European politicians treated Donald Trump’s new Iran policy as America going rogue. Europe’s businesses can’t afford to be so dismissive… America does have the power to take unilateral action that affects companies everywhere -- and has used it in the past. Trump gave Congress 60 days to consider re-imposing curbs on Iran. Some of them could apply to businesses outside the U.S., potentially forcing them to choose between the American and Iranian markets. “The bottom line for a company is, will it be able to make a profit without getting sued?’’ said Rouzbeh Parsi, director of the Sweden-based European Iran Research Group, which promotes cooperation between Europe and Iran.
President Donald Trump said Monday that he decertified Iran’s compliance with a landmark nuclear agreement because he is “tired of being taken advantage of,” while also hinting that the U.S. could still fully pull out of the deal… The president said Monday that he is waiting for “phase two” of the deal, one that will either improve it or prompt him to withdraw the U.S. entirely. Of the latter option, the president said, "some would say that’s a greater possibility."
Senior Trump administration officials said on Sunday that the United States was committed to remaining part of the Iran nuclear accord for now, despite President Donald Trump’s criticisms of the deal and his warnings that he might pull out. Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said that Tehran is complying with the 2015 nuclear accord intended to increase Iran’s accountability in return for the lifting of some economic sanctions.
IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL
President Trump's de-certification of the Iran deal was both sensible and courageous. Faced with a chorus of opposition, the president nevertheless persisted and challenged the very deficient Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. However, a bold presidential policy, if mishandled, may still end up not just prolonging the JCPOA in its current form but also damaging America's credibility… The de-certification of the agreement constitutes the first and indispensable step in a long path of renegotiating it. Both Congress and the White House must now do their part. Congress has to respond to the president's move with a sanctions package of its own. And the administration has to engage in delicate task of alliance management while avoiding the likely Iranian ploy of entangling it in endless diplomacy. After years of disunity and working at cross-purposes, the two branches of U.S. government can finally come together in devising an accord that reliably and permanently blocks all of Iran's path to the bomb.
Negotiators warn never to take a hostage you can’t shoot. By announcing Friday that the administration would not certify that the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran was in the national interest, Donald Trump has taken a hostage. The hostage is the deal itself. Contrary to belief, decertification neither violates nor cancels the agreement. It does not betray our commitments to our allies and it does not abrogate our obligations to the Iranians. It’s an act of domestic politics between two branches of the United States government… But it’s also a psychological step, a brash signal that Trump is prepared to see the deal fail and accept the consequences, including war, if he can’t negotiate a better one. Since Iran insists it won’t budge, it sets Washington and Tehran on a path of confrontation that can be averted only if one side or the other blinks. Decertification is Trump saying: We won’t blink.
In short, Trump’s decertification of the nuclear deal is a first, but necessary step, to counter the increased Iranian aggression that has spread death and destruction across the Middle East over the past eight years.
On Friday, President Trump announced he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal signed by his predecessor. I’m sure most of us spent the weekend inundated with thought pieces declaring this a major misstep or some kind of politically motivated gambit that plays fast and loose with global security. But they’re all wrong. With this bold action, we’re finally on the path toward a safer Middle East.
Republicans have more or less coalesced into two primary political camps regarding the nuclear deal with Iran. Call them “the Fixers” and “the Walkers.” Both see the agreement as fundamentally flawed and would never have offered what the Obama administration gave away. They recognize the deal as both technically and structurally deficient, setting Iran on a patient path toward nuclear weapons while tying America’s hands until the Iranian nuclear program is industrial in scale, lethal in scope, and too costly and difficult to destroy from the outside.
Hillary Clinton is now complaining that President Trump has broken America’s word with his policy on the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA. For reasons I will explain below, this is a subject on which she should really be silent.
After months of speculation and counter-speculation, US President Donald Trump has unveiled his long promised “new strategy on Iran.” The 1370-word text released by the White House on Friday morning is likely to surprise many, at times for opposite reasons. The first to be surprised are those, especially in Europe, who feared Trump to behave like a bull in a china shop, bent on nothing but wanton destruction for the sake of making some noise. That hasn’t happened. Carefully crafted, the text avoids using diplomatic jargon for obfuscation and, instead, opts for clarity.
The European Union on Monday reaffirmed its support for a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers despite sharp criticism of the accord by President Donald Trump, and it urged U.S. lawmakers not to reimpose sanctions on Tehran. Trump defied both U.S. allies and adversaries on Friday by refusing to formally certify that Tehran is complying with the accord, even though international inspectors say it is, and said he might ultimately terminate the agreement.
President Donald Trump has levied a terrorism designation against Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in its entirety pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224. Leading up to last Friday’s designation, the IRGC and the Islamic Republic threatened the US over the move; one senior Iranian official called it a “declaration of war.” Since the designation, officials have dialed down the rhetoric, but have continued attacking the American president – particularly over his use of “Arabian Gulf” instead of “Persian Gulf” and threat to abandon the 2015 nuclear accord – and have sought to project a unified position.
Despite the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran remains the most serious threat today to peace and security in the Middle East, if not the world. With the international community now rightfully returning its attention to Iran, now is the time for an approach that focuses not only on whether Iran is fulfilling the letter of the nuclear agreement but also the myriad array of threats emanating from Tehran. The international community must forcefully implement existing U.N. Security Council resolutions and penalize those who defy them.
Iran’s oil minister says President Donald Trump should allow American oil firms to do business in the Islamic Republic. Bijan Zanganeh’s comments on Tuesday come as Americans and U.S. companies are still barred from directly doing business with Iran. That’s even with the 2015 nuclear deal being in place. Zanganeh was quoted as saying: “If they want to, we are ready to negotiate American companies about development of oil and gas resources.”
CONGRESS & IRAN
With President Trump declining to certify that the Iran deal is in the best interest of the United States, Congress will be faced with the decision of whether to take new steps to counter Iranian aggression. There will be plenty of time in the coming months to debate the details of any such legislation, but as Congress considers what to do, lawmakers should operate under the premise that they are under no obligations to honor former President Barack Obama's promises to Iran. Any action Congress takes to counter Iran will trigger outrage among supporters of the lousy deal, who will charge that undermining the deal would send a message to the world that the U.S. no longer honors its agreements and commitments. In reality, any such international blowback should be blamed on one person and one person only: Barack Obama.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, urged President Donald Trump's administration on Monday to work closely with European allies as it develops its new Iran policy. "This is something that can only work if the administration exercises tremendous diplomacy with our European allies," Corker told reporters as the Senate returned to the Capitol for the first time since Trump announced his Iran policy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called on Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to shut down his Twitter account. In a video message posted to his own social media accounts, Netanyahu attacked Zarif for having tweeted on Saturday that all Iranians, including women and children, support the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. A branch of the Iranian army, the IRGC was in the news lately as the US administration leveled additional sanctions against its officials and threatened to declare it a foreign terrorist organization.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held talks with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday, saying his country will not allow Iran to "establish itself militarily in Syria.” Both Russia and Iran, Israel's main enemy, are backing President Bashar Assad's regime in the civil war in neighboring Syria.
Ask any American intelligence analyst or military officer and they'll tell you that Qassem Soleimani, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' elite Qods Force, is a terrorist. He's responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans and worked assiduously to destabilize Iraq in the wake of its liberation to signal to those across the region that American intervention was more a curse than blessing. Ask many Iranians about Soleimani and they will describe him as a hero. Many of Iran's leaders talk, but Soleimani does. And while Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lectures from a chair behind a flower-decked dais, Soleimani drinks tea with Iranian soldiers and the proxies Iran supports in the field.
The legacy of Iran's suspected nuclear weapons work has emerged as a central issue for President Trump as he seeks to chart a new policy toward Tehran this month. Senior administration officials are indicating they want to reopen the question; in August, U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley specifically demanded that international inspectors be granted vastly expanded powers to enter Iran's military sites as a means of guarding against any covert atomic bomb development. If the administration plans to follow up on that demand, it will need to answer important questions about the timing, scope, and potential consequences of increased U.S. pressure.
Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard faces new sanctions from U.S. President Donald Trump as he accuses the country of violating the spirit of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers. But what is this organization? The Guard formed out of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution as a force meant to protect its Shiite-cleric-overseen government and later enshrined in its constitution. It operated parallel to the country's regular armed forces, growing in prominence and power during a long and ruinous war with Iraq in the 1980s. Though facing possible disbandment after the war, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei allowed it to thrive, granting it powers to expand into private enterprise. The Guard answers only to Iran's supreme leader.
The popularity of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has spiked, at least on social media, following US President Donald Trump laying out a new strategy on Oct. 13 that increases the likelihood of not only the collapse of the nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers, but also the likelihood of a military conflict and aggressive efforts to bring about regime change in Tehran. In the same strategy speech, Trump said he had authorized the Treasury to impose additional sanctions on the IRGC, describing it as "the Iranian Supreme Leader’s corrupt personal terror force and militia." A day after Trump's speech from the White House, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted, “Today, Iranians — boys, girls, men, women — are ALL IRGC; standing with those who defend us & the region against aggression and terror.” On Oct. 11, President Hassan Rouhani also addressed the IRGC and the possibility of US sanctions against them. He remarked, “If America wants to commit its next big mistake and take action against the IRGC, this is a mistake upon a mistake.”
Israel's leader is warning Iran that he will not tolerate an Iranian military presence in Syria. Benjamin Netanyahu says his meeting with visiting Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu on Tuesday focused mostly on Iran's efforts to establish a presence next door. Netanyahu says that "Iran has to understand that Israel will not allow this." The meeting comes a day after Israel destroyed a Russian-made, anti-aircraft missile launcher that took aim at its planes. Israel has largely stayed out of the fighting in Syria but has carried out dozens of airstrikes on alleged weapons convoys bound for Lebanese militant Hezbollah group. It is also concerned arch-enemy Iran will plant itself on Israel's doorstep.
When decertifying the Iran nuclear deal last week, U.S. President Donald Trump cited Tehran’s destabilizing role in the Middle East as a reason for his decision. Just days later, as if to confirm Trump’s argument, Iraqi Shiite militias aligned with Iran launched an offensive on the Kurdish Peshmerga in the oil-rich, disputed territory of Kirkuk. Trump now has an opportunity to prove that his rhetoric on Iran is more than just grandstanding, and that he is serious about confronting what he described as Iranian attempts to sow “conflict, terror and turmoil” across the Middle East.
For months, there have been warnings that the Islamic State's eventual defeat in Iraq and Syria would only spark a number of far more complicated and arguably more dangerous conflicts. We may now be seeing the first of those conflicts erupt in northern Iraq, where two close U.S. allies have commenced combat over the future of the nation. Adding to the dangerous mix is the alleged involvement of Iranian-backed militia in the fighting, which comes just days after President Trump singled out Tehran's “destabilizing” activities across the Middle East as he announced his plans to decertify the nuclear agreement with Iran. Any rash decisions on Trump's part could be a boon for exactly the Iranian activities he has denounced.
The United States is scrambling to defuse tensions between two allies in the fight against the Islamic State that have turned on each other, leaving its Iraq policy in disarray and opening the door for greater Iranian influence in the country. On Sunday night, U.S.-armed and -trained Iraqi government forces clashed with U.S.-armed and -trained Kurdish forces in the disputed city of Kirkuk. By Monday, Iraqi forces had reclaimed the city, a military base, the airport, and major oil fields nearby while thousands of Kirkuk residents fled north.
If President Trump wants to stop Iran from making the entire country of Iraq a subsidiary of the Revolutionary Guard, he’ll need to intervene in the burgeoning crisis in Kurdistan — and fast. On Monday, Iraqi forces trounced Kurdish fighters and emerged victorious in a short fight for control of the oil-rich northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk.
A senior Iranian official praised the Iraqi forces and Tehran-backed Popular Mobilization Forces (P.M.F.) for seizing the disputed province of Kirkuk and “thwarting” the Iraqi Kurdish leadership’s push for independence. Ali Akbar Velayati, a member of Iran’s Expediency Council, accused Masoud Barzani, the president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, of advancing Israeli agenda in the region. “Barzani’s, and behind the scenes Israel’s, objective was seizing Kirkuk’s oil wells in favor of Israel. For years, no group or minority in the region had proudly raised the flag of the Zionist regime (but the Kurdish region’s authorities recently did),” said Velayati, who is a senior aide to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on international affairs. He made the remarks after Iraqi armed forces, backed by Popular Mobilization Forces, took control of the disputed city of Kirkuk on Monday.
On Sunday October 15, the Pentagon encouraged Iraqi Security Forces and Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Peshmerga to “avoid escalatory actions,” as Iraq gave the Kurds an ultimatum to withdraw from areas around the city of Kirkuk. The United States said it opposed “violence from any party,” and that any action could risk destabilizing Iraq and distracting from the war on Islamic State.
IRANIAN DOMESTIC POLITICS
An article in reformist Shargh daily has urged the Rouhani government to abstain from impulsive measures to retaliate against the Trump administration latest anti-Iran sanctions and statements. The piece entitled “Neutralizing Trump’s Bombs” argues that the best course of action for Tehran would be to focus on consolidating its latest gains in Syria and Iraq and facilitating foreign investment in the country even by American companies.
Iran's oldest social media network announced Monday it is shutting down after years of battling censors, saying they had allowed foreign sites such as Instagram to take over. Cloob website was launched 12 years ago as the Iranian answer to Facebook and Google's now-dead Orkut, and at its peak had some two million users in the country. But the challenge of monitoring the deluge of photos from women not to show hair and removing politically sensitive comments led to frequent clashes with the authorities. "Cloob.com was entirely blocked three times and the last time it took 28 days to unblock it," said company director Mohammad Javad Shakouri Moghadam in a blog post. "Like a farmer, a webmaster knows how hard it is to rejuvenate a land that has dried up for 28 days," he wrote, adding that his team no longer had the "energy or enthusiasm" to keep fighting.
Although it had been expected for months, US President Donald Trump’s unveiling of his new strategy on Iran seems to have taken the ruling elite in Tehran by surprise, intensifying the power struggle within it. The radical faction close to “Supreme Guide” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had expected Trump to tear-up the so-called nuclear deal, depriving the rival faction known as Rafsanjani’s orphans led by President Hassan Rouhani, of their main propaganda plank. That Rouhani is anxious to pretend that the nuke deal remains intact is a sign of his faction’s failure to work out any alternative policy. If he denounces the deal, he would be validating Trump’s claim that Tehran never intended to abide by the rules. Such move would, in turn, persuade the Europeans and perhaps even Russia and China to tone down their support for Tehran against Washington. “We intend to remain committed to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said Friday night, “for as long as others continue to respect it.”