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Breaking News:

Back to the Table: New P5+1 Talks with Iran

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The Last Week of Daniel

Part 1 - Peace, Peace

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Back to the Table: New P5+1 Talks with Iran

Posted on 18 Jan, 2012 by "the witness"

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Simon Henderson

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On December 6, representatives of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany will meet with Iranian delegates in Geneva for two days of renewed talks on Tehran's nuclear program. The aspiration of the P5+1 -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- is to finally achieve progress toward a negotiated resolution of concerns over Iran's nuclear activities. Led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the negotiations are expected to be tough, with neither side wanting to make concessions. In addition, the atmosphere of the meetings will likely be influenced by the recent WikiLeaks revelations of heightened Arab anxiety about Iran.



In 2002, the international community learned that Iran was working on a centrifuge-based uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and a heavy-water facility (capable of producing plutonium) at Arak. Both projects have the potential to produce fuel for atomic weapons. Accordingly, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) -- which polices the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory -- has been investigating ever since.

From the start, Tehran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. In the IAEA's view, however, the regime has yet to adequately explain its activities. In 2003, Germany, France, and Britain -- then dubbed the EU-3 and since expanded to the P5+1 -- began a diplomatic initiative to resolve the outstanding questions.

The last time Iran and the P5+1 sat together at the negotiating table was October 2009. During that session, also held in Geneva, Iranian officials reportedly agreed in principle to send much of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad. They had argued that Iran needs the LEU to fuel the small Tehran Research Reactor, with the goal of producing medical isotopes. But they also acknowledged that new fuel rods could only be made outside Iran. By agreeing to send most of its LEU abroad, the regime would obtain fuel rods it purportedly wanted while also reducing international concerns, which centered on potential Iranian conversion of LEU into highly enriched uranium (HEU) suitable for a weapon.

Back in Tehran, however, the government stalled on implementing the agreement, with repeated attempts to change its terms. In the meantime, Iran has produced more LEU, undermining the basis of the deal. Although Turkey and Brazil attempted to rebroker the arrangement in May 2010, their efforts failed because they did not take into account the extra stocks of LEU Iran had produced since 2009.


New IAEA Report

In its latest report on Iran, released November 23, the IAEA stated that the Natanz plant continues to produce uranium, including some enriched to nearly 20 percent, the minimum threshold for HEU (although 90 percent enrichment is generally needed for an atomic weapon). The agency also noted, without explanation, that Iran had added centrifuges to some of the facility's cascades; specifically, each of the altered cascades now had 174 centrifuges instead 164. Iran may have made this change to provide spare parts for each cascade in case of breakdown. In a potentially related development, Western officials recently confirmed that Natanz centrifuges appear to have been affected by the Stuxnet computer virus, reportedly capable of interfering with the speed of the machines and causing catastrophic failure. Iran's alterations could also mean that the regime is experimenting with arrangements of the cascades required for producing bomb-grade HEU.

Apart from Natanz, the IAEA reported that Iran was continuing construction at the Fordow enrichment plant near Qom, the existence of which was discovered only last year. The agency also noted that the Arak heavy-water reactor was still being built.

The section of the report titled "Possible Military Dimension" was particularly worrisome. According to the IAEA, previous reports "have detailed the outstanding issues related to possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program and the actions required of Iran...to resolve those issues. Since August 2008, however, Iran has declined to discuss the outstanding issues." The agency went on to note its concerns about possible undisclosed Iranian nuclear activities involving military-related organizations, including efforts connected to the potential development of a nuclear missile payload.


Why Talks Now?

American and European officials believe that Iran's willingness to reopen talks in Geneva demonstrates the effectiveness of escalating sanctions. Since 2006, the UN Security Council has adopted six resolutions condemning Tehran's nuclear posture, four of which have imposed trade and financial penalties on the country as a whole, along with travel restrictions on scientists and officials.

Whatever the case, Tehran appears to have agreed to the talks reluctantly. Initially, it asked to hold the meetings in Turkey, which it deemed a more congenial diplomatic location. The regime also regarded the agenda as problematic. Speaking this week to a crowd of supporters in northern Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad insisted that "the people of Iran will not back down one iota" in the face of international demands to curb the nuclear program. Indeed, Iran agreed to include nuclear issues in the Geneva talks only if they are raised as part of a discussion "about international cooperation" and "solving the problems of humanity." Such rhetoric has been interpreted to mean that Iranian officials will attempt to focus the discussion on Israel's nuclear program.

Ironically, the recent WikiLeaks revelations of U.S. diplomatic cables may provide the P5+1 negotiators with added leverage. Some of the cables highlighted growing (but previously private) Arab concerns about Iran's nuclear activities, lending weight to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's December 1 assertion that the Geneva meeting would be "an opportunity for Iran to come to the table and discuss the matters that are of concern to the international community, first and foremost, their nuclear program."


Challenges for U.S. Diplomacy

American officials face a number of challenges in Geneva. First, they must make some progress in the negotiations because diplomatic engagement with Iran has been Washington's stated (though elusive) priority since the Obama administration took office. Second, they must maintain the P5+1's diplomatic unity, particularly with regard to Russia and China, which often seem to prefer diminishing Washington's standing by exploiting diplomatic or political vulnerabilities. Third, the United States must demonstrate to its allies, particularly in the Middle East, that it can make progress with Tehran, alleviating their concerns about Iranian interference and countering the perception of weakened U.S. leadership.

Assuming the talks are not aborted prematurely, Washington has few good options for countering further Iranian stall tactics or other ploys. At the same time, U.S. officials believe they have more time to negotiate such obstacles because of Iran's apparent technical problems with its centrifuges. For its part, Tehran seems a long way from conceding that its program has or even once had any military dimensions. It may well believe that its situation mirrors that of India and Pakistan in 1998 -- that is, if Iran does carry out a nuclear weapons test, the subsequent period of international condemnation would soon give way to acceptance of a new status quo.

In any case, short of draconian trade sanctions (which Moscow and Beijing are unlikely to support) or a military strike, Washington seems resigned to treating Iran's current nuclear achievements as acceptable. Indeed, Secretary Clinton stated this week that "Iran is entitled to the use of civil nuclear power for peaceful purposes." This formulation could allow Iran to

continue enriching uranium even though the country has no discernible need to produce the material domestically: the medical isotopes produced by the Tehran Research Reactor can be bought commercially from many sources, and the country's sole nuclear power reactor (the Russian-built Bushehr plant on the Persian Gulf coast, expected to go online in January) uses uranium fuel imported from Russia. Another potential negotiating option -- allowing Iran to make the low-enriched fuel rods for Bushehr -- has its own perils, given that the spent fuel could be reprocessed into plutonium. Even purely peaceful nuclear work would enable Iranian scientists and technicians to develop the skills needed for an eventual military program.

Dennis Ross, the White House's point man on Iran, stated this week that Tehran has "a decision to make," presumably between carrots and sticks. On one hand, U.S. officials are reportedly offering greater economic and energy assistance if Tehran constrains its nuclear program. On the other hand, Washington is prepared to push for further economic sanctions if necessary, further compromising Iran's ability to conduct trade and investment activity in its important oil and gas sectors.

Indeed, the Geneva talks are high stakes, in terms of both Iran's nuclearization and Washington's diplomatic standing. So far, no one is predicting that the parties will reach an agreement, and few believe that much progress will be made at all. In fact, given the potential for an acrimonious end to the meetings, agreeing on a date for the next round of talks may be the most the negotiators can hope to achieve.

Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute

Source: Washington Institute for Near East Policy

Links for Further Reading:

1-  http://www.stimson.org/spotlight/ellen-laipson-offers-thoughts-on-iran-for-usips-iran-primer/
2-  http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=42046
3-  http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=42048


Iran and the Persian Gulf Security

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reza Simbar & Arsalan Ghorbani Sheikh Neshin


The Arab uprisings and the one in Bahrain in particular, have caused tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Bahraini government’s Saudi-backed crackdown on pro-democracy protests has caused ties between Iran and the Persian Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to turn somewhat hostile in nature. However, just a few years ago, the situation was very different, with Iran being invited to a GCC summit. This paper intends to give context to the aforementioned development by analyzing its background and dynamics of Iran-GCC relations. To this aim, this paper will examine, review and analyze Iranian foreign policy with regard to the security geopolitics of the Persian Gulf. In the course of history, the countries in the region have undergone political, economic, security and even ideological ups and downs, which have led them to become the focus of major powers' attention. The region has also attracted attention due to its decisive role from geopolitical, security and economic points of view. A look at the background of security arrangements in the region establishes that all designs by outside powers' and all extra-regional interference have been futile in bringing security and stability to the region. Iran is among the Persian Gulf littoral states which, due to their strategic location and possession of huge crude oil and natural gas reserves, enjoy a special status. Any form of insecurity in the region will directly impact Iranian interests. Therefore, the strategy of the Iranian government vis-à-vis the security of this important region is based on the expansion of regional cooperation and intra-regional security-building. In this regard, there has been a remarkable growth in political exchanges and interaction at high levels between the Islamic Republic of Iran and other Persian Gulf states.

Continue Here: http://www.isrjournals.ir/images/pdf/5-simbar-irfa-5.pdf

Reza Simbar is Associate Professor of Gilan University, Iran. Arsalan Ghorbani Sheikh Neshin is Associate Professor of Tarbiat Moallem University, Iran.

Source: Iranian Review of Foreign Affairs

Link for Further Reading: Security Arrangements in the Persian Gulf By: Mahboubeh Sadeghinia


Iran-Russia Energy Relations

Friday, July 08, 2011

From a Bilateral to a Multilateral Regional Cooperation

Mandana Tishehyar
PhD in International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, India & Lecturer, University of Tehran, Iran

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/oil-gas_n(2).jpgFor thousands of years, the two great Empires of Iran and Russia were in the neighbourhood, sitting next to each other and sharing memories with ups and downs. Apart from wars and invasions which blurred the relationship between the two sides, they had the opportunity to pave the way for expanding the economic cooperation. Although the economic and trade cooperation between the two countries goes back to hundreds of years ago, their cooperation in the field of energy has a life less than a century.

95 years ago, in 1916, for the first time Iran's government gave the concession of Iran's north oil to one of the Russian merchants, named Khoshtaria. Although, unlike British merchant -William-Knox Darcy who attained the same concession for the Southern oil fields and established a great oil empire in the southern part of Iran- Khoshtaria was unable to use this concession to invest in the oil fields of the Northern region of Iran, having this privilege was a turning point in entering Russia into the issues related to Iran's energy policy.

During 1920s and 1930s, the communist government in Russia cited the Khoshtaria concession repeatedly to prevent Iran's government to give similar concessions to American oil companies such as Standard oil Company which was interested in participating in Iran's North oil-rich regions.

When American Sinclair Oil Cooperation attempted to gain Iran's North oil concession again in 1944, Sergey Kavtradze, Deputy Foreign Commissar of the USSR, headed a delegation and came to Iran to push for a Soviet share in the Iran's oil industry.

In December 1944, despite Soviet opposition, Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iranian nationalist who was a member of the Parliament, successfully advanced legislation preventing any government official from granting Iranian fields to any foreign investor without explicit approval from the Parliament. Kavtaradze protested the change, claiming that it was aimed against the Soviet Union, but the Iran's government refused to renegotiate and he returned to Moscow without having registered any gain.

However, the Russians continued to insist on their enthusiasm for establishing an Iran-Soviet Oil Company and put it in the schedule of Prime Minister Qavam's personal discussion with Stalin in Moscow. Soviet troops did not withdraw from Iran proper until May, 1946 after receiving a promise of petroleum concessions based on the Qavam-Sadchikov agreement. In fact, Qavam arranged a deal with the Soviets, granting an oil concession in the North contingent on the approval of the Iran's Parliament. Under the terms of the agreement with Qavam, Soviet troops began withdrawing from Iran. However, when the new Parliament was seated, they immediately voted against the proposed Soviet oil concession.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/14821.jpgAfter that, for near two decades, the relations between the USSR and Iran were restricted to formal diplomatic contacts. The strengthening of the influence of the United States on Iran had a negative impact on the bilateral relations. Nevertheless, both sides took gradual steps towards improving their relations. During 1960s, Iran pioneered in opening new doors in normalization and expansion of its relations with the Soviet Union.

In 1966 beside the major agreements for economic and technical cooperation and joint projects for building industrial facilities in Iran, the USSR was to cooperate in the construction of the Trans-Iranian gas pipeline for exporting gas to the Asian republics of the Soviet Union.

According to the agreement, Soviet organizations would design and survey the plants, supply equipment and provide experts for providing technical assistance. The Agreement envisaged supplies of gas to the Soviet Union and supplies of machinery and equipment to Iran for the period from 1970 to 1985.

The 1,106 km Trans-Iranian gas pipeline was launched in 1970. Its northern section of 500 km was built by the Soviet side. From the locality of Bid-e Boland, where the head facilities are situated, the pipeline passed along a route to Isfahan, Kāšān, Qom, Tehran, Qazvin, Rašt, Anzali, and Āstārā. From Āstārā, the gas entered the USSR, and in late 1970, supplies of gas to the Trans-Caucasus began. It was Iran’s first export gas pipeline. In 1972, the export of gas amounted to 8 billion cubic meters and was on the increase in subsequent years.

On the other hand, with the termination of constructing natural gas pipeline, a serious crisis arose between Moscow and Tehran about the price of exported gas to the Soviet Union. The conflict continued over a year and finally the Soviet government accepted to increase the price of the purchased natural gas.

In 1972, a new treaty on developing economic and technical cooperation was signed which envisaged the participation of the USSR in the development of Iranian oil-and-gas and petrochemical industries, and power energy facilities.

One of the latest examples of energy cooperation between the USSR and Iran during the Pahlavi's regime was signing an agreement in December 1976 to export Iran's Natural Gas to Germany and France via Soviet's territory and through the Soviet-Iran natural gas constructed pipeline.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/iran-gazprom.jpg However, further expansion of economic relations and strengthening of political relations were interrupted by the Revolution of 1979 in Iran. After the overthrow of the shah, the leadership of the USSR declared its intention to develop friendly and neighborly relations with Iran. The Soviet leadership was attracted by the anti-American mood of the new authorities. However, the Islamic leadership announced the main trend of its foreign policy to be “neither East nor West”.

The subsequent events indicated that the new regime was curtailing its ties with the USSR. Immediately after the revolution, Iran announced a price rise for the gas supplied to the USSR. The Iranian-Soviet relations also suffered an important setback when the Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Relations were also adversely affected by the supply of Soviet weapons to Iraq at the peak of the Iran-Iraq war. This was the result of the mutual antagonism between Marxist-Leninist ideology and the Islamist government of Iran, and Muslim antagonism to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s, forming a new round of relations and cooperation between Iran and Russia was anticipated. However, over two decades, since the formation of the Russian Federation, economic cooperation between the two countries -particularly in the energy sector- still has not been expanded much. Trade between the two countries is not significant and the value of bilateral cooperation in upstream and downstream industries of oil and gas is not expanded as expected. While Iran and Russia are two giant powers in the field of energy reserves in the world, they have not been successful to improve relations with joint investments in the fields of exploitation and transportation of energy and in forming a strong partnership in the international energy markets.

It is understandable that Russian economy in recent years has constantly changed its dependency on exports of technology, to dependency on exports of raw materials, especially oil and natural gas. Therefore, the Russians have set most of their technology and capital to maintain and increase their domestic production levels in the oil and gas fields. Also it seems that dependency on revenues from the sale of raw materials does not make both countries' economies complementary enough to meet the needs of each other.

Furthermore, Russia may consider the expansion of Iran's capacity to export energy in contrast with the Russia's strong presence in the global energy markets. This, of course is inconsistent with the realities of international economy and interdependency between economies in the era of globalization. Moreover, while the Russia's traditional energy customers are mainly among European countries, Iran's oil purchasers are mostly from the South, South East and East Asian countries.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/72413.jpgAnother obstacle to expand energy cooperation between Iran and Russia inrecent years is international sanctions against foreign companies investing in oil and gas industries of Iran. This has limited the presence of Russian major oil and gas companies in Iran's energy industries and due to the international pressure, they prefer to avoid massive investments in this section.

However, what has been neglected is a policy to enhance cooperation through the development of multilateral regional relations. Russia and Iran neighboring with strategic region of Eurasia, provides the two countries with a special capacity that has not been considered seriously until now. Cooperation for the development of energy industries in the Caspian littoral states, providing new infrastructure for energy transportation from these surrounded areas to the

energy markets via Russia and Iran and attention to the capacity of the north - south corridor which was established previously in a framework of an initial agreement between Iran, India and Russia, can create a new arena of regional cooperation among these countries.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) formed between China, Russia and Central Asian countries in recent years and joining countries such as Iran, India and Pakistan as observer members of the organization can be an important step to shape different dimensions of regional cooperation, especially in the field of energy. During the Summit session of this organization in 2006, Iran presented the proposed initiative to shape the energy cooperation between the members of SCO. This initiative was welcomed by the other Member States. Iran discussed that while the three countries of Central Asia, including Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, along with Iran and Russia, are considered as the major oil and gas producers in Eurasia, other members of the organization, such as China, India, and Pakistan, are the largest energy consumers in Asia and even in the international level.

Regarding this reality, organizing a network of cooperation among energy producers and consumers in the Caspian region is achievable through multilateral cooperation, intra-organizational investments and providing energy transportation network between these countries. It can also allow the participated countries to expand energy cooperation with Iran through the formation of a consortium of Eurasian national oil companies. Therefore, the effect of sanctions against these countries will also be neutralized.


Majority Government in Lebanon and Forthcoming Challenges

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Hassan Ahmadian, PhD Candidate
Department of Regional Studies, University of Tehran


Internal developments in Lebanon are constantly interacting with regional and international developments. Therefore, without study of foreign players’ policies, it would not be possible to understand political developments in that country. Lebanon is not solely under foreign influence, but its domestic developments also leave their mark on regional power balance and big powers’ policies. The last example to the point was confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Syria which respectively represent moderate Arab states and the anti-Zionist resistance axis. Influences on Lebanon, however, are much powerful than Lebanon’s effect on regional trends. In other words, even effects produced by Lebanon result from the impact of foreign influences on that country.

Regional influences in Lebanon were institutionalized following its independence in 1946 by considering ethnic quotas in power. The civil war also widened existing gaps among various ethnicities and increased the country’s vulnerability to foreign powers. The beginning and end of the civil war, establishment of post-war states, confrontation between March 14 and March 8 alliances following assassination of Rafiq Hariri, withdrawal of the Syrian troops from Lebanon, and the war with Israel in 2006 were all results of ethnic developments in Lebanon. Therefore, the government of Najib Mikati should be viewed in the light of domestic developments and regional alliances.

Mikati’s government was inaugurated under exceptional conditions. Since Taif Agreement in 1990, it has been the first government to be based on a majority, instead of national unity. Even Fuad Siniora’s government was based on national unity, though it had finally to do without minority ministers as a result of discord over Hariri international tribunal’s indictment. After Walid Jumblatt joined March 8 Alliance for the first time following assassination of Rafiq Hariri in 2005 and the alliance became a majority, the government of Hariri collapsed in January and all measures taken by Mikati to form a national unity government failed. The main reasons were Saad Hariri’s opposition to work with Mikati, on the one hand, and general tendency for having a national unity in place, on the other.

Mikati formed his majority government when all hope was lost in March 14 Alliance and establishment of a national unity government. On the other hand, regional changes as a result of the Arab Spring, especially in Syria, have caused ambiguities about future arrangement of political forces in Lebanon. Some experts maintain that gravity of situation in Syria will make it difficult for March 8 Alliance to maintain a parliamentary majority. In addition, after repressing limited uprising in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia has increased its activities in Lebanon and other parts of the region to counteract Iran. Therefore, any change in balance of regional power will have consequences for Lebanon. This is why Mikati preferred to form a majority government instead of waiting for an agreement with March 14 Alliance.

His government, however is faced with major challenges and Mikati’s finesse in handling the situation will decide the fate of his government. The first challenge pertains to indictment of the international tribunal which is investigating assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. The tribunal has issued arrest warrants for four members of the Lebanese Hezbollah and has submitted those warrants to the Lebanese government. Mikati has, thus far, adopted a moderate position and has announced in an interview that he will continue to respect Lebanon’s international obligations, including with regard to the international tribunal. However, the indictment and arrest warrants leave his government with a few options and every option will entail a specific challenge. Moderation cannot last under an atmosphere of confrontation and clear demarcations.

http://www.iranreview.org/file/cms/files/323.jpgThe second challenge facing the government is Hezbollah’s arms. The position of the Lebanese government on Hezbollah and its weapons will increase possibility of confrontation between Mikati’s government and the west. Mikati is doing his best to avoid this. For example, he showed reaction when his government was called a government of “confrontation.” Mikati has accepted the triangle of nation, the army and the resistance.

Therefore, there is high probability of confrontation with the west. Sanctioning the Lebanese Canadian Bank by the US Department of Treasury can be considered the west’s first message to Mikati.

The next challenge is position of the Lebanese government on developments in Syria and Bashar Assad’s government in the light of increasing friction between the Syrian government and the west during the past few months. It is not a secret that the Lebanese Hezbollah and March 8 Alliance are allies of Damascus. Possible discord over how to interact with Syria among different political groups forming the majority government and heightening of international pressures will face Mikati with new challenges. In addition, Mikati should deal with domestic disputes as well as economic and social conditions on top of other challenges that states usually face under normal conditions. Many Lebanese people are assessing Mikati government’s efficiency in improving economic conditions of Lebanon.

Some analysts have focused on Mikati government’s advantages over its predecessors and consider it more harmonized and better able to go on with macroeconomic plans. Challenges facing Mikati’s government, however, outnumber opportunities. Handling such big challenges as international tribunal’s indictment and quality of interaction with Syria, calls for something more than a merely harmonized government. In addition, harmony among political groups forming the government does not mean that their priorities will not change as a result of the aforesaid challenges. Different maneuverings by Walid Jumblatt and some Lebanese parliament deputies and their oscillation between the two major alliances in the past few years is evidence to this reality. Under current complicated conditions in the region, the majority government needs national unity more than anything else and national unity is a rare commodity in Lebanon.


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