Success in Afghanistan under question

From Russia Today (video):

Afghanistan is a country with a long history of disturbance and foreign involvement. US policy seems to imply that its operation there can be successful. But can the US win? And what, in this case, constitutes winning?

Online reporter Lori “The Resident” Harfenist finds out what people in New York think about it.


Russian President hints at U-turn over Iran sanctions

From The Times Online:

President Medvedev gave the first hint yesterday that Russia was prepared to perform a significant policy U-turn and support US moves for sanctions against Iran.

Speaking in Moscow, the Russian leader went out of his way to be more conciliatory with the West before his visit this month to the US where he will attend the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York and the G20 summit of economic powers in Pittsburgh. A key issue on the agenda will be efforts by America, Britain and France to impose economic sanctions against Tehran if the regime does not agree to curb its nuclear programme.

It is widely expected that President Ahmadinejad of Iran, who will also be in New York, will reject any pressure from the international community. Russia has previously refused to support the imposition of sanctions on Iran, not least because it enjoys strong trade relations with the country.

But yesterday Mr Medvedev said: “Sanctions are not very effective on the whole, but sometimes you have to embark on sanctions and they can be right.”


His remarks contradicted his Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who last week ruled out sanctions. The possibility of a U-turn will come as a huge relief to Western diplomats who had largely given up on Russia supporting them. Trade sanctions against Iran would need the support of all five permanent members of the UN Security Council — the US, Britain, China, France and Russia. If Russia joined the Western nations, Beijing would be expected to drop its objections.

Reaching an international consensus on Iran is seen by many as the only way to force the regime into serious negotiations and avoid the threat of a unilateral military strike by Israel against Iranian nuclear facilities before the country can build its first atomic bomb.

Mr Medvedev appeared relaxed and more confident about his leadership when he met journalists and academics of the Valdai Discussion Club at the GUM department store in Moscow next to the Kremlin. At the same meeting last year, in the aftermath of Russia’s war with Georgia, he seemed far more edgy, particularly when asked who was really running Russia, him or Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister.

Last week Mr Medvedev set out an ambitious programme of reforms through which he hopes to stamp out corruption, break Russia’s dependency on energy exports and modernise a country still overshadowed by the legacy of Soviet rule.

The Russian leader said that other reformers before him had tried and failed but that he was confident that the country was ready to be dragged into the 21st century. He said: “I don’t think we can achieve tangible results in one or two years. We could get results in 15 years.”

He went on to liken the campaign to the eradication of illiteracy in Russia, one of the great achievements of Communist rule.

The reference to such a long project suggested strongly that Mr Medvedev would like to stay on as president for another term when his mandate expires in 2012.

However that could bring him into direct conflict with Mr Putin who hinted only last week that he would like to return to the Kremlin as president possibly for two terms of six years until 2024.

The relationship between the two leaders is a constant source of debate for modern Kremlinologists. It is widely accepted that Mr Putin remains in charge of the day-to-day running of Russia even though he holds the number two job.

Yesterday Mr Medvedev tried to play down talk of differences in the partnership. “We are a good team. We speak the same language. That is what matters. We have our differences but that is normal,” he said.

Chavez announces purchase of Russian missiles

From Raw Story:

Amid rising tensions with neighboring Colombia, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced late Friday that his country would soon take delivery of Russian-made missiles with a range of 300 kilometers (185 miles).

“We have signed some agreements with Russia. Soon we will begin receiving some missiles,” Chavez said during a meeting with supporters in front of the presidential palace.

He underscored the reliability of the Russian weaponry, but stressed that his country had “no plans to attack anybody.”

But the announcement came amid rising tension between Caracas and Bogota over Colombia’s decision to allow the United States access to several military bases on its territory.

Chavez said he was determined to defend his country “of any threat” and assured that the new missiles were purely “defensive.”

He did not specify how many missiles would be delivered or whether the contract to buy them was signed during his recent visit to Russia.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday that Russia would sell weapons to its “friend” Venezuela.

“These sorts of contracts are never signed in public,” he told reporters after meeting Chavez at a Russian presidential residence outside Moscow.

“We will supply Venezuela the weapons that Venezuela asks for. In accordance with all international law, of course,” Medvedev added.

Responding to reports that Russia would sell tanks to the Latin American country, Medvedev said: “Why not tanks? Without question, we have good tanks. If our friends want our tanks, we will deliver them.”

Chavez, a firebrand leftist who has repeatedly criticized the United States, said Venezuela was building up its military with Moscow’s help but insisted that this was not directed against any other country.

Following the Medvedev-Chavez talks, the Russian and Venezuelan defense ministries signed an agreement, details of which were not released.

Separately, a consortium of Russian oil companies and Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA signed an agreement establishing a joint venture to develop the Junin 6 oil field along Venezuela’s Orinoco River.

Russian media reports ahead of Chavez’s visit said Venezuela was seeking to buy T-72 and T-90 tanks, Kilo-class diesel-powered submarines, BMP-3 armoured vehicles, Mi-28 helicopters and land-based anti-ship missiles.

In recent years Venezuela has signed over four billion dollars’ worth of arms contracts with Russia, and last November its navy held joint exercises with Russian warships in the Caribbean, traditionally seen as a US domain.

Recent Russian arms sales to Venezuela also included 24 fighter jets Sukhoi-30, 50 combat helicopters and 100,000 Kalshnikov assault rifles. Moscow has also granted Venezuela a one-billion dollar credit to finance the acquisition of its weapons.

In addition to Russia, Chavez visited Iran, Libya, Syria, Algeria, Turkmenistan, Belarus and Spain. He returned home on Friday.

Russian report: Netanyahu may be planning attack


PM’s rushed visit to Moscow under cloud of secrecy occupies Russian media. Kommersant paper quotes ‘informed Israeli’ source as saying ‘It can’t be ruled out that Israel may be ready to move on to decisive actions with regards to Iran, and Netanyahu decided to inform Kremlin of this’

Olga Gouresky

Published: 09.10.09, 14:16 / Israel News

Russian media on Thursday continued to cover Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mysterious visit to Moscow, that was leaked to the media from his office.

Kommersant newspaper quoted “experts” as saying they believe a visit of this kind could have stemmed from urgent circumstances, “for example, in the event that Israel plans to attack Iran”.

At first, Moscow denied a visit ever took place, but after Netanyahu’s office was forced to admit to the PM’s Military Secretary Meir Kalifi’s lie, a senior Kremlin source also confirmed to Kommersant that the Israeli prime minister did indeed visit the city.

Russian media also directed questions on the visit to the Israeli embassy in Moscow, but embassy sources said that if there was such a visit, “We know nothing about it.”

The paper then quoted what it called an “informed” Israeli source, who wished to remain anonymous, as saying, “Such a visit could be related to new information and could threaten the Iranian nuclear program. It should not be ruled out that Israel may be ready to move on to decisive actions with regards to Iran, and Netanyahu has decided to inform the Kremlin of this.”

Russian Foreign Minister Spokesman Andrei Nesterenko published an announcement saying, “We have no knowledge of a Netanyahu’s ‘secret’ visit to Moscow. We saw reports in various media. They are inconsistent. Other than that, I cannot tell you anything. I have no detailed information in the matter, or any information in the matter. We have seen the reports.”

On Wednesday, Ynet revealed that Netanyahu left Israel on a private jet belonging Israeli millionaire Yossi Maiman. Earlier Wednesday, Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper reported that his destination was Russia.

The prime minister’s aides who published the false announcements of his whereabouts were a loss for words.

Wednesday night the Prime Minister’s Office published yet another announcement in an attempt to rectify the damage, said, “The prime minister was busy with secret, classified activity. The military secretary took his own initiative to defend this activity.”

Israel: Dispute Over Premier’s Absence

Maybe he was out of the country having a tryst with his mistress ala Gov. Sanford. Probably not tho; you would hope he would learn from Sanford’s mistake.

From The New York Times:

Published: September 10, 2009

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, drew the wrath of Israel’s news media on Thursday over what they described as lies by his office about a secret flight to Russia. Explaining why he had disappeared from public view for a day, a statement issued Monday by the prime minister’s office quoted his military attaché as saying that Mr. Netanyahu had visited a security installation in Israel. Israeli news media reported that he had toured a facility belonging to the Mossad intelligence agency. But on Wednesday, the newspaper Yediot Aharonot reported that Mr. Netanyahu had instead flown secretly to Moscow to voice concern over the possible sale of Russian antiaircraft missiles to Iran. In Moscow, Russian officials originally said no visit had taken place. But on Thursday, Andrei Nesterenko, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters, “I am not saying yes or no; I am just saying I don’t have any information.” Mr. Netanyahu has not responded directly to the reports of a secret trip.

Iran defiant, but Russia against oil sanctions

From Reuters:

By Hashem Kalantari

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran defied Western powers on Thursday and ruled out talks on its nuclear program, but still looked set to escape the threat of oil sanctions with Russia saying it would not back such measures at the United Nations.

Western powers are becoming frustrated by what they have called Tehran’s “persistent defiance and point-blank refusal” to suspend uranium enrichment and its avoidance of negotiations as demanded by U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006.

Instead of directly addressing those demands, Iran handed world powers on Wednesday proposals including a global system to eliminate nuclear weapons, the Washington Post reported.

Cooperation on Afghanistan, fighting terrorism, as well as collaboration on oil and gas projects were also among the proposals, the paper quoted an Iranian official as saying.

The United States said the proposals were “not really responsive to our greatest concern, which is obviously Iran‘s nuclear program.”

Western nations suspect the Islamic Republic is secretly developing a nuclear bomb to seal its status as the big regional power in the Middle East. Iran denies the charge.

U.S. President Barack Obama has indicated Iran will face much harsher international sanctions, possibly targeting its lifeblood oil sector, if it does not accept good-faith negotiations by the end of September.

But Russia said Iran‘s latest proposals to world powers contained something to work with and ruled out oil sanctions against the Islamic Republic. Russia has veto power in the U.N. Security Council.

“Tehran is prepared to have fair and substantive talks about various problems, including the guarantee of access by all countries to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms,” Iranian state television quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, as saying.

“But these talks do not include Tehran’s nuclear program and legal activities in this connection.”

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are evaluating Iran‘s plan and their senior diplomats are to hold a conference call to discuss it on Friday.

But White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I would say Iran‘s proposals have time and again failed to live up to its international obligations.”


Russia, however, was more responsive.

“Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers my impression is there is something there to use,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.

“The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region,” he said.

Iran, the world’s fifth biggest crude producer, denies it wants to develop a nuclear arsenal and says it only needs atomic energy to generate electricity to meet the demands of its growing population and maximize oil and gas exports.

The Islamic Republic is seen as being vulnerable to oil sanctions as it has to import some 40 percent of its gasoline to supply the cheap fuel that Iranians see as their birthright.

Lavrov said world powers had agreed to use sanctions only as a way to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its monitoring of Iran’s nuclear work.

“Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate — they are a step to a full blown blockade and I do not think they would be supported at the UN Security Council,” he said.

The U.N. Security Council has attempted to persuade Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium which can be used in either power plants, or if purified further, in a nuclear warhead.

The six powers offered Iran trade and diplomatic incentives in 2006 in exchange for a suspension of enrichment, but Iran ruled out such a move as a precondition for talks.

They improved the offer last year but retained the precondition. Iran said it wanted a broader peace and security deal, dismissed by Western officials as vague and irrelevant.

Diplomats say Western officials have suggested a face-saving way into talks could be a verified freeze in enrichment expansion, with suspension still the goal in exchange for benefits to Iran. But Tehran has ruled out any such freeze.

(Additional reporting by Janet McBride in Moscow and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Charles Dick)

Spy Son Rats Out Mole Father

From Wired:

The son of a disgraced CIA agent convicted of funneling classified information to the Russians has pleaded guilty to charges of helping his imprisoned father collect overdue bills for his dad’s nefarious activities.

The 25-year-old son, Nathaniel James Nicholson of Eugene, Oregon, traveled throughout the world using coded e-mail messages to plot meeting locations with the Russians, and received tens of thousands of dollars on behalf of his convicted spy father, Harold James Nicholson, according to a January indictment. (.pdf)

The younger Nicholson faces up to 25 years in prison. But in exchange for leniency up to a sentence of probation, the son has greed to testify against his father if there is a trial. The younger Nicholson pleaded guilty late Thursday to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign nation and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

“Nathaniel Nicholson acknowledged his role in the ongoing conspiracy with his father to collect money from the Russian Federation for his father’s past espionage activity,” acting U.S. Attorney Kent S. Robinson said in a statement.

The father, nicknamed “Batman,” is already serving 23 years after pleading guilty more than a decade ago to furnishing the Russians “documents, photographic negatives and information relating to the national defense of the United States, with the intent and reason to believe that the same would be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of the Russian Federation,” according to an FBI affidavit (.pdf). As part of the agent’s plea deal, he admitted that, during his 16-year tenure, he received $300,000 from the Russian Federation for supplying the identity of CIA operatives in Moscow, including their code names.

At the time of his 1997 conviction, he was the highest-ranking CIA officer convicted of spying. He faces life in prison under the latest charges.

In 2006, according to court records and the FBI, the father enlisted his son, the youngest of three children, to collect his unpaid bills from the Russians. The son flew from Portland, Oregon, to numerous destinations, including San Francisco, Mexico City, Peru and Cyprus — bringing back tens of thousands of dollars in greenbacks. The money was dispersed to family members, according to court documents.

At one point, according to the authorities, the son returned to the United States from Peru in possession of a small notebook containing “clandestine communication instructions” on how to communicate in code via an internet e-mail account about future meetings with the Russians.

The authorities became suspicious after an inmate at the federal penitentiary in Sheridan, Oregon, tipped them the convicted CIA agent was trying to contact the Russians. The authorities began to eavesdrop on the son’s mobile phone, internet searches and e-mail, court records show. The son often visited his father in prison, the records say.