Plan A: threats, sanctions, military attacks – no Plan B

After pulling out of a nuclear accord President Donald Trump has threatened “the strongest sanctions” against Iran, and if they don’t negotiate a new deal then “something will happen”.

The USA has no support in their withdrawal from the international legal agreement, except from Israel who has followed up on the US move they had strongly Trump to take with attacks on Iranian targets in Syria.

Given the volatile history of the Middle East, Iran’s involvement in a number of countries and Russia’s military support of Iran this is a high risk situation.

Reuters: Israel strikes Iranian targets in Syria after rocket fire

Israel said it attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time in the most extensive military exchange ever between the two adversaries.

It was the heaviest Israeli barrage in Syria since the 2011 start of the civil war in which Iranians, allied Shi’ite Muslim militias and Russian troops have deployed in support of President Bashar al-Assad. The confrontation came two days after the United States announced its withdrawal, with Israel’s urging, from a nuclear accord with Iran.

The timing doesn’t seem coincidental.

Israel destroyed dozens of Iranian military sites in Syria, as well as Syrian anti-aircraft units that tried unsuccessfully to shoot down Israeli planes, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.

Syrian state media said Israel launched dozens of missiles and hit a radar station, Syrian air defense positions and an ammunition dump, underscoring the risks of a wider escalation involving Iran and its regional allies.

Wider escalation is always a risk in the region.

In the meantime Trump Bets Sanctions Will Force Iran to Bargain. There’s No Plan B.

President Trump said on Wednesday that he expects Iran to continue to comply with the terms of the 2015 deal that limits Tehran’s nuclear program, even as the United States violates it by reimposing what he called “among the strongest sanctions that we’ve ever put on a country.”

Beyond betting that Iran’s leaders will return to the negotiating table, and seek a better deal, once they feel the sanctions’ bite, the president appeared to acknowledge that he has no Plan B for dealing with Tehran.

“Iran will come back and say, ‘We don’t want to negotiate,’” Mr. Trump told reporters. “And of course, they’re going to say that. And if I were in their position, I’d say that, too, for the first couple of months: ‘We’re not going to negotiate.’”

“But they’ll negotiate, or something will happen,” Mr. Trump said. “And hopefully that won’t be the case.”

But Iran are trying to isolate the US and continue to talk with Europe, Russia and China.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that he had instructed his foreign minister to determine if negotiators from European nations, Russia and China could make up for the economic benefits that Iran would lose after the American withdrawal.

Only then would he decide, Mr. Rouhani said, whether to instruct Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization to resume the enrichment of uranium.

After Mr. Trump announced his decision, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany on Tuesday reaffirmed their support for a United Nations Security Council resolution that formally endorsed the accord. The European leaders asserted that the resolution was the applicable international law governing the Iranian nuclear problem — a way of suggesting that the United States is the first country to violate the accord.

They also noted that Mr. Trump’s own intelligence officials — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, when he was serving as C.I.A. director — have said he saw no evidence that Iran had violated the deal.

So Trump not only has to deal with a markedly different position taken by other major world powers, he is at odds with US intelligence – and also some republican politicians.

Even Republicans who had their qualms about the shortcomings of the nuclear deal — especially its “sunset clauses” that gave Iran the right to produce nuclear fuel after 2030 — expressed concern that the White House appeared more interested in scrapping the accord than coming up with a comprehensive way to deal with Tehran.

Few in the Pentagon expect the Iranians to back down. Intelligence analysts expect that Iran will grow more active in Syria and Iraq, in part to make the United States and its allies pay a price.

So Trump is being bold or brash, and there is no way of knowing which way this may now go. It is a much higher risk and more complex situation than with North Korea.

Michael Singh, who worked on Iran issues during George W. Bush’s presidency, wrote in Foreign Affairs:

One of the chief criticisms leveled against former U.S. President Barack Obama by critics of the JCPOA was that he focused on the nuclear issue to the exclusion of all others and that the agreement itself institutionalized this focus by trading comprehensive sanctions relief for Tehran’s restraint solely in the nuclear realm.

Ironically, first by emphasizing the need to fix the agreement, and now in insisting that a new deal be negotiated, Trump risks repeating the error.

A different bad agreement to Obama’s may be the best outcome that Trump achieves.

While the United States has debated the JCPOA, Iran has advanced in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere with little resistance, and prospects for war between Iran and Israel, or Iran and Saudi Arabia, have increased significantly. What Washington really needs is a new Iran policy, not just a nuclear policy – and the will to roll up their sleeves and carry it out.

If Plan A doesn’t work I’m not sure that Trump is a roll his sleeves up type of president.

Fuel pipeline and Plan B

Should we have a ‘Plan B’ for everything? Some have said we should have had a backup to a bust fuel pipeline.

This has caused major disruption at Auckland Airport in particular.

Stuff:  Possibility of prosecution after leak closes crucial jet fuel pipeline

The Northland Regional Council said it was investigating the circumstances that led up to a fuel pipe line from a Northland refinery being temporarily shut down.

The 168-kilometre pipeline – which carries jet fuel, petrol and diesel directly from the oil refinery at Marsden Point in Northland to tanks in Wiri, south Auckland – has been out of action since Thursday afternoon, when refinery workers noticed a drop in pressure.  A jet fuel leak was located on a rural property 8km south of the refinery later that afternoon.

Refining New Zealand spokesman Greg McNeill said on Monday initial investigations showed a digger “scraped” and “cut” the pipe.

Prime Minister Bill English said that a contingency for this type of incident had been previously been looked into but wasn’t economically viable.

“There have been a couple of studies done that looked at different alternatives for backing up the current infrastructure, and the decisions were made that the investment that would be required to double up would be too much to be passed onto consumers.

“But I expect that after this that they’ll go back and have another look at it.”

Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said some 27 domestic and international flights were cancelled over the weekend, while others travelled via other airports to refuel.

McNeill said they believed it would be fixed between September 24-26.

“Getting the product down to Wiri where it is stored is the key to us, we’re working toward a definite timeline,” he said.

Once the jet fuel is back at Wiri it will undergo about 30 hours of processing before it is certified and taken on to the airport.

It happened during an election campaign so it is more political than usual: Government knew of jet fuel supply concerns: Labour party

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern says the Government has known for years there were serious risks to the supply of fuel to Auckland International Airport.

In a statement this morning, Ardern says Air New Zealand raised the issue about additional jet fuel supply storage in 2012 but the Government instead set up a raft of “mishmash of minor initiatives”.

It goes back further than that – the Clark led Government also considered pipeline options in 2005.

But the fuel supply and pipeline are privately owned.

Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett was grilled by Guyon Espiner on Morning Report over a cabinet paper from 2012 in which officials advised then Minister of Energy and Resources Simon Bridges of the serious impact of a shutdown.

“It’s not owned by the Government, it’s owned by the fuel companies and it is their job to get their product to the source where it’s needed.

“I’m sure that we will now look at that and make sure we’ve got it all lined up properly …there’s other alternatives to a second line, and there might be things like extra storage needed in Auckland that goes beyond the eight days.”

Stuff Editorial: Burst pipe shows importance of having a plan B

There is a sense of deja vu in all this. New Zealand has seen before how failures in small but critical parts of its infrastructure can lead to disproportionate disruption.

In 1998, central Auckland suffered a five-week power cut after four electricity cables failed. The outage started with one old and obsolete cable, which triggered another, and then two more.

In 2011, a landslide caused a leak in the Maui gas pipeline north from Taranaki. It was fixed within six days, but the failure is estimated to have cost the economy $200 million.

The interdependence of some of the country’s networks was demonstrated in 2012, when a power cut in a Wellington control centre crippled the entire Auckland railway network.

We haven’t even begun to consider massive disruption caused by large earthquakes, the continued closure of the Manawatu Gorge, or damage caused by weather events – such as the failure of stopbanks protecting Edgecumbe – which are likely to become more frequent.

For all the talk about how infrastructure development fuels national growth, sometimes not enough care is taken to protect the assets that we have, even when the risks are known. Lip service is given to building resilience, but the truth is this is expensive.

Yes, expensive.

The vulnerability of the 30-year-old Marsden Point to Auckland pipeline was highlighted in a report by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment in 2012. It seems nothing was done about it.

I don’t know if nothing was done, but a new pipeline wasn’t installed, a tanker ship wasn’t put on permanent standby, the storage tank capacity at Wiri wasn’t doubled, the 170km of pipeline wasn’t continuously patrolled.

Winston Peters didn’t even suggest moving Auckland Airport to Whangarei.

How important, or feasible, is it to have back up plans for everything?

They could have a second pipeline from Marsden Point to Wiri – that would have to follow an entirely different route to be safe.

Auckland could have stand by motorways in cash a crash disrupts traffic.

They could re-introduce rail ferries from Wellington to Lyttleton in case there’s another Kaikoura earthquake – but what if the next earthquake is in Wellington?

We could all have two cars and two houses and two jobs, just in case.

The Government could make us have a plan B for everything.

Or we could have infrastructure that makes economic and practical sense, and risk the occasional bit of disruption.

What next?

TV1 has run a 5 night series of programmes looking at the future. They have proposed Plan A – doing much the same as now – and Plan B – making radical changes to how we do things over the next 20 years.

What next?

The last programme is promoting what they have done as potentially a ‘pivotal moment’.

Has anyone watched any of it?

If so has it changed your mind? Has it inspired you to do things differently?

What next?

Do we need a Plan B?

Do we need a Plan B for the New Zealand economy?

Andrew Little versus Bill English last week:

[Sitting date: 08 September 2015. Volume:708;Page:6295. Text is subject to correction.]

1. ANDREW LITTLE (Leader of the Opposition) to the Prime Minister : Why did he say “Plan A is a good plan” given the state of regional economies?

Hon BILL ENGLISH (Acting Prime Minister) : He said “Plan A is a good plan” because plan A is a good plan. It enables regions to be resilient to shifts in global prices. The Government is supporting regions in a number of ways, including water reform and Resource Management Act reform, recognising that most regional economies are resource-based economies, and we are investing in regions through better alignment in training and skills, education, and research and development. Some regions are under pressure from the volatility in dairy prices. The Government is working with those regions—for example, through regional growth studies—to attract more investment, jobs, and growth.

Andrew Little : Given plan A is a failure that has led to higher unemployment, weak growth, and record debt, why is he refusing to consider a new direction?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : We do not agree with the member’s description of the future of the New Zealand economy. I know he is among the very few people who want to see the economy crash, because he thinks it might benefit his poor leadership and party standing. But, actually, we have a longer-term view that although this is a softer patch for the economy and a difficult period for some industries, we have longer-term confidence in the New Zealand economy.

Andrew Little : Given that plan A has failed, will he update National’s 2014 slogan to now read “Not working for New Zealand”?

Mr SPEAKER : Order! The question was not heard because of the level of interjection, mainly from my right—[Interruption] Order! I invite the member to repeat the question.

Andrew Little : The question is and was: given that plan A has failed, will he update National’s 2014 slogan to now read “Not working for New Zealand”?

Hon BILL ENGLISH : No, because plan A is working for New Zealand, much better than Labour’s political strategy is working for Labour.

What would a Plan B be?

Or if we keep chugging away much as we are (National’s Plan A) are we likely to do ok?

As shown in GDP growth up for June quarter after a slowdown in the March quarter to 0.2% GDP growth has improved in the June quarter to a still modest 0.4%.

What would work best, a reactive economic policy approach, or steady as she goes?