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The Winds are Shifting

The Winds are Shifting

Odilon Redon The Birth of Venus II c.1910

How do you define terror? Perhaps, because of the way the term has evolved in the English language, one wouldn’t call the west ‘terrorists’ per se, but ‘we’ are certainly spreading terror and terrorizing very large groups of people. Yeah, bring on the tanks and parade them around town. Add a marching band that plays some war tunes.

The ‘official’ storyline : at the request of the US, Gibraltar police and UK marines have seized an oil tanker in Gibraltar. The super-tanker, 1000 feet (330 meters) long, carrying 2 million barrels, had stopped there after sailing all around the Cape of Good Hope instead of taking the Suez canal on its way, ostensibly, from Iran to Syria.

And, according to the storyline as presented to and in the western press, because the EU still has sanctions on Iran, the British seized the ship. Another little detail I really appreciate is that Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said Madrid was looking into the seizure and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty since Spain does not recognize the waters around Gibraltar as British.

That Borrell guy is the newly picked EU foreign policy czar, and according to some sources he’s supportive of Iran and critical of Israel. Them’s the webs we weave. He’s certainly in favor of Palestinian statehood. But we’re wandering…

Why did the tanker take that giant detour along the African coastline? Because potential problems were anticipated in the Suez canal. But also: why dock in Gibraltar? Because no problems were anticipated there. However, the US had been following the ship all along, and set this up.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Dying Days Of An Empire

The Dying Days Of An Empire

Caravaggio Conversion on the way to Damascus 1600-01

Something’s been nagging me for the past few days, and I’m not sure I’ve figured out why yet. It started when Donald Trump first called off the alleged planned strikes on targets in Iran because they would have cost 150 lives, and then the next day said the US would do sanctions instead. As they did on Monday, even directly targeting Trump’s equal, the “Supreme Leader Khameini”.

When Trump announced the sanctions, I thought: wait a minute, by presenting this the way you did, you effectively turned economic sanctions into a military tool: we chose not to do bombs but sanctions. Sounds the same as not doing a naval invasion but going for air attacks instead. The kind of decisions that were made in Vietnam a thousand times.

However, Vietnam was all out war (well, invasion is a better term). Which shamed the US, killed and maimed the sweet Lord only knows how many promising young Americans as well as millions of Vietnamese, and ended in humiliating defeat. But the US is not in an all out war in Iran, at least not yet. And if they would ever try to be, the outcome would be Vietnam squared.

Still, that’s not really my point here. It’s simply about the use of having the world reserve currency as a military weapon instead of an economic one. And I think that is highly significant. As well as an enormous threat to the US. The issue at hand is overreach.

While you could still argue that economic sanctions on North Korea, Venezuela and Russia are just that, economic and/or political ones, the way Trump phrased it, comparing sanctions one on one with military strikes, no longer leaves that opening when it comes to Iran.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump Kicks the Sanctions Can on Iran Oil

Trump Kicks the Sanctions Can on Iran Oil

Sanctions on Iran have failed. The weakness of the U.S. position in the oil markets is now complete. Donald Trump’s Energy Dominance strategy has failed.

The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R – The Eschaton) that no more sanctions waivers will be granted to importers of Iranian oil. Those that do so will face sanctions.

But let’s look at what is actually on the table.  Waivers will be extended to a year from now during a ‘wind-down’ period. But, I thought these past six months were the ‘wind down’ period Don?

I told you these would get extended the minute they were granted. Because three of these countries — India, Turkey and China — are in open revolt over the policy. 

And they have built plenty of infrastructure to get around these sanctions when or if they are ever implemented.

Three of the eight countries granted waivers — Italy, Greece and Taiwan — do not need waiver extensions as they’ve already cut their imports to zero.

No Disruptions

But the main issue here is the extension. It’s clear that Trump and his merry band of neocon handlers are afraid of further disruption of the oil supply and demand, otherwise the extensions wouldn’t have been granted at all.

They talk tough about UAE and Saudi Arabia adding supply but the reality is it isn’t that easy to spin up new supply. And the year-long waiver extension is proof of this. They’ll certainly sell all they can but there are those pesky OPEC quotas to deal with.

No one was willing to go along with the Saudis OPEC+ plan where they and Russia would be pigs more equal than the others this winter, so it’s unlikely that will happen now that Trump has helped them push prices back towards $75 per barrel.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

When you want to sanction States, you call them « terrorists »

The new unilateral sanctions by the United States against Iran, Russia and Syria add to the previous actions concerning the same three targets. They now form the most unforgiving embargo in History. The way in which they have been organised is illegal according to the definition of the Charter of the United Nations – these are weapons of war, designed for killing.

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis applauded by United States Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin.

For his visit to Moscow on 8 November, ambassador James Jeffrey was tasked with explaining the current US obsession with the expansion of Persian influence in the Arab world (Saudi Arabia, Bahrein, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen). Washington now wishes to formulate this question in geo-strategic rather than religious terms (Chiites/Sunni), while Teheran is organising its national defence around forward posts composed of Chiite Arabs.

Moscow then considered the possibility of negotiating on Teheran’s behalf for the easing of unilateral US sanctions, in exchange for its military withdrawal from Syria. President Vladimir Putin confirmed his proposition, not only for his US opposite number, but also for the Israëli Prime Minister, during their meeting in Paris on 11 November for the celebrations marking the centenary of the end of the First World War .

He attempted to convince the Westerners that Russia alone in Syria was preferable to the Irano-Russian tandem. However, he could not guarantee that Iran would have sufficient authority over Hezbollah – as both Washington and Tel-Aviv pretend – to be able to order it to withdraw also.

Washington’s only answer, nine days later, was to announce the eleventh series of unilateral sanctions against Russia since the beginning of August.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In Unprecedented Clash, EU Rejects Italy’s Budget, Paves Way For Sanctions

Yields on Italian government bonds fell on Wednesday morning as the euro climbed following reports that Italy’s ruling coalition might be open to reviewing its budget plan. Though the Italian government swiftly denied the reports about being open to changes in its plan, the moves in the euro and yields persisted, as analysts said they didn’t appear to be news driven.

The spread between the 10-year BTP and 10-year German bund tightened to tightening as much as 16 basis points to 309 basis points.

Italy

Italy

Italian bank shares also eased off their highs of the session after the denials, but remained 2% higher on the day after sinking to two-year lows on Tuesday.

And in other signs that the confrontation between Italy and Europe is heading toward a precipice, the European Union confirmed Wednesday morning that it would officially reject Italy’s budget plan, an unprecedented move that will likely lead to billions of euros in fines being levied against Rome for violating the bloc’s budget rules.

The Italian government calls for an expansion of the country’s budget deficit to 2.4% of GDP to finance tax cuts, expanded pension benefits and other handouts to unemployed and desperate Italians.

“Our analysis today suggests that the debt doesn’t respect our budget rules. We conclude that opening a proceeding against excessive spending based n the debt is then justified,” the EU said, according to ANSA.

The Italian plan represents a “particularly grave disrespect” of EU budget rules, particularly the recommendation from the meeting of EU ecofin ministers last July 13. The statement confirms Brussels’ previous analysis.

Italy

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said Italy’s aggressive spending would eventually have a negative impact on growth.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Nord Stream 2 Could Still Be Derailed By U.S. Sanctions

Nord Stream 2 Could Still Be Derailed By U.S. Sanctions

Nord Stream

The potential for more tensions in relations between the U.S. and Russia continue to mount. Late last week, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said that Washington could still impose sanctions related to the building of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would bring Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Perry made his comments in Warsaw as the Trump administration tries to convince EU members to sign LNG deals with U.S. producers to offset over reliance on Russian pipeline gas.

On Thursday, Polish state-run gas firm PGNiG signed a long-term LNG deal with U.S.-based Cheniere Marketing International. Poland has been fervent in its resistance to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline as well as working to reduce its reliance on geopolitically charged Russian gas. Moscow, for its part, has cut gas supply to Europe in the past during cold winter months to exert its influence in the region.

Warsaw and Washington also signed on Thursday a joint declaration on enhanced energy security cooperation. “This is also a clear signal that the U.S. strongly supports a pro-Poland and pro-Europe energy security policy,” Perry said. “Energy security in turn requires energy diversity. That is the reason we oppose the Nord Stream 2 project which would further increase the dangerous energy dependence many European nations have on the Russian federation,” he added.

Poland consumes around 17 billion cubic meters of gas annually, more than half of which comes from Russian energy giant Gazprom under a long-term deal that expires in 2022. However, Poland has said that it would not renew the gas supply deal, making the country race against time to replace the contract with new gas volumes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Washington’s Sanctions Machine

Washington’s Sanctions Machine

Washington’s Sanctions Machine

Perhaps it is Donald Trump’s business background that leads him to believe that if you inflict enough economic pain on someone they will ultimately surrender and agree to do whatever you want. Though that approach might well work in New York real estate, it is not a certain path to success in international relations since countries are not as vulnerable to pressure as are individual investors or developers.

Washington’s latest foray into the world of sanctions, directed against China, is astonishing even when considering the low bar that has been set by previous presidents going back to Bill Clinton. Beijing has already been pushing back over US sanctions imposed last week on its government-run Equipment Development Department of the Chinese Central Military Commission and its director Li Shangfu for “engaging in significant transactions” with a Russian weapons manufacturer that is on a list of US sanctioned companies. The transactions included purchases of Russian Su-35 combat aircraft as well as equipment related to the advanced S-400 surface-to-air missile system. The sanctions include a ban on the director entering the United States and blocks all of his property or bank accounts within the US as well as freezing all local assets of the Equipment Development Department.

More important, the sanctions also forbid conducting any transactions that go through the US financial system. It is the most powerful weapon Washington has at its disposal, but it is being challenged as numerous countries are working to find ways around it. Currently however, as most international transactions are conducted in dollars and pass through American banks that means that it will be impossible for the Chinese government to make weapons purchases from many foreign sources. If foreign banks attempt to collaborate with China to evade the restrictions, they too will be sanctioned.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Iran Sanctions Could Backfire On U.S. Drillers

Iran Sanctions Could Backfire On U.S. Drillers

gas well

The United States is upping the ante in its effort to sanction Iran, and its efforts may further complicate its ongoing trade war with China and affect the flow of oil worldwide.

On August 16, the head of the new Iran Action Group, Brian Hook, announced that the U.S. would sanction any country that purchased oil from Iran after the November 4 deadline. China has shown no indication that it plans to cooperate with the U.S., and Hook did not rule out imposing secondary sanctions on China if it continues its purchases of Iranian oil.

While other importers of Iranian crude, including Japan and South Korea, had scaled back their purchases, China has actually increased its imports from Iran.

In August China announced a round of tariffs on U.S. goods, including some oil products, though it exempted U.S. crude from the list.

Nevertheless, Chinese imports of U.S. energy products has been on the decline. A ship-tracking report noted that not a single U.S. tanker has departed for China in August. Should the U.S.-Chinese trade war worsen, China may turn towards alternative sources of energy, including Russia or Iran. That would be a real blow to U.S. energy suppliers like Cheniere Energy Inc., which ships LNG to China.

China is the second-largest market for U.S. energy goods. In May it averaged 427,000 bpd of U.S. imports, surpassing Canada, which imported 289,000 bpd, according to the EIA.

Right now, Chinese importers like Unipec have adopted a “wait and see” attitude towards buying US crude, despite the fact that it was left off the Chinese government’s tariff list.

For China, the situation may involve choosing between Iran and the U.S. American energy products have been attractive for Chinese importers, but the geopolitical advantages of cozying up to Tehran may outweigh the economic benefits of sticking with U.S. crude.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

US Sanctions Foster Emergence of Multipolar World

Russia, Iran, China, and now Turkey are in the same boat, as all have become the target of US sanctions. But none of those nations has bowed under the pressure. Russia had foreseen the developments in advance and took timely measures to protect itself. The Turkish national currency, the lira, is plummeting now that Washington has introduced sanctions as well as tariffs on steel and aluminum, in an attempt to compel Ankara to turn over a detained American pastor. Turkish President Erdogan said it was time for Turkey to seek “new friends,” and Turkey is planning to issue yuan-denominated bonds to diversify its foreign borrowing instruments. On Aug. 11, President Erdogan said Turkey was ready to begin using local currencies in its trade with Russia, China, Iran, Ukraine, and the EU nations of the eurozone.

The recent BRICS summit reaffirmed Ankara’s commitment to the Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA) that is geared toward de-dollarizing its member states’ economies, and the agreement to quickly launch a Local Currency Bond Fund gives that policy teeth. Turkey has also expressed its desire to join BRICS.

Ankara is gradually moving toward membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). It has been accepted as a dialog partner of that organization. Last year Turkey became a dialog partner with ASEAN. On Aug. 1, the first ASEAN-Turkey Trilateral Ministerial Meeting was held in Singapore, bringing together Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt ÇavuşoğluASEAN Secretary General Dato Lim Jock Hoi, and Singaporean Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, who is serving as the 2018 ASEAN term chairman. The event took place under the auspices of the 51st ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that attracted foreign ministers and top diplomats from 30 countries.

Ankara is mulling over a free-trade area (FTA) agreement with the Eurasian Union. This cooperation between Ankara and the EAEU has a promising future.

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Trump Blasts “Anyone Trading With Iran Will Not Be Trading With The U.S.”

At one minute after midnight, the first round of renewed U.S. sanctions on Iran took effect, and in one of his earliest tweets since the presidential campaign, at 5:30am EDT, a sleepless Trump blasted out the “official” US position on countries that ignore his just imposed sanctions: “The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level” Trump tweeted.

In a warning to China, India, Russia, Turkey and many other nations which have said they will defy Trump’s sanctions and continue to import Iran oil, Trump warned that “Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States.”

Then, pulling a page out of a John Lennon album, Trump explained “I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!


The Iran sanctions have officially been cast. These are the most biting sanctions ever imposed, and in November they ratchet up to yet another level. Anyone doing business with Iran will NOT be doing business with the United States. I am asking for WORLD PEACE, nothing less!


As a reminder, on Tuesday, following an executive order signed by Trump, the U.S. imposed new restrictions intended to stop the purchase of dollar banknotes by Iran, prevent the government from trading gold and other precious metals and block the nation from selling or acquiring various industrial metals. The measures, which took effect at midnight in Washington, also targeted the auto industry and banned imports of Persian carpets and pistachios to the U.S.

There were some signs Trump’s aggressive policy was already working. Yesterday, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, under rising economic and political pressure, spurned President Donald Trump’s suggestion for talks with “no preconditions.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump Warns Allies “Risk Severe Consequences” If They Violate Iran Sanctions

With the hours ticking by ahead of Washington’s re-imposition of a slew of economic sanctions on Iran, President Trump has just released a statement confirming the narrative he would prefer Americans believe.

Just hours after the European Union issued a statement Monday ahead of when renewed US sanctions are set to snap back against Iran after midnight US Eastern time, saying it “deeply regrets” the sanctions and will take immediate action to protect European companies still doing business with Iran.

Trump makes it clear that any violation (among America’s allies) will not be tolerated…

“The Trump Administration intends to fully enforce the sanctions reimposed against Iran, and those who fail to wind down activities with Iran risk severe consequences.

The first set of sanctions will hit at the Iranian financial system, including Iranian government purchases of US dollars and its gold trade and government bond sales. The US’ dominant role in the world’s financial system means it has been able to pressure countries and companies into compliance, though China remains a key holdout.

“The JCPOA, a horrible, one-sided deal, failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb,” Trump said Monday, defining that its policy as applying “maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime.”

The US denies it is seeking regime change, but rather aims to “modify the regime’s behavior,” according to an administration official.

A US administration official said the Iranian government was using financial resources freed up by the nuclear deal “to spread human misery.” The US was seeking now to address the “totality of the Iranian threat” in the Middle East.

“None of this needs to happen,” an official said on sanctions. Trump is willing to meet the Iranian leadership “any time” for talks,” the official noted.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Russia’s Foresight Stands It in Good Stead

Russia’s Foresight Stands It in Good Stead

Russia’s Foresight Stands It in Good Stead

Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, the famous French diplomat who served as foreign minister for Napoleon, said “The art of statesmanship is to foresee the inevitable and to expedite its occurrence.”

Moscow realized that the US would continue its efforts to strangle Russia economically to make countermeasures inevitable. The Russian government expedited the occurrence by taking steps to lessen the dependence on Washington, including selling off US treasury bills. The ability to foresee the worst scenario and take timely measures to prevent it pays off.

The recent events show Moscow did the right thing at the right time. Just a few months ago, it got rid of US dollars to increase gold reserves. It has taken measures to become almost immune to Western sanctions with no fiscal deficit, a solid current account balance, and very little debt.

On August 2, a bill was introduced in the US Senate to impose “crushing” sanctions on Moscow to include restrictions on new Russian sovereign debt transactions, energy and oil projects and Russian uranium imports, and new sanctions on political figures and businessmen. One package follows another to no avail as the country is well prepared for it with no “soft underbelly” left. There are more steps planned over Russia’s alleged violations of sanctions against North Korea. The vicious circle is unstoppable but the impact has been minimized.

The US has recently imposed sanctions of Turkish top officials. The well-calculated move not only damaged the bilateral relationship but also made the Turkish lira plunge to an all-time low. The currency has fallen by over 40 percent since 2016.

Meanwhile, the US is preparing new sanctions to hit its NATO ally, including what the administration calls “large sanctions’ or “designation packages” to assault Turkey’s economy dependent on foreign investments.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump Firmly In the Twilight Zone: Threatens Nord Stream 2 With Sanctions

Trump’s vise on the EU started with steel, progressed to cars, then to Iran, and now to a gas pipeline vital to the EU.

The story of the day, not discussed in mainstream media, involves Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline between Russia and the EU. The feature image is from Gazprom.

Gazprom says “The new pipeline, similar to the one in operation, will establish a direct link between Gazprom and the European consumers. It will also ensure a highly reliable supply of Russian gas to Europe.”

Some suggest the EU is unwise to depend on Russia. That is nonsense. Why?

Free trade stops wars!

Regardless, it is the EU’s decision to make, not Trump’s, and the deal is already underway.

Gazprom, Partners Invest €4.8 Billion Nord Stream 2 Construction

Believe that? Why not? There is no dispute from the EU.

My point is the investment.

Russia’s gas producer Gazprom and its Nord Stream 2 partners have invested a total of 4.8 bln euro in the project on natural gas pipeline construction as of the end of June, Chief Financial Officer of Nord Stream 2 AG, the operator of the pipeline construction, Paul Corcoran told journalists on Thursday.

“We have received 96% of the pipes, we have concrete coated 55% of those pipes and we mobilized vessels for the pipelines. So we are quite well prepared on track and on time for the project,” CFO added.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline is expected to come into service at the end of 2019.

Stop It All Says Trump

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America’s Incredible Shrinking Influence

America’s Incredible Shrinking Influence

Just two weeks after President Trump pulled the US from the Iran nuclear agreement, his Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, issued 12 demands to Iran that could never be satisfied. Pompeo knew his demands would be impossible to meet. They were designed that way. Just like Austria-Hungary’s ultimatum to Serbia in July, 1914, that led to the beginning of World War I. And just like the impossible demands made of Milosevic in 1999 and of Saddam Hussein in 1991 and 2003, and so many other times when Washington wanted war. These impossible demands are tools of war rather than steps toward peace.

Secretary Pompeo raged at Iran. The mainstream news media raged at Iran. Trump raged at Iran. But then a strange thing happened: nothing. The Iranians announced that they remained committed to diplomacy and would continue to uphold their end of the nuclear agreement if the Europeans and other partners were willing to do the same. Iranian and European officials then sought out contacts in defiance of Washington in hopes of preserving mutually-beneficial emerging commercial relations.

Washington responded to the European snub by threatening secondary sanctions on European companies that continued doing business with an Iran that had repeatedly been found in compliance with its end of the bargain. Any independent European relationship with Iran would be punished, Washington threatened. But then, again, very little happened.

Rather than jump on Washington’s bandwagon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made two trips to Russia in May seeking closer ties and a way forward on Iran.

Russia and China were named as our prime enemies in the latest National Security Strategy for the United States, but both countries stand to benefit from the unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran deal. When the French oil company Total got spooked by Washington threats and pulled out of Iran, a Chinese firm eagerly took its place.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Sanctioning the World, the US Inadvertently ‘Locks & Launches’ Multipolarism

Sanctioning the World, the US Inadvertently ‘Locks & Launches’ Multipolarism

Sanctioning the World, the US Inadvertently ‘Locks & Launches’ Multipolarism

The commemorative medal had already been cast and published. It depicts profiles of Trump and Jong Un, facing each other, at the 12th June historic meeting – at which Jong Un was supposed to disavow and discard his nuclear armament, irreversibly, and then to accept Trump’s gracious benediction. The meeting now is moot (and, since drafting, has been cancelled, blindsiding both Moon and Abe), leaving in its wake, a frustrated and angry Trump. And, as we prefigured earlier, instead of realising that Team Trump had not been listening adequately to what Jong Un was signalling, Trump now blames Xi for upsetting ‘the deal’ from being struck.

China’s Global Times makes the point:

“The US unilaterally demands prompt peninsular denuclearization before it provides compensation to Pyongyang. China will not oppose such a deal between the US and North Korea. However, can Washington achieve it? Pyongyang has just given an answer … It would be OK if Washington pressures Pyongyang to gain an edge in negotiations, but Washington should think twice about the possibility of pushing the Korean Peninsula back to fierce antagonism.

It is clear from China’s perspective that the US has overestimated its weight in forcing North Korea to accept its demands. The US has forgotten the awkward situation it was in last year when it could not stop North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests, and the difficulty of taking military action against North Korea.

The US has always believed it was duped by North Korea, which is, in fact, far from correct. The US was responsible for the aborted peninsula resolutions, multiple times.”

Irritated too, by harsh comments made by ‘trade hawks’ on the lack of tangible result in trade negotiations with China (Steve Bannon, for example, told Bloomberg that Trump “changed the dynamic regarding China –

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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