October 10, 2014

Who is Richard Verma? 10 things you must know about the next US ambassador to India

 
President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Rahul 'Richard' Verma as the new US envoy to India, making him the first Indian American in that position
Tanmaya Nanda  |  Mumbai  September 19, 2014 Last Updated at 10:32 IST
 
 

He has been called the 'Most Influential Indian American Congressional aide' during his stint as Senior National Security Adviser to US Senate Majoirty leader Harry Reid. If things go according to plan, he could soon be called the 'most influential Indian-American in India'.
 
That's Rahul 'Richard' Verma, who US President Barack Obama nominated Thursday as that country's next ambassador to India, pending Senate approval.
 
The appointment is an important one – India has not had a full-time US Ambassador to India since May when Nancy Powell left New Delhi after resigning in March.
 
Verma's appointment can also been seen as a salve of sorts, after Powell's tumultuous tenure that included the Devyani Khobragade incident, which prompted swift retaliatory measures by the Indian government against the Embassy and the American School in New Delhi. The prolonged vacancy had also raised questions about the US' commitment to an Indo-US relationship that has been hailed as one of strategic importance to both nations.
 
It also comes just before Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves for the US on his first official visit later this month. This will be Modi's first US trip since his visa was last revoked in 2005 when he was chief minister of Gujarat for his alleged role in the 2002 communal riots in the state under his watch.
 
But who is Richard Verma? Here are 10 things you must know about the next US Ambassador to India
 
1) At one point of time, he was one of the highest ranked Indian Americans in the US Congress, serving as National Security and Foreign Policy Adviser to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who he also advised on the India-US Civilian Nuclear Energy deal, and ultimately convinced to back.
 
2) In that role, he acted as senior defense and foreign policy liaison to Senate committees, the office of the Speaker of the US House of Representatives and the White House. He was also the key liaison for communications and political advice to the Reid, various Committee chairmen and the Democratic Caucus
 
3)  During his tenure as National Security Adviser to Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, Rahul 'Richard' Verma was one of a handful of people who had Top Secret/Secure Compartmentalized Information security clearance, according to reports.
 
4)  In March 2009, US President Barack Obama hand-picked Verma to be Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs, making him the highest ranking Indian American in the administration. In that role, he served as the principal Congressional affairs advisor to then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. He stayed in that role until 2013.
 
5) He has served with distinction in the US Air Force, and has been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (1998), Air Force Commendation Medal (1996) and the National Defense Service Medal (1994).
 
6) He went to a private college on a scholarship form the US Air Force. He graduated with honours in Science in 1990 from Lehigh University in Bethelem, Pennsylvania. He later graduated cum laude in 1993 from the American University Law School, and later the Georgetown University Law Center, where he received his LLM with distinction in 1998.
 
7) In May 2008, Verma was appointed to the Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism in the last few months of the Bush administration. The Commission implements a key recommendation of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission and builds on the Congressional commitment to address the threat that proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses to the US.
 
8) Later, President-elect Obama's transition team asked him to stay on the Commission while he served on the Pentagon Agency Review Team overseeing the US Department of Defense, to which he was appointed as one of the leads.
 
9) He was awarded the State Department's Distinguished Service Award in 2013.
 
10) In June 2007, he was named as one of the 50 Most Influential Indian Americans in the United States by a leading community newspaper.

October 08, 2014

France Wrestles With Legal Issues Ahead of Mistral Decision

Russia and France signed a $1.6 billion deal for two Mistral-class ships in June 2011. The first carrier, the Vladivostok, was expected in Russia by the end of 2014. The second ship, the Sevastopol, was supposed to arrive in 2015.
The completion of a deal has been at risk since the West started implementing targeted economic sanctions against Russia over Ukrainian crisis. France has repeatedly threatened to suspend the deliveries of the ships.
Moscow stated that if the contact was cancelled, Paris would have to pay a large penalty. Russia has also said that if anything goes wrong, the country would be able to build an analogue to the Mistral by itself.


PARIS — France is expected to decide within the coming month whether to deliver a Mistral-class helicopter carrier to Russia, and the letter of the law looms large with officials examining the sale contract as they weigh the government's options, legal and defense specialists said.

Key to those determinations is whether the force majeure clause allows France to suspend and cancel the controversial contract, which calls for a hand over of the warship at the end of October or early November.

But one thing has become clear: President François Hollande's Sept. 6 statement on the eve of the NATO summit was widely misinterpreted as suspending the contract.

Hollande carefully avoided saying it was suspended, as that would have "called into question the contract," Jean-Pierre Maulny, deputy director of think tank Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégique. "It was a sensitive statement" aimed at keeping the contract intact and avoiding a claim for financial penalty, he said.

"It's not in suspension," a legal expert said. "The statement was pure politics."

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian corrected the record, saying on Sept. 9 at the Summer Defense University that there was no suspension and a decision would be made "at the end of October," daily Le Parisian reported.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius also said there was no suspension, and that delivering the Vladivostok — the first of two Mistral-class carriers purchased by Russia — hung on two conditions: The ceasefire in Ukraine be observed, and Kiev and Moscow reach a political settlement.

In Eastern Ukraine, at least 12 people were killed — including three civilians — as government forces and pro-Russian rebels fought in the region, The Associated Press reported on Sept. 29.

The civilians fell victim to shelling as the two sides fought for the government-held airport at Donetsk.

At Saint-Nazaire, work continues on the second Mistral ship — the Sevastapol — and Russian sailors continue to be trained on the Vladivostok, an industry executive said.

The deal with Russia is worth €1.2 billion (US $1.5 billion) and covers two helicopter carriers.

Even if the first ship were delivered, there is doubt the second would be handed over next year.

The force majeur clause in the sale contract is seen as a key factor in the search for options.

"Force majeure literally means 'greater force,' " reads the opening to the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) note published in 2003.

That greater force covers external reasons for canceling a delivery, with "war (whether declared or not), armed conflict or the serious threat of same…" leading the factors listed in the ICC note.

"Compliance with any law or governmental order…" is also listed.

If France decides against delivery, prime contractor DCNS could evoke force majeure on the grounds the interministerial commission for arms export had refused to grant the export license.

After 180 days — generally the suspension period — DCNS could cancel and would have to repay Russia for the ship. The two sides would then go to a tribunal to decide how the payment would be made.

A second legal expert said international contracts are often written under Swiss law, as neither side wanted the dispute to be judged in the other party's legal system.

Coface, the export credit guarantee agency, would cover part of the repayment, but the government would essentially cover the cost for DCNS. The shipbuilder is 65 percent state-owned.

"France would have to repay the full amount to Russia," the second expert said.

Russia lacks grounds to claim financial damages, the first expert said. There has been no breach of contract as the ship has been built on time and met specifications, the expert said.

Once bought back, France could hold onto or resell the ship if it could find a buyer.

The legal angle has attracted growing interest.

Rosoboronexport, the Russian state-owned arms export agency, has denied media reports it has asked lawyers to prepare a possible lawsuit against DCNS, Russian news agency Interfax-AVN reported on Oct. 2.

Force majeure fails to back up a suspension and cancellation of the Mistral contract, French lawyer Lilyane Anstett wrote in business daily Les Echos on Sept. 9.

Meanwhile, leasing out a bought-back vessel has been considered, as the Defense Ministry seeks solutions and looked at the British inflight tankers as an example, a defense specialist said.

In the case, the Airbus-led AirTanker consortium is supplying 14 A330M multirole tanker transport aircraft for use by the Royal Air Force in a deal spanning 27 years.

AirTanker has secured holiday organizer Thomas Cook as its first commercial customer for one of the jets, which will be leased for long-haul passenger flights in 2015.

The Mistral delivery decision will be made by Hollande, said Etienne de Durand, director of security studies at think-tank Institut des Relations Internationale.

"He's probably hanging on to the very last minute to decide. What's sure is France's lack of clarity managed to annoy both sides, the NATO allies and the Russians," he said.

"The decision that should have been made is suspension. In any case, it would have been better to make a decision and stick to it rather than to stay silent on the issue.

The government-backed Euronaval defense and maritime exhibition and conference will open on Oct. 27 in Le Bourget, France. By that point, the clock will be ticking loudly for a decision

Among the companies included in the full list of natural or legal persons, entities or bodies (Official Journal of the European Union) are:
JSC Sirius (optoelectronics for civil and military purposes);
OJSC Stankoinstrument (mechanical engineering for civil and military purposes);
OAO JSC Chemcomposite (materials for civil and military purposes);
JSC Kalashnikov (small arms);
JSC Tula Arms Plant (weapons systems);
NPK Technologii Maschinostrojenija (ammunition);
OAO Wysokototschnye Kompleksi (anti-aircraft and anti-tank systems);
OAO Almaz Antey (state-owned enterprise; arms, ammunition, research);
OAO NPO Bazalt (state-owned enterprise, production of machinery for the production of arms and ammunition);
List of persons, entities and bodies referred to in Article 5(2)(a);
OPK OBORONPROM;
UNITED AIRCRAFT CORPORATION;
URALVAGONZAVOD;
List of persons, entities and bodies referred to in Article 5(2)(b);
ROSNEFT;
TRANSNEFT;
GAZPROM NEFT.
EU travel bans and asset freezes were imposed on 24 more people, including senior Russian lawmakers and the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic .
A total of 24 people, including senior Russian lawmakers and the leadership of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, were added to the list of individuals facing EU travel bans and asset freezes.
Russian lawmakers on the sanctions list include Vladimir Zhirinovsky, an outspoken leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), Igor Lebedev, deputy speaker of the Russian State Duma, and Svetlana Zhurova, first deputy chairman of the State Duma foreign affairs committee.
Alexander Zakharchenko, who replaced Alexander Boroday last month as the prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, has been also targeted by the sanctions.
The full list of persons includes:
Alexander Zakharchenko - Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Vladimir Kononov -  Defense Minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Miroslav Rudenko - Commander of the Donbas People's Militia;
Gennadiy Tstypkalov - Prime Minister of the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic;
Andrey Pinchuk - State security minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Oleg Bereza - Internal affairs minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Andrei Rodrin - representative of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Aleksandr Karaman - Deputy Prime Minister for Social Issues of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic;
Georgiy Muradov - Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea;
Mikhail Sheremet - First Deputy Prime Minister of Crimea;
Yuri Vorobiov - Deputy Speaker of the Federation Council of Russia;
Vladimir Zhirinovsky - member of the State Duma;
Vladimir Vasilyev - Deputy Speaker of the State Duma;
Viktor Vodolatsky - Chairman of the Union of the Russian and Foreign Cossack Forces;
Leonid Kalashnikov - First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the State Duma;
Vladimir Nikitin - First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Relations with CIS Countries;
Oleg Lebedev - First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Relations with CIS Countries;
Ivan Melnikov - First Deputy Speaker of the State Duma;
Igor Lebedev - Deputy Speaker of the State Duma;
Nikolai Levichev - Deputy Speaker of the State Duma;
Svetlana Zhurova - First Deputy Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the State Duma;
Aleksey Naumets - Major-general of the Russian Army;
Sergey Chemezov - general director of the Russia state-own company Rostec;
Alexander Babakov - Chair of the State Duma Commission on Legislative Provisions for Development of the Military-Industrial Complex of Russia.
This brings the total number of individuals subject to sanctions to 119. A total of 23 entities remain under an asset freeze in the European Union.

October 07, 2014

Turkey, the Kurds and Iraq: The Prize and Peril of Kirkuk

 Geopolitical Weekly
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 7, 2014 - 03:00   
 
Stratfor
By Reva Bhalla

In June 1919, aboard an Allied warship en route to Paris, sat Damat Ferid Pasha, the Grand Vizier of a crumbling Ottoman Empire. The elderly statesman, donning an iconic red fez and boasting an impeccably groomed mustache, held in his hands a memorandum that he was to present to the Allied powers at the Quai d'Orsay. The negotiations on postwar reparations started five months earlier, but the Ottoman delegation was prepared to make the most of its tardy invitation to the talks. As he journeyed across the Mediterranean that summer toward the French shore, Damat Ferid mentally rehearsed the list of demands he would make to the Allied powers during his last-ditch effort to hold the empire together.

He began with a message, not of reproach, but of inculpability: "Gentlemen, I should not be bold enough to come before this High Assembly if I thought that the Ottoman people had incurred any responsibility in the war that has ravaged Europe and Asia with fire and sword." His speech was followed by an even more defiant memorandum, denouncing any attempt to redistribute Ottoman land to the Kurds, Greeks and Armenians, asserting: "In Asia, the Turkish lands are bounded on the south by the provinces of Mosul and Diyarbakir, as well as a part of Aleppo as far as the Mediterranean." When Damat Ferid's demands were presented in Paris, the Allies were in awe of the gall displayed by the Ottoman delegation. British Prime Minister David Lloyd George regarded the presentation as a "good joke," while U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said he had never seen anything more "stupid." They flatly rejected Damat Ferid's apparently misguided appeal -- declaring that the Turks were unfit to rule over other races, regardless of their common Muslim identity -- and told him and his delegation to leave. The Western powers then proceeded, through their own bickering, to divide the post-Ottoman spoils.

Under far different circumstances today, Ankara is again boldly appealing to the West to follow its lead in shaping policy in Turkey's volatile Muslim backyard. And again, Western powers are looking at Turkey with incredulity, waiting for Ankara to assume responsibility for the region by tackling the immediate threat of the Islamic State with whatever resources necessary, rather than pursuing a seemingly reckless strategy of toppling the Syrian government. Turkey's behavior can be perplexing and frustrating to Western leaders, but the country's combination of reticence in action and audacity in rhetoric can be traced back to many of the same issues that confronted Istanbul in 1919, beginning with the struggle over the territory of Mosul.

The Turkish Fight for Mosul

Under the Ottoman Empire, the Mosul vilayet stretched from Zakho in southeastern Anatolia down along the Tigris River through Dohuk, Arbil, Alqosh, Kirkuk, Tuz Khormato and Sulaimaniyah before butting up against the western slopes of the Zagros Mountains, which shape the border with Iran. This stretch of land, bridging the dry Arab steppes and the fertile mountain valleys in Iraqi Kurdistan, has been a locus of violence long before the Islamic State arrived. The area has been home to an evolving mix of Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Yazidis, Assyro-Chaldeans and Jews, while Turkish and Persian factions and the occasional Western power, whether operating under a flag or a corporate logo, continue to work in vain to eke out a demographic makeup that suits their interests.
 
 
At the time of the British negotiation with the Ottomans over the fate of the Mosul region, British officers touring the area wrote extensively about the ubiquity of the Turkish language, noting that "Turkish is spoken all along the high road in all localities of any importance." This fact formed part of Turkey's argument that the land should remain under Turkish sovereignty. Even after the 1923 signing of the Treaty of Lausanne, in which Turkey renounced its rights to Ottoman lands, the Turkish government still held out a claim to the Mosul region, fearful that the Brits would use Kurdish separatism to further weaken the Turkish state. Invoking the popular Wilsonian principle of self-determination, the Turkish government asserted to the League of Nations that most of the Kurds and Arabs inhabiting the area preferred to be part of Turkey anyway. The British countered by asserting that their interviews with locals revealed a prevailing preference to become part of the new British-ruled Kingdom of Iraq.

The Turks, in no shape to bargain with London and mired in a deep internal debate over whether Turkey should forego these lands and focus instead on the benefits of a downsized republic, lost the argument and were forced to renounce their claims to the Mosul territory in 1925. As far as the Brits and the French were concerned, the largely Kurdish territory would serve as a vital buffer space to prevent the Turks from eventually extending their reach from Asia Minor to territories in Mesopotamia, Syria and Armenia. But the fear of Turkish expansion was not the only factor informing the European strategy to keep northern Iraq out of Turkish hands.

The Oil Factor

Since the days of Herodotus and Nebuchadnezzar, there have been stories of eternal flames arising from the earth of Baba Gurgur near the town of Kirkuk. German explorer and cartographer Carsten Niebuhr wrote in the 18th century: "A place called Baba Gurgur is above all remarkable because the earth is so hot that eggs and meat can be boiled here." The flames were in fact produced by the natural gas and naphtha seeping through cracks in the rocks, betraying the vast quantities of crude oil lying beneath the surface. London wasted little time in calling on geologists from Venezuela, Mexico, Romania and Indochina to study the land and recommend sites for drilling. On Oct. 14, 1927, the fate of Kirkuk was sealed: A gusher rising 43 meters (around 140 feet) erupted from the earth, dousing the surrounding land with some 95,000 barrels of crude oil for 10 days before the well could be capped. With oil now part of the equation, the political situation in Kirkuk became all the more flammable.

The British mostly imported Sunni Arab tribesmen to work the oil fields, gradually reducing the Kurdish majority and weakening the influence of the Turkmen minority in the area. The Arabization project was given new energy when the Arab Baath Socialist Party came to power through a military coup in 1968. Arabic names were given to businesses, neighborhoods, schools and streets, while laws were adjusted to pressure Kurds to leave Kirkuk and transfer ownership of their homes and lands to Arabs. Eviction tactics turned ghastly in 1988 under Saddam Hussein's Anfal campaign, during which chemical weapons were employed against the Kurdish population. The Iraqi government continued with heavy-handed tactics to Arabize the territory until the collapse of the Baathist regime in 2003. Naturally, revenge was a primary goal as Kurdish factions worked quickly to repopulate the region with Kurds and drive the Arabs out.

Ethnic Composition of Kirkuk

Even as Kirkuk, its oil-rich fields and a belt of disputed territories stretching between Diyala and Nineveh provinces have remained officially under the jurisdiction of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the Kurdish leadership has sought to redraw the boundaries of Iraqi Kurdistan. After the Iraqi Kurdish region gained de facto autonomy with the creation of a no-fly zone in 1991 and then formally coalesced into the Kurdistan Regional Government after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Kurdish influence gradually expanded in the disputed areas. Kurdish representation increased through multi-ethnic political councils, facilitated by the security protection these communities received from the Kurdish peshmerga and by the promise of energy revenues, while Baghdad remained mired in its own problems. Formally annexing Kirkuk and parts of Nineveh and Diyala, part of the larger Kurdish strategy, would come in due time. Indeed, the expectation that legalities of the annexation process would soon be completed convinced a handful of foreign energy firms to sign contracts with the Kurdish authorities -- as opposed to Baghdad -- enabling the disputed territories to finally begin realizing the region's energy potential.

Then the unexpected happened: In June, the collapse of the Iraqi army in the north under the duress of the Islamic State left the Kirkuk fields wide open, allowing the Kurdish peshmerga to finally and fully occupy them. Though the Kurds now sit nervously on the prize, Baghdad, Iran, local Arabs and Turkmen and the Islamic State are eyeing these fields with a predatory gaze. At the same time, a motley force of Iran-backed Shiite militias, Kurdish militants and Sunni tribesmen are trying to flush the Islamic State out of the region in order to return to settling the question of where to draw the line on Kurdish autonomy. The Sunnis will undoubtedly demand a stake in the oil fields that the Kurds now control as repayment for turning on the Islamic State, guaranteeing a Kurdish-Sunni confrontation that Baghdad will surely exploit.

The Turkish Dilemma

The modern Turkish government is looking at Iraq and Syria in a way similar to how Damat Ferid did almost a century ago when he sought in Paris to maintain Turkish sovereignty over the region. From Ankara's point of view, the extension of a Turkish sphere of influence into neighboring Muslim lands is the antidote to weakening Iraqi and Syrian states. Even if Turkey no longer has direct control over these lands, it hopes to at least indirectly re-establish its will through select partners, whether a group of moderate Islamist forces in Syria or, in northern Iraq, a combination of Turkmen and Sunni factions, along with a Kurdish faction such as Kurdistan Regional Government President Massoud Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party. The United States may currently be focused on the Islamic State, but Turkey is looking years ahead at the mess that will likely remain. This is why Turkey is placing conditions on its involvement in the battle against the Islamic State: It is trying to convince the United States and its Sunni Arab coalition partners that it will inevitably be the power administering this region. Therefore, according to Ankara, all players must conform to its priorities, beginning with replacing Syria's Iran-backed Alawite government with a Sunni administration that will look first to Ankara for guidance.

However, the Turkish vision of the region simply does not fit the current reality and is earning Ankara more rebuke than respect from its neighbors and the West. The Kurds, in particular, will continue to form the Achilles' heel of Turkish policymaking.

In Syria, where the Islamic State is closing in on the city of Kobani on Turkey's border, Ankara is faced with the unsavory possibility that it will be drawn into a ground fight with a well-equipped insurgent force. Moreover, Turkey would be fighting on the same side as a variety of Kurdish separatists, including members of Turkey's Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Ankara has every interest in neutralizing.

Turkey faces the same dilemma in Iraq, where it may unwittingly back Kurdish separatists in its fight against the Islamic State. Just as critical, Turkey cannot be comfortable with the idea that Kirkuk is in the hands of the Iraqi Kurds unless Ankara is assured exclusive rights over that energy and the ability to extinguish any oil-fueled ambitions of Kurdish independence. But Turkey has competition. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is not willing make itself beholden to Turkey, as did Barzani's Kurdistan Democratic Party, while financial pressures continue to climb. Instead, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan is staying close to Iran and showing a preference to work with Baghdad. Meanwhile, local Arab and Turkmen resistance to Kurdish rule is rising, a factor that Baghdad and Iran will surely exploit as they work to dilute Kurdish authority by courting local officials in Kirkuk and Nineveh with promises of energy rights and autonomy.

This is the crowded battleground that Turkey knows well. A long and elaborate game of "keep away" will be played to prevent the Kurds from consolidating control over oil-rich territory in the Kurdish-Arab borderland, while the competition between Turkey and Iran will emerge into full view. For Turkey to compete effectively in this space, it will need to come to terms with the reality that Ankara will not defy its history by resolving the Kurdish conundrum, nor will it be able to hide within its borders and avoid foreign entanglements. 



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