Russian TV attacks new US ambassador

(Hillary swearing McFaul in.)

“He co-directs the Iran Democracy Project, as well as Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.

He is also a non-resident Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He serves on the Board of Directors of the Eurasia Foundation, the Firebird Fund, Freedom House, the International Forum for Democratic Studies of the National Endowment for Democracy, and the International Research and Exchange Board (IREX).”

Russian TV attacks new US ambassador

By Sofia Javed
Associated Press

MOSCOW—State television has lashed out at the new U.S. ambassador to Russia, questioning his credentials and suggesting his agenda is to support opposition leaders and promote revolution.

Channel One criticized Ambassador Michael McFaul’s appointment in a segment that aired on Tuesday night, McFaul’s second day on the job.

“The fact is that McFaul is not an expert on Russia,” said Channel One analyst Mikhail Leontev. “He is a specialist purely in the promotion of democracy.”

The commentary questioned McFaul’s previous work in Russia with the National Democratic Institute —- “known for its proximity to the U.S. intelligence services” —- and his connections to the “so-called democratic movement” in the early 1990s.

It also suggested McFaul has written hundreds of articles against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is expected to return to the presidency in March.

Noting the title of McFaul’s 2001 book — “An Unfinished Revolution in Russia. The political change from Gorbachev to Putin” — Leontev asked, “Has Mr. McFaul arrived in Russia to work in the specialty? That is, finish the revolution?”

The report followed video of Russian opposition and civil society leaders leaving the U.S. embassy after meetings with McFaul and U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns — McFaul’s first official receptions in his post.

He met with senior government officials at the Kremlin on Monday.

Environmentalist Yevgeniya Chirikova, who was among those invited to the embassy, tweeted that McFaul’s choice of hosting opposition leaders first had cast him in a positive light.

Others at the meetings included human rights and anti-corruption activists, along with representatives from the Communist, Just Russia, Yabloko and People’s Freedom Parties.

Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying that the discussions included elections, the jailing of Russian businessmen and the awakening of political activism in Russian society.

“We had an informal conversation about the state of civil society in our country, about human rights violations and the problems that we have,” Ponomarev said.

McFaul later explained on his blog that U.S. officials in Russia make a point of meeting with both government officials and civil society leaders.

“It’s a policy we call dual track engagement,” he said. “We learned a lot from listening to these leaders.”

McFaul is regarded as one of the nation’s leading experts on U.S. relations with Russia, and has been involved in the Obama administration’s efforts to “reset” relations with Moscow. That includes the signing of the New START treaty that set a ceiling of 1,550 strategic warheads in each country’s arsenal.

He responded to Channel One’s report on Twitter late Tuesday, saying the commentary included “no word about the 3 years of reset.”

“Yesterday my mtgs with WH/Kremlin officials could not have been warmer. pluralism!” he tweeted.

Russian state television has suggested there has been U.S. involvement in growing protests following December’s fraud-tainted parliamentary election, in which Putin’s United Russia party won a majority of seats.

Two days before the vote, Kremlin-controlled NTV television showed a half-hour program attacking Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, which is supported by grants from the U.S. and Europe.

The program included shots of suitcases full of U.S. dollars and claimed that Golos was openly supporting opposition parties and trying to discredit the election.

The show aired several days after Putin accused Western governments of trying to influence the election through their funding of unidentified Russian non-governmental organizations.

 

Mullah Omar Has Called Obama’s Bluff–Time for Fake Reconciliation B.S. To End

[Once again, we see the Brit press pushing their “Taliban split” ploy (SEE: Dissecting the Anti-Pakistan Psyop), trying to push Obama into doing something very stupid in the name of seeking to end the war.  The joke is on them–Obama doesn’t really want to end the war and the British plans are throwing a wrench into the works.  Over and over in this war, we see the truth that the Americans and the British are following two opposite plans.]

Taliban peace talks ‘at risk’ as Obama stalls on Guantánamo

Europeans fear US failing to appreciate ‘game-changing’ offer could prompt Afghan ceasefire ‘as early as 2012’

Taliban militants surrender

Ex-Taliban militants surrender under a US-backed Afghan amnesty in Herat. Peace moves with the Taliban appear to have stalled over the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners. Photograph: Jalil Rezayee/EPA

The Obama administration is in danger of missing an historic opportunity for a peace settlement in Afghanistan if it does not act quickly to release prisoners in response to a Taliban offer to open talks, European officials and observers claim.

The Taliban announced on 3 January that it had agreed to open a political office in Qatar for the purpose of holding peace talks with the international community, and said it expected the release of its officials being held at Guantánamo Bay. At the time, White House officials said the administration was considering the transfer of five Taliban officials to custody in another country, widely believed to be Qatar.

But with still no movement on the prisoner transfers European officials involved in the talks are urging Washington to act quickly to keep the momentum going towards talks before hardline spoilers on all sides can stall proceedings.

“We think Washington can rely on the Qatar authorities as far as this is concerned. We know there is a political risk involved in the middle of [US presidential] elections, but we also believe the earlier they do this, the less the political risk, because by November it will be in the distant past,” a senior European official said.

Several diplomats stressed that the Taliban offer to enter talks was an historic step, representing a dramatic change in policy, and that for the first time since the war began all the parties were lined up behind official support for negotiations, but that such alignment might not last very long. Some speculated that the Obama administration had been rattled by Republican attacks on the president’s national security credentials. What was needed now, one diplomat said, was “political courage”.

Michael Semple, a former EU envoy to Afghanistan who is in close touch with senior Taliban members, said: “It’s an open question whether the Americans appreciate how momentous a step this was for the Taliban. It is serious and it is profound. It’s completely game-changing.”

“It is US policy to engage. But the people you’ve asked to engage are risking their lives and they need help and they need credibility with their own people. If you invite everybody to the party and don’t show up yourselves, my God you look stupid.”

Semple added that if both sides promptly implemented confidence-building measures like prisoner transfers, “it is realistic to think there could be a ceasefire in 2012”.

“Do they [the Obama administration] realise that they could actually stop the fighting in Afghanistan this year?” he asked.

The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Administration officials have previously pointed to the constraints of the National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), when it came to prisoner releases. Under the act, passed by Congress in December, transfers from Guantánamo are banned unless the defence secretary certifies that those let out of the detention camp will not commit acts of terrorism or rejoin the fight.

.

Other European officials are not as confident as Semple that the talks could lead to a cessation of hostilities, pointing to wide differences between the parties. The Taliban insists on the complete removal of foreign troops, while the US and the Kabul government are negotiating a “strategic partnership” agreement which would establish long-term US bases in Afghanistan. Kabul and its western backers also insist that Afghanistan’s present constitution, including women’s rights, should be accepted as part of the agreement, while the Taliban argues some of the constitution conflicts with Islam.

Some European officials also believe that the Taliban might view the Qatar office as a form of diplomatic recognition as a government in exile, which is not the intention of the initiative from the point of view of western capitals and Taliban. The Taliban are also insisting they will not negotiate will the government of Hamid Karzai, while the US and its allies maintain that the peace process must be “Afghan-led”.

European capitals argued that such gaps can be finessed or fudged in the early stages of talks at least, and are urging Washington to call the Taliban’s bluff and respond to its overture, if only to demonstrate that the west is exploring every avenue to a peaceful settlement.

A former member of the US administration who was involved in the preliminary talks said that since the death last year of the former American envoy, Richard Holbrooke, the logjam created by the competing views of the state department, Pentagon and CIA had got worse, making it harder for Washington to react quickly to events.

“Since Holbrooke died, we don’t have anyone managing the relationship with Pakistan for example,” the former official said. “We no longer have an overall strategist.”

Pakistani Taliban (TTP) Takes Credit for Murder of VOA Reporter

Pakistani Taliban Claims Responsibility for Killing VOA Reporter

Ayaz Gul | Islamabad

VOA reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif shown in northwest Pakistan in January 2012.

Photo: VOA Deewa
VOA reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif shown in northwest Pakistan in January 2012. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for killing Aatif in a mosque in Shabqadar, some 35 kilometers from Peshawar.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibilty for the Tuesday killing of Pakistani reporter Mukarram Khan Aatif, who worked for the Voice of America.

Aatif was assassinated in Shabqadar, a small town located in the violence-hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, not far from Peshawar.

Witnesses and local police say that Aatif was attending evening prayers when two assailants on a motorbike arrived at the mosque.  One of them entered the building, they say, and shot Aatif in the head and chest before escaping the scene.

The slain reporter, in his mid 40s and a native of the Mohman tribal agency bordering Afghanistan, was rushed in critical condition to a hospital, where he later died from his injuries.

Friends and relatives and that death threats from Taliban militants had forced the slain reporter and his family to abandon their hometown and move to Shabqadar.

Soon after news of his death surfaced, local and international media groups  condemned his killing as a act an terrorism.  Imtiaz Alam, secretary-general of South Asia Free Media Association, a regional media watchdog, called for a probe.

“The government must investigate and find the culprits and also compensate the family,” Alam said. “And I expect more killings in Pakistan, and journalists are now leaving country under threat from all kinds of actors, especially the extremists.”

Pakistani information minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government will conduct a “thorough and transparent” investigation into the incident and promised financial assistance to the victim’s family.

“It is really a very sad incident and I condemn it from the core of my heart.” Awan said. “I assure his family and all the media that we have to really interrogate and go for a transparent inquiry, and I am sure that we will be able to find some facts related to this incident.”

The minister added that Pakistan’s ongoing war against Taliban-led extremists has exposed the entire society to revenge terrorist attacks.

In addition to filing reports for Deewa Radio, the Voice of America’s Pashto language service, Mukarram Khan Aatif also worked for Dunya TV, a privately-run local television station.

Critics insist that not only militants but Pakistani security agencies are also behind deadly attacks on journalists. The failure of the Pakistani authorities to bring elements involved in such attacks to justice, they say, has emboldened those fearful of increasingly independent media.

According to Reporters Without Borders, at least 10 reporters were killed in Pakistan in 2011, making it the deadliest nation in the world for journalists.

Uzbekistan’s power crisis – why is there no heat and light?

[How could a major gas exporter have so much trouble keeping its citizens warm or in the light?]

Uzbekistan’s power crisis – why is there no heat and light?

Resident of Samarkand looking for firewood because gas supplies have been cut off
The majority of Uzbekistan’s population are having a tough time this winter as the country’s energy supply problems go from bad to worse. Unplanned power cuts and lengthy rolling blackouts have become everyday occurrences in almost every Uzbek neighbourhood.

In larger towns the electricity is switched off for up to six hours a day. In Tashkent the power is off for 1-2 hours every day. Outlying villages sometimes have no power for weeks at a time.

Shortages of petrol, LPG and diesel mean that queues of cars often stretch for a kilometre or more at petrol stations. Many companies are having to cut their deliveries to save fuel.

As Uzbekistan’s heat-and-power plants struggle to find enough fuel-oil and coal to produce at capacity, the country’s provincial population are living in harmony with nature as in times past, gathering her gifts for fuel: dung bricks, twigs, cotton-plant stalks, scavenged pieces of brown coal. In Tashkent, residents have given up on gas and are using wood as fuel.

Citizens are tired of the ever more frequent power cuts. Despair is giving way to conflict with local authorities and power companies, whose employees now fear for their safety as the population’s anger turns to violence – electricity company employees are said to have been killed by angry customers.

As well as having to put up with the endless electricity and fuel shortages, people are faced with ludicrous fines and debts from the power companies, and are afraid of repression – people have been beaten up and are threatened with arrest and other punishment.

These failings in the energy sector prompted the Uzbek government to adopt an Anti-crisis Programme; recently dozens of managers have been arrested, and hundreds of engineers, inspectors and controllers have been sacked and/or disciplined.

The fact that electricity and fuel shortages are becoming worse every year, and the huge discrepancies between official energy production statistics and the reality experienced by Uzbek citizens, are a source of growing concern for the public and of heated debate in professional circles.

The most urgent questions that must be addressed are these: if government electricity production targets are being met, then how can Uzbekistan be suffering from such significant and apparently unforeseen energy shortages? What is happening to the energy system? How much longer with the Uzbek people have to endure this?

These questions have been keeping me awake at night, and persuaded me to seek explanations from specialists who have previously held senior posts in the state-owned energy company Uzbekenergo. I interviewed former managers who have now moved abroad to find work, and who were afraid to give their names for fear of reprisals against their relatives who still live in Uzbekistan.

Why is there a shortage of energy for heat and light?

The main reasons for the growing energy shortages, the experts seem to agree, are the sharp rise in energy losses (wastage), diminishing productivity ratios, old and obsolete production capacity and distribution networks, and professional failures among managers, engineers and technical staff.

Electricity problems also stem from Uzbekistan’s decision to pull out of the Central Asia’s Unified Energy System on 1 December 2009.

For these reasons, experts say, the productivity of electricity generating capacity in Uzbekistan has fallen by 20%.

Losses from Uzbekistan’s energy system have crept up to 45% in the last 10 years. Around 30% of the losses are happening at a commercial level, or are down to ‘theft’ from the grid.

For comparison, losses in the Unified Energy System of the USSR were no more than 7%, in the Kyrgyz republic 23%. In many developed countries losses are limited at 5%, and 2-4% in the EU, USA, Japan, South Korea and Australia, 8%, in Canada. It would be encouraging to be told these figures are wrong.

Problems with electricity supply are deliberately concealed by the government, clearly because they are so acute, but the true causes of these problems must be identified through engaged public debate involving the specialists who are able to offer rational solutions to the problem.

Any energy system has losses, and technical and commercial wastage. The degree of loss depends on the state of the industry, and the skills of both managerial and technical personnel.

Technical loss is the volume of energy wasted as part of industrial production processes. The loss is an inevitable physical process in cables and electrical equipment as electricity moves from the generator to the consumer.

The real reasons why technical losses are so extreme are that transmission equipment is in a very poor state of repair, there is insufficient operational capacity, and networks and security systems are poorly maintained.

The rate at which worn equipment is overhauled or replaced is very low. More than 80% of electrical plants have become obsolete, and have not been maintained to the required level.

Electricity capacity usage is intermittent both seasonally and daily. Usage is three times higher in winter than in summer, and in the current cold winter, with people using their own heaters because of the shortage of fuel oil, electricity demand has been four times higher than usual summer consumption.

In peak evening periods, the load on the system is three times greater than during the rest of the day. Electricity is distributed through a complex electromagnetic system, which does not only transmit active energy but uses reactive energy depending on the regime of transmission regime and the state of the network.

The regular alternation between maximum and minimum load, where transmission control is poor, and production capacity is obsolete both in terms of its physical state and its productivity, puts a very high strain on transformers and the distribution network.

Because there is inadequate conversion capacity, and the stations are poorly maintained, there is very limited reverse flow of current in the network.

The majority of transformers, substations and distribution points were built in the 1960s-1970s and were never designed to withstand these constant frequency changes.

Generating capacity, as it runs through dozens of transformation cycles, can create short circuits when there are fluctuations in electric potential, and generators shut off automatically. If the shut-downs are frequent, the various elements of the generating system can be subject to power surges.

These factors lead to breakdowns in oil-immersed transformers, cause terminals to fail, and speed up the degradation of the insulation; the quality of the oil deteriorates and seals are broken because deposits build up on them.

They also speed-up the deterioration of sealed terminals, transformers and reactors which means they have to be replaced more often. Breakdown of emergency transformers, convertors and direct current smoothing reactors may lead to long outages on one pole of the line.

Failure to take full account of the system’s operating parameters can lead to sudden failures in electricity transmission, generators and transformers and endangers the balance between the generation and consumption and the consistency of the load in the network. This triggers automatic emergency shut-down procedures even more frequently, particularly in peak hours, which are the cause of the load shedding (blackouts) and power surges.

Commercial losses

The huge commercial losses in the power industry are also a result of widespread corruption and embezzlement at every level.

Commercial losses can otherwise be referred to as the difference between the amount of electricity supplied (metered by the supplier) and the amount consumed as indicated by users’ electricity meters (revenue).

Commercial losses can result from fluctuations in frequency, inferior meters and metering systems, energy theft, failure to detect theft, and poor working practices (that is, inadequate training of) qualified engineering and technical workers, inspectors and control engineers.

The energy sector is awash with proceeds of corruption – money that is being pocketed by officials at every level of the hierarchy. The more senior their post, the greater the kickbacks and bribes. Officials have been abusing their position as public services, resorting to intricate schemes to embezzlement and steal, and much of their profit is siphoned off in the higher echelons of the power hierarchy.

The most widespread form of electricity theft is facilitated by collusion between inspectors employed by the power companies and their bigger customers– mainly the owners of private businesses. In return for a bribe, an inspector will wind back the meter display, so that the customer’s electricity bill ends up being much smaller than it should be.

The biggest thefts, however, are carried out by those who plug into the electricity network temporarily but avoid paying for the power they use. Black market agents, in cahoots with bosses, often postpone the registration of new or re-named enterprises and can delay their signing up with an energy supplier. This effectively allows companies to make a series of one-off connections to the grid which means they can evade taxes and electricity bills.

Energy company statistics and meter-reading calculations do not include consumption of power by ‘shell companies’. Although inspectors do read the customers’ meters, the subsequent bills are somehow ‘lost’.

Sometimes, corrupt officials create fictitious stop notices, claiming that a particular business has been taken off a particular electricity network.

The number of temporary connections, the length of ‘disappearance’ or registration of shell companies, are determined by the colluding parties. The nature of the distribution networks makes it easy for meter readings to be falsified.

Sometimes, petty criminals are implicated in cases of electricity theft; either they are caught in the act or are unfortunate in having fallen out of favour with their bosses. But the investigation of major crimes, and large-scale racketeering by inspectors, is always hampered by lack of evidence.

Tashpulat Yuldashev, independent political analyst – for Uznews.net

Russia warns West against military action in Syria

Russia warns West against military action in Syria

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia will block any attempt by the West to secure U.N. support for the use of force against Syria, Russia’s foreign minister said Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia’s draft of a U.N. Security Council resolution on the violence in Syria that circulated Monday was aimed at making it explicitly clear that nothing could justify a foreign military interference. Western diplomats said it fell short of their demand for strong condemnation of Syria’s President Bashar Assad’s crackdown on civilians, that has left more than 5,000 people dead.

The Security Council has been unable to agree on a resolution since the violence began in March because a strong opposition from Russia and China. In October, they vetoed a West European draft resolution, backed by the U.S., that condemned Assad’s attacks and threatened sanctions.

Lavrov said Russia would reject any attempts at securing a U.N. sanction for a military interference in Syrian affairs.

“If some intend to use force at all cost … we can hardly prevent that from happening,” he said. “But let them do it at their own initiative on their own conscience, they won’t get any authorization from the U.N. Security Council.”

Lavrov also said that Russia doesn’t consider it necessary to offer an explanation or excuses over suspicions that a Russian ship had delivered munitions to Syria despite an EU arms embargo.

Lavrov told a news conference that Russia was acting in full respect of the international law and wouldn’t be guided by unilateral sanctions imposed by other nations.

“We haven’t violated any international agreements or the U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said. “We are only trading with Syria in items, which aren’t banned by the international law.”

Lavrov accused the West of turning a blind eye to attacks by opposition militants and supplies of weapons to the Syrian opposition from abroad.

“They are dodging the main question — why we should keep silent about the extremist opposition’s actions against administrative buildings, hospital, schools,” he said, urging the West to use its contacts with the opposition to urge it to refrain from violence.

He said that arms supplies to the Syrian opposition are “unacceptable and absolutely counterproductive, because it only fuels more violence.”

Russia has been seen as a backer of the Syrian regime since the Soviet times when Syria was led by Bashar Assad’s father, although Russian officials last fall hosted prominent Syrian opposition leaders in Moscow in a bid to sponsor talks.

Meanwhile, activists said Syrian troops have shelled a town near the border with Lebanon, and living conditions were deteriorating there after six days of siege.

A resident and activist of the mountain resort of Zabadani describes the town as a “war zone.” He says dozens of anti-government army defectors are deployed at the entrances to prevent any attempt by forces loyal to Assad to storm the area.

The man who identified himself only as Fares for fear of government reprisals told The Associated Press by phone that the town was shelled with mortars shortly before noon Wednesday.

Thousands of people have been killed in the regime’s crackdown on the anti-Assad revolt, which began as a peaceful uprising but which has turned increasingly militarized in recent months.

Special Forces Deploying To Syria?–[according to Facebook post]

SOLDIER’S FACEBOOK POST RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT U.S. SPECIAL FORCES IN SYRIA

crowd protests in Syria

By Nadin Abbott

January 17, 2012 (San Diego)— On January 2, a soldier in San Diego linked toSpecial Forces posted on his Facebook page that he was deploying to Syria. This tantalizing piece of information startled readers, leading many to ask: does our country have troops in Syria and if so, why?

Now That We Are Strangling Iran, the Zionist State No Longer Charges That Tehran Is Building A Bomb

Israel: Iran still mulling whether to build nuclear bomb

Israel also believes the Iranian regime now faces an unprecedented threat to its stability, with pressures both home and abroad.

By Amos Harel

Iran has not yet decided whether to make a nuclear bomb, according to the intelligence assessment Israeli officials will present later this week to Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Dempsey will be arriving on his first visit here since being appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in September. He will meet with various senior defense officials, including Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

The Israeli view is that while Iran continues to improve its nuclear capabilities, it has not yet decided whether to translate these capabilities into a nuclear weapon – or, more specifically, a nuclear warhead mounted atop a missile. Nor is it clear when Iran might make such a decision.

Israel also believes the Iranian regime now faces an unprecedented threat to its stability, which for the first time combines both external and internal pressure: from abroad, increasingly harsh sanctions and threats of military action, and at home, economic distress and worries about the results of the parliamentary election scheduled for March.

Israeli intelligence sees signs that the regime in Tehran is genuinely worried about the possibility of an opposition victory in March. Should that happen, the regime will have to choose between conceding the loss or falsifying results – as it apparently did in the 2009 presidential election – which could incite anti-regime protests thanks to the tailwind provided by the Arab Spring, which toppled the regimes in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

Moreover, the country’s economic woes are already hitting ordinary Iranians in their pockets. Tighter sanctions have caused the Iranian currency to depreciate by dozens of percent; the regime is having trouble amassing as much foreign currency as it needs; and now, it faces the prospect of new sanctions by the United States and the European Union against its central bank and its oil industry.

The regime is also being confronted by two distinct ideological challenges. On one hand, a growing camp that includes supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is challenging the authority of the ruling clerics, and especially that of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On the other, the Iranian model of a strict Islamic regime run by clerics is being called into question by Islamist ruling parties in Turkey, Tunisia and perhaps also Egypt, which either are or will soon be offering more democratic, modern and moderate models of Islamic governance.

Lastly, Tehran’s chief ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, is in real danger of being toppled as well.

Altogether, therefore, “2011 was a very bad year for the regime in Tehran,” a senior defense official told Haaretz. Israeli analysts believe 2012 will promise more of the same: more pressure, including the tougher public line now being taken by U.S. President Barack Obama, and also more uncertainty and instability, in both the region as a whole and Iran in particular.

All this makes it increasingly hard to predict what Iran will do. Recently, for instance, it threatened to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, and thereby choke off a major portion of the world’s oil supply. And under certain circumstances, it could also decide to make a sprint for a nuclear weapon.

The Iranian issue will presumably be the major focus of Dempsey’s talks here. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Obama administration recently warned Israel not to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, and Dempsey is apparently here in part to make sure that Israel has no such plans.

In addition, the U.S. State Department publicly criticized the assassination of a nuclear scientist in Tehran last week and denied any connection to it. Iran has blamed Israel for the attack, though it later accused the United States and Britain of being involved as well.

Israeli officials have made contradictory statements in recent days about the effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the sanctions in an interview with an Australian paper, but later told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that they were insufficient.