Monday, September 30, 2013
Published time: September 29, 2013 16:41
Contrasting reactions in India and Brazil to revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about the US government's intrusive surveillance of communications in the two countries are a study in varying diplomatic style, substance and context.
Recent confirmation from journalists working with Snowden that India was a prime victim caught in the crosshairs of the NSA's megalithic data-sweeping operations did not deter Prime Minister Manmohan Singh from visiting Washington and keeping his date with President Barack Obama on September 27.
India's phlegmatic take is the antithesis of the mass indignation in Brazil when it became known that the NSA had been snooping into emails and phone conversations of the commanding heights of its economic and political institutions. A nationalistic wave of disgust propelled President Dilma Rousseff to go to the extent of canceling her scheduled state visit to the US, demanding an unqualified apology from Obama, and lambasting the US for violation of human rights, privacy and international law in front of the UN General Assembly.
Rousseff called a spade a spade and snubbed Obama without mincing words. It was an act of international bravado and regional leadership that steeled the spine of Latin America, which has been seething against Washington's imperious tampering of airspace permissions for Bolivian President Evo Morales and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The Bolivians have condemned European "aggression" at the behest of America and are threatening to sue the US for "crimes against humanity," while the Venezuelans have kept up a steady verbal barrage against Washington's "crazy provocations."
Ecuador has initiated discussions among the 12-member Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which includes Brazil, to work on a new multilateral Internet defense system that would protect the entire Latin American region against US hacking and espionage. Collective regional action, which is advanced in South America despite plurality in ideology and regime type, has found its newest cohesive cause— halting the American 'Snooperman' juggernaut.
However, the fire and brimstone of the Latin Americans did not infect India one bit. On the eve of the third summit meeting with Obama since 2009, Singh's endorsement of a "global strategic partnership" between India and the US sounded as though Snowden's undeniable bombshells were bad dreams that New Delhi had long ago forgotten and forgiven.
Indian officials have downplayed media disclosures based on Snowden's leaks that show US intelligence agencies planted bugging devices in Indian diplomatic missions in Washington and New York. The nonchalant refrain in New Delhi is that such spying is part and parcel of standard, tacitly accepted practice that every host nation with technical abilities does to foreign missions on its soil.
Yet, ever since the Snowden earthquake erupted earlier this year, one hard reality stares at India: that it was the fifth most spied-upon nation under the NSA's top-secret PRISM and Boundless Informant programs. Brazil and Russia were actually further down the list than India. Snowden's American journalist associate, Glenn Greenwald, told an Indian newspaper that India was in the US's top five target list (behind Iran, Pakistan, Jordan and Egypt) because it is "an increasingly important country in virtually every realm: economic, political, diplomatic and military." He added that the NSA's stealing of metadata and specific contents of e-mail systems and phone calls is "a question of power" and gives the US government relative bargaining advantage with a rising state such as India.
The deafening silence in the Indian establishment toward what is obviously a strategic foreign threat to the confidentiality of its public and private communications could be construed as quietly conceding that India is bound to be the object of external prying eyes due to its rising global profile. India's foreign policy bureaucracy is schooled in traditional realpolitik mores which accept certain immoral and illegal actions that are routinely permitted under the garb of statecraft. As one unnamed official said to an Indian newspaper coolly, whatever the NSA does is unsurprisingly common and "as good as your technology and intent" can delve into another's affairs.
Here, India's foreign policy mandarins are suggesting matter-of-factly that whichever nation has the capabilities for cyber-attacks and surveillance will understandably deploy them for its security interests to the detriment of its allies and enemies. But apart from rationalizing why the US has trained its cyber guns on India so attentively, New Delhi has yet to diplomatically make such actions costlier for the Americans by going down the angry pathway of Brazil.
In contrast to the response against the US spying, India's government and much of the country's elite English-language media raise an outcry whenever news emerges about China's cyber-warfare and espionage directed at India. Indian people have been fed enough alerts about China's repeated cyber-attacks on high-profile computers and critical infrastructure of their country. The impression that China poses the No. 1 cyber threat to India is ingrained in the minds of our strategic thinkers and commentariat, and buttressed by the outstanding territorial and geopolitical disputes and competition between the two Asian giants.
Since few Indian strategists believe that the US poses the same level of threat or obstacle to India's ambitions in the world as China does, there is a clear double standard in their outrage towards Beijing's cyber-attacks and seeming indifference about American cyber snooping on Indian assets. If there was an opinion poll in India as to which country poses a greater peril to our national security, and the options were USA and China, the latter would win by a majority. Hence the ambivalence in the overall Indian discourse regarding the obvious damage that the NSA has been inflicting on India's national security.
Related to this differential approach in India to the cyber-spying menace from China and the US is a geostrategic belief that New Delhi should not antagonize the latter too much because it helps keep the former under check in Asia. Crying foul about the NSA's violations of India's sovereignty is seen as counterproductive when New Delhi needs some of Washington's technical assistance to beef up its cyber defenses. In July 2011, India and the US signed a Cybersecurity Agreement to "advance global security and counter terrorism."
The unspoken elephant in the room of that agreement is China, which is seen by both India and the US as their principal rival in cyberspace. The sensational fallout of the Snowden leaks has not shaken this conviction, even though India's cyber sentinels privately agree that they "cannot trust the Americans." The public line in India is that US cyber-intrusions are a non-issue or a minor irritant but Chinese web attacks and espionage are grave threats.
Before meeting Obama on Sept. 27, Singh mentioned that he sees the US as "a key source of technology, investment and innovation" for India, all three of which do not apply in the Chinese case even if Beijing wanted to share some of them with New Delhi. As India and China reside in the same geological space and compete on land and sea in the same locales, any cyber cooperation or coordination between the two is mythical due to a complete lack of strategic trust. On the other hand, some form of joint work on cyber defense, if not offense, between India and America is not implausible, despite the Snowden controversy.
A cyber tango between India and the US fits within the larger realpolitik concept of "bandwagoning,"wherein a weaker state decides to join hands with a more powerful one because the cost of opposing the latter exceeds the benefit. China's faster economic and military growth than India and the former's aim of catching up with and overtaking the US, imply that Beijing is more in a"counterbalancing" frame of mind toward Washington. As long as India is not in China's league in material power, a soft form of bandwagoning by India with the US (without entering into a formal alliance), particularly in the cyber domain, is considered inevitable by Indian strategists.
If Brazil has chosen an unambiguous path of diplomatic defiance and shaming of the US for its unwarranted cyber surveillance, there is also a domestic political angle behind it. "Lulaism," the philosophy of a middle path for Brazil in terms of its state-market balance and foreign policy, named for the charismatic former President Lula da Silva, is an ideology of the left. Brazil, for all its mixture of private and public sectors, is governed by a socialist Workers' Party that struggled against US-backed military dictatorship back in the 1980s. The hemispheric geographical closeness of Brazil to the US and the historic attempt of the entire Latin American leftist bloc to shake off Yankee neo-colonialism are the main drivers of a radical foreign policy that is instinctively anti-American. Seeking international accountability from the NSA comes easily in such an environment and can be popular.
India, on the other hand, has leftist political parties only on the fringe. Both the mainstream national parties, the ruling center-left Congress and the opposition center-right Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), believe in the imperative of maintaining strategic closeness with Washington. These parties pooh-pooh barbs from the left about kowtowing to "American imperialism" and tend to avoid taking up cudgels against Washington as much as possible. In the worldview of these parties, friendliness with the US is not a sign of pusillanimity or surrender, but of farsighted nationalism. The middle classes and the English-language news media in India also have a largely pro-American and pro-Western slant, especially compared to their hawkish appraisals of China.
Given such rooted political obstacles to denouncing the US for its cyber intrusions from global podiums, India will have to develop a technical deterrence that is commensurate and robust. The investments in cyber warfare that the Indian government has made thus far are not paltry, and some aspects of the NSA's bag of tricks unveiled by Snowden's escapade were known a priori to Indian technical agencies. What India is doing now in light of the Snowden scandal is to beef up protections for most vulnerable points of its digital infrastructure that the Americans penetrated.
Snowden's expose is not the first warning that prompted India's cyber warriors to plug the loopholes. An estimated 8.3 percent of the computers infected by the Stuxnet computer worm, which the US and Israel launched in 2009-10 to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program, were located in India. New Delhi has come a long way since Stuxnet in mounting credible defenses to its communications systems. Snowden is another canary in the mine, pushing India's web-based warriors to improved ways of fighting and anticipating in cyber space.
Although Brazil has outdone India in its political courage and verbal remonstration against American cyber imperialism, it must be remembered that both these BRICS nations refused to offer asylum to Edward Snowden when he applied before finally finding safety in Russia. Both Brazil and India have booming two-way trade accounts with America and both are also known for cautious diplomacy that can be vexing for radicals but which is founded upon biases and interests of the business and political elites of these two countries.
In the long run, both Brazil and India will do well to heed former US President Teddy Roosevelt's maxim to "speak softly and carry a big stick." In terms of national capabilities, it is less relevant whether Rousseff labels a criminal as criminal at the UN and more important that emerging powers nourish their cyber sinews and close the gap with the US in Internet dominance. Cyber power is now an integral ingredient of overall national power. Shrillness in diplomacy never was and will be a substitute to a national mission for cyber preparedness and cyber greatness.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
India's 'hasty decision' to vote against Iran in Vienna might come back to haunt it.
Indian Vote against Iran Only Strengthens(ed) Western Nuclear Apartheid
On the question of U.S.-led Western accusations that Iran's program of fuel enrichment to 20% was geared to produce nuclear bombs, India's vote at the atomic energy agency in Vienna was a dreadful choice. On a TV channel discussions Mr. Hamid Ansari (now Vice President of India -second term) had described it as "hasty ". The result was that by siding with Washington we added to the problems which have hobbled Tehran since then. Iran will remember it, now that they've come out on top after a 34 year old titanic struggle since 1979 against U.S.-led West who hold almost a monopoly over nuclear enrichment and weapons manufacture.
The recently elected moderate Iranian Pres Hassan Rouhani who offered a hand of trust after exchange of letters with US president Obama and full backing from the Spiritual leader Khamenei 's fatwa against nukes , announced that Teheran wants to sort out this problem with the West in a period of 3 to 6 months ,which could happen. Of course the change is the result of great perseverance, national pride and resilience shown by Iranian leadership and its suffering people since the dispute became acute after the 2003 U.S.-led illegal invasion of Iraq and the lurking danger that the neo-con crazies controlling George Bush could do anything dumb, even bomb Iran's Uranium enrichment program for power generation and medicinal use, which Tehran is allowed to under NPT, which it has signed.
Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, former Envoy to UNO, New York is urging step-by-step compromises between his country and world powers to advance negotiations over its nuclear program. Zarf's remarks on Iran's state TV referred to "phased actions" to revive stalled talks with the six-nation group — the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other envoys are scheduled to meet with Zarif on Thursday in New York to discuss restarting of the talks.
"The only way forward is for a timeline to be inserted into the negotiations that's short," Iranian President Rouhani was quoted telling the Washington Post, through a translator, in New York, where he had addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. "The shorter it is, the more beneficial it is to everyone. If it's three months that would be Iran's choice, if it's six months that's still good. It's a question of months not years," replied Rouhani when asked for a time frame for resolving Iran's nuclear dispute with the West.
Basically it has been an all options on table and almost no-holds barred aggressive policy by U.S.-led West to browbeat and dominate Iran which has stood its ground after removing the hated Shah of Iran, Washington's gendarme in the region .The American elite still has not digested the siege of the US embassy in Teheran in 1979 until the Syrian crisis, when Pres Assad of Syria along with Hezbollah and Iran with full diplomatic and military support by Russia , made USA blink in the brinkmanship game.
Now that events and changes in strategic calculus have brought Iran and P5+1 to negotiations, Iranian Pres Rouhani has rightly raised the question of Israeli nukes ( hundreds) and the imbalance in the region , more so since Syria's chemical weapons are slated to be destroyed while Tel Aviv, apart from nukes also has chemical WMDs. Watch this space for more!
The decline of US power and influence is a result of illegal brutal bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, Iraq and lastly Libya as a result of which as late decorated Marine Col John Murtha said ' the US Army was broken in Iraq and a political solution was necessary.' As I've stated previously the resistance in Iraq to the US Armed Forces is similar to what the Soviet armed forces and people had achieved at great sacrifice in destroying 80% of the Nazi war machine in World War II. US and western allies only mopped up the remnants and hogged all the credit for the victory in Eurasia.
The Economist, London very aptly summed up the change in the international strategic equation; America's place in the world shifted, few Americans noticed it.
There was then a lot of opposition and criticism in India of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now highly unpopular, to have changed the decision to vote against Iran in Vienna from abstention at the last moment. Even US allies Pakistan and Morocco abstained on the resolution .Facile talk about civilisational links between India and Iran is pointless when Tehran's interest are gravely damaged.
It is understood that the UPAII Chairperson Mrs. Sonia Gandhi called one of India's former envoys to Iran to understand the real position.
Greatly upset at the slavish attitude of Indian PM I had written an article strongly castigating India's vote against Iran which I am reproducing below
K.Gajendra Singh, 26 September, 2013, Mayur Vihar, Delhi-91
Indian Vote Against Iran Only Strengthens Western Nuclear Apartheid
By K. Gajendra Singh, September 30, 2005, Bucharest. http://firstname.lastname@example.org/msg00102.html
"The West does not seek the elimination of nuclear weapons, but rather the establishment of nuclear monopoly..."
India's vote against Iran in Vienna supporting another US orchestrated Western crusade , now against Iran, surprised most observers as it would further buttress Western nuclear apartheid against developing nations, thus undermining
's own stated long term policy , its future hydrocarbon energy and raw material security and overall strategic interests in and around the region. It unwittingly encourages India with its reported arsenal of over 100 nuclear bombs whose irresponsible, immoral and illegal unilateral policies have injected instability and chaos into the Israel Middle East, the store house of world's energy resources for the foreseeable future.
It was a sad spectacle for all and sundry to see, the result of bullying and blackmail with an abusive tirade against India, led by the likes of Tom Lantos, who attacked Indian relations with
at the hearing on the US-India nuclear cooperation agreement in early September. Ridiculing Indian External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh as "dense" he " warned that if India doesn't change its policy towards Iran in sync with US policy, the relationship would 'go down the tubes' "My concern does not relate to the Administration. My concern relates to the insensitive thinking that I see coming out of Iran ." New Delhi
Lantos found it incomprehensible [ naturally] "that people as sophisticated and as knowledgeable as our Indian counterparts should not be aware of how significant their position, vis-a-vis Iran is to this Congress, and, I hope that this hearing will make them aware at least tangentially that this may be destroying far more significant relationships than they are having with Tehran unless they become sensitive to our view on that subject." It was an orchestrated show by the White House.
Lantos, a Jew, perhaps joined the Indo-US Caucus only to promote Israeli interests by leveraging Non-Resident Indian's financial clout .He would be granted immediate Israeli citizenship under the Law of the Return, if he so wished, while millions of Palestinians rot in refugee camps in occupied Palestine and neighbouring Arab states, and when they protest, are bombed by US supplied bombers, gunships, tanks and other heavy arms. Lantos and his kind support verily a military ruled Israel, where military officers become prime ministers and political leaders, as soon as they relinquish their military uniform .Many including its Prime minister are wanted as war criminals in the world. A retired general just escaped arrest on arrival in
. But Israelis and pro-Israeli Jews have the England men lawmakers by the boots and the women lawmakers by their bracelets. US
Western powers or IAEA have not said a word against
's nuclear arsenal. On the contrary, since 1952 these very countries have reportedly, clandestinely, aided and abetted Tel Aviv in developing its nuclear muscle. It was on October 5, 1986, the Sunday Times of London sensationally reported that Israel was a nuclear power. A disaffected Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu, who worked at Dimona for ten years, gave compelling and incontrovertible evidence that Israel had "at least 100 and as many as 200 nuclear weapons." He was jailed and still remains confined to his house. Israel
Western powers or IAEA have not said a word against
In a letter submitted to the IAEA on behalf of Arab member states,
asked that member states consider a statement strongly criticizing Oman at the agency's General Conference. Arab countries have submitted similar statements to the IAEA's general conference every year, but have failed to win any action since 1991. The statement adjoined to the Arab letter said: " Israel 's possession of nuclear weapons is likely to lead to a destructive nuclear arms race in the region, especially if Israel 's nuclear installations remain outside any international control." Israel
While rejecting the letter
said, "There is no basis for this agenda item, whose sponsors are motivated by extraneous considerations which are also evident in their efforts to challenge Israel 's credentials," the head of Israel 's Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank, said in a statement to the General Conference." Both actions are politically and cynically motivated and have little to do with the IAEA's objective or mandate. They inevitably cast a serious doubt on the sincerity of its sponsors," he added. Israel
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac),
's pro-Israel lobby, has made sanctions on Washington its number-one priority in recent months. "Iran is rapidly approaching the point of no return, and in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, concerted diplomatic and economic pressure must be imposed," Aipac spokesman Josh Block said. "Stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon should be a priority for anyone who is concerned about stability in the Iran Middle East."
Pro-Israel activists in
are pressing Congress to tighten American sanctions on Washington . On the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, Jewish community leaders in Iran urged world leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Russian Foreign Minister to act against New York . Reportedly U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who met Manmohan Singh at the behest of Israeli supporters expressed frustration with Tehran 's refusal to support American and European policy on India . Iran
The appeal to Singh — to support American and European efforts to bring the issue of anti-Iran sanctions before the United Nations Security Council — came after a meeting earlier this month between Jewish community leaders and Condoleezza Rice. At the meeting, Rice expressed frustration with
's refusal to support American and European policy on India . The assistant national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Kenneth Jacobson, who attended the meeting, reported that the result of the meeting with the Indian leader was disappointing. Singh "expressed a reluctance to rush towards the Security Council," Jacobson told the media. So what happened, when and how! Iran
The appeal to Singh — to support American and European efforts to bring the issue of anti-Iran sanctions before the United Nations Security Council — came after a meeting earlier this month between Jewish community leaders and Condoleezza Rice. At the meeting, Rice expressed frustration with
The US Congressmen were shown up what they are by the British labour MP, George Galloway, who was falsely accused by the US subcommittee of benefiting from UNSC controlled Food for Oil Program in Iraq, in which USA and UK played a decisive role .Galloway blasted his accusers to their face in the" lion's den ", from where most, instead of questioning him, escaped like jackals. Then also, because UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had described the
led invasion of US as illegal, a set of US lawmakers and corporate media hounds were let lose against him. If anything an investigation should be made against death of half a million Iraqi children as estimated by UN agency's own reports , making its administrators resign in disgust , because of inhuman implementation of the UN sanctions against Iraq under US and UK's behest .USA had even declared that whatever Iraq did it would not relent on sanctions . Iraq
And now one after another reports have leaked out as, not all Americans have lost sense of justice and legality about open loot of billions of dollars of Iraqi oil revenues, property of the Iraqi people. There has been little sense of justice and fair play left in recent
administrations. Some cheek they have to lecture US and others. India
But then equality and equity for Black and other non- WASP ( white Anglo-Saxon Protestants ) folks is not US polity's strong suit as is being exposed daily in New Orleans, Mississippi and Louisiana, where things have changed little over centuries. Much before English buccaneers across the seas helped evolve a colonial mentality (which still rules Tony Blair's psyche) or Jews had extended their stranglehold over the Anglo-Saxons, as has been made painfully evident since a century, the greatest English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare had laid bare Shylock's demand for his pound of flesh in the play "Merchant of Venice."
And what about non-resident Indians (NRIs) in the United States, a highly educated ,wealthy, influential and well organized community by now. There was a deafening silence when
announced supply of F-16s and other military aid to USA or Lantos tore into Pakistan to forsake its dignity and national interests. Do not expect much from the NRIs, although majority of them have left India only a generation or two ago, unlike the Jews who left India many millennium ago but remain loyal. The Hindu mind believes in self salvation and not in the salvation of the community as a whole, unlike the Buddhists, Muslims and Sikhs. The education of most of the NRIs was subsidized by poor Indian taxpayers, as it is almost free in its top rate educational institutes .It would have cost USA hundreds of billions of dollars to educate the same number of Americans, provided they could find such high-quality brains in science and technology .The majority belong to India's middle-class families, who saved and endured privations so that the select few could be educated in India's elite institutions. Palestine
Such an investment in
jargon would be called seed money or venture capitalism and normally bring back to the investor returns hundreds of time of investment. The author remembers petty and other businessmen of Indian origin in US Middle East and Africa, during 1960s and 1970s, who when approached for any symbolic contribution to 's cause after a war or other calamity, on seeing an Indian embassy personal, would close their shops and vanish. Mostly with two or three nationality passports, they would badger the Indian missions to get them out from some patently illegal transactions. Higher level of education is not likely to change self interest Hindu syndrome. India
The Vote against
While Venezuela expectedly opposed , even Brazil, Mexico and others like Algeria, , Nigeria, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Vietnam, and Yemen, and even Pakistan refused to side with US led campaign against Iran like another carried out against Iraq earlier, mostly concocted .They showed some spine and joined Russia and China and abstained.
India wants vote for its SC membership from Africa and the third world including Muslim countries and has its own Muslim population of 130 million , whose Shia numbers form the second largest community in the world after Iran's Shias , more than that of Iraq. It was the Shia community of Luck now, which has issued almost a fatwa against Americans being unwelcome in the wake of illegal invasion of
Throughout the existence of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), India rightly claimed that its terms for nuclear haves and have nots were like the apartheid policy of South Africa, both in support of its decision for not signing the NPT and then embarking on its weaponisation program , as the haves did not keep either to the spirit or the language of the Treaty .India has thus undermined its own key legal argument to justify its own nuclear program — that countries can only be held accountable for international agreements they sign.
The NPT gives
the right to pursue the nuclear fuel cycle as well as the right to build a heavy water reactor, subject to safeguards. The Additional Protocol which Iran signed specified the intrusive inspections. But the new resolution India voted for goes far beyond Iran's legal obligations ,thus India has agreed and a dangerous precedent which could be set up against it ," since this means the safeguards agreement and additional protocol India has committed to sign with the IAEA also one day need not be the final word on its legal obligations." Iran
The NPT gives
Sidharat Vardarajan underlined this in Hindu ,"The vote
cast in the IAEA Board of Governors (BoG) was in favour of a resolution finding India in "non-compliance" with its safeguards obligations under the NPT and expressing "the absence of confidence that Iran 's nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes. The finding is under two Articles, XII and III, of the IAEA Statute, both of which mandate referral of the matter to the Security Council. Unlike the referral under Article XII.C, which is more of a procedural nature, the referral under III B. 4 invokes the Security Council 's responsibilities for maintaining international peace and security and holds out a thinly veiled threat of sanctions and other punitive measures. " Iran
Indian claims that it is a compromise to delay further action till November and provides the time and space needed for dialogue and diplomacy to work is " a claim of extraordinary naivety and even double-speak. First, Saturday's resolution is more likely to close the door on dialogue than re-open it since it demands
to surrender even more of its rights under the NPT than ever before. Secondly, the Iran itself did not necessarily want an immediate referral because there is little practical significance to dragging U.S. before the UNSC where Iran and China would exercise their veto. What it really wanted was for the international community to recognise Russia 's civilian nuclear energy programme as a threat to international peace and security requiring potentially endless "special verification" inspections, which go far beyond that required under the normal safeguards agreement and Additional Protocol. Armed with this broad endorsement, Iran can now choose the time and place for the political — and even military — escalation that is surely in the offing." Has not Bush said time and again, all options ,including force , are on the table. Washington
must implement "transparency measures ... which extend beyond the formal requirements of the Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol." Calling Iran a "special verification case," the BoG said this requires an expansion in the "limited" legal authority of the IAEA to conduct inspections. Specifically, this must include "access to individuals, documentation relating to procurement, dual use equipment, certain military owned workshops and research and development locations." Would it become "an Inspection Raj of the UNSCOM/UNMOVIC type, which, even after physically checking every possible location in Iran several times over, never had the ability to say Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction . The resolution's demand for access to individuals is also a bit rich, considering that the source of the technology Iran is suspected of possessing — A.Q. Khan — is sitting pretty in Pakistan," ( And would continue , because if he is ever investigated it will only bring out Western world's and China's complicity in his proliferations) Baghdad
This resolution also makes Iran's voluntary, non-legally binding undertaking into a legally binding commitment. Thirdly, the resolution says
must "reconsider the construction of a research reactor moderated by heavy water." This is a new and illegal demand that did not figure in the last Iran August 11 , 2005 , resolution." It represents as in case of a further shifting of the goalpost. Iraq
The US approach, with countries like Ecuador, Peru, Ghana, and Singapore apart from poodle Tony Blair's UK and somewhat reluctant France and Germany has been a colonial, neo imperial attitude. Yes, NPT is our law .The natives and the colonized or the blacks at home must accept it as we interpret it. In one stroke,
has lost the prestige and standing in the world. Indian policy makers do not realize how to utilize the power of democratically elected representatives of over one billion people .This moral and political power is being frittered away, as in the past too. If India says boo, then it is a voice of one billion people. India
The more you give in the more US will demand .If you bend they will ask you to crawl. US can see how
can be shouted and frightened into submission, it will see how much more it can bully and blackmail India . No wonder India was delighted. U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns called USA 's surrender to bullying as "a blow to India 's attempt to turn this into a developed world versus developing world debate." Iran
Indian Government's tame defense of its decision;
Foreign Secretary Shyam Sharan was reduced to stutter that the compromise on the vote was, "On balance, in terms of the major preoccupations that we had, we felt that the resolution took care of those preoccupations." (What so ever that might mean) The Foreign Ministry's statement added, "In our explanation of the vote we had clearly expressed our opposition to
being declared as non-compliant with its safeguards agreements. Nor do we agree that the current situation could constitute a threat to international peace and security." Iran
In Washington Indian Ambassador Ronen Sen put up a brave front "Just for a moment take geo-politics out of the equation.[ Really Ronnie!] Oil and gas are finite resources. Nuclear energy is not," explained Ronen Sen, "Cutting edge research in nuclear sciences and non-conventional energy like fuel cell and bio-fuels is not taking place in
or Iran ." Saudi Arabia
"Every major hydrocarbon resource is some distance from
and poses great challenges and difficulties in bringing it home," argued Sen, suggesting that the nuclear energy route was an urgent calling. India produces a measly 3400 MW of nuclear power, which is 3 per cent of its overall production, embarrassingly short of the 10 ,000 MW set by DAE, and cruelly bereft of the 20 , 000 to 44 , 000 MW, its nuclear founding fathers Homi Bhabha and Vikram Sarabhai envisaged. Not very convincing! Especially with a whimsical and unreliable India establishment. Heard of Tarapore! US
Stung by the criticism from its ally, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met with the Left leaders for 75 minutes on Wednesday morning to explain the rationale behind the vote. But the Left leaders were not satisfied.
BJP leader Yeshwant Sinha and former foreign Minister accused
of becoming a client state of India . But his predecessor Jaswant Singh, who had long discussions with American diplomat Strobe Talbott, after USA 's 1998 nuclear weaponisation and brought about normalization in the relations said 'It is unbecoming of the government to hide behind officials when the decision is fundamentally political.' India
The ruling Congress party's retort that Bharatiya Janata party led coalition did not consult or brief the nation before nuclear tests or embarking on India Pakistan peace process is absurd. In fact the statement by the spokesman of the Congress party after the May 1998 nuclear tests that what was the hurry was certainly "dense".
During Bill Clinton era , BJP was selling the US line that what India needed was US investment , signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) was only to satisfy some lobbies in the establishment .Fortunately the Republican party killed the CTBT .
Another expert , hanging by US coat tails for becoming a big power, said "Dismiss such arguments and ask instead, does
want to become a big power? Do you want to go up? Then, you can't vote for a country ( India ) which intends to make bombs in your neighbourhood," says an official in the national security apparatus. Iran
expert argues, "How can Pakistan afford to have two Islamic countries with nuclear bombs in its neighbourhood?" In the British imparted theory that all Muslims are against Hindus, such dense experts cannot comprehend that since long Shia Iran and Sunni Pakistan have been at logger heads i.e. in Afghanistan. Iran can be India 's economic and strategic ally against India . Tell it to Hindustan types. Pakistan
Tehran response has been measured and well structured, with its newly elected President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad , with little exposure to foreign audience and media earlier coming out very well in spite of the usual Western cacophony to demonize any one , who is not with them ( during the Cold war India was not with them ) . The emphasis was primarily to tell
's domestic audience that everything was firmly under control of President Ahmedinejad. Iran
President Ahmadinejad told a cabinet meeting that the resolution was 'politically motivated' and was at the behest of 'certain big powers.' He also rejected any demands on
's nuclear program beyond the obligations and commitments undertaken by Iran under existing international treaties and agreements. Iran
He added that
's reaction would be based on 'reason, patience and perseverance.' This "should assure the international community that Tehran would not resort to any knee-jerk, theatrical moves but would remain logical and conciliatory even while firmly asserting its legitimate rights as a sovereign country and its national dignity and national interests. "It was also a pointer directed at Iran 's domestic audience that this was an issue that was not of the stuff of polemics but of extreme gravity demanding patient professional handling which should not lend itself to public grandstanding. " Iran
He reposed his faith in Iranian diplomacy as the best instrument of handling this issue. This was a signal to the international community that
would focus on diplomatic means– " lest there be confusing signals as to the authoritative voices to be heeded in Iran . It was aimed at dispelling any misconceptions in domestic public opinion that the resolution signified any professional failure or inadequacies on the part of the Iranian foreign ministry or the National Security Council. " Tehran
Then came statements by the chief of the Iranian judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Ali Larjani, and the official spokesman of the Iranian foreign ministry, Hamid-Reza Asefi.
In a press conference in Tehran on Tuesday Ali Larijani ruled out any likelihood of Iran shutting down the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan as demanded by the resolution, while reaffirming Iran's continued adherence to the NPT and the Additional Protocol (despite some radical demands by members of Majlis that Iran should jettison such commitments).
'We will not make any hasty decision. Majlis will examine the MPs' proposal to suspend the Additional Protocol. For the present, nothing has been decided. Of course, our reaction will depend on what the Europeans do next,' he said.
Larijani added that the resolution did not mean that
's nuclear issue was being referred to the UN Security Council, but expressed unease that an 'atmosphere of ambiguity' had been created. Iran , he warned, could not be expected to give in to 'extortion.' Iran
He felt that the European powers or the
would not take the extreme step of referring the matter to the UN Security Council as it would have serious consequences for regional stability. Instability in the region will hurt Western countries, because of US 's capability to influence the situation in Iran , Iraq West Asia, the oil market, and on other issues.
He regretted the
position (although demonstrations have been allowed in front of British Embassy in Tehran) adding that 'what the UK did in the IAEA Board was contrary to the outcome of our talks with them.' Basically Larijani said that UK was ready to go back to the negotiating table with the EU- 3( Iran , Britain and France). The Iranians have survived Arabs, Turks, Mongols, British and Americans and know how to handle them all. Germany
Larijani expressed disappointment and a sense of hurt rather than anger at
's vote with India . He said: ' USA was our friend. We did not expect India to do so. (But) I believe that friends should not be judged by a single action. India enjoys friendly relations with Iran . Of course, we have complaints about their behavior.' The Iranian embassy in New Delhi denied reports in the Indian media that Indian- Iranian cooperation in the energy sector would be affected following the Indian vote. India
and Pakistan ; Turkey
After 911 , when afraid of Pakistan's nukes falling into Jihadi hands , USA gave Hobson's choice to Pakistani strong man Gen Pervez Musharraf , who became an ally against terror .But before that when the Pakistanis were treated with disdain , like a short tough lecture visit by US President Bill Clinton to Islamabad ,after 4 days stay in India , Pakistanis complained that after using Pakistan as French letter to enter Afghanistan, USA had thrown it away .However , with a more focused and planned policy , with a better understanding of strategic changes , Pakistan has now USA running in circles and on a wild goose chase for Osama bin Laden , Taleban leadership and its members .
The relationship between Nato allies
and USA erupted into a full blown crisis on Turkey March 1 , 2003 when the Turkish parliament rejected a government resolution to allow the to use Turkish territory as a base to open a second front in north US . In any case, the parliament vote was simply a reflection of strong public opposition to the war in Iraq . Polls showed that 90 percent of Turks were opposed to a war against Muslim Iraq, perhaps the only traditional friend among neighbors. Turkey
Matters were made worse by what the Turks felt was American bullying during negotiations over the terms of the proposed deal and its patronizing and sometimes scurrilous coverage in the
media. US had offered an aid package of US$ 15 billion, which could have been leveraged into loans worth $ 26 billion. But the terms and conditions of the proposed agreement were unclear and the Washington attitude was brash. US
Soon after the sudden collapse of Iraqi resistance at the gates of
on April 9 , neo-conservatives embedded in the Pentagon and elsewhere came down heavily on Baghdad for its March refusal. The first tongue lashing after " Turkey Mission accomplished " came from Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz, ( now President of the World Bank) who asked to admit to its mistake and take remedial measures. He was harsh on the Turkish armed forces, berating them for not pressurizing parliament harder to vote for the resolution and not "playing the strong leadership role that we would expect". Others in Turkey conveyed the same insulting message, albeit a bit more politely. Washington
Turkish leaders rebuffed Wolfowitz's criticism. "
, from the very beginning, never made any mistakes, and has taken all the necessary steps in all sincerity," said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayep Erdogan. Government spokesman Cemil Cicek said that the Turkey should have admitted its mistakes because US had not fully kept its promises to Washington , which cost it tens of billions in US dollars, in return for its cooperation in the 1991 Gulf War. Deniz Baykal, leader of the opposition Republican People's Party (RPP) in parliament, said, " Turkey is a democratic country and everybody who appreciates the functioning of true democracy should respect this." Barring some, the Turkish media gave hell to Turkey . USA
Soon after the sudden collapse of Iraqi resistance at the gates of
Turkish leaders rebuffed Wolfowitz's criticism. "
The guerillas of Marxist Kurdish Workers party (PKK), in
's banned list remain free in north USA under Iraq control. In spite of written and oral promises to Turkey they have not been eliminated or brought under control .They now openly carry out terrorist acts inside Turkey .Something like terror groups in Pakistan , which carry out attacks in Kashmir and India. US
To some extent one can blame Indian media, which remains as introverted as its polity, little noticing the geopolitical changes taking place in the world. An Indian minister after the end of the 1975 – 77 emergency rule said that the Indian media, when asked to bend, crawled. Many are swayed and almost brainwashed by temptations offered by US and other countries .They just repeat and reiterate the position of US media which is nothing but the propaganda arm of corporate interests, whose nominees carry out instructions in
To a large extent the fault lies with the Indian political system which is getting more and more fractured and reduced to a system where leaders with 10 or 15 members of Parliament, without even a concept of national policy, forget about international affairs, decide on formation of governments and its policies... Commentators like Prem Shankar Jha bemoaned during Indian Prime Minister's visit to Washington , how the Indian media took little notice of the coming Iran vote, something which would not only affect the international strategic equations but India too. Little notice has been taken of
and Russia combining together with the Central Asian states and stopping rampaging US led West in China and Uzbekistan . Kyrgyzstan has agreed to dismantle its base K 2 in USA . Uzbekistan is creating obstacles for US base and Kyrgyzstan is moving in. In these days of long range missiles, their capitals Russia and Bishkek by air are closer to Tashkent then is Chennai, still not the southernmost extremity of Delhi . Instead the media and country is fully absorbed in the stand-off between Indian cricket captain and the Australian coach. This is no way India is going to ever become "Mera Bharat Mahan aka "My Great India " India
(K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to
and Turkey in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Azerbaijan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Jordan and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies, in Bucharest. Romania
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
America's place in the world shifted, few Americans noticed it- The Economist
Post USSR Collapse, Western inroads into Eurasia Rolled Back to Syria
Truth about Sarin Gas, Rebels used it in Ghouta
To a student of history , who has served in Cairo and Algiers ( 1960s ) ,in Paris (1970s) and Bucharest (1980s) , ten years in Turkey ( 1969-73 and 1992 to 1998 ) , with a ringside view in Amman ( 1989-92) of 1991 US led coalition war on Saddam Hussain over Kuwait and posts in Baku ( on the Caspian ) and lectures and travel in central and west Asia , the sudden end of the US- Russian standoff with naval armadas and other military hardware on alert and in attendance , the quickly choreographed solution with US Sec of State John Kerry's public offer of forgoing a US attack on Syria which itself was not clearly defined and, lo and behold an immediate positive response by Syrian foreign minister Muallam, who conveniently happened to be in Moscow besides Russian FM Lavrov , would remain a moment of historic turn around perhaps , perhaps like the turnaround of the Ottoman troops twice from the gates of Vienna in 16th century .
To a skeptic diplomat and political analyst , it appeared to be a done deal , when under pressure from US hawks and military-industry complex , Obama drew a red line last year of ban on use of Chemical weapons by Syria against anyone including rebels .The weapons are an insurance against at least a hundred Israeli nukes and other WMDs .Let us see what alternative Russia provides for Syrian security since keeping its military profile and presence in Syria , renewed in 2005 during Bashar Assad's visit to Moscow is matter of strategic life and death for Russia.
It may be recalled that soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, under a naive Gorbachov and a drunk or drugged Yeltsin, U.S.-led West sent in a large number of so-called experts on capitalism, democracy and globalisation and transferred from half to one trillion dollars from the former Soviet Union territory to banks and other organisations in the West, in the process creating seven oligarchs in Russia out of which six were Jews. Some of them have left Russia and one who wanted to take over the country is in prison in Siberia.
Under the pretext of war against terror, following the September 11 attacks on the US symbols of power, Washington obtained rights to place its military aircraft and troops in Central Asian states like Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan and Tajikistan in order to occupy strategic points in the region to threaten the countries of the region including Russia and China.
Then it began the process of encroachment on the Russian near abroad by organising what I call US franchised Street revolutions for regime change to bring in pro- Washington rulers. It got rid of Milosevic in Serbia after having destroyed multiethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious Yugoslavia. Without proper medical aid Milosevic died as a result of a biased ICC ruling. US also succeeded in changing the Presidents in Georgia and also in Kyrgyzstan but it failed in Belarus .It also succeeded in Ukraine although the election remained contested. When US tried a rebellion in Uzbekistan, its ruler Islam Karimov expelled US military aircrafts and troops from its base there. Since then the position of Georgia ruler has been weakened with a new parliament opposed to him. When Georgia encouraged by USA and Israel tried to snatch some disputed territory from Russia, it was punished very severely. Situation in Ukraine is still in flux although it's totally pro-US Pres was removed, because of enticement by the NATO and European Union. Ukraine is the home of the concept of Russian nationhood and eastern part is populated by Russian speaking Ukrainians, with Russia's Caspian and Mediterranean fleets anchored there.
I had written a number of articles on these franchised revolutions, which are given below;
Articles by Mr. K. Gajendra Singh from Security Research Review-(Volume 1(4) August 2005)
- After Non-Franchised Andean Uprising East Closes Ranks
- Baku-Cayman Pipeline: Another East-West Fault line
- Central Asian Backlash Against US Franchised Revolutions
- Contribution of Turkic Languages in the Evolution and Development of Hindustani Languages
- Georgia in Turmoil: A Gambit in the Eurasian Great Game
- Strategic Chess Moves across Eurasia
- Ukraine: Another Key Stage in East-West Strategic Battle
Western attempts to take over Central Asian states resulted in the strengthening of Songhai Corporation Organization (SCO), which warned NATO by organizing military drills and execises.
During the last few weeks I've been to various TV channels and have been pleasantly surprised that Doordarshan and Parliament channels are much more open and free from bias than India's so-called main corporate channels which are pro-American on foreign affairs . During one of the discussions, one participant claimed that if USA attacked Syria, Russia will make a lot of noise and do nothing. Another participant said that what Russia can do when its GDP is almost that of India's GDP. The differences in the nuclear and missile assets. It is because of such assets that US dare not attack North Korea.
Below are three interesting and important articles related to use of Sarin gas, which it appears now was clearly used by Al Qaeda related or other extremist groups and perhaps supplied by Saudi Arabia or brought over from Libya after the destruction of the state by USA ,Britain and France and Italy .Libya has been damaged almost completely. There's no rule of law. A year ago the American Amb Stevens and three of his aides were killed in Benghazi by terrorist groups .Libya's oil was the main attraction for the Western powers, its production has been reduced to one fifth. Before the bombing of Libya reportedly 5000 people had been killed but since then it is reported that almost 100,000 Libyans have died and there is complete chaos. Weapons supplied by West and paid for by the Gulf oil monarchies and stolen from Libya's military stores have brought about mayhem and chaos in neighboring countries like Mali, Algeria and an even beyond. Such is the result of humanitarian intervention which British, French and US leaders with support from Turkey Jordan and GCC countries wanted to bring about in Syria.
K.Gajendra Singh 24 Sept., 2013, Mayur Vihar, Delhi-91.
PS.The world should be thankful to The Economist and New York Times for good and honest journalism in this case .
America, Russia and Syria
Style and substance
It may not look like it, but Barack Obama's presidency is tied to Syria
Sep 21st 2013 | | London Economist
LIKE a poolside daydream, Barack Obama's plan to get Congress to authorise the use of force in Syria, announced during the Labour Day holiday, did not survive two weeks back at work. Before a deal was struck on September 14th between John Kerry, the secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, it looked unlikely that the president would get the votes he needed in the House of Representatives and doubtful that he would succeed in the Senate. In narrow political terms, Russia rescued Mr Obama from the thing that presidents fear even more than hurricanes, sex scandals and economic collapse: impotence.
If this was a moment when America's place in the world shifted, few Americans noticed it. At a Tea Party meeting in northern Virginia on September 16th there was talk of defunding Obamacare, of constitution readings and of the sanctity of property rights. One woman told a story about how government bureaucrats had shut down a birthday party she had hosted for some eight year-olds and also interfered with her freedom to hollow out pumpkins. Nobody mentioned Syria.
This forgetfulness is widely shared. With the government facing a partial shutdown at the end of the month unless a budget is passed, most politicians are busy thinking through the permutations of yet another round of fiscal negotiations. "The economy is like a house fire," says David Winston, a pollster who advises Republican leaders in the House. "There may be some other things wrong with the building, like a broken window or some bad wiring, but the blaze on the roof is what you really notice." Yet for all this hurry to move on to the next fight, Mr Obama's presidency is now tied to what happens in Syria.
It is hard to find anyone outside the White House who admires the way the president has handled the crisis. But some are prepared to extend a little understanding. For two years Mr Obama was harangued by hawks and humanitarians for not acting. Then, when a blatant and horrific chemical-weapons attack on August 21st made him change his mind, he found that American support for military action in Syria was much weaker than it had previously appeared.
Mr Obama misread Congress. He worked hard to persuade both parties that America should punish Syria's president, Bashar Assad, for breaking the laws of war. But lawmakers found his plan unconvincing. The administration said both that the proposed strike would be big enough to degrade Syria's military capability and that it would be "unbelievably small".
Finally, he ended up outsourcing policymaking to Russia, which seized on a throwaway remark made by Mr Kerry—that missile strikes might be averted if Syria handed over all its chemical weapons—and turned it overnight into the administration's policy.
In Mr Obama's telling none of this matters. "Folks here in Washington like to grade on style," he told ABC news. "'I'm much more concerned about getting the policy right." Polls suggest that Mr Obama is in tune with the country. A survey by the Pew Research Centre found that two-thirds of Americans support the president's decision to delay missile strikes, even though only a quarter think Syria will actually give up its weapons.
However, the positive approval ratings on foreign affairs that Mr Obama had enjoyed since the start of his presidency have now disappeared. In 2009 66% of Americans approved of the way he handled foreign policy and only 28% disapproved. Now it is 40% for and 57% against. Launching missiles in the Middle East might have made those numbers even worse, though.
For now, the president's position on Syria appears comfortable. But what happens if Syria fails to stick to the deal? Then, argues Jeremy Shapiro, a former state department official now at the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, America will find itself in a repeat of the game of cat-and-mouse played between weapons inspectors and Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi dictator, between 1992 and 2002.
Time to play "hunt-the-WMD" again
That game was characterised by frequent showdowns that mostly stopped short of the use of force. American officials who lived through this experience (some of whom are now in senior positions) hated it, he says, but it actually worked quite well. "If you have to sacrifice the mental health of a few mid-level officials in the US government then so be it." If the Assad regime uses chemical weapons again then Mr Obama will be back where he began, counting votes in Congress to see if he can launch a missile strike that he has already deemed to be necessary.
Uncertainty over what happens next is spreading to other areas of Middle-East policy. David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who runs the Institute for Science and International Security, a think-tank, says that people are wondering whether the president has put himself in a position where any military action against Iran's nuclear programme would now have to be authorised by Congress first. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which would no doubt be alarmed if this were the case, is keeping quiet.
All American presidents suffer from competing expectations in foreign policy. Voters do not generally want them to attack foreigners. Yet they do want them to look like they are in charge and to use American power to solve problems that other countries cannot. Where Mr Obama has initiated the use of force, he has thus far been lucky: the raid to kill Osama bin Laden did just that. But he will need a lot more luck to get the result he wants in Syria, for he has just given up most of what small amount of control he once had.
Gas Missiles 'Were NOT Sold to Syria'
Export papers seem to back Assad's denial over sarin attack – but Russians won't go into detail
By Robert Fisk
Export papers seem to back Assad's denial over sarin attack – but Russians won't go into detail
By Robert Fisk
September 22, 2013 "Information Clearing House - "The Independent" - While the Assad regime in Damascus has denied responsibility for the sarin gas missiles that killed around 1,400 Syrians in the suburb of Ghouta on 21 August, information is now circulating in the city that Russia's new "evidence" about the attack includes the dates of export of the specific rockets used and – more importantly – the countries to which they were originally sold. They were apparently manufactured in the Soviet Union in 1967 and sold by Moscow to three Arab countries, Yemen, Egypt and Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's Libya. These details cannot be verified in documents, and Vladimir Putin has not revealed the reasons why he told Barack Obama that he knows Assad's army did not fire the sarin missiles; but if the information is correct – and it is believed to have come from Moscow – Russia did not sell this particular batch of chemical munitions to Syria.
Since Gaddafi's fall in 2011, vast quantities of his abandoned Soviet-made arms have fallen into the hands of rebel groups and al-Qa'ida-affiliated insurgents. Many were later found in Mali, some in Algeria and a vast amount in Sinai. The Syrians have long claimed that a substantial amount of Soviet-made weaponry has made its way from Libya into the hands of rebels in the country's civil war with the help of Qatar – which supported the Libyan rebels against Gaddafi and now pays for arms shipments to Syrian insurgents.
There is no doubt that Syria has a substantial chemical weapons armoury. Nor that Syrian stockpiles contain large amounts of sarin gas 122mm missiles. But if the Russians have indeed been able to identify the specific missile markings on fragments found in Ghouta – and if these are from munitions never exported to Syria – the Assad regime will boast its innocence has been proven.
In a country – indeed a world – where propaganda is more influential than truth, discovering the origin of the chemicals that suffocated so many Syrians a month ago is an investigation fraught with journalistic perils. Reporters sending dispatches from rebel-held parts of Syria are accused by the Assad regime of consorting with terrorists. Journalists reporting from the government side of Syria's front lines are regularly accused of mouthing the regime's propaganda. And even if the Assad regime was not responsible for the 21 August attacks, its forces have committed war crimes aplenty over the past two years. Torture, massacre, the bombardment of civilian targets have long been proved.
Nevertheless, it also has to be said that grave doubts are being expressed by the UN and other international organisations in Damascus that the sarin gas missiles were fired by Assad's army. While these international employees cannot be identified, some of them were in Damascus on 21 August and asked a series of questions to which no one has yet supplied an answer. Why, for example, would Syria wait until the UN inspectors were ensconced in Damascus on 18 August before using sarin gas little more than two days later – and only four miles from the hotel in which the UN had just checked in? Having thus presented the UN with evidence of the use of sarin – which the inspectors quickly acquired at the scene – the Assad regime, if guilty, would surely have realised that a military attack would be staged by Western nations.
As it is, Syria is now due to lose its entire strategic long-term chemical defences against a nuclear-armed Israel – because, if Western leaders are to be believed, it wanted to fire just seven missiles almost a half century old at a rebel suburb in which only 300 of the 1,400 victims (if the rebels themselves are to be believed) were fighters. As one Western NGO put it yesterday: "if Assad really wanted to use sarin gas, why for God's sake, did he wait for two years and then when the UN was actually on the ground to investigate?"
The Russians, of course, have made similar denials of Assad's responsibility for sarin attacks before. When at least 26 Syrians died of sarin poisoning in Khan al-Assal on 19 March – one of the reasons why the UN inspectors were dispatched to Syria last month – Moscow again accused the rebels of responsibility. The Russians later presented the UN with a 100-page report containing its "evidence". Like Putin's evidence about the 21 August attacks, however, it has not been revealed.
A witness who was with Syrian troops of the army's 4th Division on 21 August – a former Special Forces officer considered a reliable source – said he saw no evidence of gas shells being fired, even though he was in one of the suburbs, Moadamiya, which was a target for sarin. He does recall the soldiers expressing concern when they saw the first YouTube images of suffocating civilians – not out of sympathy, but because they feared they would have to fight amid clouds of poison.
"It would perhaps be going beyond conspiracy theories to say the government was not involved," one Syrian journalist said last week, "but we are sure the rebels have got sarin. They would need foreigners to teach them how to fire it. Or is there a 'third force' which we don't know about? If the West needed an excuse to attack Syria, they got it right on time, in the right place, and in front of the UN inspectors."
A Nun Lends a Voice of Skepticism on the Use of Poison Gas by Syria
Andrea Bruce for The New York Times
By BEN HUBBARD
Published: September 21, 2013
ADONIS, Lebanon — When Russia's foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, wanted to bolster his argument that rebels had carried out the poison gas attacks near Damascus on Aug. 21, he pointed to the work of a 61-year-old Lebanese-born nun who had concluded that the horrifying videos showing hundreds of dead and choking victims, including many children, had been fabricated ahead of time to provide a pretext for foreign intervention.
"Mr. Lavrov is an intelligent person," said the nun, Mother Agnes Mariam of the Cross, with a wide smile in a recent interview in this Lebanese mountain town. "He will never stick his name to someone who is saying stupidities."
Mother Agnes, who had lived in Syria for years, has no expertise or training in chemical weapons forensics or filmmaking, and although she was in Damascus at the time of the attacks, she did not visit the sites or interview victims. Still, her assertions — she does not say which side made the videos — have significantly raised her once modest profile as the longtime superior of the Monastery of St. James the Mutilated, a Melkite Greek Catholic monastery in central Syria.
Now, she is lauded by supporters of Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, for championing narratives that resemble his own, and vilified by opposition activists who suspect the government supports her work as an unofficial ambassador.
International rights groups see Mr. Lavrov's reference to the work of an untrained nun as a sign of desperation.
"The fact that the Russian government is relying on this woman's assessment of what happened just shows the lack of evidence for their case," said Lama Fakih, a Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch. "She is not a military expert."
There are other shadows around Mother Agnes. She has helped foreign journalists obtain visas, suggesting trust by the government. The widow and two colleagues of Gilles Jacquier, a French journalist killed in Homs last year, published a book in which they suggest that she conspired in a lethal trap set by the government.
She has sued them for libel, denied any link to the government and has not spoken out in support of Mr. Assad himself. She criticized Syria for its occupation of Lebanon that ended in 2005 and said that government helicopters had struck near the St. James monastery three times, causing damage. Her only interest, she said, is what is best for Syrians — she said that would be for outside powers not to interfere so that Syrians could solve their problems.
"It is not politics," she said. "This is humanitarian."
She refused to say who she thought had made the videos she called fakes, or who she thought had carried out the attacks. "I cannot incriminate, and I won't incriminate," she said. But she suspects that some of the children in the videos had been abducted by fighters from Al Qaeda in Alawite villages more than 150 miles away — a view also voiced by Syrian officials.
In a baggy brown habit, a white wimple, a black veil and rubber sandals, with a large cross around her neck, Mother Agnes described a devout life that until recently had stayed away from Middle East politics.
Born Marie Fadia Laham in Beirut, she was educated by French nuns. The death of her father when she was 15 left her asking "existential questions."
"This led me to become a hippie," she said with a grin.
She fell in with foreigners who came to Lebanon for the drugs — "Lebanese marijuana is the best in the world," she said — and traveled to India and Tibet before returning to religion. At 19, she said, she became a nun in the Carmelite order, where she spent the next 22 years. Much of that was consumed by Lebanon's 15-year civil war, during which she aided displaced families, she said.
She eventually moved to Syria, becoming the superior at the St. James monastery and overseeing a community of 3 monks and 12 nuns in the town of Qara in the Homs diocese.
The uprising that began in Syria in 2011 trickled into the monastery at first through stories told by Muslim laborers, Mother Agnes said. But she became more immersed later that year when she began her own research.
Through conversations with Syrians and clergy throughout the country, she said, she uncovered "the false flag of the Arab Spring." Instead of a popular uprising by citizens enraged by economic stagnation and political oppression, she said, she found a conspiracy cooked up by international powers to destroy Syria.
She said the government's brutal crackdowns on peaceful protesters had been concocted by the news media, and she dismissed the slow transformation of the opposition movement into an armed uprising, saying the rebels had rushed to violence. While allowing that some protesters had good intentions, she said the conflict was driven by foreign powers, including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda. She pointed to Syria's current situation, with more than 100,000 dead, bitter sectarian tensions and jihadists taking over swaths of territory, as proof that she was right all along.
"What happened is the interference of half the globe in Syrian affairs, infiltrating Syria with foreign fighters, recycling Al Qaeda and putting under threat the civilian population," she said, adding that the world had failed Syria. "We are here, and we didn't achieve anything. We destroyed Syria."
She has paid a price for speaking out. This year, rebels near the monastery warned her that extremist fighters wanted to abduct her, and helped her flee, she said. She had not returned.
After the chemical attacks last month, she said, she locked herself in a hotel room in Geneva and pored over videos of the dead on her computer, sleeping only in short spurts and subsisting on water. "It was like a descent into hell," she recalled. She said she had submitted her findings to foreign diplomats and officials with the United Nations Human Rights Council in a 50-page report that pointed out what she considered inconsistencies in the videos, and asked why there were few images of women and burials. Mr. Lavrov cited her a few days later.
Her work has also won her acclaim with Mr. Assad's supporters. Many of them are in Syria's Christian minority, which makes up 10 percent of the population and has mostly stayed out of the war. Many fear that a victory by the predominately Sunni opposition would leave them with no place in the country, and have cast their lot with Mr. Assad.
"She is a patriot, she loves Syria and Christianity, she stands tall and is never afraid to tell the truth," said a 30-year-old Christian woman reached by phone in Damascus who gave only her first name, Alissar, for security reasons.
But Sid Ahmed Hammouche, a Swiss reporter who helped write the book accusing Mother Agnes of complicity in his colleague's death, sees her differently. "She defends the regime and plays the Christian card," he said. "We know very well that Bashar wanted to play the Christian card, and he still does."
Aurelien Breeden contributed reporting from Paris, Andrew Roth from Moscow, and an employee of The New York Times from Beirut, Lebanon.