January 27, 2012

From the Other Media: What Path Are We Going to Follow


From the Other Media: What Path Are We Going to Follow To improve its economy, Iran should avoid moving in the path trodden during the past two decades. Mohsen Rezaee.

Twenty-three years ago, when war with Saddam Hussein finally came to an end, I asked myself this question: is our challenge with the West finally over, or is it going to resume? But for me, the more consequential question was that in case of resumption, what form would it take?. It did not take long to find the answer to both questions: our challenge with the West would go on, in both the economic and cultural domains.

The Reconstruction Era

Immediately after the end of the war, the reconstruction venture was initiated, and my friends and I [in the Revolutionary Guards] rendered full-scale assistance to the government. Hundreds of highways, dams and bridges were constructed across the country; but I found out that our economy would not reach a desirable point, even if thousands of projects were accomplished. The Iranian economy’s problems could not be solved with the prescribed models of Reza Shah (1), Hashemi Rafsanjani, Khatami or Ahmadinejad.

I was thinking then what would happen if we failed in our economic endeavor and faced an economic war afterwards. Such worries encouraged me to return to the university and change my major from mechanical engineering in the Iranian University of Science and Technology to economic studies in the University of Tehran, so that I could be of more effective help to the country’s officials.

Thanks to the détente policy [of Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami], the economic war was deferred for years; nonetheless, I was still engrossed with Iran's economic plans. I saw how South Korean workers and Indian physicians were leaving Iran, as the economies of their own countries were outpacing ours. It did not take long before the corrupt culture and value system of the Pahlavi regime –either rooted out or oppressed by the Islamic Revolution- resurfaced. It was not the time for me to stay in the Sepah anymore. I left the organization [in 1997], but to date, I have been unable to achieve what we had, with support from revolutionary forces, in the domains of security and defense [during the 8-year war with Iraq]. Following the ouster of revolutionary groups from administrative affairs, citizens were also all but barred from politics. Even during the heyday of the “civil society” discourse [in Khatami's era], citizens were merely engaged in politics. But this is no time to rake up the old arguments. So let’s get to the core of the issue:

What should be done?

Today, despite sixteen years of détente policy, an economic war between Tehran and Washington has broken out. As the third confrontation between Iran and the West, this war began its development in the days of George W. Bush, and moved on to a more adverse pitch during Obama's tenure, particularly since two years ago.

After a four-year moratorium, Iran’s political establishment and the Supreme Leadership picked up the gauntlet and inaugurated an era of proactive, resistance-based policy via Ahmadinejad's administration, after a period of endurance. In this struggle, both Iran and the US have pressed each other for compromise, though Iran has –inadvertently- helped the Americans by self-boycotting itself economically [by sidelining the citizens], and inflicting harm on itself politically.

Despite all the squandered opportunities, the Iranian nation has yet the chance to come out of this war as the victorious side, provided that the officials and political parties dispense with their sweet dreams and think of a strategic plan. This plan should zero in on certain objectives including:

1. An economic leap, sustained employment and the eradication of unemployment;
2. Neutralization of the economic war and the West’s sanctions;
3. Reinforcement of ties with the Islamic Awakening movement and the new regimes coming to power in the region;
4. Active, constructive and effective diplomacy.

This strategy, however, calls for returning citizens back onto the stage. Problems will pile up as long as reconstruction and economic war remain out of the citizens’ zone of activity. The state of gold and foreign exchange markets that we are witnessing today is just a product [of our economic conduct], impossible to be cured by short-lived painkillers. It has been twenty years now that except for politics, citizens have been sidelined in economic and cultural domains. Two possible means to return citizens to the scene are worth pondering:

1. The first model follows what took place in South Korea, China and Japan: administration of economic affairs is assigned to a seven-man strong team. This team should be qualified for carrying out this transformation, and should have a viable plan.

2. The second model patterns itself on Iranians’ participation during the Islamic Revolution and the Sacred Defense [against Saddam Hussein’s invasion.] This model calls for a genuine, not cosmetic, economic jihad and the return of the spirit of devotion instead of power- or wealth-mongering.

I want to know which model Iranian statesmen are willing to adopt, since there lies no benefit in following the methods applied during the past two decades, however effective they were in their own time.

(1) The first monarch of the Pahlavi dynasty who followed an authoritarian model of modernizing Iran.

* Mohsen Rezaee is former chief commander of IRGC and the current Secretary of the Council of Expediency Discernment, where he serves as Hashemi Rafsanjani’s aide. He holds a doctorate degree in economics from the University of Tehran. This piece was originally published in Persian on Rezaee’s official website.

23 Monday January 2012 13:28

Taliban diplomats arrive in Qatar

By Ben Farmer, Kabul9:00PM GMT 26 Jan 2012

A team of senior Taliban diplomats has arrived in Qatar in preparation for the opening of a political office to host negotiations between America, the insurgents and the Afghan government.

The envoys from the former regime have assembled in the past month and the first tentative talks could begin within weeks according to former Taliban officials now part of Hamid Karzai's peace council.

A Taliban declaration earlier this month that the movement would open an office "to come to an understanding with other nations" is seen as the most significant political breakthrough in ten years of conflict.

The delegation was apparently granted safe passage to the Gulf state despite several members still being on a United Nations' sanctions blacklist banning international travel.

It includes Tayeb Agha, former secretary to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, who has acted as go-between with American and German diplomats for more than a year.
He is joined by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a former deputy foreign minister, and Shahabuddin Delawar, a former envoy to Riyadh, according to Mohammed Qalamuddin.

Mr Qalamuddin, once chief of the Taliban's "vice and virtue" police, told The Daily Telegraph the envoys were all well-educated, fluent in English and considered moderate, but committed to the movement.

He suggested all had travelled with the knowledge of Nato and the United States, though added Taliban figures were also able to flout travel sanctions easily by using counterfeit passports.

Abdul Hakim Mujahid, deputy leader of the peace council and the Taliban's envoy to the UN at the time of the September 11 attacks, said one of his secretaries from New York, Sohail Shaheen, was also in Qatar.

The delegation was completed by Hafiz Aziz Rahman, the Taliban's third secretary in Abu Dhabi before 2001, who has lived in Qatar for several years.
"He played a very important role in this process," said Mr Mujahid. "They have all moved there," he added.

Western sources confirmed the men were believed to be either in Qatar, or heading there, and the delegation made a "plausible" negotiating team.

Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, would not comment on the names, but confirmed a "preliminary" delegation was in Qatar.

Diplomats in Kabul have stressed the office is not finally agreed and any resulting talks would likely take years, but have expressed cautious optimism that it may pave the way to a peace process.

By opening the movement to face-to-face scrutiny, they argue it will force the Taliban to articulate their demands and make it harder for them to continue an indiscriminate bombing campaign.

However deep mistrust remains on all sides.Marc Grossman, American special envoy to the region, this week said during a visit to Kabul that he wanted clear statements from the Taliban that they had distanced themselves from international terrorism and were committed to a political settlement.

Others fear the Taliban still calculate they can defeat Nato by simply waiting for troops to withdraw. They argue the office is a ploy to buy time, or that it will only be used for fund-raising in the Gulf.

Davood Moradian, professor of political science at the American University of Afghanistan and a former aide to Mr Karzai, said the West and Afghans "had scored three own goals" by agreeing to it.

"We have given them political space, we have provided them with another source of funding and undermined the anti-Taliban forces," he said.

Mr Karzai's inner circle are suspicious the office is an American attempt to cut a secret deal behind their backs and Kabul withdrew its ambassador to Doha in protest at the lack of consultation.

The Taliban also doubt America is genuine about negotiation, Mr Mujahid said, and have demanded the release of five senior leaders from Guantanamo Bay as a confidence-building measure.

Bloodshed is likely to continue even if the office opens as both Nato and the militants first continue their military campaigns to try and strengthen their bargaining positions.Mr Mujahid said: "I think this is natural. Each side will try to show their superiority on the battlefield. This is the nature of the battlefield and the conflict, that each side try and show itself stronger."

January 26, 2012

The West’s All-Out Economic War on Iran

IRD discusses toughening sanctions against Iran in an interview with Head of the World Trade Center of Iran


The age of wars on battlefields is over. In the last decade, the US and its European allies instigated two unfruitful wars against Iraq and Afghanistan, leading them to apprehend their wars’ ineffectiveness. “Soft” wars like cyber attacks as well as economic and political sanctions have found a special place in the American creed.

Due to its nuclear program, Iran has been subject to economic sanctions both from the East and the West. Nevertheless, during the last year Tehran has seen even tougher sanctions that could be interpreted as a form of invisible war on the country. IRD discusses the problem with Mohammad-Reza Sabzalipour:

IRD: Since its establishment, the Islamic Republic of Iran relentlessly faced sections imposed by Western countries. In your opinion, how are the recent sanctions different from before? And can we agree that the recent sanctions have taken a new form?

MS: Yes. Since its establishment, due to differences between the Islamic Revolution of Iran and the US, the Senate has passed laws on sanctions on Iran that were approved and signed by US presidents. Since then, this has turned into a routine event and every year sanctions get reapproved and re-signed by members of the US government.

During the past couple of years however, particularly in recent months, new differences between the two countries resulted in unprecedented sanctions and resolutions from the US, Europe and even the UN Security Council. By taking a closer look and a careful analysis of the flow of recent events, we discover new realities and hidden agendas within the recent sanctions imposed on Iran.

Closely considering the events that have taken place during the past 30 years regarding Iran, I personally believe what really has occurred are not sanctions but political and economic pressures from the US on Iran. These pressures were solely a sign of US unfriendliness and anger toward Iran.

The majority of Iran’s high-level political figures however, agree that foreign pressure on Iran did not significantly delay Iran’s economic and political growth, and in a way it is a blessing in disguise as it reinforces Iran’s independence, industrial innovation, and growth. Even throughout the Iran-Iraq War sanctions did not greatly affect the average person’s livelihood. Therefore, pressures were not notable and would not be mentioned in Iranian media more than once or twice a month.

I believe pressures on Iran could be put into two phases:

The first phase is from the beginning of the Islamic Revolution until close to the end of Bush’s presidency in 2009.

The second phase began 3 years ago following the events that took place after Iran’s presidential elections, which intensified Iran’s problems with the West. Since then conflict and misunderstanding between Iran and the West has picked up pace, becoming bigger, similar to a snowball effect.

Therefore, I can say with conviction that an all-out war against Iran is currently taking place that is disguised in the form of sanctions, which makes us simply overlook it and not notice it as much as a real war.

IRD: Therefore you believe the word “sanctions” diverts attention from what actually is taking place?

MS: Yes. If we label recent pressures as “sanctions” then we must consider previous boycotts simply as mild difficulties. Conversely, if we deem that we were facing sanctions during the past 30 years, then what is currently happening is nothing short of an all out economic war on Iran.

Unfortunately many politicians in Iran still view a war as military expedition with guns, missiles and casualties. Modern warfare has changed form; one form of which is economic war. It is now possible to weaken a country to its breaking point without declaring military action; followed by cyber attacks to paralyze a whole nation.

Economic war on Iran began about 2 years ago and has been intensified in the past few months by the international community which finds it even more fatal than physical military action against the country. You can clearly differentiate between the two different phases of Western pressure on Iran that have had profound effects on the country.

IRD: What are the main differences between the old and new sanctions on Iran?

During what I call phase one, or mild sanctions, Iran still was not facing many restrictions. To give you a few clear examples, except with Israel, Iran previously had economic and financial relations with almost every country in the world including the US. American business firms actually took part in fairs and exhibitions in Iran. The majority of the world’s oil companies operated in Iran. Most international airlines flew to Iran and no person or company was directly sanctioned and could freely travel to anywhere in the world and do business.

Currently however, the pressure has increased to the point that most dealings are not possible anymore: namely, currency and banking restrictions; the oil embargo, sanctions on specific people and companies as well as restrictions on international financial investment in the oil and other industries. I believe this will give you an idea of the severity of the recent pressures. We cannot simply take the current situation lightly as an aftermath of sanctions on Iran.

IRD: What is Iran’s approach in the face of sanctions?

As I have mentioned before, I firmly believe that these conflicts will eventually resolve themselves even if it takes a century. Similarly, there are countries that have solved deep and timeworn issues between themselves after years of conflicts and wars.

It is in Iran’s interest to swiftly solve current political turmoil through diplomacy and dialogue to avoid wasting so much energy and tens of billions of dollars on sustaining the running dispute. In a practical strategy to halt sanctions, Iran could turn to diplomacy and avoid harsh rhetoric and slogans. Additionally, Iran has to be more realistic and avoid making statements that could cause further stress and irritation. Moreover, Iran could prevent making impractical threats. It could avoid division within Iran’s central government, and having only one official spokesperson who announces the country’s official position on different issues. Otherwise, the country will continue to struggle with little progress.

IRD: Who are Iran’s current trading partners? Could the West also put pressure on these partners?

Not many countries are currently willing to do any type of trade with Iran. The ones that still have economic ties with Iran are Russia, India, China, Vietnam, a number of South American countries, as well as some minor relations with Belarus and Syria. Except for two or three of the named countries, the rest suffer from weak economies where in this relationship they’re more dependent on Iran than the other way around.

There is no doubt that the West will also put the named countries under pressure to cut economic relations with Iran. The US will do all it can to increase pressure, even on its own allies, in order to push Iran further into isolation. Whether these countries will yield under pressure to change tactics and policies is not known. But everyone has a price, and different things have different melting points. And every government puts its own interests first.

In their mission to introduce division between Iran and its partners, the West will resort to any possible tactic. While pressure might work on some countries, others will respond to financial or other incentives. Two of Iran’s biggest partners are China and Russia. During the past years Russia has proven to be an unreliable friend to Iran.

Including Russia in the World Trade Organization (WTO) has been a valuable gift to Russia from the West; now only time can tell what they want in return from Russia. Currently, the West is also in negotiations with China to untie it from its links to Iran in its campaign against us.

IRD: The UAE is regarded as a gateway to many of Iran’s business interactions. Do you predict any divergences in the two countries’ relations?

As I mentioned before, every government put its interests first. While the UAE’s businesses relations with Iran have been significant for both sides, if a better opportunity arises from recent events, the UAE will not hesitate to take advantage of it.

Of course we’ve experienced alteration in countries’ relations, especially during the past few days following some issues. Iran faced some delays in opening credit in UAE’s financial centers; a problem that was immediately solved after swift interventions of some Iranian officials.

Therefore, Iran has to be cautious to avoid using provocative language that could cause a separation between the UAE and Iran.

*Mohammad-Reza Sabzalipour is the head of Iran World Trade Center

The Beach Boys: Surfing U.....MVs (Unmanned Maritime Vehicles)

Contributor: Andrew Elwell
Posted: 01/23/2012 12:00:00 AM EST
SOURCE: Defence IQ

Liquid Robotics Inc. is a Sunnyvale, California-based company that has developed the Wave Glider, a self-propelled and continuous Unmanned Maritime Vehicle (UMV). Bill Vass, President and CEO at Liquid Robotics, recently spoke with Defence IQ to discuss the company’s technology and how it can be utilised for military applications.

The company’s Wave Glider uses wave and solar energy to power itself for long periods of time, with some deployments having lasted years at a time.

“Our big innovation is converting the vertical motion of a wave directly into forward thrust … all the other autonomous platforms out there use their energy to move; we get our movement for free and we use all our energy to do computing and sensing,” Vass said.

The Wave Glider can be used for a range of different missions, but primarily the technology is a sensing platform.

“It can be used for battlespace softening … it can be used for protecting a fleet by listening for submarines or torpedoes, it can be used for anti-mine, it can be used for obviously reconnaissance, for providing security for specific areas, to patrol a specific location and provide an alarm if an acoustic, video or radar event occurs,”
Vass explained.

The company is currently working with a number of customers in the military space and the sector accounts for a significant part of its revenue. Looking ahead, Vass expects countries Like Canada and India to increase their reliance on autonomous vehicles to enhance border security.

“Any country like Canada that has a small Navy and a large shoreline, or Australia or New Zealand or India or South Africa, are all great targets for us … it’s a lot cheaper having robots patrolling your coastline than it is to have ships, from an economic perspective they can have many more points of presence at a much lower cost.”
And in this era of budget cuts, cost, along with operational efficiency, will be a big selling point for Liquid Robotics. “We don’t need a support vessel to do long range missions over very large distances for long periods of time,” said Vass. He continued, “Robots don’t get bored, they do the same course over and over again 24 hours a day 365 days a year, they don’t care about bad weather.”

The rise and rise of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is patent for everyone to see. According to a Congressional Research Service report produced earlier this month, 31% of all U.S. military aircraft are now UAVs; in 2005 this was just 5%. Asked if the UMV could go the same way, Vass was unequivocal.

“Yes, I definitely think so, in fact I see them being the same sort of size market and them working together in the future,” said Vass. But there was a caveat: “Cultural changes have to occur in the military both for the aerial vehicles and surface and sub-surface vehicles to be widely accepted.”

Vass expects the Wave Glider to be a useful addition to the Navy’s fleet, one that can be used in combination with other ships, such as offshore patrol vessels.
“It’s always going to be in conjunction with ships like offshore patrol vessels … if you have a country like New Zealand you’d have to have hundreds of ships out there to ensure proper coastline coverage but you could have hundreds of robots at a much lower cost. The robots will pick things up and then you’d have high-speed patrol boats come along to investigate further, so I think they’d work as a team in the future.”

The company is still small, but it’s growing fast and has some weighty backers. Not least is Vass himself who has a significant government and military background. “I was the Chief Information Officer for the Pentagon and responsible for all the software systems for the Department of Defense and before that I was the Chief Technology Officer for the Army for their personnel systems,” he said. Previously, Vass was also President and COO of Sun Microsystems Federal and Chief Security Officer for Sun IT. In addition, the company's strategic advisory board includes, among others: Marv Langston, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, USDOD and former Deputy Secretary of the Navy, Space and Electronic Warfare; Albert Baciocco, Vice Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.); former Commander Submarine Group SIX, former Chief of Naval Research and former Director of Navy RDT&E; as well as Archie Clemins, Admiral, U.S. Navy (ret.), the former Commander in Chief, United States Pacific Fleet.
The company has a solid base to grow from, but how does Vass see the technology evolving in the military sector?

“There are a number of areas where we see future growth and future development. One is to build a larger Wave Glider with the ability to travel as fast as 20 knots for a period of time with a huge amount of power generation from wave and sun energy generation … I’m talking about a four tonne unit that can carry lots of platforms. The other area that we’re doing research on is a deep-diving Wave Glider, you can imagine them operating in fleets where there are five of them on the surface recharging while one is deep-diving 3,000 metres below. Quick deployment versions, things that can be launched in the operating space quickly either from air or other types of sea deployment are other areas we’re also working on.”

Vass concluded, “If we get the right funding in place, diving Wave Gliders and larger platform Wave Gliders could do a whole range of the Navy’s required mission areas.”

Who are the most central members of the China’s leadership as we enter 2012?

As the United States gears up for what appears to be a long and grueling 2012 presidential campaign, China will also undergo its decennial turnover in presidential power in 2012. Unlike the United States, however, this shift will not involve any campaigning or voting—at least not with the people of China. Instead, this shift is one that is formalized within he Chinese Communist party; but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be interesting shifts and reallocations of power.

This leads naturally to many questions; perhaps most importantly that of this post’s title: Who are the most central members of the China’s leadership as we enter 2012?


Germany begins cutting troops in Afghanistan

Germany is already taking hundreds of troops out of Afghanistan


The German parliament is starting to lower the number of soldiers stationed in Afghanistan. Two years ahead of the planned complete withdrawal of troops, many questions remain unresolved.

One thing is certain: by the end of 2014, international combat troops are supposed to be completely pulled out of Afghanistan. Germany's Bundeswehr is therefore already reducing the ceiling of its mandate from the current 5,350 to 4,900 soldiers. The extended mandate, which the German parliament, the Bundestag, will finalize on Thursday, will be valid until January 2013.

Johannes Pflug, spokesman for the "Task Force Afghanistan/Pakistan" in the Social Democrats' parliamentary group, does not believe that the deployment of German soldiers will be completed at that time.

"We want our combat troops to have left Afghanistan by 2013/2014," Pflug said. "But I assume that we will see at least two more extensions of the mandate."

The German government's goal is to reduce the number of German soldiers to 4,400 by
January 2013. Whether this will be successful is also dependent on how the security situation in Afghanistan continues to develop.

Crucial security training

International troops are intensely training Afghan security forces

There are a number of clear priorities derived from the international community's withdrawal plans by 2014 that apply to the German deployment. In the remaining period, the Bundeswehr is supposed to speed up the development of Afghan security forces and help them to limit the Taliban's mobility as much as possible.

In total, NATO wants to train 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police. But the killing of four French troops by an Afghan soldier last week shows how massive the problems can be in the process. According to a report in the New York Times, Afghan security forces killed 58 soldiers of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the period between May 2007 and May 2011 alone.

The military training of the ANA, the Afghan national army, is only one side of the story. The soldiers also want to be paid. Figures show how dependent the army is on western funds and support: in 2012 alone, Afghanistan received eight billion euros ($10.4 billion) for troop training. But even after 2014, the military costs are estimated to reach at least six billion euros a year. If the United States and other donor countries reduce their financing as planned, a situation could develop that could leave over 100,000 of these security forces unemployed, said Pflug. This is an enormous risk.

"You don't need a vivid imagination to envision what would happen if they all run over to the other side," he said.

A dwindling economic factor

Timo Christians, Afghanistan expert for the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe, said he believes that the Afghan economy will experience an economic shock after international forces withdraw. The withdrawal, he said, would have serious implications for security policy.

"Also, the income source 'international community' will significantly decline in the next few years," Christians said. "That will not remain without consequences."

The Welthungerhilfe, which has been active in Afghanistan since 1992, wants to remain involved in the country beyond 2014. It is focusing its work on food security projects in the northern and eastern regions of the country. This involvement is not affected by the planned withdrawal of the Bundeswehr.

However, the aid workers do expect that the conflict will intensify after foreign troops pull out. In addition, there will also be fewer contracts for the Afghan economy.

"Old and new divides will open up because everyone will have to come to terms with the lesser resources available," Christians said. "Everyone is positioning themselves for the day that the foreign troops leave the country."

Diplomatic support from Germany

The extension of the Bundeswehr mandate puts the deployment in its 11th year. In the meantime, hardly anyone still believes in a military solution. In the US, but also in Germany, great hope is being placed in negotiations with the Taliban. Western diplomats consider the opening of a liaison office for the Taliban in the Qatari capital of Doha a positive signal - especially since President Hamid Karzai has meanwhile grudgingly given up his resistance to talks with the Taliban.

Negotiations with the Taliban are considered the only solution

"That took some doing," said Pflug and points out the significant role which the German special representative Michael Steiner played in the process.

With the liaison office, Qatar wants to become the leading mediator in the conflict between the West and the Taliban. But for a successful course of negotiations, Afghanistan's direct neighbor Pakistan plays an even more significant role.

"Nothing will work without Pakistan," Pflug said. He said he hopes that China, which played "a very constructive role" at the Afghanistan Conference in Bonn in December, will exert pressure accordingly on its ally. Pakistan boycotted the Bonn conference after a deadly NATO air strike killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in November.

Difficult negotiations

The negotiations with the Taliban will also deal with constitutional issues, for example women's rights. The right to unhindered schooling for girls is a thorn in the Taliban's side, but essential for the West. Everything that has been achieved in Afghanistan so far, however, is by no means only being put into question by the Taliban, said Christians.

"The current people in power are also putting many freedoms and human rights under pressure," he said.

An entirely different question will be who specifically will take part in the negotiations.
For example: who will be representing Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader living in exile who has been repeatedly declared dead, but who still controls many Taliban-related activities.

One option is the Taliban representative Tayeb Agha, with whom the German intelligence service BND has established contact. Participation by the longtime Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar is also disputed. Pflug said the Hizb-i-Islami leader - the perhaps most significant radical Islamic group after the Taliban - was an "evil war criminal."

But German parliamentary circles would be happy if negotiations even got off the ground in the near future. In fall 2013, Germany elects a new lower house of parliament. This could lead to higher hurdles for a renewal of the Bundeswehr mandate again, Pflug said.

"Extending the mandate has already not always gone smoothly until now and the new members of the Bundestag will find it very difficult, as well," he said.

Author: Daniel Scheschkewitz / sac
Editor: Rob Mudge