Archive for the ‘Sanctions’ category

US ready to drive Iranian oil exports to zero, says US national security adviser

August 22, 2018

Donald’s Trump’s sanctions would drive Iranian oil exports down in order to force behaviour change on Tehran regime


US national security adviser John Bolton.

By Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor The Guardian Wed 22 Aug 2018

Source Link: US ready to drive Iranian oil exports to zero, says US national security adviser

{The Mother of All Economic Bombs is fixing to drop. – LS}

The US is prepared to use sanctions to drive Iranian oil exports down to zero, the US national security adviser, John Bolton, has said.

“Regime change in Iran is not American policy, but what we want is massive change in the regime’s behaviour,” Bolton said on a visit to Israel, as he claimed current sanctions had been more effective than predicted.

Donald Trump took the US out of Iran’s nuclear deal with the west in May and is imposing escalating sanctions, both to force Iran to renegotiate the deal and to end Tehran’s perceived interference in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.

Complete removal of Iranian oil from world markets would cut oil supply by more than 4% probably forcing up prices in the absence of any new supplies.

Bolton was speaking as the new UK foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, met the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, for the first time in Washington to discuss how to reduce Iranian influence, despite Britain’s continued support for the nuclear deal.

In an interview with Axios, a US political website, Hunt praised Trump’s willingness to talk with leaders deemed to be hostile to the US, denying he was an isolationist. Trump has already met the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, and has even hinted at talks with the Iranian leadership.

“The traditional western foreign policy has been that if we disapprove of something someone’s done, we don’t just take action but we stop the engagement as well,” he said. “[Trump] takes the view that actually you need to engage with people. I think it’s a business mentality. He’s always looking for a way to recast the deal.”

Hunt is maintaining UK support for the deal signed in 2015, and according to Iran, the UK has even stepped in to advise Tehran on how to remain compliant with the deal by limiting plutonium from one of its heavy nuclear reactors.

Hunt has suggested the existing level of US sanctions already has the potential to change Iran’s “destabilising regional behaviour”, but additional pressure that led Iran to pull out of the nuclear deal completely might lead only to a more dangerous anti-western government being installed in Tehran.

Hunt stressed that the UK would not withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal, but acknowledged it was an open question whether Tehran would decide if the remaining economic benefits warranted remaining inside the deal.

Sweeping US secondary sanctions on businesses that trade with Iran make it difficult for European governments to persuade EU companies it is worth the risk of continuing to do business with the country.

Bolton was bullish about the growing impact of sanctions. “We expect that Europeans will see, as businesses all over Europe are seeing, that the choice between doing business with Iran or doing business with the United States is very clear to them,” he said.

“[Trump] has made it very clear – his words – he wants maximum pressure on Iran, maximum pressure, and that is what is going on.”

British officials acknowledge that the US administration policy for the moment has secured Trump the best of both worlds – Iranian refusal to restart its nuclear programme due the EU’s continued support for the deal, and the imposition of a regime of secondary economic sanctions that is placing great pressure on the Iranian economy.

Fuller US sanctions, including actions against countries that trade in Iranian oil are due to come into force on 5 November, 180 days after the initial Trump announcement to withdraw.

The measures against Iranian oil importers, and banks that continue to trade with the Central Bank of Iran, will ratchet the pressure to a higher level.

Pompeo has set up an Iran Action group inside the US State Department to coordinate US leverage on companies and countries that cannot show that their trade, including in oil, has fallen significantly by November.

Measures may also be taken against firms that insure ships carrying Iranian crude.

It is expected some of the major Iranian oil importers, such as Russia, China and Turkey, will either ignore the threat of US sanctions, or, possibly in the case of Iraq, Japan and South Korea, seek exemptions.

China takes a quarter of all Iran’s oil exports, and with Chinese banks little exposed to the US it can avoid the impact of Trump’s sanctions.

Major importers of Iranian crude in Europe include Italy’s ENI and Saras, Spain’s Repsol, France’s Total, and Greece’s Hellenic Petroleum. All these companies depend on access to US dollar financing and US suppliers, and most have significant operations in the US.

The EU in August introduced a blocking statute designed to give European firms immunity from US sanctions for trading with Iran. But its legal force is questionable since it requires EU firms to sue the US government for any losses caused by US sanctions. The statute is untested in court.

EU foreign ministers will meet at the end of the month to discuss the measures they have taken to protect the deal.

Iran’s foreign minister, Javed Zarif, this week demanded clearer practical steps from Europe to protect the deal, saying: “Europeans have been very good in declaring their positions, but to pay that price they need to make a decision and they have only a limited time for that decision and cannot wait for ever.”

The German foreign minister, Heiko Maase, in an article in the German business daily, Handelsblatt, on Wednesday called for the EU to protect itself from secondary sanctions by increasing its autonomy from the US financial system.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said she agreed with her foreign minister that relations with the US were changing but she stopped short of backing his call for a separate EU system for cross-border payments system to save the nuclear deal with Iran.

 

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.”

European Companies Flee Iran to Avoid US Sanctions

May 23, 2018

“Washington has threatened to hold anyone doing prohibited business in Iran to account.” Germany’s state-run DW News confirms

Posted by Vijeta Uniyal Tuesday, May 22, 2018 Legal Insurrection

Source Link: European Companies Flee Iran to Avoid US Sanctions

{Money talks,  political bullshit walks. – LS}

European companies are leaving the Islamic Republic of Iran in droves fearing U.S. sanctions after President Donald Trump’s decided to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal earlier this month. The regime in Tehran is “particularly concerned by the decisions of various European companies to halt their Iranian operations until the future of sanctions was clear,” several German newspapers reported on Monday.

“The cascade of decisions by EU companies to end their activities in Iran makes things much more complicated,” Iranian Foreign Minister said. The statement comes days after the French oil company Total pulled out $5 billion worth of investments from the country fearing U.S. sanctions.

The EU, backed by the governments of France and Germany, has been scrambling to save the European business interests in Iran. German and French companies had made huge investments in Iranian oil and industrial sectors since the nuclear deal eased sanction on the regime three years ago.

The EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who heads the bloc’s executive arm, proposed enacting laws to allow European companies to ignore the U.S. sanctions. This so-called ‘blocking statute’ could protect European firms from prosecution by the U.S. Treasury and other agencies.

The Trump administration has made its intentions clear to go after any foreign player found guilty of sanctions-busting in Iran. “US withdrawal and new raft of sanctions will hurt a number of European firms with connections to Iran. Washington has threatened to hold anyone doing prohibited business in Iran to account.” Germany’s state-run DW News confirmed.

German daily Süddeutsche Zeitung reported Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif’s comments that were made at a meeting with a senior EU official in Tehran:

Iran has called for EU’s support in saving the nuclear deal–primarily through more European investments.

Europe declares its political commitment to the deal, but large European companies want to pull out of the country, complained the Iranian Foreign Minister.

Iran doesn’t consider the political support from the European Union to be sufficient to save the nuclear deal. Country’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif made that clear during his meeting with the EU Commissioner for Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete. The EU needs to undertake practical measures “in order to increase investments in Iran,” Zarif said–as reported by Iran’s state-run news agency. The EU commitment to the nuclear deal is not in tune with the calls made by big European companies to leave Iran.

Several foreign companies have suspended their operations in Iran while they wait for the outcome of the talks within the EU. Last week, the French oil company Total announced its decision to end an investment project worth $4.8 billion if the company fails to get an approval from Washington. [Translation by the author]

The exodus of European investments from Iran is a diplomatic win for the Trump administration that has been urging the Western companies to end operations in Iran.

Earlier this month, National Security Adviser John Bolton announced that “it’s possible” for the European companies to face sanctions if they continued doing business with Tehran. The U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell called upon the German firms to stop trading with Iran. “US sanctions will target critical sectors of Iran’s economy. German companies doing business in Iran should wind down operations immediately,” Ambassador Grenell said.

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a list of demands to Tehran: calling on the regime to immediately cease its nuclear program, end military activity throughout the Middle East and release all U.S. nationals held on spurious charges. He threatened “strongest sanctions in history” if Iran fails to comply.

The reaction from Tehran shows that European investors aren’t buying the assurances being given by the EU commissars. Many of the French and German companies fleeing Iran have profitable operations in the U.S. and don’t want to jeopardize their business relations across the Atlantic just to make a quick buck in Iran. With President Trump and the members of his administration acting in unison on the issue of Iran, European companies–unlike the EU officials–seem to have grasped the firmness of the U.S. resolve.

Putin Could Not Be Reached for Comment

December 21, 2017

Putin Could Not Be Reached for Comment, Power Line,  Scott Johnson, December 21, 2017

Rep. Adam Schiff is a highly partisan proponent of the thesis that the Trump campaign colluded with Putin in the 2016 election. This week he made his incredibly thin case in this Wall Street Journal column (behind the Journal’s paywall). I infer from Schiff’s column that the collusion thesis is impervious to the failure of proof. “Complex global investigations take time,” he explained.

Schiff went further on CNN. There he supported former DNI James Clapper’s proposition that Vladimir Putin is running President Trump as a Russian asset. Decency imposes no limits on these hacks.

The collusion line is not only impervious to the failure of proof, it is impervious to contrary evidence. Yesterday, for example, reversing Obama administration policy pleasing to Putin, the Trump administration approved the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine. The Washington Post’s Josh Rogin reported:

The Trump administration has approved the first ever U.S. commercial sale of lethal defensive weapons to Ukraine, in a clear break from the de facto U.S. ban on arms sales that dates back to the Obama administration. The move was heavily supported by top Trump national security Cabinet officials and Congress but may complicate President Trump’s stated ambition to work with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Administration officials confirmed that the State Department this month approved a commercial license authorizing the export of Model M107A1 Sniper Systems, ammunition, and associated parts and accessories to Ukraine, a sale valued at $41.5 million. These weapons address a specific vulnerability of Ukrainian forces fighting a Russian-backed separatist movement in two eastern provinces. There has been no approval to export the heavier weapons the Ukrainian government is asking for, such as Javelin antitank missiles.

Vladimir Putin could not be reached for comment.

And that’s not all. Yesterday the Treasury Department announced that it added five Russians to the list of those sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act. Treasury’s press release is posted here. The press release identifies three of those sanctioned by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) as a result of their involvement in the scandal uncovered by Magnitsky:

OFAC today designated Alexei Sheshenya for his involvement in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by Magnitsky. Sheshenya was the shareholder of Grand Aktiv, the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Parfenion. The lawsuit involved one of six claims against the three Hermitage Fund subsidiaries, Parfenion, Riland, and Makhaon, illegally re-registered under different ownership in 2007. The judgment in these lawsuits served as the basis for an illegal tax refund in 2007, which Magnitsky exposed.

Yulia Mayorova was also designated for her involvement in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by Magnitsky. Mayorova represented Makhaon and Riland (two of the subsidiaries of the Hermitage Fund illegally re-registered under different ownership in 2007). As noted above, the judgments in the lawsuits served as the basis for an illegal tax refund in 2007, which Magnitsky exposed. The Hermitage Fund had no prior knowledge of or acquaintance with Mayorova and never hired her or authorized her appointment.

OFAC also designated Andrei Pavlov for his involvement in the criminal conspiracy uncovered by Magnitsky. Pavlov represented two of the illegally re-registered Hermitage Fund subsidiaries in separate lawsuits brought by a company he helped to register. The Hermitage Fund had no prior knowledge of or acquaintance with Pavlov and never hired him or authorized his appointment.

Again, Vladimir Putin could not be reached for comment.

Donald Trump Meets Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko After Sanctioning Russian-Backed Separatists

June 21, 2017

Donald Trump Meets Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko After Sanctioning Russian-Backed Separatists, BreitbartCharlie Spiering, June 20, 2017

screenshot

President Donald Trump met with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Tuesday as his administration imposed sanctions on Russian-backed separatists in the country.

Trump said the two had “very, very good discussions,” calling Ukraine “a place that we’ve all been very much involved in.”

Behind the scenes, the White House revealed that Trump and Poroshenko discussed support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions on two Russian officials and several separatists in Eastern Ukraine to support the Ukrainian amidst ongoing Russian-backed conflicts in the region.

“This administration is committed to a diplomatic process that guarantees Ukrainian sovereignty, and there should be no sanctions relief until Russia meets its obligations under the Minsk agreements,” Mnuchin said Tuesday.

Poroshenko said it was a “great pleasure” to meet with Trump to discuss issues important to Ukraine and called the president a “supporter and strategic partner” of the country.

“We’re really fighting for freedom and democracy,” he said.

Don’t Allow Lobbyist And Deceiving Voices Conceal The Truth About Venezuela

May 25, 2017

Don’t Allow Lobbyist And Deceiving Voices Conceal The Truth About Venezuela, Center for Security Policy, Luis Fleischman, May 25, 2017

More than fifty days after mass civil disobedience began in Venezuela, more than 50 people have died at the hands of the government.

People have lost fear and the government is resorting to more measures that are repressive to subdue the population. The idea is to make every effort to stay in power regardless of human casualties. Thus, the Venezuelan government is launching the so-called “Plan Zamora,” an unclear plan and has not been published in a written form. This makes the plan even more unpredictable and dangerous. So far, “Plan Zamora” has been applied on three Venezuelan states, Táchira, Carabobo, and now Barinas (Chavez birthplace).

“Plan Zamora” consists of a military-civic coalition that includes national guards, the military, militias, and para-military groups. The purpose is “to prevent a coup d’état” and “to restore order” in the face of protests. This means increasing repression, assassination of protestors, and SA-style elimination of opponents.

Indeed, in the last several days, five protestors were treacherously murdered under the plan. It is a system aimed at intimidating protestors to the point of dissuading them from further joining demonstrations.

Maduro has also proposed a constitutional reform aimed at eliminating the National Assembly, currently dominated by the opposition. A new constitution would be drafted by a new constituent assembly elected by the local city halls and by community groups, carefully picked as stooges of the Maduro regime. The move would secure power consolidation in the hands of Nicolas Maduro.

The United States has once again increased its sanctions on Venezuela’s chief Supreme Justice and seven other members of the Supreme Court. Such step was taken in reaction to their decision last month, to strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Those sanctions will freeze their assets within U.S jurisdiction and no U.S citizen will be allowed to do business with them.

This is an important step as it discourages government officers from obeying illegal and unconstitutional orders. However, it remains insufficient given the magnitude of the regime crimes. From now onwards every military officer, every security official, and every government official that follows the government must be sanctioned. Likewise, every single individual involved in the drug business, which is today a huge government business. The purpose of these measures should be to encourage desertion from the government.

Furthermore, the Trump Administration should not compromise with lobbyists or with members of Congress that have been lobbied by the Venezuelan government. Most such lobbying is conducted through CITGO, the U.S based company associated with the Venezuelan oil giant PDVSA. So far, CITGO has scored incredible successes, which are scary in terms of how foreign agents can corrupt Washington. Former Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) effectively prevented the Senate from passing sanctions legislation against Venezuelan government officials in 2014. Former Congressman Joseph Kennedy (D-MA) was in charge of Citizens Energy, a non-profit organization that distributed heating oil provided by CITGO to U.S poor neighborhoods, to buy the good will of the U.S establishment.

The same applies to U.S business interests that, so far, have prevented full sanctions against CITGO and PDVSA. This step is also long overdue that could have devastating consequences for the Maduro regime.

Trump’s campaign promises included the curbing of such lobbyists and we hope and expect that the president makes good on his promises.

Additionally, Venezuela has its own conscious and unconscious accomplices in its disinformation campaign in the United States. This week the Rev Jesse Jackson warned the Trump Administration not “to help get rid of a regime it does not like,” as if Venezuela were not a huge violator of human rights or the number one sponsor of international transnational crime. He praised the regime founded by Hugo Chavez as one that brought about reduction of poverty and improvement in health care services, as if Venezuelans were not facing hunger now or as if they were any safer in the face of government-sponsored violence. Worse, Jackson criticizes the old elite that ruled Venezuela before Chavez and forgets the new class of billionaires that the Chavez regime created by allowing them to benefit from dubious businesses, government connections, and plain corruption. This includes his own vice president, who in his early forties has accumulated a fortune of 3 billion dollars in a supposedly socialist and egalitarian regime.

Jackson accuses the United States of mobilizing the Organization of American States (OAS) against Maduro, when in fact the person taking the lead is the OAS Secretary and former Foreign Minister of a Uruguayan president with strong left-wing credentials. Jackson forgets that OAS members are appalled by the violations of the organization’s democracy charter and human rights commitment. Furthermore, countries of the region such as Brazil and Colombia are concerned that drug cartels are receiving Russian weapons from Caracas, including MANPADS, a shoulder-launched surface to air missile. The Swedish government also confirmed that such missiles were found in a camp ran by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Last but not least, Jackson called to follow the initiative of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a Caribbean country that has accused the OAS of being a “weapon of destruction” against Venezuela. But Jackson does not mention that St. Vincent as well as other Caribbean countries benefitted from Venezuelan oil largesse in exchange for political support. Furthermore, as I wrote a few years ago, several Caribbean countries that are part of Venezuela’s political Bolivarian Alliance (ALBA) have issued passports to Iranians, presumably at the request of Venezuela.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines itself produced unreliable travel documents, where anybody may obtain a new passport and easily change their names. It is reasonable to assume that Iranians could have taken advantage of this vulnerability. Likewise, St. Vincent forged an alliance with Iran, who sent the island US $7 million for social projects.

The Trump Administration, as well as the media and the public, must be aware of these facts and politically fight obstacles that prevent us from carrying out the obligation to protect our national security, the security of the region, and the values for which America stands.

Diplomatic and economic efforts must continue until Venezuela recovers its democracy.

Speeding up to the grand finale

May 19, 2017

Speeding up to the grand finale, Venezuela News and Views, Daniel Duquenal  May 19, 2017

Today FINALLY the US has retaken sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Nothing less than the constitutional court judges have been added to the Treasury list, the OFAC´s  SDN. You know, those 8 TSJ members who have been consistently taking decisions against the National Assembly until they went ahead and tried the outright couple that has started this month and a half of violence and repression.

Meanwhile back in Washington, for all of his recent problems Trump is not forgetting about Venezuela, something for which we welcome his consistency. He received Santos and for all we know they did talk heavy on Venezuela. After all these are the two countries who have the most to fear from the final collapse of Venezuela. Colombia could have 2 million refugees over a few months and the US will see its share.

******************************

I was working on a text about how hard it has become to live in Caracas in the last month but today’s news make me realize that it is going to get much worse fast.

Highlighting Gladys because it makes me so happy

The Miami Herald gives you all. And it would be very difficult to exaggerate what they write or overstate the importance of it. Let’s start with a sound bite from General Torrealba, the one who three weeks ago (I think) had his HQ filmed as a horde of paramilitary colectivo motorbikers were leaving it, breaking any law that used to exist in Venezuela. That video was frightening by itself and promptly the buildings from were it was taken were searched (I think, memory fails me, and if not those buildings Barquisimeto has had several nights of building searches and looting and abuse and violence anyway)

Not that it mattered much for chavismo: after all it was a way to press on the psychological terror that Maduro has been leading (him as a figure head or the Cubans or someone else, does it matter?). But that recording goes too far as Torrealba calls for training of snipers and admitting that they will be used in a not so distant future even though other military objected (not for humanitarian reasons, mind you, but to save their skin).  This is The Hague court  material.

But if Torrealba thinks he can get away with it (oh hubris, when thy hold us in thrall!) he should think again. Today FINALLY the US has retaken sanctions against Venezuelan officials. Nothing less than the constitutional court judges have been added to the Treasury list, the OFAC´s SDN. You know, those 8 TSJ members who have been consistently taking decisions against the National Assembly until they went ahead and tried the outright coup that has started this month and a half of violence and repression.

Of course, on immediate terms it does not do them much harm but….  now Treasury can go against any of their front people; now no one that makes business with the US government can make business with them; obviously they cannot travel to the US anymore; not even to check on any property they may have since that one is frozen; and if their plane lands in a country sympathetic to the US, well, you know…..

Of course, they can still enjoy the unfrozen loot in Venezuela but the world has suddenly gone quite smaller around them.

Of course you could say that this is more ammunition for the propaganda regime and that in the end it will hut more the Venezuelan people than the regime. BULL SHIT!  We are already hurting quite a lot and truly with or without US sanctions against the regime personnel it is going to get worse for us. SO, please, foreign powers, fuck these bastards, give us at least that small consolation.

Of course, the regime will try to use this for its internal propaganda, which will fall on deaf ears courtesy of near starvation levels of an increasing share of the populace. But overseas they cannot counter the tide against the regime. Even Ecuador’s Correa is starting to raise his voice, timidly, but raised it is. Meanwhile back in Washington, for all of his recent problems Trump is not forgetting about Venezuela, something for which we welcome his consistency. He received Santos and for all we know they did talk heavy on Venezuela. After all these are the two countries who have the most to fear from the final collapse of Venezuela. Colombia could have 2 million refugees over a few months and the US will see its share. And the problems that come along as the latest trend is for exiled Venezuelans to hunt down chavistas hiding in Florida and harass them. Not something that I would do, but heck, who am I to condemn such activities from people that have lost it all to Chavez?

Meanwhile, to improve further its image overseas, the regime confiscated Henrique Capriles passport today as he was about to board a plane to a meeting on human rights. Right, well done Maduro! The irony here is that as the regime blocked one of the main figures of the opposition from traveling it did not imagine that within hours even with a passport the high court could not travel anywhere anymore. Well, maybe to Cuba. If their plane does not need to do an emergency landing in a pro US island.

Whatever it is you may think of all of this I trust that you will agree with me that the end, some end, is coming sooner than later.

Of course, you knew that already.

 

House to Vote on New Sanctions Against the Syrian Regime

May 17, 2017

House to Vote on New Sanctions Against the Syrian Regime, Washington Free Beacon, May 17, 2017

A handout picture released by the official Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on October 6, 2016 shows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad speaking during an interview with Denmark’s TV2 channel. / AFP / SANA / – (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

The House is expected to vote Wednesday evening on bipartisan legislation that would impose new sanctions on the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad for war crimes and human rights abuses against civilians, sources with the House Foreign Affairs Committee confirmed.

The 4 p.m. vote is set to arrive two days after the State Department accused the Syrian government of using a crematorium to dispose of human remains from mass executions at a military prison north of Damascus unofficially named the “slaughterhouse.

The legislation, introduced in March by Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and his Democratic committee counterpart Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), has more than 100 co-sponsors. More than half of the co-sponsors are Democrats.

The bill would impose sanctions on the Assad regime and its foreign backers by requiring the Trump administration to blacklist any company or person that does business with the Syrian government and its entities, including Assad-controlled industries such as energy and air travel. It also would provide U.S. assistance to groups pursuing investigations into Syrian war crimes in order to galvanize prosecutions.

The Obama administration prevented a similar measure from receiving a House vote in the fall despite broad bipartisan support.

Administration officials told Democratic lawmakers at the time the legislation would impact fragile ceasefire negotiations between then-Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the Washington Post reported in October.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement Monday the “legislation is needed now more than ever,” citing the Trump administration’s assertion that the Assad regime was systematically burning the bodies of executed inmates at the Saydnaya military prison to cover up the mass murders.

The accusations are based on newly declassified aerial photos of the Saydnaya prison complex that show the construction of the crematorium in 2013.

“We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Saydnaya prison complex, which could dispose of detainees’ remains with little evidence,” Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for Middle East affairs, told reporters Monday. “At this point, we are talking about this evidence and bringing it forward to the international community, which we hope will put pressure on the regime to change its behavior.”

The United Nations kicked off its sixth round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on Tuesday. The State Department’s accusations are expected to be discussed at the talks.

Amnesty International released a report in February offering evidence that the Assad regime executed up to 13,000 Syrians through mass hangings at the Saydnaya prison over a four-year span. Thousands more were killed through systematic torture that included severe beatings, rape, and starvation, according to the group.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged Lavrov in a meeting at the White House last week to exert Moscow’s influence over Syria to pressure Assad into reining in his regime, according to a State Department spokeswoman.

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media

May 2, 2017

Congress blames State Department after draft sanctions bill leaked to pro-Hezbollah media, Al-Monitor

People walk outside Lebanon’s Central Bank in Beirut November 6, 2014. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo – RTSEJDF

Congress is blaming the State Department and the US Embassy in Lebanon after draft sanctions legislation was leaked to the Lebanese media, setting off a political and diplomatic firestorm.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., began devising a new bill targeting Hezbollah last year amid concerns that the Barack Obama administration was slow-walking implementation of a previous effort that was signed into law in December 2015. Royce shared an early draft with State Department experts for their input, sources on and off Capitol Hill told Al-Monitor, but got burned when a media outlet close to Hezbollah got wind of it. 

The State Department has not officially acknowledged or denied being involved. Royce declined to comment.

As a result of the leak, numerous newspaper articles in Lebanon over the past month have picked apart — and possibly distorted — an unfinalized draft that only a handful of people in Washington have heard about and fewer still have seen. Even House Foreign Affairs ranking member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., a natural ally on sanctions legislation, has yet to see the proposed draft, according to a Democratic aide. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is working on a similar effort in the Senate.

Lebanese officials say destabilizing sanctions would be ill-advised while tiny Lebanon is struggling to absorb more than a million refugees from Syria.

“We are surprised by all the leaks about new sanctions,” Lebanese member of parliament Yassine Jaber, a former economy minister who met with administration officials during the congressional recess two weeks ago, told Al-Monitor in an email. “We don’t see a need for further legislation, we feel that all these leaks about further legislation to come, only hurts Lebanon, its economy and banking sector, at a moment of very high weakness and vulnerability.”

According to Lebanese media accounts, the 20-page draft bill has also caused a panic in Lebanon because of its potential political impact. While the 2015 bill unnerved a banking sector that is one of the pillars of the country’s economy, the new draft has government leaders fretful that Congress is now coming after them.

The Royce draft, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said last week during a meeting with the Washington-based American Task Force for Lebanon, “would harm Lebanon and its people greatly.” Critics are worried that the draft bill paves the way for sanctioning Lebanese allies and political parties that are close to Hezbollah, including Aoun, the Christian Free Patriotic Movement headed by his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, and the Shiite Amal Movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

In response, the Lebanese government is planning to send a delegation to Washington later this month of government officials, lawmakers and other dignitaries, possibly including Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. The government hopes to have representatives of the private banking sector tag along to play up any potential threat to the financial sector, a Lebanese source told Al-Monitor, but the main concern appears to be with the bill’s political ramifications.

“This is more about the political groups of the speaker, etc., being nervous rather than the issues of the banks,” the source said. “Politicians — and the government, actually — are trying to get the private banks involved in their effort. I can tell you the private banks do not like that: They do not want to come with politicians here.”

The Association of Banks in Lebanon spent $200,000 in the first three months of this year to discreetly lobby Congress about the bill and other matters, according to lobbying records. The banks would prefer to wait until President Donald Trump fills in top spots at the Treasury Department before organizing their annual visit to Washington, the source said.

Hezbollah claims to get all its funding from Iran. US experts, however, have long suspected that much more comes from Lebanese expatriates, illegal activities and other sources, fueling Congress’ desire to crack down on as many funding streams as possible.

The Lebanese source, who has seen a draft of the bill, said it does not designate Hezbollah’s allies as terror groups. Rather, it would require the Trump administration to publicly report on their financial links to the Shiite militia, including estimates of the net worth of some top Lebanese officials.

“Obviously they don’t want their net worth to be mentioned,” the source said. “I totally see how Nabih Berri could be panicking even if his own party knows how much money he has.”

 

House Conservatives Back Investigation to Get ‘Full Understanding’ of Flynn Call

February 15, 2017

House Conservatives Back Investigation to Get ‘Full Understanding’ of Flynn Call, PJ MediaNicholas Ballasy, February 14, 2017

(Please see also Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn. — DM)

congressonflynnReps. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), left, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), and Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) leave a meeting of the House Republican Conference in the Capitol on Feb. 24, 2016. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

WASHINGTON – Members of the House Freedom Caucus signaled today that they would support an investigation of retired Gen. Mike Flynn’s contacts with Russian officials.

Flynn resigned from his position as national security advisor in the Trump administration late Monday.

“We have to be careful because of commenting without the facts, but at the same time I don’t know how you get the facts without doing some investigation, so let me say that. I think there needs to be a full accounting so we understand what happened there,” Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said on Capitol Hill. “But I would also say from my standpoint that Gen. Flynn’s service both in uniform and out and is beyond reproach and I don’t want to question that. I’m not going to question that at all. I think maybe his actions were premature based on what I’ve heard.”

The White House has acknowledged reports that Flynn and the Russian ambassador had conversations that included discussion of sanctions before Trump took office, and that the Justice Department alerted the White House of the conversations and the potential that Flynn could be blackmailed by the Kremlin. However, Perry said Congress does not know the context of those Flynn conversations.

“I’m concerned that the heat has become hot based on the accusations without any facts to support them, but I think we do need to have a full understanding of what occurred,” he said.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) agreed with Perry’s comments.

“I would support an investigation if it’s warranted based on information from the intelligence community, and the first step would be for the intelligence committees to have that understanding with the intelligence community,” Amash said. “The rest of us in Congress wouldn’t have immediate access to the same information, so really it’s incumbent upon the intelligence community and the intelligence committees to work together so we know whether an investigation is warranted.”

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) questioned why the U.S. having a “good relationship” with Russia is being portrayed in the media as a “bad thing.”

“We need to be careful what we are saying because we don’t have all the facts, but I do think it’s incumbent upon the intelligence committees to determine what the facts are and see if there has to be further investigation,” he said. “I do find it a little bit fascinating that having a good relationship with Russia all of a sudden is a bad thing when you guys never said a peep about it when the president of the United States said that he would have more flexibility when he won re-election, when Hillary Clinton said she wanted a reset with Russia, when all these different things happened where they were trying to have better relationships with Russia.”

Labrador said the intelligence committees in the House and Senate need to examine the Flynn situation to find out exactly what happened.

“All of a sudden, having a good relationship with Russia apparently is a negative thing. But there’s no question about it in my mind that the intelligence committees need to look first, obviously in confidential meetings and others, but they need to figure out exactly what happened,” he said.

“And I think Gen. Flynn, he offered his resignation, did the right thing because the moment he misled the vice president of the United States, I think he had lost the confidence of the administration whether it was intentional of not, it was a significant enough issue where it should have been a straightforward answer,” he added.

Flynn said in his resignation that he “inadvertently briefed the vice president elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said at a press conference today that the obvious question about Flynn’s contact with Russian officials is, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Cummings called for an “emergency” public hearing with Flynn.

“I know he’s now resigned, but he’s not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions, but the obvious questions are what did the president know and when did he know it? Was the president aware of Flynn’s efforts? Did he support them?” he said. “Another question, why did Flynn continue to sit in on the most sensitive classified meetings until just two days ago? Ladies and gentlemen, something is wrong with that picture.”

Cummings also said he wants to see Flynn’s security clearance documents.

“I want to see them. I want to see what he put in those documents to find out if he was honest on those forms, and we need to know how much he got paid to have dinner with Putin – but that is only the beginning,” he said. “The Republicans need to join us. This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. It’s not an independent issue. This is an American issue for the soul of our democracy.”