Posts Tagged ‘Bashar al-Assad’

Syria’s Kurds to Hold Historic Vote in ‘Message’ to Assad — Syria moving toward partition?

September 21, 2017

BEIRUT — Kurdish-led regions of northern Syria will hold elections on Friday, a historic expression of free will and a message to President Bashar al-Assad as he seeks to reassert control over the whole country, a senior Syrian Kurdish politician said.

As Kurds in neighboring Iraq prepare to vote on secession from Baghdad, Hadiya Yousef told Reuters that Assad’s aim to take back all of Syria could lead to its partition, though Syria’s Kurds insist that independence is not their aim.

The three-phase vote set to begin on Friday is part of a plan mapped out by Syrian Kurdish groups and their allies to set up a federal system of government that will shore up the autonomy they have enjoyed in the north since 2011, when Syria’s civil war broke out.

Image result for Kurds, in Syria, Photos

Fighters from the Kurdish YPG militia alongside the group’s flag in northern Syria

The political structures expected to emerge from the process are inspired by the ideas of Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), who is in jail in Turkey for leading a three-decade insurgency. Turkey views Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria as a threat to its national security.

In Friday’s election, voters will be picking leaders for some 3,700 communities, or “communes”, spread across three regions of the north. The process will be followed in November by elections to local councils and culminate in January with the election of an assembly that will act as a parliament.

The Syrian government, which is regaining swathes of territory with Russian and Iranian support, opposes the plan and has repeatedly insisted that it will recover all the territory that has slipped from its grip during six years of war.

“The regime’s insistence on renewing this authoritarian, centralized regime will lead to a deepening of the Syrian crisis,” said Yousef, who co-chairs a constituent assembly at the heart of the plans for the new system of government.

“If (the government) insists on this position, the regime will steer Syria toward partition,” she said by phone. The people of northern Syria had the means to defend themselves, she noted, and urged Damascus to accept dialogue.

“THE SHADOW” OF THE BAATH

The main Syrian Kurdish groups and their militia, the YPG, have emerged as a major force in Syria since the onset of the war, and now control approximately a quarter of the country.

Damascus and its allies on the one hand and the YPG and its allies on the other have mostly stayed out of each other’s way in the war. But tensions are surfacing as the sides race to grab territory from Islamic State in Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria.

The YPG is the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, and its area recaptured from Islamic State.

Though it backs the YPG, the United States last year declared its opposition to creation of autonomous zones in Syria. It has also come out against the Iraqi Kurdish independence vote set for Monday.

Yousef said the decision to hold the elections while the people of northern Syria were simultaneously fighting Islamic State reflected their determination to press ahead.

“At the same time, it is a message to the Syrian regime that we as the Syrian people have will and want our will to be represented in the election of our administration to run our regions and societies,” she said.

The elections will not take place in all the areas controlled by the SDF. There will be no vote in the city of Manbij, captured from Islamic State last year, for example, or in recently captured areas near the city of Raqqa, she said.

Image result for Al-Dar Khalil, Syria, photos

Al-Dar Khalil

Critics say the governing structures set up so far in northern Syria are less democratic than they claim to be, and are dominated by officials committed to the PKK.

But senior Kurdish politician Al-Dar Khalil said a culture of democracy was being advanced in the region, after years of oppressive Baath Party rule. “In Syria, from ’63 … we were living in the shadow of the Baath Party – one party controlling all institutions and aspects of life,” he told Reuters.

“We want to change this mindset.”

(Writing by Tom Perry, editing by Larry King)

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Syria’s Kurds poised for vote to cement federal push

September 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut | Syrian Kurds take part in a rally in Qamishli on September 15, 2017 in support of a planned independence referendum by Iraqi Kurds

QAMISHLI (SYRIA) (AFP) – Syria’s Kurds are poised to hold their first local elections, a move that has annoyed Damascus and Ankara and comes days before a controversial independence referendum by Iraq’s Kurds.Kurds made up around 15 percent of Syria’s pre-war population and were long oppressed by the central government.

But they largely stayed out of the uprising that erupted in March 2011, instead quietly building local control in Kurdish-majority areas after the withdrawal of most government troops.

They have become the key ground force in Syria partnering with the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group.

In March 2016, the Kurds declared three semi-autonomous regions in the areas under their control, part of their push towards the federal system they have advocated in Syria.

Now they are preparing to hold their first elections in the regions, a vote that has angered Turkey and which Damascus has dismissed as “a joke.”

The unprecedented election will take place in three stages, beginning Friday with a vote for representatives at the neighbourhood or “commune” level.

Elections for executive councils for towns and regions are planned for November 3.

Then, on January 19, a final phase will elect legislative councils for each of the three regions, as well as a single joint legislative assembly.

– Federalism, not secession –

Syrian Kurdish officials insist their goal is not to divide the country, which has been ravaged by a conflict that has killed over 330,000 people.

“These elections are the first step to consolidating the federal system and federal democracy,” said Saleh Muslim, head of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party, Syria’s most important Kurdish political party.

He distanced Syria’s Kurds from the broader ambitions of Kurds in neighbouring Iraq, who have scheduled a September 25 vote on independence over the objections of allies and the central government in Baghdad.

“We are part of Syria,” he said. “Our demand in Syria is not separation, our demand is federalism.”

Iraq’s Kurdish region has been autonomous since 1991, but authorities have long floated the possibility of full independence.

“In Syria, it’s the first step, in Iraq it may appear to be the last step. In both cases it’s a question of obtaining local and international legitimacy,” said Fabrice Balanche, a Syria expert at the Washington Institute think tank.

Kurdish authorities insist the vote will be inclusive, and banners promoting it in Arabic, Kurdish and Syriac have been hung in cities including Qamishli and Amuda.

But Kurdish opposition parties are not expected to participate in the vote, with competition largely between parts of the current administration.

“These elections will be a simulation of democracy, because there is not a multi-party system and freedom,” said Balanche, noting that all the parties taking part are “members of a coalition led by the PYD.”

“The United States can’t but approve of the elections and close its eyes to their non-democratic nature” because of its close alliance with the Kurds in the fight against IS, he added.

For many Syrian Kurds however, the vote is the realisation of an impossible dream after decades of marginalisation.

“It’s the first time that we’ve seen Kurdish elections,” said 50-year-old Omar Abdi.

“I never believed I would see this day.”

– ‘Illegitimate’ –

Banners across the Kurdish-majority parts of the country known to Kurds as “Rojava” urge citizens to vote.

“The future of Rojava is in your hands,” reads one.

“These elections provide an opportunity for Kurds to start building their institutions for the future,” said Kurdish affairs expert Mutlu Civiroglu.

“It is also important for them to show to (the) regime that in northern Syria things are different now and they run the business, not the regime in Damascus.”

Damascus has remained relatively quiet on the vote.

“The elections are illegitimate,” said Wadah Abed Rabbo, editor-in-chief of Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper, which is close to the government.

“Any change to the system in Syria can only be done by changing the constitution, which requires a referendum for all Syrians,” he told AFP.

Neighbouring Turkey considers the PYD and its military wing the YPG to be affiliates of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, which Ankara designates a “terrorist” group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fiercely opposes Iraqi Kurdistan’s independence, and has said his country would never allow the creation of a Kurdish state in northern Syria.

For now, Civiroglu said, that is not the plan.

“Kurds in Syria are not secessionists and they want to remain in a unified, pluralistic, decentralised Syria,” he said.

But “they may consider other alternatives if their demands are not met.”

by Delil Souleiman with Rouba El Husseini in Beirut

Turkey mulls options, rallies support to oppose Kurdish state

September 21, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Stuart WILLIAMS | Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey, which staunchly opposes Kurdish statehood, is far from alone in its rejection of an independence referendum in northern Iraq but it remains unclear whether this will translate into concrete action.Ankara’s displeasure over the referendum, which is planned for September 25, is shared not only by the government in Baghdad but also by its sometimes prickly neighbour Iran, not to mention Turkey’s Western allies in NATO.

Turkey has warned the Iraqi Kurds they risk paying a “price”, evoking possible sanctions over the non-binding vote. But it has been notably circumspect over what this might mean.

The idea of a Kurdish state — even one outside Turkey’s borders — is anathema not only to Turkey’s ultra-right nationalists but also to its conservatives as well as its secular opposition.

They fear fully-fledged independence for the Kurds of northern Iraq could embolden Turkey’s own Kurdish minority, which is estimated to make up around a quarter of its population of nearly 80 million.

Left without a state of their own when the borders of Europe and the Middle East were redrawn during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the Kurds see themselves as the world’s largest stateless people.

They live in an area spanning Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq.

By far the biggest population is in Turkey, which since 1984 has waged a campaign to defeat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which initially sought to create a breakaway state in its southeast.

– ‘Deep suspicions’ –

But millions of Kurds also live in Iran — which itself fought sporadic insurgent actions by groups like the Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) — and Tehran and Ankara have often cooperated to stem the rise of Kurdish nationalism.

After an unprecedented visit to Ankara earlier this month by Iran’s chief of staff, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the two sides could launch joint operations against Kurdish militants although this was denied by Tehran.

Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said Tehran and Ankara had a shared interest in preserving Iraq’s territorial integrity and also enjoyed extensive communication channels.

But while mainly Shiite Iran and Sunni Turkey had the capability to jointly pressure the Iraqi Kurds, a regional rivalry dating back to their imperial eras risked getting in the way.

“Though both have attempted to build on common concerns, deep suspicions about the other’s ambitions to benefit from the chaos have stopped them from reaching an arrangement that could lower the region’s flames,” Vaez told AFP.

– ‘Significant damage’ –

Despite Turkey’s anger over the presence of PKK bases in northern Iraq, Ankara has formed a close economic relationship with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in recent years, giving it immense potential leverage over Arbil.

Iraqi Kurdistan has become one of Turkey’s largest export markets, with prominent Turkish consumer goods and furniture brands ubiquitous on the streets of its major cities.

Meanwhile, Turkey provides the sole transit link for crude oil exports from the KRG through a pipeline via its southern port of Ceyhan.

“Turkey is in a position to inflict significant damage to the Iraqi Kurds if it wants to,” said David Romano, professor of Middle East politics at Missouri State University.

But he said cutting economic ties with the Iraq Kurds would risk some $10 billion a year in trade, oil and gas imports and transit fees which are crucial to Turkey’s own Kurdish-dominated southeast.

“Turkey makes a lot of noises against the referendum, but it’s mainly to assuage the Turkish nationalist component of the ruling party’s base,” he argued.

With conspicuous timing, Turkey this week launched war games next to its border with the KRG but has made no concrete threat of military intervention.

– ‘Common ground’ with Assad –

The only clear backing for the referendum within the region has come from Israel, a longstanding if low-key backer of Kurdish ambitions as a non-Arab buffer against the Jewish state’s arch enemy Iran.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin noted that not a single country, “other than Israel”, backed the referendum bid.

Gulf kingpin Saudi Arabia on Wednesday urged the KRG leadership to scrap the plan, warning it risked sparking further regional crises.

According to some analysts, rising Kurdish nationalism across the region could even prompt Turkey to find common cause with its prime foe of the last half decade, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Both Ankara and Damascus want to head off the prospect of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Syria neighbouring the KRG and run by the Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) — a Kurdish militia Turkey sees as a terror group and a branch of the PKK.

Aaron Stein, resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center, said Ankara had “de-prioritised” the issue of Assad “in favour of efforts to keep Syria united.”

Turkey has now found “common ground” with the Assad regime in countering the YPG, said Gonul Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies.

by Stuart WILLIAMS

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu: ‘Fix or Nix’ Iran Nuclear Deal — “Those that threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril”

September 20, 2017
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BY HERB KEINON, JPOST.COM STAFF
 SEPTEMBER 19, 2017 23:10

In Farsi, tells Iranians: You are Israel’s friends

PM: Iran risks ‘mortal peril’ by threatening Israel, fix or nix nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS/LUCAS JACKSON)

NEW YORK – “Fix it or nix it,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, telling the world body that Israel’s policy on the Iranian nuclear deal is simple: “Change it or cancel it.”

Netanyahu’s speech began with enumerating Israel’s diplomatic breakthroughs, and how the country has significantly improved its relations with many countries because of what it has to offer in terms of technology and anti-terrorism expertise, and ended with a warning that it would not tolerate Iran’s efforts to establish permanent bases on Israel’s borders or open new terrorist fronts against Israel in Syria.

“Those that threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril,” he said. “Israel will defend itself with the full force of our arms and the full power of our convictions.”

Netanyahu recalled his ardent opposition to the 2015 nuclear deal and those who said it would “somehow moderate Iran.

“I strongly disagree,” he said.

“I warned that when the sanctions will be removed, Iran would behave like a hungry tiger unleashed.

Not join the community of nations, but devouring the nations one after the other.

That is precisely what Iran is doing today.”

He said that unless the “sunset clause” was excised from the agreement, Iran would be on its way to become the next North Korea, another rogue state with nuclear capabilities.

In a rhetorical parallel to the Iron Curtain, Netanyahu said “an Iranian curtain is descending across the Middle East. It spreads this curtain over Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere and pledges to extinguish the light of Israel.”

But, Netanyahu continued, “I have a simple message for Khamenei: The light of Israel will never be extinguished.”

During his address, Netanyahu turned directly to the Iranian people, greeted them in Farsi, and said Israel was not their enemy, and that once the regime is changed, the peoples can resume what was a historic friendship.

The prime minister made a point of praising US President Donald Trump a number of times during the address, both for the speech he gave earlier in the day and for his strong support of Israel at the United Nations.

Netanyahu said that in his 30 years of experience with the UN, he has not heard a bolder or more courageous speech than the one Trump delivered on Tuesday.

While Netanyahu did not pull out any props or gimmicks during his speech, he did make a joke about penguins, saying that while he has visited six continents this year, he has not yet visited Antarctica.

“I want to go there, too, because I have heard penguins are also enthusiastic supporters of Israel, they have no difficulty recognizing something rare black and white, right and wrong.”

When it comes to Israel, he quipped, this power of recognition is too often absent.

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Netanyahu Vows to Curb Iran in U.N. Speech

September 20, 2017
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the U.N. General Assembly that his country would act to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria, the same day the Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian-made drone.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 19, 2017. (photo credit REUTERS-LUCAS JACKSON)

By Rory Jones
The Wall Street Journal

TEL AVIV—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday told the United Nations General Assembly that his country would act to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria, the same day the Israeli military said it shot down an Iranian-made drone.

Echoing a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump, the Israeli leader also lambasted the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, telling the group of nations to “fix or nix” the agreement.

“Those who threaten us with annihilation put themselves in mortal peril,” Mr. Netanyahu told the U.N., in a direct message to Iran.

Earlier Tuesday, the Israeli military said it had downed an unmanned aerial vehicle with a Patriot missile-defense system over the Golan Heights after it came near but failed to reach Israeli-controlled airspace.

The drone took off from the Syrian capital of Damascus on a reconnaissance mission for the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, the military said.

There was no immediate response to Israel’s claim about the downed drone from Hezbollah or the Syrian regime.

Israeli soldiers maneuver tanks and armored personnel carriers during the last day of military exercises in the northern part of the Golan Heights earlier this month. Israel on Tuesday said it shot down an Iranian-made drone over the Golan Heights.Photo: jalaa marey/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

The incident is the latest point of tension between Israel and the Iran-backed Syrian regime and Hezbollah. It comes as both sides amp up hostile rhetoric and talk of a future war.

In his speech at the U.N., Mr. Netanyahu criticized the Iranian nuclear deal as it sets a time frame for winding down, after which Israel fears Tehran will be able to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons.

“The greater danger is not that Iran will rush to a single bomb by breaking the deal but that Iran will be able to build many bombs by keeping the deal,” he said.

Mr. Trump, in his own speech to the U.N. earlier in the day, called Iran an authoritarian regime and denounced the nuclear deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.”

Other world powers, including European nations, have said Iran is maintaining the nuclear deal and stated their opposition to changing the agreement.

Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump met Monday in New York to discuss the accord. The Israeli leader has long opposed it and has recently ratcheted up his criticism as he tries to win support from the U.S. and other world leaders to limit Iran’s role in Syria.

President Donald Trump told the United Nations General Assembly that Iran has become an “economically depleted rogue state” whose chief export is violence and chaos in the Middle East. He also called the Iran nuclear deal an “embarrassment.” Photo: Getty

More From the U.N.

  • Live Coverage: U.N. General Assembly
  • Analysis: Trump Returns U.S. to Realpolitik in World Affairs

Israel has in recent months accused Iran and Hezbollah of setting up weapons factories in Syria. The country fears the partners will take advantage of the fall of Islamic State to set up a land corridor from Tehran to the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

Majority Shiite Iran and Hezbollah have fought alongside Mr. Assad’s forces for five years, helping the Syrian leader fend off an assault by Sunni rebel groups allied with different powers.

Israel and other Arab states also have accused Iran of promoting government change in Yemen and of establishing a presence in Iraq.

Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday called Iran’s attempts to influence geopolitics in the region a “curtain of terror.”

Israeli officials have already made clear to the U.S., which backs opposition groups, and Russia, a key supporter of Mr. Assad, that Israel won’t allow an Iranian or Hezbollah presence on its northern border with Syria.

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Iranian protesters burn representations of US and Israeli flags in their annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 23, 2017. AP photo

This month, Israel launched airstrikes on a Syrian military compound in what former Israeli officials said was an attack meant to thwart military threats from Iran and Hezbollah. It came as the Israeli military held a 10-day exercise along its border with Lebanon, the largest such drill in nearly 20 years.

Israel won control of the Golan Heights plateau from Syria in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

In a bid to in part limit Hezbollah and Iranian presence on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli military in recent years has supplied Sunni rebels there with cash and aid in a program known as the Good Neighborhood policy.

Write to Rory Jones at rory.jones@wsj.com

 

https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-shoots-down-iranian-made-drone-over-golan-heights-1505829361?mod=nwsrl_latin_america_news&cx_refModule=nwsrl#cx_testId=16&cx_testVariant=ctrl&cx_artPos=11

Nikki Haley Says U.N. Has Exhausted Options on North Korea — Could she replace Tillerson?

September 17, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the matter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. “We’re trying every other possibility that we have but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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Tillerson heads to U.N. gathering with Haley waiting in the wings

The former South Carolina governor is widely seen as a leading candidate to succeed the Texas oilman as secretary of state should he leave the Trump administration.

Nikki Haley is pictured. | Getty Images
As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, now-Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted that it maintain the Cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The disagreement among Trump administration officials and Washington’s foreign policy intelligentsia is not about if but rather when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley eclipsed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as America’s top diplomat.

As President Donald Trump heads to New York for his first United Nations General Assembly, the weeklong gathering is being viewed as the most public test yet for the shrunken diplomat at Foggy Bottom – an opportunity for Tillerson to reassert himself by the president’s side as something more than a bean-counter, or risk being overshadowed by Haley on the most high-profile stage to date.

It would be unprecedented for a U.N. ambassador to upstage a secretary of state at the diplomatic Super Bowl. UNGA is typically a frenetic week of parties, speeches, bilateral meetings and Manhattan traffic jams, during which the ambassador cedes the yearlong spotlight she enjoys at U.N. headquarters to officials higher up the food chain.

But “unprecedented” is the Trump administration’s unofficial slogan. And Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is seen as one of its most ambitious players, competing for prominence against a former Exxon Mobil CEO, who has been criticized for accepting the lead role at the State Department only to oversee a dramatic shrinkage of its budget and influence.

“[John] Kerry and [Hillary] Clinton were big names and would get a lot of attention” at UNGA, said Ned Price, a former National Security Council official in the Obama administration. “The U.N. ambassador would, in some ways, serve as the emcee and have a more behind-the-scenes role. Now, I have a feeling we’ll see Nikki Haley much more engaged in the substance in a higher profile way.”

Haley is expected to attend almost all of the bilateral meetings with Trump and Tillerson, an amped-up role for the ambassador. She has also been involved in reviewing the remarks Trump is expected to deliver Tuesday, which will mark Trump’s main event of the week.

On Friday, speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room, Haley noted that in the speech, the president “slaps the right people, he hugs the right people.”

Her presence behind the podium was notable. Tillerson was returning from closed-door meetings at the British Foreign Ministry in London, leaving Haley fielding questions about North Korea and America’s foreign policy priorities for the week alongside National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

It is Tillerson, however, who is scheduled to address the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in a rare speech in front of the Security Council this week, a State Department spokesman said. Haley has no scheduled speaking role.

But Haley’s large and growing profile has made her the most-discussed candidate to eventually succeed Tillerson.

“Nikki Haley gave up being the governor of a really important state for this position,” said Kori Schake, a former official in the George W. Bush State Department who has also co-authored a book with Defense Secretary James Mattis. “I don’t see the logic of the U.N. ambassador position as the end state of that decision.”

Tillerson was a onetime favorite of Trump’s, someone he viewed as a peer and spent more one-on-one time with at the White House than any other cabinet official. But the Texas oilman has clashed with senior White House aides, killed morale in the agency and walled himself off among a small group of top aides.

While Tillerson has not spoken openly about departing, speculation in White House circles about who might replace him has focused on two candidates: Haley and CIA director Mike Pompeo, another favorite of Trump’s. But Pompeo, a former congressman, is not seen as eager to leave a job he loves, while Haley has been asserting herself as someone ready for something bigger since she joined the administration.

As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, Haley insisted that it maintain the cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration.

She does not view herself as someone who reports to Tillerson, people who have worked with both principals said. She regularly video-conferences into National Security Council meetings and speaks freely with the press, often charting her own course without seeking sign-off from the White House or the State Department.

That course is often notably at odds with Trump’s America First vision of the world. Haley’s tough talk about human rights, Russian malfeasance and the need to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is more in line with the hawkish takes of Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. She has won praise from conservative outlets like the National Review that have been outright hostile to Trump.

So far, it seems to have cost her nothing. In an administration where most officials see only downside to cultivating a public profile in the media, Haley has become the face of the administration’s foreign policy apparatus — without chafing the president, at least so far, even when she contradicts him or seems to hog the media glare.

On Friday, for instance, she touted the latest U.N. sanctions resolution that unanimously passed last week as a major accomplishment, even after Trump referred to them as “just another very small step, not a big deal.”

“We have cut off now 90 percent of trade going into North Korea,” she said. “It was a massive sanctions bill.”

Taking on extra press briefings and television interviews is a role that some of her colleagues are more than happy for her to fill. McMaster, aides said, loathes the Sunday show circuit, venting privately that he feels like the appearances only serve to “box him in.” Tillerson and Mattis have both made it clear they would prefer to work off-camera.

“Diplomacy isn’t a competition,” said State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond. “There are people with different styles of communicating and leadership.”

In the opening months of the administration, Haley’s go-it-alone style made for some detractors in the West Wing. “She took a major foreign trip while the president was on his inaugural trip abroad,” said one former administration official, referring to her visit to refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan as Trump touched down in Saudi Arabia last spring. “It was borderline disrespectful,” the former official said. “We’d joke that we needed to be worried about her in 2020, and not John Kasich.”

But with growing frustration surrounding the missing-in-action Tillerson, more administration officials are boosting Haley as someone who at least is clear about what she is trying to achieve.

For Haley, it’s been a quick build from foreign policy novice to lead envoy on the international stage. “It could be that foreign policy experience is overrated and political experience is underrated,” said Schake, noting that the Trump administration is testing theories of what outside skills are transferrable to government positions. “Are business skills easily transferable to government leadership? Apparently not. Are political skills transferrable to foreign policy skills? Apparently so.”

Some White House advisers point to the speech Haley delivered earlier this month on the Iran nuclear deal as “the final nail in Tillerson’s coffin.”

The speech, in which Haley floated the idea that the president could force the Iran deal into Congress’ lap by simply declaring Iran noncompliant, marked the most substantive Iran comments to date from any administration official. Haley was a surprising messenger, given that the U.N. plays a limited role in the 2015 nuclear agreement, and it was Tillerson’s predecessor, Kerry, who typically managed the issue. They were also delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington — Tillerson’s home turf.

Others shrugged off the speech, saying that was just words delivered to a friendly neo-conservative think tank audience. It was passing U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea that marked Haley’s “moment,” they say, a demonstration that she can deliver real outcomes on the international stage.

A third role reversal that administration officials point to was Haley’s trip to Vienna, last month, instead of Tillerson, to review Iran nuclear activities.

Another camp looks at the dynamic and does not see Haley as the abnormal player on the international scene, but more like the latest in a long line of ambitious U.N. ambassadors like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice.

Instead, they point at Tillerson, who’s been overseeing a top-to-bottom reorganization of the 75,000-person State Department since taking over. “The more unusual piece is him,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry. “The only thing he seems fixated on is this review.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even expressed confusion about Tillerson in an interview last week with NBC’s Rachel Maddow. “Why take a job that you’re not willing to dive in and learn about,” Clinton said, expressing dismay that he has never reached out to any of his predecessors for any historical context on diplomatic relations, and calling him “largely invisible.”

The friction between the ambitious, public-facing Haley and the isolated, media-wary Tillerson has become noticeable in meetings.

Cabinet officials have remarked at Tillerson’s disrespectful tone toward Haley during meetings, as well as her refusal to defer to him. Asked to comment on their relationship, Hammond said the two “serve together in the cabinet. They speak frequently on issues of the day.”

As to whether Haley is angling for the top job at the State Department, he replied, “I have no idea. I really don’t.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. said: “This sort of palace intrigue is silly; Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson work together frequently and well.”

As for Haley’s strategy at UNGA next week, he added: “The focus should be fully on the president, his speech, and his discussions with foreign leaders.”

http://www.politico.com/story/2017/09/17/tillerson-haley-united-nations-meeting-trump-242807

Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

September 16, 2017

ISLAMABAD — Thousands of Shiite Muslims from Afghanistan and Pakistan are being recruited by Iran to fight with President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, lured by promises of housing, a monthly salary of up to $600 and the possibility of employment in Iran when they return, say counterterrorism officials and analysts.

These fighters, who have received public praise from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, even have their own brigades, but counterterrorism officials in both countries worry about the mayhem they might cause when they return home to countries already wrestling with a major militant problem.

Amir Toumaj, Iran research analyst at the U.S.-based Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said the number of fighters is fluid but as many as 6,000 Afghans are fighting for Assad, while the number of Pakistanis, who fight under the banner of the Zainabayoun Brigade, is in the hundreds.

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In Afghanistan, stepped-up attacks on minority Shiites claimed by the upstart Islamic State group affiliate known as Islamic State in the Khorasan Province could be payback against Afghan Shiites in Syria fighting under the banner of the Fatimayoun Brigade, Toumaj said. Khorasan is an ancient name for an area that included parts of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Central Asia.

“People were expecting blowback,” said Toumaj. IS “itself has its own strategy to inflame sectarian strife.”

Shiites in Afghanistan are frightened. Worshippers at a recent Friday prayer service said Shiite mosques in the Afghan capital, including the largest, Ibrahim Khalil mosque, were barely a third full. Previously on Fridays — the Islamic holy day — the faithful were so many that the overflow often spilled out on the street outside the mosque.

Mohammed Naim, a Shiite restaurant owner in Kabul issued a plea to Iran: “Please don’t send the poor Afghan Shia refugees to fight in Syria because then Daesh attacks directly on Shias,” he said, using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

Pakistan has also been targeted by the Islamic State in Khorasan province. IS has claimed several brutal attacks on the country’s Shiite community, sending suicide bombers to shrines they frequent, killing scores of devotees.

In Pakistan, sectarian rivalries routinely erupt in violence. The usual targets are the country’s minority Shiites, making them willing recruits, said Toumaj. The most fertile recruitment ground for Iran has been Parachinar, the regional capital of the Khurram tribal region, that borders Afghanistan, he said. There, Shiites have been targeted by suicide bombings carried out by Sunni militants, who revile Shiites as heretics.

In June, two suicide bombings in rapid succession killed nearly 70 people prompting nationwide demonstrations, with protesters carrying banners shouting: “Stop the genocide of Shiites.”

A Pakistani intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media, said recruits are also coming from northern Gilgit and Baltistan. Recruiters are often Shiite clerics with ties to Iran, some of whom have studied in seminaries in Iran’s Qom and Mashhad cities, said a second Pakistani official, who also spoke on condition he not be identified because he still operates in the area and exposing his identity would endanger him.

Yet fighters sign up for many reasons.

Some are inspired to go to Syria to protect sites considered holy to Shiite Muslims, like the shrine honoring Sayyida Zainab, the granddaughter of Islam’s Prophet Muhammed. Located in the Syrian capital of Damascus, the shrine was attacked by Syrian rebels in 2013. Others sign up for the monthly stipend and the promise of a house. For those recruited from among the more than 1 million Afghan refugees still living in Iran it’s often the promise of permanent residence in Iran. For Shiites in Pakistan’s Parachinar it is outrage at the relentless attacks by Sunni militants that drives them to sign up for battle in Syria, said Toumaj.

Mir Hussain Naseri, a member of Afghanistan’s Shiite clerics’ council, said Shiites are obligated to protect religious shrines in both Iraq and Syria.

“Afghans are going to Syria to protect the holy places against attacks by Daesh,” he said. “Daesh is the enemy of Shias.”

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In this Friday, Aug. 25, 2017 file photo, men carry a woman’s body after an attack on a Shiite mosque in Kabul, Afghanistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Ehsan Ghani, chief of Pakistan’s Counterterrorism Authority, told The Associated Press that his organization is sifting through hundreds of documents, including immigration files, to put a figure on the numbers of Pakistanis fighting on both sides of the many Middle East conflicts, including Syria. But it’s a cumbersome process.

“We know people are going from here to fight but we have to know who is going as a pilgrim (to shrines in Syria and Iraq) and who is going to join the fight,” he said.

Pakistan’s many intelligence agencies as well as the provincial governments are involved in the search, said Ghani, explaining that Pakistan wants numbers in order to devise a policy to deal with them when they return home. Until now, Pakistan has denied the presence of the Islamic State group in Pakistan.

Nadir Ali, a senior policy analyst at the U.S.-based RAND Corp., said Afghan and Pakistani recruits also provide Iran with future armies that Tehran can employ to enhance its influence in the region and as protection against perceived enemies.

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In this Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 file photo, Pakistani Shiite Muslims mourn next to the bodies of their relatives, a victims of bombing that killed scores of people in Quetta, Pakistan. Thousands of Pakistani and Afghan Shiites have been recruited by Iran to fight in Syria generating fears that their return could aggravate sectarian rivalries, say counterterrorism officials as well as analysts, who track militant movements. AP photo

Despite allegations that Iran is aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ali says battle-hardened Shiite fighters are Tehran’s weapon should relations with an Afghan government that includes the radical majority Sunni religious movement deteriorate.

“Once the Syrian civil war dies down Iran is going to have thousands, if not tens of thousands of militia, under its control to use in other conflicts,” he said. “There is a potential of Iran getting more involved in Afghanistan using militia because Iran is going to be really concerned about security on its border and it would make sense to use a proxy force.”

Pakistan too has an uneasy relationship with Iran. On occasion the anti-Iranian Jandullah militant group has launched attacks against Iranian border guards from Baluchistan province. In June, Pakistan shot down an Iranian drone deep inside its territory.

In Pakistan the worry is that returning fighters, including those who had fought on the side of IS, could start another round of sectarian bloodletting, said the intelligence official.

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Associated Press writers Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan; Munir Ahmed in Islamabad, Pakistan; Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.

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Iran inks deals to repair Syria’s war-hit power grid

September 13, 2017
© AFP/File | This file pictures taken on on January 30, 2017 shows a worker fixing electricity cables damaged during fighting on the outskirts of the Syrian capital

TEHRAN (AFP) – Tehran has signed several agreements with its ally Damascus to improve the production and distribution of electricity in war-ravaged Syria, officials in Iran and Syrian state media said Wednesday.The deals were signed in Tehran by Syrian Electricity Minister Mohammed Zuhair Kharboutli and Sattar Mahmoudi, the acting head of Iran’s energy ministry, the sources said.

Mahmoudi, in statements published on the ministry’s website, said the deals to rebuild Syria’s electricity infrastructure damaged during the country’s six-year war were worth “several hundred million euros (dollars)”.

The agreements involved “equipment, the network and power plants”, he said, adding that Iranian firms were ready to carry out the work and that the Iranian government would support them.

Syrian state news agency SANA said one deal involved the construction of a 450-megawatt power plant in the coastal province of Latakia, home to President Bashar al-Assad’s clan and regime bastion.

Other deals stipulate the rehabilitation of power stations in Aleppo, Homs and Banias.

In May Kharboutli said the Damascus government had supplied 97 percent of the country’s electricity needs before the war erupted in 2011.

That proportion is now down to 27 percent because of the shortage of fuel, he said, adding that before the conflict Syria had generated 49 billion kilowatts per hour compared with just 19 billion now.

Iran is the key political, military and financial backer of the Assad government, and has sent to Syria military advisers and volunteers to help in the fight against rebels and jihadists.

In January Iran signed several deals with Syria to build a mobile phone network, a petrol terminal and have the right to operate phosphate mines in Sharqiya, south of the ancient city of Palmyra.

Iran Prepares for U.S. To Pull Out of Iran Nuclear Deal

September 13, 2017
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TEHRAN (FNA)- Geopolitical analyst James O’Neill says Washington will kill the nuclear agreement with Iran as part of its hawkish policy of threat to the country that is a heavy weight actor at the center stage of political equations and developments in the Middle East.

“Iran is uniquely placed to be a significant force for good in a volatile and rapidly changing region. It is this unique role that is a major reason why the US continues to make threats, uses proxy forces such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to destabilize Iran, and will undoubtedly resile from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA),” O’Neill said in an exclusive interview with FNA.

The analyst further added that the US animosity towards Iran has pushed the latter towards stronger ties with other world powers. “Iran’s growing links with China and Russia are its best defenses against US aggression,” he said.

James O’Neill is a geopolitical analyst and a former academic who since 1984 has practiced as a barrister, first in New Zealand and since 2002 in Australia. He has appeared on international media outlets such as RT and Press TV. He is also a regular contributor to “New Eastern Outlook,” an online expert opinion journal.

FNA has conducted an interview with James O’Neill to discuss Syria and its allies in the war on terrorist groups, the possible geopolitical implications for regional and trans-regional players and the geopolitical trends in the Middle-East.

Below you will find the full text of the interview.

Q: From time to time we have been hearing about the so-called US-led coalition and Israel coming to help the terrorist groups operating inside Syria, the financial support coming from the US and its allies and the ideological support from the Wahhabi regime in Saudi Arabia. Why do you think with all that support, these days we keep hearing about their proxy forces failing and losing ground in Syria?

A: The US, Israel and Saudi Arabia will continue to support terrorist groups in Syria while pretending to be “fighting terrorism”.  This is because they are pursuing disparate goals, not always mutually consistent. The Saudis want to spread their Wahhabi version of Islam; Israel wants to break its neighbors up into smaller States and also expand its own borders (the Yinon Plan); the US wants regime change to have a government that is compliant with its wider geopolitical goals, including using for example, Qatari gas to undermine Europe’s reliance upon Russian natural gas. Syria and its allies are better motivated, better equipped, and are also fighting as a unified force against a fragmented opposition.

Q: Addressing the opening of a Conference of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has hailed the political, economic and military support of Syria’s allies, namely Iran, Russia and Hezbollah. How much do you think this alliance has helped Syria to fight back terrorists?

A: The support of Hezbollah, Iran and Russia has been crucial to the success of the Syrian government’s fight against its enemies, both internal and external. The respective militaries are highly disciplined and have the support of the local population. We see that in the return of more than half a million refugees to their homes once ISIS and the other multiple terrorist groups have been defeated. Without the intervention of Syria’s allies, and particularly the Russian intervention after September 2015, it is highly likely that the Syrian government would have been defeated. That would have had catastrophic consequences not just for Syria but also the wider region, including the Russian Federation.

Q: What do you think would be the implications of such continued failure for American foreign policy?

A: One definition of insanity is to repeat the same thing over and over and expect a different result. The US is a classic example of this as they repeatedly make the same mistakes. In one sense they do not care, as long as they retain their hegemonic status. A major impetus for these endless wars is the huge “defense” industry. The “military-industrial-intelligence” complex makes a profit regardless of the outcome. In at least one sense, failure is a “win” because it creates conditions that lead to further demand for military expenditure to protect themselves (and their allies) from the consequences of their catastrophic foreign policy misadventures. Such policies eventually destroy the society from within, as we have seen countless times with empires in the past. They eventually collapse from the weight of their internal contradictions. Their ability to in effect use other people’s money to fight their wars will rapidly diminish as the dollar loses its status as the world’s sole reserve currency. This is occurring rapidly right now.

Q: How do you think that would change the geopolitics of the Middle East?

A: That is a huge question. The Middle East is not a single entity. There are disparate interests, only some of which are religious. The region has also been the victim in the past of interference by different colonial powers (France and the UK in particular) and more recently by the US. Its oil and gas wealth is both a blessing and a curse. As the younger generation emerges into positions of more influence they will demand changes. During the transition phase there will be profound disruption in some of those countries. The majority however increasingly see that their better future lies in more cooperation.  There are a number of pointers in this direction, for example with the development of a Middle Eastern economic grouping that will link in turn to the Belt and Road Initiative. Another encouraging sign is the discussions between Iran and Qatar on the development of the Pars gas field. The demise of the petrodollar is probably the biggest single geopolitical development on the horizon. How that plays out will depend in part on how the Americans react. Their history is not encouraging in that respect, but there are now countervailing geopolitical forces that they have not encountered in the past. China is easily the most important in this respect. Russia has shown through its involvement in Syria that it is a reliable friend that is not there to exploit Syria’s resources. It is significant in this regard that Iraq is now seeking Russian help. The two biggest improvements in the Middle East would be the settlement of the Palestinian issue; and for the Americans to pack their bags and go home. Neither is likely in the near future. The other developments that I see as encouraging as noted will occur anyway. Whether that is hard or easy will depend on whether America accepts the transition or tries to fight it.

Q: How do you see the role of Iran in the region?

A: Iran is a critical link in the transformation of Eurasia that is occurring under the influence of projects such as One Belt One Road (OBOR), North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC) and Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). As one of the world’s oldest continuous civilizations, its resources (human and natural) and its geography, Iran is uniquely placed to be a significant force for good in a volatile and rapidly changing region. It is this unique role that is a major reason why the US continues to make threats, uses proxy forces such as the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK) to destabilize Iran, and will undoubtedly resile from the JCPOA. Iran’s growing links with China and Russia are its best defenses against US aggression.

http://en.farsnews.com/newstext.aspx?nn=13960607002091

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The Iran Deal Is on Thin Ice, and Rightly So

September 9, 2017

Foreign Policy

The Iran Deal Is on Thin Ice, and Rightly So

The future of the Iran deal is again under question. President Donald Trump garnered much attention in July by stating he no longer wanted to certify that Iran is in compliance with the agreement, which is required by law to occur every 90 days and thus due again next month. European leaders reacted by affirming their support for the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the Iranian government responded by claiming that it was in compliance — but would take measures to accelerate its nuclear program if Washington were to stop its compliance. Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) certified Iran’s compliance again in June, weakening the president’s case.

But given the extraordinary threat that Iran poses with its expansionism in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, as well as the ongoing administration review of Iran policy, the status of the JCPOA cannot be sacrosanct.

It’s clear that those within Trump’s orbit are already thinking hard about the best way to remake U.S. policy toward Iran. Former Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton recently published a detailed “game plan” for pulling out of the agreement and adopting a course of political pressure on Iran amounting almost to regime change. And this week, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley laid out the case for Iran’s non-compliance in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), without endorsing a specific action by the administration.

The Trump administration, Haley noted, sees the agreement as flawed because it is time-limited, front-loaded in Iran’s favor, and does not end enrichment. Thus, it does not totally exclude Iran’s path to the accumulation of sufficient fissile material for a nuclear device. Moreover, it does not effectively address prior nuclear weaponization efforts, which were left to an opaque side deal between the IAEA and Iran, which now blocks inspections of military facilities.

But a primary problem with the agreement, in Haley’s view, is that it does nothing to curb Iran’s aggressive regional expansionism. This behavior, which profoundly worries every friendly Middle East leader, kicked into high gear just weeks after the JCPOA was signed in 2015. International agreements, particularly concerning weapons of mass destruction, are obviously important in themselves, but their strategic context should not be ignored. For example, while there has been little genuine angst over the Israeli nuclear weapons program, regional and global concern about Iranian nukes has been profound due to its destabilizing regional policies.

The Obama administration’s behavior stoked Iran’s aggressive regional approach.

The Obama administration’s behavior stoked Iran’s aggressive regional approach. U.S. officials in the previous administration were slippery on the issue of “linkage” between the agreement and Iran’s disruptive regional agenda. At times, such as a speech Vice President Joseph Biden made at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in April 2015, officials argued that the agreement was simply concerned with nuclear restraints, and Iran’s regional behavior would be dealt with in other ways. But it never was — not in Syria, Yemen, or elsewhere. Rather, the administration’s implicit position appeared best reflected in President Barack Obama’s 2015 interview with the Atlantic, wherein he argued that the long game engendered by the agreement would help return Iran to respectability and calm the region, while also signaling that he was not overly troubled by Iran’s depravations. He opined that Saudi Arabia had to find a way to “share the neighborhood” with Iran, and that backing U.S. allies in the region too strongly against Iran would only fan the flames of conflict.But Iran’s behavior is now too dangerous to ignore. Tehran has facilitated Bashar al-Assad’s scorched-earth policy, encouraged Russia to intervene in Syria, and abetted the rise of the Islamic State by allowing Assad and its clients in Iraq to oppress Sunni Arabs to the point of embracing the jihadist organization. While the JCPOA itself did not enable Iran’s regional policies or finance its expeditionary campaigns — which were well-funded before 2015 — the agreement encouraged Iran’s behavior. Certainly its huge arms purchases from Russia would not have been possible under the oil export and foreign deposit sanctions, and the agreement gave Iran a “seal of approval” facilitating its aggressiveness.

Leveraging the Iran deal to pressure Tehran, or even negotiating a more restrictive agreement, may look at first blush like mission impossible. Despite the nibbling at the edges described above, there is as yet no serious Iranian JCPOA violation. Under these conditions, as Richard Nephew and Ian Goldberg argue in Foreign Policy, there is little likelihood that the United States could convince the agreement’s other signatories and third parties to again implement U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports, which brought Iran to the negotiating table last time.

While this fact seemingly argues for leaving the agreement alone, there are other considerations that the administration must take into account. This includes a looming crisis in the Middle East: The Iranian-Assad-Russian campaign for dominance in Syria, and the American-led Coalition campaign to destroy the Islamic State, are both coming to a close. This leaves the United States and its partners with the choice of pulling out of enclaves in Syria and northern Iraq, which were established to fight the Islamic State but useful to counter the Iranian alliance, or if not, face possible direct military confrontation with Iran and its surrogates in both countries, as they see these enclaves as obstacles to Iranian domination of the Levant. Under such circumstances, no aspect of Iranian relations, including the JCPOA, can be immune from a re-think.

The United States can take measures here short of a full-scale JCPOA annulment — which, given the difficulties imposing international sanctions, would likely be a diplomatic disaster. European allies, for example, recently joined the United States in challenging an Iranian missile test “in defiance of” U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed the JCPOA. The issue of blocked IAEA access to Iranian military facilities should also be reviewed.

Iran’s expectation of commercial benefits from the JCPOA is also its Achilles’ heel.

Iran’s expectation of commercial benefits from the JCPOA is also its Achilles’ heel. The administration could discourage global firms from doing business with Iran by leaving open its final position on the deal, and thus placing at risk their business with America. This is a technical violation of the JCPOA’s terms, but of the most unrealistic condition — the commitment to support  Iranian economic development. While such actions would disappoint Iran, they are unlikely to drive Tehran from an otherwise beneficial agreement.Furthermore, as Haley signaled in her AEI remarks, the law passed by the U.S. Congress requiring the president to certify that Iran is abiding by the Iran deal defines “compliance” more broadly than the JCPOA terms does. In contrast to the Iran deal, the president is required to certify that sanctions relief is in the vital national security interests of the U.S. The president thus could hold Iran in “non-compliance” under that act without necessarily stopping — or allowing Congress to stop — American compliance with the terms of the JCPOA. Under JCPOA Paragraph 36, the United States could also reinstitute token or partial sanctions in response to Iranian actions without pulling out of the agreement.

To many in the international community — especially Europe, but less so in the countries closer to Iran — such steps are anathema. But few if any countries really consider preserving the JCPOA their overriding interest in the Middle East: Even in Europe, what really impacts populations is threats from the Islamic State and unchecked refugee flows, which are largely a result of Iran’s policies in Syria. Moreover, a possible collapse of the U.S.-led Middle East security system by an unchecked Iran endangers them more than it does the United States.

No matter what Trump or another president does, the Iran deal is poised to run up against an uncomfortable political reality. Under the JCPOA, Congress must formally terminate sanctions — which until now have only been waived by the executive branch – by January 2024. It defies credulity to think that anything like today’s Congress, given anything like Iran’s current behavior, would take such a step by 2024.  But not doing so would violate a key JCPOA provision and block Iranian formal adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol. Under these conditions, it may be feasible to pressure those in the international community favorable to the JCPOA to rethink overall relations with Iran, as the “price” for salvaging the agreement’s nuclear restraints.

ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

The Iran Deal Is on Thin Ice, and Rightly So

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Shiite corridor from Tehran to Damascus)

 (John Bolton)

(Includes John Bolton’s Plan for Iran and the Nuclear Deal)