Thursday, July 29, 2010

"Enough is enough .... "

MEPGS: excerpts:
With sanctions officially approved by the European Union ("EU") on Monday, a new phase in the effort to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions has begun. The 27 nations comprising the EU adopted a package that is seen by many as the most effective action taken so far in that effort.  Targeting shipping, transportation, insurance and even banking, these measures are seen by veteran observers here and abroad as having a profound effect on Iran's economic activities.  According to informed sources, the measures were adopted amidst some heated debate.  For example, Malta and Greece expressed concern about the adverse impact on their transportation operations.  And Germany, though among the key players over the past years in talks concerning sanctions, was still wary, since it has the most to lose among EU members, in bi-lateral trade with Iran.      The most effective measure, say well-informed diplomats, may be the restriction on providing refined products to Iran.  Upwards of forty per cent of Iran's refined oil needs to be imported, despite being among the world's largest exporters of crude.  "The regime [in Teheran] is running around looking for other sources," says one European diplomat.  "They are genuinely shaken."      The next step, say well-placed sources, is to make official demarches to other "like-minded" countries, notably South Korea and Japan.  The Japanese are considered the more problematic of the two since they have little experience with the kind of government oversight needed to enforce sanctions.  "There are many ways to circumvent and undermine sanctions like through using subsidiaries," notes one veteran US analyst.  "The Japanese will have a steep learning curve."  Moreover, says this official, Japan is concerned that economic rival, China, will step in and take over potentially lucrative contracts.  Both Asian powers are dependent on Middle East energy sources and Japan has a long history of doing business with Iran.      China remains the wild card in any assessment of the efficacy of sanctions.  Optimists in the US government say that Beijing will continue to play its trade with Iran but not seek to expand its activities at the expense of others.  Pessimists, especially among Israeli analysts, argue that Japan and others with long term interests in trading with Iran, have cause to be concerned.  "China will obey the letter of UN resolutions, but not their spirit," says one senior Israeli official.  This official also notes that India will "not be helpful" nor will Brazil and Turkey cease their efforts to mediate an agreement on terms favorable to Teheran. Coincidentally -- or not -- Greek Prime Minister Papandreau visited Israel last week.  It was the first such high level mission from Athens in nearly two decades.  It resulted in a joint pledge to forge closer ties].  While the ramifications of the deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations may not have provided an opening for closer ties between Jerusalem and Athens, it is clear that not only Israel but the US is also frustrated with the Erdogan government in Ankara.  President Obama has repeatedly spoken to the Turkish Prime Minister about Iran, but clearly has not been able to sway him.  Some sources now see the prospect of a major turning point in US- Turkish relations.  As one senior US official said late last month, "This relationship has become a one-way street, with us giving and the Turks only taking."
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Meanwhile, US-Israeli relations are on a better footing thanks, in part, to the meetings earlier this month between President Obama and Israel's Netanyahu. Stealing a line from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, one White House official noted that the talks were "doomed to succeed." This was because it clearly had become in the interests of both countries to close the perceived gap on two key issues, talks with the Palestinians and the way forward in dealing with Iran. On the latter issue, informed sources say the two leaders agreed on how far Iran has come in its nuclear development, the likely time line for future developments and, most important, that there is no acceptable alternative to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability. That being agreed, it appears that the Israelis are willing to focus all their attention on the "diplomatic" route (as one Israeli official puts it) at least until the beginning of next year. Even on the thorny question of talks with the Palestinians, both parties came away, at least initially, with an upbeat assessment. All efforts, they agreed, would be aimed at persuading Palestinian leader Abu Mazen to enter into direct talks, perhaps as early as next month. In the meantime, Israelis and Americans would engage in the perennial task of implementing "confidence building measures." For Israel, this means, among other things, allowing greater freedom of movement for West Bank Palestinians. And the US, shortly after Netanyahu left town, upgraded the diplomatic status of Abu Mazen's representative in Washington. Still, skepticism abounds, particularly on the US side [With Israelis taking satisfaction that, in one official's words, "The ball is now in the Palestinian court"]. The Palestinian leadership, say veteran US analysts, may need a lot more substantive measures before they are prepared to begin direct talks with the Netanyahu government. Even more worrisome to some observers is how quickly these talks could get bogged down once contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem come to the surface. Some skeptics believe that the Administration, at this point, is not looking much past the fall elections. "I think everyone here would be quite happy to just launch negotiations and slide past the tough issues until after November," says one veteran observer. What will not wait until the mid-term elections here is an acceptable outcome to the Iraqi elections, now more than four months past. As Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen's visit to Baghdad this week demonstrated, the Administration is getting "fed up" (to use one US official's words) with the Iraqi leadership's inability to form a government. "Enough is enough," groused one State Department official. "They have been negotiating since the polls closed." And it has become apparent to the average iraqi, not to mention US officials, that the two leading contenders for Prime Minister, the current (caretaker) office holder Nouri al-Maliki and his rival, Ayad Allawi have become ever more intransigent. While few US analysts believe Allawi has a chance of gaining the post, Maliki still believe that he does. And it is his intransigence that upsets most US officials and increasingly members of his own party. On the ground, it is already having an effect as the US prepares to abandon its combat role at the end of August, leaving many Iraqis wondering if this will lead to increased Iranian influence as a power vacuum remains at the top in Baghdad. On practical issues, such as turning over "forward operating bases," progress cannot take place without firm direction from the top of a stable Iraqi government. And with the month long holiday of Ramadan less than two weeks away, it seems increasingly likely that matters will remain unresolved on September 1. .."

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