Ashish Kumar Sen

  • Raqqa Falls. Now Comes the Hard Part

    As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is driven from its strongholds in Syria, US-backed forces face the challenge of stabilizing these conflict-ravaged territories.

    This task is made more urgent by the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Iran-backed militias are swooping in on eastern Syria in an attempt to capitalize on ISIS’ defeat, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

    “If they succeed, the basis for ISIS 2.0 will be set,” said Hof, adding: “After all, it was the Iranian (and Russian)-supported brutality of the Assad regime that created the governance vacuum filled by ISIS in the first place.”

    The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on October 16 that they had seized control of Raqqa, the de facto capital of...

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  • Iraqi Operation Will Deepen Rift Among Kurds

    Iraqi government forces on October 16 seized vital oil fields and the city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

    The military action, which pits two US allies against each other, followed a September 25 referendum in which the Kurds voted for an independent state. The Iraqi government had declared the vote unconstitutional. Kirkuk, which is not part of Iraqi Kurdistan but was under Kurdish control at the time, took part in the referendum. (Kurdish forces had controlled Kirkuk since 2014 when Iraqi forces fled as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants advanced on the city.)

    Explaining the security offensive, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in a statement on October 16 that he acted “in accordance with the constitution to serve the citizens and protect the unity of the country, which was in...

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  • Trump and the Art of the [Iran Nuclear] Deal

    As expected, US President Donald J. Trump on October 13 announced that he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the terms of a multilateral nuclear deal, accusing the Islamic Republic of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement.

    While Trump did not take the United States out of the deal, he asserted the right to do so and warned that he would if the US Congress does not make amendments to the agreement.

    At the top of the list of amendments Trump would like is for Congress to address the issue of the “sunset clauses” in the deal. These clauses lift certain restrictions placed on Iran ten to fifteen years after the agreement took effect in January of 2016. However, even at that...

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  • In Catalonia, a ‘Coup d’État Masquerading as a Referendum’

    Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum has thrown Spain into turmoil.

    In light of the escalating tensions, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is now toying with the idea of invoking the never-before-used Article 155 of the Spanish constitution that would suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy. With a view to taking such action, Rajoy on October 11 asked the region’s leaders whether they had formally declared independence from Spain.

    The confusion stems from the words and actions of Catalonia’s leaders. On October 10, Carles Puigdemont, president of the government of Catalonia, signed a declaration of independence. Further, in a speech to the Catalan parliament Puigdemont declared independence from Spain;...

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  • What are the Implications of Decertification of the Iran Nuclear Deal?

    The expectation that US President Donald J. Trump will decertify the nuclear deal with Iran this week raises the question: what would be the implications of decertification?

    Trump faces an October 15 deadline to certify to the US Congress that Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear agreement that the Islamic Republic struck with the five permanent members of the United Nations (UN) Security Council plus Germany in 2015. The deal cuts off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon.

    Despite criticizing the agreement as “terrible,” Trump has twice...

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  • Will Trump Ditch NAFTA?

    There is a strong likelihood that US President Donald J. Trump will withdraw the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Robert Zoellick, a former US trade representative, said at the Atlantic Council on October 5, while advising US lawmakers to be prepared to push back.

    “There is a very serious risk [of Trump withdrawing from NAFTA] depending on what happens with Trump’s popularity and the investigations [into collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia] that at some point he will withdraw from the agreement,” said Zoellick, who has also served as a US deputy secretary of state and president of the World Bank.

    “I think we are headed to a fundamental crackup here… It partly depends on whether the Congress makes it painful for the administration to go in this direction,” he added.

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  • EU Membership on the Line: Independence Would Prove Costly for Catalonia

    Catalonia would lose membership of the European Union (EU) if it were to declare independence from Spain—a development that would have serious economic consequences for this affluent region, according to the Atlantic Council’s Fran Burwell.

    “That means barriers will go up immediately; no free movement for people who have Catalan passports; no free movement of goods of services to and from Catalonia; their relationship with the euro will be suspect, like Kosovo which uses the euro with no legal power to do so; there would be no common agricultural policy money for Catalonia,” said Burwell, painting a dire scenario that, she believes, has not been given adequate consideration in the Catalan people’s headlong rush toward independence.

    Noting that she has never seen a poll that shows Catalans want to leave the EU, Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council, added: “The fact that we did not have a debate about what this actually means...

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  • Merkel’s Re-Election Seen as Good News for Transatlantic Ties

    Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, cites ‘stability’

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s re-election to a fourth term on September 24 is good news for the United States, which can continue to rely on Germany to be a “great transatlantic partner,” Germany’s Ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, said in an interview.

    “It is good news in terms of continuity, reliability of our country, of its role in Europe, of its role in the world,” Wittig said.

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  • Dark Money, Shell Corporations in the United States Seen as Invitation to Russian Meddling

    If the United States is to succeed in tackling Russian meddling, it needs to address vulnerabilities—dark money and shell corporations—that are “an open invitation to the Russians to continue their election interference,” US Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said at the Atlantic Council on September 26.

    The United States faces something of a predicament because dark money and shell corporations are vehicles of not just foreign, but also domestic political influence, Whitehouse said. He and US Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) delivered keynote addresses at STRATCOM DC: The First Transatlantic Forum on Strategic Communications and Digital Disinformation in Washington, DC.

    Describing opacity as the “vehicle that enables weaponized fake news and politicized corruption,” Whitehouse added: “Transparency and sunlight are the enemies of Russian election interference.”

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  • European Ambassadors Defend Iran Nuclear Deal

    European ambassadors to the United States on September 25 defended the nuclear deal with Iran, saying it is working, while warning that reopening negotiations would be a nonstarter and walking away from the deal would have serious consequences.

    This joint defense comes as US President Donald J. Trump, who has to certify to the US Congress by October 15 that Iran is complying with the terms of the agreement, has reiterated his displeasure with the deal.

    Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, said the onus is on those who seek to renegotiate the deal to prove that first, renegotiation is possible, and second, it will deliver better results. “We don’t think it will be possible to renegotiate it and we believe there is no practical, peaceful alternative to this deal,” Wittig said.

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