March 29/14

Bible Quotation for today/Miracle on Saturday
Mark 3,1-12/: "Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Jesus departed with his disciples to the lake, and a great multitude from Galilee followed him; hearing all that he was doing, they came to him in great numbers from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and the region around Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him; for he had cured many, so that all who had diseases pressed upon him to touch him.
Whenever the unclean spirits saw him, they fell down before him and shouted, ‘You are the Son of God!’But he sternly ordered them not to make him known.

Pope Francis's Tweet For Today
Pope Francis ‏
We all need to improve, to change for the better. Lent helps us fight against our faults.
Pape François ‏
Nous avons tous besoin de progresser, de changer en mieux. Que le Carême nous aide à lutter contre nos défauts.

Latest analysis, editorials, studies, reports, letters & Releases from miscellaneous sources For March 29/14

Pakistani Christian gets death in blasphemy case/Associated Press/March 29/14

Opinion: Tehran and the temptation of a power grab in Lebanon/By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat/March 29/14

Obama’s foreign policy disarray/By: Rafael Castro/03.28.14/Ynetnews/March 29/14

What If the Ukraine Crisis Affects the Iran File/By: James F. Jeffrey/Washington Institute/March 29/14
Saudi Succession Change Risks Royal Family Squabble/By: Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/March 29/14

Executions surge in Iran - evidence of Rowhani's ‘moderate’ rule/By: Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiyia/March 29/14


Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources For March 29/14
Lebanese Related News

UN: Syria refugee crisis poses major threat to Lebanese stability
ISF Member Shot Dead in Tripoli as Army Hunts Suspected 'Extremist' Culprits

Suleiman Urges Armed Forces Not to be Lenient with Terrorists

Salam Calls for Partnership between Legislative, Executive Branches

Interior Ministry Denies Woman Jailed for Several Days at Beirut Airport Basement

March 14 General Secretariat Urges Foreign Ministry to File Complaint with U.N. over Cross-Border Attacks

Army Seizes Large Arms Cache at Depot in Akkar, Detains Syrians near Arsal

Interrogations with NSSF Employees Kick Off in Fraud Case

MP Jaber: Parliamentary Committee's Mission on Elections Ends in 4-5 Days

SCC Vows to Return to Strikes if Parliament Delays Endorsing New Wage Scale

Telecom Data Dispute Renews despite Cabinet's Decision

Cabinet Ministers Say Hizbullah-Backed Security Plan to be Implemented Soon

Franjieh Nominates Aoun for Presidency without Withdrawing Own Candidacy

Miscellaneous Reports And News'

US President visits Saudi Arabia, seeks to reassure allies

Obama, Saudis to Discuss Boosting Moderate Syria Opposition

U.N. Prolongs Probe of Syria Rights Violations

Rights Group Slams Syria's Failure to Allow Aid Access

Egypt Jihadists Threaten Sinai Security Wall Attacks
Palestinians: Israel Reneges on Final Prisoner Release

Tymoshenko Ignites Ukraine Election Campaign

Obama Calls on Russia to 'Move Back' Troops as Putin Says Crimea Showed Army's Capabilities

Turkey Labels YouTube Leak a Pre-election 'Plot'

Canadian FM: Jewish refugees should be part of Mideast peace accord

Pakistani Christian gets death in blasphemy case
Associated Press, Lahore
Friday, 28 March 2014
A court convicted a Pakistani Christian man and sentenced him to death Thursday in a blasphemy case that sparked a riot last year in the eastern city of Lahore, according to his lawyer. Naeem Shakir, the lawyer for Sawan Masih, said a judge announced the verdict during a hearing at the jail where the trial has been held out of fears that Masih might be attacked on his way to court. Shakir said he would appeal. Although Pakistan has never executed anybody under the law, crowds angered over blasphemy accusations have been known to take the law into their own hands and kill those they suspect of violating it. Once an accusation is made it is extremely difficult to reverse, in part because law enforcement personnel do not want to appear to be going easy on suspects. Such vigilantism has created a climate of fear, forcing frightened judges into holding court sessions inside jails and keeping witnesses from coming to the defense of those on trial. Many human rights activists say the blasphemy law, which allows for punishment of life in prison or death, is misused as a way to target people for personal gain or revenge. The incident that led to Thursday’s conviction began March 7 last year when a young Muslim man accused Masih of maligning the Prophet Muhammad. Police arrested Masih, but the next day a mob ransacked the neighborhood where he and other Christians live, setting fire to homes and destroying household possessions. Fearing for their safety, hundreds of Christian families fled the area overnight ahead of the riots. Many in the neighborhood have since moved back, and their homes have been rebuilt. The police arrested 83 suspects following the rampage, including the man who brought the complaint against Masih, said a Lahore police official, Rana Taseer Riaz. But so far none of the suspects have been convicted and all were released on bail, he said. Amnesty International condemned Masih’s conviction and sentencing. The organization said there were serious concerns about the fairness of his trial and called for his immediate release. The organization also called on Pakistan to bring to trial the people responsible for attacking the Christian homes.
“Failure to do so will effectively send the message that anyone can commit outrageous abuses and excuse them as defense of religious sentiments,” said David Griffiths, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia Pacific Director. Pakistan’s blasphemy law has existed since even before the country’s 1947 founding. During the 1980s, the U.S.-backed military dictator, Gen. Mohammed Zia-ul-Haq, amended it to add the death penalty and single out Islam as the religion that may not be insulted, among other changes.


UN: Syria refugee crisis poses major threat to Lebanese stability
WASHINGTON - An influx of almost 1 million refugees from Syria into neighboring Lebanon poses a serious threat to the already fragile country, but donor nations may not grasp the potential impact of further destabilization, a UN official said on Thursday. "There is not a single country in the world today that is shouldering as much in proportion to its size as Lebanon," said Ninette Kelley, regional representative for Lebanon for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "If this country is not bolstered, then the very real prospect of it collapsing and the conflict of Syria spreading full force to Lebanon becomes much more likely," she said during a visit to Washington. Last month, top UN officials said that as Syria's grinding conflict enters its fourth bloody year, Syrians are set to replace Afghans as the world's largest refugee population.
While hundreds of thousands of Syrians have also sought refuge in Jordan, Turkey and elsewhere, the largest concentration of Syrian refugees, close to 1 million people, can now be found in Lebanon, increasing the population of the tiny country by about a quarter, the United Nations said. The massive influx threatens to upset Lebanon's fragile demographic balance between Shi'tes, Sunnis, Druze and Christians, and comes as the country, which fought its only bloody civil war from 1975-1990, struggles to contain mounting violence seen as linked to the conflict next door. Earlier this week, Lebanon's foreign minister said that the crisis was "threatening the existence of Lebanon." This month, the Lebanese parliament gave a newly formed cabinet a vote of confidence, ending almost a year of political deadlock. A major challenge for the new government will be the mounting cost of the refugee crisis, which has strained public infrastructure as people fleeing violence in Syria seek housing, food, and healthcare at a time of economic slowdown in Lebanon. The challenge of educating refugee children provides one stark example. Kelley said that 400,000 Syrian refugee children in Lebanon require schooling, now outnumbering Lebanon's own 300,000 children in public schools. To help the country cope, Kelley said the United Nations is seeking to support informal education for refugee children who cannot attend overwhelmed Lebanese schools. But such activities will require additional, sustained funding from donors who are facing their own fiscal pressure and competing needs from elsewhere. Kelley said the United Nations and other aid providers were struggling to secure such funding. The United nations has estimated that $1.7 billion is needed for this year to help the United Nations, aid organizations, the Lebanese government and others to support refugees from Syria in Lebanon, and to mitigate the impact of the refugee crisis there. So far, pledges have been made for 14 percent of that amount, the UN said.
"Not everyone appreciates the small size of Lebanon and that 25 percent of its population are now refugees, most of whom came in a single year," she said. Lebanon is smaller than the US state of Connecticut. "I also don't think it's widely appreciated that, should Lebanon become destabilized, what that would mean in terms of how much more difficult that would be to form a solution inside Syria, the risk that could have to Israel's stability, the kind of ground that would provide to more militant actors," she said. The United States has been the largest single donor of assistance related to the conflict in Syria. The US State Department says that US humanitarian assistance across the region related to the conflict amounts to $1.7 billion to date.

ISF Member Shot Dead in Tripoli as Army Hunts Suspected 'Extremist' Culprits
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014ظAn Internal Security Forces member was killed in the northern city of Tripoli on Friday, in the second such attack on armed forces in two days, the state-run National News Agency reported, as the army started pursuing suspected perpetrators. NNA said Butros al-Bayaa was in his Range Rover when armed men opened fire on him in the area of al-Qobbeh at around 5:30 am. Al-Bayaa died after he was shot in the head, it said. His vehicle also fell in the nearby Abou Ali river, the agency added. On Thursday, a soldier was killed in a drive-by shooting in Tripoli, the military said. The army said in a communique that two masked men riding a motorcycle killed Fadi al-Jubaili, an army warrant officer, at around 6:15 am after opening fire on him in the area of Boulevard. Al-Jubaili was heading to work when he was killed, it added. Later on Friday, security sources told LBCI TV "it is likely that the group that assassinated Warrant Officer Jbeili was also behind murdering the policeman al-Bayeh and it is part of an extremist organization." "The security plan for Tripoli will contribute to eradicating the extremist groups, which seem to have taken a decision to confront the Lebanese armed forces," the sources added. Meanwhile, army units carried out raids in the Tripoli area of Abi Samra and arrested a Syrian man, according to NNA. "Bags and boxes were confiscated from the house of Syrian national Ahmed Orabi in the al-Rawwas building near al-Nour School in Tripoli," LBCI said. Earlier, al-Jadeed TV said the army deployed in force on al-Haram Street in Abi Samra and dozens of military vehicles were stationed in the neighboring areas.

Suleiman Urges Armed Forces Not to be Lenient with Terrorists
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/President Michel Suleiman urged on Friday the Lebanese Armed Forces to confront terrorists and criminals no matter how much sacrifices they make. In a statement issued by Baabda Palace, Suleiman said: “All terrorist activities that target the members of the army and police won't stop those forces from implementing the decision of the government to preserve security and stability.”The cabinet approved on Thursday a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli and the northern areas of the Bekaa Valley bordering Syria. It instructed the armed forces to seize weapons caches and take all measures to arrest armed men in Tripoli in addition to kidnappers and assailants involved in car theft in the Bekaa. Suleiman urged the armed forces to stick to the measures that they are taking in hotspots and “not to be lenient with terrorists and criminals no matter how much sacrifices they make so that they preserve civil peace and security.”The president also said that the army and security forces “should cut the road to those who sought to turn the nation into a hostage to serve terrorists and criminals.” He extended his condolences to the families and relatives of a soldier and an Internal Security Forces member killed in the northern city of Tripoli respectively on Thursday and Friday. ISF member Butros al-Bayaa was in his Range Rover when armed men opened fire on him in the area of al-Qobbeh on Friday morning. He died after he was shot in the head. As for army warrant officer Fadi al-Jubaili, he was killed early Thursday by two masked gunmen riding a motorcycle in the area of Boulevard. Suleiman also lauded the army, which pursued Sami al-Atrash, a terrorist wanted in connection with car bomb attacks against Hizbullah.
Al-Atrash was killed Thursday in a shootout as the army tried to arrest him in the northeastern town of Arsal near the Syrian border

Salam Calls for Partnership between Legislative, Executive Branches
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Prime Minister Tammam Salam said Friday that partnership between the legislative and executive authorities was necessary to confront major political events. Following talks with Speaker Nabih Berri in Ain el-Tineh, Salam said: “We are living in difficult circumstances … which require continuous consultations.” “Partnership and contacts between the legislative and executive authorities are important,” he told journalists. A day after his cabinet approved a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli and northern areas of the Bekaa Valley, Salam hoped the government would be able to limit security incidents. He also expected “injustice to end,” saying perpetrators should be jailed to “comfort the people and create stability in the country.”Such a stability would “pave way for several achievements and mainly holding the presidential polls.” “If the country was unstable, then we wouldn't be able to hold the polls in an effective way,” he said. Berri is inquiring the parliamentary blocs on their intentions for the elections, Salam said in reference to contacts that the speaker is making with MPs and political leaders to have successful polls. The speaker has also formed a three-member committee of his parliamentary bloc that is touring politicians to guarantee a quorum for a legislative session that Berri should call for to elect a new head of state. Asked about the results of the committee's talks, Salam said: “It is up to Speaker Berri to inform you about that.”President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25.

Interior Ministry Denies Woman Jailed for Several Days at Beirut Airport Basement
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The interior ministry denied on Friday a report that a woman from an Arab country was arrested by “unofficial” security personnel and jailed at Rafik Hariri International Airport.
The denial came in response to an article published in pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat this week, claiming that the woman was kept for several days in a secret jail lying several stories below the ground at the facility. The ministry statement said that Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq personally contacted Hussein Shabakshi, the writer of the article, asking him about the identity of the woman. But Shabakshi, an opinion writer, refused to do so claiming the woman did not want to be identified, the statement said. Al-Mashnouq told him that the article was not the appropriate way to deal with such a sensitive case, it said. Shabakshi has alleged that Hizbullah members maintained a prison two stories below the ground in which they detained, interrogated and tortured people. He said the woman, who was traveling from Beirut to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, was held by Hizbullah for 72 hours for questioning. Shabakshi also claimed that the woman heard the screams of other people being tortured in prison cells in the same location. Al-Mashnouq “asked the General Security and Internal Security Forces directorates, and airport security to immediately open an investigation into the incident … and inform the public opinion about their conclusions as soon as possible,” the ministry said. “It has been revealed so far that the information published in the newspaper is not true,” the statement added. Al-Mashnouq urged the daily to be accurate in publishing such information, particularly that the article did not mention any names or did not give a date as to when the alleged incident took place. “The interior ministry and its agencies were and still are ready to assume full responsibility in following up the case, unveil all its details and take the legal measures if it was revealed that there were perpetrators,” the statement said.

Interrogations with NSSF Employees Kick Off in Fraud Case
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Interrogations with seven National Social Security Fund (NSSF) employees charged with the embezzlement of public funds and forgery kicked off on Friday, the state-run National News Agency reported. According to NNA, Beirut's First Investigative Judge Ghassan Owaidat began questioning the seven suspects after he received a day earlier the financial public prosecution charges along with the investigations carried out.The seven suspects are charged with embezzlement of public funds, counterfeiting documents and incitement to commit arson inside an NSSF branch. On Wednesday, seven employees tasked with operations at the NSSF and others from its inspection bureau were charged by Financial General Prosecutor Judge Ali Ibrahim. Internal Security Forces raided at the weekend a branch for the NSSF in the Beirut neighborhood of Wata el-Msaytbeh as part of investigations of a violation at the branch. General Director of the NSSF Mohammed Karaki revealed that an employee was detained several days ago while trying to set ablaze some documents.

Telecom Data Dispute Renews despite Cabinet's Decision
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The controversial debate over the telecom data renewed between the political arch-foes despite the cabinet's decision to grant security agencies access to it.
As Safir newspaper reported on Friday that the March 8 ministers – Hizbullah, Amal and the Free Patriotic Movement,- voiced objection during Thursday's session to grant the security agencies with the full access to the telecom data, arguing that it violates the privacy of people. A minister affiliated in the March 8, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the daily that a principle stance was taken to reject granting all the telecom data.
The March 8 coalition considers that the decision violates law 140 pertaining to wiretapping, which was issued in 1999. Law 140 specifies the protection of communication data. An Nahar newspaper reported that ministers during the first cabinet session after the government gained the parliament's vote of confidence, called for granting the security agencies the telecom data for a period of six months. The March 14 coalition has continuously called for granting the security agencies the full telecom data to reveal any terrorist attacks, however, the March 8 alliance argue that granting security agencies the full data of mobile subscribers, including its location, the time, and callers in a conversation violates privacy.

Cabinet Ministers Say Hizbullah-Backed Security Plan to be Implemented Soon
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Interior Minister Nuhad al-Mashnouq revealed on Friday that a security plan for the northern city of Tripoli and the eastern Bekaa Valley approved by the government would be implemented “soon.”In remarks to An Nahar newspaper, al-Mashnouq said: “The countdown has started.” “Security forces are united in preserving security and preventing attacks, terrorism, bombings, forgery, murder and kidnappings,” he said. “This plan targets only perpetrators no matter where they come from or what their sects are in accordance to the judiciary,” the minister added. On Thursday, the cabinet tasked the army and security forces with seizing stockpiled arms and controlling the security situation in Tripoli and the Bekaa. In similar remarks to As Safir newspaper published on Friday, Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi confirmed that Hizbullah has backed the plan. The party said “it won't provide the political cover to any wanted suspect in the Bekaa and that the state should arrest perpetrators,” Rifi told the daily. The minister also said that the cabinet approved to delay the approval on transforming the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Bureau into an independent branch upon the request of the Progressive Socialist Party. The issue will be discussed during a session on Monday.

SCC Vows to Return to Strikes if Parliament Delays Endorsing New Wage Scale
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The Syndicate Coordination Committee vowed on Friday to stage strikes and sweep the streets if the new wage scale wasn't referred to the parliament for approval.
“We give officials one week grace period, utmost, to refer the new salary scale to the national assembly or we will return back to the streets and stage strikes,” Nehme Mahfoud, who heads the private schools teachers association, said in comments to Voice of Lebanon radio (100.5). He warned that the SCC will not "stand still" if the matter was delayed, pointing out that the committee “will asylum to the streets and carry out all the measures that the constitution grants.” “We have rights,” Mahfoud added. The syndicate official slammed practices by “some political sides that are delaying the matter.” For his part, head of Secondary Teachers Associations Hanna Gharib vowed in comments to VDL (93.3) that the public employees will stage strikes anew and obstruct the work of state institutions if “officials broke their promises.” The joint parliamentary committee is expected to meet on Friday to tackle the controversial issue of new wage scale and refer it with amendments to the parliament for approval. Former Prime Minister Najib Miqati's cabinet endorsed in 2012 a new salary scale for public employees ending a long dispute that had prompted the SCC, a coalition of private and public school teachers and public sector employees, to hold several sit-ins and strikes. President Michel Suleiman signed the decree mid-June 2013 and was referred to the joint parliamentary committee to study it. Suleiman's signature took time after advisers found accounting mistakes in the scale and returned the draft-law to ex-Finance Minister Mohammed al-Safadi to amend it. The wage increase will be retroactive from July 1, 2012. The endorsement was accompanied by increasing the Value Added Tax on cars, mobile phones, alcohol and other luxury products from 10 to 15 percent to be able to fund the raise. The state treasury will have more than $1.2 billion to cover as there are over 180,000 public sector employees including military personnel.

MP Jaber: Parliamentary Committee's Mission on Elections Ends in 4-5 Days
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Development and Liberation bloc MP Yassine Jaber on Friday expected the mission of a three-member parliamentary committee formed by Speaker Nabih Berri on the presidential elections to end in 4-5 days. In remarks to Voice of Lebanon radio (93.3), Jaber said the committee will meet with Lebanese Democratic Party leader MP Talal Arslan and Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea on Friday.
MPs Ali Osseiran and Michel Moussa are the other members of the committee, whose main task is to discuss the presidential polls with party leaders and heads of parliamentary blocs to guarantee a quorum and the appropriate atmosphere for a parliamentary session. The decision to name a candidate is up to the parliamentary blocs and lawmakers and is not part of the job of the three-member body, Berri told al-Akhbar on Thursday.
The committee met on Thursday with Free Patriotic Movement chief MP Michel Aoun, Kataeb party leader Amin Gemayel and MP Michel Murr. On Monday, the three Development and Liberation bloc lawmakers will hold talks with Maronite Patriarch Beshara al-Rahi, Marada movement chief MP Suleiman Franjieh, Tashnag party representatives and former Prime Minister Najib Miqati, who is also an MP. Al-Rahi has urged Berri to convene a legislative session as soon as possible to elect a new head of state.President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends on May 25. But the Constitutional deadline for parliament to start convening to elect a new head of state started on March 25. The patriarch will be the only religious leader with whom the lawmakers would meet given that the 1943 power-sharing agreement states the president should be a Maronite. Under the agreement along confessional lines the prime minister should be a Sunni and the speaker a Shiite. Parliament's bureau agreed on Thursday to have a two-thirds quorum in the session on the presidential polls. Berri has said that a candidate should receive a two-thirds of votes to win in the first round and half-plus-one or 65 votes of the 128-member parliament to win in the second round, he said.


Army Seizes Large Arms Cache at Depot in Akkar, Detains Syrians near Arsal
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The Lebanese army raided a weapons depot in the town of Aidamoun in the northern district of Akkar and arrested six Syrians in the barren mountains near Arsal. According to the state-run National News Agency, an army unit raided on Thursday night an army depot in the town of Aidamoun in Akkar. The army command issued on Friday a communique saying that a unit raided a lathe workshop owned by Ibrahim Aref Maqsoud after obtaining information on the presence of a large cache of weapons. The warehouse, according to the statement, includes an RPG launcher, six RPG shells, two grenades, four Kalashnikov, four sniper scopes, four rifle scopes, two guns, a BK machine gun, a Dushka machine gun, two artillery shells, a large quantity of gunpowder and several other military ammo and weapons. The investigation was referred to the military police under the supervision of the competent authority, the army added. Meanwhile, NNA reported that the army detained at dawn six Syrians, including three armed, in the barren mountains in the Eastern Mountain range near northeastern border town of Arsal. The news agency said that three other Syrians were detained in the area of Wadi al-Shaath while trying to infiltrate Lebanon. The detainees were referred to the military police in northern Bekaa. Later the NNA said that a State Security unit detained Ashraf F. A., who hails from the town of Akroum, after he failed to stop at a checkpoint at the entrance of the Akkar village of Shadra. The detainee is wanted on several charges and was handed over to the competent authorities.

March 14 General Secretariat Urges Foreign Ministry to File Complaint with U.N. over Cross-Border Attacks

Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/The March 14 General Secretariat demanded on Friday the Foreign Ministry to file a complaint against Syria with United Nations over the cross-border violations.
“As it is a balanced cabinet, we expect from the current Foreign Minister (Jebran Bassil) to comply with the President’s demand to document the cross-border violations and file a complaint with the U.N. against whoever breaches the country's sovereignty,” the general secretariat said after its regular meeting. A statement issued by the general secretariat demanded the cabinet “in particular, the March 14 ministers, to adopt the complaint to safeguard Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and unity of its land.” On Monday, President Suleiman tasked FM Bassil with documenting the cross-border attacks against Lebanese villages in order to take the necessary diplomatic measures. “Lebanon has been clearly undergoing continuous attacks by Syria since November 2011... Especially in border areas of Arsal, Wadi Khaled, Hermel and several other towns,” the statement pointed out.
Since the Syrian crisis broke out in March 2011, several border areas in the north and east have been frequently struck by cross-border shelling, while the Syrian regime has told Lebanon to better control its porous border to prevent the smuggling of fighters and arms. The army and security forces tasked to control the border, upped security measures along the northern border with Syria starting from al-Arida crossing stretching to Wadi Khaled all the way along the Kabir river.

Franjieh Nominates Aoun for Presidency without Withdrawing Own Candidacy

Naharnet Newsdesk 27 March 2014/Marada Movement leader MP Suleiman Franjieh announced Thursday that he nominates his ally Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun for the presidency of the republic, noting that he will not run in person without Aoun's "consent."“My name has been suggested as a possible presidential candidate but I will support General Michel Aoun and I won't accept to run in the election without General Aoun's consent,” Franjieh told LBCI television, in a weekly TV show dedicated to interviewing the major presidential candidates. “There are two major candidates in our political camp, but General Michel Aoun is the stronger candidate. This does not mean that I have joined the FPM, but Aoun's political choices oblige me to respect his position as well as my loyalty to my political camp,” Franjieh clarified. “For the Marada Movement, it has been settled, our candidate is General Aoun,” he added. Asked whether he would support naming Commando Regiment commander Brig. Gen. Chamel Roukoz -- Aoun's son-in-law – as army chief, Franjieh said: “My good relation with Chamel Roukoz and his capabilities speak for themselves.” “A settlement might lead to the election of a March 8 or March 14 president and I cannot be elected as president except under a settlement in which both camps would be satisfied,” Franjieh noted. He stressed that the rival March 14 coalition will not endorse his nomination or Aoun's nomination.Responding to remarks voiced by a pro-March 14 journalist during the TV show, Franjieh said: “They started claiming to be defenders of sovereignty after the Syrian (army's) withdrawal (from Lebanon) and I garnered the highest number of Christian votes (in parliamentary elections) after the Syrians pulled out.” “No president will be elected – (Lebanese Forces leader) Samir Geagea or anyone else -- without a regional and international settlement,” Franjieh emphasized. In response to a question, the Marada leader said: “(Syrian President) Bashar Assad is my friend and brother and he will remain so.”“If I become a president, I will stay in the March 8 camp even if I am open to my rivals, whose rights will be reserved,” he stated.
On his relation with Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblat, Franjieh said: “Walid Beik has his political weight in the country and I was told several times that he must be reassured regarding the presidency, but I said that I have allies and I believe in their political approach.” “I respect his position but I won't seek anyone's approval, as my strength and alliances are the things that might secure my election as president,” he added.
Asked about the issue of eavesdropping, Franjieh said: “I'm not with random tapping of people's conversations and not with assigning tapping to any specific security agency, because even after 9/11 this did not happen. There must be control over eavesdropping and we voiced objections over this issue during today's cabinet session." "I believe that any issue that enjoys consensus under the National Pact would be implemented without the need for the president's muscle-flexing and any issue outside national consensus will be obstructed, regardless of the president's clout," Franjieh said, when asked about the issue of disarming Hizbullah.
"If Western countries asked me to disarm Hizbullah within three months and put me before two choices -- a problem in my country or a blockade by foreign countries -- I would choose the international blockade in order to preserve domestic peace," he said, in response to a hypothetical question. President Michel Suleiman's six-year term ends in May but the Constitution states that the parliament should start meeting March 25 to elect a new head of state. No one has yet officially announced his candidacy for the top post but there are several contenders from the rival March 8 and 14 camps.

Palestinians: Israel Reneges on Final Prisoner Release
Naharnet Newsdesk 28 March 2014/Israel has told the Palestinians it will not be making the fourth release of prisoners they had been expecting alongside U.S.-brokered peace talks, a senior Palestinian official said on Friday. "The Israeli government has informed us through the American mediator that it will not abide with its commitment to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners scheduled for tomorrow, Saturday 29," Jibril Rajub told Agence France Presse. "Israel has refused to commit to the names that were agreed upon of prisoners held by Israel since before the 1993 Oslo agreements," Rajub said. Israeli officials had no immediate comment. Under the U.S.-brokered deal relaunching the peace talks in July, Israel said it would release 104 Arabs held since before the 1993 Oslo peace accords in exchange for the Palestinians not pressing their statehood claims at the United Nations. Israel has so far freed 78 prisoners but members of the cabinet said they would block the final release, anticipated for the end of March, if the Palestinians refused to extend talks beyond their April 29 deadline. The Israeli ministers said the releases had always been conditional on progress in the talks, which had failed to materialize. The talks have teetering on the brink of collapse, with Washington fighting an uphill battle to get the two sides to agree to a framework for continued negotiations until the end of the year. US Secretary of State John Kerry met Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Wednesday in a bid to salvage the talks. Source/Agence France Presse.

US President visits Saudi Arabia, seeks to reassure allies

US National Security Council spokesperson says Obama trip “opportunity to reinforce one of our closest relationships in the region” Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—US President Barack Obama is visiting Saudi Arabia on Friday following a tour of European capitals earlier this week, in order to reassure the Washington’s Arab allies of its commitment to the region. Obama is set to meet with Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in Riyadh, with Saudi Arabia confirming that the two leaders will discuss ways of enhancing bilateral relations and international issues of common interest. US National Security Council spokesperson Bernadette Meehan said “the two leaders will discuss our ongoing cooperation to advance a range of common interests related to Gulf and regional security, including Iran, Syria, negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, countering violent extremism, and other issues of prosperity and security.” “The President values the King’s insights, and looks forward to meeting with him in person to discuss a very robust agenda,” she told Asharq Al-Awsat. “It will be an opportunity to reinforce one of our closest relationships in the region and build on the strong US-Saudi military, security and economic ties that have been a hallmark of our bilateral relationship,” she added. The visit comes at a sensitive time for the Middle East. This is the first time Obama has visited Saudi Arabia since the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 and comes amid regional divisions over the Muslim Brotherhood. Saudi Arabia designated the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization earlier this month amid diplomatic tensions between the Kingdom and Qatar over the Islamist group. Tamara Cofman Wittes, the director of the Saban Center for the Middle East at the Brookings Institute, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Obama’s visit to Riyadh is important. It should be the beginning of continuous and more intensive dialogue. It is important to have clear day-to-day channels for dialogue, with confidence on both sides that those channels are authorative and decisive.” Saudi Arabia has appeared concerned about Washington’s role in the region following its troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, greater domestic energy independence, and rapprochement with Iran. The US National Security Council spokesperson told Asharq Al-Awsat the two countries share core strategic interests despite any differences, saying: “Good friends sometimes have differences, but they are able to work through those differences. That is the case between the United States and Saudi Arabia.” “Iran remains a critical part of our agenda with our Gulf partners. Even as we pursue a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue, our commitment to the security of our Gulf partners remains steadfast,” Meehan said. Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers signed an interim agreement in Geneva in November last year in which Iran agreed to freeze parts of its nuclear program in exchange for a relaxation of economic sanctions. The countries are now working towards a comprehensive deal, with a six-month deadline fast approaching. According to Meehan, during his trip Obama will address the Iranian issue with Saudi officials, and that he will “make clear to Iran’s leaders that its government’s sponsorship of illicit actions is unacceptable to the international community,” in the hopes of addressing one of Saudi Arabia’s key concerns about the thaw in US–Iran relations. President Obama and the Saudi King will also discuss the Palestinian–Israeli negotiations and the ongoing Syrian conflict. “We share with Saudi Arabia a desire to resolve the conflict in Syria in a way that addresses all dimensions of the crisis. Our coordination of assistance to the Syrian opposition has been increasingly effective,” Meehan said. Mina Al-Oraibi

Obama’s foreign policy disarray
By: Rafael Castro/ 03.28.14/Ynetnews,7340,L-4504049,00.html
Op-ed: Weakness of US president's actions as measured against power of his words has sown cynicism in international arena and weakened Western World.
Barack Obama is beyond doubt a gifted orator. Speeches propelled him to the political limelight, speeches were decisive in landing him US presidential election victories and similarly, the venting of lofty thoughts secured him a Nobel Prize generally reserved for figures who have devoted decades of their lives to serving a civil or humanitarian cause.
Obama’s problem is his belief that international disputes can be solved with rhetoric – that foreign policy can be staged like a political primary where the right speech rallies young and old, poor and rich, rabbis and imams behind a common struggle for peace and freedom.
Meanwhile, the Arab Spring sponsored by the White House has become a by-word for civil war, anarchy or the return of military dictatorships. The international ban on the use of chemical weapons has been brazenly breached by Assad in Syria. Iran is on its way to becoming a nuclear threshold state – and as long as this threshold is not publicly breached, the White House does not seem bothered by the fact that in five to seven years Iran, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States will be able to boast about military applications of their "civilian" nuclear programs.
In Ukraine, Obama is going with the flow by condemning Russian aggression in Crimea, conveniently ignoring the role of the US in abetting Kosovo’s secession from Serbia. By myopically seconding the indignation of traditionally anti-Russian states, the stance of Obama may unravel the post-Cold War international order and hasten the delivery of more Russian nuclear reactors and advanced missiles to Iran and other rogue states.
To a similar tune, in Latin America US influence has waned as Obama has lacked the resolve to challenge openly anti-US leaders in Venezuela and neighboring countries, which are increasingly turning to China and Russia for loans and investment.
Charisma and rhetorical gifts
Paradoxically, it was not Ahmadinejad, Assad nor Putin who first exposed the current US president’s lack of resolve. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s refusal to freeze settlement construction in the wake of Obama’s landmark Cairo Speech was followed by months of bickering and petty haggling that made the US president cut the figure of an American tourist in a Jerusalemite bazaar. Although many Israelis are proud of Netanyahu’s mettle, with hindsight it is evident that Netanyahu’s victories were pyrrhic at best and ominous at worst.
Perhaps we are being too harsh on Obama. After all, he inherited a country in the midst of a financial cataclysm, which was being bled by reckless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and which carries the burden of a ballooning national debt. Obama is certainly not guilty if America’s immediate post-Cold War international supremacy is no longer tenable in the 21st century. Nevertheless, Obama is to blame for pursuing an ambiguous foreign policy driven by a Wilsonian zeal for spreading human rights, yet derailed by the Gandhian delusion that the right rhetoric can dissolve the thorniest disputes.
Indeed, it might not be a misjudgment to state that Obama is the right man in the wrong position. As the leader of an international church, human-rights organization or consumer-rights movement, his charisma and rhetorical gifts would have won over the hearts of hundreds of millions. But as president of the United States of America, the weakness of his actions as measured against the power of his words has sown cynicism in the international arena and weakened the Western World.

Canadian FM: Jewish refugees should be part of Mideast peace accord
Ynetnews/Baird stresses recognition of Jewish refugees from Arab countries 'does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.' Recognition of Jewish refugees from Arab states should be part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Wednesday. On Wednesday, the Canadian House of Commons accepted a report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, that recommended the Canadian government officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab states. The report is based on testimonies of Jewish refugees who had to flee Middle Eastern and North African countries after 1948. The committee also recommended that the administration encourages "the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts."“Fair and equal acknowledgement of all refugee populations arising out of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires the recognition of Jewish refugees," Baird said. He emphasized that "such recognition does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees."

Opinion: Tehran and the temptation of a power grab in Lebanon
By: Amir Taheri/Asharq Al Awsat
Friday, 28 Mar, 2014
Until recently, the consensus among analysts of regional politics was that none of the powers involved in Lebanon’s tangled politics had an interest in plunging the country into a major crisis. Three reasons were cited to back that view. The first was that neither of the rival blocs in Lebanon had the initial advantage needed to seek total power. The second was that rival regional and global players were too busy elsewhere, including in Iraq and Egypt, to want to open a new arena of crisis in Lebanon. Finally, the conflict in Syria meant that both sides—that is to say, the Russo–Iranian tandem and the Arab bloc backed by the West—had to prioritize their options by focusing on the struggle for control in Damascus.
Now, however, the three reasons cited above may no longer be convincing.
To start with, the bloc led by Iran clearly feels that it now has the edge. The Islamic Republic has succeeded in hooking the United States into endless negotiations over the nuclear issue, thus removing any possibility of military action against it by either Israel or the US. Tehran’s leaders know that once President Barack Obama’s term ends, US policy may well change radically. Thus they feel they have a maximum of two years in which to exploit America’s confusion and weakness, consolidating their regional gains. That assumption may tempt the mullahs into redeploying their Lebanese pawns in a bid for total domination.
Next, though still full of imponderables, the situation in both Egypt and Iraq has achieved a measure of stability. Even if it proves to be a temporary stratagem, the elimination of the Muslim Brotherhood from the Egyptian scene allows the Arab bloc that is worried about Iranian ambitions to shift its attention back to the Levant. In Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, though no admirer of the mullahs in his heart of hearts, knows he has no choice but to temporize with Tehran, even if that means antagonizing the Arab bloc.
The third reason things might have changed as far as Lebanon is concerned is the course of the conflict in Syria. The Russo–Iranian tandem that maintains the present Syrian regime in power is now convinced that it could achieve some kind of military victory. The current strategy is to focus on “useful Syria,” that is to say, Damascus and its southern hinterland, providing the link with Lebanon and the Mediterranean coastline. That is similar to the strategy the French adopted when faced with a series of anti-colonial rebellions during their occupation of Syria. With “useful Syria” under control, the Russo–Iranian axis could go after other gains, and why not in Lebanon?
At the other end of the spectrum, the Arab bloc that wants Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad out may come to the conclusion that crushing the despot’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon is a crucial step towards liberating Syria.
Signs that Tehran is not shy of throwing its weight around in and around Lebanon are everywhere. Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei has pointedly rebuffed Obama’s attempts at drawing Iran into talks over Syria and has ordered President Hassan Rouhani to limit talks with the P5+1 group of major powers to the nuclear issue.
Maj. Gen. Hassan Firuzabadi, the chief of staff of the Islamic Republic’s armed forces, has repeatedly described Syria and Lebanon as “part of our glacis.”
“We need those places so that we could fight our enemies far from our own borders,” Firuzabadi told a meeting of the military in Tehran last February.
Ayatollah Mahmoud Nabawian, a member of the Security Commission of the Islamic Majlis (Iran’s ersatz parliament), goes even further. “Some say we are making sacrifices for Syria,” he said in a speech at the Jihad Conference in Tehran last February. “The truth is that it is Syria that makes sacrifices for us.”
Claiming that Iran was on the verge of a “great victory” in Syria, he said: “We brought 150,000 Syrians to Iran and gave them military training. We also sent 50,000 fighters from the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah to fight alongside them. We also gave Hezbollah 80,000 missiles with which to hit Israel, and that ensured America’s defeat.”
The expected “victory” in Syria is only a prelude to “the greatest victory” (fath al-mobin) that awaits the Islamic Republic, according to the Quds Corps’ deputy commander, Gen. Ismail Qaanai. “We cannot stop at Syria,” Qaanai said last month. “Our aim is and has always been to lead the whole Muslim world.” He added: “It is obvious that no other power has the capabilities needed to assume leadership in the Muslim world.” Part of the cockiness in Tehran is due to the belief that the US has knocked itself out of the regional, if not international, equation. “The Americans know that we could hit them hard everywhere, including inside their own territory,” says Islamic Revolutionary Guards Commander Mohammad-Ali Jaafari. However, some senior mullahs have injected an openly sectarian tone into Tehran’s expression of hubris. For example, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, godfather of the radical faction in Tehran, claims that Iran ought to gain control of Syria to “efface the damage done to Islam by the Umayyads.”
Last January, in a bitter attack on Othman, the third Caliph of Islam, Mesbah-Yazdi claimed that Muawyyah, a relative of Othman, tricked Ali Ibn-Abi Talib, the fourth caliph, and managed to set up a dynasty that “falsified” Islam. Now Iran’s task was to restore “true Islam” everywhere. “Syria and Lebanon are the forward positions of our revolutionary Islam,” Mesbah-Yazdi said.” Whatever we spend there must not be regarded as an ordinary military budget, as is the case with American and Russian military expenditure, for we are spending on defense of true religion.”
As things stand today, Lebanon seems vulnerable. Its army is not yet in a position to ensure law and order is maintained throughout the country. Thanks to Iranian investment, the Lebanese branch of Hezbollah often has more modern weapons and in greater quantities than the Lebanese army. Worse still, Hezbollah leaders appear to have no independent will of their own and are kept on a tight leash by Tehran. The party’s official organs no longer operate, as strategy is set in Tehran and executed by Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, who is treated by Iranian media as a functionary of the Islamic Republic. Covering Nasrallah’s latest visit to Tehran, official news agency IRNA reported that the Lebanese politician had been “granted an audience by the Supreme Guide” to “give a report of the situation in Lebanon and receive the necessary instructions.”
A power grab in Lebanon might enable Khamenei to divert attention from the concessions he is forced to give on the nuclear issue to prevent economic meltdown in Iran. And, if that happens, it could be bad news for Lebanon.

Canadian FM: Jewish refugees should be part of Mideast peace accord
Ynetnews/Baird stresses recognition of Jewish refugees from Arab countries 'does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees.' Recognition of Jewish refugees from Arab states should be part of the Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird said Wednesday. On Wednesday, the Canadian House of Commons accepted a report of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development, that recommended the Canadian government officially recognize the experience of Jewish refugees from Arab states. The report is based on testimonies of Jewish refugees who had to flee Middle Eastern and North African countries after 1948. The committee also recommended that the administration encourages "the direct negotiating parties to take into account all refugee populations as part of any just and comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts."“Fair and equal acknowledgement of all refugee populations arising out of the Arab-Israeli conflict requires the recognition of Jewish refugees," Baird said. He emphasized that "such recognition does not diminish or compete with the situation of Palestinian refugees."


Saudi Succession Change Risks Royal Family Squabble
Simon Henderson/Washington Institute/March 27, 2014

King Abdullah's appointment of Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, his half-brother, as deputy crown prince could marginalize Crown Prince Salman.
Succession in Saudi Arabia is a curious mixture of precedence and edict. In recent years, King Abdullah has tried to further systematize the process, most notably with the establishment of an "Allegiance Council" in 2006 made up of senior princes. But a royal decree issued earlier today essentially reduces the council's role. Instead it "mandates" that the royal family pledge allegiance to Muqrin as crown prince if that position becomes vacant, or as king if the positions of king and crown prince become vacant at the same time.
The announcement partially clarifies the uncertainty that has surrounded Prince Muqrin since he was appointed second deputy prime minister in February 2013. In the past, that position has been seen as "crown prince in waiting," though officially it only enables the holder to chair the weekly Council of Ministers meeting if the king (who is also the prime minister) or crown prince (who doubles as deputy prime minister) are abroad or otherwise unavailable. Age seventy-one this year, Muqrin is the youngest surviving son of the late King Abdulaziz, a.k.a. Ibn Saud, the kingdom's founder. Since his death in 1953, the throne has passed from brother to younger brother with only a few omissions among Ibn Saud's more than forty sons, of which only fifteen are still alive. Most are sick and/or feeble. King Abdullah (age 90) can no longer walk unaided but remains compos mentis. Crown Prince Salman (77) has apparently had trouble focusing mentally of late, and doubts are often expressed about his capacity to become king. His recent trip to Japan was mainly for medical reasons.
But Muqrin's elevation challenges accepted understandings of how princes can qualify to be king because he is one of several of Ibn Saud's sons without Saudi tribal lineage. His mother, referred to in history books as "Baraka the Yemeni" was either a concubine or favored slave girl, a domestic arrangement that allowed Ibn Saud to have more than the four concurrent wives to which he was limited by Islamic law.
It would be surprising if Muqrin was not challenged on this point by royal family rivals with better pedigrees, though such disagreement might not be publicly visible. Keeping up appearances is important to Saudi royals. Crown Prince Salman recently completed a hectic series of official visits to Pakistan, Japan, India, the Maldives, and China, then chaired the Council of Ministers meeting the day after he returned. Given concerns about his health, the most likely explanation for his busy schedule is that his own sons -- along with his remaining full brothers in the so-called "Sudairi Seven" power clique -- are pushing him to retain the appearance of being the next king. Muqrin's appointment effectively casts doubt over the future political and financial prospects of Salman and these relatives.
A possible next move in this game of royal family chess is for King Abdullah to have a team of doctors declare Salman medically incompetent, allowing for Muqrin's early elevation to the heir apparent slot. Genes aside, Muqrin's professional credentials compare well with others. Trained as an F-15 pilot, he served as head of intelligence from 2005 to 2012 and as a provincial governor before that. He also has a reputation for being a nice man and a safe pair of hands, diplomatically speaking. At the moment, it is difficult to see him as the leader of a kingdom that regards itself as the head of the Islamic, Arab, and energy worlds. (It is also challenging to identify any other immediate contender.) Yet today's announcement guarantees Muqrin a place in tomorrow's talks between King Abdullah and President Obama -- an occasion that will solidify his appointment without dampening speculation on when and how the kingdom's next big transition will occur. **Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute. His publications include the 2009 Institute study After King Abdullah: Succession in Saudi Arabia.


What If the Ukraine Crisis Affects the Iran File?
James F. Jeffrey/Washington Institute
March 28, 2014
Given Moscow's potential ability to undermine Iran diplomacy, Washington has yet another compelling reason to reestablish faith in -- and fear of -- America's willingness to use military strength.
Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov generated considerable commentary last week when he threatened potential "retaliatory measures" on the Iranian nuclear file if Washington pressures Moscow on Crimea. While this may be nothing more than a scare tactic, it deserves consideration as a worst-case scenario. Weighing all factors, the United States and its allies could cope with such a development given the favorable military and diplomatic correlation of forces in the Persian Gulf, but doing so would require determination and a more realistic approach to power in facing the unpredictable Vladimir Putin.
The Russian threat, were it repeated or reinforced, would raise three linked questions. First, should the United States and its allies respond to such a threat by ratcheting back planned Ukraine sanctions and thereby "saving" the Iranian nuclear talks? Second, would Moscow seriously contemplate executing the threat? Third, how much damage could Russia actually inflict on the international effort to rein in Iran's nuclear weapons drive, and at what cost to Moscow?
In a well-functioning foreign policy system, the answer to the first question would depend on the answers to the second and third. If Washington is convinced that the Russians would not go through with such a threat or, if they did, would not succeed in derailing the international effort, then the answer to the first is "no." But if one believes that Moscow would act, and that it has a chance of succeeding, then Washington would have to weigh the strategic costs and benefits of a strong position on Ukraine versus the Iranian nuclear file.
The majority view thus far is that Russia would have more to lose than gain in playing the Iranian card, but that is no sure bet. The Ukraine crisis has shed light on Putin's desire to stymie U.S. foreign policy, and on his love of risk and dramatic "coups de main." His penchant for risk is an important counterweight to Russia's interests in cooperating with its P5+1 partners (Britain, China, France, Germany, and the United States) on the Iran issue: namely, a stable Middle East, support for a nonproliferation regime that favors existing nuclear weapons states, fear of an out-of-control "Muslim bomb" with implications for Russian-majority Muslim areas, and commitment to the UN Security Council, which is heavily invested in the Iran talks. Emphasizing these interests is logical, but this same logic led the West to conclude that Putin would not hang tough on supporting the Syrian regime or forcibly change European borders.
Indeed, Putin keeps doing things that fly in the face of our "twenty-first-century logic." On seemingly any Western initiative, he sees progress not as a "win-win" for the international community -- including Russia -- but as an accretion of U.S. power. Because his focus is on containing this power as an existential objective, one cannot rule out Russia acting against its alleged best interests regarding Iranian nuclear weapons -- an issue that may be important to Putin, but not existential. A cold-blooded economic calculus could factor in as well. The greater the instability in the Middle East -- especially the Gulf region, which controls 20 percent of world oil exports and has important gas trade potential -- the higher the prices for oil and gas from elsewhere, including Russia.
But what exactly could Putin do to undermine efforts against Iran were he so inclined? Here the situation is more advantageous to Washington and its allies, but only if they think in realpolitik terms rather than "twenty-first-century" terms. This means focusing on military forces, bases, and diplomatic relationships in the Gulf, where the United States is in far better position than in the Black Sea.
Several other factors also tilt the balance in Washington's favor. First, while the international sanctions regime rests on Security Council resolutions, the most effective measures have been U.S. unilateral sanctions imposed on Iranian oil exports with the help of importing states. Second, international condemnation of Iran's behavior is based on Security Council resolutions and is thus already the law of the land -- Putin cannot reverse these resolutions. Third, China is more dependent than Russia on the global trading system and has been careful not to fully endorse Putin's Crimea grab, which challenges Chinese interests. Beijing is particularly dependent on Gulf oil and stands to lose as much as Putin might gain from instability and resulting high hydrocarbon prices. Finally, the West's response to a worst-case move by Moscow could include undercutting Russia's gas and oil market advantages and its access to international financial and trading regimes.
The West's advantages aside, Putin does have cards to play. The easiest strategy would be to torpedo any final nuclear deal with Iran by coaching Tehran on the P5+1's bottom lines and opposing any tough position that would make an agreement palatable to Congress and U.S. allies. This would deny Washington a diplomatic victory, keep tensions high, and confirm the widespread fear that the interim Joint Plan of Action will be the high water mark of negotiations, thus locking in a rapid Iranian breakout capability. To be sure, oil sanctions would remain at their current level even under the Joint Plan's limited mandate. Over time, however, market demands, sanctions fatigue, and Russian manipulation could severely weaken these restrictions, which are based on other countries accepting U.S. interference with their private firms.
Playing to win, Putin could follow up on this gridlock strategy by reaching a bilateral nuclear agreement with Iran. This would satisfy Russia's concerns about proliferation, enhance its diplomatic posture, and -- by offering an alternative to the P5+1 effort -- explode Washington's unilateral sanctions regime.
In a worst-case scenario, Putin could go even further, resurrecting the sale of advanced air-defense systems to Iran (which are not prohibited by UN sanctions) and building on the Bushehr nuclear plant deal by giving Tehran more dual-use nuclear technology. Most seriously, he could take military steps such as establishing a naval base in Iran, announcing Russian opposition to any military move against Iran, deploying "technicians" to high-value Iranian nuclear facilities, or even stationing token Russian troops at strategic locations.
Pure fantasy? Alas, no -- Moscow has displayed similar high-risk behavior elsewhere, from sending token troops into Kosovo in 1999 to invading Georgia and Ukraine. In the face of resulting international condemnation, he could fall back on a bilateral nuclear agreement with Iran as mentioned above, openly challenge U.S. banking sanctions as unwarranted intervention in Iran's domestic affairs, and exploit international antipathy toward Washington on everything from Israel to the Iraq war.
In the event that Putin ups the ante on Iran, the United States and its allies are well positioned to counter him. The more determined and convincing Washington is in limiting Tehran's nuclear weapons potential and meeting Russian challenges in Ukraine and elsewhere, the less likely it will have to deal with a new Russian gambit on Iran or other issues. But if the West tries to deflect Putin's mischief by going soft on Ukraine sanctions, he will just be encouraged to go rogue in the Gulf.
Accordingly, the United States should build an alternative international consensus to support its moves in the absence of new Security Council measures, exploiting the fact that Putin has made himself increasingly vulnerable by violating global norms. This includes using energy and other global economic tools to deter and contain Russian adventurism. Washington should also be solicitous of China on Middle Eastern issues, even though Beijing's Crimea-like behavior in its own near-abroad is worrisome.
Finally, Washington should make two things clear. First, resolving the Iranian nuclear question in a manner supportive of U.S. and allied security is a core American interest. Second, the United States will use massive military force to achieve that end if a cooperative diplomatic alternative is rendered impossible by Russian meddling. For these and many other reasons, job one for the Obama administration is to reestablish faith in -- and fear of -- America's willingness to use its overwhelming military strength.
**James F. Jeffrey is the Philip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute.


Executions surge in Iran - evidence of Rowhani's ‘moderate’ rule?
Friday, 28 March 2014
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh/Al Arabiyia

Many Iranian citizens who voted for the moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani believed that he would deliver on his promises of improving the standards and conditions of human rights in the Islamic Republic of Iran. These human rights issues encompass areas ranging from freeing political prisoners to addressing methods of torture and restrictions on the freedom of press as well as addressing the freedom of expression and speech, to name a few.
Nevertheless, every report independently conducted by human rights watch groups; the United Nations, Amnesty International as well as the official statistical numbers revealed by the Iranian government, indicate not only that Rowhani has not delivered on his promises (not even keeping the status of human rights similar to that of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s era), but that the condition of human rights has significantly worsened in Iran.
Recent reports by Amnesty International and U.N. watch groups have blasted Iran for the increase in persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, the cracking down on oppositional political figures, the mistreatment of political prisoners, arbitrary detention and unfair trials. The most controversial issue in the reports has been the surge in capital punishment and public executions.
Recently, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon sharply criticized Rowhani for failing to improve human rights since taking office in August. Ban pointed out, “He (Rowhani) has not made any significant improvement” in ending human rights abuses since taking office.
Surge in capital punishment: Iran number one in executions per capita
One of the most alarming trends indicating egregious human rights abuses has been the surge in executions, many conducted in public, under the presidency of the moderate Rowhani, particularly since the beginning of 2014.
Iran is ranked number one, surpassing China, in leading the world in executions per capita. Executed people in 2014 included women, human rights activists, political activists, and religious ethnic minorities (such as Arab Ahwazis). Recently, the United Nations human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani referred to the rise of executions in the Islamic Republic by saying, “the surge in the use of the death penalty … has dampened hopes for human rights reforms under President Hassan Rowhani.”
There is a wide and general agreement among both the moderates and hardliners, particularly when it comes to the issue of conducting executions.
According to Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, at least 176 people had been put to death in January, February, and early March of 2014. Several were executed in public. At least 500 people were executed in 2013, with 57 publicly. Reportedly, those who were executed included 27 women and two children. These numbers are officially documented figures, but according to other sources, the figure for executions might be much higher. According to the Iran Human Rights Documentation Center, more than 500 people have been executed since Rowhani took office.
In addition, the Islamic Republic has repeatedly refused to give permission to Shaheed to visit and investigate many of the abuse claims in Iran. The U.N. secretary-general added: “The new government has not changed its approach regarding the application of the death penalty and seems to have followed the practice of previous administrations, which relied heavily on the death penalty…”
Hardliners vs. moderates: Rowhani’s apologists?
Those who support Rowhani’s government and those whose interests are vested in this government’s power, exonerate Rowhani and his technocrat team from the surge in executions, public hangings, or other abuses. Some policy analysts, and even Western officials and politicians have bought the argument that the surge in executions is completely conducted by hardliners to undermine Rowhani’s government, scuttle the ongoing nuclear talks and weaken the moderate position in Iran.
The argument made by proponents of the current Iranian government suggests that if Rowhani succeeds in removing the threatening economic sanctions, and reaching a nuclear deal, the legitimacy and popularity of hardliners will be blemished. In other words, the moderates would be capable of further shoring up their political power and legitimacy in the country. As a result, the hardliners have been taking counterbalancing measures, such as increasing the number of executions and the level of the crackdown, to secure their power.
The argument of the hardliners vis a vis the moderates might sound plausible in some analytical debates. However, when it comes to human rights abuses, this debate of hardliners versus moderates, is a classic political tactic and Machiavellian strategy used under several administrations of the Iranian government and by those who benefit from the establishment, economically and politically.
When it comes to human rights violations in Iran, such as the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities, arbitrary detentions and unfair trials, torture, executions, public hangings, and restrictions on freedom of press, expression and speech, there is no significant ideological division across Iran’s political spectrum. In other words, there is a wide and general agreement among both the moderates and hardliners, particularly when it comes to the issue of conducting executions.
Although some proponents of Rowhani’s government might point out that hardliners remain fully in charge of the judiciary and security apparatus in Iran, it is crucial to indicate that there is no clear separation of powers between Iran’s judiciary, executive and legislative branches. More fundamentally, even if we accept the argument by proponents of the current government, claiming that Rowhani has no influence over the judiciary and security apparatuses, then the question still arises: why did he make promises knowing that he would not be capable of delivering? In fact, these governmental branches are closely interconnected and people across the political spectrum, such as the head of Iran’s Judiciary Human Rights Council Mohammad Javad Larijani, Chairman of the Parliament Ali Larijani, or Rowhani do not ideologically or politically disagree on human rights issues and the matter of executions.
**Dr. Majid Rafizadeh, an Iranian-American political scientist and scholar as Harvard University, is president of the International American Council and he serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University. Rafizadeh is also a senior fellow at Nonviolence International Organization based in Washington DC, Harvard scholar, and a member of the Gulf project at Columbia University. He is originally from the Islamic Republic of Iran and Syria. He has been a recipient of several scholarships and fellowship including from Oxford University, Annenberg University, University of California Santa Barbara, and Fulbright Teaching program. He served as ambassador for the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC, conducted research at Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and taught at University of California Santa Barbara through Fulbright Teaching Scholarship. He can be reached at