Monthly political analysis on nations in
economic or political transition


APRIL 2015





Just don't hold your breath!
The world awaits developments concerning a deal over the Iranian nuclear programme. In Europe there is a solid majority in favour of making deals with Iran, in part in order to contain the wave of destabilisation - the downwards spiral which is shaking the Middle East; and in part because of the business opportunities believed to be about to be unlocked there. An agreement over the nuclear programme is however not a done deal. In Iran, President Rowhani is aiming to achieve that, but although the Iranian conservatives are not in their majority against a deal in principle, they will likely exploit the opportunity to accuse Rowhani of selling out to the Americans. In the United States, President Obama also wants a deal, but is similarly exposed to the criticism and even sabotage of his own conservatives. Not only are the Republicans naturally trying to embarrass Obama as much as possible, but other powerful lobbies oppose a nuclear deal with Iran. The most overt opposition to the deal comes from the pro-Israeli lobby, that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is working to incite against a deal. Netanyahu’s activism could be particularly damaging to Obama, whilst not necessarily advancing the cause of Israel with the US electorate and to those who do not care for foreign states whose agenda differs, so baldly interfering in the US government's dealings.

Other lobbies include the pro-Saudi lobby, which is also strong and well funded. The Saudis want to see Iran remain an international pariah and oppose a deal on that ground. In this, their aims converge with those of the Israelis. [...]


The conflict in Ukraine is now into its eleventh month and daily reports of casualties, diplomatic skirmishes and fierce rhetoric continue to make the headlines. Since April 2014, more than 5,300 people have died in the conflict, which pitches pro-Russian rebels in the country's east against the western oriented central government of Piotr Poroshenko. After lengthy negotiations between Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. a ceasefire was agreed in Minsk on February 15, now known as the Minsk II agreement to replace its predecessor reached in September of last year, which did not live beyond a few days.

The new agreement, which appears, broadly, to be holding, would see the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line. The deal also contains political elements, namely that there would be some degree of decentralization for the rebel-controlled regions. The truce was not glowing with optimism when brokered, and subsequent complaints on both sides that it is being broken, have certainly had an effect on hopes for long term stability. Reporting on the conflict from the western media tends to paint Vladimir Putin in uncompromisingly negative terms, as a revanchist, hawkish authoritarian. Certainly the Russian President, since annexing Crimea in March last year, has made no secret of his belief that Russian-leaning regions in Ukraine (namely Donbass and Luhansk) should be supported in their attempts to break away.

The focus upon this in the press however has tended to somewhat obfuscate the complex political manoeuvres behind the origins of the crisis, in which western powers are in fact deeply implicated. As pointed out in an earlier New Nations report, the $5 billion the US State Department's Victoria Nuland famously admitted Washington had spent, on ‘democratising’ Ukraine, points to a US intervention in the fate of the country, without sufficient long-sightedness - as is typical of Neocon interventions- regarding the political and economic consequences. [...]


Disunity and chaos is a far greater threat to Libya than ‘Islamic State’
The talks to resolve the Libyan political crisis in Skheirat, in Morocco, are not destined for success. The two opposing governments vying for control of the country (in Tobruk, led by the internationally recognized and secular Abdullah al-Thani and in Tripoli, led by Omar al-Hasi, alongside parties closer to the Muslim Brotherhood (backed by Islamist militias) have been negotiating a national unity agreement. It is fanciful to imagine that any progress can emerge from the talks considering that General Haftar, who heads the military forces loyal to al-Thani, has launched an air offensive against Tripoli, while the talks were underway. The implication is that even if al-Thani and al-Hasi sign a political agreement for national unity at the UN sponsored talks, the militias and factions on the ground will not recognize it. The militias will not be disabled and there are many questions as to just how much pressure al-Thani is able to exercise over General Haftar, who appears to have an agenda of his own. Indeed, the general, who took part in the coup against the monarchy alongside Col. Qadhafi in 1969-only to be disgraced after suffering a defeat in Chad in 1984-wants to sabotage the political negotiations, preferring the status-quo.

The need for Libya to achieve a political resolution makes foreign intervention of any kind problematic. Which faction would the West support? The West, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf have recognized the Tobruk government as the legitimate one, even if the Supreme Court of Libya has declared it illegal. Meanwhile, Turkey and Qatar have recognized the government in Tripoli.

The dichotomy between the political goals and the reality on the ground reflect the fact that Libya remains an intractable quagmire where the interests of local militias mix and clash with those of regional and international powers. General Haftar is an instrument of Egyptian President al-Sisi’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood. General Haftar is able to deploy the air force when needed. Sisi’s designs may be to keep Libya separated and perhaps to use Gen. Haftar to help secure the independence of the western province of Cyrenaica, which is especially rich in oil and gas resources. Cyrenaica could serve Egypt as a strategic outpost in the same way as the Sinai region does in the east. Saudi Arabia, which has backed al-Sisi, would likely back this plan, which would ease a stabilization process in at least parts of Libya, while opening the territory up to more business activity for the Egyptian armed forces, which already control billions of dollars’ worth of economic activity.  [...]

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