Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Briefly: NIE: Iran suspended nuclear program, Kosovo promises independence declaration, ATIB to discuss Armenia, Georgian and Russian elections

This was originally published in December 8, 2007 Armenian Reporter.

by Emil Sanamyan

U.S. intelligence: Iran suspended nuclear weapons program
A report issued by U.S. intelligence agencies on December 3 appears to have drastically reduced the likelihood of a U.S.-Iranian military confrontation in the near term.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), representing the combined findings of sixteen intelligence agencies, indicated that Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003. According to the secret report’s unclassified summary “Tehran’s decision to halt its
nuclear weapons program suggests it is less determined to develop nuclear weapons than we have been judging since 2005.”

As recently as six weeks ago both President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney painted a grim picture of the potential consequences of Iran’s nuclear program.
(See this page in the October 20 and 27 editions of the Armenian Reporter .) At that time, the United States introduced additional sanctions against Iran and has continued to lobby for more stringent international sanctions.

Reacting to the report, Mr. Bush said that the United States would not change its policy toward Iran unless it suspends its efforts to enrich uranium – a technology that can be used for both civilian and military needs. “If Iran were to develop the knowledge that they could transfer to a clandestine program, it would create a danger for the world,” Mr. Bush told the press on December 4.

He also claimed that he only became aware of the NIE days before its release. But others suggested that the key intelligence findings have been deliberately suppressed by the White House for over a year.

Writing in Time magazine on December 4, former CIA operative Robert Baer argued that the report must have been “green-lighted by the president” before its release. Back in August Mr. Baer wrote that his sources predicted that a limited military strike against Iran in the next six months was very likely. (See this page in the August 27 Armenian Reporter .)

The report, Mr. Baer now concludes, will be taken as president’s “betrayal” of the cause of Iran hawks in the U.S. government and elsewhere. “The real story behind this NIE is that the Bush Administration has finally concluded Iran is a bridge too far,” he wrote.

Democratic opponents and others in the United States said the report further damaged President Bush’s credibility on foreign policy issues.

In Washington, the Congressional Progressive Caucus organized a briefing chaired by the first and only Muslim member of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison (D.- Minn.). In it Iran experts, including Ray Takeyh of the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that the United States should stop threatening and instead begin to cooperate with Iran in stabilizing the Middle East.

The report was welcomed internationally. Senior officials from Russia and China, whose support is necessary for a new United Nations action against Iran, have questioned the need for further sanctions. Mohammad El Baradei, head of the international nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), commented that the NIE “vindicated” Iran to an extent, BBC News reported.

Iran has claimed all along that its nuclear program was peaceful. Its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, described the findings as a “victory” for his country.

Israel voiced the lone voice of dissent, with Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly disagreeing with the key findings of the U.S. report. With Mr. Ahmadinejad having suggested Israel could be “wiped off the map,” Israeli officials argue that Tehran poses an existential threat to their state.

Deadline for Kosovo independence declaration looming
Following the latest failure of international mediators to find a mutually agreeable solution to the contested status of Serbia’s breakaway province of Kosovo, its officials have promised to unilaterally declare independence as early as next week, international media report.

The United States and European Union agree that further talks on Kosovo are meaningless and support an internationally supervised independence for the Albanian-majority entity, which both Serbia and its ally Russia reject.

For more than eight years Kosovo has been controlled by a NATO-led peacekeeping force (which since 2004 includes a small Armenian contingent). NATO officials this week agreed to send reinforcements to Kosovo to preclude any clashes that may follow the declaration.

But the declaration itself may be postponed until after the European Union (EU) and United Nations (UN) discussions on Kosovo slated for December 14 and 19 respectively. The EU is now due to take over international supervision from the UN.

In Washington, Azerbaijanis, Turks, others to discuss “problems related to Armenia”
The Azerbaijan-Turkey Business Association (ATIB) will sponsor an all-day international conference, “The Azerbaijan-Turkey-U.S. Relationship and its Importance for Eurasia,” to take place in Washington on December 10, announced Zeyno Baran of the Hudson Institute, which together with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute (CACI) at Johns Hopkins University will serve as the event’s co-organizers.

ATIB was established in 2004 and is currently co-chaired by Azerbaijani economics minister Heydar Babayev and Mrs. Arzuhan Doğan Yalçındağ, president of TUSIAD, Turkey’s biggest business association. In 2006, ATIB co-founded the Azerbaijani-Turkish Research Fund that involves official historians from the two countries, including Yusuf Halacoğlu.

The December 10 conference will feature video addresses from the presidents of Turkey and Azerbaijan, speeches by former Turkish and current Azerbaijani officials, as well as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried and his deputy Matt Bryza.

While, according to the Hudson announcement, the event, which is closed to the media, will focus on “ways to further enhance US-Turkey-Azerbaijan relations,” one of the participants, Azerbaijani parliament member Asim Mollazade told news media. He also said that as a part of the conference “the situation in the sphere of problems related to Armenia” will also be addressed.

Thirteen nominated in Georgian presidential elections
Mikhail Saakashvili, who resigned as president at the end of November, and 12 others are currently in the race to contest the Georgian presidency in an early election planned for January 5, www.civil.ge reported on December 6.

The list of opposition contenders includes billionaire businessperson Badri Patarkatsishvili, as well as opposition politicians Levan Gachechiladze, Davit Gamkrelidze, and Shalva Natelashvili.

In a conciliatory gesture, the Georgian government this week lifted a ban on the Imedi TV station, coowned by U.S. News Corp. and Mr. Patarkatsishvili; it is so far unclear if the station, which was raided and ransacked by government security forces on November 7, will be able to begin broadcasting before the election. (See this page in the November
10 and 17 Armenian Reporter .)

In Washington, Georgian government supporters organized a briefing at the Central Asia and Caucasus Institute (CACI) of Johns Hopkins University, in which CACI’s Svante Cornell and Vladimir Socor of the Jamestown Foundation defended Mr. Saakashvili’s crackdown on the opposition.

Mr. Socor said the Georgian opposition offers only a “recipe of liquidation” of the Georgian state. He predicted a strong victory by Mr. Saakashvili in the upcoming election.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s newly appointed Prime Minister, Lado Gurgenidze, said opposition protests are rooted in poverty and unemployment, which are still widespread in Georgia, RFE/RL reported on December 5. “We are hearing the social message loud and clear,” he said and pledged to redirect some of Georgia’s skyrocketing military spending to social needs.

Nareg Seferian contributed to this week’s column.


Pro-Putin party cruises to victory in Russian elections

WASHINGTON – The United Russia party list led by President Vladimir Putin won nearly two-thirds of votes cast in the December 2 parliamentary elections. The outcome is seen as giving Mr. Putin carte blanche to retain a major role in Russian politics after he completes his second four-year term next March.

Western observers described the election as “not fair” and President George Bush placed a call to Mr. Putin in which he said that the U.S. was “sincere in our expressions of concern about the elections.” Prior to the vote, the Russian president accused the U.S. of seeking to undermine the international legitimacy of the election. (See this page in last week’s Armenian Reporter.)

The preliminary results, published by Russia’s Central Electoral Commission, closely mirrored exit polls and public opinion studies that showed strong public support for President Putin’s record, which has been marked both by rising standards of living as well as curtailment of democratic freedoms. United Russia will have 315 of 450 seats in the new State Duma (parliament) instead of 297 seats it controlled in the outgoing legislature.

Other parties to win seats include the Communists (57 seats), as well as two other pro-Putin groups: Liberal Democrats (40 seats) and A Just Russia (38 seats). Seven other parties received less than three percent of the vote each and will not be represented in the Duma.

Four ethnic Armenians in new parliament

Four seats in the new Duma are likely to be held by Russian citizens of Armenian descent. A Duma vice speaker, Saint Petersburg–native Artur Chilingarov, and another incumbent, Rostov-born Stepan Shorshorov, ran in the election on the United Russia ticket.

Multimillionaire Moscow businessperson and Liberal Democrat Ashot Yeghiazarian is also likely to retain his seat. Finally, Arkadiy Sarkisian, a Sevastopol-
born retired naval officer and former member of the Federation Council (the Russian Senate) is likely to join the Duma as a Liberal Democrat.

Also re-elected are Armenia native Mikhail Musatov with the Liberal Democrats and United Russia member Konstantin Zatulin, a strong proponent of Russian Armenian ties.

In addition to the Duma, two ethnic Armenians currently sit in the 178-member Russian Senate, whose members are selected by provincial governments. These are Yerevan-born Oganes Oganian and Baku-born Aleksandr Ter-Avanesov.

The Russian Armenian community is estimated to number up to two million people out of Russia’s total population of some 150 million.


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