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Erdogan and Rouhani meet in Tehran – offer a united front against Kurdish secessionists

This comes as US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis defies statements by Donald Trump and tells Congress that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA.

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just concluded a press conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian capital, Tehran.

Both leaders stated that they are firmly committed to the territorial unity of Iraq and also Syria, in the wake of the unilateral secessionist referendum in northern Iraq. While Rouhani called regional Kurds “brothers”, each said that dialogue with legitimate central governments is the only way forward, thus echoing calls of the wider international community, with the exception of Israel whose leaders support Kurdish secession.

Both Presidents also affirmed their commitment to expand growing economic ties, while speaking positively about the Astana peace process for Syria in which Russia, Iran and Turkey have worked jointly to create de-escalation zones in Syria, each of which has also been approved by the Syrian government.

Today’s successful meeting is a further sign of Turkey’s pivot towards fellow Eurasian powers and away from NATO, in spite of Ankara’s continued, however uneasy membership of the US led alliance. It also represents a commitment from the two largest non-Arab powers in the Middle East towards preserving the unity and integrity of Arab states whose borders are under threat from Kurdish secessionist movements.

Over the last several months, America’s traditional ally Turkey and its post-1979 adversary Iran have been taking meaningful steps to enhance bilateral cooperation. In August of this year, Iran’s most senior military General, Mohammad Baqeri visited President Erdogan in Ankara.

Turkey on verge of military cooperation with Iran against Kurdish militants

Since then, Turkey and Iran have cooperated on a border wall between the two countries aimed at cutting off Kurdish militant groups from supplying arms across states. In the last weeks, both Iran and Turkey have been conducting joint military exercises with the Iraqi army in areas which border Iraq’s Kurdish region.

First Iraq and Turkey – now Iraq and Iran hold joint military drills

While the US and Israel continue to use proxy wars and hybrid conflicts to foment ideological discord in the Middle East, Turkey and Iran’s relationship is increasingly one of pragmatic mutual  self-interest.

As I wrote recently in The Duran,

“Turkey’s relationship with Iran is built on mutual economic benefits, geo-political realism, petro-politics and the need to intensify regional cooperation in preparation for the arrival of One Belt–One Road in the Middle East. Turkey is no more ideologically in-line with Iran than Russia is. Each country has a completely different state ideology and if anything, were Erdogan to fully bring Sunni Islamism to the front and centre of formerly secular Turkey, this will actually mean that Turkey will be even more ideologically different from Iran vis-a-vis a more religiously neutral Kemalist state.

Erdogan is ultimately not an ideologue, even though his language might often obscure such a fact. Erdogan is actually a pragmatist with a very loud and sometimes loose tongue. Erdogan is a man whose co-opting of Turkish civil society ought to read as a master text for leaders looking to consolidate their rule, gradually remove or placate opponents and remake civil institutions to work in one’s personal favour. Few could pull such a thing off and no Turkish leader since Ataturk has made such a profound mark on the Turkish state.

Likewise, Erdogan’s geo-politics is equally pragmatic. Erdogan has not distanced himself from NATO, the US and EU because of some desire to join ‘club Eurasia’. He has become part of ‘club Eurasia’ because he realised that this will be to Turkey’s economic benefit and that Russia and Iran are more easy to work with than the EU. The contest between an increasingly closed and economically retarded EU and China’s One Belt–One Road, which in any case will still give Turkey access to the EU through the backdoor, was not a matter of ideology, it was a matter of obvious self-interest.

Furthermore, even Erdogan’s decision to quietly shift from a position of ‘Assad must go’ to working in the Astana group and tacitly conceding that the Ba’ath party will remain in power in Damascus is a totally  pragmatic move.

Erdogan switched teams in order to join the winning side in respect of Syria. He thought he’d be able to get a piece of the Syrian pie by calling for regime change and now that he’s sensed that no regime change will occur, he’s increasingly linking himself with Russia and Iran as a ‘master peacemaker’ even though in this respect, Russia is doing most of the heavy lifting.

Here too Erodgan in exiting from the US camp over Syria , he has likewise exited the Israeli camp, though not for ideological reasons”.

Israel is on the verge of turning Turkey into an enemy

While the US rings its hands over how to handle its balancing act between Baghdad the Iraqi Kurds, Turkey and Iran are bolstering Baghdad’s position and by extrapolation that of Damascus, in taking matters into their own hands.

It is also noteworthy that shortly before Erdogan’s meeting with Rouhani, US Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis offered a statement which seemingly defies Donald Trump’s view that the JCPOA (aka the Iran nuclear deal) is an “embarrassment” to the United States.

Mattis took a contrary view, stating,

“I believe that they [Iran] fundamentally are [in compliance]. There have been certainly some areas where they were not temporarily in that regard, but overall our intelligence community believes that they have been compliant and the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] also says so.

The point I would make is that if we can confirm that Iran is living by the agreement, if we can determine that this is in our best interest, then clearly we should stay with it. I believe at this point in time, absent indications to the contrary, it is something that the president should consider staying with”.

The statement from Mattis was echoed by the Chairman of  the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General John  Dunford. This demonstrates that the Pentagon has taken a far more moderate view on Iran than that of the US President. This moderate view is one that is officially shared by the United Nations, the US State Department and to all other parties who signed the JCPOA, including the European Union, Russia and China.

This apparent discrepancy between the Pentagon and White House in respect of Iran, mirrors a recent Twitter row Donald Trump had with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. After Tillerson told journalists that the US maintains basic contacts with North Korea, Donald Trump Tweeted that such attempts at diplomacy were useless. It is still not clear if this is a ‘good cop–bad cop’ strategy or if the Trump administration is simply a rudderless ship.

In this sense, President Rouhani’s approach which is centred around not actively countering US rhetoric, but instead allowing pragmatic realities to move at a faster pace than US rhetoric, appears to have paid off.

Now, even the arguably most important member of the Trump administration, General Mattis is conceding that Iran is in full compliance with the JCPOA. Furthermore, in Turkey’s turn towards Iran and Russia, the US has effectively lost control over its largest Middle Eastern ally. Turkey is now pursuing an independent foreign policy and business strategy in which Iran, Russia and China will ultimately be of far more use to Ankara than the EU or Washington.

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It’s Official: ‘Britain’s Democracy Now At Risk’

It’s not just campaigners saying it any more: democracy is officially at risk, according to parliament’s own digital, culture, media and sport committee.

The Duran

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Via True Publica, authored by Jessica Garland – Electoral Reform Society:


Britain’s main campaign rules were drawn up in the late 1990s, before social media and online campaigning really existed. This has left the door wide open to disinformation, dodgy donations and foreign interference in elections.

There is a real need to close the loopholes when it comes to the online Wild West.

Yet in this year’s elections, it was legitimate voters who were asked to identify themselves, not those funnelling millions into political campaigns through trusts, or those spreading fake news.

The government trialled mandatory voter ID in five council areas in May. In these five pilot areas alone about 350 people were turned away from polling stations for not having their papers with them — and they didn’t return. In other words, they were denied their vote.

Yet last year, out of more than 45 million votes cast across the country, there were just 28 allegations of personation (pretending to be someone else at the polling station), the type of fraud voter ID is meant to tackle.

Despite the loss of 350 votes, the pilots were branded a success by the government. Yet the 28 allegations of fraud (and just one conviction) are considered such a dire threat that the government is willing to risk disenfranchising many more legitimate voters to try to address it. The numbers simply don’t add up.

Indeed, the fact-checking website FullFact noted that in the Gosport pilot, 0.4 per cent of voters did not vote because of ID issues. That’s a greater percentage than the winning margin in at least 14 constituencies in the last election. Putting up barriers to democratic engagement can have a big impact. In fact, it can swing an election.

In the run-up to the pilots, the Electoral Reform Society and other campaigners warned that the policy risked disenfranchising the most marginalised groups in society.

The Windrush scandal highlights exactly the sort of problems that introducing stricter forms of identity could cause: millions of people lack the required documentation. It’s one of the reasons why organisations such as the Runnymede Trust are concerned about these plans.

The Electoral Commission has now published a report on the ID trials, which concludes that “there is not yet enough evidence to fully address concerns” on this front.

The small number of pilots, and a lack of diversity, meant that sample sizes were too small to conclude anything about how the scheme would affect various demographic groups. Nor can the pilots tell us about the likely impact of voter ID in a general election, where the strain on polling staff would be far greater and a much broader cross-section of electors turns out to vote.

The Electoral Reform Society, alongside 22 organisations, campaigners and academics, has now called on the constitution minister to halt moves to impose this policy. The signatories span a huge cross-section of society, including representatives of groups that could be disproportionately impacted by voter ID, from Age UK to Liberty and from the British Youth Council to the Salvation Army and the LGBT Foundation.

Voters know what our democratic priorities should be: ensuring that elections are free from the influence of big donors. Having a secure electoral register. Providing balanced media coverage. Transparency online.

We may be little wiser as a result of the government’s voter ID trials. Yet we do know where the real dangers lie in our politics.

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Corrupt Robert Mueller’s despicable Paul Manafort trial nears end (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 79.

Alex Christoforou

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Paul Manafort’s legal team rested its case on Tuesday without calling a single witness. This sets the stage for closing arguments before the judge hands the case to jurors for a verdict.

Manafort’s defense opted to call no witnesses, choosing instead to rely on the team’s cross-examination of government witnesses including a very devious Rick Gates, Manafort’s longtime deputy, and several accountants, bookkeepers and bankers who had financial dealings with Manafort.

Closing arguments are expected on Wednesday. Jurors may begin deliberating shortly after receiving their final instructions from judge Ellis.

Manafort case has nothing to do with Mueller’s ‘Trump-Russia collusion witch-hunt’ as the former DC lobbyist is accused of defrauding banks to secure loans and hiding overseas bank accounts and income from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III denied a defense motion to acquit Manafort on the charges because prosecutors hadn’t proved their case.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the circus trial of Trump’s former Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, and how crooked cop Robert Mueller is using all his power to lean on Manafort, so as to conjure up something illegal against US President Donald Trump.

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Via Zerohedge

Prosecutors allege he dodged taxes on millions of dollars made from his work for a Ukrainian political party, then lied to obtain bank loans when cash stopped flowing from the project.

The courtroom was sealed for around two hours Tuesday morning for an unknown reason, reopening around 11:30 a.m. with Manafort arriving around 10 minutes later.

The decision to rest their case without calling any witnesses follows a denial by Judge T.S. Ellis III to acquit Manafort after his lawyers tried to argue that the special counsel had failed to prove its case at the federal trial.

The court session began at approximately 11:45 a.m.:

“Good afternoon,” began defense attorney Richard Westling, who corrected himself and said, “Good morning.”

“I’m as surprised as you are,” Judge Ellis responded.

Ellis then heard brief argument from both sides on the defense’s motion for acquittal, focusing primarily on four counts related to Federal Savings Bank.

Federal Savings Bank was aware of the status of Paul Manafort’s finances,” Westling argued. “They came to the loans with an intent of doing business with Mr. Manafort.”

Prosecutor Uzo Asonye fired back, saying that that even if bank chairman Steve Calk overlooked Manafort’s financial woes, it would still be a crime to submit fraudulent documents to obtain the loans.

“Steve Calk is not the bank,” Asonye argued, adding that while Caulk may have “had a different motive” — a job with the Trump administration — “I’m not really sure there’s evidence he knew the documents were false.”

Ellis sided with prosecutors.

The defense makes a significant argument about materiality, but in the end, I think materiality is an issue for the jury,” he said, adding. “That is true for all the other counts… those are all jury issues.”

Once that exchange was over, Manafort’s team was afforded the opportunity to present their case, to which lead attorney Kevin Downing replied “The defense rests.

Ellis then began to question Manafort to ensure he was aware of the ramifications of that decision, to which the former Trump aide confirmed that he did not wish to take the witness stand.

Manafort, in a dark suit and white shirt, stood at the lectern from which his attorneys have questioned witnesses, staring up at the judge. Ellis told Manafort he had a right to testify, though if he chose not to, the judge would tell jurors to draw no inference from that. – WaPo

Ellis asked Manafort four questions – his amplified voice booming through the courtroom:

Had Manafort discussed the decision with his attorney?

“I have, your honor,” Manafort responded, his voice clear.

Was he satisfied with their advice?

“I am, your honor,” Manafort replied.

Had he decided whether he would testify?

“I have decided,” Manafort said.

“Do you wish to testify?” Ellis finally asked.

“No, sir,” Manafort responded.

And with that, Manafort returned to his seat.

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One more step toward COMPLETE de-dollarization

Over the past several months, sitting here in Moscow, it has become increasingly obvious that while the US Dollar is unquestionably the world’s leading and liquid reserve currency, it comes with an ever increasing high price (of sovereignty and FX) if you are not the USA.

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I have opined and written about the trend towards de-dollarization before, but with the latest US –Turkish spat it has hit the wallets, mattresses and markets of a number of countries, be they aligned with Washington or not. One thing they all have in common was that in this recent era of low cost available money, many happily fed at the US dollar trough.

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This serves as a further albeit loud example to many nations for the need to diversify to an extent away from the greenback, or risk being caught up in its volatile, sudden and unpredictably risky increasingly politicized directions.

The Dollar and the geopolitical winds from Washington are today as never before openly being used as policy, which can be called the “carrot and stick”, a distinctly Pavlovian approach. Sadly, few if any can make out where or what the carrot is in this recent US worldview branding.

Tariffs, sanctions, pressured exchange rates, the Federal Reserve loosening or tightening, trade agreements and laws ignored or simply trashed… there is a lot going on which seems to democratically affect America’s allies as well as those on Washington’s politically popular and dramatic “poo-poo” list.

Just now from a press conference in Turkey, I watched Russia’s foreign minister Lavrov say that through the actions shown by the US, the role of the US dollar as a secure global reserve currency for free trade will diminish as more countries switch to national currencies for international trade.

He clearly spoke for many nations when he said; “It will make more and more countries that are not even affected by US sanctions go away from the dollar and rely on more reliable, contractual partners in terms of currency use.” Putting the situation in a nutshell he went on to say “I have already said this about sanctions: they are illegal, they undermine all principles of global trade and principles approved by UN decisions, under which unilateral measures of economic duress are unlawful.”

Turkey, a long-standing NATO ally and a key line of western defense during the long cold war years fully agreed with his Russian counterpart. The Turkish foreign minister Mr. Cavosoglu openly warned that US sanctions or trade embargoes can and are being unilaterally imposed against any country at any time if they do not toe DC’s political line.

He said at the same press conference; “Today, sanctions are imposed on Turkey, and tomorrow they can be used against any other European state. If the United States wants to maintain respect in the international arena, then it is necessary for it to be respectful of the interests of other countries.”

What is happening in Turkey is symptomatic of the developed and emerging markets globally. When trillions of dollars of newly issued lucre was up for grabs, thanks to several developed country central banks, it was comparatively easy for governments and companies just like Turkey’s to borrow funds denominated in dollars and not their national currencies.

Turkey has relied on foreign-currency debt more than most EM’s. Corporate, financial and other debt denominated mostly in dollars, approximates close to 70% of it’s economy. Therefore as the Turkish lira plunges, it is very costly for those companies to repay their dollar-denominated loans, and even now it is patently clear many will not.

The concern rattling around the underbelly of the global markets is what can be reasonably expected for assets and economies that were inflated by cheap debt, the United States included. All this points not so much to a banking crisis as has happened eight years ago, but a systemic financial market crisis.

This is a new one, and I doubt if any QE, QT, NIRPs, or ZIRPs will make much of a difference, despite the rocket-high equity markets the US has been displaying.

One financial trader I spoke to, whom I have known since the early 1980’s (and I thought him ancient then) muttered to me “we’re gettin’ into the ecstasy stage, nothing but the high matters, everything else including the VIX is seen as boring denial, and not the warning tool it is. Better start loading up on gold.”

Meanwhile, de-dollarization is ongoing in Russia and is carefully studied by a host of countries, especially as the Russian government has not yet finished selling off US debt; it still has just a few billion to go. The Russian Finance Minister A. Siluanov said this past Sunday that Russia would continue decreasing holdings of Treasuries in response to sanctions.

The finance minister went on to say that, Russia is also considering distancing itself from using the US dollar for international trade, calling it an unreliable, conditional and hence risky tool for payments.

Between March and May this year, Russia’s US debt holdings were sold down by $81 billion, which is 84% of its total US debt holdings, and while I don’t know the current figure it is certain to be even less.

The latest round of tightening sanctions screws against Russia were imposed by the State Department under a chemical and biological warfare law and should be going into effect on August 22. This in spite of the fact that no proof was ever shown, not under any established national or international law, or with any of several global biochemical conventions, not even in the ever entertaining court of public opinion.

Whatever Russia may continue to do in its relationship with US debt or the dollar, the fact of the matter is that Russia is not a heavyweight in this particular financial arena, and the direct effects of Russia’s responses are negligible. However, the indirect effects are huge as they reflect what many countries (allied or unallied with the US) see as Washington’s overbearing and more than slightly unipolar trade and geopolitical advantage quests, be they Mexico, Canada, the EU, or anyone else on any hemisphere of this globe.

Some of the potential indirect effects over time may be a similar sell-off or even gradual reduction of US debt exposure from China or any one of several dozens of countries deciding to reduce their exposure to US debt by reducing their purchases and waiting for existing Treasuries to mature. In either case, the trend is there and is not going away anytime soon.

When Russia clears its books of US dollarized debt, then who will be next in actively diversifying their US debt risk? Then what might be the fate of the US Dollar, and what value then will be the international infusions to finance America’s continually growing debt, or fuel the funds needed for further market growth? Value and the energy of money has no politics, it ultimately trends towards areas where there is a secure business dynamic. That being said, looks like we are now and will be living through the most interesting of disruptive times.

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