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Beating the drums of war early in 2013

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The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

The Algerian army has beefed up its positions on the border with war-torn Mali to prevent incursions by armed rebels fleeing north. Algeria, which had always opposed military intervention in Mali, was reluctantly drawn into the conflict when it agreed to let French warplanes use its airspace, and closed its 1,400-kilometre southern border shortly afterwards. Photo: Reuters

Little noticed by the world’s media, the Munich Security Conference has in 2013 has just concluded. Its organisers and sponsors call it “the major security policy conference worldwide”. In this year’s conference – attended by about 400 participants from nearly 90 countries – a speech was delivered by the Vice President of the USA, Joseph Biden.

Biden mixed deception with aggression. This is what he said about current conflict the USA is prosecuting:

Today, we’re in the process of turning the page on more than a decade of conflict following the September 11, 2001 attack, and we ended the war in Iraq responsibly. And together we’re responsibly drawing down in Afghanistan, and by the end of next year, the transition will be complete.”

And here is what Biden has threatened:

… we took the fight to core Al Qaeda in the FATA, we were cognizant of an evolving threat posed by affiliates like AQAP in Yemen, al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQI in Iraq and Syria and AQIM in North Africa.”

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

The USA is estimated to have from 700 to over 1,000 military bases of all kinds in the world.

At the Munich Security Conference leading political, military and defence industry representatives of the major powers, along with invited officials from other nations, met to discuss current and future military operations and geo-strategic issues.

That’s the sanitised version. The unsanitised version is plain to see in the speeches, such as Biden’s, and the statements. What this perverse gathering of war-mongers demonstrated is the consensus that exists among the countries of western Europe, amongst the USA and its allies, for an expanded political and military drive to install puppet governments and seize control of land, water and energy in the Middle East, in Central Asia and in the African continent. [See the map of US military bases, courtesy of the New Humanist.]

Biden in his speech revealed the growing darkness of widening conflict planned by this group:

As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment – it is is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations …”

And:

“The United States is taking difficult but critical steps to put ourselves on a sounder economic footing. And I might add, it’s never been a real good bet to bet against America.”

The American vice president then went on to allege that “Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation”.

Who in truth is responsible for that deprivation, what is the human cost of that designed deprivation and isolation?

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011.  Photo: White House

US Vice President Joe Biden in a helicopter over Kabul, Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2011. Photo: White House

Less than a week before this Munich Security Conference began, Iranian Mothers for Peace in an open letter to Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, and Margaret Chan, the Director General of the World Heath Organization, alerted them to the critical shortage of vital medication due to the US/EU-led sanctions on Iran and their deadly impact on the lives and health of the Iranian population.

Excerpts from the letter written by the Iranian Mothers for Peace:

Dear Dr. Margaret Chan
As you know, the illegal and inhumane actions led by the US and the EU, targeting the country and the population of Iran, with the stated intention to put pressure on the government of Iran, have intensified in the past two years and increasingly harsher sanctions are imposed almost on a monthly basis. The regulations governing these inhumane and arbitrary sanctions are executed with such strict inflexibility that Iran is now excluded from the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) and the sanctions on banking transactions are preventing Iran from even purchasing its needed medical supplies and instruments. On the other hand, to avoid suspicion for dealing with Iran, the European banks are fearful not to engage in any kind of financial transactions with Iran and, therefore, in practice, refuse any transfer of payment for medical and health-related items and raw materials needed for the production of domestic pharmaceutical drugs, even payment for well-recognized drugs for the treatment of Special Diseases, which are not of dual use.”

We ask you: What could possibly be the intended target of the wealthy and powerful US and European statesmen’s ‘targeted’ and ‘smart’ sanctions but to destroy the physical and psychological health of the population through the increase of disease and disability? The right to health and access to medical treatment and medication is one of the fundamental human rights anywhere in the world. Please do not allow the killing of our sick children, beloved families, and fellow Iranians from the lack of medicine, caught in instrumental policies of coercion and power.”

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

The Munich Security Conference 2013 in session,

Unheeding of the clamour for peace worldwide and blind to the appalling cost in life, the gathering of war-mongers in Munich listened to Biden:

“That’s why the United States applauds and stands with France and other partners in Mali, and why we are providing intelligence support, transportation for the French and African troops and refueling capability for French aircraft. The fight against AQIM may be far from America’s borders, but it is fundamentally in America’s interest.”

Representatives of the countries of western Europe – of the same governments bent on now impoverishing their own people just as surely as they have wreaked havoc in the countries of the South with neo-liberal mutations of the ‘structural adjustment’ doctrine of the 1980s – made clear that they were only too willing to participate in the re-colonialisation of the Middle East and North Africa in cooperation with the USA. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle and Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere stressed the importance of cooperation with the US and their support for the Western intervention in Syria, as well as the war in Mali.

Scholar Horace Campbell in his new book, ‘Global NATO and the Catastrophic Failure in Libya‘, has argued that the military organisation is the instrument through which the capitalist class of North America and Europe seeks to impose its political will on the rest of the world, “warped by the increasingly outmoded neoliberal form of capitalism”. The intervention in Libya, he said, characterised by bombing campaigns, military information operations, third party countries, and private contractors, exemplifies this new model.

At the time, they called it ‘humanitarian intervention’ in Libya, they tolerated suppression in Bahrain and Yemen, and then they supported civil war incitement and escalation of violence in Syria. The results have been: dangerous new urban geopolitics and the militarisation of city spaces as can be seen in Aleppo, Benghazi, Cairo and Manama; the privatisation of state violence through private security firms and mercenaries; the overuse of the democratic carrot and the economic sticks of debt, fiscal discipline, and international investment; the violence with which new forms of political and social participation, organisation, and representation (which include women, the unemployed, the urban poor) are met. This is the militarised world that has been described anew by the Biden speech.

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Iran’s oil, Europe’s oil imports, many threats, upward prices

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Iranian President Ahmadinejad punches the air in front of a banner of Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei during rally to mark the anniversary of Islamic Revolution in Tehran. With its threat to block the Strait of Hormuz, Iran is responding to the United States' decision to impose sanctions on financial institutions that deal with Iran's central bank. Photo: Der Spiegel / Reuters

The concern about the multi-bloc confrontation with Iran (the Islamic Republic of, to use the official name) has continued from December 2011 into January 2012. Oil prices and petroleum products markets have been affected. There have been oft-repeated and serious concerns that there could be some armed confrontation, especially involving Israel and Iran. There has also been speculation that Iran’s government would block the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a third of all crude oil shipped worldwide passes. Some of these concerns have abated in the last week, but only partially.

Now, Der Spiegel has reported that although the European Union embargo on Iranian oil will only come into effect in six months, the leadership in Tehran wants to act first: Exports to Europe are set to be halted immediately. It is a move which could mean added difficulties for struggling economies in southern Europe. The Iranian government wants to present a bill to parliament this weekend calling for an immediate halt to oil deliveries to Europe. The move, with most reports citing the Iranian news agency Mehr, has come about in response to the EU agreement to impose sanctions against Iran, which were announced earlier this week.

The sanctions banned any new contracts for buying oil from Iran, but allowed existing deals to continue until July in order to give countries time to find other sources. But that process is now at risk after the latest move from Tehran, a step the Iranian government had already threatened. “If this bill is passed, the government will be forced to stop selling oil to Europe before the actual implementation of their sanctions,” said Emad Hosseini, spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s energy commission, reportedly said. The bill is set to become law on Sunday.

An oil tanker is seen docked next to Iraq's vital al-Basra oil terminal, in Persian Gulf waters. Four decades after the 1973 oil shock, Iran and the West are once again embracing oil as a weapon. Tehran is threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz, while the industrialized countries are considering a boycott of Iranian oil. Photo: Der Spiegel / AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili

The EU sanctions allow for oil deliveries from Iran until July 1. Any pre-empting of this timescale by Tehran could prove problematic for countries like Italy, Greece and Spain, who would need to urgently find new suppliers. China, meanwhile, a major importer of Iranian oil, has also criticized the EU sanctions. The Xinhua news agency quoted the Chinese Foreign Ministry on Thursday as saying: “To blindly pressure and impose sanctions on Iran are not constructive approaches.” Many members of the EU are now heavily dependent on Iranian oil. Some 500,000 barrels arrive in Europe every day from Iran, with southern European countries consuming most of it. Greece is the most exposed, receiving a third of all its oil imports from Iran, but Italy too depends on Iran for 13 percent of its oil needs. If this source were to dry up abruptly, the economic conditions in the two struggling countries could become even worse.

Iran holds around 137 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, or nearly 10 percent of the world total, according to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011. Despite sitting on the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, Iran’s growing appetite for its own gas, combined with tightening international sanctions that have throttled its fledgling liquefied natural gas (LNG) programme, have made it a net gas importer for most of the last decade. Natural gas accounts for 54 percent of Iran’s total domestic energy consumption, while most of the remainder of energy consumption is attributable to oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

Graphic: Der Spiegel / Reuters

The Gloria Center’s Barry Rubin has said that the claim of Israel being about to attack Iran repeatedly appears in the media (see his article, ‘Israel Isn’t Going to Attack Iran and Neither Will the United States’). “Some have criticized Israel for attacking Iran and turning the Middle East into a cauldron of turmoil (not as if the region needs any help in that department) despite the fact that it hasn’t even happened,” he said. “On the surface, of course, there is apparent evidence for such a thesis. Israel has talked about attacking Iran and, objectively, one can make a case for such an operation. Yet any serious consideration of this scenario—based on actual research and real analysis rather than what the uninformed assemble in their own heads—is this: It isn’t going to happen.”

Rubin said that the main leak from the Israeli government, by an ex-intelligence official who hates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been that the Israeli government already decided not to attack Iran. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly denied plans for an imminent attack as have other senior government official. “Israel, like other countries, should be subject to rational analysis. Articles being written by others are being spun as saying Israel is going to attack when that’s not what they are saying.”

So why are Israelis talking about a potential attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, Rubin has asked. Because that’s the only way Israel has to pressure Western countries to work harder on the issue, to increase sanction and diplomatic efforts, is his answer.

A satellite image of the Persian Gulf. About a third of all the crude oil shipped worldwide passes through the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and Oman. Photo: Der Spiegel / DPA / NASA / The Visible Earth

Bloomberg provided a round-up of Iran-related oil and prices news – oil declined a second day in New York as rising U.S. crude inventories countered data showing gasoline demand increased last week in the world’s largest oil consumer. Futures fell as much as 0.9 percent after dropping 0.6 percent yesterday. Crude stockpiles probably rose last week as imports rebounded, according to a Bloomberg News survey before an Energy Department report today. U.S. gasoline demand grew for a second week, MasterCard Inc. data showed yesterday. The European Union embargo on Iranian oil supplies will “bear bitter fruit,” Iran’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said this week.

Ria Novosti, the Russian news agtency, quoting a CNN report, said the United States will use all available options to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Tuesday. “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” Obama said.

The New York Times reported that as the Obama administration and its European allies toughened economic sanctions against Iran on Monday — blocking its access to the world financial system and undermining its critical oil and gas industry — officials on both sides of the Atlantic acknowledge that their last-ditch effort has only a limited chance of persuading Tehran to abandon what the West fears is its pursuit of nuclear weapons. “That leaves open this critical question: And then what?”

Fox Business has reported that the International Monetary Fund warned on Wednesday that global crude prices could rise as much as 30 percent if Iran halts oil exports as a result of U.S. and European Union sanctions. If Iran halts exports to countries without offsets from other sources it would likely trigger an “initial” oil price jump of 20 to 30 percent, or about $20 to $30 a barrel, the IMF said in its first public comment on a possible Iranian oil supply disruption.

Graphic: Der Spiegel / Reuters

Impacts on refining in Europe was reported by Bloomberg – the European Union’s embargo on Iranian oil threatens to accelerate refinery closures in Europe, the head of Italy’s refiners’ lobby said. “Asian countries not applying the embargo could buy the Iranian oil at a discount and sell cheap refined products back to us,” Piero De Simone, general manager of Unione Petrolifera, said in an interview in Rome. “Italy already risks the closure of five refineries and at a European level we’re talking about 70 possible shut downs.”

Brinksmanship over Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz sparked a rally in oil prices at the end of last year, The National of UAE reported, with sabre-rattling by Iran and the US sending the price of Brent crude futures to highs of US$111.11 per barrel. Saudi Arabia looks set to benefit from sanctions against Iran as the kingdom is one of the few oil producers with capacity to make up any shortfall they will cause. Meanwhile India’s oil minister said Wednesday the energy-hungry nation was continuing to import oil from Iran and was not bound by new sanctions imposed by the European Union.

Reuters provided a factbox about Iran’s oil exports as OPEC’s second largest producer. Iran sells large volumes of oil to China, India, South Korea, Japan and Italy. But Greece, Turkey, South Africa and Sri Lanka rely most heavily on Iranian oil as a percentage of imports. Sri Lanka imported 39,000 bpd in the first half of the year, IEA data shows. It is completely reliant on Iranian oil.

EU figures show imports of Iranian crude were up more than 7% in the third quarter of 2011 compared to the second quarter. The EU says it imported about 700,000 bpd of Iranian crude oil in the third quarter of 2011, compared to about 655,000 bpd in the second quarter.

The European Union agreed on Jan. 23 to ban Iranian oil imports, but the embargo will not be fully implemented until July 1, to avoid harming economies to whom Iran has been a major supplier. The EU move follows new financial sanctions signed into law by U.S. President Barack Obama on Dec. 31, which aim to make it difficult for countries to buy Iranian oil in an attempt to discourage Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Iran produces about 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude with another 500,000 bpd of condensate – light hydrocarbon liquids. Iran exports about 2.6 million bpd, of which about 50,000 bpd is refined products, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates. The top 10 buyers of Iranian crude last year were as follows:

An Iranian oil technician makes his way at the oil separator facilities in Azadegan oil field, near Ahvaz, Iran. Photo: Der Spiegel / AP Photo/Vahid Salemi

Country – Imports (bpd) – % Imports
1. China – 543,000 – 10
2. India – 341,000 – 11
3. Japan – 251,000 – 5.9
4. Italy – 204,000 – 13.2
5. South Korea – 239,000 – 7.4
6. Turkey – 217,000 – 30.6
7. Spain – 170,000 – 16.2
8. Greece – 158,000 – 53.1
9. S.Africa – 98,000 – 25
10.France – 75,000 – 6.0

[Figures for EU countries are from the bloc’s Eurostat office and are for the third quarter. Figures for other OECD countries are from the IEA and for the second quarter. Figures for China, India and South Africa are for the first half of 2011 from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).]

Germany and Iran, a long-running hypocrisy reprised by the blocking of India’s oil payments to Tehran

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The German government has stopped the government from India from paying for oil, bought from Iran, through a German bank. This action has been explained by the German government as halting its dealings with Iran, which America, Germany’s Nato ally, has placed under an economic blockade for allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.

The extreme but characteristic hypocrisy of Germany with regard to countries of the Middle East has once again come to the fore with this action. Ever since the outbreak, in 1991, of the American invasion of Iraq, Germany’s private sector role in providing engineering and technical know-how to countries of the Middle East – specifically Iran, Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Libya – has been exposed. (America’s own complicity in arming, supporting and dealing with all manner of governments is too well-known.) More on the German hypocrisy follows after a brief description of the immediate action.

New media have today reported that India has agreed to stop paying for its Iranian oil imports via Germany. Payments to a Hamburg-based bank handling international trade with Iran had been halted. The Handelsblatt business daily has reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel had intervened by instructing Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, to stop clearing payments from India headed to the bank, known as EIH, which is under USA but not EU sanctions.

Reuters has reported that this action will end “a trade conduit that had drawn strong disapproval from the United States and Israel” and that “the decision was a result of consultations between Berlin and New Delhi, and not pressure from Chancellor Angela Merkel at home or abroad to disrupt the payment scheme”. The news bulletin has been picked up by a number of small and regional newspapers in the USA, going under the headline ‘Germany won’t funnel oil money from India to Iran’.

The initial response from India, according to a few early reports, is that India’s finance ministry is now considering routing its payment for Iranian oil through a European bank which is ‘more neutral’ than the European Iranian Trade bank (EIH). The Indian Express has said that so far, India has paid 1.5 billion euros through EIH to the Iranian central bank. The Indian Express quoted a finance ministry official as having said: “EIH can’t be a long-term solution. We are looking at banks in Europe where Iranian central bank has an account. We will also open an account with (that) bank. We will have to look for a neutral bank, which EIH is not.”

India depends on Iran for about 15% of its crude oil imports. Iran is India’s second-biggest oil supplier after Saudi Arabia. India had imported 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil from Iran in 2009-10 and about 178,000 bpd during April-September. India, Asia’s third-largest oil consumer, imports over two-thirds of its oil needs and depends heavily on volumes from the West Asia to power its economy. India and Iran have been negotiating for months on ways to resolve the payment deadlock on a long-term basis and salvage the trade, which is worth around US$12 billion annually.

So much for India’s oil dealings with Iran. What moral standing has Germany in such a matter? Let’s revisit the recent past to see what Germany’s current imperialist ally in Libya – the USA – has itself had to say on German interest in Middle Eastern and North African business opportunities.

Foreign energy in Libya. Map: Stratfor

Remember Rabta? This was reported to be the largest chemical weapons factory in the developing world, and in the 1990s it was estimated that the Rabta factory’s potential output was between 8.5 and 33 tons of mustard gas and nerve agent daily. The Rabta plant, about 65 km south of Tripoli, was seen as having been buit and operated with the assistance of western (i.e. from western Europe) companies. At the time, it was the USA which concluded that a West German company played a central role in the design and construction of the rabta plant. Ronald Reagan was US president then and Helmut Kohl the German chancellor. The company was Imhausen-Chemie, and both the company and the feckless German government of the day claimed that all it was doing at Rabta was making plastic bags.

Let’s turn to Germany and Iran. Germany has been intensely involved in the international effort to thwart Iran’s nuclear weapons development program. Yet, while Chancellor Merkel has vocally stated her opposition to Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon, Germany has continued to be Iran’s largest trading partner in the EU and – whatever shape the coalition government in Berlin has taken – it has been pro-business, favouring commercial ties over the West’s security interests – this is typical, after all, for the country that until last year was the world’s biggest expoert economy, business comes first, never mind who it’s done with and what it’s used for. Germany’s exports to Iran reached about US$426 million in September 2009, while its imports were about US$140 million. This has been reported by The Jerusalem Post (September 29, 2009) and by Tehran Times (December 17, 2009). Which are the major companies that have, with the full knowledge and encouragement of the German government, done business in and with Iran? Some of the best-known are Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, BASF, Bayer, Herrenknecht and MAN Ferrostahl.

It is tiresome to hear sanctimonoius claptrap about Germany’s replacement of the primitive nationalisms of the past with multilateral principles of an integrated Europe, as its lying and double-dealing officials assure the European Parliament and international fora every so often. The “forgetting of power” in the West German peace movements and in the political language of détente used by its over-intellectualised political commentators is plain rubbish, for what Germany does abroad is quite different from what it says at home in Europa.