RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou discuss the meeting in Sochi, Russia between US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
The Sochi talks concluded with an agreement to cooperate on nuclear arms control, but no common ground could be found on dangerous, hot button issues like Venezuela ad Iran.
Unfortunately for all the adults present and covering the story, Pompeo could not help but mention Russian “election meddling”, for which Lavrov embarrassed the US Secretary of State by handing him a memorandum documenting US meddling in Russian affairs.
After emerging from a sit-down in the Russian Black Sea resort on Tuesday, Pompeo and Lavrov both talked of their governments’ desire to improve relations, currently at a low ebb. Lavrov described the meeting as “frank and useful,” while Pompeo said the US “stands ready to find common ground” with Russia.
As predicted, nuclear arms control was top of the agenda, following the Trump administration’s recent withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Pompeo and Lavrov seemed open to cooperation on establishing new arms control pacts, with Pompeo restating President Donald Trump’s desire to bring China into any future deal.
With the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty set to expire in February 2021, Pompeo said that Washington is willing to work towards extending the deal by five years, while the Russian FM said he hopes any future agreements will be “positively received by both nations.”
Stalemate on Venezuela
Despite repeated calls from Washington for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to cede power, Pompeo slammed Russia, Iran, China and Cuba for allegedly “interfering” in the Latin American country’s affairs.
“Maduro has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people,” Pompeo stated. “We hope that Russian support for Maduro will end.”
Lavrov stuck by Moscow’s position on Venezuela – which refuses to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as “interim president” – saying that dialog between Maduro and the opposition is the only way to ensure stability.
“Democracy cannot be done by force,” Lavrov told reporters. “The threats that we hear against the Maduro government, threats that come from the mouths of US officials… this has nothing in common with democracy.”
‘We don’t see a war with Iran’
Amid the buildup of US naval power in the Persian Gulf, and rhetorical shots fired back and forth between the Trump administration and Tehran, Pompeo tamped down talk of war on Tuesday.
“We fundamentally do not see a war with Iran,” the secretary of state said, adding: “We’ve made it clear to the Iranians that if American interests are attacked, we will certainly respond in an appropriate fashion.”
Lavrov also did his best to dispel tension, stating that Russia hopes “reason will gain the upper hand.” The Russian FM stated his opposition to Washington’s pullout from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal last year, adding that Russia will continue to work with the European parties to the deal to keep dialog with Iran open.
Lavrov also addressed reports that the US is preparing to deploy 120,000 troops to the Middle East in response to the supposed Iranian threat, saying that he hoped the reports were “baseless” rumors. Pompeo deflected the question, saying it was a question for the Department of Defense. As both diplomats talked, Trump denied the report, telling reporters in the White House that “it’s fake news.” Nevertheless, the president added that “If we did that, we’d send a hell of a lot more troops than that.”
Even after the publication of the Robert Mueller report cleared Trump of “collusion” with Russia, the topic of alleged election meddling has lingered. Pompeo gave Lavrov a warning against interfering in America’s “sacred” elections, while Lavrov ridiculed accusations of Russian interference.
“We can discuss this topic forever, but until we have cold hard facts on the table, we cannot have a grown-up discussion about it,” Lavrov said. He shot back at Washington too, accusing the US of running its own interference campaign in Russia’s domestic policy.
Lavrov then revealed he handed a “memorandum” on US interference in Russia to Pompeo but would not make it public, adding “we’re prepared to talk on this topic.”
A day before the meeting, President Trump announced that he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at next month’s G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. Lavrov said on Tuesday that the Kremlin has not yet received an official invitation, but would “respond positively” to one.
Pompeo and Lavrov will likely meet again on the sidelines of the G20, with the US State Secretary telling Lavrov that the two will “have many more opportunities for conversation.”
Iran is high-hanging fruit, which is why US is unlikely to attack
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
There’s been lots of talk about an imminent war with Iran. The US is engaging in a military build-up in the Persian Gulf and the rhetoric from Washington is increasingly bellicose.
However, a full-scale conflict is still unlikely, because Iran, unlike other countries the US has attacked, is no soft target.
The US already deployed the USS ‘Abraham Lincoln’ carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East earlier in the month. The Pentagon also announced that a battery of Patriot missiles and transport ship, the USS ‘Arlington,’ were on their way to the Gulf.
Taken together with the fiercely anti-Iranian rhetoric of foaming-at-the-mouth neo-con figures in the Trump administration, such as National Security Advisor John Bolton, and unsubstantiated claims that Iran had sabotaged four tankers in the Persian Gulf, does this mean we are heading for a conflict?
While we shouldn’t dismiss the risks of something very big kicking off soon, as a betting man, my money is on the US NOT attacking the Islamic Republic.
To use racing parlance, just consider the ‘form.’ All the countries directly attacked or invaded by the US and its allies since the end of the old Cold War were what could accurately be described as low-hanging fruit. They were either militarily weak, had no major allies who could be guaranteed to help, and/or had possessed no credible threat which could deter an attack.
Yugoslavia in 1999 had a strong and well-respected army, the JNA, and reasonably good air defenses. But it was internationally isolated, weakened by sanctions, and had no allies to come to its aid. Russia could have protected Yugoslavia from attack, but the US knew that the corrupt Boris Yeltsin could easily be bought off with brown envelopes, and so he was. Despite this, the JNA was not defeated and the US had to make threats about obliterating the country’s entire infrastructure to get its way.
Just over two years later, the US invaded Afghanistan. The Afghan Air Force at the time was paltry. Unsurprisingly given the huge military disparity, the Taliban government in Kabul was toppled in less than two months.
In March 2003, Iraq was invaded not because it had Weapons of Mass Destruction – the stated reason for the attack – but because it didn’t. After years of crippling sanctions, the country was in a very weak state; its early warning and air defenses had been badly damaged in repeated attacks by ‘coalition forces,’ and its ‘air force’ consisted of only around 90 serviceable aircraft. Not one was put into action when the invaders came.
Eight years after Iraq came the war against Libya. Again, this was another ‘soft’ target. Muammar Gaddafi had very foolishly reacted to the Iraq invasion by surrendering his country’s WMDs program. George W. Bush described it as a “wise and responsible choice,” but you can bet Gaddafi regretted it bitterly as he hid in an underground drainage pipe following the US attack on his country, prior to his brutal murder.
The fact that the US only launches war on soft targets can be seen in their failure to launch a full-scale military assault on Syria. Lots of times in the conflict it looked likely, but each time, Washington backed off. Russia learnt its lesson over Libya, and it wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice when it came to defending another of its MENA allies.
If Syria was tricky, then Iran is even trickier. Global Firepower ranks the Islamic Republic as number 14 in the world in terms of its military capabilities.
That’s two places higher than Israel. If the US wanted to launch a land invasion, it’s worth pointing out that Iran has over half a million active military personnel and 350,000 reserve personnel. This does not include Iran’s so-called ‘Axis of Resistance,’ which includes Hezbollah and Shia units in Iraq fighting Islamic State, who could be deployed against US regional targets.
Regarding air power, Iran has over 500 aircraft, including 142 fighters. It has 1,634 combat tanks, 2,345 armored fighting vehicles, and 1,900 rocket projectors. If the US wants a sea battle, Iran can give it one: it has almost 400 naval assets. Iran also possesses short-, medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles which could hit US allies in the region such as Israel and the Gulf States.
In February, Iran formally unveiled its new, long-range ground-launched cruise missile Hoveizeh, which has a range of over 1,350km.
However, arguably the greatest deterrent it possesses is its ability to “choke the world economy” (in the words of a Deutsche Welle report), by blocking the Strait of Hormuz, through which one-fifth of the world’s traded oil passes – including around 90 percent of Saudi Arabia’s.
Just imagine the effect on global oil prices if that occurred.
The US may be the most powerful country in the world militarily (by a country mile), and no one doubts that if it does go to war with Iran, then the US would eventually win. Russian military analyst Mikhail Khodarenok says that the US could attack the Islamic Republic from distance, using electronic warfare to paralyze air defense systems. A massive surprise attack from air and sea, in conjunction with Israel, would leave Iran reeling. But the risks are still high. Iran’s proxy forces would remain a threat. Oil supplies would be affected. If Iran is to be conquered and colonized, then ground troops would have to be sent in. That means a large number of body bags. Would the American public who wanted Trump to end the wars, take it?
All things considered, war with Iran would be a very different proposition from previous wars against Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Libya. Which is why – just like one against China or indeed Russia – the likelihood is that it won’t happen.
Instead, the US will seek to do everything possible to destabilize Iran without launching a full-scale attack. The Saudis and the pro-Israel lobby must be kept happy, but even the ‘Mad Dogs’ in Washington know when they’ve met their match.