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Mystery Russian satellite’s behaviour raises alarm in US

August 15, 2018


The US says it does not know what the satellite is or why it is behaving strangely

By BBC News, 08/15/2018

Source Link: Mystery Russian satellite’s behaviour raises alarm in US

{Not a moment too soon for a formal Space Force. The race is on and I’m betting Russia can’t afford it no more than they did when challenged by Reagan years ago. – LS}

A mysterious Russian satellite displaying “very abnormal behaviour” has raised alarm in the US, according to a State Department official.

“We don’t know for certain what it is and there is no way to verify it,” said assistant secretary Yleem Poblete at a conference in Switzerland on 14 August.

She voiced fears that it was impossible to say if the object may be a weapon.

Russia has dismissed the comments as “unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicious”.

The satellite in question was launched in October last year.

“[The satellite’s] behaviour on-orbit was inconsistent with anything seen before from on-orbit inspection or space situational awareness capabilities, including other Russian inspection satellite activities,” Ms Poblete told the conference on disarmament in Switzerland.

“Russian intentions with respect to this satellite are unclear and are obviously a very troubling development,” she added, citing recent comments made by the commander of Russia’s Space Forces, who said adopting “new prototypes of weapons” was a key objective for the force.

Ms Poblete said that the US had “serious concerns” that Russia was developing anti-satellite weapons.

Alexander Deynko, a senior Russian diplomat, told the Reuters news agency that the comments were “the same unfounded, slanderous accusations based on suspicions, on suppositions and so on”.

He called on the US to contribute to a Russian-Chinese treaty that seeks to prevent an arms race in space.

‘Lasers or microwaves’

Space weapons may be designed to cause damage in more subtle ways than traditional weapons like guns, which could cause a lot of debris in orbit, explained Alexandra Stickings, a research analyst at the Royal United Services Institute.

“[Such weapons may include] lasers or microwave frequencies that could just stop [a satellite] working for a time, either disable it permanently without destroying it or disrupt it via jamming,” she said.

But it was difficult to know what technology is available because so much information on space-based capabilities is classified, she added.

She also said it would be very difficult to prove that any event causing interference in space was an intentional, hostile action by a specific nation state.

Ms Poblete’s comments were particularly interesting in light of President Donald Trump’s decision to launch a sixth branch of the US armed forces named Space Force, added Ms Stickings.

“The narrative coming from the US is, ‘space was really peaceful, now look at what the Russians and Chinese are doing’ – ignoring the fact that the US has developed its own capabilities.”

The BBC has asked the UK’s Ministry of Defence for comment.

 

When the peace plan is ready, it will be unveiled

August 10, 2018

State Department spokeswoman rejects reports that Trump administration’s peace has been delayed.


Netanyahu meets Kushner and Greenblatt Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

By Elad Benari, 10/08/18 Arutz Sheva

Source Link: When the peace plan is ready, it will be unveiled

{Trump always walks from a bad deal. So far, Trump has not walked. I say we wait and see what’s in the final details. – LS}

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert on Thursday rejected reports that the Trump administration’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been delayed.

Nauert was asked during her daily press briefing whether the plan, being prepared by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and his Middle East envoy Jared Kushner, was indeed being pushed back.

“We have not unveiled the peace plan at this time. That will be unveiled by Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt when it is ready. And when it’s ready to be unveiled, they will unveil it,” she promised.

Earlier this week, a source said that the U.S. National Security Council has published a tender to hire experts for a steering committee to be established for the plan. The committee would allegedly be chaired by Middle East special envoy Jason Greenblatt.

According to the source, the administration would not be able to present the final peace plan until 2019.

National Security Spokesperson Garrett Marquis later told Arutz Sheva that the report was false.

“No such committee is being established. Further, the report that we will not release the plan in 2018 is also false. As we have said before, the release of the plan is not related to domestic United States or Israeli politics but when the plan is complete and the timing is right,” said Marquis.

The U.S. peace plan, despite not having been made public yet, has thus far been met with resistance from PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and his aides. They have refused to engage with the U.S. in protest over Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem of Israel’s capital and his relocating the U.S. embassy to the city.

Trump recently declined to offer a timetable for announcing the proposed peace plan, saying only that “progress” had been made in tackling the complex issue.

“A lot of progress has been made in the Middle East, a lot,” he said in late June after a meeting at the White House with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

The Latest: Erdogan, Putin talk economic ties as lira falls

August 10, 2018


Adem Altan | AFP | Getty Images – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin last April.

By The Associated Press ANKARA, Turkey — Aug 10, 2018, 10:08 AM ET

Source Link: The Latest: Erdogan, Putin talk economic ties as lira falls

{Note: The original article in this post has disappeared from CNBC and it’s affiliates…strange. I guess it was just an update, but the title was changed as well. – LS}

{Turkey runs to Putin for help. Good luck with that. – LS}

The Latest on Turkey’s financial turmoil (all times local):

5:10 p.m.

Turkish officials say President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has held a telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin during which they discussed economic ties between the two countries.

Officials from Erdogan’s office said the two on Friday “expressed pleasure” that economic and financial ties between their countries were progressing “positively” and of the continued cooperation in the defense industry and energy. The officials provided the information only on condition of anonymity according to protocol.

It was an apparent reference to Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian-made S-400 missile defense systems. Russia is also building a nuclear power plant.

The news of the conversation came shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump said he had authorized the doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs “with respect to Turkey,” causing the Turkish currency to plunge further against the dollar.

———

4:15 p.m.

In a bid to ease investor concerns about Turkey’s economic policy, the country’s finance minister says the government will safeguard the independence of the central bank.

Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak on Friday also vowed sustainable and healthy economic growth as well as “strong struggle” against inflation, which currently stands at close to 16 percent.

Albayrak was speaking at a conference where he outlined his ministry’s “new economic policy” as the currency plunged, raising questions about the country’s financial stability.

He said: “One of our principles will be ensuring the full independence of monetary policy.”

Investors are worried about the president’s unorthodox economic policies, pressure exerted on the central bank, and a dispute with the United States that has led to sanctions.

———

4:10 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he’s just authorized the doubling of steel and aluminum tariffs “with respect to Turkey.”

Trump says via tweet that the tariff on aluminum imports will be increased to 20 percent and the tariff on steel imports will be raised to 50 percent as the Turkish Lira “slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar!”

Trump is also declaring that, “Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!”

The United States slapped sanctions on two Turkish officials earlier this month over a detained American pastor who is being tried on espionage and terror-related charges.

Turkey vowed retaliation “without delay” and warned the move would further harm relations between the two allies.

Trump’s tweet caused a further drop in the Turkish currency, which is now down 13 percent on the day.

———

3:05 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is appealing for calm as the country’s currency plunges, urging people to change foreign money into local lira.

The lira tumbled about 10 percent on Friday to another record low as investors worry about Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies and U.S. sanctions.

Erdogan said during an address to supporters: “Change the euros, the dollars and the gold that you are keeping beneath your pillows into lira at our banks. This is a domestic and national struggle.”

He appeared to blame foreigners for trying to hurt Turkey, saying: “This will be my people’s response against those waging an economic war against us.”

The lira fell further as Erdogan spoke.

———

2:15 p.m.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says his government “will not lose the economic war.”

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and other media reports quote Erdogan as making the comment to a group of worshippers following traditional Muslim Friday prayers during a visit to the northern city of Bayburt.

On Friday, the Turkish currency plunged to another record low amid concerns over Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies and a diplomatic row with the United States that has led to sanctions.

The lira hit a record low of 6.24 per dollar on Friday, before recovering to 5.96, down more than 7 percent on the day.

———

12:05 p.m.

An analyst at Berenberg bank in London is downplaying the risks to Europe’s economy from Turkey’s currency turmoil, saying the impact on trade would be small.

European economist Carsten Hesse said Friday that even if the export of goods to Turkey falls 20 percent that would take no more than 0.1 percentage point from annual GDP in the 19 countries that use the euro currency.

He cautioned that a banking crisis in Turkey could have “some negative repercussions” on eurozone banks that loaned money there or own Turkish banks. But he said that the possible losses seem “too small to cause a significant eurozone crisis.”

Hesse noted that business confidence in the eurozone did not suffer after Turkey’s economy contracted in 2016 in the wake of a failed coup there.

———

11:40 a.m.

The euro sagged to a 13-month low against the dollar amid worries about the impact of financial market turmoil in Turkey.

The 19-country currency fell 0.7 percent to trade at $1.1450 in morning trading in Europe. The dollar, which traders buy in times of financial concern, was up against most other currencies.

The euro’s fall comes as investors try to come to grips with how big a threat the troubles in Turkey might pose for the currency union. Turkey’s currency sagged to an all-time low Friday amid doubts about the country’s economic management and souring ties with the United States.

The Financial Times added to concerns with a report that the European Central Bank was worried about possible losses at eurozone banks operating in Turkey. European officials also rely on a deal with Turkey to restrain migrant flows in return for aid.

———

11:20 a.m.

The Turkish currency has plunged to an all-time low amid concerns over the president’s economies policies persisted and as a dispute with the United States showed no sign of subsiding.

The lira hit a record low of 6.24 per dollar on Friday, before recovering to 5.94, down 7 percent on the day. The currency has fallen 66 percent since the start of the year.

High level meetings in Washington between U.S. and Turkish officials over a detained American pastor ended this week without an apparent resolution. Washington imposed financial sanctions on two Turkish ministers and warned of additional measures.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday portrayed the currency drop as a “campaign” to harm Turkey.

He said: “If they have their dollar, we have the people, we have Allah.”

Turkey lira crashes to new lows as market alarm grows

August 10, 2018


© AFP | The lira’s drastic fall has European banks worried

10 August 2018 – 13H20 France 24

Source Link: Turkey lira crashes to new lows as market alarm grows

{Trump drops another economic bomb. – LS}

ISTANBUL (AFP) –

Turkey’s embattled lira on Friday hit new record lows against the US dollar and euro, losing over six percent in value as strains with the United States showed no sign of abating and fears grew over the exposure of European banks.

The lira was trading at 5.90 to the dollar, a loss on the day of 6.5 percent. Earlier, it had crashed some 12 percent through the 6.00 level for the first time in history, trading at one point at more than 6.20 lira per dollar.

The lira has now lost over a third of its value against both the dollar and the euro this year, with the currency battered by both concerns over domestic economic policy and the political situation.

Versus the euro on Friday the lira lost 7.0 percent to trade at 6.8.

Turkey remains at loggerheads with the United States in one of the worst spats between the two NATO allies in years over the detention for the last two years of American pastor Andrew Brunson and a host of other issues.

Talks this week in Washington failed to resolve the impasse which has led both sides to slap sanctions on senior officials amid fears of graver measures to come.

– Doubts over central bank –

Meanwhile, markets are deeply concerned over the direction of economic policy under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan with inflation nearly 16 percent but the central bank reluctant to raise rates in response.

UBS chief economist for EMEA emerging markets Gyorgy Kovacs said a giant rate hike of 350-400 basis points would be “consistent with real rate levels that in the past helped to stabilise the currency.”

He warned a “rate hike alone might not stem the worries about the US and Turkey tensions and a potential further escalation.”

And it remains unclear if the bank would be willing to sharply lift rates with analysts saying the nominally independent institution is under the influence of Erdogan, who wants low rates to keep growth humming.

Erdogan after winning June 24 elections with revamped powers tightened his control over the central bank and appointed his son-in-law Berat Albayrak to head a newly-empowered finance ministry.

“President Erdogan’s strengthened powers under the new presidential system have made it increasingly uncertain whether policymakers will be able to act to stabilise the economy,” said William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.

He said the lira’s fall was being exacerbated by fears the central bank “isn’t being permitted to raise interest rates”.

– ‘Accelerating speed’ –

Concerns were intensified Friday by a report in the Financial Times that the supervisory wing of the European Central Bank (ECB) had over the last weeks began to look more closely at euro zone lenders’ exposure to Turkey.

The report said that the situation is not yet seen as “critical” but Spain’s BBVA, Italy’s UniCredit and France’s BNP Paribas are regarded as particularly exposed.

“Investors have been looking at the unfolding currency crisis in Turkey as a local difficulty, however the accelerating speed of the declines appears to be raising concerns about European banks exposure to the Turkish banking system,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.

Albayrak, who formerly served as energy minister, is on Friday expected to announce what he has described as a “new economic model” for Turkey but markets remain sceptical.

The president did nothing to reassure markets with comments overnight that the pressure on the lira was due to what he described as a “variety of campaigns” and appearing to play down the magnitude of the crisis.

“If they have dollars, we have our people, we have our right and we have Allah!” he said.

The plunge in the lira has featured remarkably little on Turkish television channels and newspapers — most of which after recent ownership changes are loyal to the government — with most media focusing instead on recent flooding by the Black Sea.

© 2018 AFP

Residents of rocket-hit town describe scramble to reach safety of bomb shelters

August 9, 2018

‘You have to choose which of your children you save,’ says a mother of 7 in the southern town of Sderot


Illustrative. Children are seen in a bomb shelter of an apartment building in Ashkelon, southern Israel, on the third day of Operation Protective Edge, July 10, 2014. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

By TOI staff August 9, 2018

Source Link: Residents of rocket-hit town describe scramble to reach safety of bomb shelters

{No one should have to live like this. – LS}

Residents of the southern town of Sderot described Thursday the desperate dash to safety as 150 rockets, fired overnight from the Gaza Strip rained down on southern Israel, including one barrage that slammed into the city injuring several people.

There are no more than 15 seconds from the moment the rocket warning siren sounds until a projectile impacts on the city, during which residents have to get themselves — and their families — into bomb shelters or reinforced rooms in their homes.

Volleys of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night and into Thursday prompting the Israeli Air Force to bomb at least 12 Hamas positions across the Gaza Strip, the military said.

Sderot resident Etti Kramer told Hadashot TV news how she and her husband dashed to get their seven children into their family’s reinforced room as they heard explosions around them.

“I ran and grabbed the baby,” she said. “The rest of the children ran [to the reinforced room] but didn’t arrive in time. We started to hear explosions and we continued getting the children into the reinforced room. You have to choose which of your children you save. I grabbed the baby and the two-year old and ran to the shelter.”

Another resident, Yossi Lok, recounted how his neighbor was injured by a rocket which their apartment building.

Lok said he had retreated to his reinforced room after the rocket siren alert when off.

“I heard a huge explosion and saw a flash of fire,” he said. “The neighbor cried out that he’d been hit. I came downstairs and saw him really badly hurt, covered in blood. His home was on fire because his gas canister had been hit.”

Residents of the southern town of Sderot described Thursday the desperate dash to safety as 150 rockets, fired overnight from the Gaza Strip rained down on southern Israel, including one barrage that slammed into the city injuring several people.

There are no more than 15 seconds from the moment the rocket warning siren sounds until a projectile impacts on the city, during which residents have to get themselves — and their families — into bomb shelters or reinforced rooms in their homes.

Volleys of rockets and mortar shells were fired at southern Israeli communities from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night and into Thursday prompting the Israeli Air Force to bomb at least 12 Hamas positions across the Gaza Strip, the military said.

Sderot resident Etti Kramer told Hadashot TV news how she and her husband dashed to get their seven children into their family’s reinforced room as they heard explosions around them.

“I ran and grabbed the baby,” she said. “The rest of the children ran [to the reinforced room] but didn’t arrive in time. We started to hear explosions and we continued getting the children into the reinforced room. You have to choose which of your children you save. I grabbed the baby and the two-year old and ran to the shelter.”

Another resident, Yossi Lok, recounted how his neighbor was injured by a rocket which their apartment building.

Lok said he had retreated to his reinforced room after the rocket siren alert when off.

“I heard a huge explosion and saw a flash of fire,” he said. “The neighbor cried out that he’d been hit. I came downstairs and saw him really badly hurt, covered in blood. His home was on fire because his gas canister had been hit.”

“We were afraid that there would be more explosions,” he said. “We all got away from there.”

Lok said his home was also hit, a rocket landing on his roof.

“It was lucky there were no residents in the unit,” he said.

“We were with the kids,” resident Asher Pizam told Hadashot. “There was hysteria and pandemonium. We heard a whistle and a hit after several sirens. There was a lot of stress and panic, especially with the children…We hope the government does all it can so we have quiet here.”

In video shared on social media, dozens of parents and children in a Sderot playground could be seen running for bomb shelters as a rocket exploded in the city sending smoke billowing into the air.

One mother can be heard desperately seeking her son, while at the same time trying to calm a young girl by assuring her that there would no more rockets. Children and parents crammed into overcrowded shelters, with some crouching on the ground outside, as they tried to find safety.

Hanita Kohanik, a resident of the city which has suffered rocket fire from Gaza since 2001, spoke to the Hebrew-language Ynet website about the traumatic day-to-day life in the south.

“It is terrible,” Kohanik said. “There is nothing more I can say. It isn’t easy. We are a family of four and a dog, which gets more confused that we do.”

“As far as we are concerned each time the security situation deteriorates — the anxieties resurface,” she continued

Her son, she said, suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, and doesn’t leave home.

“The intermittent and sporadic fire are a daily war,” Kohanik said.

One rocket — or possibly shrapnel from an Iron Dome interceptor — damaged a home in Sderot late Wednesday night, police said. At least two rockets struck the city earlier in the day, injuring three people. Two more were injured in attacks Thursday morning. At least eight others were treated for panic attacks, including two pregnant women who went into labor.

Wave after wave of rocket attacks set off sirens throughout the night in the Hof Ashkelon, Sha’ar Hanegev, Sdot Negev and Eshkol regions outside Gaza, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters, where many bedded down with their families.

The rocket attacks came amid a period of heightened tensions along the Gaza border, following months of clashes and exchanges of fire. On Tuesday, Hamas vowed to avenge the deaths of two of its members killed by IDF tank fire after the army mistakenly thought a military exercise had been a cross-border attack.

At least 11 rockets or mortar shells were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system, the army said.

Hamas claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attacks, saying it was avenging the deaths of the two operatives killed the day before.

The United Nations condemned the Hamas rocket fire.

One Palestinian man was reportedly killed in the strike, 30-year-old Ali al-Ghandour was killed, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry.

In addition to al-Ghandour, at least six other Palestinians were injured in the Gaza Strip as a result of the IDF strikes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

The Israeli military said the terror group, with which it was fought three wars in the past decade, would bear the consequences of any further violence from the Gaza Strip.

Residents of southern Israel were told to remain close to bomb shelters Thursday in case of additional rockets or mortar shells from Gaza.

Wednesday’s rocket fire represented a major uptick in tensions along the border, amid intensive talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.

Such an agreement is meant to end not only rocket launches and shootings from Gaza but also the regular incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Palestinian enclave that have burned large swaths of land in southern Israel and caused millions of shekels of damage.

Throughout Wednesday, at least 11 fires were sparked in southern Israel by airborne arson devices launched from the Gaza Strip. Israeli firefighters extinguished all of them, according to a spokesperson for Fire and Rescue Services.

Adam Rasgon and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

Iran sanctions: Trump warns trading partners

August 7, 2018

By BBC News Staff – August 7, 2018

Source Link: Iran sanctions: Trump warns trading partners

Time is running out for Iran and waiting for the next US presidential election is not an option. – LS}

US President Donald Trump has issued a strong warning to anyone trading with Iran, following his re-imposition of sanctions on the country.

“Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States,” the president tweeted.

Some re-imposed sanctions took effect overnight and tougher ones relating to oil exports will begin in November.

Iran’s president said the measures were “psychological warfare” which aimed to “sow division among Iranians”.

The sanctions follow the US withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, also known as the Iran nuclear deal, earlier this year.

The deal, negotiated during the presidency of Barack Obama, saw Iran limit its controversial nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

Mr Trump has called the deal “one-sided”, “disastrous” and the “worst I’ve ever seen”. He believes renewed economic pressure will force Iran to agree to a new deal.

The European Union, which remains committed to the original agreement, has spoken out against the sanctions, vowing to protect firms doing “legitimate business” with Iran.

What else did Mr Trump say in his latest tweet?

He praised the “most biting sanctions ever imposed” and said they would “ratchet up to another level” in November.

“I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!” he said.

On Monday he had said that Iran faced a choice to “either change its threatening, destabilising behaviour and reintegrate with the global economy, or continue down a path of economic isolation”.

“I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile programme and its support for terrorism,” he said.

What are the sanctions?

Mr Trump signed an executive order that brought sanctions back into place at 00:01 EDT (04:01 GMT) on Tuesday. They target:

  • The purchase or acquisition of US banknotes by Iran’s government
  • Iran’s trade in gold and other precious metals
  • Graphite, aluminium, steel, coal and software used in industrial processes
  • Transactions related to the Iranian rial currency
  • Activities relating to Iran’s issuance of sovereign debt
  • Iran’s automotive sector

A second phase is planned to come back into effect on 5 November which will have implications for Iran’s energy and shipping sectors, petroleum trading and transactions by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

What has the reaction been?

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the US government had “turned their back on diplomacy”.

“They want to launch psychological warfare against the Iranian nation.” he said. “Negotiations with sanctions doesn’t make sense. We are always in favour of diplomacy and talks… but talks need honesty.”

The foreign ministers of Germany, the UK and France released a statement on Monday that said the nuclear deal remained “crucial” to global security.

They also unveiled a “blocking statute”, which is intended to protect European firms doing business with Iran despite the new US sanctions.

Alistair Burt, the UK’s minister of state for the Middle East, told the BBC: “If a company fears legal action taken against it and enforcement action taken against it by an entity in response to American sanctions, then that company can be protected as far as EU legislation is concerned.”

He said Iran would simply “batten down the hatches” until the next US election.

However, German car and lorry maker Daimler, which announced a joint venture in Iran last year, confirmed this week that it has now ceased activities in the country.

How will Iran’s economy be affected?

Iran has already seen unrest since last December over a poorly-performing economy.

Rising food prices, unemployment and even poor water supplies have led to protests in a number of cities.

Demonstrations in Tehran in June were said to be the capital’s biggest since 2012.

How much they are tied to the new US sanctions policy is hard to determine, but one definite link is the effect on Iran’s currency. It lost around half of its value after Mr Trump announced the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

Iran acted by easing its foreign exchange rules on Sunday, and the rial has strengthened by 20% since then.

Iranians have been hoarding gold as a safeguard, pushing it to a record high in Tehran.

The sanctions may bite hardest in November, when the US blocks Iranian oil sales.

This could halt about half of Iran’s exports of some two million barrels a day, although Iran may look to China and Russia to keep its industry afloat.

The International Monetary Fund said in March that Iran’s net official reserves could decline this year to $97.8bn, which would finance about 13 months of imports. And analysts at BMI Research say Iran’s economy could contract by 4.3% in 2019.

However, Barbara Slavin, of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, told the Wall Street Journal that when sanctions hit hard, it often means ordinary people become “totally dependent” on their government and so sanctions do not tend to topple regimes.

What do young Iranians think

As the first tranche of new US sanctions kicks in, young Iranians have been sharing their stories with BBC Persian. Many are already feeling the effects, as the economy had slowed down in anticipation of what was to come.

“I used to work in marketing for a home appliance manufacturer,” said Peyman. “I lost my job as the company can’t import the components.”

Aerospace engineer Ali lost his job of 13 years because his company couldn’t import equipment.

“Now I’m working as a taxi driver to feed my family,” he said. Many people say they’re no longer being paid on time and are finding it hard to make ends meet.

A construction worker, also called Ali, said he hadn’t been paid for 13 months. Omid, a doctor, was doing overtime to pay the rent and save up to get married.

Many people said they were losing hope. Sama said falling exchange rates meant her monthly salary was now worth half what it was six months ago.

“Buying a house or a nice car is like a dream now, she said. “Even buying a good mobile phone soon will be impossible for people like me.”

Caroline Glick: Trump’s Offer to Talk to Iran Was Shrewd Move in Complicated Showdown

August 3, 2018

By Caroline Glick – August 2, 2018 Breitbart

Source Link: Caroline Glick: Trump’s Offer to Talk to Iran Was Shrewd Move in Complicated Showdown

Sowing the seeds of discontent. – LS}

President Donald Trump’s offer Monday to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani caught senior administration officials as well as U.S. allies off guard. Many wondered what Trump could possibly be thinking.

Trump’s offer needs to be seen in the context of events in Iran. Iran is in the throes of rapidly growing, country-wide protests which may be the largest it has seen since the 1979 revolution. And worse is yet to come.

Beginning next week, U.S. will begin reimposing sanctions suspended by the Obama administration. Iran’s economy, already in a tailspin, stands a good chance of collapsing.

Trump made his offer in the context of an overall U.S. policy towards the Iranian regime. That policy was set out explicitly by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a speech in May and in another last month.

In May, Pompeo told an audience at the Heritage Institute that the U.S. sanctions against Iran would remain in place until the regime abided by twelve U.S. demands. The major demands require Iran to end all of its nuclear activities and come clean about its past nuclear operations; end its sponsorship of terrorism regionally and worldwide; respect the human and civil rights of the Iranian people; and end the aggression it is carrying out against its neighbors both directly and through its terror proxies.

In July, Pompeo spoke explicitly in favor of the Iranian people now protesting against the regime. He signaled clearly that the U.S. supports efforts by the Iranian people to overthrow the regime in Tehran.

So when Trump offered to meet with Rouhani without preconditions, it did not mean that he does not expect Iran to change its behavior. It meant that he was willing to meet with Rouhani while leading a policy whose goal is the fundamental transformation of Iran (to borrow a phrase from Barack Obama).

Trump would be happy if that transformation comes in the framework of a massive change in regime behavior. He would also be happy if it comes through a revolution that overthrows the regime.

As for the Iranians, their behavior in recent days probably gave Trump reason to believe they may be desperate enough to at least consider the former option.

On Sunday, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council reportedly decided to free the country’s two top political prisoners from house arrest.

Hossein Karroubi, the son of Mehdi Karroubi, told the Kalameh website in Iran that the council had decided to free his father and Mir Hossain Mousavi from house arrest. The two have been confined to their homes since 2009, when they led the Green Revolution in the wake of Iran’s 2009 presidential elections. The two men each won far more votes than the incumbent president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But in a mark of the regime’s contempt for the public, and for the very concept of democracy, Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. The mass countrywide protests that followed the stolen election represented the gravest threat the regime faced since the 1979 revolution.

To save itself, the regime sent its Basij paramilitary forces into the crowds of hundreds of thousands of protesters that gathered throughout the country demanding its overthrow. The Basij forces brutally repressed the protesters. Mousavi, his wife, and Karroubi were confined to their homes. Then President Obama, who was keen to reach an accord with the regime, refused to back the protesters.

The regime’s decision to free its top political prisoners is not a sign that it is willing to admit its crimes or make amends to the Iranian public. It is a sign of desperation.

With each passing day, the size of the crowds in the streets protesting against the regime, and the number of cities in Iran that are experiencing major protests, grows. The slogans they shout are not limited to demands that the regime bear down on corrupt officials and lower inflation. Protesters are calling for the overthrow of the regime.

Throughout the country, protesters are calling out, “Death to the Dictator,” meaning “supreme leader” Ali Khamenei. In Isfahan on Tuesday, protesters shouted out, “Reza Shah, may your soul and spirit be happy!”

Reza Shah was the founder of the dynasty that was overturned in the 1979 Islamic revolution. It is also the name of the Shah’s son in exile.

Protesters also insisted that they are done with the regime as a whole. They called for the death of both “reformists,” and “hardliners.”

As for Mousavi and Karroubi’s announced release, although the movement they led in the wake of the 2009 presidential election morphed into an attempted revolution that was brutally suppressed, Mousavi and Karroubi are not revolutionaries themselves. They are reformists deeply embedded in the regime.

In the 1980s, Moussavi served as prime minister and foreign minister, and Karroubi served as speaker of the parliament.

Khamenei and his advisors no doubt view the two men as a bridge to the protesters in the streets, who can moderate their demands and so stabilize the regime. But the fact that the protesters are now insisting there is no distinction between reformers like Mousavi and Karroubi and hardliners like Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps Al Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani indicates that the regime may be a day late and a dollar short.

It isn’t just that the protesters want revolution and not reform. They also want America. They hate the regime more than they hate the United States.

In Karaj, outside Tehran, anti-regime protesters were filmed shouting, “Our enemy is here, they are lying when they say it is America.”

Under the circumstances, attempts by regime officials to blame Iran’s economic problems on the U.S. are doomed. After failing to convince the Europeans to bypass U.S. sanctions, the only way the regime can save even a semblance of a normal economy is to beat a path to Washington.

And so, over the past week, Suleimani and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif beat a path to Muscat, Oman, in the hopes of working something out. Muscat served as a mediator between the Tehran regime and the Obama administration in the early stages of their contacts, so it was a natural place for the Iranians to turn to renew contacts with Washington today.

Immediately after his meetings with Zarif and Suleimani, Oman’s Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah flew to Washington for meetings with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

The Iranians deny that they are using Oman as a mediator. But the confluence of meetings makes it difficult to accept their claims. It is all the more difficult to take their position seriously when Trump made his offer to meet with Rouhani during bin Abdullah’s visit to Washington.

This, then brings us to the purpose of Trump’s offer, and what it tells us about Trump’s view of how to achieve the American goal of fundamentally transforming the regime — either by coercing it to abide by Pompeo’s twelve conditions or by supporting a popular revolution.

Only time will tell if Zarif’s and Suleimani’s attempts to open channels of communication with Washington signalled regime willingness to consider such a transformation. The fact that Pompeo repeated the U.S. position on CNBC after Trump made his offer for talks suggests that the administration thus far has not been lured by the regime into changing its policy.

Although the media portrayed Pompeo’s statement as contradicting Trump’s assertion that there are no preconditions for negotiations, Pompeo simply restated the administration’s position when he told CNBC that the Iranians need to accept the basic parameters of the U.S. position set out in his speech at the Heritage Institute as a basis for negotiations.

One of the things that distinguishes Trump from Obama, as well as from George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, is how he views negotiations. When his predecessors sought diplomatic channels with Iran and North Korea, they willingly discarded all the other levers of statecraft, including military and economic pressure.

The Bush administration took North Korea off the State Department list of state sponsors of terrorism and withdrew economic sanctions on Pyongyang. Clinton provided North Korea with fuel and food. The Bush administration downplayed Iran’s role in fomenting and maintaining the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iran and Afghanistan, and Iran’s role in the September 11 attacks. And Obama gave Iran an open road to regional hegemony in the Middle East through a host of economic, military, and political concessions at the expense of U.S. allies and interests throughout the Middle East.

Trump, in contrast, uses diplomacy in tandem with economic and military pressure to foment a change in behavior in his opponents. As Breitbart News’ Joel Pollak explained, the difference between Trump’s offer to negotiate with the Iranians and Obama’s offer to negotiate with them is that Trump’s offer was made from a position of strength while Obama’s offer was made from a position of weakness.

If Trump senses that the Iranians are willing to make a deal along the lines set out by Pompeo — that is, if the regime is willing to agree to curtail its sponsorship of terror and mayhem and end its nuclear program without war — he would be a fool not to pursue it. Assuming he handles them properly, if the talks fail, the Iranian public will be more than willing to blame the regime.

That said, there are two major risks to holding negotiations. First, the Iranian people may view such negotiations as a signal that the U.S. will sell them out. To mitigate that risk, it is imperative that any talks be conducted publicly. The regime will use secret channels as a means to signal that like the Obama administration, the Trump White House supports it against the Iranian public.

The second risk is not unique to discussions with Iran, but is a risk in all negotiations between Western democracies and authoritarian tyrannies.

All negotiations have a tendency to create a dynamic in which reaching a deal – any deal – becomes more important than achieving the goals that brought the parties to the negotiating table in the first place. Western leaders, who are subject to media scrutiny and election pressures, are more susceptible to the pressure to achieve a deal than leaders of dictatorial regimes like those in Iran and North Korea.

As a consequence, the dynamic of negotiations works against the interests of the Western powers and favors the interests of the authoritarians they face at the table. In the current context of U.S.-Iranian relations, we will know that we should be concerned about this dynamic if and when the administration diminishes its public support for the anti-regime protesters in Iran.

On Wednesday, U.S. Central Command warned that Iran is about to launch a massive military exercise in the Straits of Hormuz. Suleimani and other regime leaders have threatened repeatedly in recent weeks to seal the maritime choke point through which 20 percent of world oil shipments transit if the U.S. blocks Iranian oil exports.

This Iranian move, like the missiles its Houthi proxies shot at two Saudi oil tankers in the Bab el Mandab choke point in the Red Sea least week, shows that the Iranians also know how to talk and shoot at the same time.

Obviously, it is too early to know where Trump’s offer will lead. But what is clear enough is that Trump’s offer to negotiate with Iran is no fluke. It is a shrewd, albeit high-risk move made in a complex and highly dynamic and dangerous standoff between the U.S. and its allies — and a lethal, menacing regime whose back is up against the wall.

Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.