Saturday, March 29, 2014

Drugs, Terrorists, and Hostages: The Iranian Perspective

Addressed to the UN Secretary General, this letter of Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, tells of recent terrorist attacks against Iran and highlights his nation's neglected contribution to the drug war. He insists that the terrorist attacks have been "perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction"--but he does not name the state or states behind them.

Iran sees itself as a victim of terrorism partly because of the drug war and stresses the "interrelationship in our region between perpetual war economy, extremist violence and terrorism on the one side, and drug trafficking and transnational organized crime on the other." In this vein, Zarif sounds something like an Arizona Republican lamenting the state of things over the border.

Just to show that what goes around comes around, Iran is also suffering from a hostage crisis. I tried to learn more about Iran's current day hostage crisis, but everything Google threw back at me was related to the 1979 seizure of American diplomats in Tehran.

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In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

March 26, 2014


I have the unpleasant duty to draw your attention to the shocking news about the possible murder of one of the five Iranian border guards abducted on February 7, 2014 by an extremist terrorist group, in the border area between Iran and Pakistan.  This is the latest in a series of similar terrorist atrocities against Iranian citizens, including diplomats and other officials and innocent civilians of Iranian and other nationalities, which include:

--Repeated explosions and terrorist attacks in our Eastern border in recent months, which have resulted in the murder of at least 12 soldiers;

--Two car-bomb attacks on the Iranian diplomatic and cultural premises in Beirut on 19 November 2013 and 19 February 2014, killing one diplomat and a dozen security guards and many Lebanese civilian bystanders;

--Abduction and murder of Iranian diplomatic personnel in Sanaa, including kidnapping of an Iranian diplomat, Mr. Nour Ahmad Nikbakht, on July 21, 2013, and brutal assassination of another, Mr. Abolghassem Assadi, on January 18, 2014; and

--Suicide attack on the Iranian Consulate-General in Peshawar, on February 25, 2014, killing two security guards and injuring many innocent Pakistani bystanders.

It is extremely regrettable that all available evidence indicate that these cowardly acts of terror targeting the Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens have been perpetrated by State-sponsored extremist groups, with similar patterns of funding, coordination, support and direction.  The entire international community should be alarmed by the regional and extra-regional ramifications of sectarian tension and extremist violence, which are being systematically organized, sponsored and orchestrated in various parts of our region. In fact, learning from recent history, a sober assessment of the medium and long-term implications of this dangerous trend will show that the very sponsors of such hatred, who for ill-conceived interests have hastily resorted to such short-sighted tactics to remedy their strategic miscalculations and failures, stand to lose the most from the sectarian and extremist violence that they are spreading.

Moreover, there is very little doubt concerning the inherent and reinforcing interrelationship in our region between perpetual war economy, extremist violence and terrorism on the one side, and drug trafficking and transnational organized crime on the other. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been in the forefront of the global campaign against drug trafficking, with narcotic seizures by Iran amounting to over three quarters of the entire confiscations throughout the world.  Being in the first line of defense against this global menace has cost Iran dearly in blood and treasure, without any meaningful international cooperation to share the cost, provide technological assistance, or at least take a resolute stance against those who have exacted a heavy toll on Iran, its innocent civilians and brave soldiers. While our sacrifices help protect the entire humanity from the scourge of narcotics, the international community is simply not doing enough to help Iran in this never-ending struggle. Mere condemnation of acts of terrorism does not suffice.

In the last few days, all Iranians celebrated Nowruz recognized by the General Assembly as an international day of peace, neighborliness and solidarity sharing the sense of grief and desperate anticipation of the families and loved ones of these national heroes. While noting the efforts of the Governments of Pakistan, Lebanon, and Yemen, our hostages remain in captivity and the perpetrators of previous crimes have yet to face justice. The Iranian people have every right to demand more resolute global action, yielding practical results in bringing their hostages back home and in bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of their compatriots. A manifestation of this legitimate demand can be seen in the grass root one-million signature campaign organized by the Iranian youth, from all walks of life, calling upon you and other national and international authorities to take stronger measures to secure the early and safe return of their hostages. Through this letter, I join them in their dignified appeal to the global community.

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Letter of Foreign Minister to UN Secretary General, Islamic Republic of Iran, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, March 26, 2014.


Germany and Britain Holding Hands on Ukraine

Michael Roth is a German Minister of State. In this speech at the 64th Königswinter Conference in Cambridge, England, Roth summarizes the conventional western view of the Ukraine crisis. 

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The international order has been severely shaken by Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Until recently such a situation in Europe would have seemed unimaginable. We all agree that Russia’s actions are absolutely unacceptable and in breach of international law. Its behaviour is a challenge for Europe and the foundations on which it is built. Coming hard on the heels of the economic and financial crisis, this is the second big test Europe has had to face in a very short period.

So have we as Europeans managed to remain united in this crisis? The answer is yes – also thanks to London and Berlin acting in unison. EU leaders unanimously agreed on a three-step approach. Asset freezes and travel bans against those responsible for violating Ukraine’s territorial integrity are now in place. The USA, Canada and others have acted in the same vein. All this has sent a clear signal: Russia’s behaviour here is something we cannot tolerate. We stand ready to take further restrictive measures if Russia continues to escalate the situation.

But it’s crucial at this point also to weigh our options very carefully. While considering how best to respond to Russia, we must make sure we retain the necessary room for maneuvre. Our aim is not to “punish” Russian aggression but to deter further escalation by the most effective and credible means available. And to facilitate de-escalation wherever a window of opportunity opens.

We must also ask ourselves who would pay the highest price for further escalation. In Europe it’s not the United Kingdom or Germany that would pay this price but our partners in Central and Eastern Europe. They are the most vulnerable countries here. We may of course be forced to take additional steps against Russia. And in that case we’d have to actively demonstrate our solidarity with those partners in Europe that need help.

Let me make another more general point here. We Europeans should take more pride, I feel, in what we’ve achieved. The strength of the EU lies, after all, in its soft power. Of course, as we’ve seen in recent weeks, that almost inevitably forces us into opposition with Russia, which remains stuck in a 19th-century mindset – a mindset in which big countries determine the fate of smaller countries.

Yet our diplomatic and political approach to the crisis in Ukraine is absolutely right, I believe. We remain united, we look for ways to avoid further escalation, we keep channels of communication open and seek to de-escalate wherever a window of opportunity opens. I’m fully convinced that in the medium and long term our European approach will prevail. The 19th century is over and done with. In the long run, one power is bound to lose out – and that will be Russia. In this sense, the Economist is quite wrong to proclaim a “new world order”, as it does in its current issue.

Later in his speech, Roth notes a series of disagreements between Germany and Britain over the purpose of the European Union:

We don’t believe that the EU can or should limit itself to providing some kind of easily quantifiable “output legitimacy”. To most Germans that would seem just as absurd as the idea of quantifying the value of Hyde Park by counting how many potatoes grow there. To us Germans, Europe has a different raison d’être, it’s not just a free trade area yielding economic benefits. Europe isn’t just about business. It’s also and above all a community of values and solidarity.

As you know, we Germans are very attached to what we call the social market economy – the balancing of economic prosperity with social justice. I’m firmly convinced that longer-term growth can be achieved only if you also invest in social cohesion. Europe can’t simply be a collection of islands of prosperity. The most pressing issue at the moment is the enormously high youth unemployment in many EU countries. In Greece more than 60% of the young are out of work. Obviously we can’t afford to lose a whole generation of young Europeans, many of whom are highly qualified. So we need to demonstrate greater solidarity and give a helping hand to Europe’s poorer regions – in our best own interest. A politically and economically strong, but also socially just Europe is what makes us so unique. That’s our global trademark.

I share the British view that we need to regain people’s trust by focusing on solving real problems rather than banning olive oil containers. The EU needs to learn how to prioritize. In President Barroso’s words: “Europe needs to be big on big things and smaller on smaller things.” But we won’t turn the clock back in the EU by reversing integration. As far as Treaty changes are concerned, new “red cards”, re-editing passages referring to “ever closer union” or repatriating competences are things we can’t go along with.

As you’re all aware many Germans love the “s-word” – subsidiarity.  Well, I personally am not particularly fond of the word. Maybe that makes me a bad German. But rather than discussing whether we need more or less Europe, I think we should focus our energies on how to achieve a better Europe.

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Speech by Minister of State Michael Roth at the 64th Königswinter Conference in Cambridge, Federal Foreign Office, March 27, 2014.

What Russia Wants: Churkin and Lavrov

From the invaluable Russia list maintained by David Johnson comes these items setting forth the views on the Ukraine crisis of two important Russian officials--Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, and Valery Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations.

First, Churkin. His views were reported by in a March 28 article entitled “Putin, Obama discuss political chaos in Ukraine.” After a UN Security Council meeting, Churkin spoke to the press: 

"Someone must seriously think through what they are doing and the consequences of certain actions they are advocating," Churkin said. "Our international partners insist that the only way out is to have this presidential election on May 25. In a situation of political chaos in the country? What will be the effect of those elections if some of the regions do not participate or turnout is very low in the course of those elections?"

Russia keeps insisting that Ukraine needs a constitutional reform before any elections could 
take place that would be both legitimate and relieve the chaotic situation in the country.

"There is no political leader in sight who might be able to unite the country. All the politicians one can hear about are extremely divisive for the Ukrainian society," Churkin explained. "The other thing that is going to come up in the next couple of months is most likely dramatic decline of the living standards of people, because of IMF package which now has been proposed to them."

Churkin said that Western partners as well as Ukrainian representatives keep urging Russia to engage in a dialogue - at the same time turning a deaf ear to what Russia is saying.

"If you want dialogue, please respond to what we've been saying. They are responding, sometimes, but the response is that: 'Well, but you know, the Ukrainians.. We understand the importance of constitution, but how can they do it now? Can they do this constitutional assembly? There is no one to organize the constitutional assembly!"

"Well, if there is nobody to organize, maybe this is exactly the role of the international community? This Compact support group we have been proposing to help them organize those things if there is nobody currently in Ukraine who can take this responsibility," Churkin said.

"Our position is very clear," Churkin said, adding it is "disappointing that those things which are obvious to us do not seem to sink in in the minds of our international interlocutors and our Ukrainian colleagues."

The current constitution in Ukraine does not provide for sufficient rights of the regions, Churkin explained. Regardless of whether you consider the 2010 document or the law of 2004 to which Ukraine reverted a day before the coup deposed the government.

"In Ukraine, every time a new president comes in, they change a constitution. They change the constitution to suit a particular politician, a particular set-up play between various political forces at a given moment," Churkin explained.

Local governors appointed by Kiev can hardly be considered public representatives, Churkin said, pointing out that those same corrupt oligarchs whom the people were standing against on Maidan now rule in the Eastern Ukraine.

"This is what they do in Ukraine, they send people from Kiev, sometimes with very bad reputation. You know, notorious corrupt oligarchs have recently been sent from Kiev to eastern part of Ukraine. And of course people don't like it. They want to be able themselves to elect their governors, they want to be assured that somebody in Kiev will not switch off their Russian language TV receivers, that they will be able to speak their mother tongue. So, all those things we believe need to be reflected in a new constitution which could become the result of the constitutional reform and the referendum."


Lavrov's views are set forth at some length in this dispatch from Voice of Russia, dated March 29, 2014, “Only way for Ukraine to reach settlement is to sign federal agreement – Lavrov”

Russia believes that the only way for Ukraine to reach a settlement is to sign a federal agreement, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview with the anchor of the News on Saturday with Sergei Brilev TV programme earlier today. "The current developments in Ukraine have resulted from a deep statehood crisis, triggered, among other things, by the inability (I'd hate to think of reluctance) of every next leader coming to power to reconcile the interests of Ukraine's western region and Ukraine's South-East", the Russian Foreign Minister said. "This cannot continue that way anymore".

"We are certain that Ukraine needs a profound constitutional reform. In all fairness, we can't see any other way to ensure a stable development of Ukraine but signing a federal agreement", Lavrov said.

"Some may know better and are, perhaps, capable of finding some magic spell to ensure living in a unitary state, with people in the West, on the one hand, and the South-East, on the other, celebrating different holidays, honouring different heroes, developing different types of economy, speaking differing languages, thinking differently and gravitating towards different European civilization culture. But I think it's pretty difficult to live in a unitary state like this", Lavrov said.

"We suggested that things be put right in all areas at once, the more so since an obligation to that end was signed by Vitaly Klitshcko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Oleg Tyagnibok, and the Foreign Ministers of Germany, France and Poland. We further suggested that a constitutional reform be launched at once, one that would prove comprehensive and would involve every single political force and region, with equal voting rights. We suggested that they start negotiating a federation that would grant each region sweeping powers in the fields of the economy, finances, culture, language, and education, as well as external economic and cultural ties with neighbouring countries or regions, where all minorities' rights would be ensured", Foreign Minister Lavrov said.

"Given the share of the indigenous Russian population, we are certain that there is no other way to reach a settlement, the more so since some presidential candidates in Ukraine have repeatedly suggested that Russian should be made a second official language and that each of the federation's territorial entities should guarantee the rights of minorities' languages in keeping with the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages", Lavrov said.

Russia's topmost diplomat pointed out that a constitutional reform should be approved by a referendum and should reflect the interests of all regions, the interests that should be mutually agreed on, so that once the constitutional reform is approved by a plebiscite, presidential and parliamentary elections could be held, as well as the elections of regional legislatures, the executive authorities and governors, so that these are elected, rather than appointed".

The West is no longer dismissing Russia's arguments that Ukraine should become a federation through a constitutional reform, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"I can say that 'federation' is no longer a taboo word in our negotiations. I am sure we should insist on this not just because we want this but because this is a demand by the southern and eastern regions [of Ukraine]," Lavrov said.

The West has taken heed of Moscow's arguments in favor of Ukraine's federalization and the second official language, and Russia expects that Kyiv will be informed of these ideas through Western partners, Lavrov said.

"This is actually the only thing I hope for, because the current Ukrainian government can hardly be suspected of independence," Lavrov said sarcastically.

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While covering the events in Ukraine, Western media conceal some facts about the Right Sector, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, has stated. Lavrov noted that he had for more than a month posed a question of the Right Sector and the need to distance from the radicals to the Western partners.

"I was very surprised that in those days, when our television, including your channel, showed the siege of the Verkhovna Rada and explicitly commented, what was going on between the Right Sector and representatives of the Ukrainian Parliament, what all this may lead to, at that same moment the Euronews did not say a word about it, and Ukraine appeared only in the third or fourth piece in the context of an IMF loan offered to it," the Minister said in an interview with the Vesti on Saturday program of the Russia 1TV-channel.

Touching upon the information that lately, the authorities in Kiev have "set about" the Right Sector, the Minister stressed: "It took them too much time. Better late than never - and this is certainly so."

Lavrov noted that he had for more than a month posed a question of the Right Sector and the need to distance from the radicals to the Western partners.

"I was asking a very simple question: If you agree that it is necessary to normalize the situation, why can't you publicly say, what the Right Sector really represents? In general, it also concerns the Svoboda (Freedom) party, which policy document contains a reference to the Declaration of June 30, 1941, proclaiming support of the actions of the Nazi Germany aimed at establishing a new world order. According to its organizational documents, it is still a principle, which this party is committed to," the head of the Foreign Ministry noted.

According to him, Russian request, at least, to "publicly state their attitudes to these characters and induce those, who proclaimed themselves the authorities in Kiev, to speak on this subject, brought about rather strange answers."

"At first, our colleagues were avoiding reaction, then, during one of the recent meetings, I think, in London, US Secretary of State John Kerry told me that they had examined the whole background, and believed that the Right Sector was trying to turn into a political movement. The subtext was that it was good: the Svoboda was moving towards the mainstream. This is a quotation. The meeting was attended by many people, so I do not betray anyone's secrets," the Minister said. Lavrov drew attention to the fact that he had given examples of what was happening to these associations. "Beginning with public statements against Russians, whom it is proposed to shoot in the head, to kill, whom they beknave, and ending with the application of physical force that occurs even in the East of Ukraine, where members of these groups feel at home. If we are to speak about what happened lately, let's hope, all these statements and actions of the government are a result of some educational work, which our Western partners conducted among them. I repeat, better late than never."

The Minister urged to see "what happens, and whether it is possible to cope with those, on whom the new authorities relied in order to occupy their current posts," the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed.

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sees the West's demand that Moscow change its position regarding Crimea's reintegration with Russia as absolutely hopeless.

"You may substantially disagree with the way we see the situation, and you may not accept the Russian Federation's decisions that were made in response to the Crimeans' will and were supported by an astounding majority of the population. We understand this position, life is life," Lavrov said in an interview shown in an analytical program hosted by Sergei Brilyov on Rossiya-1 TV channel on Saturday.

"But not understanding real politics and absolute hopelessness of demands addressed to us at the moment when we said that we would accept any decision by the Crimeans after they express their will and telling us: 'Okay, despite what the president said, let's put it down that a mission will go to Ukraine including Crimea' - this is diplomatic impudence or absolute diplomatic inadequacy," he said.

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Russia is holding negotiations with several countries so that Russian ships could call at their ports for servicing and minor maintenance, but Russia is not considering the establishment of new naval bases abroad, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"We are holding negotiations with some countries that our ships and naval vessels could use their infrastructure for calling at their ports, servicing, minor maintenance, replenishing food and water stocks, and the crews' rest. There is absolutely no talk about building bases similar to the American ones," Lavrov said in an interview shown in an analytical program hosted by Sergei Brilyov on Rossiya-1 TV channel on Saturday.

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Interaction between Moscow, Western countries and Kiev to settle the crisis in Ukraine is becoming more tangible, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"Anyway, we are bringing our approaches closer together. My last meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry in The Hague and my contacts with Germany, France and some other countries show that a possible joint initiative that could be offered to our Ukrainian partners is taking shape," Lavrov said in an interview shown in an analytical program hosted by Sergei Brilyov on Rossiya-1 TV channel on Saturday.

"This is a very important detail, because our partners have so far proposed setting up some contact group in which Russia and those who have seized power in Kiev would negotiate under their supervision. This would be an absolutely unacceptable format, and we are not talking about this," he said.

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Russia has no plans to create naval and military bases abroad like American facilities, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Saturday News with Sergei Brilyov on Russian television.

Commenting on reports that Russia allegedly planned to open bases on the Seashells, in Vietnam, Nicaragua, Cuba and Argentina, Lavrov said "It is not true at all. We have no plans to create naval and military bases abroad in the meaning you understand the term."

"The Navy has strengthened significantly in Russia, and I think, after the joining of Crimea to Russia, it will have much more potentialities for development," he noted. Aside from the Black Sea Fleet, we have the Far Eastern, Northern and other fleets," he said. "It is very important for the state to have the navy on the highest level of training, especially when the fleet has not only to cross oceans for training, but carry out specific tasks to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden. Pirates appear in other parts of the world ocean. The fleet makes long trips."

"We have agreed with some countries for our vessels and naval ships to use their existing infrastructure for calls, service, minor repair, replenishment of food and water reserves and rest of crews," Lavrov explained. "Construction of bases like American ones is out of the question. Any agreements like those concluded by Americans to ensure immunity for their servicemen from crimes in the country of their presence are also out of the question," he noted.

"By the way, I saw an interesting picture in the Internet the Russian Federation and red dots indicating locations of American military bases around it," he said. "It is impressive. They number more than a hundred. And an American serviceman phrase there 'How does Russia dare to settle so close to our bases?'."

In reply to the question whether the mentioned countries were among those to negotiate with about calls of ships, Lavrov said "There are several such countries, but these are issues to be considered by military departments.

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Russia has no plans to cross Ukraine's borders, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"We have absolutely no intention of and interest in crossing Ukraine's borders. The only thing we really want is that the work should be collective and the lawlessness that some Western countries are trying to sweep under the rug and paint the situation in bright colors should be stopped, so that they realize their responsibility," Lavrov said in an interview shown in an analytical program hosted by Sergei Brilyov on Rossiya-1 TV channel on Saturday.

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Source:  Johnson's Russia List, March 29, 2014. See also Churkin's interview with Charlie Rose on March 21, 2014.