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May 2005 Country Archive



The politics of oil and gas are ever more the geopolitics of our time. President Bush welcomes Prince Abdullah to his ranch and tells TV viewers in the US that he wants the Saudis to solve the price problem by upping production. The smiling Saudis reply that they can pump oil and will do that, but then quietly, as an aside, that there isn't the refining capacity to make any difference. Stalemate, but it looks good on Fox TV.

Energy security is openly displacing the war on terror as the number one foreign policy priority. It was always close. Now in Iraq, the war on terror is about avoiding car bombs, meanwhile, over in the Pakistan-Afghan highlands, Osama and the Taleban chieftains have now eluded capture for years. The US is properly anxious to secure future energy supplies for itself, yet sends in its ambassador in INDIA to protest against that country's making a deal to buy Iranian gas in future years. How absurd he must have felt at such a mission. When sanctions on IRAN are discussed and this concept, preferred we are told by the US to the current round of negotiations between IRAN and the EU3, which they reluctantly, for a season support, what knock-out effect could these sanctions have when the economy of IRAN is driven by oil and gas? The principal purchaser is Japan, with energy-hungry China looking for any opportunities that chance may throw their way, particularly the opportunity of replacing Japan as Iran's largest customer. What nonsense that any state would accept the US edict at a time like this, when prices have never been higher, that they should surrender their long term contractual rights to oil and gas. It obviously isn't going to happen. Japan will not concede its essential supplies to China which already has said it would veto any Security Council bid to make sanctions. Russia building the Bushehr installation, would be likely to do the same, so what is all this about sanctions? 

There are certain similarities between IRAN and Cuba, both of which are sanctioned by the USA, but not by the UN - Cuba of course, for a lot longer - but the idea seems to be that make it tough enough for long enough, and either there will be regime change, or the ruling junta will buckle under. Tell that to Castro whose beard has grown grey during forty-three years of sanctions, whilst Cuban families are still rationed to a half a bar of soap per month. Lots of people suffer, not the leadership nor the communist elite, but the ordinary people who are supposed to react by overthrowing their government. Implausible, or what? Sanctions on NORTH KOREA which we also read about, and which incidentally the Chinese ambassador at the UN has inferred would also meet with China's veto, seem to reduce the options for interdicting either IRAN or NORTH KOREA's nuclear plans, by reference to the UNSC. That of course does not prevent the US conducting its own sanctions, interdicting suspect shipping on the high seas, etc; with what response from pugnacious NORTH KOREA it would be hard to predict. 

Certainly, the military options don't look good. Of the nuclear reactor sites, Yongbyon is a bit too far to send in a proxy Israeli Air Force. IRAN's Nantaz is more manageable in air miles, but the political fall out, not least with next-door IRAQ's Shiite government, would likely make more problems than it might solve. South Korea is certainly not going to initiate anything militarily challenging to its northern neighbour, and Japan is constitutionally forbidden. As we all know the US can itself bomb anything anywhere, but without (even with) a proxy, plausible deniability, or a smoking gun, it would be at the price of ratcheting down even further, its already wilting international image.

Despite an unpromising military scene, to talk of sanctions as a dread solution to these WMD problems without mentioning vetos, really seems more a hollow pretence (like publicly asking the Saudis to bring down the price of world oil). But wait… perhaps this is the real reason behind seeking the appointment of 'bite their legs' John Bolton to represent the USA at the UN? If he were to be offensive enough to the Chinese or Russian ambassadors, to the point where they refused to sit at the same table as him, that could be the very moment to get the sanctions through; just as it took the USSR's self-imposed Security Council absence, for the Soviets to lose the chance to veto the UN enterprise of beating back the North Koreans. Cunning! 

IRAQ: However one looks at it, oil had at least SOMETHING to do with the invasion, but oil is not a happy post-war story. Within IRAQ, as this months Update tells, 60% of oil tankers that set out from the nations refineries, never make it to their destination. Meanwhile in Europe, Chancellor Schroder has made a long term deal with RUSSIA to supply direct along a Baltic Sea pipeline, gas sufficient for Germany with more to spare for the EU. That gives Russia an umbilical connection to the EU and should remind everyone that RUSSIA is a European state. But what is good for the EU and Russia is in this case, bad for the new democracy of UKRAINE; and the only remaining European dictatorship in BELARUS, which are both being bypassed by the sub-sea route and left out of the transit fees. UKRAINE is no doubt being 'paid back' for its determined bid for independence; BELARUS, simply because its dictator Lukashenka, is just too unreliable to be given any possibility of turning off the tap on Russia's main income earner to Europe, or of interrupting Europe's energy needs. 

In what (Murdochs) New York Post described as some sort of monumental victory for freedom, our SYRIA report tells much more of this rather complex story. SYRIAN troops marched out of Lebanon with two days to spare before the May deadline on the resolution sponsored by France and the US. In reporting this to the UN General Secretary the Syrian Foreign minister politely enquired if Israel will now be required to obey resolutions 242 and 338? Meanwhile we consider the future of a damaged Bashir al-Asad in Damascus. Since no guilty party has yet been identified in the murder of Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri, given the way subsequent events have played, it seems reasonable to ask which of the suspect nations, groups, or individuals, can be seen to have benefited from the outrage?

The recent grotesque travesty of an election in Zimbabwe was endorsed as free and fair [even before the voting] by South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki, and by his observer mission on the spot. We observe in our SOUTH AFRICA report that other African leaders will have drawn the conclusion that they no longer have the obligation to increase democratic space. Meanwhile in S.Africa itself, the aspiring presidential replacement for Mbeki when he stands down, vice-president Jacob Zuma, is teetering on the very edge of the long running corruption trial of his longstanding principal financial advisor. It is sad but true that the bright aura cast by former president Nelson Mandela, which promised so much for the future of Africa, has become greatly dimmed along with its prospects for a new corruption free climate, the normality of democracy and the rule of law. This disappointing reality is bad timing for the G8 considering an agenda for helping Africa, and Tony Blair's Commission for Africa

RUSSIA has been widely criticized, not least by us, for its disappointing democratic slippage. This month we take a different view and examine the case for Putin's methods. He has again ruled out running in 2008 which will make for a lot of interesting speculation, here and elsewhere on RUSSIA after Putin. But the very fact of him not undoing the constitution to retain power, if that is how in fact it plays, would be in itself, a definite plus for democracy.

We were always intrigued by an answer he made to a western journalist AFTER he had been re-elected, to the question: "what is the overarching priority of your presidency"? His reply, if sincere, would balance some at least of the many concerns about him, but more important if he were successful, would be his justification. It was simply to achieve the goal of taking the Russian people out of poverty. That is a worthy objective in a large nation where about 7% own everything and the rest are poor in assets, income and living standards. Undoing the rapacious sale of state assets in the nineties, a policy only possible because the Kremlin then ordained it so, is only good if the accrual of immense oil and gas wealth trickles down to the Russian people. Their entire history is of enduring a despotic class and Putin's new people will need to be very different to abandon the traditional pickings of power. Corruption has been endemic, starting at the Kremlin and on through every level of officialdom. This is what Putin inherited, as did Yeltsin, so it is fair for him to show what he is able to do and how he can deal with the looting of the public wealth that is corruption, if he chooses to be judged by his success in eliminating poverty.
In three years a balance sheet will be struck and history's verdict on him will follow. 

For ten years since the end of the war in BOSNIA, the Bosnian Serbs, General Mladic and former president Radovan Karadzic have successfully eluded capture on their war crimes indictment. The CROATIAN General Ante Gotovina, the most-wanted indictee from the Serbo-Croat war from that country remains AWOL, his non-arrest sufficiently important to block CROATIAs entry to the EU. It makes one speculate, given the simultaneous long-term disappearance of Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda's top brass; plus Sheikh Omar and the Taleban leaders from AFGHANISTAN, that if Hitler had elected not to shoot himself in the Berlin bunker, he and his Nazi cronies might have got clean away to grow old gracefully in some Tyrolean hideout. 

It is Spring after all, and in that mood we recommend that reading about an aspect of NORTH KOREA, available just for this merry month of May, might alleviate the jaundiced view that the dear leader engenders almost everywhere. Kimilsungia (geddit?) an exotic orchid survives only in greenhouses in the harsh winters. N.Korea's news agency reported citizens asking that their homeheating be shut down, so that the kimilsungias could take priority for available power. 
Joy! There is now a new species of red begonia, kimjongilia!

[newnations reports on three of her 'Outposts of Tyranny': BELARUS, IRAN, NORTH KOREA, the others are Zimbabwe, Cuba and Myanmar].

Never an easy choice with so many possibilities, but the tyranny of the month is UZBEKISTAN. Our Update tells how this awful regime has decided to tighten the screws even further (just see our archives), given the fear of following neighbouring KYRGYZSTAN, where the regime swiftly fell to public protest, just weeks ago. 
This month's UZBEKISTAN Update tells just how schoolboys are murdered so the vast and valuable cotton crop can be safely gathered in! 

Why did Condi forget: Perhaps it has to do with the interests of Don Rumsfeld who has a base there?  
Publisher - Clive Lindley

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