Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency “reveals” that Saudi Arabia and Israel’s Mossad are “co-conspiring to produce a computer worm more destructive than the Stuxnet malware to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.” The report appeared Monday, Dec. 2, during foreign Minister Javad Zarif’s tour of Arabian Gulf capitals,with the object of easing tensions between the emirates and Tehran. Riyadh was not on his itinerary.
In 2010, Stuxnet, reputed to have been developed by the US and Israel, was the malworm which attacked the software of Iran’s uranium enrichment program and caused a major slowdown, as well as disrupting its only nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
The Iranian agency now claims that Saudi intelligence director Prince Bandar Bin Sultan and the head of Israel’s Mossad Tamir Pardo met in Vienna on Nov. 24, shortly after the six world powers signed their first interim nuclear agreement with Iran in Geneva.
The two spy chiefs brought with them teams of Israeli and Saudi cyber specialists to discuss “the production of a malware worse than Stuxnet to spy on and destroy the software structure of Iran’s nuclear program,” according to Fars. Riyadh was willing to put up the funding estimated roughly at $1 million.
This plan was approved after the Geneva deal was roundly castigated by Saudi Arabia for acknowledging Iran’s rights to enrich uranium as “Western treachery,” while Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu called it “a historic mistake” and a danger to the world.
Without spelling this out, the Iranian source suggested that President Barack Obama, who in 2010 was ready to go along with the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities, had changed course and opted out of further cyber war after deciding to make Iran his strategic partner in the Middle East.
Israeli intelligence had therefore turned to Saudi intelligence, said the Iranian source.
The same source “disclosed,” without citing dates, that the Saudi prince and the Israeli spy chief had rendezvoused a number of times in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. When those meetings became an open secret in the Middle East, Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz is said to have warned Bandar that the close direct collaboration between the two agencies was causing concern in the royal house.
In another “revelation,” Fars claimed that Prince Bandar secretly visited Israel under cover of French President Francois Hollande’s state visit on Nov. 17-18, ahead of the Geneva meeting on Iran’s nuclear program. This source said the Saudi prince took part in the high-powered Franco-Israeli discussions in Tel Aviv on ways to halt Iran’s nuclear progress.
debkafile’s intelligence sources infer four motives from the manner and timing of the Iranian news agency’s story:
1. To draw the Crown Prince into reprimanding Bandar for being over-zealous in his partnership with an Israeli head of intelligence and so embarrass him at home. This fits into the context of the succession struggle which our Gulf sources report is afoot in Riyadh. A group of princes is campaigning for Salman’s removal as Crown Prince. Bandar is one of them.
By highlighting his association with Pardo, the Fars publication seeks to discredit Bandar and stir up trouble to sharpen the infighting in Riyadh, with a view to weakening Saudi Arabia’s hand against Iran.
2. Tehran is getting seriously worried about the Saudi-Israeli intelligence partnership and the prospect of them acting together for covert operations, including cyber warfare, against their nuclear projects. Going public on this partnership is intended to show the Iranian people that the regime is on top of these dangers and well prepared to forestall them.
3. Detractors of the Geneva accord in Tehran are being warned by the regime that formidable external threats lie in wait for the national nuclear program and they would be well advised to desist from their opposition to the deal with the six powers, because it weakens the country’s defenses.
4. The Fars disclosures were picked up and run by Russian media on Dec. 2 – albeit shunned by Western publications – evidence of the close cooperation between Iranian and Russian intelligence services.
No part of these reports is confirmed from any other sources.
(Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it wanted stronger cooperation with U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, as it seeks to ease concerns among Gulf Arab neighbors about a potential resurgence in its influence following a nuclear deal with world powers.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, on a tour of Gulf Arab states, said after talks in Kuwait that no date had been set for an expected visit to Sunni Muslim power Saudi Arabia, Shi’ite Iran’s main regional rival.
But he suggested the nuclear deal reached in Geneva on November 24 should not be seen as a threat.
“This agreement cannot be at the expense of any country in the region,” Zarif, speaking through an interpreter, told reporters at a news conference after discussions with his Kuwaiti counterpart, Sheikh Sabah al-Hamad al-Sabah.
Asked about reports he also planned to visit Riyadh, Zarif said: “We look at Saudi Arabia as an important and influential regional country and we are working to strengthen cooperation with it for the benefit of the region.”
He did not elaborate on how this might be done.
U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states cautiously welcomed the nuclear accord reached last month, but some officials have demanded assurances that the deal would contribute to their security.
Following his visit to Kuwait, Zarif headed to Oman, where he met with his counterpart and Sultan Qaboos, and said he was ready to expand cooperation between the two countries “as much as possible”, Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
Qaboos was the first foreign leader to visit Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after his election in June, and U.S. officials said Oman was the location of secret nuclear talks that helped bring about the nuclear deal last month.
Iran has denied the negotiations took place.
The six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are wary of Iranian influence in the Middle East, fearing the Shi’ite Muslim-led country is seeking regional dominance and stirring sectarian tensions.
They worry Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran has constantly denied.
UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed called for a partnership with Iran last week when he became the first Gulf Arab official to visit Tehran since the agreement was signed.
Improving relations with regional countries is a central plank of Iran’s diplomatic policy under its new president, Hassan Rouhani, and Zarif was due to travel to Oman, another member of the GCC, after Kuwait.
Asked about three disputed Gulf islands held by Iran but claimed by the United Arab Emirates, Zarif said Tehran was ready to talk about one of the islands, Abu Musa.
Rouhani and Zarif have stressed greater regional stability as a priority, possibly an attempt to blunt the opposition of Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to Tehran’s newly minted nuclear deal with world powers.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Sunday that the U.S. should be ready to reimpose economic sanctions against Iran as an “insurance policy” in case the six-month interim nuclear deal negotiated by the White House and five other nations falls apart.“As one of the architects of the sanctions regime we’ve had on Iran, this is exactly the process that has brought Iran to the negotiating table,” Menendez told CBS News’ “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson.
“Well look, I think creating a sanctions regime that is an insurance policy and also creates leverage for us is incredibly important,” he added.
Menendez said that he was “concerned” about some elements of the deal, which does not force Iran to dismantle any of its 18,000 centrifuges even though the United Nations Security Council has adopted six resolutions since 2006 requiring Iran to stop enriching uranium.
“For example, already in that text as it relates to what is defined as a comprehensive solution, there is some suggestion that we are going to define what a mutually agreeable [uranium] enrichment program is. So we’ve already ceded a way from U.N. Security Council resolutions that say no enrichment,” he pointed out.
The New Jersey Democrat also said that he was worried about a “sunset clause” in the agreement that would allow Iran to “enrich uranium without any consequence and without any limitations” – the same outcome that the U.N. resolutions and economic sanctions, including the freezing of $8 billion of Iranian assets, were imposed to prevent.
“There is a provision here that envisions in a comprehensive solution a sunset clause that would say that after a period of time, which is not defined, that the Iranians would be treated as any non-nuclear weapons state,” Menendez noted. “That means that they could, after that period of time, enrich uranium without any consequence and without any limitations. They could seek plutonium track without any limitations. Those are real concerns.
“Now I hope the deal can be successful. Obviously diplomacy is something we want to see work,” he said. “But we need to be ready to move forward” in case it doesn’t.
Muqdad who was speaking to Arabic language al-Mayadeen satellite channel on Saturday said, Saudi and Israeli militaries run the center in Jordan while agents from the United States and Jordan also cooperate with them for supporting militants in Syria.
“Syrian government has been saying it from the beginning that the Israeli regime is interfering in Syria crisis and it has proofs and evidences to show this,” he said.
He added, “Israel isn’t just an observer of the war in Syria but it is actually a supporter of all terrorist operations in the country”.
Asked about Saudi Arabia’s role in Syria Muqdad said, “Riyadh’s role is destruction of Syria and killing people”.
However he added, this was coming from the side of a government which is not a ruling system chosen by Saudi people.
Speaking on the upcoming talks planned in Geneva between Syrian government and the foreign-backed opposition, he said, “we will negotiate about future of Syria without any foreign interference but we will never talk to terrorist groups who massacre Syrian people”.
He welcomed Syrian opposition’s decision to take part in the talks and said Syrian government has formed a delegation for taking part in talks stressing that the important thing is that to keep on with the schedule and don’t change the date of the meeting.
After months of wavering stances and rejections, the so-called Syrian National Coalition announced it was going to attend the long-delayed “Geneva 2″ talks in January aimed at ending the country’s fatal conflict.
However the deeply-divided opposition is facing rejection from many of its affiliated armed-groups fighting against the Syrian army.
Despite Coalition’s agreement, the so-called Free Syrian Army which is their official armed force on the ground has rejected the talks and refused to put down arms for reconciliation.
Al-Qaeda-linked groups fighting for the Syrian opposition have also rejected taking part in talks as an act of treason.
The war in Syria started in March 2011, when pro-reform protests turned into a massive insurgency following the intervention of Western and regional states.
The unrest, which took in terrorist groups from across Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, has transpired as one of the bloodiest conflicts in recent history.
The Syrian army says it has confiscated Israeli-made weapons in its latest operations against foreign-backed militants.
A military source told the Syrian news agency SANA on Sunday that Israeli weaponry — including missiles — were seized in an operation in the central city of Tadmur in Homs province.
A headquarters of militants was also destroyed in the suburbs of the capital Damascus.
Elsewhere, government forces killed several Saudi militants in the strategic region of Qalamun.
In recent days, the army has gained the upper hand in the weeks-long battle in the area, which had been used as a base for militant operations around Damascus.
On Saturday, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said Israel and Saudi Arabia had set up a new joint command in Jordan to oversee the operations of militants.
A recent British defense study showed that about 100,000 militants, fragmented into 1,000 groups, are fighting in Syria against the government and people.
In a rare victory at the United Nations, Israel has been admitted to a regional group at the U.N.’s institutions in Geneva, ending a longstanding anomaly that has prevented it from fully taking part in U.N. activities there.Secretary of State John Kerry welcomed what he called the “overdue” step Monday, and pledged that the U.S. would “continue to support efforts to normalize Israel’s treatment across the U.N. system as a full and equal member of the community of nations.”
“It goes without saying that at a time when the scourge of global anti-Semitism is on the rise, it is more important than ever for Israel to have a strong voice that can be heard everywhere,” he said.
All U.N. member states belong to one of five regional groups, and that membership is key to a country’s participation, since U.N. agencies operate on the principle of geographical rotation, and regional groups put forward candidates for posts in elections across the U.N. system on that basis.
Israel’s natural U.N. geographical grouping is Asia, but due to the hostility of its neighbors it was shut out of the group for decades. Eventually in 2000 it was admitted to the Western European and Others (WEOG) group, which includes such non-European democracies as the U.S., Canada and Australia.
But that applied only to U.N. activities in New York, not in Geneva, where agencies including the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) are located.
Israel and its supporters portrayed the ongoing exclusion as just another sign of pervasive anti-Israel sentiment at the U.N. – and especially at the HRC, where Israel alone out of a total of 193 U.N. member-states is subjected to a permanent item on the agenda. That means that time is set aside at every regular council session to scrutinize and criticize Israel, no matter what may be taking place anywhere else in the world.
On Monday, the regional group situation was finally rectified, with WEOG announcing that Israel will be a member with effect from January 1.
“This is a particularly welcome development as we work to end anti-Israel bias in the U.N. system,” said Kerry.
“After decades of discrimination, a historical wrong has been corrected,” Israel’s U.N. Mission said on its Twitter feed. “Israel’s voice will finally be heard loud & clear in WEOG in Geneva.”
It thanked U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power for “leading efforts to right this wrong.”
After claiming unfair treatment at the HRC for years, Israel in May 2012 formally cut ties with it. It subsequently set two conditions for resuming its cooperation – admission into a regional group, and the elimination of the permanent agenda item.
Its first demand has now been met. On the second, however, it reportedly settled for a compromise. According to the foreign ministry’s deputy director general for the U.N. and international organizations, Aharon Leshno Yaar, the agenda item remains in place, but countries friendly to Israel have undertaken to limit their involvement in discussions under the item, the Jerusalem Post reported.
How that works in practice, however, remains to be seen: Most countries that are supportive of Israel are in the Western group, which at no time holds no more than seven seats on the 47-member council.
Under the resolution that established the HRC in 2006, African and Asian countries have 13 seats each, so together they make up a majority. Of the remaining two regional groups, Latin America gets eight seats and Eastern Europe gets six.
Every year since then, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has held the balance of power at the HRC, having a majority of seats in both the Asian and African groups. After a recent election that situation will continue next year, with OIC members holding seven of the 13 Asia seats and seven of the 13 Africa ones.
The Islamic bloc, together with non-Muslim allies like Cuba, Russia and China, has largely driven the council’s critical focus on Israel.
Israeli press reports have stated that President Shimon Peres secretly addressed Arab state-representatives in the UAE via video.
Israeli President Shimon Peres last month addressed a conference attended by 29 Arab and Muslim foreign ministers who applauded him following his speech, Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth has reported.
According to the newspaper, the Israeli leader spoke via live videoconference to the Gulf States Security Summit in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates two weeks ago. Foreign ministers from five Gulf nations were present, while Saudi Arabia was represented by a son of the Saudi monarch.
Top diplomats from other Arab and Muslim countries – including Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh – were also among the attendees.
Peres appeared on a video screen at the summit, sitting in his office in occupied Jerusalem against the backdrop of a large Israeli flag.
“There was a lot of excitement from both sides by his appearance,” an unnamed representative involved in the event was quoted by the Israeli paper as saying.
“Everyone understood that this was something historic: the president of the Jewish State is sitting in his office in Jerusalem with an Israeli flag, and they’re sitting in the Persian Gulf talking about security, the war on terror and peace,” added the unnamed source.
Organizers of the event had said that Peres would only participate if his speech was kept under wraps.
The Israeli paper noted that there were no walkouts from the conference room, pointing out that Peres even received applause when he concluded his address.
Speaking on Lebanese OTV Tuesday night, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah praised the nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers as signaling the end of the US monopoly on power and for preventing war in the region. He said Israel couldn’t bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities without a green light from the US. But, said the Shiite terorist leader, America is tired of war having failed in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza and now in Syria. The Saudi war against Iran has never stopped, said Nasrallah, and accused a “Saudi-backed group” of being “behind the Iran embassy bombing in Beirut.”
The Lebanese Shiite Hizballah reported that one of its commanders was killed as he left his Beirut home early Wednesday and immediately blamed Israel. The victim was not named. He was killed just hours after Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the suicide bombings at the Iranian embassy in Beirut on Nov. 19.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has announced the end of «the era of the Monroe Doctrine». On November 18 he gave a keynote speech on partnership with Latin America at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington. For almost 200 years U.S. policy in the Western Hemisphere has been based on the doctrine named after the fifth president of the U.S., James Monroe, which declares that the countries of Latin America should not be seen by European powers as objects of colonization…
«America for the Americans» – the United States used this slogan to mask the imperialist essence of the doctrine, which was used in the Cold War years to counter «Soviet expansion». The Monroe Doctrine has been used to justify the suppression of revolutions in Guatemala and Chile, the physical elimination of popular leaders, and military operations against guerillas in Cuba, Nicaragua and other countries…
The key point of Kerry’s speech was the assertion that in today’s historical conditions, the U.S. views the states south of the Rio Grande as «equal partners» which must «promote and protect…democracy,» «sharing responsibilities [and] cooperating on security issues». It is difficult to interpret these wordings clearly. On the one hand, Washington seems to be stating that it will not resort to armed intervention in the region to defend its «vital interests». On the other hand, the statements about «sharing responsibilities» and «cooperating on security issues» sound quite equivocal. Cooperating with whom, exactly? Against whom? And on what terms?
However, against whom the «cooperation on security issues» is to be directed follows from the speech itself. Kerry assailed Venezuela and Cuba with criticism. In his opinion, «democratic institutions are weakened» in Venezuela. Most likely Washington is irritated by the fact that the National Assembly voted to give President Nicolas Maduro special powers which he has already begun to use to stop the economic war on Venezuela (speculation, hoarding consumer goods and food, and undermining the purchasing power of the national currency, the bolivar). Venezuelans approve the measures being taken by President Maduro. The authority of the Bolivarian leadership has grown noticeably. In Cuba the head of the State Department is dissatisfied with the pace of the democratic process. Kerry stated that the U.S. hopes these processes will gain speed, that «the Cuban Government embraces a broader political reform agenda that will enable its people to freely determine their own future». And the U.S. would very much like the process of democratization in Cuba to take on a landslide-like character, similar to the process which destroyed the USSR.
The U.S. has shelved the Monroe Doctrine, but it has not given up pressuring Latin American countries or conducting complex operations to destabilize them. Targeted propaganda attacks are carried out against undesirable leaders. Streams of slander pour down on Bolivian President Evo Morales, first and foremost because of his government’s «insufficient efforts» in fighting against illegal coca plantations and drug trafficking. And this when Bolivian intelligence agencies are battling fiercely with drug cartels financed, as a rule, though banks controlled by U.S. businessmen and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Morales gives as good as he gets, confident that the best defense is a good offence. He has more than once advocated handing over Barack Obama to a «tribunal of the peoples» to be tried for «crimes against humanity». His accusations were loudest of all in his address at the 68th session of the UN General Assembly. The Bolivian president claims that in order to maintain its dominant position in the world, the U.S. makes use of the most criminal of methods, extensively organizing conspiracies and assassination attempts. Morales has reduced contacts with representatives of the U.S. to a minimum, preferring to conduct business with China, Western European countries, Russia and Belarus. The president of Bolivia has threatened, «If we need to, we will close the U.S. embassy altogether».
Washington has never ceased its hostile activities against Ecuador. After the CIA’s failed attempt to get rid of President Rafael Correa using agents in the Ecuadorian police, the U.S. embassy is sparing no efforts to «reform» him. Adam Namm, the American ambassador in Quito, criticized President Rafael Correa for cultivating closer relations with Iran and Belarus. The response was immediate: «I am not surprised at his [Namm’s] pronouncements, because the diplomat is new at these issues. Ecuador will not ask permission from anyone to maintain sovereign relations with whatever countries it wishes. It is enough to note how many countries where absolutely no elections are held at all have privileged relations with the United States. Absolute monarchies! So that’s enough! We are not anyone’s colony. While I am the president of this country, there will be no neocolonialism!» Correa’s harsh comments on Obama’s pronouncements about the «exceptionalism of the American people», who are supposedly concerned with protecting the interests of «all humanity», are also conspicuous. The Ecuadorian president compared these claims with the «Nazi policy» of the Third Reich.
In October Correa visited Russia, where he discussed, among other things, armaments cooperation issues and shipments of Russian armaments to Ecuador, in particular air defense systems, as well as an additional shipment of Mi-171E transport helicopters. Russia is interested in implementing several large oil and gas projects in Ecuador. The Ecuadorians are discussing prospects of intensifying military cooperation with China; recruiting Chinese specialists for the construction of an oil refinery (Refineria del Pacifico), to be completed in 2017, has also been proposed. Even now there are 60 Chinese companies working in Ecuador in the mining industry and road infrastructure construction. All of this is causing great concern in Washington, which is why the spying activities of American intelligence agencies have intensified in Ecuador. According to the site Contrainjerencia.com, in 2012-2013 the number of CIA personnel at the Ecuadorian station doubled. Agents with experience in subversive operations in Latin America are being sent to Ecuador: U. Mozdierz, M. Haeger, D. Robb, H. Bronke Fulton, D. Hernandez, N. Weber, A. Saunders, D. Sims, C. Buzzard, М. Kendrick and others.
The problems which Washington is now having with Brazil and Argentina due to the scandalous revelations regarding the wiretapping of these countries’ presidents, Dilma Rousseff and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have yet to be resolved satisfactorily. The Americans have still not really apologized for the total espionage in these countries. And the espionage not only has not stopped, it has become more subtle, forcing national intelligence agencies to develop joint measures to combat the operations of the CIA, the NSA and U.S. military intelligence. At the same time, steps are being taken to create a system for fighting electronic espionage within the framework of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR). In Mexico and the countries of Central America and the Caribbean Basin, American intelligence run things with almost no interference, unless you count Cuba and Nicaragua, whose counterintelligence agencies occasionally strike painful blows against the CIA’s agent network.
Today the most important task for U.S. military and intelligence agencies is maintaining control of Honduras, which is often called the «unsinkable aircraft carrier of the U.S.» in Central America. There are already U.S. military bases located on the territory of Honduras, but the Pentagon is planning to build new air and naval bases. Washington’s cynical interference in the election campaign which just took place in Honduras is yet another signal from the Obama administration to Latin America: we will protect our interests at any cost; no other outcome is acceptable to us.
The «U.S.’s man» in the elections in Honduras is Juan Orlando Hernandez, the candidate from the conservative National Party. For over three years he headed the National Congress and contributed greatly to the consolidation of political forces hostile to ex-president Manuel Zelaya and his wife Xiomara Castro. It is she who was his main competitor in the elections as the candidate for the center-left Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE). Hernandez supported the 2009 military coup d’état which led to the overthrow of Zelaya, maintains close ties with the military, and facilitated the expansion of the «security» functions of military personnel, including in fighting drug trafficking.
For the U.S. embassy, not allowing Xiomara Castro to come to power is a matter of principle. Upcoming events will show how it will be resolved. In a radio interview with Radio Globo, Manuel Zelaya stated, «Xiomara has won the fight for the post of president of the republic. They [the Supreme Electoral Court of Honduras] are stealing the victory from Xiomara Castro. The Court’s count does not stand up to statistical analysis. We do not acknowledge this result; we reject it».
Lisa Kubiske, the U.S. ambassador in Honduras, actively interfered in the election process in order to guarantee victory for Hernandez. In essence, it is she who is Xiomara Castro’s main rival. Whether the U.S. embassy will be able to ensure that Hernandez comes to power will be seen in the near future. But there is already information in the international media that in the process of counting the votes, he is leading by a wide margin.
Articles by: Nil Nikandrov
Submitted by Zachary Keck via The Diplomat,
Although Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to Northeast Asia this week will likely focus on defusing tensions over China’s new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ), this is hardly the only issue plaguing the U.S. in Asia.
In general, U.S. Asia policy during the second Obama administration has lacked focus as senior officials have been preoccupied with domestic and other international challenges. Elizabeth Economy rightly notes that the administration has recently “unleashed a barrage of Asia-related speeches, commentaries, and initiatives that should reassure all concerned that the region will remain a centerpiece of the new foreign policy team’s agenda.”
This includes Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visiting the region last month, Biden’s trip this month and Obama’s planned visit in April. Additionally, as Economy points out, National Security Advisor Susan Rice gave her first Asia-oriented speech last month, and Washington promptly reacted to China creating an East China Sea ADIZ. The U.S. military also responded admirably to the typhoon in the Philippines, and the U.S. has also been active in the region-wide discussions over restarting the six party talks over North Korea’s nuclear program.
While these are commendable, I differ from Economy in attributing too much importance to them. Moreover, a number of other issues suggest that the administration continues to give inadequate attention to the Asia-Pacific, and the results it is getting reflect this relative neglect.
Probably the most encouraging sign about the Obama administration’s commitment to Asia right now are the number of senior-level trips to the region. Lew’s trip was especially notable given that the economic components of the rebalance are lagging behind the military aspects, and the fact that the trip came on the heels of China’s Third Plenum. Biden’s trip is also encouraging because of his familiarity with Chinese President Xi Jinping that dates back to Xi’s time as vice president. However, as noted above, this trip is likely to be one-dimensional given the tensions surrounding the ADIZ.
And while presidential attention is always a positive—time being a president’s most valuable resource—Obama’s upcoming trip hardly signifies a strong presidential commitment to Asia. After all, the trip is merely meant to make up for the trip Obama cancelled in October because of the government shutdown. This is inevitably an inadequate replacement for the October trip given that there will be no regional conferences for Obama to attend in April. Moreover, it is not encouraging that Obama took six months to reschedule that cancelled trip.
Secretary of State John Kerry was sent to the region as Obama’s replacement back in October. Kerry later had to cancel the Philippines portion of the trip due to an upcoming storm. He did however promise to return to the Philippines “within a month or so.” Some Filipino lawmakers questioned the fact that Kerry had cancelled the trip at all, claiming that it could’ve proceeded without incident. These concerns can only have increased now that it has almost been two months since Kerry’s first trip was cancelled, and the State Department has yet to announce when the rescheduled one will occur. Of course, the massive typhoon in the Philippines last month may account for the delay in rescheduling the trip. At the same time, some might think that this event would make Kerry’s visit all the more urgent. Moreover, it’s hard not to be suspicious that Kerry’s intense involvement in the Middle East and Afghanistan haven’t also been behind the delay.
The senior-level trips also hide other troubling personnel issues in the region. For example, as previously noted, Obama nominated Caroline Kennedy to be the ambassador to Japan back in April. It was only in the middle of last month that she arrived in Tokyo. According to The Japan Times, the previous U.S. ambassador left the country back in August, meaning that a three month vacancy occurred at a crucial time. Furthermore, however capable Kennedy may be as a person, she is a political appointee who lacks any kind of diplomatic experience. This is troubling given the kind of high stakes crises she will have to navigate while in Tokyo, with China’s new ADIZ being a telling example.
Her job will be made more difficult by the fact that she’s likely to not have a counterpart in Beijing to help mediate the rising tensions between China and Japan. As The Diplomat previously reported, the current U.S. Ambassador to China, Gary Locke, has tendered his resignation. According to his public resignation statement, his family is already back in the United States and he plans to join them in early 2014. President Obama has yet to nominate Locke’s successor. If Kennedy’s experience is any guide, it could take seven months from the time the president nominates that person for them to arrive in Beijing. Even if s/he is nominated today, that means there could very well be a six month period in which the U.S. does not have an ambassador to China.
More generally, at least from the outside, there does not appear to be a senior level official who is the Obama administration’s point person on Asia or even China. Many felt that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Advisor Tom Donilon played that role during the first Obama administration.
Clinton’s successor, John Kerry, has clearly marked the Middle East as the region that will consume the bulk of his attention. Donilon’s successor, Susan Rice, has a long, distinguished career in U.S. foreign policy, none of which centers on the Asia-Pacific. As Economy noted, Rice did recently make her first Asia-centric speech as national security advisor. While commendable, as Economy also points out, it offered little in the way of new ideas or policies beyond announcing Obama’s upcoming trip. This hardly suggests a strong interest or commitment to the region. Moreover, Rice became national security advisor on July 1, 2013. The fact that she waited almost five months to give an Asia-centric speech hardly suggests that she will be the administration’s point person on Asia.
But the most troubling aspect of the administration’s neglect of Asia doesn’t have to do with personnel but rather with policy. In particularly, it has to do with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the centerpiece of America’s economic rebalance to Asia. The U.S. and its future TPP partners had set a deadline of the end of 2013 for reaching agreement on the text of the treaty. There are no signs that this deadline will be met.
Moreover, as previously reported, 173 members of Congress have come out in opposition to granting the president fast track trade promotion authority, which would allow the president to submit the TPP to Congress for an up-and-down vote without any amendments. Many analysts believe that the administration will not be able to get the TPP through the U.S. Congress unless it has this authority. Yet, there are no signs of a renewed commitment from the administration to lobby Congress on the TPP or fast track trade promotion authority.
This all becomes especially problematic given that 2014 is an election year, which makes it especially unlikely that Congress will ratify any FTA. Moreover, ASEAN is likely to be preoccupied next year with putting all the pieces in place to launch its free trade zone by the beginning of 2015. The best-case scenario for the TPP at this point is that the draft text is finalized in time for President Obama’s trip to the region in April, and that the White House can get a lame duck Congress to ratify it after the November elections. This is hardly impossible but it will require a degree of commitment to the treaty that the administration has hitherto not demonstrated.
In sum, while the Obama administration has given Asia more attention in recent weeks, this commitment will have to be sustained if the U.S. is going to be successful in the region.
A reported deal between Chinese firm Huawei and South Korea to develop the country’s broadband network, has prompted concerns in the US.
Two US senators have written to the Obama administration saying any such deal raised “potential security concerns” for the US.
There have been concerns in Washington over Huawei’s association with the Chinese government and military.
But the Chinese firm has repeatedly denied those allegations.
The worries over its association with the Chinese authorities have been driven, in part, by the fact that the company’s founder, Ren Zhengfei, was a former member of the People’s Liberation Army.
However, Huawei has stressed that it is 98.6% owned by its employees.
The latest concerns come after reports indicated that Huawei, which is one of the world’s biggest telecom network equipment makers, had been chosen to help develop South Korea’s wireless broadband network.
However, Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Dianne Feinstein of California, wrote a letter to the US government last week raising concerns over the impact of such a deal on US security.
Various media reports cited them as saying in the letter that the choice of Huawei to “develop and/or supply the Republic of Korea’s advanced LTE telecommunications backbone raise[s] serious questions and potential security concerns”.
“As you know, the US-Republic of Korea [South Korea] alliance is a cornerstone for US strategic engagement in Asia, and has served as a bulwark against North Korean aggression for the past six decades.
“Maintaining the integrity of telecommunications infrastructure is critical to the operational effectiveness of this important security alliance,” they added.
The letter was sent to US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.
In 2011, the US launched a review into Huawei over concerns it spied for China’s government.
Last year, a US government report warned against allowing Huawei to supply critical telecom infrastructure, though it had found no evidence of espionage.
Australia’s government has also cited security concerns around the Chinese firm. In October this year, it maintained its ban against Huawei from tendering for the country’s national broadband network.
However, the Chinese firm has been expanding in some other Western economies.
In September 2012, the firm announced plans to invest £1.3bn in expanding its UK operations. Huawei said it would invest the funds over five years in areas such as mobile broadband.
By Matt Fuller, Roll Call
The Senate has not passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act — yet — but the main players in an NDAA conference aren’t waiting.
The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Armed Services committees — House Chairman Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., House ranking member Adam Smith, D-Wash., Senate Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Senate ranking member James M. Inhofe, R-Okla. — met Monday to discuss how they could conference the defense authorization act in a nearly impossible timeline.
The meeting started at noon and lasted, according to McKeon, until “2:30, 3:00, 3:30 — somewhere in there.”
For that part of the meeting, it was only McKeon, Levin and Inhofe — Smith was still on his way back to the Capitol. But all four met again around 4:30 p.m. to bring Smith up to speed.
At about 5:15 p.m. on Monday, Levin was spotted coming off the Senate subway to the Russell Building carrying a large three-ring binder. Conspicuously, the binder had a sheet of paper slipped into the plastic cover on the outside that read: ”Point Pages for Big 4 Meeting.”
None of the participants nor their staffers would say as much, but it appears that the “Big 4″ are working out the differences in the defense bills before the Senate passes its version of the authorization measure.
According to aides, the “Big 4″ agreed not to discuss the meeting with the press, so details were scant.
“We’re just trying to help move the process along,” McKeon told CQ Roll Call on Tuesday morning, restraining himself from saying more.
The communications director for the House Armed Services Committee, Claude Chafin, told CQ Roll Call that he would “never presume to add to what the chairman said.”
The communications director for Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee, Michael Amato, also said he “can’t get into specifics.”
“Conversations continue to happen on a variety of issues on all levels as we work towards getting a bill to the president,” Amato told CQ Roll Call.
Even with less than two legislative weeks left in this year’s session, hope is running high for the defense authorization measure.
McKeon told CQ Roll Call that he was “very confident” the defense bill would be signed into law for a 52nd consecutive year.
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