Friday, July 18, 2008

Briefly: Bush-Cheney on WWIII (Iran), Tehran hosts Caspian summit, Turkey on Kurdistan

First published in October 20, 2007 Armenian Reporter

From Washington, in brief
by Emil Sanamyan

Bush foresees “World War III” if Iran were to get nuclear weapons

President George W. Bush warned this week that “World War III” might ensue if Iran were to “have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

Speaking at a White House press conference on October 17, Mr. Bush confirmed his belief that Iran’s leaders “want to have the capacity, the knowledge, in order to make a nuclear weapon” and that “if Iran had a nuclear weapon, it would be a dangerous threat to world peace.”

Iran’s leaders say they have a right under an international nonproliferation treaty to enrich uranium into nuclear fuel, a capability that can be used for both civilian
and military purposes. They deny they are seeking to build nuclear weapons.

As part of a policy to rally international support for the isolation of Iran, whose leader “has announced that he wants to destroy Israel,” Mr. Bush said he “told people that if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.” He did not elaborate.

Asked about the previous days’ visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Iran, in which he reportedly expressed doubts that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and warned against an attack on Iran, Mr. Bush said that he is “looking forward to getting President Putin’s readout from the meeting.”

Mr. Putin’s comments came days after the U.S. secretaries of state and defense visited Russia and the sides failed to overcome a long list of disagreements.

Moscow has protested Washington’s plans to build missile interceptor and radar sites in Poland and the Czech Republic to counter potential future missile launches
from Iran. Such sites, they argue, would also interfere with Russia’s capabilities.

In response, Mr. Putin has threatened to pull out by December 12 of a treaty that places restrictions on conventional forces in Europe. Russia has also relaunched
regular patrols by its long-range nuclear-armed aircraft.

On October 18, the Financial Times quoted U.S. officials as saying that Washington could scale back European missile defense plans only if Iran halts its nuclear

The United States and Russia also disagree on the future status of Kosovo, a breakaway former Serbian province whose independence Washington supports. Mr. Putin hinted that he would retaliate by recognizing breakaway republics that are nominally part of the Republic of Georgia, which enjoys a warm relationship with Washington.

At this week’s press conference, Mr. Bush noted that Moscow has shared U.S. concerns about Iran and supported U.S.-initiated sanctions (although only after watering them down) at the United Nations, where Russia is one of five countries with veto power.

“The whole strategy is, is that at some point in time, leaders or responsible folks inside of Iran may get tired of isolation and say, this isn’t worth it. And to me, it’s worth the effort to keep the pressure on this government,” Mr. Bush surmised.

He avoided questions on whether he would support an Israeli military strike “in self-defense” against Iran. Rumors of a U.S. or Israeli strike against Iran have been rife for over a year.

Caspian states hold summit in Tehran

Leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan met on October 16 in Tehran to discuss unresolved disputes over maritime borders in the Caspian.

These disputes stem from the absence of a legal agreement over the sea and its resources. While Russia has agreed on its borders with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, the latter has yet to do so with Iran and Turkmenistan.

The summit served as the occasion for the first visit by a Moscow leader to Iran since Joseph Stalin met with the U.S. president and British prime minister there in 1943 at the height of World War II.

In a document signed with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, President Vladimir
Putin confirmed Russian companies’ plans to make major investments in Iran’s energy section. This is something the U.S. has opposed.

The five countries reportedly also confirmed their intentions not to allow forces from outside the region (meaning the United States) to use their territories to
attack fellow Caspian states.

At the same time, as the Jamestown Foundation reported citing regional media, the Caspian states remained at odds about plans for laying oil and gas pipelines under the Caspian seabed from Central Asia to Azerbaijan for subsequent export to Europe.
This is something the U.S. has championed and Russia and Iran oppose.

The meeting was only the second such summit, the first having been held in the Turkmen capital in 2002. The countries’ leaders agreed to meet again in Baku in October 2008.

Media organization sees progress in Armenia

Reporters without Borders (RSF), a Paris-based media-rights organization issued its annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, ranking Armenia better than at any time since 2003, when RSF began to include Armenia in its studies.

Based on views of experts in 15 freedom-of-expression organizations, a network of 130correspondents and in-country journalists, lawyers, and human-rights activists, RSF ranked Armenia 77th of 169 countries studied, up from the 90th position in 2003 and 101st last year.

The new ranking likely reflects the more balanced media coverage that international and domestic observers noted during Armenia’s most recent elections in May and a handful of cases of journalists’ harassment over last year.

In Armenia’s neighborhood Georgia ranked 66th, Turkey 101st, Azerbaijan 139th, Russia 144th, and Iran 166th. Iceland, Norway, Estonia, and Slovakia topped the media-freedom list while Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea were at the bottom. The United States was ranked 38th. connect:

Turkey’s parliament approves attack on Iraqi Kurdistan

Turkey continued to pressure the United States and Iraqi Kurdistan to act against anti-Turkey Kurdish forces in northern Iraq as the Turkish parliament, dominated by the party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his even more nationalistic opponents, voted on October 17 to give the military the go-ahead to conduct large-scale operations inside Iraq.

Ankara has for months threatened that it would invade northern Iraq, as forces collectively referred to as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) stepped up their attacks on security forces in the southeastern Turkey.

On October 18, thousands of Kurds rallied in northern Iraq to protest the vote. The next day Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani promised to fight Turkish forces attack, but no invasion appeared imminent, The Associated Press reported.

In his October 17 press conference President Bush said, “We are making it very clear to Turkey that we don’t think it is in their interests to . . . send massive additional troops into” Iraq. He said the PKK should be dealt with through “dialoguing” between U.S., Turkey, and Iraq.

Both the Bush administration and Ankara have linked the possible invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan to the passage of the Armenian Genocide resolution in the U.S. Congress.

Turkish officials have said that that U.S. should “compensate” for the possible passage of the resolution by supporting Ankara’s interests in Iraq. (See the top
story in the October 13 issue of the Armenian Reporter).

On the other hand, the Bush administration has portrayed its fight against the resolution as part of an effort to mollify Turkey and restrain it from going into Iraqi Kurdistan.

First published in October 27, 2007 Armenian Reporter

A2 The Armenian Reporter | October 27, 2007
by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. tightens sanctions against Iran, warns of “serious consequences”

“The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences,” Vice President Dick Cheney told the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy on October 21. “We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he added.

On October 22, an Iranian delegation was in Rome for talks over the issue with the European Union’s foreign affairs commissioner Javier Solana, with no significant breakthrough reported on the main sticking point: Iran’s enrichment of uranium, a process than can be used for both civilian and military purposes. Iran has rejected offers to abandon the technology in exchange for acquiring nuclear fuel abroad, while the U.S. has refused direct talks with Iran unless it stops enrichment.

The vice president’s remarks came just days before the United States issued additional sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the elite branch of the country’s military, and several major Iranian banks, including Bank Mellat, which has branches around the world, including one in Armenia.

The United States first introduced unilateral sanctions against Iran shortly after the Islamic revolution there in 1979. Last summer, the U.S. government pledged to provide its Middle East allies with billions of dollars worth of new weapons to
check Iran’s influence.

The tough rhetoric and new sanctions have again led to speculation about a military confrontation with Iran. But with the U.S. at this time having just one aircraft carrier group in the Persian Gulf, a largescale assault on Iranian facilities appeared unlikely in the near term. Israel has also hinted that it might launch preventive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, unless the United States and the European Union succeed in stopping Iran’s program.

Border fighting between Turkish army, Kurds underway

Turkey bombed suspected Kurdish rebel sites and amassed up to 100,000 troops in the vicinity of Iraqi Kurdistan, international news agencies reported; but talks continued in an effort to forestall a largescale invasion.

While U.S. officials continued to oppose a major Turkish incursion in Iraq, concerned that it may lead to a larger war, Turkish leaders dismissed such concerns as “misplaced” and demanded concrete actions.

On October 21, forces affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) upped the ante in their decades-long confrontation with Turkey as they attacked, killing about
12, wounding 16, and capturing eight Turkish soldiers. The Kurdish operation was on a larger scale than at any point since the mid-1990s, and resulted in widespread public anger in Turkey and demands for retaliation.

Turkey responded with aerial bombing, artillery barrages and, so far, small-scale ground operations inside Iraqi Kurdistan, where some of the PKK forces are based.

It claimed to have killed dozens of PKK soldiers.

Turkish officials said they would invade on a larger scale unless the U.S. and Iraqi Kurds captured PKK leaders and shut down their camps. Ankara also threatened to close its border with Iraqi Kurdistan and reroute its trade with Iraq through Syria.

Iraqi leaders went to Ankara on October 25 and 26 in an effort to agree on actions that would “pacify, isolate and disrupt” Kurdish forces without taking direct military action against them, the New York Times reported. Earlier, the Iraqi government ordered the closure of all PKK offices in Iraq, although other officials denied there were such offices to begin with.

At the same time, Iraqi Kurdish leaders deployed their lightly armed forces closer to the border with Turkey and pledged to fight a possible Turkish invasion.

Commentators in and out of Turkey have argued that Ankara would prefer not to invade, apprehensive of a larger war with the Kurds.

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