March 02, 2021
Work is well underway to try to revive nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and leading Western powers. The foreign ministers of the European signatories of the 2015 nuclear pact with Iran met online late last month with the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and all sides have now agreed to holding conversations directly with Tehran.
Meanwhile, the new Democratic administration of President Joe Biden has lifted restrictions on the movements of Iran's UN diplomats in New York, and withdrawn the United States' earlier request to reactivate all UN sanctions on Iran, a disputed step taken with the Security Council by the administration of President Donald Trump.
As has happened often before, at the close of the U.S.-EU meeting, participants threatened Iran with serious consequences should it violate its commitments in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Germany's foreign minister spoke in harsher terms, warning that restricting international nuclear inspectors would be like "playing with fire" and would impede the United States' return to the nuclear pact.
Still, violating international nuclear commitments isn't the Islamic Republic's only pressure lever on America and its allies. The Islamic Republic also has at its disposal the paramilitary groups and militias that serve as its regional tentacles. Some military and security officials consider their activities more dangerous than Iran's nuclear program. The Israeli military warned in a recent report that Iran would use them to destabilize states like Lebanon and Iraq, and pressure the Biden administration over the nuclear dossier. One Israeli commander told France's AFP agency that this was a relatively cheap, safe and highly effective way for Iran to forward its other interests. And for the West, he added, it was always difficult to pin the blame on Tehran for incidents, when its proxy groups are purportedly independent.
On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week, the Associated Press reported. Iran promptly dismissed the claim.
U.S. and Western defense and security officials have regularly cited the Iranian regime as a threat to regional security and stability, noting recently the renewal of hostile actions against Western interests in Iraq. Some see the return of suspect hit-and-run strikes in Iraq as signals of Iran flexing its power.
U.S. navy ships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz — Photo: Mc2 Brandon Woods/Us Navy/Planet Pix via ZUMA Wire
Top U.S. diplomat Richard Miles suggested that the renewed activities of Iraqi militias are meant to influence elections scheduled for Oct. 10, 2021, to be held under new electoral laws. Such activities include recent mortar fire on a convoy and a rocket attack on a coalition base near Irbil, which killed a contractor and for which an unnamed group called Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed credit. There has also been an uptick in recent months of kidnappings and killings of anti-regime activists, opposition journalists and other critics of Iran. For these too, unfamiliar groups have claimed responsibility.
The new outfits have been created to confuse observers and prevent the West from pointing the finger at established militias.
Baghdad-based reporter Irfan Adil told Kayhan London that these previously unknown groups were in fact detachments of established forces affiliated with Tehran and its Quds branch of the Revolutionary Guard. The newly dubbed outfits have been created to confuse observers and prevent the West from pointing the finger at established militias like the Hashd al-Shaabi. The Islamic Republic, Adil said, wants them to run in coming elections as respectable political forces.
The involvement of Tehran-backed militias like the Kata'ib al-Hizballah in the kidnapping and killing of more than 50 people over the past year, and attacks on coalition interests, had strained Tehran's relations with the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, "and the sides wanted to move on from this crisis. These pseudonyms were an acceptable move for both sides."
Adil says these "new" groups are likely trained in Iran and receive orders straight from Tehran, to avoid linkage with Iraq's militias. He said they had been tasked with eliminating Iran's opponents in Iraq, as well as such people like Hisham al-Hashimi, a respected Iraqi security expert who was shot dead in Baghdad in July.
Some observers will add that attacks on coalition interests are also to test the Biden administration's reaction to actions against the U.S. Its failure to respond may be taken as a small victory for the Islamic Republic. Its officials no doubt believe America's silence and inaction will strengthen Iran's position in any nuclear talks, and might even shelve, to their delight, Western demands that Iran reign in its regional ambitions.
Kayhan is a Persian-language, London-based spinoff of the conservative daily of the same name headquartered in Tehran. It was founded in 1984 by Mostafa Mesbahzadeh, the owner of the Iranian paper. Unlike its Tehran sister paper, considered "the most conservative Iranian newspaper," the London-based version is mostly run by exiled journalists and is very critical of the Iranian regime.
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Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.
October 27, 2021
TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.
Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."
Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.
After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.
Born into politics
A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.
The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.
He is an excellent actor.
Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.
However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.
An invitation for Obama
After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:
"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."
According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.
In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.
Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016commons.wikimedia.org
In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.
But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years
When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.
Leftist traditions from Hiroshima
Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.
How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?
Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.
So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.
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The Economic Observer is a weekly Chinese-language newspaper founded in April 2001. It is one of the top business publications in China. The main editorial office is based in Beijing, China. Inspired by the Financial Times of Britain, the newspaper is printed on peach-colored paper.
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