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The Iran Nuclear Deal…One Year Later: Interview with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. KGNU, Boulder. “Hemispheres Program – Middle East Dialogues.” Tues, August, 30, 2016. Part Two

September 19, 2016
Syria...still one country after all the bloodshed. U.S. plans to dismember it a la Iraq and Libya are failing.

Syria…still one country after all the bloodshed. U.S. plans to dismember it a la Iraq and Libya are failing.

Part One

More on the Iranian Nuclear Deal

Ibrahim Kazerooni (Continued): The Iranians are now becoming more and more militant when it comes to their support for Syria. They are aware of the failure of the Saudis in Yemen and other places, (which I am sure, Rob, you will be addressing later in the program) – this Saudi failure has weakened their regional position. Whether it is practical or principled, the Turks are trying to move closer to what is called “the axis of Resistance” to a degree. Although one needs to explain, if that is the case, how on earth can they justify the occupation of northern Syria.

But Iran’s position has hardened not only in their giving more and more support to the Syrian government. The Russians are doing likewise and now the Chinese are coming in to provide the Syrian government maximum support. For the first time since 1949 the Iranians have allowed Russia to use its territory for the fight against ISIS [in Syria], to bring in their long-range planes.

To add insult to injury to the United States, the Iraqis have allowed the Russians to do the same thing. So this alliance has created this unique dynamic and I believe it’s the first time since the Islamic Revolution (1979) in which any foreign country has been allowed access to military bases in Iran for the sake of fighting with ISIS so that now an alliance is being formed against the axis of the United States which includes Saudi Arabia, the Israelis and Turks on the north. The Qataris are at this point, out of the picture.

If you look at the comments made a number of countries, the Chinese and others , they have clearly indicated that they are “in” (in the alliance with Syria, Iran, Russia..). Somehow the Chinese are trying to retaliate against the United States for the Chinese concern regarding U.S. interference in the disputes over islands in the South China Sea and so are killing two birds with one stone. China is supporting Syria, strengthening it against the United States and NATO’s joint position. At the same time they are creating an alliance that the Turks, Saudi Arabia, United States and their allies find themselves increasingly marginalized in the Middle East in terms of Syria.

The military support that Syria has received from Russia along with Iranian advisers, etc., has turned the tables. There is only one thing left for, literally, the U.S. plan to completely collapse and that is Haleb (Aleppo). If the Syrian regime which appears to be moving in the direction of full control of Aleppo – if Aleppo falls into the hands the Syrian government, I believe that is the nail in the coffin of the mercenaries in Syria because the Iraqis are moving westward, closing in to the Syria border from Mosul as the Syrians are moving towards the east. Soon the whole plan for the destabilization and regime change in Syria, costly as it has been, is going to fail.

At least what will come out of all this is a new re-orientation that will take the United States a long, long time to adjust to the new reality.

Jim Nelson: I have a question for you Ibrahim. Part of the Iranian nuclear deal was the freeing up of the banking institutions in the U.S. and so forth with which international trade is conducted mostly in U.S. dollars. The banks have not opened up or helped in any way with opening up trade for Iran with other countries as well as the U.S. How do you see this.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Through the Iranian nuclear deal the United States was hoping that the dollar would remain as the main currency for global economic activities, but unfortunately as a result of their shortsightedness the fact that they did not allow the banks to open trade with Iran has backfired some. In 2014, the United States fined BNP Paribas BNPP, the French bank, $9 billion for its dealings with Iran. This has caused jitters among other financial institutions in Europe which even after the agreement are hesitant to open dealings with Iran.

The Iranians have retaliated and now they are beginning to trade in euros, local currencies in India with rupees as well with the Chinese in their currency and with Russia with the ruble. So since the United States has not honored it part of the agreement, the Iranians are not prepared to keep pursuing its international transactions in dollars and they are accepting all other currencies as alternatives to the dollar.

Not only will all this hurt the relationship that we were hoping that the signing of the nuclear agreement was going to create some kind of friendlier relationship between Iran and the United States, but now the ramifications of this post-agreement cooling is going to be much more severe for United States regional policies and will keep the Middle East destabilized. Kerry’s visit to the Middle East regarding Yemen is a part of the cooling down of the situation because it’s becoming out of control. But Iran is not prepared to soften its position visavis the United States. The Ayatollah Kameni, the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, has clearly indicated in a number of recent speeches that “I told you so – you cannot trust the United States.” So we are beginning to see the Iranians, particularly the parliamentarians to shift into a much more hard-line position towards the United States visavis their agreement with the United States.

Jim Nelson: And something else that I noticed the other day – earlier you (I.K) mentioned the neo-cons. Well an interesting neo-con has come out in support of Hillary Clinton, Paul Wolfowitz. I can’t imagine that he’d be playing much of a role in her administration, but getting backing from someone like Paul Wolfowitz, a key figure in the 2003 U.S. led invasion of Iraq is telling.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Jim you have to put this in the context of the two alternatives for the U.S. presidency for the neo-cons. The “other one” (Donald Trump) is so rotten that Hillary Clinton becomes a preferable choice, even if ideologically you might have differences with her. But it’s much better to deal with someone you trust and know – ie, she is predictable – than supporting someone who is so erratic that anything can happen. The notion of working with Trump is revolting for them, even for people like Wolfowitz.

Rob Prince: I want to add one point here Ibrahim. In the same way that there are these pipeline politics to which you earlier referred which behind the tragedy unfolding Syria that the pretexts we hear about, human rights, whatever…the same thing is happening to the north, in the Baltic countries where the United States is trying to convince Sweden, Finland and others, not to accept Russian natural gas but to acquire it from the United States instead. During the Cold War both of these countries were, essentially, “neutral” but today they are moving quite dramatically towards cementing their ties with NATO, not formally necessarily yet, but informally.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, because they fear the same kind of economic sanctions’ penalties that were imposed upon the French banks.

Rob Prince: Yes, that is true, they are afraid of that. The historic tensions and fears that in the past the Baltic countries had with Russia and the former USSR also figure into the equation. These fears are being amplified today by the United States and NATO.

But in terms of breaking their contacts for Russian gas and replacing it with the stuff from the United States, Sweden and Finland have been, up to the present, hesitant to change their relations with Russia. It appears the two Baltic countries distrust the U.S. promises more than the current Russian contracts.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Sorry I have to leave (he had another pressing engagement). I hope Rob will deal with the rest of it.

Jim Nelson: Thanks for joining us Ibrahim. That was Ibrahim Kazerooni, a regular member of our program, the Middle East Dialogue and also a member of the International Press Roundup featured here in KGNU. Rob Prince is still here in the studio. We are about to come up on 6:30 (PM). You are tuned to KGNU. This is “Hemispheres” and you are listening to “the Middle East Dialogue” and I’m your host Jim Nelson and as mentioned, Rob Prince is joining me as he always does with Ibrahim Kazerooni.

I’m going to open the phone lines. If you would like to join the conversation with a question or a comment, you can call here at our studio at 303-443-4242.

So, Rob shall we now move on to Syria and the impact of the Iran nuclear deal on the civil war there?

Kurdish women fighters in Syria - some of the most capable in fighting ISIS

Kurdish women fighters in Syria – some of the most capable in fighting ISIS

Turkey, a month after the Coup Attempt

Rob Prince: Not quite yet. What I would like to talk about first is what has happened in Turkey over the past month since our last program and then spend a good part of the rest of the time talking about the Saudi war against Yemen.

In our last program a month ago, we discussed certain moves on the part of the Erdogan government in Turkey in the aftermath of the so-called attempted coup, or whatever it was, to strengthen its ties with Russia and Iran – which would be a clear break from Turkey’s long term alliance with and participation in NATO, a major shift in policy. Erdogan paid visits to both countries; high level representatives of the Turkish government actually went to Damascus as well.

What seemed to be happening was the beginning of a policy shift where Erdogan was maybe not cutting them, but downgrading his relations with NATO and the United States and beginning to improve his ties with Russia and Iran, even suggesting that something might be coming in terms of a settlement with Syria. Now we are a month down the line and the picture is somewhat clearer and what made it clearer was the Turkish military incursion into northern Syria which has been for some time now a part of the U.S.-NATO plan to partition that country.

What Turkey engaged in is the political version of what is a classic basketball move: faking to the left while moving right. Turkish cozying up to Turkey and Iran – and not only that – but Turkish government-sponsored demonstrations at the Incirlek military base, the big military base in southeast Turkey where a good deal of the logistical planning for what is going on in Syria takes place, a base which contains something between 60-to-80 hydrogen bombs, the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons at any U.S. base anywhere. There were rumors that Turkey might close it, or that the Turks might offer space there to be shared with the Russians. How charming!
At the same time Erdogan unleashed an unprecedented broadly-based wave of repression, repressing just about everyone in sight, at the same time there are these orchestrated demonstrations outside Incirlek with anti-American slogans.

In the end all this was little more than posturing on Erdogan’s part, political theater.

Jim Nelson: which resulted in a visit by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Rob Prince: That’s correct…and then a visit by Joe Biden,

Jim Nelson: Demanding that the Kurds move out of the areas in Syria that they have taken from ISIS near the Turkish border

Rob Prince: What we are looking at here is something that anyone who has followed the Middle East and its history is quite familiar with: that is, small or medium sized countries, caught between great powers that try to play one off against the other. It’s an old game, the Ottomans did it between the Russians, the British, the French and the Germans. In the end, by the way, not only is it a cynical approach, but it doesn’t work.

My point here is that it is not so simple for Turkey to break its ties with the U.S. or NATO. There are certain red lines that Erdogan cannot cross. The Biden visit as I see it entailed two issues. First of all, it was to remind him of his historic alliances (U.S.-NATO). Second of all, it was clear that the United States had to make some kind of concession to Turkey. The concession that was made to Erdogan was “OK green light” – go into some of those areas of northern Turkey that you have long been coveting.

In the long run, the Turkish military presence in northern Syria is Turkish fear of a more geographically unified Kurdish movement that would influence, give support to and radicalize Turkish Kurds living near the border. In the long run, this is another failed policy, Turkey digging its hole in Syria wider and deeper.

When it comes to Erdogan, it took us (Kazerooni and Prince) a while to understand from where he is coming. There was a lot of talk, press articles of how Erdogan represents the new face of Islamic nationalism, Islamic democracy even and that this is what he is about. It is much clearer after the events of the past few months that Erdogan is about …Erdogan, plain and simple. He’s basically a power-monger To believe that he is following some more elaborate nationally based policy is mistaken; his policy is his own political survival pure and simple In the short run it does appear that he has succeeded.

My hunch is that this coup, this kind of purge, in the long run, will be his undoing. As we discussed in the last program, the most recent target, the great purge, targeted those thousands intimately or more loosely associated with the Gulen movement, this movement within Turkish Islam. But for almost a year prior to his targeting the Gulen supporters Erdogan was putting journalists, peace activists – especially those calling for Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation – , human rights and trade union activists if you like, in prison.

Our understanding is the Turkish situation, looking at it a little more clearly than was possible a month ago, that despite all of these gestures “to the East” that remains a firm member of NATO and U.S. policy and plans in the Middle East.

Jim Nelson: Given Washington’s “green light” to Turkey to invade Syria, what you say seems to hold water.

Rob Prince: Having reflected on all that, the U.S.-NATO position in Syria continues to weaken on the ground. It is weakening by the day. We’ve been talking about over several months on this program. The situation on the ground for Assad and his allies is strengthening. The position of the Syrian opposition on the ground, most of which is some form of Islamic fundamentalism, is deteriorating. The idea that there is some kind of moderate, more secular opposition is unproven. The Russians kept saying that they keep hearing about the moderate opposition from U.S. Secretary of State Kerry. “OK” – they said. “Point it out to us so we can avoid bombing them.” Washington’s response was that the moderate opposition is mixed in so much with the Islamic forces that it is impossible to identify them. What we do know is that ever time the United States supposedly gives arms and aid to what they claim to be the Syrian moderates, it winds up, curiously, in the hands of the Islamic radicals.

The situation on the ground – and this has been happening over the past eighteen months – is tilting dramatically towards the Syrian government and against the rebels and their regional allies. Something we must understand: What is transpiring in Syria today is shaping up to be a failure in U.S. policy and in this case, quite a significant one that will shift the balance of power in the whole region, the signs of which are appearing everywhere, in Syria and beyond.
The U.S. policy to divide Syria, according to the Doha Accords, into decentralized political units and destroy the political unity of the country has failed. Washington and its allies have lost that battle on the ground militarily already. Basically what ISIS and like groups, the so-called rebels were about was to achieve the break up of Syria militarily. It failed. What they couldn’t do on the ground now they, headed up by Washington’s diplomatic initiative, are trying to do politically.

Jim Nelson: And it could be said that as time goes on with all these rebel factions and groups involved, if Syria stays together as a country, how does Assad rule that country without once again resorting to some severe repression.

Rob Prince: In reality what we have been arguing for the past five years, like a broken record, is that there is no completely military solution to this crisis. This is not a situation where one side are shining knights and the other is Darth Vader and the forces of evil. This is not that kind of a conflict and this is not a conflict which can be ended by military means. It must be decided politically. What that framework for a political solution will look like is up to the Syrians, all of the Syrians and those parties that are involved: the United States, Russia, Iran, other regional players.

Essentially what the parties have been arguing about these last five years politically at least are the terms of a negotiated settlement, the possible framework. For the United States, the earlier starting point was: OK, we and our allies will negotiate, but Hafez al Assad must go first. That demand is in essence to achieve the Syrian government’s complete surrender. It proved unacceptable and the “Assad must go” precondition has been dropped. Now, who knows at this point, should a negotiated settlement take place, what Assad’s future might be. It is far from clear.

What I am committed to is not so much Assad, but a political settlement that takes into consideration the legitimate interests of the different parties. Excluded from that, having no place at the table, are those outside mercenary elements which abound in Syria today by the Saudis, Qataris, Turks, Jordanians and Israelis and were recruited to fight in Syria from elsewhere. Including all the Syrian parties would include quite an array of political and religious social forces. In any settlement, the serious interests of the parties have to be taken into account. What the details might be – including who will rule Syria – that is what negotiations are about; it’s up to the parties to negotiate over and decide.

Summing up: U.S. policy in Syria is in trouble; it’s in crisis. U.S. options are narrowing. What the United States cannot do anymore in the Syrian case is to dictate the political terms of a solution. Basically if you boil down all of what we have been discussing visavis Syria these last months – that, the American inability to dictate the terms of a political solution, is the essence of the situation.

Everyday that Washington continues to hesitate, to dicker, to put up another barrier to these negotiations, the U.S. position weakens that much more and its ability to influence the final shape of the political settlement weakens as well.

Jim Nelson: With that, you are listening to KGNU; the time is 6:42 pm; you are listening to the Middle East Dialogues, a Hemispheres program. You would like to join with a question or a comment you can call 303-442-4242. Currently we were just talking about the Iran Nuclear Deal a year later and the situations in Turkey and Syria. Now we’re going to move on to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. As we have been repeating – all these issues – the Iran deal, the situation in Syria, Turkey and now even Yemen are interconnected

Rob Prince: All one big ball of wax.

Jim Nelson: So go ahead Rob, and tell us about Yemen

Rob Prince: For starters let me try to link the media coverage in Yemen and the coverage of the events in Turkey since the coup attempt.

So this coup – or whatever it was – took place in Turkey. We still don’t know what was behind it all: whether it was what is referred as a false flag operation – actually something that was done by Erdogan himself to suggest a threat to his rule that really didn’t exist or whether it was a C.I.A. operation run out of the forests of Pennsylvania, which while not impossible, is difficult to conceive. In any case, time will tell.

But one of the events that did happen during and after the first weeks of this coup attempt – or whatever it was – was this incredible wave of repression. What have we heard about it since? This is one of the largest, nastiest crack downs in modern history.

Jim Nelson: it involves tens of thousands of people.

Rob Prince: Yes, that’s right. The numbers kept growing. At least 80,000 people either arrested or purged from their jobs.

Jim Nelson: And we’re talking about university professors, deans, heads of universities along with military personnel, people from different political parties, – people just rounded up, arrested and we haven’t heard what has happened to them.

Rob Prince: Yet all this has disappeared from the mainstream media here in the United States – and from what friends tell me, from Europe as well. How interesting. Now if Turkey was a U.S. opponent like let’s say Iran, don’t you think that this repression would be repeated daily, that there would be a drum beat of sharp criticism, attacks from our media (as there should be) of how terrible the human rights situation is in Turkey. But instead there are, at best, short bursts of news about it; it disappears from the news. The little that I can find as to what is happening to these people is very, very disturbing.

Jim Nelson: They (the media) was talking judges as well.

Rob Prince: Judges, teachers, – really if you look into the situation carefully, as mentioned earlier, on the one hand, yes, the main target was the supporters of the Gulen Movement, which was, again, a movement within Turkish Islam that was earlier allied with Erdogan. It helped Erdogan come to power, then Erdogan broke with it, turned on it and crushed it.

Unfortunately, this is not so unusual. There are many similar examples that can be drawn upon from history: movements that help a group come to power and then they are repressed and crushed, but to turn on it with this ferocity – that is a bit unusual. So news about the Turkish repression has disappeared from the news here in the United States. This suggest that the U.S. government and the media don’t want to talk about the Turkish mess. Why? Because Turkey remains, despite all the noise we’ve heard a firm U.S. ally. They might be thugs, as Lyndon Johnson once reflected concerning certain Latin American dictatorships in the 1960s, but they’re our thugs!


Yemeni boys display shrapnel they collected from the rubble of houses destroyed by air strikes in Yemen near Sanaa

Yemeni boys display shrapnel they collected from the rubble of houses destroyed by air strikes in Yemen near Sanaa

Yemeni Humanitarian Crisis

Where else have we heard from little to nothing about the unfolding human rights crisis? Yemen. That crisis by the way, more accurately defined as a Saudi war against Yemen which has entailed for the past two years, especially on the part of the Saudis, massive and sustained human rights violations. Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen and tried to invade it over the past few years.

The official number of Yemeni deaths at this point is 7000 but that does not include up to a million people displaced and it doesn’t include something that we hear very little about: the effect of the Saudi naval and land blockade which has denied Yemen basic food and medical necessity. It is a situation, a mini-version, of the Warsaw Ghetto or Leningrad in World War II, the sanctions policy in Iraq through most of the 1990s where people are being slowly starved to death. In the Iraqi case, it was ten years of bombing that preceded the 2003 invasion that so weakened the country so that when the United States and its few allies invaded, Iraq could defend itself.

Jim Nelson: Rob, we do have a caller.

Caller (Aldo in Erie): I’m very surprised in listening to the talk tonight that Israel is never mentioned. So far the only country that has actually benefitted from the turmoil in Syria is Israel where they annexed the Golan Heights. Nobody mentions this. If we destabilize the whole Middle East, turn Iraq into half a dozen countries and do the same thing with Syria then maybe the policy of a Greater Israel could be in business. Nobody mentions Israel in the game at all?

Rob Prince: First of all, Israel was mentioned earlier in the program albeit briefly. But to respond to your comments which are on the mark…

Somewhere along the line I was going to talk about the situation in the Middle East between the United States and three of its key allies: Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel. But since you raised the question of Israel, let me talk about that. In terms of all three of them what is U.S. policy about today? The United States is trying to a certain degree to shift its strategic emphasis to Asia. It hasn’t been able to do that because of all these wars that it helped ignite in the Middle East. But as a part of this policy the United States has given a certain amount of latitude on security matters to its regional allies.

• For Saudi Arabia it means the “green light” in Yemen
• For Turkey, the “green light” into northern Syria
• For Israel it’s meant the hard line against Gaza and the West Bank and now, as you rightly noted, and there has been very little discussion of this, a further push into Syrian territory in the Golan Heights. The Israel military has been moving into what were U.N. controlled zones in the Golan Heights. That really is a part of the overall plan (for Syria)

I think that Ibrahim spoke of this a little but, but there is so much to cover in these programs and so little time.

In any case, Israel and Jordan are together coordinating the southern Syrian territory near their borders, particularly those regions south of Damascus. There are ISIS fighters in Israel hospitals. Israel has been an active player in the Syrian drama. Israeli expansionism has been given a certain green light to move more deeply into Syrian territory.

We see similar trends in all three countries (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel).

• First of all the growth of a narrow, bigoted form of nationalism whether it is the Saudi variety against their own Shi’ites and the Yemenis; whether it’s the Turkish hard line against the Kurds in Syria or whether its Israeli policy against the Palestinians Israel is certainly an integral player in the Syrian drama, a key player for the United States
• The other way you see all this, despite all the personality tensions between Netanyahu and Obama, well there are tensions between all of these allies and the United States. There are tensions with the Saudis, now there are tensions with the Turks.. So there are tensions. But at the same time Saudi Arabia has gotten $111 billion in arms from the United States in the last seven years; Israel is getting the biggest military aid deal in its history, even larger than in the past and Turkey’s expansionist goals are being supported.

There are red lines that none of these three allies, can or will cross but within that context, your comments about Israel are valid and I don’t disagree with them.

Jim Nelson: We have to move on Aldo, we have another caller. We have Jim from Boulder. Good evening Jim.

Caller (Jim from Boulder): Hello. Very good show as always. It’s become one of my favorites along with Don DeBar’s Community Public Radio early in the morning, and of course David Barsamian’s Alternative Radio show.

I want to back up a little bit. Someone mentioned Aleppo as the key to the whole Syrian situation. This is based on a new article by Alexander McCurris that appeared at the International Clearinghouse. Anyway, he zeroed in on what Turkey did when they went into Syria, they took over Jarabulus. He got this from Mark Swoboda who’s regularly on “Cross Talk” on TV. McCurris pointed out that the whole key to running jihadis and supplies into Aleppo is through Jarabulus. That is what Turkey went for and took over. I see the kind of “kissing up” – for a little while – of Turkey towards Russia. It’s like a feint in boxing, you throw out a fake left hook followed by a straight right to the chops. I think now this is the first major step in the deconstruction of Syria – you know that article put out by the Brookings Institute – of partitioning Syria.

This is it and they are desperate – and as people are saying, Aleppo is about to fall to Damascus. With Hillary Clinton coming in flexing her “whatevers” towards Syria and Russia, There is a desperation with the neo-cons and the humanitarian regime change people in the State Department, that they are capable of anything. And they are really challenging Russia. Now is the time, before Hillary is in there to put a stop to this incursion by Turkey. I see a great danger of nuclear war, or at least a greatly expanded war in that area.

Jim Nelson: We have to move on. We’ll let Rob respond a little bit and then wrap up the program.

Rob Prince: The Turkish incursion had several goals. One of them is gain greater control over the flow of fighters and weapons to ISIS and ISIS-like organizations fighting in Syria, most of which come in through Turkey. The other is to split the region of Northern Syria where the Kurds have been able to build a stronghold and to prevent these regions from uniting into a single whole.

Having said that, your concern over the possible escalation of the military conflict. It’s possible that this could happen but unlikely from where I am sitting. The Syrian conflict has run its course; its cost the United States and its allies a great deal politically and financially. I don’t believe that at this point, the United States is willing to escalate the situation militarily anymore than it has already as it did in Iraq.

I could be wrong about that, but that is my take.

What Washington is trying to achieve in terms of Syria, if you like, is the best deal that they can under the circumstances. Whenever there are these Syrian-like conflicts where there are Russian and military forces basically fighting “in the same neighborhood”, and including some of the regional players, the shadow of nuclear war is there. That is yet another reason to resolve this conflict as soon as possible.

Jim: Time to sum up with the time we have left.

Rob Prince: Summing up: U.S. policy is in crisis in Syria and Washington is looking for a way out; in Yemen, the Saudi military is in crisis and like the U.S. in Syria, the Saudis are looking for a face-saving way out in Yemen.

Thank you.

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