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Following Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Israel, Iran has no option but to look to China and Russia

The extraordinary hostility towards Iran from the US and Saudi Arabia, creating the possibility of an attack on Iran and ending all question of the imminent lifting of sanctions, shows that Iran has no alternative other than to forge close links with China and Russia and the Eurasian institutions if its to ensure its security and its economic future.

Alexander Mercouris

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US President Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia, his agreement to supply Saudi Arabia with $300 billion worth of US arms, his implacably hostile rhetoric towards Iran, and the openly expressed intentions of Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to launch a pre-emptive war against Iran, clarify policy options for Iran’s leadership and people.

It is now clear that the option of a rapprochement between Iran and the West does not exist whilst Iran remains an Islamic Republic.

Instead the US sees or pretends to see an existential threat from Iran towards Israel and – bizarrely – towards itself, and has sided decisively against Iran with Iran’s enemies, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman has moreover said that there is nothing the Iranians can ever say or do which will make him change his attitude of implacable hostility towards them.

This means that the only realistic option for Iran’s leaders – both the so-called reformists like Rouhani, and the conservatives – is to commit wholeheartedly to the strategic partnership Russia has offered them, and to integrate Iran fully into the Eurasian institutions which Russia and China are busy creating.

There are four of these Eurasian institutions that matter, though there are others – such as the ephemeral “Commonwealth of Independent States” set up by Boris Yeltsin in 1991 as a purported alternative to the USSR – which retain a sometimes shadowy existence.

The four Eurasian institutions which really matter are:

(1) The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a security grouping led by China of which Russia is a key member;

(2) The One Belt, One Road project, a Chinese project replacing the previous Silk Road project, whose aim is to integrate the whole of Eurasia economically by creating a massive infrastructure web;

(3) the Eurasian Economic Union, a Russian project to reintegrate certain of the economies of the former USSR, which was originally built around Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, but which is now expanding to include other former Soviet states as well; and

(4) The Collective Security Treaty Organisation (“CSTO”), a Russian led military alliance bringing together essentially the same states that make up the Eurasian Economic Union, but of which Serbia and Afghanistan are observers.

Since Iran is a non-aligned state it cannot realistically join the Eurasian Economic Union or the CSTO without compromising this status, and the Russians would anyway be reluctant to have it do so since that would extend these two institutions beyond the territory of the former USSR, which these institutions are intended to reintegrate.

However there is no reason why Iran cannot develop close bilateral relations with China and Russia and with the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and the CSTO, and no reason at all why Iran cannot participate to the fullest degree in the two Chinese led institutions, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the One Belt, One Road project.

Moreover since it is clear that the Chinese and the Russians are working towards fusing the Eurasian institutions each of them has created – the Chinese led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and One Belt, One Road project, and the Russian led Eurasian Economic Union and CSTO – as part of their joint ‘Greater Eurasia Project‘ (that ultimately was what the One Belt, One Road conference in Beijing earlier this month was all about), Iran loses nothing and compromises nothing by integrating itself fully in the two Chinese led institutions whilst forging ever closer links to Russia and to the two Eurasian institutions led by Russia.

Iran has observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and formally applied to join in 2008.  It could not do so then because it was under UN sanctions.  These have now been formally lifted following the 2015 nuclear agreement.

During his visit to Iran in January 2016 Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China supported Iran’s accession to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as a full member, and Russian President Putin told Iranian President Rouhani during their recent summit in Moscow that Russia now does so also.

In the light of the threats coming from Saudi Arabia, the US and Israel, Iran should make joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation as a full member its foreign policy priority, and it should lobby hard in Beijing and Moscow for it to be allowed to do so without delay.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is not a fully fledged military alliance in the way that NATO and the CSTO are.  However it is a security grouping which bring together two Great Powers – China and Russia – and a potential third Great Power – India, and of which four nuclear powers – China, Russia, India and Pakistan – are members.

Whilst membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would not cause these powers to defend Iran in the event it came under attack, they would be bound to respond angrily if a fellow member state like Iran came under attack.  Since Iran’s key regional enemies – Saudi Arabia and Israel – have close relations with some of these powers (China especially) that would in itself be a powerful deterrent against such an attack.

In addition Iran joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation would bury talk – heard often during Donald Trump’s visit to Saudi Arabia – that Iran is internationally isolated.  It would show that on the contrary Iran is a member of a security grouping which brings together some of the world’s greatest powers.

Iran should not however merely seek membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.  Though the UN sanctions have been lifted, the US is continuing to enforce unilateral sanctions against Iran, and the European Union is unwilling to resume full trading relations with Iran because of them.

Donald Trump’s hostility to Iran, and his alignment of the US with Iran’s implacable enemies, Saudi Arabia and Israel, means that there is no prospect of these unilateral US sanctions being lifted any time soon.

Moreover since the unilateral sanctions were not lifted during the time of the Obama administration – which was significantly less hostile to Iran than the Trump administration, and which agreed the nuclear agreement with Iran – there is no realistic possibility that any other US administration which succeeds or replaces the Trump administration will lift the sanctions any time soon.

What this means is that Iran must plan its economic future on the basis that for the time being at least the sanctions are going to remain in place.

Giant and sophisticated economies like China’s and Russia’s can shrug off Western sanctions, as China did after 1989 and as Russia is doing now.  Iran’s much smaller and less sophisticated economy will struggle to do so.

The result is that though Iran has avoided economic collapse despite the sanctions, over the last decade real income growth has stopped or even reversed, and inflation and unemployment – especially youth unemployment – have been continuously high.  In the meantime Iran’s infrastructure has been starved of investment.

Until roughly a decade ago a country whose economy found itself in this situation had no realistic option if it was to develop but to try to mend fences with the West, which at that time had an effective monopoly on capital, technology and trade.

The economic rise of Russia and China – especially of China – means this is no longer the case.

Though many Iranian businesspeople continue to hanker after a revival of Iran’s traditional trade links with the West, they now have a realistic and attractive alternative being offered to them, and they should embrace it.

Reports suggest that a major factor holding Iran back from full integration with the Eurasian institutions is Iran’s traditional suspicion of Russia, which together with cultural differences is standing in the way of the proposed joint economic projects which Russia has been proposing.

This suspicion has a historical basis.

Since the seventeenth century Russia and Iran have fought six wars, the most recent of which happened as recently as 1941 during the Second World War.  Every one of these wars save the first ended with Iran’s defeat.  The fourth and fifth wars resulted in the collapse of Iran’s position in the Caucasus and the loss of vast territories including Armenia, Georgia and what is now Azerbaijan.  The sixth war resulted in the Soviet occupation of northern Iran including Tehran.

Over and above these defeats, the tsarist government in the decade before the First World War sought to carve out with British agreement a Russian sphere of influence in northern Iran, which would have included the capital Tehran, whilst following the end of the Second World War the USSR attempted to do the same in the Iranian controlled part of Azerbaijan.

During the Cold War Iran whilst still under the rule of the Shah was strongly allied against the USSR with the US, and many Iranians continue to resent the fact that the USSR supplied arms to Iraq during the later stages of the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.

Beyond this there is the fact that post-Soviet Russia supported UN sanctions against Iran, whilst former Russian President Medvedev did lasting damage to Russia’s relations with Iran by blocking the supply in 2010 of S-300 missiles to Iran, as previously agreed by Russia and Iran in 2007.

This history explains why there is considerable suspicion and hostility towards Russia in Iran.

This has sometimes taken self-destructive forms.  For example it seems that following the US cruise missile attack on Syria’s Al-Shayrat air base Iranian social media filled with comments mocking Russia’s alleged inability to shoot down the missiles.

Russia for its part has not always treated Iran with the sensitivity that is required.  As a Great Power which conducts its foreign policy on a global scale, Russia inevitably sees its past dealings with Iran as a minor detail of its history, and has not always shown proper awareness of the fact that Iranians see this history very differently.

The time has however now come for Iran to put all this to one side.  Its only realistic alternative is to do what the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel want it to do, which is change its system of government, jettison its Islamic constitution, revert to being the loyal subordinate to Western policy which it was during the time of the Shah, and ‘open up’ its economy to Western influence, with all the neoliberal ‘shock therapies’ that will come with that.

There are certainly people in Iran who would embrace that option, but everything that is known about the country suggests they are a small – if noisy – minority.

Besides with the rise of Eurasia and of China and Russia that sort of policy risks putting Iran on the wrong side of history.

Iran’s interests clearly point to its need to put aside whatever residual doubts it still has, and commit itself wholeheartedly to strong relations with Russia and China and the highest level of integration possible with the Eurasian institutions.  That way lies security, independence and prosperity.

The alternatives – subordination to the West or stagnation under the permanent threat of attack – hardly look inviting, and no one who sincerely cares for Iran would propose them.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

The Russian ministry said the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, but this did not stop them from executing “the provocation.” Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came just a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,”the statement said.

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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