Skeptics multiply as UN vote condemns Syria

When the 193-member General Assembly voted on Wednesday to condemn the beleaguered government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, there was an increase in the number of skeptics who neither supported nor opposed the tottering regime in Damascus.The resolution, which is legally non-binding, was adopted by a vote of 107-12, compared with 133-12 last August.

As the number of supporters to the resolution declined, from 133 to 107, the abstentions increased significantly, from 31 to 59, including a mix of Asian, African and Latin American countries.

The abstentions included Algeria, Bangladesh, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, El Salvador, Eritrea, Fiji, Kenya, Lebanon, Myanmar, Singapore, Sudan, South Sudan and Uruguay.

Asked for a response, Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International’s UN representative in New York, told IPS, “I think the number of abstentions – and the divisions in the General Assembly – are the consequence of political considerations.”

He said some countries would have preferred to give space to a renewed push for negotiations in the wake of the recent agreement between Russia and the United States, including a proposed international conference on Syria.

“They abstained because to vote ‘no’ would have been to side openly with Assad and to ignore the appalling crimes taking place in Syria,” Diaz said.

Thalif Deen

Asia Times Online

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Why sanctions on Iran are not working

As EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s lead envoy Saeed Jalili meet in Istanbul on May 15, the six global powers negotiating with Tehran face an increasingly inconvenient truth: while sanctions are having a devastating effect on Iran’s economy, they have not changed Tehran’s nuclear calculus. Although some policymakers and pundits privately concede this point, there is no consensus as to why. Hardliners tend to argue that sanctions are not tough enough and must be intensified. Elements on the left argue that sanctions must be given time to make an impact.

In reality, both sides miss the real reasons that have rendered sanctions unsuccessful – by failing to offer a credible exit from the sanctions pain, neither the Iranian government nor stakeholders in the Iranian system believe that a change in nuclear policy will lead to the alleviation of their economic suffering.

The current sanctions policy is based on a shaky assumption – the belief that economic pain and dissatisfaction among political elites automatically will result in pressure on the Iranian regime to change its nuclear course. This assumption does not hold. The economic pain imposed on Iran is intense – but directionless.

Trita Parsi & Reza Marashi

Al Jazeera, Qatar

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The Syria-Iran red line show

This eminently Bushist Obama “red line” business, applied to Syria, Iran or both, is becoming a tad ridiculous.

Take Pentagon head Chuck Hagel’s tour of Israel and the “friendly” GCC (the de facto Gulf Counter-revolution Club) last week. US defense contractors had the Moet flowing as Hagel merrily congregated with that prodigy of democracy – United Arab Emirates (UAE) Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – to celebrate the sale of 25 F-16 fighter jets.

There’s more on the way; 48 Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD missile interceptors, at a cool US$1 billion. The Pentagon is sending one of its only two of such systems to Guam this month to counter that other threat – missiles from North Korea.
The weaponizing free fest to Israel and the Gulf petro-monarchies – missile defense, fighter jets, mega-bombs – could not but be duly hailed as the proverbial “message” to “counter Iran’s nuclear ambitions”, or “the air and missile threat posed by Iran”, or the general “worry about Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon” or “Washington’s determination to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Pepe Escobar

Asia Times Online, Hong Kong

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U.S. options limited on Syria despite weapons report

The White House disclosure that the Syrian government has twice used chemical weapons still leaves the Obama administration stuck with a limited choice of military options to help the rebels oust President Bashar Assad.

Arming the rebels runs smack into the reality that a military group fighting alongside them has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. Establishing a no-fly zone poses a significant challenge as Syria possesses an air defense system far more robust than what the U.S. and its allies overwhelmed in Libya two years ago.

President Barack Obama had declared that the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in the two-year civil war would be “game changer” that would cross a “red line” for a major military response, but the White House made clear Thursday that even a quick strike wasn’t imminent.

Al Arabiya, United Arab Emirates

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Slush funds and sleaze

One of the great successes of the Obama administration has been its ability to divert attention from the wars the United States is still fighting, such as Afghanistan. Given Obama’s decision to escalate and extend that war is looking worse and worse with time, you can understand why they are doing this. It’s possible that sending more troops bought Obama time and is making it easier to get out now; the problem is that we ended up squandering more lives and money without getting a significantly better outcome.

My real fear is that this is merely a preamble to telling ourselves a lot of self-serving myths about that war. Count on it: Our exit from Afghanistan will be accompanied by a lot of feel-good stories about the U.S./NATO effort there designed to convince Americans that the surge “worked” and that we really did give it our all. If things go south later on, that will be the Afghans’ fault, not ours, and so it won’t be necessary to learn any lessons from our mistakes.

Stephen M. Walt

Foreign Policy, United States

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Israeli yellow card for US on Iran

Though a military conflict in the Persian Gulf does not appear to be imminent, the situation in the region today somewhat resembles that in Europe just prior to World War I, a top Russian security analyst told Asia Times Online. While nobody wants a war, the different actors could easily be drawn into one, said Dr Victor Mizin, vice president of the Center for Strategic Assessments in Moscow.

It is conceivable that the Iranians might try to weaponize in the future their nuclear potential, Mizin said, much like the Indians did in the past, largely under pressure from their own nuclear scientists. In this case, Israel would likely “be doomed to use force” despite pressure from Washington and military assessments that a successful operation would require the attacker “to knock out immediately some 2,000 targets” including nuclear facilities, military and missile bases, and air defense installations.

Victor Kotsev

Asia Times Online

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Obama: Syrian chemical strike would force U.S. to ‘rethink’

President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the United States would “rethink” its policy on Syria if he receives proof that the Damascus regime has used chemical weapons.

But he expressed caution about recent intelligence reports, telling a White House news conference: “I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.”

“If I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident in the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer,” he warned.

Bashar al-Assad’s government has been accused of using weapons loaded with nerve agents against targets in civilian areas during its battle with an armed rebellion against his rule.

Washington has previously warned that the use of so-called weapons of mass destruction would be a “red line” that Assad must not cross if he is to avoid triggering an international response.

Obama did not rule out eventual U.S. military action, but remained cautious.

“By game changer, I mean we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us. We are invested in trying to bring back a solution inside of Syria,” he told reporters.

AFP / Al Arabiya

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