War and Iran?

Iran’s Uranium Storage Deal

Iran undoubtedly pulled off a diplomatic coup with its announcement yesterday of a deal with Brazil and Turkey to store its low grade uranium. It is very hard for even the most ardent warmonger to claim that Iran is enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons, when that same uranium is in storage in Turkey.


But perhaps the most significant fact yesterday is one that does not bode well for Iran in the long term. It is that plainly the Russians were caught on the hop and struggling for a response. Russia has been Iran’s most powerful diplomatic protector, but in recent months the Obama diplomatic offensive to win Russia over on Iran appeared to have made dramatic headway. That the Iranians had not kept the Russians informed on the Brazil Turkey deal was a mistake – and led to eventual remarks by Medvedev that were not welcoming, and appeared graduated to the US response. Iran cannot afford to lose Russian support in the long term.

Under this deal, Iran is swapping some of its low grade for 20% uranium, and putting the balance in storage. In effect the whole lot goes to Turkey. It is worth noting that, according to the IAEA, all of Iran’s uranium is verified and accounted for. None has gone AWOL. This deal would leave Iran with nothing to make a nuclear bomb with. It is also worth noting – a point the western media never cover – that Iran has a perfectly legitimate requirement for 20% uranium. It has a reactor donated by the United States which produces medical isotopes and which runs on 20% uranium.

I should stress that I have no time at all for the murderous group of theocratic nutters who constitute the Iranian regime. For their own warped reasons, it suits them to heighten international tension around speculation that they may wish to produce a nuclear weapon. They are anything but straightforward, and anyone who believes that the welfare of the Iranian people is the primary concern of Iran’s governing elite is quite wrong.

But there is no indication that Iran has the ability for years to produce a nuclear weapon, and this arrangement makes that ever more plain. If any nation has a genune concern that Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, this agreement to remove almost the entire stock of uranium from Iran can only be welcomed.

The failure to welcome this step by US and UK governments indicates that their actual agenda does not relate to Iran’s nuclear programme at all. And I still wait for a British minister to say something about Israel’s very real and very large stockpile of nuclear weapons.

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Mordechai Vanunu Jailed Again

The British government, mainstream parties and the mainstream media never mention Israel’s nuclear weapons, even when pontificating about the effect of potential Iranian nuclear weapons on the balance of power in the Middle East.

Consistent with that, no amount of googling brings up any British mainstream media mention of the fact that whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu has just been jailed again in Israel. This is for breaching the terms of a military edict – not a court order – restricting his movements and contacts.

One slight ray of light is that Amnesty International, an organisation I generally hold in high regard, is finally adopting Mordechai as a prisoner of conscience:

“If Mordechai Vanunu is imprisoned again, Amnesty International will declare him to be a prisoner of conscience and call for his immediate and unconditional release,” deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa Philip Luther said in a statement.

“The ongoing restrictions placed on Mordechai Vanunu have meant that he has been unable to move to the USA to live with his adopted family, placing a huge strain on his mental and physical health,” Luther said.

“They are not parole restrictions since he served his full 18-year term. They arbitrarily limit his rights to freedom of movement, expression and association (and) are therefore in breach of international law.”


Mordechai had suffered the obscenity of eleven years in solitary confinement, and over twenty years in all in prison. Nothing I can say is of consequence compared to that, but I have a particular feeling for Mordechai as a fellow whistleblower – in his case on Israeli nuclear weapons, and in my case on CIA and MI6 torture and extraordinary rendition. I know something of what it is to be called a traitor and have the establishment crush down on you, though obviously Mordechai has suffered much more. I also share with Mordechai the honour of being a former Rector of a Scottish university.

Next time you see our political “leaders” banging on about Iranian nuclear weapons, remember Mordechai and consider why Israeli nuclear weapons are never mentioned.

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Peter Moore

I am delighted for Peter Moore and his family. The invasion of Iraq was very wrong, but Peter Moore was not a combatant or engaged in reprehensible occupation activities. My own FCO contacts tell me two interesting things: firstly that claims there was something sensitive and secret about Peter Moore’s IT work, aimed at Iran, are wrong, and secondly that the Guardian take on the release is essentially right.


Which is interesting, as Miliband is strenuously denying the Guardian story about the link to the release of Qais al-Khazali. My friend – who is a senior member of the FCO and has been operationally involved in the case – says that there was a link and the FCO were very conscious of it.

Looks like Miliband is lying yet again. Now there’s a shock.

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Why The Left – And The Media – Are Stupid

I will never understand why so many on the political left will excuse any bad behaviour by anybody so long as their general stance is anti-US foreign policy and anti-Zionist. I write this as somebody who is firmly anti-US foreign policy and anti-Zionist.

Why is it that the left cannot see that it voids their entire argument, if they claim (correctly) that Blair and Bush were in breach of international law, and are war criminals, but that Iran does not need to respect international law?

Why is it that people who rightly see that it is wrong for Muslims to be detained without trial in the UK just because they are Muslims, cannot see that it is wrong for Britons to be detained without trial in Iran just because they are Britons? Why can they not see that the “They must have been up to something” argument used by the right in relation to the arrest of innocent student Muslims in Manchester, is precisely the same as the “they must have been up to something” argument used by the left in relation to the British yachtsmen in the Gulf?

The answer is – because they are as stupid and blinkered as the right. The left may have a less selfish world view, but it does not protect against the blind prejudice inculcated by self-righteousness.

The media are equally stupid. Amazingly, if you do a google news search on the term “innocent passage”, you get not one result. In all the acres of media coverage there has not been a single mention of what in fact is the law applicable to this situation.



Right of innocent passage

Subject to this Convention, ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea.


Meaning of passage

1. Passage means navigation through the territorial sea for the purpose of:

(a) traversing that sea without entering internal waters or calling at a roadstead or port facility outside internal waters; or

(b) proceeding to or from internal waters or a call at such roadstead or port facility.

2. Passage shall be continuous and expeditious. However, passage includes stopping and anchoring, but only in so far as the same are incidental to ordinary navigation or are rendered necessary by force majeure or distress or for the purpose of rendering assistance to persons, ships or aircraft in danger or distress.


Meaning of innocent passage

1. Passage is innocent so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State. Such passage shall take place in conformity with this Convention and with other rules of international law.

2. Passage of a foreign ship shall be considered to be prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal State if in the territorial sea it engages in any of the following activities:

(a) any threat or use of force against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of the coastal State, or in any other manner in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations;

(b) any exercise or practice with weapons of any kind;

(c) any act aimed at collecting information to the prejudice of the defence or security of the coastal State;

(d) any act of propaganda aimed at affecting the defence or security of the coastal State;

(e) the launching, landing or taking on board of any aircraft;

(f) the launching, landing or taking on board of any military device;

(g) the loading or unloading of any commodity, currency or person contrary to the customs, fiscal, immigration or sanitary laws and regulations of the coastal State;

(h) any act of wilful and serious pollution contrary to this Convention;

(i) any fishing activities;

(j) the carrying out of research or survey activities;

(k) any act aimed at interfering with any systems of communication or any other facilities or installations of the coastal State;

(l) any other activity not having a direct bearing on passage.


Duties of the coastal State

1. The coastal State shall not hamper the innocent passage of foreign ships through the territorial sea except in accordance with this Convention. In particular, in the application of this Convention or of any laws or regulations adopted in conformity with this Convention, the coastal State shall not:

(a) impose requirements on foreign ships which have the practical effect of denying or impairing the right of innocent passage; or

(b) discriminate in form or in fact against the ships of any State or against ships carrying cargoes to, from or on behalf of any State.

2. The coastal State shall give appropriate publicity to any danger to navigation, of which it has knowledge, within its territorial sea.

You can read the whole thing here.


For those who watch too many James Bond films, there is nothing you can see from the deck of a racing yacht that cannot be seen better by the surveillance satellites constantly trained on Iran or from the very sophisticated equipment on board the US and UK naval ships just outside Iran’s territorial seas.

For me, a major interest in this story, in the light of the Dubai magic money collapse, is another example of how vast wealth is frittered away in the Gulf on things like racing yachts and Grand Prix. That squittering away of money seems very real as I sit here in Accra working on ideas for development and poverty alleviation.

David Milliband, rather than insist on the right of innocent passage, has decided to take a low key approach in the hope that Iran lets the sailors go. I am not sure that will work. There is no fun for Ahmadinejad if we do not get hysterical about it, as we did about the naval sailors – and in that case we were in the wrong. This time we are in the right. Perversely that may make it harder rather than easier for Iran to back down.

However there are potentially highly damaging consequences to the whole system of world navigation if we simply accept the right of states to ban foreign vessels from their territorial seas. Not mentioning innocent passage sets a bad precedent on which others will be keen to seize

This is not theory. I was involved in the negotiation on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and at one stage was the Leader of the UK Delegation to the Preparatory Commission on UNCLOS. Indonesia for one is very keen indeed to assert rights to ban navigation through its territorial waters – which would be potentially an economic disaster for Australia. Look at a map.

Iran should let these sailors go on their way. And the left should stop making fools of themselves. But doubtless they still will make fools of themselves in comments below.

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Iranians Capture British Sailors (Again)

One of this blog’s finest hours came when I was able to point out that the British Navy personnel captured by Iran were quite possibly in Iranian waters, and that the British government had produced a fake boundary map with no legal basis to justify its claims.


Coming as it did in the middle of massive Jingoistic propaganda, even though my assertions were true to anybody who did five minute’s research, it gave me an uncomfortable week, but finally it was universally accepted that I was telling the truth.

But the current case of arrest by Iran of civilian yachtsmen is completely different. Civilian mariners have every right to transit through territorial seas. As with the last incident, complete ignorance of the Law of the Sea is making media coverage useless. The question is inot if

It is thought the vessel may have strayed inadvertently into Iranian waters, the Foreign Office said


Unlike military personnel boarding ships, civilian ships have every right to sail through anybody’s territorial waters, including Iran’s. The Right to Innocent Passage, subject to reasonable navigation safety regulations, is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. So the Iranians had absolutely no right to arrest these yachtsmen, whether they were in Iranian territorial waters or not.

It is a sign of the times that the Guardian does not know and is apparently incapable of researching this basic fact, That the same seems to be true of the Foreign Office is deeply disturbing.

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Timothy Hampton Death Update

I received this rather exasperated response from Annika Thunborg, spokesperson at CTBTO:

there was no professional connection or areas of interaction whatsoever between the two persons who died eleven months apart in two completely different buildings at the UN in Vienna at which about 7000 people in total work and visit every day. For questions about the other death, please contact the IAEA.

So while I still don’t have the name of the other dead UN scientist, that seems at least to dispel the wide internet reports that they both jumped down the same stiarwell. Indeed I am left not sure whether the first IAEA scientist fell down a stairwell or died in another way. But plainly there remain a great many unanswered questions here.

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Nothing To See Here: The Strange Death of Timothy Hampton

The UN wishes us to know that there is nothing to bother about in the death of Timothy Hampton. Here is their press release:

Note to Editors,

There have been many misconceptions in the media related to the death of one of our staff members on 20 October, 2009.

For the record, we would like to underline that there is no connection between the death of the staff member and the Iran talks at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The staff member, whose death is now being investigated, was employed by the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) as a processing engineer. The CTBTO is a separate organization from that of the IAEA, and has never had any role in the Iran negotiations. Therefore, media reports linking the dead CTBTO staff member with the Iran talks are baseless and untrue.

We request that media which have published such reports issue a correction.

Thank you,

Annika Thunborg, Spokesperson, CTBTO

Here is the CTBTO’s description of what it actually does:

CTBT = Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty

Aim: bans nuclear testing everywhere on planet – surface, atmosphere, underwater and underground.

Why: to obstruct the development of nuclear weapons: both the initial development of nuclear weapons as well as their substantial improvement (H-bomb) necessitate real nuclear testing. The CTBT makes it almost impossible for countries that do not yet have nuclear weapons to develop them. And it makes it almost impossible for countries that have nuclear weapons to develop new or more advanced weapons. It also helps prevent damage caused by nuclear testing to humans and the environment.

History: Between 1945 and 1996, when the CTBT opened for signature, over 2000 nuclear tests were conducted: by the United States (1000+) Soviet Union (700+), France (200+), United Kingdom and China (45 each). Three countries have broken the de-facto moratorium and tested nuclear weapons since 1996: India and Pakistan in 1998 and the Democratic

People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in 2006. Many attempts were made during the Cold War to negotiate a comprehensive test ban, but it was only in the 1990s that the Treaty became a reality. The CTBT was negotiated in Geneva between 1994 and 1996.

The Treaty has yet to enter into force: All 44 States specifically listed in the Treaty – those with nuclear technology capabilities at the time of the final Treaty negotiations in 1996 ?” must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force.

Of these, nine are still missing: China, DPRK, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan and the USA. DPRK, India and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT. Otherwise, 182 countries have signed, of which 150 have ratified the Treaty (as of February 2009), including three of the nuclear weapon States: France, Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.

The Treaty Organization: Since the Treaty is not yet in force, the Organization is called the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Organization, or CTBTO. It was founded in 1996, with approximately 260 staff from most of the CTBT’s 180 Member States. It is headed by the Executive Secretary, Tibor Toth (Hungary).

The CTBTO’s main tasks are the promotion of the Treaty and the build-up of the verification regime so that it is operational when the Treaty enters into force. The budget is around US$120,000,000 or € 82,000,000.

Verification regime: A unique and comprehensive system. At the heart of the verification regime is the International Monitoring System (IMS), which consists of 337 facilities located all over the world that constantly monitor the planet for signs of nuclear explosions. Around 75% of these facilities are already sending data to the International Data Centre at the CTBTO headquarters in Vienna.

The IMS uses the following four state-of-the-art technologies:

Seismic: 50 primary and 120 auxiliary seismic stations monitor shockwaves in the Earth. The vast majority of these shockwaves ?” many thousands every year – are caused by earthquakes. But man-made explosions such as mine explosions or the nuclear test announced by the DPRK in 2006, are also detected.

Hydroacoustic: 11 hydrophone stations “listen” for sound waves in the oceans. Sound waves from explosions can travel extremely far underwater.

Infrasound: 60 stations on the surface can detect ultra-low frequency sound waves (inaudible to the human ear) that are emitted by large explosions.

Radionuclide: 80 stations measure the atmosphere for radioactive particles, 40 of them also pick up noble gas. Only these measurements can give a clear indication as to whether an explosion detected by the other methods was actually nuclear or not. They are supported by 16 radionuclide laboratories.

On-site-Inspection: If the data from the IMS stations indicate that a nuclear test has taken place, a Member State can request for an on-site-inspection to be carried out to collect evidence that will allow the final assessment to be made regarding whether a nuclear explosion ?” a Treaty violation – has actually taken place. This will only be possible after the

CTBT has entered into force. A large on-site inspection exercise was carried out in September 2008 in Kazakhstan.

Civil and scientific applications: The IMS data are provided to the CTBT Member States and to other international organizations. They are used also for applications other than test-ban verification, such as for tsunami-warning (by proving timely data), research on the Earth’s core, monitoring of earthquakes and volcanoes; research on the oceans, climate change

research and many other applications.


It is worth noting, therefore, that if it is claimed that Iran has moved to test a nuclear weapon, it is the CTBTO that would have responsibility for assessing the claim – and it appears that the processing engineer Timothy Hampton would have a role at that stage, at the HQ, interpreting the scientific data that comes in from the outstation monitoring systems as described.

I have not seem the stairwell in question, but jumping down a stairwell is a very strange – and very uncommon – way to commit suicide. Jumpers generally prefer the outside of buildings’, bridges and sheer cliffs – places as free of obstruction as possible, while a stairwell is surrounded by obstruction. There are widespread reports that another scientist committed suicide down the same stairwell four months previously, but I cannot find any report naming that scientist or indicating what they did at work.

A second autopsy conducted by the family believes there may be indications of murder, though at the moment the evidence appears less than conclusive either way. There are way too many parallels to the death of David Kelly for my liking.

The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty has very wide international support, except for a small number of rogue states with nuclear technology who refuse to sign because they wish to continue nuclear testing to develop weapons, in defiance of the international community. These rogue states have an obvious motivation to destabilise the organisation’s work, and it is their security services who are most likely to have been involved in foul play. They are:

China, North Korea, USA, Israel, Egypt, India, Iran, and Pakistan.

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Iran, Israel and The Law

One of my passionate convictions is a belief in international law to govern relations between nations and to establish basic rules of humanitarian conduct within nations.

A comment on my last posting asked by what right the Royal Navy was intercepting vessels carrying narcotics on the High Seas. In one sense the answer is straightforward, and contained in Article 108 of the UN Convention on The Law of The Sea:


Illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances

1. All States shall cooperate in the suppression of illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances engaged in by ships on the high seas contrary to international conventions.

2. Any State which has reasonable grounds for believing that a ship flying its flag is engaged in illicit traffic in narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances may request the cooperation of other States to suppress such traffic.

That is slightly more complicated than it sounds. It is rather ambiguous about whether you need the permission of the flag state (the state where the ship is registered) before you can board a vessel on the High Seas. The most obvious interpretation might be that para 2 indicates you do need permission, and para 1 indicates the flag state should give it.

In most cases you would try to get permission of the flag state before acting against one of its ships, but that may not be practicable in a fast moving operation. The situation is complicated by the fact that the law presumes flag states to be responsible. Although the some of the worst of the abuse has been ameliorated, that is of course far from the case. Liberia and Panama were the most famous examples where the corrupt government of a petty or failed state

sold the right to register ships to unscrupulous businessmen, who granted the flag to any owner who wished to escape serious regulation of the safety of the vessel and crew, qualification requirements for officers, union recognition, and environmental and other regulation which may be practiced by a “real” flag state. The Liberian shipping register was not based in, and had no connection to Liberia other than the formal payment and larger backhanders for the rights.

For those with a Third World Good, First World Bad view of international relations, it is worth noting that attempts to reform the blatant abuse were frustrated for decades by the G77 in the UN.

I am not aware of any case law on the subject. It seems improbable that any flag state would want to go to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea over an intercept on the High Seas which did net a haul of drugs. But if an innocent vessel – let’s say a Venezuelan one – is boarded without permission of Venezuela on the High Seas, the law may be clarified.

The point is an important one; an example is the Proliferation Security Initiative. This was a Bush Blair plan to intercept ships going to North Korea on the High Seas and search them for nuclear components. Interestingly the initial plan adopted in September 2003 was for an international naval patrol by UK, US, Australia and others to intercept ships going to North Korea to prevent passage of “Narcotics and WMD”.

Now there is no right at all in international law to stop vessels on the High Seas and search them for WMD components. But there is the duty under UNCLOS to co-operate against narcotics trafficking. Bush and Blair cannot seriously have expected anybody to believe that their scheme was designed to prevent narcotics being smuggled into North Korea. Plainly the inclusion of narcotics was intended to abuse the powers under that head in order to search for something else. In fact, the Proliferation Security Initiative plainly required a Security Council Resolutin, and China made plain that Bush/Blair were not going to get away with that one.

Another comment on the same thread alluded to the Israeli ramming of an aid/campaigning ship en route to Gaza, and suggested there is no such thig as international law.

Well, the Israeli action was plainly illegal in any number of ways. A naval attack on a peaceful civilian ship not in time of war, a denial of innocent passage or freedom of the High Seas (depending exactly where it took place) and a subsequent failure of the duty to render assistance to a vessel in distress. It is not that there is no international law; the problem is enforcing it.

From 1945 for the next 50 years, international law made tremendous strides in establishing basic rights and norms and regulating relations between states. International judicial institutions made hundreds of landmark judgements, which were indeed in the vast majority of cases complied with. The US had a history of holding out against such developments and then, a couple of decades after everyone else, signing up (as with the Convention on the Law of the Sea).

Then came the Bush/Blair disaster. With Russia in near catatonic economic shock and China just starting to emerge, Bush/Blair argued that the might of a single military superpower equalled right, and that the moral convictions of divinely inspired leaderhip overrode international law. The illegal invasion of Iraq, the use of torture, the abjuring of the Geneva Conventions, were just part of the Bush/Blair attack on the whole concept of being bound by law. It was a Neitzschean view of the US President as Hero.

With the UK and half of Europe following the money, the pier of the largest bulwark of support for the concept of international law was fatally corroded.

One key aspect of the development of international law prior to this was a growing acceptance of the notion that at some point international law obtains a universality, whether or not states have signed up to the specific instrument. This is separate to the question of the number of ratifications needed to bring the Treaty into force, though that is a necessary prior step. Put another way, notions encapsulated in treaties pass into customary international law.

This is, in fact, common sense. Nuremburg confirmed the principle – it would not have been taken as a defence for the Nazi leaders to say that they did not subscribe to the same system of morality as the rest of the world.

Which brings me to Israel. The fact that Israel is one of the handful of countries not to have ratified the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, does not make it any less illegal for Israel to ram civilian vessels. Equally – and contrary to the point made by another commenter on an earlier entry – Israeli nuclear weapons are not legal, just because Israel has not ratified the nuclear non-proliferation treaties. Israel has no more right than Nazi Germany to choose to be an aggressive rogue state, and cannot simply claim to be above the framework of international law.

It is, of course, perfectly possible for behaviour to be legal yet still reprehensible. It is worth noting that it is perfectly legal for Iran to develop medium range missiles. But to test fire them now is an obvious provocation from a regime that is fanatical and deeply irresponsible.

The annoying thing about Ahmadinejad’s speech at the UN was that there were whole swathes of it with which I was entirely in agreement. At least he did not get into holocaust denial on this occasion: if he could have further refrained from the couple of sentences which were indeed anti-semitic, he would have made the walkout appear unjustified and puerile, But the man is plainly deranged. (I expect that Roman Polanski, whose mother died in Auschwitz, would be surprised at the claim that the Holocuast was an invention.)

While Iran is entitled to develop its missiles, to develop nuclear warheads is illegal. I have maintained all along that Iran is indeed seeking to do this, and the admittance of its secret nstallation is pretty hard to construe as part of peaceful nuclear power development.

Incidentally, this is what a secret nuclear installation looks like.


I can think of no justification at all for taking any measures against Iran over its nuclear programme, that we do not take against Israel for its major illegal nuclear arsenal.

The signs are good for the developing US/Russian rapprochement on Iran, and I regard that as a good thing. It moves us further from a scenario in which the US may be involved in a military attack on Iran, and leaves Gordon Brown out of line in the ferocity of his anti-Iranian rhetoric. I expect that New Labour feel they could use a war before the general election, but I don’t think they will get one.

Thanks to Tony for the link.

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On Missiles and Missile Defence

Gordon Brown is making the headlines this morning with an offer to cut the Trident II deterrent from four to three submarines. While something of an improvement on New Labour’s previous stance of unthinking macho pro-nuclear posturing, it still goes nowhere near addressing the fundamental futility of Trident.

Who is it meant to deter? In all the analysis on the attempts of Iran and North Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, I don’t recall any serious commentator from any political perspective even mentioning the British nuclear deterrent as a factor in the equation.

I am no fan of Putin, but neither can I now conceive a nuclear standoff with Russia or with China, as the ideological divide has effectively collapsed.

New Labour’s original proposal forTrident II was a huge increase in killing power over the current Trident. We need more detail on the number of not just submarines but also the number of independently targetable warheads and their size, but it remains probable that Brown’s proposed three nuclear submarines of Trident II will still represent an increase, not a decrease, in the already massive destructive power of the four nuclear submarines of Trident I.

But I fail to understand why we are discussing at all the huge expenditure on this extraordinary monument to human evil, when we are going to have to pay for it entirely from borrowing on top of already over-massive government debt.

The government have already announced they are planning to slash secondary school teachers. Incredibly they are planning to introduce yet more internal market “reform” into the National Health Service, as a means of saving money, in face of overwhelming evidence that this approach hugely increases spending on accounting and administration without delivering service improvements or savings.

Trident missiles; immoral, useless and ruinously unaffordable. But Gordon Brown isn’t going to increase their killing power by as much as he had originally planned to increase it. So that’s alright then.

Brown’s hand has been forced, of course, by Obama’s consistent and generally laudable initiatives. We await the meat of his proposed nuclear weapon reductions. But the cancellation of the Bush plans for a new interceptor missile system in Eastern Europe should be applauded – with caveats.

It was always a pathetic fiction that the system was intended to defend against non-existent intercontinental ballistic missiles from Iran carrying non-existent Iranian nuclear warheads. The Russians were quite right to suspect that the defences were primarily against Russian missiles. It is a fascinating thing that the most passionate advocates of Mutual Assured Destruction spend a great deal of their time, and billions of taxpayers’ money, on trying to take the mutual out of it.

Under Putin, Russia has moved in a highly unpleasant authoritarian and nationalist direction. Russian schools once again elide the Stalin-Hitler pact. The Great Patriotic War only started in 1941, while Stalin’s appalling crimes are minimised and his image burnished. The murder of independent journalists continues apace, almost unreported in the West. Opposition political parties cannot campaign, and the space for independent media has almost completely vanished.

But the Bush administration’s standoff with Putin was not connected to Russia’s internal authoritarianism. Dictatorship did not worry Bush in the least in the US/Uzbek alliance, for example. The US/Russia standoff was a retreat into the Cold War postures and hard sphere of influence politics. It was a return to they system that was so profitable for the arms industry and military complex throughout the Cold War. US attitudes, summed up by forcing the missile defence scheme onto Russia’s borders, helped create the Russian paranoia which boosted Putin’s nationalist support.

A warming of US/Russian relations will be no bad thing, and may open the way to more sensible ways of interacting with Iran. But there are other aspects to this which are more worrying.

The Obama administration has been at pains to emphasise that the missile defence scheme is being reconfigured, not being abandoned. The Russians had earlier made an offer to the Americans to share their radar system monitoring Iranian airspace from Baku. This would have involved stationing of US forces in Azerbaijan.

According to one of my FCO sources, the US have now indicated to the Russians that they wish to revisit this Russian proposal. There is more to this than joint cooperation over Iran. Russia had effectively rolled back US influence in the ex-Soviet space of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Gazprom had tied up the gas of the Central Asian states, and the US was evicted from its airbase in Uzbekistan and had received marching orders to withdraw from Kirghizstan. Its major remaining ally, Georgia, was militarily humiliated by Russia, driving home a hard lesson in the realities of power in the region.

The Obama administration has been carefully and slowly clawing back ground, in particular seeking to rebuild its supply access to Afghanistan through Central Asia. A transit agreement with President Karimov of Uzbekistan in March this year was a key step. A US military presence in Baku would be a major part of the jigsaw.

But the regime of President Aliyev of Azerbaijan, whose father was once Putin’s KGB boss, is almost as brutal as that of President Karimov. For the US to seek to back up its Afghan policy by forging alliances wth such regimes, will dismay many of Obama’s supporters.

This comes as any last vestige of moral justification for the occupation of Afghanistan disappears in the light of a massively fraudulent election and increasing public understanding of the huge corruption, warlordism and misogynism of the Karzai government, floated on a sea of heroin production.

The “return” of General Dostum, the vicious Uzbek warlord, drug baron and mass killer who heads the Northern Alliance, is a symbol of the moral bankruptcy of Obama on Afghanistan. Dostum had officially been exiled to Turkey by Karzai for murdering a number of political rivals. In fact he spent very little time in Turkey but was running his fiefdom from a home near Mazar e Sharif and supervising his heroin trade. But he was officially brought back from Turkey by Karzai for the election, with US approval, and duly delivered votes of over 100% for Karzai in many Uzbek areas of Afghanistan.

Now the Pentagon is proposing to initiate weapons supply on a massive scale to Dostum’s private army, to fight the Taliban. They believe this would have more chance of success than building the hopeless Afghan army (of which Dostum remains nominal Chief of Staff).

Dostum used to tie dissidents within his own ranks to tank tracks to be driven in front of his men as an example. He had hundreds of alleged Taliban supporters killed by crowding them into sealed containers in the desert sun. He is believed to have killed some 3,000 “Taliban” prisoners, and controls the drug trade through Uzbekistan to the Baltic and Europe.

Obama’s foreign policy is undoubtedly an improvement on his predecessor and in the area of missiles and nuclear weaponry deserves to be labelled progressive. But the moral poison of the Afghan War is fatal to his efforts.

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For me, any sensible discussion of Iran must accept a number of facts. I will set these out as Set A and Set B. Both sets are true. But ideologues of the right routinely discount Set A, while ideologues of the left routinely discount Set B. That is why most debate on Iran is inane.

Set A

Iranian Islamic fundamentalism allied to fierce anti-Americanism was born from CIA intervention to topple democracy and keep in power a ruthless murdering despot for decades, in the interests of US oil and gas companies

Iranian anti-Americanism was fuelled further by US support for US friend and ally Saddam Hussein who was armed to wage a murderous war against Iran, again in the hope of US access to Iran’s oil and gas

The US committed a terrible atrocity against civilians by shooting down an Iranian passenger jet

Iran is surrounded by US military forces and has been repeatedly threatened to the extent that the desire to develop a nuclear weapon is a reflex

There is monumental hypocrisy in condemning Iran’s nuclear programme while overlooking Israel’s nuclear weapons

Set B

Iran is governed by an appalling set of vicious theocratic nutters

Iran is not any kind of democracy. It fails the first hurdle of candidates being allowed to put forward meaningful alternatives

Hanging of gays, stoning of adulterers, floggings, censorship and pervasive control are not fine because of cultural relativism. Iran’s whole legislative basis is inimical to universal ideals of human rights.

Iran really is trying to develop a nuclear weapons programme, though with some years still to go.

There are two very good articles on the current situation in Iran. One from the ever excellent Juan Cole. I would accept his judgement on the elections being rigged.


The other from Yasamine Mather, which puts it in another perspective.


I am not optimistic about the outcome of the popular protest.

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That Ahmadinejad Walkout

On Newsnight last night, Jeremy Paxman challenged UK Ambassador Peter Gooderham and obtained the information that the walkout had been agreed upon by EU states before the session, ie before they heard a word Ahmadinejad had said. They did not have a text in advance.

This stunt was a combination of the pompous and the immature that had Miliband written all over it.

Watching Paxman torment Gooderham I was reminded of a posting by Cipriano on Harry’s Place yesterday:

this is why stories surface regularly about the low quality of FCO people these days, mindless apparatchiks for the most part


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Iran, Israel and Durban II

Iran and Israel are both guilty of repeated abuse of human rights. In Iran, the jailing of Roxana Saberi for spying is an injustice, and a deliberate slap in the face to genuine overtures from Obama to cool the diplomatic temperature. But it is a comparatively small transgression in Iran, a country which executes gays and radically curtails freedom of speech, the rights of women and numerous other freedoms that should be universal.

Now let us look at Israel. Israel is indeed a country founded on a racist premise and based on massive ethnic cleansing, and where racial discrimination is built in to the legal fabric of the country. That situation is getting worse, not better.


The BBC reports President Ahmadinejad today at the UN anti-racism conference thus:

Mr Ahmadinejad, the only major leader to attend the conference, said Jewish migrants from Europe and the United States had been sent to the Middle East after World War II “in order to establish a racist government in the occupied Palestine”.

He continued, through an interpreter: “And in fact, in compensation for the dire consequences of racism in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine.”


I have not seen a full text and do not know what else he said. But insofar as the above s accurate, I in fact broadly agree with it. The only real point of dispute would be the extent to which people were sent as opposed to just went. But the general argument seems to me factually indisputable. Whether he is the best person to say it, given Iran’s own human rights record, is another question.

So there is hypocrisy from Israel, from Iran, and fom the Western countries including the UK who theatrically walked out of the speech.

There is a fascinating quote from Peter Gooderham, UK Ambassador and our representative at the conference:

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4’s PM programme, he said of the Iranian leader’s accusation of Israeli racism: “That is a charge we unreservedly condemn and so we had no hesitation at that point in leaving the conference hall.”

Which is interesting as the FCO used to acknowledge institutionalised racism, enshrined in legislation, as a major problem in Israel. One more New Labour step appears to have been taken down the Zionist road.

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Two Cheers for Barack

Barack Obama’s speech in Prague today contains the headline catching idea that the US will work to lead the way to a World free of nuclear weapons.

We will see how he takes that forward. It is a good aspiration and his speech in detail was an acknowledgement of the obvious but often denied fact that the world is not the safer for the existence of nuclear weapons. He reiterated in terms the basic premise of international agreements on nuclear weapons – that new countries will not obtain them, while those states which already possess them will seek to reduce them.

But the glaring question this opens up, is where this leaves Gordon Brown’s determination massively to increase the power and capability of Britain’s nuclear arsenal by replacing the Trident missile system, at huge cost?

Trident2 is the elephant in the room which the “Experts” on Sky and the BBC are blithely ignoring even as I type. If Obama is serious, withdrawal of US support for Brown’s plans should be one of the obvious first steps. (The missiles systems in question are American and would not be able to be fired without US permission.) Unless we see some movement on Trident2, we will know that Obama is just spouting hot air.

There are hopeful signs he may not be. As I said before, his discussions on nuclear disarmament with Medvedev were the most significant event in London this week.

His Prague speech represented another olive branch to Iran, talking unreservedly of the right of all countries to pursue nuclear power for peaceful use. The plan for an international fuel bank is a good one. Iran should listen.

If we assume Obama’s good faith, there remain major problems.

Gordon Brown will be extremely pig-headed on Trident2. Putin is a man whose intstincts are highly militaristic and Russia may be less keen to cooperate than Reagan found Gorbachev. The Iranian leadership is likely, stupidly, to insist on its sovereign right to enrich its own uranium. North Korea is led by barking lunatics, as its new “satellite launch” shows. Obama also deserves praise for not changing his agenda or the timing of his speech to make a populist, jingoistic response to North Korea. Doubtless he is being attacked on Faux News for this right now.

Obama did not repudiate the US missile shield plan, maintaining the fiction that it is a defence against Iran. I hope he is merely keeping it as a bargaining counter in disarmament negotiations with Putin, so that part of his speech would only make my third cheer less rousing.

What lost him my third cheer was his endorsement of nuclear energy as part of the fight against climate change. I suppose he needs to offer prospects of making money to the military-industrial complex which would lose out from arms reduction.

Nuclear power cheers authoritarians everywhere, including Brown. But speaking in a City as close as he will ever get to Chernobyl, Obama got no cheer at that point in his speech. Nor does he from me.

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Shameless – Brown at the Knesset

There are times when the shamelessness of our government is breathtaking. For Gordon Brown to stand craving approval from the assembly that controls the World’s largest illegal arsenal of nuclear weapons, without mentioning that fact, is craven. To stand there and try to stoke populist support for war against Iran, because of its far less developed nuclear programme, is so gobsmacking in its hypocrisy that we must all struggle to find adequate words to condemn Brown. I am again deeply ashamed of my ex-FCO colleagues, who will have drafted this tendentious warmongering, that they know very well will be taken by Israeli hawks as a green light of British support for air strikes on Iran.

Doubtless Brown’s speech of strong support for Israel will have achieved progress in reducing the Labour Party’s £23 million debt. A war on Iran will be a distraction from the effects of the judderings of an unregulated financial system by which there is 1,800 times more “Virtual money” moved than money linked to actual trade in goods and services.

Last year I read Hilda Reilly’s Prickly Pears of Palestine. While I know intellectually of the terrible sufferings of the Palestinians, this work of great empathy brought home how it feels to be a Palestinian facing these levels of oppression. Brown reportedly said that Britain stood beside Israel in “The fight for liberty”. Liberty and Israel do not belong in the same sentence.

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Mordechai Vanunu

As the mad brinkmanship proceeds in the Middle East, it is worth bearing a few things in mind.

1) There is only one country in the Middle East that has nuclear weapons, and it is a highly aggressive racist state that visits untold misery on its neighbours and illegally occupies their land. It is called Israel.

2) Making a nuclear weapon takes a lot of time and material. Both Syria and Iran are many years away, even if they are trying to produce a nuclear bomb – which they probably are. Given Israel’s nuclear bomb, and given what the US did to Iraq, I can quite understand their desire to go nuclear for protection. Bombing them just makes this worse.

3) A nuclear free Middle East, including Israel, and a withdrawal of all US military forces from Iraq, is the path to peace and agreement. Everything else is a build up to a big war – which is what some people want, of course.

4) Bombing someone else’s country is plain illegal outside of formal war. Even then, there are limits on what is legitimate.

5) My fellow University Rector, Glasgow’s Mordechai Vanunu, is still effectively imprisoned for telling us about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme. He should be released immediately.

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Bush setting America up for war with Iran

From the Sunday Telegraph

Senior American intelligence and defence officials believe that President George W Bush and his inner circle are taking steps to place America on the path to war with Iran, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran, amid growing fears among serving officers that diplomatic efforts to slow Iran’s nuclear weapons programme are doomed to fail.

Pentagon and CIA officers say they believe that the White House has begun a carefully calibrated programme of escalation that could lead to a military showdown with Iran.

Now it has emerged that Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action…

…Recent developments over Iraq appear to fit with the pattern of escalation predicted by Pentagon officials.

Gen David Petraeus, Mr Bush’s senior Iraq commander, denounced the Iranian “proxy war” in Iraq last week as he built support in Washington for the US military surge in Baghdad.

The full article can be read here

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Let’s Kill More People

Having launched a disastrous war to destroy non-existent weapons in the Middle East, Bush and Rice have now decided that the best solution is to deluge the Middle East in over $60billion dollars worth of weapons.

The distribution is to be done in such a way as especially to reward those countries with very bad human rights records, such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt.

The biggest recipient will be Israel, who will be further encouraged in their perpetual grabs of Palestinian land. The USA can thus guarantee the continuation of the basic motivator for Islamic terrorists. Saudi Arabia gets the next biggest slice, presumably for helping the CIA spawn Al-Qaida and for providing the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers.

Rice has brilliantly identified that it is Shia Muslims who are the problem, so any Sunni regime can have loads of arms, particularly if it actively persecutes its Shia minority, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt do. As Al-Qaeda have been completely forgotten, the fact they are Sunni is irrelevant. We are on to the next big target of oil now, which is in Shia Iran. So obviously they are the bad guys who need invading.

I bet Bush is surprised by how simple this international relations stuff is turning out to be. Meanwhile Gordon Brown grandstands around the States not cautioning a word against this, bleating out his (I am sure genuine) concern about Africa, trying to raise less money to help there than the US has just decided to spend on more means of death for the Middle East.

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British map in Iran crisis ‘inaccurate’

From news.com.au

A BRITISH map of the northern Gulf where Iran seized 15 naval personnel in March was not as accurate as it should have been and Britain was fortunate Iran did not contest it, a review into the crisis said.

The parliamentary report also said Britain’s Foreign Office should name the person who let two sailors sell their stories to the media, a decision widely criticised for handing a propaganda coup to Britain’s enemies and embarrassing serving troops. The report by the Foreign Affairs Committee (FAC) said the Foreign Office’s overall approach could not be faulted, but it said efforts should have been made to contact key Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani sooner.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized 15 British personnel in the northern Gulf in March sparking a 13-day standoff that ended when Iran’s President freed them, a day after Larijani spoke to a senior adviser to then Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Mr Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, is regarded as a pragmatist more amenable to exploring a bargain with the West than hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Britain first applied to speak to Mr Larijani seven days into the crisis. Britain insists the personnel were in Iraqi territorial waters on a UN-backed mission when they were seized. Iran says the British sailors had strayed into its territory.

A British Ministry of Defence map published during the crisis showed a territorial water boundary extending from the Shatt al-Arab waterway that separates Iran and Iraq out to sea. However experts say no maritime boundary between the two countries has been agreed and the line was based on a 1975 land boundary that could have shifted over time if the centre of the waterway had moved due to natural causes.

‘We conclude that there is evidence to suggest that the map of the Shatt al-Arab waterway provided by the Government was less clear than it ought to have been,’ the report said.

‘The Government was fortunate that it was not in Iran’s interests to contest the accuracy of the map.’


Britain and Iran provided different coordinates for the location of the capture. The report did not make a definitive conclusion on the accuracy of the map or whether the sailors were in Iraqi or Iranian waters.

It quoted Martin Pratt, director of research at the International Boundaries Research Unit at Durham University, as saying that if the British coordinates were correct, it was difficult to see how Iran’s claim could be legitimate.

‘Nevertheless, there are sufficient uncertainties over boundary definition in the area to make it inadvisable to state categorically that the vessel was in Iraqi waters,’ he was quoted as saying.

He said the map was ‘certainly an oversimplification’ and could be regarded as ‘deliberately misleading’.

The Foreign Office said it was pleased the report praised its overall approach. It was considering some recommendations and leaving others for the Ministry of Defence to address. The Ministry of Defence also said it would study the report.

Compiled by members of parliament, the report said it was ‘wholly unsatisfactory’ that a previous report into the affair had been unable to say who was responsible for authorising payment for the stories of the personnel after they were freed.

‘We recommend … the (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) set out who specifically took the decision to authorise the naval personnel to sell their stories to the media,’ it said.

See also:

Fake Maritime Boundaries

Iraq/Iran Maritime Boundaries

Location location…

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Letter to the Guardian

I have just sent this letter to the Editor of the Guardian, not for publication:


We have never met, although the Guardian was good enough to give me a column during the general election campaign, and I have written several comment pieces for you since.

I admit there are people in this country, a minority, who still support the Iraq war. Tony Blair did succeed in capturing the Labour movement, and so it is understandable (though to me regrettable) that a newspaper with ties to the broad left would contain a strong element which supports Blair. I have lived with that and never quite broken my 35 year old Guardian reading habit.

But I do think that Simon Tisdall’s unquestioning purveyance of US anti-Iranian propaganda just goes too far. For one thing, you would have completely to shut off your critical faculties to accept some of the scenarios he was fed by the US as plausible. And Tisdall was not retailing the story as “Isn’t it interesting, the US is saying this”, he was relating their wild surmise as plausible fact.

Juan Cole’s blog Informed Comment – which is always superb – has an excellent comment on the piece, which I think well sums up the baffled bemusement of the intelligentsia.

I was rather hoping Tisdall was giving us another San Serife, but the date was wrong.

Get a grip! You are supposed to be an Editor. I was, genuinely, a great fan of your writing as a reporter. Of course, some brilliant footballers make lousy managers.

Craig Murray

I’ll post a reply if I get one.


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US Turns up the Heat on Tehran

By Simon Tisdall in Guardian Online

Iran’s secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq

“Iran is fighting a proxy war in Iraq and it’s a very dangerous course for them to be following. They are already committing daily acts of war against US and British forces,” a senior US official in Baghdad warned. “They [Iran] are behind a lot of high-profile attacks meant to undermine US will and British will, such as the rocket attacks on Basra palace and the Green Zone [in Baghdad]. The attacks are directed by the Revolutionary Guard who are connected right to the top [of the Iranian government].”

…US officials now say they have firm evidence that Tehran has switched tack as it senses a chance of victory in Iraq. In a parallel development, they say they also have proof that Iran has reversed its previous policy in Afghanistan and is now supporting and supplying the Taliban’s campaign against US, British and other Nato forces.

…Any US decision to retaliate against Iran on its own territory could be taken only at the highest political level in Washington, the official said. But he indicated that American patience was wearing thin.

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