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Iran announced on Monday that it would violate the 2015 nuclear agreement that it signed with the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for Iran’s atomic energy organization, said that within days Iran will have stockpiled more enriched uranium from its nuclear power plants than is allowed under the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Kamalvandi also said that Iran will not violate the treaty if Britain, France, Germany, and the full European Union follow through on promises to find ways for Iran to circumvent U.S. economic sanctions. The Trump administration reimposed sanctions against Iran last year, arguing that the JCPOA should be renegotiated and made much tougher on Iran even though all parties agree that Iran has not violated the terms of the agreement. Sanctions against Iran are having a serious effect on Iran’s economy, especially on its ability to export oil and to import lifesaving medicines.
“I think we’re looking at a tit-for-tat game here now. Iran, earlier, had said that it would do things in contravention of the JCPOA if it were provoked. I don’t see how anyone looking at the situation could say that Iran has not been provoked, and majorly so,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson told The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert. “[Iran] hopes that the United States will either relieve some pressure on the sanctions, or more likely they’re hoping the Europeans will grow some courage—moral and political courage—and do what they said they would do, which is to go around U.S. sanctions. Whether it’s with a new financial transaction system or whatever, the Europeans need to grow up and become an independent body if you will and do what they said they would do if they want this nuclear agreement to stay alive.”
The Trump administration’s approach to Iran, from the sanctions to the recent propaganda surrounding the tanker attack which many doubt Iran even committed, will do “as much damage to the transatlantic relationship” as the Bush administration did during the invasion of Iraq, Wilkerson explained.
“Were we to somehow go ahead and make war on Iran, either by a massive bombing campaign, or that followed by an invasion or whatever, I think you could look at the transatlantic link as being severed,” Wilkerson said. “So that’s how serious the situation we warped ourselves into now with Germany, France, England, and so forth. I don’t even see England going along with this.”
Wilkerson observed that not only does Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo’s rhetoric about Iran reflect Vice President Dick Cheney’s rhetoric about Iraq leading up to that war (“There is no doubt that Saddam now has weapons of mass destruction,” Cheney claimed back in 2002), but that Pompeo even used the same phrasing, saying “there is no doubt” Iran is a threat.
Later in the interview, Wilkerson echoed the Trump and Bush administration’s “no doubt” proclamations to explain why Iran’s announcement that it would violate the 2015 nuclear agreement is what any foreign power would do under such restrictions from the U.S.
“There is no doubt that Iran is responsible for all kinds of provocations—firing on tankers, the war in Yemen, and so forth and so on. So if I were Iran and I were looking—and there’s no love in my heart for the Iranian leadership—but if were Iran and I were thinking rationally, and I think they are, I’d be doing exactly the same thing,” Wilkerson said. “I’d be threatening us back with the most potent weapon they have, which is the potential to develop a nuclear weapon.”
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Iran announced on Monday that it would soon violate the 2015 nuclear agreement that it signed with the US, Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK, and the European Union. A spokesperson for Iran’s atomic energy organization said that within days, Iran will have stockpiled more enriched uranium from its nuclear power plants than is allowed under the agreement, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Here’s what Iran’s spokesperson had to say.
IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON Today, the countdown to having more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium reserves has started. In 10 days, in other words on June 27th, we will reach this target.
GREG WILPERT The spokesperson also said that Iran will not violate the treaty if Britain, France, Germany, and the full European Union follow through on promises to find ways for Iran to circumvent US economic sanctions. The Trump administration had reimposed sanctions against Iran last year, arguing that the JCPOA should be renegotiated and made much tougher on Iran, even though all parties agree that Iran has not violated the terms of the agreement. Meanwhile, sanctions against Iran are having a serious effect on Iran’s economy, especially on its ability to export oil and to import lifesaving medicines. Joining me now to discuss this latest development in the confrontation between the US and Iran, is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. He’s a former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now he’s Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Good to be with you.
GREG WILPERT So this announcement about exceeding the JCPOA uranium stockpile limit comes in the midst of ever-increasing tensions between the US and Iran. And last week, you know, the US accused Iran of launching an attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil supply flows. Given this context, where do you see this conflict between the US and Iran heading now with this most recent announcement about exceeding or violating the JCPOA?
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON I think we’re looking at a tit-for-tat game here now. Iran, earlier, had said that it would do things in contravention of the JCPOA if it were provoked. I don’t see how anyone looking at the situation could say that Iran has not been provoked, and majorly so. It was particularly looking at if the sanctions were closed down on oil sales and that’s what would cause them to revisit their adherence to the JCPOA. Well, we’ve done that, and I don’t see any reason for them not to do this now, given the provocation that we’ve given them. What we’ve done really is start this game, as I said a tit-for-tat, where we do this and then Iran does that, and then so on and so forth. And in this case, Iran is just saying back to us, okay, if the Europeans aren’t going to give us some relief on sanctions, and if you’re going to continue to tighten your sanctions as much as possible, then we are going to do something that will make you think twice about that. And that is, increase, or in this case decrease, our breakout time for developing a nuclear weapon.
That’s essentially what we’re talking about here in the hopes that the United States will either relieve some pressure on the sanctions. Or, more likely, they’re hoping the Europeans will grow some courage, moral and political courage, and do what they said they would do, which is to go around US sanctions. Whether it’s with a new financial transaction system or whatever, the Europeans need to grow up and become an independent body, if you will, and do what they said they would do if they want this nuclear agreement to stay alive. It’s clearly what the Iranians said they would do. One could expect him to do it. And ultimately, what will happen here, of course, is if none of this works is Iran will gradually work its way towards what we prevented with the JCPOA. That is, a nuclear weapons program. And if I were they, I would be doing the same thing given the degree of provocation that the largest economic and financial power in the world with the most powerful military has placed upon, them even to the point of lying constantly about what Iran is doing.
Let’s just examine Michael Pompeo, the Secretary of State’s, words recently. There is no doubt, he said, August 2002, Dick Cheney. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Mike Pompeo doesn’t even have the creativity to find a new expression, a new sentence structure. There is no doubt that Iran is responsible for bumpty, humpty, humpty, you know, all kinds of provocations— firing on tankers, the war in Yemen, and so forth, and so on. So if were Iran and I were looking— and there’s no love in my heart for the Iranian leadership— but if were Iran and I were thinking rationally, and I think they are, I’d be doing exactly the same thing. I’d be threatening us back with the most potent weapon they have, which is the potential to develop a nuclear weapon.
GREG WILPERT So I’m just turning briefly to this tanker attack that you mentioned. Many US allies have also expressed doubts about the US claim that Iran was behind it or that there was no doubt about it. What are your thoughts about it?
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON It makes some sense only in the tactical realm. That is to say, if Iran is trying to pick here and pick there, you know this tit-for-tat game, it doesn’t make any sense in the strategic game. The only people it makes sense for in the strategic game are the Emirates and the Saudis. That is to say, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammad bin Salman who want the United States, desperately want the United States, to attack the regime in Tehran. Whether it’s a bombing campaign or a full out invasion, I don’t think they care. As others have said, Saudi Arabia is willing to fight Iran to the last dead at American. That’s what they want. So in a strategic sense, it makes every bit of sense to me that the Saudis or the UAE or their proxies, would be doing this sort of thing so that it’d be blamed on Iran. But at the tactical realm, I could see that Iran might be using some of these incidents—that’s all they are; no real damage has been done thus far— to pry the United States, to provoke the United States, to see if they can get something out of the United States.
Do they want new talks? Probably, ultimately, they do want to sit down with President Trump, but they don’t want to sit down with President Trump under any kind of conditions. Secretary Pompeo saying recently that there are no preconditions for talks, is not satisfying at all. As I’ve said before, Tehran is not Kim Jong un. Tehran does not need state verification, which is what Kim Jong un needed, by sitting down across from an American President. Tehran, thank you very much, is a state. A very historical state. A state for a long time. A very big state. It is not North Korea. Iran is going to sit down with the United States for new talks only if it is treated respectfully and well. That’s a possibility. It’s a remote possibility because of what I just said, because Mike Pompeo and John Bolton know that too and they’re not about to respect Iran to sit down. Now, the president’s a different matter. The president wants to sit down and talk and come up with a new deal. So if he can bring enough pressure to bear on his staff and is smart enough to work around that staff and to get a message to President Rouhani, for example through Oman or whomever, then we might see talks. I don’t think the president wants war. I just don’t.
GREG WILPERT Although, I would say that his advisers seem to be more intense— such as, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo— no?
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON They do, but then one wonders if that’s not being orchestrated. I know that it’s extremely difficult to imagine about this president, who has no imagination, no creativity, apparently no morals, lies all the time, and goes out and says things like, “Angela Merkel can stay in office for years and years, why can’t I? We need to change the constitution,” and so forth. This is a nut case in many respects, but in this respect, Iran and the JCPOA and a new deal, Donald Trump would take it in a heartbeat. He’d particularly take it as we draw closer to these elections, which look more and more like, even with the disarray of the Democrats, he’s going to lose.
GREG WILPERT Now, just turning again to the role of the allies. That is, Iran says it would comply with the JCPOA if European countries help Iran circumvent US sanctions. Now, meanwhile, the US is of course doing everything it can to stop Europeans from helping Iran. The main countries of Europe clearly do not want to see a war or more conflict with Iran. Do you think that they will eventually help defy the USA on the sanctions issue? And if so, what would that mean for US-European relations?
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Well, this is a matter of serious concern. We are doing as much damage to the transatlantic relationship with Donald Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo onboard in Washington, as we began to do with George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and others in 2001, 2002, and particularly 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. Were we to somehow go ahead and make war on Iran, either by a massive bombing campaign or that followed by an invasion or whatever, I think you could look at the transatlantic link as being severed. So that’s how serious the situation we walked ourselves into now with Germany, France, England, and so forth. I don’t even see England going along with this if that scenario were to develop. So if the Europeans were to find that their equivalent GDP, their combined GDP is equivalent to ours or even slightly ahead of it, they’ve 400 million people. They are massively, potentially as powerful financially, economically, and even militarily, as we are, but they can’t get their political act together.
If this were to be the beginning of getting that political act together— that is to say, they do defy us effectively and maintain the JCPOA without us— that isolates us in a major way. It also proves to the world what the world is going to find out very shortly anyway. And that is, that Charles de Gaulle was right when he said the dollar was the most pernicious weapon America wields, and they’re going to do something about it. And the Europeans are going to be paving the way. They’re going to be showing the rest of the world that something can be done about the pernicious power of the dollar, and we’re going to have some other mechanism in the world to do financial transactions and so forth. And the dollar is going to recede as the transactional and basic currency of the world. That will hurt the United States dramatically, particularly with a $20-plus trillion national debt, and an over $500 billion annual interest payment on that debt. So these are things that are going to develop over the next few years that are going to haunt the United States, if we don’t start making better decisions.
GREG WILPERT Now finally, when Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was asked recently in Congress whether the administration would use the 2001 authorization to use military force for possible strikes against Iran, Pompeo actually ended up dodging the question. Do you think this administration would actually go so far as to ignore the authorization and initiate strikes against Iran without Congress, or might Congress still approve an authorization? How do you see the situation in that regard?
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Well, you know, I watched this with two more, much more competent administrations. I watched it with the first Gulf War with George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Jim Baker. And I watched as the consultations took place about whether or not to go to Congress, and only because H.W. Bush insisted that we go to Congress did we do so. We got the authorization for the use of military force there. Then, I watched it again in 2001 and then again in 2003. Of course, there was no real debate about going after Afghanistan, but there was some debate about Iraq. I have watched it since be bastardized, be used for all manner of further extension of warfare under the so-called global war on terror, and it’s about time it stopped. The Congress is becoming increasingly aware that it’s about time it stopped.
Would the Republicans in the Congress and a few Democratic allies be able to grant President Trump an authorization were he to ask for one? That’s one possibility and I don’t discount that possibility entirely. But would Trump go ahead as Pompeo suggested in his testimony recently in the Senate? Would they go ahead and say that they already have permission and do it? I don’t doubt that for a moment either, but I think the old decision by the Supreme Court in regard to Harry Truman rings a clarion call here. And that decision said— this was Truman and his action with regard to the steel strikes, as I recall— and the Justice who wrote the opinion said, when the president operates in consonance with Congress, his power is increased manifold, is very much increased. When the president operates in dissonance with the Congress— that is to say, the Congress is not going along with him— then his power is decreased markedly. So Trump’s got to consider that, and they do not have Congressional authorization. They will have to go back to Congress. If they don’t go back to Congress, they will be in deep kimchi.
GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, on that note, we’re going to leave it here. I was speaking to Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Thanks again, Larry, for having joined us today.
COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Thanks for having me. Take care.
GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.
Last week, United Kingdom Home Secretary Sajid Javid signed the extradition request from the United States to hand over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who is charged with 18 counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. The final decision on the extradition request now rests with British courts. The first extradition hearing was scheduled for last Friday, but Assange’s poor health made it impossible for him to attend in person, so he appeared remotely via video.
“This case is an outrageous affront to journalistic protections,” Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson said after the court decision. “This indictment will place a chilling impact and will affect journalists and publishers everywhere all over the world by the U.S. seeking to extradite and prosecute a publisher outside of the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen for having published truthful information about the United States: evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse, and corruption the world over,”
Assange spent seven years in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he had received asylum under then-President Rafael Correa. Ecuador’s current President Lenin Moreno suspended Assange’s asylum and allowed British police to enter the embassy and arrest him in April. All additional hearings surrounding Assange’s case have been suspended until February of next year. Assange remains in a maximum security prison in Belmarsh.
Journalist and documentary filmmaker John Pilger’s described Assange’s extradition hearing last week to The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert: “[Assange] didn’t have an opportunity to defend himself. And that’s the first major issue here. He doesn’t even have a computer. He doesn’t have access to documents. He’s kept, a lot of the time, isolated, although he’s in a hospital ward,” Pilger said. “For instance, he questioned the prosecutor, [the] lawyer appearing on behalf of the U.S. government, and said that there is one charge here that is unquestionably false—even the U.S. admits that there was no hacking,”
When Assange tried to defend himself, Pilger explained, the judge, chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot “virtually shut him up”—a harbinger of how Assange’s legal case will play out.
“I don’t think these initial extradition hearings will be fair at all, no, because this one last Friday, for the reasons I’ve outlined, was not fair. He’s not allowed to defend himself. He’s not given access to a computer so that he can access the documents and files that he needs. I think where it will change is if the lower court, the magistrate’s court that is dealing with it now and will deal with it over the next almost nine, ten months, if they decide to extradite Julian Assange, his lawyers will appeal. And it will go up to the High Court,” Pilger said. “And I think it’s there in the High Court where he may well—I say ‘may’—get justice. That’s a cautiously optimistic view. But I think he’s he’s most likely to get it there. He certainly won’t get it the United States. There’s no indication of that.”
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
Last week, UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid gleefully signed the extradition request from the U.S. to hand over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. The U.S. is seeking Assange’s extradition because it has charged him on 18 counts of having violated the Espionage Act of 1917. The final decision on the extradition request now rests with British courts. The first extradition hearing was scheduled for last Friday, but Assange’s poor health made it impossible for him to attend in person, and so he appeared remotely via video link. Assange has already spent seven years in a small room in Ecuador’s embassy in London, where he had received asylum under then-President Rafael Correa. However, Ecuador’s current President Lenin Moreno decided to suspend his asylum and allowed British police to enter the embassy and arrest him last April.
All additional hearings have now been suspended until February of next year. Meanwhile, Assange remains in a maximum security prison in Belmarsh, where he is serving a 50-week sentence for having skipped bail. Assange’s lawyer Jennifer Robinson responded to the court decision as follows.
JENNIFER ROBINSON: As we heard inside the court, this case is an outrageous affront to journalistic protections. This indictment will place a chilling impact and will affect journalists and publishers everywhere all over the world. by the U.S. seeking to extradite and prosecute a publisher outside of the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen for having published truthful information about the United States: evidence of war crimes, human rights abuse, and corruption the world over.
GREG WILPERT: We’re now joined by John Pilger, who has been observing the Assange case very closely, and who was present at the extradition hearing last Friday. John is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker, and his most recent film is called The Coming War in China. Thanks for joining us today, John.
JOHN PILGER: You’re welcome.
GREG WILPERT: So what was the hearing last Friday like? Did Assange have an opportunity to actually defend himself and to make his case? And what was the reaction from the U.S. lawyers and the judges there?
JOHN PILGER: No, he didn’t have an opportunity to defend himself. And that’s the first major issue here. He doesn’t even have a computer. He doesn’t have access to documents. He’s kept, a lot of the time, isolated, although he’s in a hospital ward. So, for instance, he questioned the prosecutor, lawyer appearing on behalf of the U.S. government, and said that there is one charge here that is unquestionably false. Even the U.S. admits that there was no hacking. You mentioned at the beginning, Greg, there were 18 charges of espionage. In fact, one of these charges is hacking. That doesn’t even relate to him. It shows how shambolic the whole thing is. As far as the espionage charges, none of those, none of those are crimes under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
So when he tried to defend himself on this one charge that doesn’t even apply to him, the judge, Emma Arbuthnot, virtually shut him up. And that was really the end of it. It was meant to be a brief hearing in which future dates for the case were agreed. But you got a real sense, a real flavor, of, if not a done deal, then a very, very long uphill road for Julian Assange and his lawyers.
GREG WILPERT: So why do you think Home Secretary Sajid Javid was so eager to extradite Assange? And given this eagerness, how likely do you think that these extradition hearings against Assange will be fair?
JOHN PILGER: It’s very difficult to know. I don’t think these initial extradition hearings will be fair at all, no, because the first–this one last Friday, for the reasons I’ve outlined, was not fair. He can’t–he’s not allowed to defend himself. He’s not given access to a computer so that he can–so that he can access the documents and files that he needs. I think where it will change is if the lower court, the magistrate’s court that is dealing with it now and will deal with it over the next almost nine, ten months, if they decide to extradite Julian Assange, his lawyers will appeal. And it will go up to the High Court. And if necessary, eventually, to the Supreme Court here in the UK. And I think it’s there in the High Court where he may well–I say ‘may’–get justice. That’s a cautiously optimistic view. But I think he’s he’s most likely to get it there. He certainly won’t get it the United States. There’s no indication of that.
GREG WILPERT: Actually, I’ve heard also that there was a similar case not too long ago in which the extradition hearings took almost three years. But eventually the Supreme Court did prevent the extradition from the UK to the U.S. But turning to another issue, Assange, just like yourself, is an Australian citizen. Has the Australian government done anything to protect Assange, as far as you know?
JOHN PILGER: No. It’s a very short answer to that, Greg. They’ve done absolutely nothing. And in fact, they’ve done the converse. It was Prime Minister Julia Gillard in 2011 who decided that WikiLeaks had performed a criminal act, and the Australian Federal Police had pointed out to Prime Minister Gillard that there was no such crime. So they were eager to help convict Julian Assange of these concocted crimes, and have fully cooperated, I would say colluded, with the U.S. in seeing this case get to the stage it has now.
GREG WILPERT: Of course, one of the big issues–and we’ve actually done interviews with Daniel Ellsberg and others–is the topic of what effect this will have on freedom of the press. But in an article you wrote after Assange’s arrest, you suggested that another angle that people should pay attention to is to look at what other potential war criminals have done, such as Tony Blair, and that we should imagine his extradition to the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Talk about this comparison between Assange’s alleged crimes, and those of Tony Blair, for example.
GREG WILPERT: Well, where Julian Assange was on Friday, Friday morning, at the Westminster Court in Marylebone in London, is about a 20-minute cab drive to a very small part of London called Connaught square. And that’s where Tony Blair has a very palatial residence, where he lives on the basis of all his–the millions that he’s accumulated since he left 10 Downing Street. He advises various dictatorships and does other so-called consultancy work. But of course Blair is most remembered in this country and around the world for his collusion with George W. Bush in the invasion of Iraq. And the invasion of Iraq, it is now generally agreed by the scholarship, I think that at least a million people died as a direct result, and at least four million refugees fled that country as a result of that invasion.
So under the Nuremberg standard, that was–that would be regarded as a paramount crime. Blair has not been charged, and there’s no suggestion that Blair would be charged, and it’s very unlikely that he will be charged. So there is your comparison. Whereas Julian Assange is a journalist and publisher. He has committed no crime. He has published classified documents. And that’s an act protected, as I say, under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. And if he is convicted, then all his collaborators on the New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel, El Pais, Sydney Morning Herald, and numerous other newspapers and news organizations around the world will also be guilty. But most important, in the future it will–it sends a very clear message that if journalists do their job and tell their readers and viewers and listeners what governments do behind their backs in their name, if they do their job, then they’re very likely to be prosecuted in the same way.
It is probably the most–well, it is most certainly the most important case in my career as a journalist. It presents the most, the gravest threat to press freedom which I can remember.
GREG WILPERT: OK. Well, unfortunately we’re going to leave it there for now. I was speaking to John Pilger, award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. Thanks again, John, for having joined us today.
JOHN PILGER: You’re welcome, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.
Markets are reeling from Trump’s declaration via Twitter that tariffs will be increased from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods. This is happening in the same week in which U.S. Navy destroyers sailed near islands in the South China Sea claimed by China, and as the Pentagon published the 2019 China Military Report. The report says China is building an army capable of global intervention and accuses China of conducting espionage in order to accumulate military knowledge.
Actual Chinese foreign policy, however, is currently focused not on the United States, but westwards towards Central Asia and Europe as part of the One Belt, One Road Initiative (OBOR). China has one offshore military base in Djibouti and the One Belt, One Road Initiative will place another in Pakistan.
“What’s happening is that China is finally going global,” Richard Sakwa told The Real News Network’s Sharmini Peries. “[China] is leveraging its growing economic power into a network of relationships which are spanning not just Eurasia all the way to Europe, but also in Africa.”
Sakwa noted that while China is now developing a second military base, the United States has approximately 600 military bases around the world: “China is challenging not so much U.S. primacy but the way that it has managed it in the past, which is an almost exclusive sense that the United States is the global leader. Well, those days are beginning to come to an end.”
Peries added that Chinese-Russo relations are expanding. Russian President Vladimir Putin was recently invited to be the guest of honor at a recent OBOR forum, and at many of the sessions, Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping entered the sessions together. It speaks to a nuanced and limited alliance—one much of the West underestimates.
“The Russo-Chinese alignment is not an alliance, and it’s not a bloc, and it’s certainly not a military alliance. But Russo-Chinese alignment is far deeper and far more extensive than many Westerners have yet caught on,” Sakwa said. “It’s an alignment in which Russia and China will not do each other any harm. They will support each other when it’s in their interests—and it’s a game changer.”
Meanwhile, U.S. relations with China are deteriorating. Sakwa explained that neither China or Russia will be provoked by U.S. “sabre-rattling.” As is typical, he said, the current situation is a Trump miscalculation based on his tendency to go into negotiations heavy-handed and hope a deal works out, which has massively failed due to his tariff tweets.
“I’m not sure that the policy makers in Washington have fully come to terms with the way that the geo-tectonics at the global level are changing, and the One Belt, One Road initiative is the prime example of that,” Sakwa said.
SHARMINI PERIES It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Markets are still reeling from Trump’s declaration that tariffs will be increased from 10 percent to 25 percent on $200 billion-worth of Chinese goods starting just this week. This is happening in the same week in which the US Navy destroyers sailed near the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea, and as the Pentagon published a report accusing China of conducting espionage in order to accumulate military knowledge and building an army capable of global intervention.
Chinese foreign policy, however, is currently focused not on the US, but rather westwards towards Central Asia and Europe as the One Belt, One Road Initiative advances in leaps and bounds. It appears to be a modern resurrection of the ancient Silk Road. President Putin of Russia was the guest of honor at a recently held forum of the Belt-Road Initiative. Now, some of you might have read about the growing Russo-Chinese relations being embodied in the two leaders, President Xi Jinping and President Vladimir Putin, who met five times last year and even celebrated birthdays together. On to talk about all of this with me today is Richard Sakwa, who was recently in Beijing. Richard is a Professor of Russian and European Politics at the University of Kent, and an Associate Fellow of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, and has written several, many books on this topic of Russia, Eurasia, and so forth. Richard, so good to have you with us.
RICHARD SAKWA Hello.
SHARMINI PERIES All right, Richard. Currently, China has one offshore military base in Djibouti. Now with this One Belt, One Road Initiative, it plans on building another one in Pakistan. Is this, in your opinion, a legitimate move to secure trade, or is China using its trade advantage to expand its military influence among the countries who were involved in the One Belt, [One] Road Initiative?
RICHARD SAKWA Yeah. The Chinese would say about the Djibouti base that it isn’t actually a base, it’s a staging post. So they also compare their one or possibly two developing bases to the United States’ 600 scattered globally. What’s happening is that China is finally going global. You talk about the Belt and Road Initiative, which is in fact in some ways a synonym for Chinese foreign policy, the way that it’s leveraging its growing economic power into a network of relationships, which are spanning not just Eurasia all the way to Europe, but also in Africa. It’s say, it’s a step change and it’s a sign that China is not assertive as much, but it’s changing and it’s reflecting the growing multi-polarity, certainly, the multi-polarity in an international system. China is challenging not so much US primacy, but the way that it’s managed it in the past, which is an almost exclusive sense that the United States is the global leader. Well, those days are beginning to come to an end. They’re not ended, but they’re beginning to come to an end.
You also mentioned Trump’s imposition of tariffs up from 10 to 25 percent. This is part of what US policy makers initially thought was a limited intervention. What Trump has done, certainly Trump wanted, very focused, to go in, as he often does, quite heavily and then, get to some sort of deal. But what he has inadvertently done, is opened up the whole issue of American policymakers who have been arguing for a long time about China needing to change its fundamental relationship between the state and business. So while Trump went in for certain relatively limited ends, he has now opened the door to a much larger issue about the very nature of Chinese political economy. And in short, it seems that he’s lost control of the agenda.
SHARMINI PERIES All right, Richard. Now off the top, I mentioned that the growing Russian-Chinese relation is intensifying. It’s embodied in the two leaders, Putin and Xi Jinping. And on top of that, recently, he was invited, Putin was invited to be the guest of honor at a Belt [and] Road Initiative forum. Tell us about that growing relationship and what this means.
RICHARD SAKWA This Belt and Road forum took place in Beijing. It was the second. The first one took place two years ago and they’re scheduled now every two years. And it was quite demonstrative that at all the major sessions, Putin and Xi Jinping would walk out together, and it was deliberate because these things in these countries are not staged by accident. It was a sign that even if pressure is coming from the United States and other powers—the European Union also has certain trade issues with China and in the United Kingdom, for example, a major scandal, of course, about the participation of Huawei, China’s leading electronics company, in 5G development. And as we know, there’s a big debate whether Huawei should be at the core of 5G development because the implication is that it may possibly be a backdoor to these systems, which Chinese security services could exploit. So, a lot of issues going on there.
The Russian-Chinese alignment is not an alliance, and it’s not a bloc, and it’s certainly not a military alliance, but the Russo-Chinese alignment is far deeper, far more extensive, and far more extensive than many Westerners have yet caught on. It’s an alignment in which Russia and China will not do each other any harm, they will support each other when it’s in their interests, and it’s a game changer. This is Kissinger in reverse. As you remember, in the early 1970s, Kissinger brilliantly managed to exploit the split between Moscow and Beijing to United States’ advantage. Today, the Beijing-Moscow alignment—not an axis, not an alliance— is far deeper. And when Trump came to power, he had, I think, a sensible idea, which was, I think, given to him by Kissinger to try to peel Russia away from this alignment with China, and to align Russia more closely with the United States. Of course, he was blocked in this because of Russiagate and various scandals, US domestic politics. And so, the exact opposite has happened, that this Belt and Road forum just recently demonstrated just how close Russia and China have become.
At the same time, another development in the Belt and Road is this, what used to be called the 16+1. That is, China and 16 European countries, about half a dozen of them in the European Union. Just recently, Greece has signed up to it, so it’s now 17+1. This has, in many ways, underestimated the enormity of the way that the geopolitical chess pieces, if you like, as Brzezinski used to call them. Speaking of Brzezinski, he used to call them realigning. Greece is now part of the European Union, of course. Yet, it’s funding—the Piraeus Port outside Athens is owned by a Chinese company and in fact, owned by Ningbo, the port where I was just a few weeks ago. It’s an enormous game changer and I’m not sure that the policy makers in Washington have fully come to terms with the way that the geo-tectonics at the global level are changing. And the Belt and Road Initiative is the prime example of that.
SHARMINI PERIES So Richard, on top of all of this that you are talking about, we have a situation where the relations with China and the US are deteriorating. The Pentagon’s report is alarming. The naval maneuver to send a destroyer ship to the South China Sea is all, of course, intensifying. Are these signs of the US trying to provoke some sort of response on the part of China? And will they respond to this kind of aggression on the part of the US?
RICHARD SAKWA I think the Chinese, just as much as Moscow, they understand perfectly well that they must not respond in a symmetrical manner. It would be disastrous for both. I mean, the talk in Moscow for years has been that— even I just read a recent article by some military people in the US who are arguing that they need to provoke Russia into a new arms race which would then, of course, be catastrophic economically. The same applies to China. So the United States sending these ships out there is obviously going to annoy the Chinese leadership. It won’t make trade talks any easier. But the Chinese, as with the Russians, they will not be provoked by this sort of saber-rattling at this point unless—neither side wants to escalate at this moment.
Of course, Venezuela is very much another fly in the ointment because both Russia and China have significant investments over Venezuela, and it’s not just the economic side of things. It’s also the political idea of deciding that you don’t like the regime. China has invested far more than Russia, about $70 billion, in Venezuela in recent years. Russia, about $17 billion, so it’s a different scale. Both are concerned that they will lose their investments if there is this regime change. But for them, of course, is most important, the principle of traditional sovereignty and the idea that the United States can change a regime when it feels, leaving aside the domestic issues, is uniting them yet again in a position against the United States.
SHARMINI PERIES All right, Richard. We will leave it there. I feel like we are somewhat aborting a conversation in which so much more could be said, but we are hoping that you will join us again very soon and we’ll be able to continue this discussion. Thanks for joining us today.
RICHARD SAKWA Thank you. Goodbye.
SHARMINI PERIES And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested that the Trump administration would not rule out going to war with Iran even though there is no explicit authorization from Congress to do so. Pompeo said this in the context of being asked whether the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) could be used to attack Iran on the basis that Iran supported the 9/11 attacks and is connected to Al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attack.
“Do you believe that the 2001 authorization to go to war with those who attacked us on 9/11 applies to Iran or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard?” Senator Rand Paul asked Pompeo on April 11 during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
“I’d prefer to just leave that to lawyers,” Pompeo said, dodging the question.
“So you’re unwilling to state unequivocally that you, that the resolution in 2001 to have retribution and stop people who attacked us, that Iran had something to do with the attacks on 9/11?” Rand asked.
“The factual question with respect to Iran’s connections to Al Qaeda is very real,” Pompeo said. “They have hosted Al Qaeda, they permitted Al Qaeda to transit their country. There’s no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Al Qaeda.”
Then on Monday, April 15, the Trump administration’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization went into effect.
“Iran is not a sponsor of terrorism,” Colonel Larry Wilkerson told The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert. “So to say that Iran sponsors terrorism of any sort, let alone Al Qaeda, is just preposterous. The greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the region and indeed in the world is Saudi Arabia—our ally.”
In a previous interview with The Real News, Wilkerson criticized Pompeo’s initial declaration that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was a “foreign terrorist organization” and called the Secretary of State “a fool.”
Wilkerson observed that the elements in this possible lead-up to war—from a president who does not seem to know the inner workings of his own administration’s military strategy to the involvement of hawkish National Security Advisor John Bolton—recall the invasion of Iraq in 2003 under President George W. Bush, where nonexistent Al Qaeda connections were used as justification for war.
“We’re operating in a way that’s inimical to, injurious to, U.S. national security interests,” Wilkerson said. “To watch this as an academic and to watch it even more so, more profoundly, as a military professional is really jarring. This is truly stupid.”
Wilpert observed that “given that all of this groundwork … being laid with the terrorism mission for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the claim of connections between Iran and Al Qaeda,” the U.S. was likely preparing for an attack on Iran, which would fall conveniently in the months leading up to the 2020 election.
“President Trump wants the tension, the pressure on Iran to bring Iran back to the negotiating table so he can claim—just prior to the 2020 elections—that he’s done the impossible: He’s brought Iran back to the table and we’re negotiating again, and that the deal he will produce will be much better than the deal President Obama produced,” Wilkerson said. “I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that that’s the case and that at the end of the day none of this happens—that we won’t go to war.”
GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo suggested to Congress that the Trump administration would not rule out going to war with Iran, even when there is no explicit authorization from Congress to do so. Pompeo said this in the context of being asked whether the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, or A.U.M.F., could be used to attack Iran on the basis that Iran supported the 9/11 attacks and is connected to al Qaeda, which carried out the 9/11 attack. Here is a clip of the exchange between Senator Rand Paul and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
RAND PAUL Do you believe that the 2001 authorization to go to war with those who attacked us on 9/11, applies to Iran or Iran’s Revolutionary Guard?
MIKE POMPEO I’d prefer to just leave that to lawyers, Senator.
RAND PAUL You’re unwilling to state unequivocally that the resolution in 2001 to have retribution and stop the people who attacked us, that Iran had something to do with the attacks on 9/11?
MIKE POMPEO You asked a factual question and a legal question there. The legal question, I will leave to counsel. The factual question, with respect to Iran’s connections to al Qaeda, is very real. They have hosted al Qaeda. They’ve permitted al Qaeda to transit their country. There’s no doubt there is a connection between the Islamic Republic of Iran and al Qaeda.
GREG WILPERT Then on Monday, the Trump administration’s decision to designate the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization went into effect. This is the first time that a governmental organization has been designated as a foreign terrorist organization. Joining me now to discuss these developments with regard to U.S.-Iranian relations is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. He’s a retired U.S. Colonel and former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell. He is now a Distinguished Professor at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.
LARRY WILKERSON Thanks for having me.
GREG WILPERT What do you think about Pompeo’s claim that Iran is connected to al Qaeda? Is there any basis for this claim, as far as you know?
LARRY WILKERSON As far as I know and my experience as well as my research over the last 15 years in academia, leads me to believe this is true. There is almost no contact. There have been transits. There have been criminal transits of Iran and Iran generally tries to block those transits. But like the United States and any other country in the world today, it’s impossible to block everyone. There have been times where al Qaeda might have made overtures to the Iranian government or to parts of that government, like the Quds Force or I.R.G.C., but they’ve always been rebuffed. All we had to do is watch Iran’s fierce attacks on the terrorist groups in Syria and understand how Iran itself has been attacked by terrorist groups often supported moneywise by Muhammad bin Salman from Riyadh of course, and others like the Pakistani I.S.I., and so forth how Iran has responded to those attacks, fearing that its entire society will be disrupted by them, let alone the casualties they produced. So Iran has been a receptor, if you will, of terrorist attacks just like the United States, Europe, and other places have been. So Iran is not a sponsor of terrorism. With respect to Hezbollah, we understand why Iran backs and supports Hezbollah. It’s the only weapon that the region offers to counter Israel’s massive modern military arm. Iran doesn’t have an arm like that. Lebanon doesn’t have an arm like that. To say that Iran sponsors terrorism of any sort, let alone al Qaeda, is just preposterous. The greatest state sponsor of terrorism in the region and indeed in the world is Saudi Arabia, our ally.
GREG WILPERT Now the other notable part of this exchange between Senator Rand Paul and Secretary Pompeo was that Paul tried to get Pompei to talk about the 2001 A.U.M.F. Pompeo, though, only said that he’d leave it up to the lawyers whether applying the A.U.M.F. to Iran is legal, but it’s not really clear whether he means that he would wait for such a determination. That is, a legal determination after an attack on Iran or if it would be made beforehand and perhaps prevent an attack. What do you think? Is the administration getting ready to apply the 2001 A.U.M.F. on Iran?
LARRY WILKERSON To me this is, as I think it was Yogi Berra who said, “deja vu all over again.” I’m looking at the same kind of trail, as it were, that happened just prior to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the same characters with a few new additions actually laying that trail down. The designation of the I.R.G.C. and the Quds Force holds solely as a purtenance of Iranian government as a foreign terrorist organization. And now this business of connecting Tehran with al Qaeda, just like George Tenet and John McLaughlin did in the C.I.A. with Colin Powell before he gave his presentation at the U.N., which we now know was a total lie. Up to this, A.U.M.F. provides authorization. All of these are building blocks and I think the A.U.M.F. is the last building block, in setting the stage for a war with Iran, for the use of military force against Iran. This is preposterous. The A.U.M.F. that was issued by the Congress post-9/11 was aimed at those who perpetrated 9/11. Visibly here, laughably here, preposterously here, Saudi Arabia provided fifteen of those terrorists. The U.A.E., the most staunch Saudi ally right now with M.B.Z. in its leadership role, provided two or three of the others. So we’re looking at the main element that attacked the United States on September 11th, 2001, having come from Saudi citizenry, accompanied by U.A.E. citizenry. And now we’re looking at Iran as applicable under this A.U.M.F. This shows how far we have come from the rule of law, from wise thinking, from decent strategy, from doing the kinds of things that the law and our national security interests would demand that we do. We are actually acting now under President Trump and God knows if he knows what’s happening because most of this is being orchestrated by John Bolton, the National Security Adviser. We’re operating in a way that’s inimical to, injurious to U.S. national security interests, and ultimately, to the long-term interests of Israel in the region. To watch this as an academic and to watch it even more so, more profoundly, as a military professional is really jarring. This is truly stupid.
GREG WILPERT So how serious do you see the preparations? That is, in terms of the likelihood that the U.S. would attack Iran sometime before the 2020 presidential election, given that all of this groundwork is being laid with a terrorism designation for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the claim of connections between Iran and al Qaeda. Wouldn’t something else have to happen in order for an attack to happen, or is this good enough?
LARRY WILKERSON Not necessarily with this administration. I would have thought the same thing in January of 2003 and then two-three months later, we were at war with Iraq— one of the most catastrophic strategic decisions the United States has ever made. I take your point, though, that maybe there are some people out there and even more so, more importantly, there are people in Congress who realize that this same set of circumstances is unfolding with many of the same players yet again. I have to cross my fingers and hope that what’s happening here, even though I don’t think John Bolton and those like him want this; they actually want force to be used and the regime to be unseated. I think what is happening at least in Trump’s mind, is that— and after all he is the president-— is that what we’re doing is bringing maximum leverage on Tehran. So that’s why you have this argument right now between Pompeo and his people on the one hand and Bolton and his people on the other, as to whether or not to tighten the sanctions to the point of zero. That is to say, to keep Iran from selling any oil even under the waivers that Trump has been granting to countries like China and India. Kill those waivers, Bolton and his people say. Kill ’em. Don’t let Iran sell a single barrel of oil. That way, we will choke them. The regime will fall or it will be easy to beat, militarily. On the other hand, Pompeo and his team are saying, don’t do that because we don’t want to take it to that point. So we’ve got that battle going on within the administration, but I think what this shows is that President Trump wants the tension, the pressure on Iran, to bring Iran back to the negotiating table so he can claim just prior to the 2020 elections that he’s done the impossible. He’s brought Iran back to the table and we’re negotiating again and that the deal he will produce will be much better than the deal President Obama produced under the J.C.P.O.A. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that that’s the case and that at the end of the day, none of this happens, that we won’t go to war. But I can’t bet on that because the President has the most mercurial temperament I’ve ever seen of anyone at this level of power and so, anything’s possible.
GREG WILPERT One last point though. Don’t you think that the role of the Europeans would play a role, would be important here, because after all, they’re opposed to breaking up the J.C.P.O.A., the agreement on the nuclear energy for Iran? When we went up to the Iraq War, they were actually instrumental in participating with the Bush administration at the time, at least some countries were, whereas now it seems like the U.S. has no allies in its effort to oust the Iranian government. So don’t you think that that might still be a factor in holding the U.S. back from war?
LARRY WILKERSON It should be and normally and naturally, it would be. But remember, even with my administration, George W. Bush, we had a “coalition of the willing,” as Donald Rumsfeld called it and that coalition only included substantially the United Kingdom. Germany was vehemently opposed. Chirac and Dominique de Villepin, the foreign ministers of France, were just as vehemently opposed. So that didn’t stop George Bush and I don’t think this administration, given its policy towards the Europeans to this point which has been just disastrous, and his policy in particular towards the most powerful member of Europe, Germany. I don’t think it will stop this administration for a moment and I know for darn sure it wouldn’t stop John Bolton. John Bolton doesn’t think allies are even necessary, doesn’t want allies. I take your point, but I don’t think that would impede this administration. I still fall back on my original hope that what Trump is after here is the same thing he was after with Kim Jong-un. Call him “Rocket Man.” Threaten him. Tell him that you’re going to destroy him, your button’s bigger than his button, and then all that kind of stuff, and then negotiate with him. I think that’s what Trump wants to do with Iran too. I don’t think it’s going to happen because the Iranians are not going to come back to the negotiating table, but I think that’s what he wants.
GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now. I’m speaking to Colonel Larry Wilkerson, professor at the College of William and Mary. Thanks again, Larry, for having joined us today.
LARRY WILKERSON Thanks. Take care.
GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.