‘Iran could constrain reckless impulses of US Mideast allies’

2015/04/01
European Union Political Director Helga Schmid (L), European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini (C) and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wait with others for a meeting with officials from P5+1, the European Union and Iran at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne March 31, 2015 (Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)

RT: Hopes are high that the six world powers and Iran who have been holding talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne will reach a deal by Wednesday evening. What kind of document do you expect to come out of these talks?


Hillary Mann Leverett: I would assume at this point we can still really think of only a vague document coming out of these talks. There does not seem to be agreement on many of the details, much of the substance that would be detailed in the final agreement.


But that is not really the purpose of what they were trying to get by [Wednesday evening]. This was supposed to be a political understanding of what the agreement would entail, and a final agreement then would be drafted by June 30. So my sense is that if we get an agreement it will be focused more on a reaffirmation in a sense of a core bargain that they struck back in November 2013: that the parties would proceed toward resolving this conflict by Iran agreeing in negotiated contacts to constraints on its nuclear program in exchange for comprehensive lifting of sanctions.


READ MORE: Nuclear deal with Iran ‘reached on all key aspects’ – Lavrov


And that is where I think the parties have really got stuck, because the comprehensive lifting of sanctions is something that is not technical. It doesn’t involve nuclear physicists at the table, it requires real political will. And I think that’s where we’ve seen the brinkmanship.


RT: If a deal is agreed on, what kind of reaction is it likely to trigger on Capitol Hill?


HL: I think the reaction will be negative, regardless of what the deal is. Some people in Washington, I think, disingenuously claim that it depends on whether it is a ‘good deal’ or ‘bad deal’. But there is no ‘good deal’ for many of the lawmakers in Washington, the 47 senators who sent this letter to Iran, there’s no good deal for them with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Their agenda is regime change. They would be happy for an Iran under a kind of Shah, an American puppet, to have nuclear weapons. But they are not really interested in an independent state to have any nuclear weapons. So I think they would oppose any deal.


I think because of that reality, the focus of the talks in this session has been not so much, not I really think at all, on the US sanctions, but how to really put that in its own box and deal with something more internationally. The focus has been on the UN sanctions, which Congress has no say over. The United States could agree to lift UN sanctions in five minutes. I saw it done on Libya; I saw it done on Sudan. The United States can do it in five minutes; they don’t need to consult with anybody in Congress. And that is what I’m talking about in terms of political will.


It’s up to President Obama whether he will agree and literally pick up the phone and call the UN ambassador and say: “Either vote for the lifting of sanctions or abstain.” It’s all he needs to do. That’s a question of political will; the rest of it is really just political posturing.


RT: The Republicans have warned that any deal with Iran might not survive after Barack Obama is out of the White House. Should we expect the US to make a U-turn on Iran in subsequent years?


HL: We’ve actually seen a bad scenario of this happening in the past. In the late 1970s under President Carter, his administration had negotiated the SALT II treaty with Moscow, with the Soviet Union. And the way he sold it was as if was a “technical agreement,” that we were “imposing meaningful curbs” on the Soviet Union’s strategic capacity. The Congress defeated it. It was a devastating failure for President Carter.


We could potentially be looking at something like that if President Obama plays the same game by saying that he’s essentially going to hold his nose while he is negotiating with Iran and just try to focus on a narrow technical agreement. He needs to make the case, the strategic case why a fundamental realignment of US policies in the Middle East toward the Islamic Republic of Iran is imperative for the United States, that after a decade of disastrous military interventions in the Middle East, the United States needs a different way. It needs a constructive way forward with Iran. But he has not done that. Instead, my concern is that he is following President Carter’s route. Essentially Carter’s view was that the Soviet Union was an unreconstructed adversary, evil empire in a sense, and he was just going to hold his nose and try to get the SALT II treaty passed. Well, he lost the election in 1980, we got Ronald Reagan, and that was the end of that.


RT: If a deal is reached, how is it likely to change regional dynamics for America's main allies in the region Israel and Saudi Arabia, who both strongly oppose a deal?


HL: I think it will be very good for the United States. After the end of the Cold War, the United States has gone through a period I think some would call of arrogance, essentially trying to impose its dominance on various regions of the world, including the Middle East. And those who want to go along with it, we characterize them as allies, when they are not really allies per se, they are just going along with the United States. What we really need is constructive relationships with each of the critical powers in the region so that they can restraint even the reckless impulses of our so-called allies. It’s not in our interests when Israel bombs Lebanon, Israel bombs Gaza. It’s not in our interest when Saudis invade Yemen. If you have a better relationship with Iran, it will constrain these reckless impulses of even our allies, and allow the United States to get off this dangerous trajectory of trying to impose its own military dominance on the region.


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Breathtaking views of super-typhoon Maysak from space (PHOTO)

2015/04/01
Map showing forecast and potential path of Super Typhoon Maysak (Reuters)

Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti on Wednesday shared the images of the monster as it prepared to hover menacingly over the Philippine Area of Responsibility.



The series of tweeted photos show a giant gaping hole forming like an inverse apex at the center of the milky white mass of clouds.


The US Joint Typhoon Warning Center gave Maysak the ‘super’ prefix on Tuesday afternoon. Reports indicate that its winds will slow down, however, as it reaches the Philippines.


READ MORE: Russia & US agree to build new space station after ISS, work on joint Mars project


Despite the good news, local authorities have urged the population to prepare for the worst. The cyclone will reach the islands on either Wednesday night or Thursday morning. Latest forecasts predict the former. A threat of strong floods is present, despite the weakening winds.



Although sustained winds have been set at 160mph, strong gusts can easily reach more than that.


Maysak has also set the record for the first time ever that two major Category 3 or above typhoons take place before April.


READ MORE: Russia-US crew dock at ISS for near year-long mission


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‘Good jokes are appropriate, but so is honoring contracts’ – Kremlin comments on Mistral prank

2015/04/01
Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov (RIA Novosti / Sergey Guneev)

Any good jokes are appropriate and equally appropriate is honoring one’s contractual obligations,” Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by RIA Novosti. Reporters asked the official if they should expect any April Fool’s jokes from the Kremlin. “Sure thing! Though the Kremlin is more engaged in work than in jokes,” Peskov answered.


On Wednesday, numerous Russian and international mass media reprinted a bogus report by the EU Observer website claiming France had agreed to sell the two Mistral ships commissioned by Russia, to the European Union and that the first ship would be deployed to the Latvian port of Riga as early as May. The EU’s Foreign Policy department duly reported the news was a joke.


READ MORE: France shows its weakness by scrapping Mistral deal - Rogozin


Russia and France signed the €1.12 billion contract to build two Mistral class amphibious ships in 2011. The first ship – the Vladivostok – was launched in 2013 and the second – the Sevastopol is planned to be finished in 2015. However, in mid-2014, the French side said it was suspending the ships’ handover citing the complicated international situation and the sanctions the EU had introduced against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.


At the same time, the French side played down allegations the contract had been severed as “premature.”


Russian officials said they expected France to either deliver the ships or return the advance payment.


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Kremlin says up to media watchdog to decide on Crimea’s ATR TV channel

2015/04/01

MOSCOW, April 1. /TASS/. The Kremlin is not in charge of issues related to the shutdown of Crimean Tatar-language ATR TV channel and it is up to Russian media watchdog or other oversight bodies to decide on its fate, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday.


"This is not the responsibility of the Kremlin," Peskov said. "We have Roskomnadzor (media watchdog), oversight and licensing bodies, and it’s up to them to take the decision." "This is the matter of mass media’s communication with these bodies," he added.


ATR, the world’s only Crimean Tatar-language TV channel, was established in Crimea in 2005. It suspended broadcasting on Wednesday after failing to meet the deadline for registration under the Russian law.


The chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, Ravil Gaynutdin, said on Tuesday ATR is "one of a few channels aimed at preserving and accumulating the national cultural heritage of the Crimean Tatar people."


He said the TV channel faced the shutdown in the coming days due to the lack of licence of Roskomnadzor.


"The shutdown of ATR channel and other media outlets that are part of the same-name media holding will become a huge blow to the Crimean Tatar people and a great loss for its culture," he said.


The mufti also said for Crimea as a Russian federal subject and Russia in general this could result in "serious risks for the integration of Crimean Tatars in the Russian political and legal space and cultural and historic space."


The shutdown of the only non-state TV channel of Crimean Tatars could lead to "a marginalization of public and cultural life of the Crimean Tatar community" and "will clear the way for stepping up the activities of organizations and movements that have extreme positions."


A week ago, Russia’s presidential council for civil society and human rights asked Roskomnadzor to take measures in an effort to prevent the shutdown of Crimean Tatar media outlets.


On April 1, the deadline for the registration of Crimea’s mass media with the Russian media watchdog expired.




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US, Iran top diplomats meet in Lausanne — Iranian source

2015/04/01

LAUSANNE, April 1. /TASS/. US State Secretary John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif held a bilateral meeting as part of the talks in Lausanne, a source at the Iranian delegation said on Wednesday.


"A Kerry-Zarif meeting has taken place," the source said.




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