US-Saudi alliance stays strong after Iran nuclear deal

Will the Iran nuclear deal strain ties between Saudi Arabia and the US? Hardly. The alliance between the world’s largest absolute monarchy and its oldest constitutional republic remains strong, Spencer Kimball reports.

One is an officially Islamic nation ruled by the same family for 83 years, where religion dictates who drives (men) and what women may wear (abayas, or full-body cloaks); the other is a mostly, but not officially, Christian country where voters pick their leaders and often even enact local laws.

Enemies and interests may be the only two things Saudi Arabia and the United States do have in common, and these have proved the basis for a long and largely loyal strategic partnership.

“It has survived every possible provocation that might have brought it down, including [US President] Truman’s recognition of Israel in 1948,” Thomas Lippman, a former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post, told DW.

Lippman believes that the relationship will also survive its latest test: the deal world powers signed in July to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for international monitoring of the country’s nuclear program.

On Sunday, US Secretary of State John Kerry left for Qatar, part of his first trip to the Middle East since he and fellow negotiators reached the historic agreement with Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence.

Before and after the deal, Kerry repeatedly reaffirmed the US’s commitment to the security of its Gulf partners. Just last week, the State Department approved the sale of 600 Patriot missiles, worth $5.4 billion (4.9 billion euros), to Riyadh.

The Patriots will help counter Iran’s missile program, Lippman said, though he doesn’t believe that the sale is necessarily related to the nuclear deal.

“I have no doubt that the Saudis despise Shiites and are nervous about the Iranians and are unhappy about Iran’s activity around the region – that’s no secret,” Lippman said.

“They also understand perfectly which side their bread is buttered on, and that’s the US side,” he continued. “Nobody else is going to sell them 600 patriot missiles.”

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US caught between Turkey, Kurd rivalry in war against ‘IS’

They’re both key to US goals in the Middle East, but they’re bitterly opposed to one another. Turkey has bombed Kurdish positions in Iraq. The airstrikes could hamper Washington’s war against ‘IS.’

According to the Turkish government, there’s no difference between “Islamic State” and the Kurdish militant group PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party). They’re both terrorist organizations.

“Whichever terrorist organization poses a threat to the borders of the Turkish Republic, measures will be taken without hesitation,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after Turkey launched operations against both groups. “No-one should have any doubt.”

But the secular PKK has proven one of the most effective adversaries of the “Islamic State” group, according to Michael Gunter, who’s written several books on the Kurds. So effective, that there have been calls in the US to remove the PKK from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations.

“The US should do it,” Gunter, a professor at Tennessee Tech University, told DW. “The US has been in effect supporting the PKK by supporting the affiliate of the PKK, the PYD [Kurdish Democratic Union Party], in Syria.”

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Obama’s foreign policy: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’

US President Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba and concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran. Is engaging adversaries the new normal in Washington? Spencer Kimball reports.

It was a surprisingly candid admission for a sitting American president: The US has, in fact, done wrong to other nations.

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” President Obama told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hours after a historic nuclear deal was concluded with Tehran.

Obama was referencing the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democratic leader who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, ending decades of British control. But the president’s history lesson didn’t end there.

“We have had (sic) in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative,” the president said.

The Reagan administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Iraqi dictator in 1980s, providing intelligence that facilitated Iraq’s invasion of Iran. This part of the historical record is rarely brought up in the US domestic discourse on Iran and the Middle East.

Instead, the US tends to focus on their own grievances: The 52 Americans held hostage during the Islamic revolution, the antagonism toward Israel and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders.

But it’s not just Iran. For decades, the United States faced off with another revolutionary regime – the communist government in Cuba. This summer, things have changed. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic promise to end two long-standing international confrontations.

“A willingness to empathize – not sympathize, but to empathize, to see ourselves as other countries see us – is a sea change in US attitude,” Philip Brenner, an expert on US foreign policy and Cuba at American University, told DW.

“It’s very hard for us to do it, because we’re so large and others countries are so small,” Brenner said. “We have a capacity to affect them much more than they can affect us.”

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America’s Syria dilemma: Enemy of the enemy now a friend?

(By Deutsche Welle) US efforts to recruit moderate rebels are not going well. With “Islamic State” now enemy number one, the White House has tacitly forged an alliance with its old adversary: Bashar al-Assad. Spencer Kimball reports.

America’s rebel army in Syria has instructions not to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The main enemy is the “Islamic State” (IS). Not that the pro-Western militia poses a threat to either. So far, Washington has only trained 60 fighters.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged as much this week, telling Congress that the number falls far below the Pentagon’s original expectations. The secretary’s admission triggered consternation among President Barack Obama’s opponents and damage control by his supporters.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” Senator John McCain said during a committee hearing. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

Why has the US trained so few rebels? There’s a strict vetting process, which according to Carter ensures that recruits are committed to fighting IS as their first priority and will obey the laws of armed conflict.

According to Syria expert David Lesch, the Obama administration has been cautious because it fears US arms could fall into the hands of Islamist radicals: “which has happened on a consistent basis, including US aligned rebel groups’ weapons depots being overrun by Islamist groups.”

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President Obama’s unauthorized, incomplete Iraq war strategy

(By Deutsche Welle) More than nine months, 2,000 airstrikes and 3,000 military advisers later, Congress still has not authorized the US war against the “Islamic State.” The White House now wants to deploy 450 advisers closer to the front.

The American bombs falling on Iraq and Syria barely make headlines anymore. Over the past four days alone, the US and its allies have launched at least 70 airstrikes against “Islamic State” (IS) targets.

The public and Congress have largely backed Washington’s third Iraq war. According to the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of Americans support the US military campaign against IS.

Forty-seven percent of the country would even support sending ground troops back to the Middle East. That’s an eight-point increase over last year, according to Pew.

Though the president has ruled out sending combat troops back to the Middle East, he has deployed a growing number of advisers. On Wednesday, the White House announced plans to send 450 additional US troops to train Iraqi forces, bringing the total number to more than 3,500.

The advisers will be stationed at Taqaddum airbase in Anbar province near the city of Habbaniyah, which is just 33 kilometers (20 miles) from two cities controlled by IS.

“Habbaniyah is sandwiched between Ramadi and Fallujah, now both Islamic State strongholds,” Wayne White, a former senior Iraq analyst at the State Department, told DW. “The Islamic State has made several efforts to move against Habbaniyah.”

“The personnel in Habbaniyah will be in greater danger,” White said.

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US accused of double standards on civilians killed by drones

(By Deutsche Welle) President Barack Obama has publicly acknowledged that a US drone strike killed two Western aid workers. But hundreds of civilian deaths in similar strikes across the Muslim world remain shrouded in official secrecy.

The United States government has never revealed how many civilians have been killed by its drones, the weapon of choice in its campaign against Islamist militants. But on Thursday, President Barack Obama did publicly admit that two Western aid workers had become collateral damage.

Warren Weinstein and Giovanni Lo Porto were killed with their al Qaeda captors in a US drone strike in January. Though the strike occurred months ago, the White House claims that it confirmed the deaths of the two Western hostages only in the past few days, and has said it will compensate their families.

The strike hit a compound in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, according to the US government. But it’s unclear who, if anybody, was specifically targeted. Ahmed Farouq, an alleged American member of al Qaeda, was killed in the same strike. But the White House says it had no knowledge of his presence in the compound beforehand. A separate operation in the same region killed another alleged American member of al Qaeda, Adam Gadahn. He too was not specifically targeted, according to the administration.

Weinstein, a 73-year-old American doctor, was taken hostage in 2011 in the city of Lahore. Lo Porto, a 39-year-old Italian, went missing in 2012 after arriving in Pakistan to work for the German aid agency Welthungerhilfe. The White House said it also had no knowledge of their presence in the compound prior to the strike.

“As a husband and as a father, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish that the Weinstein and Lo Porto families are enduring today,” President Obama said in a press conference. “I realize that there are no words that can ever equal their loss. I know that there’s nothing I can ever say or do to ease their heartache.”

“As president and commander in chief, I take full responsibility for all our counter-terrorism operations, including the one that inadvertently took the lives of Warren and Giovanni,” the president said. “I profoundly regret what happened. On behalf of the United States government, I offer our deepest apologies to the families.”

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Tentative Iran nuclear deal reached in Lausanne after marathon negotiations

 (By Deutsche Welle) World powers and Iran have agreed to a framework that could end the standoff over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. In exchange for limitations on enrichment, sanctions targeting nuclear research will be lifted.

Iran and world powers have reached a diplomatic breakthrough that could lead to a final settlement of the 12-year-long confrontation over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. That’s the clear message that emerged from marathon talks in Lausanne, which ran two days past a self-imposed Tuesday deadline well into Thursday evening local time.

“Today we have taken a decisive step,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini told reporters after eight days of talks. “We have reached solutions on key parameters of a joint comprehensive plan of action. The political determination, the goodwill, and the hard work of all parties made it possible.”

Iran, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany would now move to draft the text of a final settlement by June 30th, according to Mogherini. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif subsequently read the same statement in Farsi.

A diplomatic breakthrough in Switzerland wasn’t a foregone conclusion. During the eight days of talks, stubborn differences had emerged over how long limitations on Iranian nuclear research should last and the pace at which sanctions should be lifted.

“In essence, it’s about trying with one single agreement to overcome not just differences over a nuclear issue, but fundamentally beyond that overcome almost four decades of suspicion between Iran on the one hand and particularly the United States on the other hand,” Alex Vatanka, an Iran analyst at the Middle East Institute, told DW.

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