the grocery stores,

Mr Hague surely must be aware that very rarely, if ever at all in history, have civilian targeted sanctions designed to cause hardships among a nation’s population for purely political purposes actually broken the population such that they turned against their governments. Both the Syrian and Iranian sanctions have confirmed history’s instruction that the civilian targeting sanctions imposed from outside tend to have the exact opposite intended effect. This is true particularly modernly with more available information, and that the populations turn not against their national governments but rather against those foreign governments viewed as being responsible for these crimes.

The British, French, Turks and the Americans (not actually an EU member but then, who would know?) will be the zealots in Brussels this advocating amendment of the imposed arms embargo so that weapons can be sent to “moderate” forces in these countries largely nurtured and sustained “opposition”.

The UK Defense Ministers assurances that weapons would be supplied only “under carefully controlled circumstances” and with clear commitments from the opposition…We have to be open to every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives rather than the current trajectory of extremism and murder” have apparently convinced very few.

Unanimity is needed, and several countries are opposed. One Austrian official told the BBC that allowing lethal weapons to be sent into a war zone “would turn EU policy on its head.” One European diplomat insisted that “It would be the first conflict where we pretend we could create peace by delivering arms,” the diplomat said. “If you pretend to know where the weapons will end up, then it would be the first war in history where this is possible. We have seen it in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. Weapons don’t disappear; they pop up where they are needed.”

Some of the 27 EU countries are concerned that anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons given to “moderate” militiamen (per Libya?) would end up Lord knows where, in the hands of salafist, jihadist-takiferi militants, including those from the al-Nusra Front, which has pledged fealty to al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Absence of a centralized command structure and massive human rights abuses by – fighters are additional reasons for current alarm.

As is its habit recently, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service, has spoken on both sides of this critical issue. On the one hand it has cautioned against “any counterproductive move” that could harm the prospects of the Geneva conference and suggests extending the embargo to allow “more time for reflection”. On the other suggesting that lifting the arms embargo would only prolong the war.

The practice of targeting a civilian population by outsiders in order to achieve political objectives such as regime change is fast heading for the dustbin of history given its blatant violation of all norms of international humanitarian law and common decency reflected in the values most societies.

This week will reveal on which side of history the European Union will anchor itself on the issue of targeting civilian populations in a blatant attempt to achieve regime change.

Don’t drone us, dudes

Damascus University

Damascus University Students Resist US Civilian Targeting Sanctions

by FRANKLIN LAMB, source


Students everywhere are special people and this observer has discovered that Syrian students are among the very best.

Meeting and interviewing students again this past week, before and following, a frank and enlightening discussion with Dr. Mohammad Amer Al-Mardini, the indefatigable President of Damascus University, about the situation of the students and current instruction at the University, one cannot ,even as a foreigner, fail to feel pride in Syrian students.

Good meeting places, among others on campus, include “outdoor cafes” – a ‘street student union’ of sorts- consisting of a few chairs and portable tables. They are scattered among the dozens of vendor stalls that line “DU Boulevard” outside the main DU campus in central Damascus. Here students can buy everything from school supplies to mobile phones, to snacks, and it’s a perfect place to meet and chat with students.

One learns from them about the many effects on the education system in Syria of the US-led sanctions. Some argue that the Obama administration actually fuels the current crisis with its sanctions and achieves the opposite result of what the White House and its allies claim they are seeking. These freewheeling discussions leave a foreigner with a reminder why this university and its student body ranks among the best in the World.

More than 200,000 full-time and ‘open-learning’ students at Damascus University, the 6th largest in the World and founded in 1901, are feeling some effects of the harsh Obama Administration’s civilian targeting sanctions. Iran’s millions of students are also increasingly in the cross-hairs of the “humanitarian sanctions which Washington and Brussels claim “exempt food, medicines and medical supplies” and therefore “should be considered humane.”

Among DU Faculties most severely affected by the US-led sanctions are the Science Departments and the Medical and Nursing schools according to administration and student sources. Chemicals used in various science classes, medicines and medical equipment cannot be found as before and if some are brought in from Europe or elsewhere, the University often has to pay four times the normal price.

Utah’s Brigham Young University gained the respect and appreciation of many in Syria for its shipments to DU’s nursing school of medicines and equipment and even “model doll babies” which in Syria use in baby care classes. All are now banned by the US sanctions which claim to exempt medical equipment and medicines.

Damascus University, with its 43 specialized faculties is no banking-hours institution and its proven commitment is to give the highest quality education to as many students as possible. Syria’s largest university, it is now open for classes 365 days a year minus a few holidays—partly due to increased number of students arriving from across Syria, as the Administration and faculty work with colleges in war zones to guarantee students can continue their studies without missing key exams required for semester advancement. Still, about 18% of college level students are unable to attend due to transportation and displacement problems.

One direct and predictable severe impact of the US-led civilian targeting sanctions in Syria is that the sanctions have essentially stranded approximately 700 Syrian students in Europe and half a dozen in the US, forcing some to drop out and find a job to survive. This is because, as well known among the US Treasury Department “craftsmen” who devise the sanctions, these students are no longer able to receive funds to pay for their foreign tuition or living expenses because the banking system has been essentially shut down.

If families can scrape together some money for their children studying abroad and do manage to send it via Western Union, for example, a new “sanctions surcharge” of 7 euros for every 1,000 euros sent, is demanded by WU and other money transfer agencies, suggesting another form of war profiteering. To make things even more difficult for the students, foreign Universities who might consider lending their stranded Syrian students tuition money or might even consider aiding them with scholarships or a grant have been “chilled” and are backing-off because these institutions do not want to be accused of ‘sanction-busting’ by the US Treasury hound dogs.

Few food or medicine suppliers, given the sanction regulations language and uncertain legal meanings-even for their lawyers, some of whom have declared that the language is incomprehensible, want to risk the wrath of the US Treasury Department and be slapped with severe penalties including, but not limited to, very expensive fines by dealing with anyone in Syria concerning food and medicine.

One of the US Treasury ‘hound dogs’ noted above, is David Cohen, Under -Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Mr. Cohen made a trip to the region late last month to brief allies and businesses as well as NGO’s, including discussions in Israel, “to be sure the sanctions were biting hard” to use a favorite phase of UN Ambassador Susan Rice. The Obama administration, reportedly frustrated by the fact that its multi-tiered sanctions have failed to topple the governments of Syria and Iran, has been attempting to find and plug sanction loopholes and are intensifying warnings to the international community, in no uncertain terms, not to mess with the US Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI) or the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC) by getting all wobbly-kneed and going soft on full sanction and complete enforcement.

Meanwhile, Syria’s Department of Education is joining the struggle to shield Syria’s education institutions and is being joined by various student associations. To date, the Ministry has not cut its substantial disbursements to colleges. Tuition remains among the lowest in the world at Damascus University, which also provides housing for 15,000 students. The DU administration is currently under pressure to find more dormitory space for those needing housing. Still, despite the conflict, even in Deraa near the Jordanian border where the current crisis started, DU’s campus continues to function.

Many DU students are also volunteering with assisting Syrian primary schools which urgently need their help. According to a December 2012 UNICEF education assessment of primary schools in Syria– at least 2,400 schools have been damaged or destroyed, including 772 in Idlib (50 per cent of the total), 300 in Aleppo and another 300 in Deraa. Over 1,500 schools are being used as shelters for displaced persons. The Damascus University community has also taken on the humanitarian challenge of assisting sister educational institutions that have been affected by the current crisis including campuses in Homs and Aleppo, among others. This observer has met several Damascus University students among the 9,000 volunteers, including Palestinian refugees, who are donating their time working with the Syria Red Crescent Society (SARCS). Many DU students are also volunteering with assisting primary schools.

The grim reality of Syrian families, hospitals and health care facilities across the country, and now its Universities, students and educational institutions, experiencing the claimed “humanitarian sanctions” which emphasize” exemptions for food, medicine and medical equipment exemptions, once again exposes Obama administration claimed humanitarian values to ridicule here and around the world.

Rather than target Syria’s future leaders, the White House would do well to cancel its student targeting sanctions and send Secretary Kerrey to Damascus to meet face-to-face with the Syrian people and government and demonstrate a real American interest in stopping the bloodshed. Armored vehicles and assorted “non-lethal aid” to one side in this conflict will only prolong the killing, as any student here will attest.

John Kerry talks of ‘imploding’ Iran in another overseas gaffe: Video

Former insiders criticize Iran policy as US hegemony

by Gareth Porter, source

IPS — Going to Tehran arguably represents the most important work on the subject of U.S.-Iran relations to be published thus far.

Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett tackle not only U.S. policy toward Iran but the broader context of Middle East policy with a systematic analytical perspective informed by personal experience, as well as very extensive documentation.

More importantly, however, their exposé required a degree of courage that may be unparalleled in the writing of former U.S. national security officials about issues on which they worked. They have chosen not just to criticise U.S. policy toward Iran but to analyse that policy as a problem of U.S. hegemony.

Their national security state credentials are impeccable. They both served at different times as senior coordinators dealing with Iran on the National Security Council Staff, and Hillary Mann Leverett was one of the few U.S. officials who have been authorised to negotiate with Iranian officials.

Both wrote memoranda in 2003 urging the George W. Bush administration to take the Iranian “roadmap” proposal for bilateral negotiations seriously but found policymakers either uninterested or powerless to influence the decision. Hillary Mann Leverett even has a connection with the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), having interned with that lobby group as a youth.

After leaving the U.S. government in disagreement with U.S. policy toward Iran, the Leveretts did not follow the normal pattern of settling into the jobs where they would support the broad outlines of the U.S. role in world politics in return for comfortable incomes and continued access to power.

Instead, they have chosen to take a firm stand in opposition to U.S. policy toward Iran, criticising the policy of the Barack Obama administration as far more aggressive than is generally recognised. They went even farther, however, contesting the consensus view in Washington among policy wonks, news media and Iran human rights activists that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election in June 2009 was fraudulent.

The Leveretts’ uncompromising posture toward the policymaking system and those outside the government who support U.S. policy has made them extremely unpopular in Washington foreign policy elite circles. After talking to some of their antagonists, The New Republic even passed on the rumor that the Leveretts had become shills for oil companies and others who wanted to do business with Iran.

The problem for the establishment, however, is that they turned out to be immune to the blandishments that normally keep former officials either safely supportive or quiet on national security issues that call for heated debate.

In Going to Tehran, the Leveretts elaborate on the contrarian analysis they have been making on their blog (formerly “The Race for Iran” and now “Going to Tehran”) They take to task those supporting U.S. systematic pressures on Iran for substituting wishful thinking that most Iranians long for secular democracy, and offer a hard analysis of the history of the Iranian revolution.

In an analysis of the roots of the legitimacy of the Islamic regime, they point to evidence that the single most important factor that swept the Khomeini movement into power in 1979 was “the Shah’s indifference to the religious sensibilities of Iranians”. That point, which conflicts with just about everything that has appeared in the mass media on Iran for decades, certainly has far-reaching analytical significance.

The Leveretts’ 56-page review of the evidence regarding the legitimacy of the 2009 election emphasises polls done by U.S.-based Terror Free Tomorrow and World Public Opinon and Canadian-based Globe Scan and 10 surveys by the University of Tehran. All of the polls were consistent with one another and with official election data on both a wide margin of victory by Ahmadinejad and turnout rates.

The Leveretts also point out that the leading opposition candidate, Hossein Mir Mousavi, did not produce “a single one of his 40,676 observers to claim that the count at his or her station had been incorrect, and none came forward independently”.

Going to Tehran has chapters analysing Iran’s “Grand Strategy” and on the role of negotiating with the United States that debunk much of which passes for expert opinion in Washington’s think tank world. They view Iran’s nuclear programme as aimed at achieving the same status as Japan, Canada and other “threshold nuclear states” which have the capability to become nuclear powers but forego that option.

The Leveretts also point out that it is a status that is not forbidden by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty – much to the chagrin of the United States and its anti-Iran allies.

In a later chapter, they allude briefly to what is surely the best-kept secret about the Iranian nuclear programme and Iranian foreign policy: the Iranian leadership’s calculation that the enrichment programme is the only incentive the United States has to reach a strategic accommodation with Tehran. That one fact helps to explain most of the twists and turns in Iran’s nuclear programme and its nuclear diplomacy over the past decade.

One of the propaganda themes most popular inside the Washington beltway is that the Islamic regime in Iran cannot negotiate seriously with the United States because the survival of the regime depends on hostility toward the United States.

The Leveretts debunk that notion by detailing a series of episodes beginning with President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s effort to improve relations in 1991 and again in 1995 and Iran’s offer to cooperate against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and, more generally after 9/11, about which Hillary Mann Leverett had personal experience.

Finally, they provide the most detailed analysis available on the 2003 Iranian proposal for a “roadmap” for negotiations with the United States, which the Bush administration gave the back of its hand.

The central message of  Going to Tehran is that the United States has been unwilling to let go of the demand for Iran’s subordination to dominant U.S. power in the region. The Leveretts identify the decisive turning point in the U.S. “quest for dominance in the Middle East” as the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they say “liberated the United States from balance of power constraints”.

They cite the recollection of senior advisers to Secretary of State James Baker that the George H. W. Bush administration considered engagement with Iran as part of a post-Gulf War strategy but decided in the aftermath of the Soviet adversary’s disappearance that “it didn’t need to”.

Subsequent U.S. policy in the region, including what former national security adviser Bent Scowcroft called “the nutty idea” of “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran, they argue, has flowed from the new incentive for Washington to maintain and enhance its dominance in the Middle East.

The authors offer a succinct analysis of the Clinton administration’s regional and Iran policies as precursors to Bush’s Iraq War and Iran regime change policy. Their account suggests that the role of Republican neoconservatives in those policies should not be exaggerated, and that more fundamental political-institutional interests were already pushing the U.S. national security state in that direction before 2001.

They analyse the Bush administration’s flirtation with regime change and the Obama administration’s less-than-half-hearted diplomatic engagement with Iran as both motivated by a refusal to budge from a stance of maintaining the status quo of U.S.-Israeli hegemony.

Consistent with, but going beyond the Leveretts’ analysis is the Bush conviction that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq had shaken the Iranians, and that there was no need to make the slightest concession to the regime. The Obama administration has apparently fallen into the same conceptual trap, believing that the United States and its allies have Iran by the throat because of its “crippling sanctions”.

Thanks to the Leveretts, opponents of U.S. policies of domination and intervention in the Middle East have a new and rich source of analysis to argue against those policies more effectively.

‘Zionist lobby hinders a change in the US policies towards Iran’

by Yusuf Fernandez, source

There is no doubt that many people in the world welcomed US Vice President John Biden´s statement, made during the recent Munich security conference, that his country was willing to have bilateral contacts with Iran, which many consider crucial in order to put an end to the dispute over Iran´s nuclear program.

At the same time, President Barack Obama´s decision to nominate Senator Chuck Hagel as the new Secretary of Defence, despite the pro-Israeli Right´s allegations that he is too “soft” on Iran, was also well-received by many American circles thinking that it is time to initiate a new phase in the US policy towards Iran. Obama´s choice for Secretary of State, Senator John Kerry, was also praised by some media outlets because he is considered a “realist” in foreign policy in open contrast to the hawkish positions of Hillary Clinton.

Nowadays, more and more people in the US and Europe are aware of the failure of the US and European coercive policies, which have not prevented Iran from pursuing its civilian nuclear program. US and European sanctions are trying to bar any type of commerce between Iran and other countries and prevent the access of this country to the international banking system. However, Western governments, in their arrogance, have forgotten that there are many countries and companies in the world that are not willing to cave in to US pressure.

At the same time, the sanctions have become an opportunity for Iran to develop its self-sufficiency in many spheres and create an alternative commerce and a new banking system that do not depend on the dollar or Western rules. On the other hand, Iran has access to many markets, including the Russia, China and India ones, all of them being rising economic powers and with a clear political interest in supporting Iran in order to prevent the US from expanding its influence in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf and damaging their own interests. Iran has also developed good political and economic relations with all its neighbours, particularly Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and others.

Some US experts are claiming that only honest diplomacy with Iran and the end of the economic pressure could make a breakthrough in nuclear negotiations. Sanctions will not succeed for many reasons and by betting on them, the US has already set the scenario for a new failure in the next negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 in Almaty (Kazakhstan). Iranian people are nationalist and patriotic and they will not bow to pressure. In fact, and despite the damage they have caused in the Iranian economy, sanctions have actually strengthened Iranian people´s support for the nuclear program, which is now considered an important national symbol, as a recent Gallup poll has showed.

Therefore, the US Administration is deeply wrong if it thinks that sanctions will lead Iran to end its nuclear program. Iran has consistently showed that it is willing to reach an agreement and has allowed international inspectors to monitor its nuclear facilities. But it is not willing to bow to illogical US and Western demands.

Any Western offer should recognize the fact that Iran has made continuos progress in the nuclear field. It has managed to convert the enriched uranium into plates and it means that the country already possesses an independent fuel cycle. All these activities are completely legal according to the rules of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In this sense, a full recognition of Iran´s right to enrich uranium would be a necessary starting point for any serious offer.

At the same time, the offer should also require a calendar for the lifting of economic sanctions. Some statements by Western experts and politicians speak of “relaxing or reducing” the scope of the sanctions but a final agreement should include a timetable to completely remove these illegal and inmoral sanctions.

Some experts see Israel and the Zionist lobby in the US as the largest obstacles for a change in the US policies towards Iran. Israel is completely opposed to any US-Iran agreement that preserves Iran´s nuclear program and it can use the pro-Israeli lobby and its influence over US congressmen, many of whom are bought and paid for by AIPAC, in order to torpedo the negotiation process and any deal.

Doubts on Obama´s sincerity

On the other hand, there are doubts about how sincere Obama is, despite all his empty rhetoric, in pursuing a new policy, especially taking into account the recent US decision to increase the sanctions and Obama´s background on Iran. Some experts warn that President Obama could actually discredite engagement by claiming that he tried but failed to reach out to Iran when the truth is that he has never seriously tried. Since 2009, the Obama administration has taken part in many nuclear talks with Iran and it has used Iran´s rejection to surrender to its demands as a reason to impose more and more brutal sanctions on this country.

“Most of Obama´s so-called diplomacy with Iran has been predicated on intimidation, illegal threats of military action, unilateral ‘crippling’ sanctions, sabotage, and extrajudicial killings of Iran´s brightest minds,” wrote an Iran expert, Reza Nasri, in the site This, despite a consensus in the US intelligence community that Tehran is not developing a nuclear weapon and has not made the political decision to do so.

In a recent article in the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen quoted the book “The Dispensable Nation” by Vali Nasr, who spent two years working for the Obama administration before becoming dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. In the book, Nasr shows Obama´s ambivalence about any deal on the nuclear program. “Pressure has become an end in itself”, he wrote.

“The dual track of ever tougher sanctions combined with diplomatic outreach was not even dual. It relied on one track, and that was pressure,” said Nasr. “Engagement was a cover for a coercive campaign of sabotage, economic pressure and cyberwarfare.”

In this sense, some analysts consider that Obama is currently promoting another half-baked inflexible strategy still based on coertion and threats, and, as a result, it will fall short of achieved the desired results as the other ones that preceded it.

The joke of the “gold” offer

Unfortunately, those analysts seem to be right. A recent strange Western offer under which Iran would be “allowed” to take part in international commerce using gold if it shuts down the Fordo uranium enrichment and which largely leaves sanctions intact is just a joke. Firstly, the incentive here is almost non-existent and, secondly, it is based on the principle that Iran does not have a right to a peaceful nuclear program, although it actually does according to the IAEA rules.

The ridiculous nature of the offer and the huge demands that it contain make it difficult to imagine it would be accepted. If this is what the West has to offer to Iran, then it is right to raise questions about what is the true strategy that Western policy-makers are preparing for the approaching talks in Kazakhstan.

In this sense, some analysts are pessimistic after knowing that the new Western offer that will be presented in the Almaty talks will be very similar to the one that was rejected by Iran last year. The West insists that Iran should put an end to uranium enrichment to the 20% level, send its stocks of this material abroad and close the Fordo plant. At the same time, Tehran would be offered a limited relaxing of sanctions, but not the end of the oil embargo. Clearly, this offer is totally insufficient for Tehran.

However, the US is wrong if it thinks that a nuclear deal would be favorable only to Iran. In reality, the pressure on Iran takes place in a context where the US´s position in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf is in free fall. The failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the support for the continuos Israeli occupation of Arab territories, the war on terror, which targets Muslim populations everywhere, and the threats against Iran are fuelling intense anti-American sentiments. If the US keeps on threatening another Muslim country over some weapons of mass destruction that it does not have, the blowback against US economic and political interests will be disastrous.

The only thing that will work in the negotiations and for the US Administration itself is to acknowledge Iran´s rights -including uranium enrichment- and respect its interests. If the US accepts that its previous strategy towards Iran was wrong and shows that it is ready for a real change, based on a realist, non-hostile and honest approach, it would pave the way for a permanent solution of the nuclear question and other security-related issues in the region and the world.

US officials confess to targeting Iran’s civilian population

by Franklin Lamb, Al Manar

Condemned by every syllable they utter

Tehran — Azadeh, a graduate law student from Tehran University, on the sidelines of Iran’s Third Annual Hollywoodism (www.hollywoodism.orghttp) reminded her interlocutors, of the obvious damming admissions last week by two US politicians:

“It would be a defense lawyer’s worst nightmare wouldn’t it? I mean to have one’s clients, in this case the Vice-President of the United States and the outgoing Secretary of state confess so publicly to serial international crimes against a civilian population?”

The confessions and the crimes, she correctly enumerated to her audience, were those admitted to by US Vice-President Joe Biden and outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this past week.

Both of the US officials, in discussing US relations with the Islamic Republic, openly admitted that the US-led sanctions against Iran (and Syria) are politically motivated and constitute a “soft-war” against the nearly 80 million people of Iran (23 million people in Syria) in order to achieve regime change.

Mrs. Clinton, was the first of the dynamic duo to be heard from. She acknowledged that the harsh US sanctions were intended to target and send the people of Iran a message. “So we hope that the Iranian people will make known their concerns… so my message to Iranians is do something about this.”

Some listening concluded she meant food riots and inflation riots to overthrow the Iranian government. An Australian Broadcasting Company interviewer asked Clinton on January 31 of last year: “If you have issues with the government of Iran, why destroy the Iranian people with the current sanctions in place? It’s very difficult to find certain medicines in Iran. Where is your sense of humanity?”

What the Clinton interrogator had in mind, she explained later, were the US-led sanctions reducing Iran’s GDP growth (-1.1% GDP) resulting in an inflation of 21.0% that is being felt mostly by the civilian population. As well as periodic food shortages in the supermarkets of such staples such as rice, there are price rises on everything. For example, per page printing for students is up as much as 400% and the cost of a used car up 300%. In general, supermarket items have risen 100 to 300 percent or higher over the past twenty-four months and, devastating for many, certain lifesaving medicines are no longer available.

Clinton: “Well, first, let me say on the medicine and on food and other necessities, there are no sanctions.” This statement is utter nonsense and Mrs. Clinton knows it.

The targeting process by the US Treasury Department is well entrenched in Washington. When dear reader is next in Washington, DC, perhaps on a tour bus riding down NW Pennsylvania Avenue following a visit to the US Capitol, consider getting off the bus at 15th and Pennsylvania at the US Department of the Treasury. Walk around the main building and you will see an Annex building. This building, as Clinton knows well, and like Biden, has visited more than once, houses the Office of Financial Assets Control (OFAC). The well-funded agency’s work includes precisely targeting “food and medicines and other necessities” in order to force the civilian population of Iran to achieve regime change.

For more than two hundred years, since the War of 1812, when OFAC was founded to sanction the British, the office has become expert at imposing sanctions and it has done so more than 2000 times. OFAC currently uses a large team of specialists and computers to think-up, design, test, and send to AIPAC and certain pro-Zionist officials and members of congress their work-product topped off by recommendations.

OFAC and its Treasury Department associates have had a hand in virtually every US sanction applied to Iran since President Jimmy Carter issued Executive Order 12170 in November 1979 freezing about $12 billion in Iranian assets, including bank deposits, gold and other properties. From the State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act in 1979 to the Syria Accountability Act of 2004, more than a dozen Presidential Executive Orders including the 2011-2012 Executive orders which froze the US property of high-rankling Syrian and Iranian officials and more broadly E.O. 13582 which froze all governmental assets of the Syrian government and prohibited Americans from doing business with the Syrian government and banned all US import of Syrian petroleum products.

What OFAC does with its data base is science not art. It can calculate quite precisely the economic effect on the civilian population of a single action designating one company, bank, government entity or infrastructure system of a country. OFAC, on behalf of its government, electronically wages a cold war against its civilian targets.

This week OFAC and the Treasury Department blacklisted Iran’s state broadcasting authority, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, responsible for broadcast policy in Iran and overseas production at Iranian television and radio channels, potentially limiting viewing and listening opportunities for Iran’s civilian population. Its director, Ezzatollah Zarghami, was included

in the action. Additionally sanctioned are Iran’s Internet-policing agencies and a major electronics producer. David S. Cohen, the pro-Zionist Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, who oversees the OFAC sanctions effort, reportedly following meetings with Israeli officials, said last week’s actions were meant to “tighten the screws and intensify the economic pressure against the Iranian regime.”

In reality, the sanctions target the civilian population and the “Iranian regime” won’t be much affected. The same applies to Syria. Despite the public relations language that “food and medicine are exempted from the brutal US-led sanctions, as OFAC well knows, the reality is something else. They know well the chilling effects of the sanctions on international suppliers of medicines and food stuffs with respect to a targeted country. The US Treasury department has thousands of gigabytes of data confirming that the boards of directors of international business do not, and will not allow their companies to risk millions of dollars in profits by technically violating any of the thousands of details in the sanctions — many of which are subject to interpretation — for the sake of doing business with Iran or Syria. This is why there are severe shortages of medicines and certain foodstuffs in these sanctioned countries and to state otherwise is Orwellian News-Speak.

OFAC does not operate in a vacuum. It works closely with other US agencies including the 16 intelligence agencies that together make up the UN Intelligence Community. Together they have applied sanctions of great breadth and severity against the civilian populations of Syria and Iran. These sanctions have been bolstered on occasion by several direct and/or green-lighted Israeli assassinations and cyber-assaults, hoping to foment civil unrest to achieve regime change and other political goals.

A few days after Mrs. Clinton’s somewhat inadvertent confession that the US government intentionally targets the civilian population of Iran, Vice President Joe Biden chimed in on the 4th of February that the US was ready to hold direct negotiations with Iran but added the caveat, “We have also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation,” acknowledging as did Hillary that the US sanctions are intended to target and harm the Iranian and Syrian people. A senior Obama administration official described the latest step as “a significant turning of the screw,” meaning that the people of Iran face a “stark choice” between bowing to US demands and reviving their oil revenue, the country’s economic lifeblood or more and more sanctions will follow until they do.

This targeting of Iran’s and Syria’s civilian population by US-led sanctions is a massive violation of the principles, standards and rules of international law and their most fundamental underpinnings which is the protection of civilians.

Some examples:

The 1977 Additional Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Conventions prohibit any measure that has the effect of depriving a civilian population of objects indispensable to its survival. Article 70 of Protocol I mandates relief operations to aid a civilian population that is “not adequately provided” with supplies and Article 18 of Protocol II requires relief operations for a civilian population that suffers “undue hardship owing to a lack of supplies essential for its survival, such as foodstuffs and medical supplies.”

Prohibition on Starvation as a Method of Warfare

• Under international humanitarian law, civilians enjoy a right to humanitarian assistance during armed conflicts.

• Art. 23 of the Fourth Geneva Convention obligates states to facilitate the free passage and distribution of relief goods including medicines, foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, expectant mothers, and maternity cases.

• Art. 70 of Additional Protocol I prohibits interfering with delivery of relief goods to all members of the civilian population.

• US-led sanctions are prohibited by the principle of proportionality found in Arts. 51 and 57 of Additional Protocol I.

• Under the terms of Art. 3 common to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, humanitarian and relief actions must be taken. Pursuant to Art. 18(2) of Additional Protocol II, relief societies must be allowed to offer their services to provide humanitarian relief

• The US-led sanctions violate the Rule of Distinction between civilians and combatants

The Right to life

The US-led sanctions violate the right to life incorporated in numerous international human rights instruments including Art. 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966; Art. 2 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 1950; and Art. 4 of the African Charter of Human Rights, 1981.

The Rights of the Child

One of the groups most vulnerable to US-led sanctions in Syria and Iran are children. The rights of children are laid down in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, which currently stands as the most widely ratified international agreement. Most relevant in the context of the US-led sanctions are Arts. 6 and 24 of the Convention, according to which every child has the inherent right to life and the right to the highest attainable standard of health and access to medical services.

If “terrorism” means, as the United States government defines it as the targeting of civilians in order to induce political change from their government, what is it called when the American government itself applies intense economic suffering on a civilian population, causing malnutrition, illnesses, starvation and death in order to induce regime change?

The US-led sanctions against Iran and Syria are illegal, inhumane, ineffective, immoral and outrageous. They must be resisted every day by every person of good will, everywhere, until they are withdrawn.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in the Islamic Republic of Iran and is reachable c/o

EU court annuls sanctions on Iran’s Bank Saderat

Press TV

The European Union (EU) has lifted sanctions against the Iranian state-owned Bank Saderat, after Europe’s highest court removed it from the list of banned institutions.

The European Council was ordered to remove Bank Saderat from its sanctions list following legal proceedings, a statement by the bank’s public relations office said on Wednesday.

The General Court of the European Union consequently ruled that the sanctions imposed against the Iranian bank were illegal, and accepted the bank’s request to lift the restrictions.

Last Week, the European Court of Justice also annulled the EU sanctions imposed against Iranian Bank Mellat two and a half years ago.

In December 2012, the Luxemburg-based Court of Justice also ordered the EU to lift its sanctions against Iranian private bank, Sina.

At the beginning of 2012, the United States and the EU imposed sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors with the goal of preventing other countries from purchasing Iranian oil and conducting transactions with the Central Bank of Iran. The sanctions entered into force last summer.

On October 15, 2012, the EU foreign ministers reached an agreement on another round of sanctions against Iran.

The illegal US-engineered sanctions were imposed based on the unfounded accusation that Iran is pursuing non-civilian objectives in its nuclear energy program.

Iran rejects the allegation, arguing that as a committed signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.