An ominously ironic juxtaposition of news stories, for those who are paying attention. First, the apparent good news. President Obama announced Nov. 6 that he's rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, after seven years of deliberation on the question. Obama invoked the prospect of leaving the 800,000 barrels a day of Canadian shale oil the pipeline would carry in the ground. "America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change," the president said. "And, frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership." (NYT, Nov. 6) But one day earlier, Obama notified Congress of his intent to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and finally released the text of the heretofore secretive trade deal. The notification starts a 90-day countdown to the next step in the approval process—seeking Congressional authorization. (The Hill, Reuters, Nov. 5)
Here we go. Another step towards open US embrace of genocidal war criminal Bashar Assad and his regional sponsors. AP reports today that Iran has been invited to participate the next round of Syria peace talks set to open this week in Vienna, with Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and several top European and Arab diplomats in attendance. State Department spokesman John Kirby said "we anticipate that Iran will be invited to attend this upcoming meeting." While paying brief lip service to supposed White House disapproval of Iran's "destabilizing activities" in Syria, Kirby said US officials "always have recognized that at some point in the discussion, moving toward a political transition, we have to have a conversation and a dialogue with Iran."
There was brief media splash last month after Germany's ZDF TV reported that the US is planning to replace 20 nuclear bombs deployed at Büchel airbase. According to the reports, the current B61 bombs are to be replaced this year with B61-12s, a newer version that is said more accurate and less destructive (potentially making their use more "thinkable"). Alarmingly, reports indicated that the new variants can also be fired as missiles, while B61s had to be dropped from aircraft. Moscow of course immediately responded by threatening "countermeasures"—including deployment of Iskander ballistic missiles to Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad. (The Telegraph, Reuters, Sept. 23; Washington's Blog, Sept. 23)
A group of top Iranian jurists and theologians approved the nuclear deal with world powers on Oct. 14, marking the completion of the last step before implementation of the deal may begin. The Iranian Parliament accepted the nuclear agreement the previous day and moved the process on to the Guardian Council, which determined the legislation was consistent with the constitution and Islamic law. The nuclear agreement is now law in Iran, which has the power to withdraw if world powers do not hold up their end of the deal regarding the lifting of economic sanctions. Officials request that the sanctions be removed by January at the latest. Iran has yet to satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of the peaceful nature of its nuclear program, and the IAEA must report on the matter by Dec. 15.
The House of Councillors, Japan's upper house of parliament, on Sept. 19 approved a measure that allows the Self Defense Forces to deploy troops abroad for the first time since World War II. The legislation passed the lower house of the Diet in July. The law was backed by Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling coalition. The measure faced substantial opposition within Japan and protestors gathered outside the parliament the day before the vote. Opponents of the bill are upset that the law contradicts pacifist provisions in the constitution of Japan, specifically Article 9, which states: "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes." Abe argues that the national military must take a more active role in order to strengthen its position against growing military power in China and a nuclear-armed North Korea. The government put limits on military deployments in the new law, but critics argue those limitations are extremely vague.
In a massive display of military might, Beijing held its official "Commemoration of the Seventieth Anniversary of Victory of the Chinese People's Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and World Anti-Fascist War" Sept. 3. Thousands of troops and weaponry including four ballistic missiles filed past the reviewing stand overlooking Tiananmen Square, as warplanes flew in formation overhead. The most prominent foreign leader joining Xi Jinping on the reviewing stand was of course Vladimir Putin. Also in attendance was wanted war criminal Omar al-Bashir. The spectacle came with an announcement that China will be cutting the troop-strength of the 2.3-million-strong People's Liberation Army by 300,000, but this will be concomitant with a big push in modernization of weaponry. (Sinosphere, Global Times, Thinking Taiwan) But perhaps the most unseemly thing about the affair was the politicization of history, and efforts to assure that only the official version was heard...
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has declared a "quasi-state of war" after convening an emergency meeting of his military leaders, with the Korean People's Army (KPA) "ready to launch surprise operations," the North's official KCNA agency reported Aug. 21. There are ominous reports that the KPA is preparing a missile strike on the South. Preparations at missile launch sites near Pyongyang were reportedly detencted by South Korean and US military monitors. The escalation comes following an exchange of artillery fire across the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) Aug. 20. Tensions have been rising since an Aug. 4 incident that saw two South Korean soldiers severely wounded by a mine explosion along the DMZ, with Seoul and the UN Command claiming North Korea troops intentionally placed the mine on a path known to be used by South Korean patrols. In response, South Korea has renewed anti-DPRK propaganda broadcasts along the DMZ. Media reports in the West are not emphasizing that the esclation also comes amid the joint US-South Korea "Ulchi Freedom Guardian" military exercise. The annual exercise, which runs from Aug. 17-28, involves 30,000 US troops and 50,000 South Korean. According to a statement from the Combined Forces Command (CFC) in South Korea, UFG is "a routine and defense-oriented exercise designed to enhance CFC readiness, protect the region and maintain stability on the Korean peninsula." The exercise was briefly suspended following the artillery exchange, but has now been resumed. (NK News, NK News, Business Insider, Aug. 21; Asia Times, Aug. 20)
An Aug. 12 Public Radio International interview with Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute, notes that Iran in 2009 quietly appealed for help from the US in managing a severe water crisis—and suggests that the need for assistance from American hydrologists was the secret lubricants behind the US-Iran nuclear agreement. "The conversation between Iran and the United States over water has extended back more than a decade before 2009," Gleick said. "There have always been contacts at the university level, and at the level of the National Academy of Sciences, between the countries about water efficiency, water conservation, water technologies and how to manage droughts. As the water situation in the Middle East has gotten worse, the interest has gotten higher." Growing usage and an ongoing drought have meant a severe and worsening water crisis for Iran over the past 15 years. Two years ago, a study by the World Resources Institute ranked Iran as the world's 24th most water-stressed nation. (This timeline from The Guardian shows the trajectory of the nuclear talks, which began secretly in early 2013, and were formalized later that year.)