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China paper defends Syria veto, doubts West’s intentions

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BEIJING | Sun Feb 5, 2012 9:07pm EST

(Reuters) – China’s top newspaper on Monday defended Beijing’s rejection of a U.N. resolution pressing Syria‘s President Bashar al-Assad to abandon power, saying Western campaigns in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq showed the error of forced regime change.

The commentary in the People’s Daily, the top newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, was Beijing’s clearest defence of its decision to join Moscow at the weekend in vetoing a draft United Nations resolution that would have backed an Arab plan urging Assad to quit after months of bloodshed.

The commentary suggested that Chinese distrust of Western intervention lay behind the veto, which was described by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a “travesty.”

“The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and numbers of civilian casualties keep rising. Vetoing the draft Security Council resolution does not mean we are giving free rein to letting this heart-rending state of affairs continue,” said the commentary in the paper, which echoes government thinking.

China, not its Western critics, was acting “responsibly” for the sake of the Syrian people, it said. The author used the pen name “Zhong Sheng,” which can mean “voice of China” and is often used to give Beijing’s position on foreign policy.

“Currently, the situation in Syria is extremely complex. Simplistically supporting one side and suppressing the other might seem a helpful way of turning things around, but in fact it would be sowing fresh seeds of disaster,” said the paper.

China’s siding with Russia over Syria could add to irritants with the United States. Vice President Xi Jinping is due to visit there next week, burnishing his credentials as the Communist Party’s likely next top leader.

Beijing and Washington have also sparred over Iran, which faces tightened Western sanctions over its nuclear ambitions.

The commentary also laid bare broader Chinese concerns about Western-backed intervention in the Arab world and beyond.

China is one of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members that hold the power to veto resolutions.

In March, China abstained from a Council vote that authorised Western military intervention in Libya. That resolution became the basis for a NATO air campaign that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, despite misgivings from Beijing and Moscow about the expanded campaign, which they said went beyond the resolution.

“Libya offers a negative case study. NATO abused the Security Council resolution about establishing a no-fly zone, and directly provided firepower assistance to one side in the Libyan war,” said the People’s Daily Commentary.

It also cited Iraq and Afghanistan in its case against the Syria resolution.

“The calamities of Iraq and Afghanistan should be ample to wipe clear the world’s eyes. Forceful prevention of a humanitarian disaster sounds filled with a sense of justice and responsibility,” said the paper.

“But are not the unstoppable attacks and explosions over a decade after regime change a humanitarian disaster?” it said.

(Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Begins Military Exercises Near The Strait Of Hormu

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AP | Feb. 4, 2012, 6:07 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard began military exercises Saturday in the country’s south, the latest show of force after threats to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in retaliation for tougher Western sanctions.

Plans for new Iranian naval games in the Persian Gulf off the country’s southern coast have been in the works for weeks. State media announced new maneuvers in southern Iran involving ground forces, but it was not immediately clear whether they were part of the planned naval training missions scheduled for this month or a separate operation.

The latest military maneuvers got under way following stern warnings by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, about any possible U.S. or Israeli attacks against Tehran’s nuclear facilities. It also comes after Western forces boosted their naval presence in the Gulf led by the American aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.

Iran officials and lawmakers have repeatedly said that their country would close the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf in retaliation for sanctions that affect Iran’s oil exports. They have as yet made no attempts to disrupt shipping through the waterway, the route for one-fifth of the world’s crude oil, and the U.S. and allies have said they would respond swiftly to any attempts at a blockade.

Last month, Iran’s navy wrapped up 10 days of exercises in the Gulf, but the Revolutionary Guard — which is directly under control of the supreme leader — represents a significantly stronger military force and controls key programs such as missile development. Iranian state media announced the new maneuvers, but gave no further details.

Khamenei, in a speech nationally broadcast on Friday, staked out a hard line after suggestions by Israel that military strikes are an increasing possibility if sanctions fail to rein in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

He pledged to aid any nation or group that challenges Israel and said any military strikes would damage U.S. interests in the Middle East “10 times” more than they would hurt Iran. The comments also may signal that Tehran’s proxy forces — led by Lebanon’s Islamic militant group Hezbollah — could be given the green light to revive attacks on Israel as the showdown between the archfoes intensifies.

The West and its allies fear Iran could use its uranium enrichment labs — which make nuclear fuel — to eventually produce weapons-grade material. Iran insists it only seeks reactors for energy and medical research.

Israel has so far publicly backed the efforts by the U.S. and European Union for tougher sanctions that target Iran’s crucial oil exports. But Israeli leaders have urged even harsher measures and warn that military action remains a clear option despite Western appeals to allow time for the economic pressures and isolation to bear down on Iran.

Iran’s oil minister repeated claims that an EU oil embargo will not cripple Iran’s economy, claiming Saturday that the country already has identified new customers to replace the loss in European sales that accounted for about 18 percent of Iran’s exports.

Rostam Qassemi also reinforced Iran’s warning to Saudi Arabia and other fellow OPEC members against boosting production to offset any potential drop in Tehran’s crude exports, saying the cartel should not be used as a political weapon against a member state.

Although Israel has raised the strongest hints that it is likely to start a military campaign, Khamenei reserved some of his strongest comments for Israel’s key U.S. ally.

“A war itself will damage the U.S. 10 times” more in the region, said Khamenei.

Khamenei claimed Iran, however, could only emerge stronger. “Iran will not withdraw. Then what happens?” asked Khamenei. “In conclusion, the West’s hegemony and threats will be discredited” in the Middle East. “The hegemony of Iran will be promoted. In fact, this will be in our service.”

On Thursday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, suggested the world is increasingly ready to consider a military strike if sanctions fail. The head of the country’s strategic affairs ministry, Vice Premier Moshe Yaalon, also suggested Iran’s main military installations are still vulnerable to airstrikes — even as Iran starts up a new uranium enrichment facility deep in a mountainside bunker south of Tehran.

Yaalon’s comments appear to reinforce earlier suggestions by other Israel officials that the window for a possible attack is closing and Israel would need to strike by summer to inflict significant setbacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity under standing guidelines.

At Ramstein Air Base in Germany, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said sanctions remain the best approach to pressure Iran. But he told U.S. airmen Friday that Washington keeps “all options on the table and would be prepared to respond if we have to.”

Khamenei answered by repeating Iran’s declarations that it will never roll back its nuclear program, which he had earlier said was now part of the country’s “identity” and a cornerstone of its technological endeavors. On Friday, Iran said it successfully sent a small satellite into orbit in the third such launch in recent years, state media reported.

“From now on, in any place, if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will endorse and we will help. We have no fear expressing this,” said Khamenei, using the phrase widely used by Iran’s leader to describe Israel.

Read more: BI

Iran could ban EU oil exports next week

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By Hashem Kalantari

TEHRAN | Fri Jan 27, 2012 8:36am EST

(Reuters) – A law to be debated in Iran’s parliament on Sunday could halt exports of oil to the European Union as early as next week, the semi-official Fars news agency quoted a lawmaker as saying on Friday.

“On Sunday, parliament will have to approve a ‘double emergency’ bill calling for a halt in the export of Iranian oil to Europe starting next week,” Hossein Ibrahimi, vice-chairman of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, was quoted as saying.

Parliament is pushing for the export ban to deny the EU a 6-month phase-in of the embargo on Iranian oil that the bloc agreed on Monday as part of a raft of tough new Western sanctions aimed at forcing Iran to curb its nuclear program.

The EU accounted for 18 percent of Iranian crude oil sales in the first half of 2011, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), making it Iran’s second biggest customer after China.

“If the deputies arrive at the conclusion that the Iranian oil exports to Europe must be halted, the parliament will not delay a moment (in passing the bill),” Fars quoted Moayed Hosseini-Sadr, a member of parliament’s energy committee, as saying.

“If Iran’s oil exports to Europe, which is about 18 percent (of Iran’s oil exports) is halted the Europeans will surely be taken by surprise, and will understand the power of Iran and will realize that the Islamic establishment will not succumb to the Europeans’ policies,” he said.

Reflecting how seriously Tehran was taking the idea, Iran’s OPEC governor Mohammad Ali Khatibi told the ILNA news agency the country might choose to raise the issue at the next OPEC meeting.

Iran’s conservative-dominated parliament has previously shown it is ready to force the government to take action against what it sees as hostility from the West.

In November it voted to expel the British ambassador after London announced new sanctions ahead of other EU countries.

The day after that vote, radical Iranians stormed the British embassy, causing London to withdraw all staff and close the mission.

(Writing by Robin Pomeroy; editing by James Jukwey)

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