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Khamenei plays hardball with Obama

 It was an extraordinary week in the politics of the Middle East and it ended appropriately by being rounded off with a reality check lest imaginations ran riot.

Three major happenings within one week would have to be taken as the inevitable confluence of a flow of developments and processes: the offer by the Syrian opposition of a bilateral dialogue with the Bashar al-Assad regime; the historic visit of an Iranian president to Egypt; and the public, unconditional offer by the United States of direct talks with Iran and the latter's ready acceptance of it.

Yet, they are interconnected. First, the Syrian kaleidoscope is dramatically shifting despite the continuing bloodbath. Unless the European countries drop their arms embargo on Syria (which expires on March 1 anyway) and decide to arm the militant groups, the stalemate will continue.

The mood in Western capitals has shifted in the direction of caution and circumspection, given the specter that al-Qaeda affiliates are taking advantage. If anything, the hurricane of militant Islamism blowing through Mali only reinforces that concern and reluctance.

Suffice to say, what prompted the Islamist leader of the Syrian National Coalition, Moaz al-Khatib, last weekend to show willingness to take part in direct talks with representatives of the Syrian regime - and pushed him into meeting with Russian and Iranian foreign ministers - was as much the disarray within the Syrian opposition and his failure to form a credible "government-in-exile" as his acute awareness that the Western mood is now cautious about Syria.

To be sure, Iran played a signal role in the grim battle of nerves over Syria through the recent months. Strangely, it is Iran today, which is on the "right side of history", by urging dialogue and negotiations and democratic elections as holding the key to reform and change in Syria - or, for that matter, in Bahrain.

Thus, President Mahmud Ahmedinejad's historic visit to Egypt this week has a much bigger regional dimension to it than the restoration of the Iran-Egypt bilateral relationship. The trilateral meeting held between Ahmedinejad and his Egyptian and Turkish counterparts Mohammed Morsi and Abdullah Gul signified Iran's compelling relevance as an interlocutor rather than as an implacable adversary for the two major Sunni countries.

Interestingly, Morsi added, "Egypt's revolution is now experiencing conditions similar to those of Iran's Revolution and because Egypt does not have an opportunity for rapid progress like Iran, we believe that expansion of cooperation and ties with Iran is crucially important and necessary."

Needless to say, Iranian diplomacy has been optimal with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood-led regime in Cairo - neither fawning nor patronizing, or pushing and pressuring, but leaving things to the Brothers to decide the pace. Basic to this approach is the confidence in Tehran that the surge of Islamism in the Middle East through democratic process, no matter "Sunni Islamism", will ultimately work in favor of Iran's interests.

The cordial welcome extended by Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of Egypt's Al-Azhar, to Ahmedinejad and the strong likelihood of his visit to Tehran in a very near future also underscores the common desire to strengthen the affinities.

Simply put, the Syrian crisis has virtually receded from the Iran-Egypt field of play as a serious issue of discord.

True, the Turkey-based Syrian National Council (SNC) continues to reject any negotiation with the Syrian regime, and the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the SNC... But this may also provide the window of opportunity for Turkey, Egypt and Iran to knock their heads together....Besides, the SNC has no real influence over the opposition fighters, and Ankara feels exasperated at the overall drift of the Syrian crisis.

Thus, it was against a complex backdrop that US Vice President Joe Biden said in Munich last weekend that Washington is ready to hold direct talks with Iran over the country's nuclear energy program. Iran's immediate response was one of cautious optimism. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi reacted: "I am optimistic. I feel this new [US] administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous traditional approach vis-a-vis my country."

However, by the next day, he had begun tempering the enthusiasm: "We looked at it positively. I think this is a good overture... But we will have to wait a little bit longer to see if their gesture is this time a real gesture... so that we will be making our decisions likewise."

Salehi subsequently explained, "A look at the past shows that whenever we have had talks with the Americans, including efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, unfortunately the other side has failed to fulfill its obligations. You cannot use a threatening tone and say all options are on the table, on the one hand, [because] this is an apparent contradiction... Exerting pressure and [invitation to] talks are not compatible. If you have honest intentions, we can place serious negotiations on the agenda."

Obviously, Salehi spoke in two voices, and his retraction finally proved to be the "authentic" voice of Tehran. When the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei broke his silence on Thursday, he rejected the possibility of direct talks with the US. He said, "You [Americans] are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot. The Iranian nation will not be frightened by the threats... Some naive people like the idea of negotiating with America [but] negotiations will not solve the problems. If some people want American rule to be established again in Iran, the nation will rise up to them."

One way of looking at Khamenei's harsh statement on Thursday is to put it in the immediate context of the announcement of further sanctions against Iran by Washington the previous day, which the US administration has explained as "a significant turning of the screw" that will "significantly increase the economic pressure on Iran".

But it does not fully explain the manifest harshness and the comprehensive rejection by Khamenei. Meanwhile, three factors are to be taken into account. First, Iran's domestic politics is hotting up and the dramatic eruption of public acrimony between Ahmedinejad and the Speaker of the Majlis Ali Larijani last weekend testifies to a rough period when Khamenei will have his hands full as the great helmsman.

Indeed, a lot of jockeying is going on as the presidential election slated for May draws closer. Khamenei could factor in that the talks with the US are best held after the elections. (By the way, this may also be Obama's preference.) Second, Khamenei has flagged by implication that Tehran expects some serious goodwill gesture on the part of the US before any talks take place. He has recalled that the US did not act in good faith in the past - such as when Iran helped out in the US's overthrow of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

A third factor is that Khamenei genuinely sees that Iran is on the "right side of history" as regards the regional upheaval in the Middle East, whereas the US's regional strategies are getting nowhere. In sum, whereas the US propaganda is that the Iran sanctions are "biting" and the regime is in Iran feels besieged, it is in actuality a bizarre situation of Washington believing its own propaganda while the ground realities are vastly different.

If the propaganda has us believe that the regime in Tehran is living in fear of a Tahrir-like revolution erupting in Iran, Khamenei's words show no such traces of fear or timidity. On the other hand, Khamenei would have carefully weighed Obama's capacity (or the limits to it) to bulldoze the Israeli lobby and to initiate a genuine normalization process with Iran.

When Richard Nixon worked on China in the early 1970s, he had the benefit of a broad consensus of opinion within the US political establishment. On the contrary, when it comes to Iran, pride and prejudice influence still rule the roost for most consequential Americans.

Khamenei's message to Obama is to get serious and think through what he really wants instead of lobbing a vague offer through Biden with no strings attached and no commitments underlying it. The Iranian leader who has continuously dealt with successive US administrations through the past 22 years simply threw the ball into Obama's court and will now wait and see how the latter kicks it around when he is in Israel next month.

By M K Bhadrakumar

Asia  Times


'Al-Qaeda spreading its influence in other parts of world'

Even as core of its leadership has been significantly decimated, al-Qaeda is spreading its influence in other parts of the world, a top White House official has said.

"Al-Qaeda has been metastasising in different parts of the world. We have the al-Qaeda core that, in the past exerted quite a bit of orchestration of effort over a number of these franchises that have developed," John Brennan told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence during his confirmation hearing for CIA Director.

Brennan noted that with the US putting a curb on activities of the al-Qaeda, like-minded elements like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have emerged as a result of local environment favouring them.

"So they're all sort of unique into themselves. They have different features and characteristics," the chief counter terrorism adviser to US President Barack Obama said.

Brennan said the US needs to make sure that it is able to work with the governments and the intelligence and security services in the area, so that it can put as much pressure on them as possible.

"A number of them have local agendas. Some of them have local agendas as well as international agendas. al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen has a very determined insurgency effort under way inside of Yemen to try to bring that government down, and the government has done a great job, you know, fighting back," he explained.

"There are other elements al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. They are narcotics smugglers (and) human traffickers. They get involved quite a bit in kidnapping and ransoms and also involved in terrorist attacks."

So what we need to do is to take into account what the environment is, who we can work with, how we're going to put pressure on them," he said, stating that any element associated with al-Qaeda will definitely have "death and destruction" in its agenda.

"So we need to be mindful of this metastasization of al-Qaeda cancer," Brennan said.

Responding to another question, he warned that any American joining al-Qaeda would be treated as an enemy.

"Any member of al-Qaeda, whether they be a US or non-US citizen, needs to know that they have the right to surrender anytime, anywhere throughout the world. And they can do so before that organisation is destroyed," he said, pointing out that the US was committed to destroy al-Qaeda.

The US, he said, has maintained that al-Qaeda is trying to kill Americans that it is going to do everything possible to protect the lives of American citizens from the murderous attacks from al-Qaida.

I say: What about al-Qaeda in Syria? What about the lives of the Syrian citizens? And what about the death and destruction in Syria????.

Source: infowars


Syrian Government and Syrian Kurds about to foil NATO´s Greater Middle East Project

Syrian TV reports that the Syrian Prime Minister Wael Al Halaki and representatives of the Syrian Kurds National Initiative have met to analyze the political program to end the conflict in Syria. Both the Kurds of Syria and the government agree that the crisis only can be resolved by dialog. During the summer of 2012 NATO made several attempts to play the Kurdistan Card in the attempt to balkanize Syria first, and Turkey afterward, according to (nsnbc)

The Syrian government and more than 200 representatives of Syria´s political, religious, ethnic, as well as special interest organizations had over the last months held several meetings in Syria as well as in Iran. The consultations resulted in a comprehensive plan for ending the violence, for national reconciliation and for working toward inclusive national reforms. During the meeting in Damascus, Al Halaki assured Omar Osi and other Kurd representatives, that Kurds are a fundamental  component of Syria´s national life.

P.M. Al Halaki is the Chairman of the Ministerial Commission in charge of implementing the peace initiative. Al Halaki explained, that the meeting was part of the preparatory phase of the national dialog and reconciliation program. Al Halaki stressed, that the Syrian authorities have called upon all political and social forces, regardless whether they support the government or not, and who reject foreign interference, to take part in reaching a consensus.

Omar Osi stressed the importance of the meeting and endorsed the facilities the Syrian government had  provided to all national stakeholders, including the Kurds. Osi stressed that the Kurds National Initiative supports the program and the Kurds eagerness to reach a political conclusion to the crisis, leading to reconciliation. Omar Osi emphasized that the Syrian Kurds favor a national stance par excellence, and that the Kurds, whom some foreign players had counted on as a weak flank has turned out to be a strong Syrian bastion in the North.

The successful conclusion of the meeting between Omar Osi and Al Halaki  is one more blow to NATO and the Freedom and Justice Party government of Turkey´s P.M. R. Tayyip Erdogan. R. Tayyip Erdogan has, according to Chairman Dr. Doğu Perinçek and other leading members of the Workers´ Party – Turkey been groomed for years to carry out the Greater Middle East Project.

The project was developed by the RAND Corporation for the US Department of Defense in 1996. The renowned Pakistani security and energy security consultant Major Agha H Amin stated in a recent interview with the scribe, that both the USA, the Erdogan administration and Israel attempted to set up a Kurdish state by first balkanizing Syria, and then Turkey, as part of an US plan to create a NATO corridor from Turkey to India, along what Maj. Amin called the soft, oil-rich belly of Russia and China.



Rob Bertholee: Hundreds of foreigners to fight in the “Holy War” in Syria

The chief of General Dutch intelligence Rob Bertholee warned that dozens of Dutch citizens are fighting with the “rebels” in Syria, saying that they might return to their country loaded with extremist thoughts.

AP German agency quoted Bertholee in saying yesterday that, “the number of Dutch persons who are coming to Syria is raising, which makes us worry from them, returning to their country after fighting with Radical Islamist terrorists in Syria”.

Bertholee added that hundreds of people from Europe and dozens from Netherlands are traveling to Syria to participate with the rebels for what they consider a “Holly War or Jihad” against the Syrian leadership”.

Bertholee pointed out that the media is adding an emotional side to the current events in Syria to receive the largest number of foreigner watchers. 

Source: AP agency


Saudi Arabia confesses support for terrorists in Syria

Saudi Arabia's ambassador in Jordan, Fahad bin Abdul Mohsen al-Zaid, admitted that the Saudis residing in Syria are supporting and collaborating with armed terrorist groups in Syria, orchestrated from abroad, to fight in Syria.

In this regard, the representative of Saudi authorities in Jordan in an interview with the newspaper Al-Hayat, a leading pan-Arab daily reported Monday that since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, some 2,500 Saudis have entered the Arab country.

Therefore, the Saudi said that an unknown number of this group have been arrested and are currently in Syrian prisons.

Al-Zaid also stated that the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Jordan and Lebanon, is trying to free the Saudis found in Syrian prisons.

The Syrian government had warned repeatedly that a large number of foreigners from Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, are fighting side by side with the gunmen and the opposition to destabilize the country.

The violence in Syria began almost two years ago. The Damascus government maintains that the chaos and terror come from the outside and by certain Western countries.

The armed terrorist groups are fighting a proxy war for the big powers in Ankara, Riyadh, Washington and Doha. They have a seemingly endless supply of men and arms.  Insurgents generally do not respect any law in war. They are criminals by definition. They kill, torture, and terrorize the population.  Saudi Arabia has dispatched to Syria a large number of dangerous criminals, including murderers and prisoners sentenced to death to take part in terrorist activities against the supporters of the regime and ordinary citizens. There is footage of Sudanese, Yemeni and Saudi criminals beheading the Syrian people and committing other atrocities.

For Saudi Arabia, this has a highly practical benefit. They get rid of their hardcore criminals somewhere far away.  The "enemy" civilian population in Syria is horrified by the news that brutal murderers and rapists are on the way to their homes. Nobody in Saudi Arabia cares when they are killed or captured by the Syrian army. The results are that Syrian civilians and soldiers are being brutally massacred, beheaded and tortured.  And the maggots the west have the audacity to claim that President Assad is "killing his own people."  Indeed.


Translated from the Spanish version by:

Lisa Karpova-pravadaru


Human Rights Watch slams Qatar labour rights record

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has criticized the government of Qatar for not following through with pledged labour reforms ahead of the 2022 Word Cup.

At a press conference on Thursday in the Qatari capital, Doha, the international non-governmental organisation said migrant workers in the Gulf state work under a "19th century labour system".

HRW urged Qatar to set a timetable to abolish the sponsorship system - known as kafala in Arabic - which restricts the rights of workers to travel, change jobs and complain about employer abuse.

The group also said that while there is the political will for change, more concrete action needs to be taken to prevent exploitation of workers building stadiums, roads and other infrastructure in the run-up to 2022.

"We need good laws to be enforced, bad laws to be changed and violators to be sanctioned," said Nicholas McGeehan, a Middle East expert at HRW.

"This is the world’s most popular football tournament in the world’s richest country - built on the backs of the world's poorest people," McGeehan said. "The system was meant to disappear 100 years ago."

Reacting to the accusations, Qatar's 2022 Supreme Committee tasked with organising the tournament said, "The safety, security, health and dignity of workers – be they professionals or construction workers – is of paramount importance."

Improving labour standards

The US-based watchdog has said employers should stop confiscating the passports of migrant workers, and cease requiring exit permits for those trying to leave the country.

The latest accusations come after a "Building a Better World Cup" report from 2012, which looked at the legal issues surrounding the foreign workers who constitute more than 85 percent of the country's 1.9 million population.

"There’s an opportunity here for Qatar to do the right thing and to show the rest of the world," Silvia Pessoa, a Carnegie Mellon University professor in Doha who studies migrant labour, said.

Most labourers in Qatar come from South Asian countries such as India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Laws intended to protect workers are often not enforced, according to rights groups.

A study last year by the National Human Rights Committee in Qatar said that most manual labourers earn about $250 per month, and that one-third do not receive their wages on time. 

"If they are not able to even adhere to the minimum basic workers’ rights ... you will see more and more countries who will stop or boycott [them]," said Marieke Koning of the International Trade Union Confederation.

In its World Report 2013 covering 90 countries, HRW focused on global abuses of human rights, including sections about the US prison population, the war on terror and mistreatment of minorities in Europe.



Watchdog calls on Turkey for ‘internal and external’ democracy

Turkey should reverse the negative movement of its human rights profile and raise its voice for more democracy in its foreign policy, senior officials of Human Rights Watch (HRW) have said.

 “We have very serious concerns about human rights in Turkey and the direction it is going in this country. [It is] not a good direction,” Carroll Bogert, deputy executive director for external relations of the HRW, the board of which met in Istanbul for the first time, said in an interview with the Hürriyet Daily News on Feb. 4.

Bogert said the HRW wants to focus on Turkey because of increasing human rights violations in the country and to increase the profile of Turkey in their work. They want to engage in the Africa initiative Turkey launched in 2005, she added.

You know Turkey is opening embassies all over Africa. First of all we have information; we are researchers. We are in the field in parts of Africa where Turkey is just arriving. It will be interesting and useful for Turkey to be engaged with us,” she said, adding that their board members had met officials from the Turkish justice and foreign ministries and also the prime minister’s office.

Kurdish issue

Roth also said torture by the police was much less frequent than it used to be in Turkey but police violence at peaceful demonstrations remains a major problem. He said the rights of Kurds have been improving but there are many Kurds in detention under anti-terrorism laws that are used too broadly.

Bogert also said Turkey’s ongoing “peace process” regarding the solution to the three-decade-long Kurdish issue related to justice as well.

 “Justice for some of the crimes of the past has to be part of the ultimate solution to the Kurdish question, you cannot simply forget what happened 20 years ago and pretend it did not happen. It did,” Bogert said.

The HRW’s 2013 world report harshly criticized Turkey for jailing Kurdish activists, students and journalists under anti-terrorism laws with insufficient evidence.

 “There is a lot of international attention to journalists in prison in Turkey. That is a big problem, but there are thousands of people in prisons in Turkey under the anti-terrorism laws. We really have to question if there is actual evidence for their alleged crimes.”

According to Bogert the legal system in Turkey operates very slowly and people spend long periods in pre-trial detention without being charged.

 ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News