Greece, Iran And The Imperfect Art Of International Poker

Greece, confronted by its creditors, and Iran, facing a showdown over the nuclear dossier, may have less to lose from the failure to reach an agreement than their counterparts.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nov. 2014.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nov. 2014.
Dominique Moïsi

PARIS â€" Greece and the euro, Iran and nuclear power. In substance, these two negotiations have nothing to do with each other. But in form, the utter uncertainty of their results share the very essence of what is at the heart of international negotiation.

Greece is a double ally to the West, both in the European Union and in NATO. If its continued presence in the euro cannot be secured, does that not de facto weaken the two organizations it has been part of for decades?

Iran, on the other hand, is an opponent-partner. Clearly, its regime does not share our values, even though Tehran seems more and more like an indispensable ally facing the double threat of Middle East chaos and ISIS terror.

Thus the two ongoing negotiations would seem to have opposing objectives. How do we keep Greece in the eurozone, how do we keep Iran out of the very exclusive club of nations equipped with atomic weapons? The Greek question has an ever more present geopolitical dimension: would a failure not push Athens into Moscow’s arms? The Iranian question, even though it’s strategic before anything else, has an economic dimension. The lifting of sanctions would allow Tehran to breathe.

Any international negotiation, whether it takes place between allies or between enemies, follows a joint logic. There’s a moment where the negotiation creates its own dynamic and slips from the hands of its protagonists, when it turns into a question of finding the "fair compromise" to create a new balance point.

In these two standoffs, are the negotiators, Greek or Iranian, not mainly looking to gain time in order to create a balance of power that would be more favorable for them? Are they not knowingly playing with the divisions that exist between the other parties of the negotiation â€" divisions that they know about and manipulate with a certain talent â€" all the while, working hard to balance the divisions that exist within their own camp?

For Athens, the forces united behind Angela Merkel are mostly driven by the fear of failed negotiations. Is Greece not, in the minds of the many European leaders the basic equivalent of what Lehman Brothers was yesterday? The German Chancellor doesn’t want to go down in history as the political equivalent of Henry Paulson, the former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, who didn’t measure the superior cost of an "abandonment" compared to that of a "rescue."

Merkel slowly came to this conclusion regarding Greece. All the parties are now paying the price for this uncertain waltz, alternating excessive austerity on one side and refusal to face up to reality on the other.

Vacuum fears

Concerning the nuclear negotiation, the Iranians started from the â€" maybe too simple â€" idea that the U.S. needs to reach an agreement even more than they do. Doesn’t Barack Obama eventually want to turn Iran into a regional security pillar of the Middle East? Nature abhors a vacuum. In the face of brutal implosions, particularly within the Sunni world, and in the face of America’s refusal to directly return on the ground, we need to find an alternative!

Of course, this evolution of the American way of thinking, if it corresponds at least partly to reality, disconcerts both the State of Israel and the Sunni Gulf monarchies.

From Athens to Tehran, or more precisely from Brussels to Vienna, where the two negotiation tables are located, one can de facto find all the elements of the so-called "Strategy of Conflict" masterfully described, in his time, by the American Nobel Prize in Economics Thomas Schelling: "I may be weaker on paper, but you fear failure more than I do."

In fact, what should we really hope for with these two negotiations? Should we say, as some do, that "no agreement is better than a bad agreement"? Or should we, on the contrary, support the idea that a flawed agreement is potentially less damaging than failure, which would leave the door open to all kinds of excesses?

To justify his rapprochement with China in the midst of the Cold War, Charles de Gaulle insisted on the fact that, behind Mao’s communist regime, there was Eternal China. Can we say, in the same way, that in Iran â€" beyond the Republic of mullahs â€" there is Eternal Persia, a great civilization, poorly represented by the regime in place? Is delaying Iran’s nuclear ambitions by almost ten years â€" the stated ambition of the negotiation â€" making the bet that, on the political level, many things can happen in this relatively long period of time? We cannot let an absolutist regime acquire an absolute weapon, they rightly said yesterday. And what if the regime became less absolute? There’s a civil society in Iran that dreams of normality, even more so considering the dreadfulness of the regional environment. Would the progressive lifting of the sanctions â€" not on any condition â€" not reinforce the standing of this progressive part of society? There’s still a long way to go, of course, but an agreement is probably along that path.

Concerning Greece, the issue is different. It’s indeed the fear of entering an unknown world, more than the hope for a better future, that pushes us, at any cost, to seek an agreement, which, even flawed, is most likely preferable to blatant and total failure.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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